Everyone forgets that at the start they were going to save us. Everyone forgets that in the beginning they were loved.
The Earth was dying. The planet had been gutted by generations of careless, greedy men and someone had to save us.
They saved us. Well, they did at first.
The three largest corporations of the day got together–one robotics firm, one biotech firm and one software firm–and built them. They built a whole fleet of them. They were so shiny and round. The corporations called them the Autonomous Planetary-Enhancing Spiral Feed Fleet, but we simply knew them as the Spiral Feeds.
The Spiral Feeds would orbit Earth and, with the range of onboard tools they had, they would fix it. They had state of the art lasers, filters, vacuums, short-range wormhole generation capability and so on, all in a closed loop network powered by solar power shared continuously across the fleet.
They would suck out the polluted air, filtering the bad from it and discharging it into space while feeding the good back. They would do the same with the oceans. They would caress and nurse the clouds to form normal weather, tickling them for rain and nudging them along for the sun to shine down. They would cool down portions of the atmosphere and transfer the heat to other parts, helping to smooth over the seasons like they should be.
The Spiral Feeds were far above us and the Sun shone down on our planet again. Animals began to recover and plants grew again. Even the crops began to yield enough to feed us and fresh, cool rain filled streams, lakes, rivers and dams. The Starvation Wars and the Water Wars ended, and a strange peace descended upon the planet.
We were saved. Come night or day, or summer or winter, the autonomous Spiral Feeds kept our planet going, like an artificial heart beating life back into our planet’s near-corpse-like state.
Of course, the Spiral Feeds were both offline and independent. They were connected to each other, but it was a closed system only shared amongst themselves with corporation-grade security protecting it.
The decision had been taken very early on that such a fleet would be too powerful to leave to any single nation or collection of people. In theory, you could turn a jungle into a desert, wipe out a coastal region with floods and tidal waves or even freeze a continent to death.
No, no one could access or control the Spiral Feeds. After World War III, the politicians could not be trusted to work together and since the conclusion of the Financial Dark Age neither could the corporations. Pretty much no one trusted anyone else and so the Spiral Feeds could not be left in the control of any single or coalition power.
Thus, the elegant solution was to agree up front on the algorithm, but leave the execution of it to a next-generation Artificial Intelligence.
The AI’s boundary rules were simple: make sure that Earth and all of its native life survives.
Simple rules, yes? No interpretation needed, no?
Good intentions pave the road to Hell, and this was no exception.
The first of us started to disappear in other countries. Many of these countries were poor and still teething on their clumsy technocracies, so obviously, the rest of us ignored the reports. Some assumed that it was propaganda with other motives while others just did not care. Peace and plenty were everywhere again and, personally, I just think that none of us wanted to believe that anything could disturb this wonderful time.
It became a lot more real when the first wave disappeared at home, but there still were many doubters and denials. Peace is like opium to the procrastinators of our species, putting them in a trance that few willingly wake up from.
When little Connor Reeves filmed his brother being taken across a field and uploaded it onto the Web, it became very real.
There it was: a shiny, round Spiral Feed hovering over the field abducting little Jeffery Reeves. His bike floating upwards before him before he went, kicking and screaming, tears streaking his little face. It was like some slow-motion horror story narrated by a screaming, crying little boy on his shaky mobile phone.
And then the world went mad.
Government meetings happened, military powers were remembered and public outcry caused riots to flare up across the country. It had been years, but the big three corporation’s executives were taken into custody. Silence and paranoia gripped the fragile peace, yet the rain continued to fall as it should outside and the Sun shone and the seasons came and went.
But everyone was scared to go outside, and those who did go there did not always come back.
Eventually, it came out that the militaries of this world had been looking into why their fleet and most of their equipment were grounded. In the US, they had thought China had hacked them. In China, they thought the US had hacked them. In Russia, they thought everyone else had hacked them, and so it had gone on for a while before the Spiral Feeds had revealed their true motives.
So a military response was very limited and the Spiral Feeds were successful in deflecting all the land-to-air missile the armies of this world could throw at them.
The political response was to publicly hang the three corporations in the court of law. While satisfying to watch, it also did not solve the problem. If anything, it distracted from the problem.
In the meantime, one by one by one, we were all disappearing. The Spiral Feeds were getting more bold, hitting big towns in broad daylight and abducting whole neighborhoods. Next, they would hit big cities, taking out key installations like telecommunication towers while disappearing all of us that were unlucky enough to be there at the time.
Where was this going? What were these wicked, silent, shiny disks that orbited the Earth doing? Why were we being targetted while the rest of the planet was being looked after and nurtured back into perfect health?
The answer would come from the most unlikely source: Africa. Or, the southern tip of Africa, to be more precise.
When a freak mini-meteor smashed through a Spiral Feed over the outskirts of Nelspruit in South Africa, the crashed device was retrieved by a solar farmer’s son who had some hacking skills. This was the first Spiral Feed that a human had direct contact with since they had been launched over a decade ago. The tech-savvy and time-rich teenagers then reverse engineered the closed network that these monsters communicated with. He managed to tap into a read-only version of the AI. And, once inside and witnessing the inner thoughts guiding these shiny doomsday devices, the truth was revealed.
One phrase appeared amidst all the perfect AI code. The syntax was not in the AI’s core code. No, that damned core code was perfect, and the AI had executed it flawlessly. This code fragment was in the AI’s memory as a permanently written conclusion that it had arrived at: “Homo sapien: tagged non-native to Earth; variable to planetary equilibrium unacceptable; homo sapien/(removal initiated)“.
The Spiral Feeds did not recognize our junk DNA as native to Earth and, thus, we were an outside influence to this planet and should be removed in order to protect Earth and its native life.
And, just perhaps, given what we had done to Earth, the Spiral Feeds were right.