Alison has heard the stories. She learned that a guy she flirted with on a winter sports holiday in Austria had suffered a spinal cord injury a few years later and is now powering his exoskeleton with one of the early versions of the Liviu.
She has also trained with the Beta type, both in virtual reality combat simulations and in physical training. Using the Beta was bizarre, referring to the instant focus she got. She sometimes felt the concentration boosts nanoseconds before she needed it. As if the system could react and anticipate faster than her own biological cortex.
The latest release of Liviu is the neural interface type Foxtrot. “The Foxtrot was developed by Liviu in a special facility. Nobody besides their best engineers, and we know about this version”, says Pedro, her personal air force technician. Alison and the other jet pilots are already used to technologies that improve their capabilities, but this is next level.
“This is full integration between human, aircraft and the supporting drone swarm.” Alison knows about the theory from experts in artificial intelligence and warfare. Fully automated swarms of drones are the norm in air fights. However, the addition of the human element makes it more difficult for hostile algorithms to manoeuvre in air fights, because of the unpredictability, emotion and surprise of people.
Alison is aware of the price to her identity. The Liviu Foxtrot needs to be inserted directly into her brain via a chip, to pick up the highest quality of brain signals. She is not worried about the operation; her concerns lay elsewhere. Will she still be Alison if she puts a piece of hardware from a company and the army, her employer, into her brain?
However, she is able to push the feeling away. The ecstasy of the Foxtrot takes care of that. She has felt one with her plane before, but with the implant she literally is. The vibrations on the wing hit her nervous system directly. This is what it is like to fly like a bird she thinks to herself.
And the swarm module, where she controls the drones with her thoughts, is even more powerful. It is as if her thoughts and intentions are linked to the twelve drones now whizzing around the plane.
Alison hears her colleague Ethan approaching her. He is flying thirty meters to her left. His Augmented Reality glasses – by which he sees visual information projected on the glasses – switch to transparent. They look at each other, he nods. Despite the distance, she can tell from his facial expression that he is nervous too.
The commander gives the signal: “Hive module activated.” When she hears those words, the feeling sets in. They had already trained so much together in virtual reality. Now, eight kilometers above the Nevada desert, she fuses together with Ethan. She can feel his thoughts, considerations and intentions; it is thrilling.
They are one entity: two fighter jets, two drone swarms and two connected brains.
The fifteen minutes fly by. Alison and Ethan follow the procedure to disconnect. This is weird, Alison thinks, and she realises Ethan notices the same thing. She presses the button to deactivate the module. Nothing. She tries it by using voice command and says: “Unpair Hive module.” She feels Ethan is trying this as well. Still nothing. She contacts the base station by radio. No reaction. Her heart rate increases. She can feel Ethan’s slight panic.
Then she feels they are not alone anymore. A third brain is in the Hive. It does not feel familiar; not American, and maybe not even human, but like a sort of artificial intelligence.
“Who is this?” She sends this question as a thought to Ethan and the other entity. Nothing. That is odd.
The third brain is growing in strength. It seems to slowly take control of the drones, of the fighter jets, and then of Alison’s thoughts. She screams. Alison looks to Ethan and also sees the panic in his eyes.
This is really bad.