It's two months later, and the promised conference is on. It's a scientific conference, by the way. Not a press conference, though the press do seem to have started turning up.

I've heard at least one person suggest that the combined total IQ in this lecture hall is probably larger than in any other lecture hall ever, which sounds ridiculous - there are far larger lecture halls in the world - but I can't deny that there are more ridiculously intelligent people in this room than I've ever seen in one place.

This is the fifth of five days of lectures. I turned up for the first one but skipped the rest, after it became patently clear that Ed has only ever fed me distilled, baby-language versions of the things he's actually been quietly discovering in his basement for the last two and a half years. When you get down to it, Ed is a physicist, and while some physics does indeed involve firing excitingly small particles at each other at excitingly high speeds, rather a large amount of it is very hard mathematics, and here, in front of his peers, people he doesn't need to talk down to, Ed has cut loose. Suffice it to say, my tensor calculus is less than stellar. He lost me at "Hello".

Ed's findings are shaking the world.

He adds extra terms to equations which have been carved in stone for seventy-five years. Somebody challenges him, and he explains that the extra terms are necessary to explain certain phenomena he has observed. Nobody else in the world has ever seen these phenomena - everybody laughs sceptically. Then he wheels out some insane piece of engineering he built eighteen months ago and demonstrates it to them, right there in the hall. His new theory of the universe - layer theory, it's called - has hit headlines internationally. He seems to have drawn a line under all our current knowledge and started a fresh piece of paper. Time travel, FTL travel, direct mass-energy conversion, teleportation, all that stuff which would be so great if it really existed, all that stuff which is the very meat and drink of pulp science fiction but frankly looks more impossible the more you study it - it's like the curve just dipped so far into the impossible that it wrapped around at infinity and came back from above.

It seems a lot of people suspected a change was coming. There's a delegation of American scientists who have apparently been picking away at the teleportation problem for several years. The alien invasions proved FTL to be possible. The Sun going out for five seconds proved that if nothing else, it was possible to turn off the Sun for five seconds, though to the best of my knowledge only a couple of intelligence agencies actually linked that to Ed. But nobody expected this much new material in one go. Nobody expected working lab demonstrations and exhaustive experimental data to back it up. And certainly nobody expected it all to come from the same lone, unknown college student. It would be wrong to say that Ed is a well-known scientist. Most people don't know he exists. His actual name has only been mentioned in the news once, and that was over two years ago, the start of the giant robot era. The rest of his experiments have been kept pretty quiet. Ed is a total nobody, and some people find this almost insulting. Who the hell is this guy? This kid? What is he, a robot from the future? Where is getting all this data and technology from? How does he know all this?

Lately, I've been pondering that question myself.

"Let me cover a bit of history for you. Just over two years ago, planet Earth was invaded by aliens from another planet. Even now, it's still hard to believe that it happened and harder still for me to get up here and say so with a straight face, but it is an undeniable fact. Various major cities were attacked by swarms of what were later identified as unmanned craft controlled by sophisticated though non-sentient artificial intelligences.

"We got lucky. A short time previously, I had finished constructing a directed electromagnetic pulse weapon. Tuned correctly, this could be used to shut down the AIs running the ships, causing them to self-destruct - a mechanism military experts concluded had been installed to prevent our gaining access to the ships' weapons and FTL technology. We deployed DEMP weapons worldwide, and beat back the aliens. Life went on.

"A month later, the aliens came back. We quickly discovered to our cost that the craft were now shielded from DEMP attacks. Fortunately by that point we had a new secret weapon - a heavily-armoured, railgun-armed fifty-foot robot. The prototype was blown up pretty swiftly, but the designs were rapidly rushed into mass-production in time for a large number of volunteers around the world to pilot them remotely against the invaders. The aliens were once again beaten back. It was during this conflict that a formal Space Defence Coalition was first set up. Once the aliens had been repelled, two hundred of these giant robots were posted all over the world, with volunteers including myself on call day and night to defend the planet if the attackers ever returned. In January of last year, they did: a sporadic series of increasingly aggressive kamikaze attacks, with bomb-laden drones dive-bombing major cities from space. For six months we successfully held these off on almost a daily basis. The last such attack was June 24th of last year. Then, suddenly, they stopped.

"SDC analysts concluded that these aliens, whoever they were, were planning a larger attack, or perhaps working on a new, more powerful weapon to use against us. The Coalition has remained on high alert until a few days ago when the alert level was at last stepped down to nominal. This is why I called you all here today. This is what I arranged this conference in order to announce to the world."

Behind Ed, projected across the screen above him, the blue onion-skin diagram he showed me several months ago appears. The hole is fractionally bigger now, not that I'd notice unless I was looking for the change.

"Until today there was a lot we didn't know. We didn't know who the aliens were. We didn't know what they wanted, or even what they looked like. We still don't. But we do know where they come from. The aliens are from Epsilon Eridani, and the weapon they were working on is called an energy virus."

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