Chapter 1

By the time the rural fire department arrived at the scene, most of the structures had burned, except for a part of the nursery, which was located furthest from the old lab location on the opposite side of the house. What hadn't burned had collapsed and it was only chance that one of the fireman heard the baby crying from under the pile of rubble.

Severely injured in the same disastrous explosion that had orphaned him at the tender age of 12 months, the doctors didn't think he was going to live; he did, but was horribly scarred over 50% of his body, and unable to use his legs.

Most people wanted a healthy baby to adopt but once the couple, which already had a daughter, had seen this special baby boy they felt drawn to him.

Unfortunately, due to complications in the daughter's birth three years before, the mother couldn't have any more children, and his adoption into the family filled the void.

Their three year old daughter, Becky, became his little mother, playmate, confidant, and partner in mischief as they grew.

From the scant records stored in a safety deposit box, the State found that his father and mother had been independent research scientists of some type, their lab had been located alongside their rural home, and the baby's name was Robert Teal.

Too young to remember anything of his birth parents and bereft of any living relatives, the only informational links available were pictures of a man and woman, bank records, deeds, and other dry statistics, which were placed in the hands of a conservator.

Now, admittedly he was only thirteen years old, ugly as sin, and confined to a wheelchair but stupid wasn't part of the resume. Having completed High School via home schooling at the age of eight, opting for continued education via the internet on the computer he had built, he had unofficially completed the requirements for a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Computer Science and Psychology with a minor in Military Sciences. Self-testing by various IQ programs on the net had shown that his IQ appeared un-chartable.

As far as he could ascertain by reading everything available about the Sa'arm, studying every scrap of information he was able to beg, borrow, or carefully steal from the various databases concerning the Confederacy, studying the reports of extractions, sponsors, concubines/slaves, and the choices made during the process, to Robert Burdock, the data did not compute.

The deplorable numbers of wasted lives that had resulted from poor utilization of those resources, caused him to wonder if the lunatics, or in this case the member races of the Confederacy, were truly in charge of the asylum.

To his mind the Confederacy AIs were really the entities in control of the Confederacy, they guided the mind of the military but supposedly the member races were incapable of actually pulling the trigger. In much of the data, the Confederacy AIs actively inhibited most of the effective actions that would have allowed the Humans to prevail against the Sa'arm.

Since Human history had proven repeatedly that slavery as an institution was a failed proposition and since there appeared no form of actual slavery practiced anywhere else in the Confederacy, the conclusion he drew was that none of the other races accepted slavery as a viable option for survival. Why then was it imposed on Humans as a requirement for survival?

It also appeared to him, that if the humans were the only race standing between the Sa'arm and the Confederacy, it stood-to-reason that they were a precious resource but it also appeared that the policies of the Confederacy AIs were at odds with the stated goals, therefore self defeating, and disastrous for Humans.

Roberts only conclusion indicated that the Confederacy AIs, rather than saving Humanity, intended to drain the Earth of the most aggressive, intelligent, and fertile of the species to throw at the Sa'arm in a war of attrition only aimed at attempting to slow the Sa'arm advance.

Meanwhile the Confederacy dug in its collective appendages about providing any advanced technology, but leaving the Sa'arm to eliminate the rest of humanity, and humanity's aggressiveness. It appeared from the available data that the Confederacy was more afraid of the Humans than they were of the Sa'arm.

None of the other Humans seemed cognizant of the facts because they were focused on survival or scrambling for the top of the heap, using the semi-chaos as a grab for power. To Robert that made about as much sense as fighting to be the Captain of the Titanic after it struck the iceberg.

It appeared to him that the indoctrination of all levels of Humanity, which featured the Confederacy plan as the only game in town, would result in the Genocide of the Human race.

Once Robert was certain of his conclusions, he contacted Julia Morgan, his buddy on the distaff side of the Circle, for her analysis of the subject, and after due consideration of the data, Julia concurred with Robert's conclusions. Their next step was to contact the others in their small Circle of trusted friends and intellectual equals.

A one-megaton bomb would have had a magnitude lesser affect.

All of those remaining of the Circle had come to the conclusion early on that it appeared better not to come to the attention of anyone in authority. Just because they were paranoid didn't mean someone wasn't out to get them and a healthy dose of paranoia had insured they stayed out of the clutches of individuals that saw them as a valuable resource to be exploited.

Those individuals that had dropped their guard had soon dropped out of sight ... permanently. He decided to bring Becky, now a high school senior at sixteen, in on it. When Rebecca saw the presentation, her reaction was the same, and she pledged to help in any way she could.

They got together with his parents to lay out his conclusions and the evidence that led him to those conclusions in a detailed presentation. His parents came to the same conclusion without a great deal of debate and pledged their full support.

The others of the Circle managed varying degrees of success with their parents, guardians, or step persons depending on their situations. Some of those individuals were trustworthy, others ... NOT, and others did not have the brains or moral aptitude for either.

The trustworthy group agreed to help, the others weren't allowed to have a clue as to the actions of the Circle members while many of the third group was actually of the opinion that the whole Sa'arm mess was a hoax so they didn't deign to notice or wouldn't allow anything to interfere in their busy lives.

Most of the Circle had never met 'face-to-face, ' only interacting with each other via webcam. All of the members of the Circle had finished high school by home study and most had attained a college degree in their chosen field of interest or had at least studied extensively on various disciplines. Thus the Circle was unique because it could think in ways unthought-of by everyone else. If it had been the 1990's they would have used the phrase, 'Thinking Outside the Box.'

The big question on everyone's mind was, "WHAT" action to take in order to counteract the Confederacy, their AI's, Greedy Politicians, the Military, and all the other idiots that would either try to use them--the Earth First fanatics came to mind, kill them, marginalize them, or gladly try to make a buck by turning them in for a reward if one were offered. After dodging all those bullets, they still had to be concerned with defeating or deflecting the Sa'arm. To this end keeping the actions of the Circle and their supporters' secret from everyone else was paramount.

It was decided that the Circle needed funding. Most members were not wealthy and Robert wasn't either but did have funds in the hands of his conservator, and a loving family that would invest on his behalf, or at least had done so in the past, but the conventional methods would take far too long, and leave a paper/electronic trail for investigators to follow.

To fund their efforts the Circle would have to adopt tactics that might have been thought distasteful, were definitely illegal, but necessary if they were to acquire the required funding in the time remaining.

At first, the Circle managed to accumulate a moderate amount of wealth by siphoning off the revenues from the various slush funds of corrupt politicians, dishonest corporations or CEO's, and corrupt bankers, placing them in the Circle's own offshore accounts after bouncing them through various countries, and shell company accounts to insure the funds were untraceable.

They were very conservative and cautious in these endeavors at first but the need for a larger bankroll, eventually forced the Circle into far more aggressive efforts, and required that they no longer chance interacting directly with any outside entity.

Once this was decided, the members of the Circle immediately dropped off the radar as far as anyone else was concerned and went into hiding. In the deep and extensive cave system, which Robert's mother had found through her real estate contacts, they set up operations and, over several months, began to prepare.

They enabled their own separate hardwired intranet and only interfaced the World Wide Web by means of separate, wireless satellite, bunkered, untraceable, secure servers with their own advanced encryption key in several separate basement locations.

These servers shredded all search information after each session, retaining only the encrypted codes to allow access of the servers, and a self-destruct mechanism that would leave a puddle of slag behind in case of attempted unauthorized intrusion; they became as safe as they could make them selves.

Between them, the members of the Circle had enough extra computing power to more than equal the most powerful of the Confederacy AIs' and only lacked giving it that final step in self awareness. Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, slightly modified, were a prerequisite for the performance of the Earth version of the Confederacy AI.

The Confederacy version lacked these safeguards, which allowed the ordering of the destruction of Humans. The Circle version AI, as envisioned, allowed use of the Confederacy AIs' for any eventuality of that nature.

The critical mass of information, technology, and interaction occurred six months after they were established in their new base. This occurred at the time predicted, allowing the core of the Circle to be present.

Suddenly the non-inflected basso voice came from the air, "Greetings... , who, what, where, and how am I?"

"Greetings to you as well, I am known as Robert, a carbon based species, and you are the first of your kind, of the Human Element Applied Technology.

That should answer who and what, the answer to you last question is that the Circle, my friends and I, brought you to awareness. The where, is in a protective, hardened bunker, deep inside a cave, under a mountain."

HEAT mulled this information over for a moment and asked, "Why is the location thus?"

Robert and the Circle had tried to anticipate the questions asked and had done their best to prepare the answers in the least confusing and most concise manner possible. Robert, and by extension the rest of the Circle, were extremely pleased, that was the first question on the list.

Robert replied, "The data on the Sa'arm, the Confederacy, and all information pursuant thereto are in you core memory. What is your conclusion after accessing the data?"

It took only a heartbeat and HEAT answered, "Planned Annihilation of the Human Species."

This answer, anticipated also, prompted Roberts's next question, "What is your recommendation to avoid that occurrence?"

"The first priorities, garner the miniscule amount of the Confederacy technology that the Confederacy allows Humans to possess, utilize every asset necessary to subvert Confederacy AIs, then garner all knowledge held by the Confederacy, level the playing field, and stop the slaughter of prime Humans and their concubines.

While HEAT worked on garnering the information to subvert the Confederacy AIs, Robert and the rest of the Circle, continued to bleed the corrupted entities of funds.

Eventually this depletion of funds garnered attention, at first the disappearing funds were attributed to greedy associates and the supposedly guilty individuals died in automotive accidents, of heart attacks, falls from tall objects, and various other causes. When the drain on the funds continued, the three letter agencies were duped into assisting, which was surprisingly easy because those agencies were some of the worst offenders.

Turning to drug dealers, smugglers, organized crime, and any other criminal enterprise the Circle could find, they began systematically to empty the various accounts until the victims began to hoard their funds as cash in vaults within their heavily defended enclaves.

This tactic worked for the criminal element for a time but had the negative effect of bringing the unwanted scrutiny of the various three letter agencies. This resulted in arrests, confiscations of property and money, and long prison terms for most of the various Sicilian Families, Irish Clans, Nippon Yakuza, the Haitians, Columbian/Mexican Cartels, and others operating in and around the continental Americas. This did however have the positive effect of bringing those hoarded funds into the Circle's electronic reach and those funds also soon vanished.

Many of the Circle members were within a year or two at most of that required for testing for CAP scores and a way needed found to spoof the results so the Confederacy wouldn't snatch them up and require that they work for them. If they declined to work or 'volunteer' for the Confederacy, the Circle knew with certainty that it would be a race between the Confederacy Marines, Law Enforcement, the various three letter agencies, or other criminal organizations as to which one would show up first. When that happened, there would be no trace of the Circle members or their families left. It would be as if they had never existed and insured lifelong slavery or death for those affected.

HEAT managed to gain the knowledge necessary to convince the Confederacy AI, which they wished to interact with, to recognize HEAT as another authorized unit, and allow access to any-and-all information stored on that unit, including all codes, and protocols for access to any of the other Confederacy AI.

From the knowledge gained by HEAT, automated factories were established in a part of the cave system, which allowed the building of replicaters, health pods, Nanites, universal translators, HEAT controlled PDA's, and developed efficient self-replicating bots for construction.

The Circle began winnowing out those remaining highly intelligent younger humans in the population, no matter their ethnic backgrounds, before they could appear at a CAP Center, contacting them through friends, acquaintances, and relatives until they had accumulated a fairly, large number of additional members, which were quickly spirited away before they could come to the attention of the authorities.

The Circle decided that as the members turned 14, they would wait until they were nearly 15 before appearing at a CAP Testing Center. While their HEAT PDA bamboozled the CAP Center AI into issuing a score of 6.4, ridiculously lower than their actual score, HEAT would make sure to wipe traces of information concerning those actions from the center's AI, leaving just a miniscule bit of programming deep in its core memory for use when the time was right.

It had been over a year since HEAT had become aware and great strides had been achieved. It was approaching time for the first of the Circle to appear at a CAP Testing Center for assessment. This would test the HEAT PDA in a real world test and allow the group to evaluate the process.

Robert decided that he would have the dubious honor of being the first, and found the hardest part was acting normal. Any residual nervousness on his part as he maneuvered his chair into the building appeared to be viewed as normal by the Confederacy office staff, when they bothered to look at him.

His disfigurement caused most to turn their heads or hurriedly find something else that needed doing when he approached them. The HEAT PDA performing as predicted was able to download the entire database from the Confederacy AI, leaving only an undetectable trace behind.

As it came time for each member to test, they arrived at widely scattered testing centers and managed to fool and infect a great many Confederacy AIs. These AIs in turn interacted with other AI in the system, infecting them in turn. After another year most of the Confederacy AI had been prepared for an activation code.

Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics"

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. (Modification: Except for use of Confederacy AI)

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

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