A glimpse of what Jeff is up to.
The FedEx distribution center in Allentown Pennsylvania got a shipment of an anticancer drug for redistribution. The sort that benefited greatly from being purified in zero G. And one of the few so widely used its ultimate source was ignored by the USNA. Even at that it had been sent to the French habitat and the shipping container relabeled to exclude any reference to Home to comply with North American regulations. The manifest said two hundred ninety six boxes but they were fitted in a plastic shipping case that held three hundred. In the middle, shielded from close x-ray examination by the surrounding vials, were four different boxes. They were addressed to some of the same recipients as the legitimate boxes.
When the movements, terrestrial magnetic field and temperature profiles indicated they’d been handled in such a way as to be out of the warehouse and in the truck for distribution the changes triggered the release of an aerosol inside the box. The special cardboard surrounding them turned soft and fragile, breaking down just from the movement of the vehicle until it was a handful of dusty punk. As each box crumbled they left behind an empty canister similar in appearance to a standard battery with no markings and a small metallic egg like a foil wrapped chocolate with an elaborate design of lines on the surface. It was by no means the only delivery mode, and China received a good share of similar shipments. Some were delivered directly to agents in other countries who released them near USNA naval resources visiting in foreign ports or US bound aircraft. Some attached to USNA spacecraft visiting various habitats. On very rare occasions long range submarine drones dropped from an ocean landing shuttle delivered them along a coast.
Two of the eggs remained in darkness, waiting, buried in a pile of other small boxes for the moment. The other two eggs stirred. The narrow sections between a number of lines on the surface lifted and bent forming legs. Other sections unfolded like a complex puzzle uncovering sensors and becoming wings. Antennas unfolded and read the location of the little robot off GPS satellites. The unencumbered robots followed their programming and flew to the top surface of the truck trailer in which they were riding and waited for a glimpse of the sky or direct sunlight.
When the trailer doors opened on the truck which went to Bethesda Maryland the dock workers didn’t even see the shiny bug dart between the gap from the trailer to terminal building. It rose a hundred meters, turned a slow circle running checks on its systems and location and took off to the nearest site on its list of surveillance targets. It stopped at a cellular tower along the way. Clinging to an antenna for a few minutes recharging and creating a temporary weaker coverage area that nobody even noticed.
One of the faux insects ended up at the CIA headquarters, one at the new Executive Office Building, one at the office of the lobbyists representing Scaled Composites, and one at the Supreme Court. The one at the CIA waited too long to land and walk in and was discovered by lidar and vaporized by a higher powered laser six hundred meters away. The next one would walk in from a kilometer or hitch a ride on a ground car. The one at the Executive Office would be in service for several weeks before being discovered by a maintenance worker cleaning light fixtures and destroyed. The one at the Supreme Court would replaced another that self destructed at the end of its design life without discovering anything of importance to Jeff Singh.
The loss of any one of them was unimportant because they were constantly replenished with new smaller models programmed better than the former ‘bots. The targets never found all of them. For every one which was lost trying to push deeper into a secure facility another one stayed perched outside clinging to a tree limb or a crack in the outside of a building, storing and relaying information. They rode in attached to someone’s shoe or the food shipment for the cafeteria or by burrowing into the mail being delivered. A few would attach to a an executive’s private automobile in the parking lot. When they started searching the vehicles in the parking lot they switched to waiting at intersections around the target and attaching to vehicles with the correct license plate or tracked from the facility.
As a collective system the robots and software controlling them learned and improved. Sometimes updating in the last instant before a boot came down to crush them. Every few months the Japanese manufacturer made improvements and upgrades in the hardware. It never made economic sense to manufacture them themselves. Demand from many Earth customers guaranteed they’d never approach the same economies of scale the Japanese enjoyed. Jeff’s people were careful to balance the discount they got from buying in quantity versus holding too many of the previous model when a new one came out. On occasion they got an offsetting fee for suggesting improvement to the little spy bugs.
The bugs were easily self funding just from the knowledge of government announcements hours or even days ahead of time and details of the contracts to be let. The limiting factor was not the number of bugs that could be released but processing the data they collected. Some of that work was done in Sri Lanka and Thailand by contractors certain from their contact and mode of payment that they were processing data for the British. What shocked Jeff was how often his bugs found other bugs. There were so many bugs both commercial like his and custom made that to exclude them would require sealed buildings with airlocks and a thorough inspection of everyone going in and out. A few buildings, more in private companies than in government agencies, had tantalizing secure rooms which operated exactly like that. Jeff wondered just how many of the little machines were from one government agency spying on another agency of the same government.