“So are you going to tell me what the device in my head can do or do I just have to wait and find out? I would prefer it to be taken out but it looks like I don’t get that choice.”
“You do get that choice. But not yet. You need to give it a chance and you need to understand that there has to be something that allows you to fit in, even just a little. Are you aware that there are at least five languages and a dozen distinct dialects in this city alone. It is a translation system at the moment. But, it is also a high-level adaptive computer. It works in symbiosis with your brain, enhancing you where possible and utilising you where it can. I guess, basically, it increases your brains cognitive powers. It also should act as a wireless interface to other devices. So you will be able to sync with machinery and systems around you. Since it is wired directly into your mind it doesn’t need any augmented displays or systems to show you information. It can overlay images directly into the audio and visual areas of your perception.”
“Still not doing anything more than making my flesh crawl right off my skull at this moment.”
“Look, that isn’t the fault of the highly advanced interface, it is that you come from an age rife with paranoia about machines.”
“What makes you say that?”
“We lost a lot of information but not everything. I have seen old visual stories and read some of the literature. I know that your time had a fascination, and terror, of a time where machines had more capabilities and intellect.”
“Did that happen?”
“Of course it did. Artificial Intelligence as you would call it has been in existence for a very long time. Though the term artificial is no longer used. It is easier to think of organic and non-organic intellects and even that doesn’t quite make sense. The truth of that is we have a more stable relationship with machines and technology. No I am not going to discuss that further, just live with the fact that there is a net overall benefit, despite the occasional bout of cyber psychosis.”
Drick snorted a laugh, “joke, sorry. You’re fine. Hasn’t happened in at least a week. No rampaging killer bots since nine or ten days ago in the fifty-seventh machine war.”
“Very funny. So this web, the machine in my head. How do I work it?”
“Stop trying to. It will work itself so to speak. I told you it is symbiotic. It will take what it needs to increase its capabilities, and those are all geared towards aiding you. At the same time your brain will just be able to use the enhancements. It will feel very strange like having an extra set of eyes, or similar, to begin once we have the restrictions out. You should be able to interact with it and be guided when you have full control.”
“Still freaking me the heck out.”
“Well, you still have some time in a semi-Neanderthal state to live with your panic and nurture it, the surgeon will not be here for a few hours.”
“Lucky me. Tell me more about what happened then, while we wait.”
“Sure, look can I get you a drink?”
“I have no idea what people drink here.”
“Do you want a beer, there is some in the fridge, they are not particularly good, but they are cold and wet. There is some on tap but it is even cheaper than the bottled type.”
“I’m surprised people still use bottles.”
“It isn’t glass anymore if that’s what you mean. Grown fibre from plant based extracts that mimics glass. Has the advantage of being highly conductive so the bottles can have electronic displays and super cooling.”
“Fair,” Marsh sat up and grimaced slightly.
“Knees are stiff. I have a lot of stiffness in all my joints.”
“Yeah, the effects are mostly gone but some parts of you will be sore for a few minutes more. You can stay lying down.”
“I’d rather sit up.” Marsh looked around “are we underground? There seems to be no windows.”
“You can think for them when you have capabilities, but at any time you can talk to the house computers. They know when they are being addressed. Here let me show you.” Drick looked at a wall, “clear wall, large rectangle, three metres by two metres start at the floor.”
A large section of the wall that Drick was currently looking at suddenly cleared and Marsh was looking out at the tops of clouds. “Holy shit,” he said sitting upright. “Is that the sky. Are we above the clouds. Is that the real colour of the sky here? It’s orange. And those clouds, I have never seen clouds like that.”
“You’re not on Terra, Marsh.” Drick passed him a beer and showed him how to release the top. “There is a slightly higher concentration of sulphur isotopes in the atmosphere here, and there are two suns, one red and one white. They make the skies orange as it is the dominant part of the colour spectrum, well, mostly, it is also because of the gases in the upper atmosphere and the tint on the glass which filters out some of the blue light.”
“How high up are we?”
“Probably a little shy of fifteen thousand metres, hard to be exact as we move up and down a little.”
“What, this room isn’t attached to the ground? Are we floating or on a plane or a skycraft of some type.”
“You are on a super platform. It is quite large. In fact it is more like a small city. And it isn’t attached to the world below except by the elevators. They have enough flex in them to allow for gentle curves in their shape and some drift up and down to compensate for pressure. Trust me, they are long and wide so the curvature and motion doesn’t affect those travelling up and down them.”
“There are floating cities with elevators that stretch to the ground, bendy elevators. I never want to ride in one of those. They must be immensely heavy?”
“You already have travelled in one Marsh. Several times I reckon and at least twice in the last couple of days. This platform that this floating city is on is connected to the platform where you likely were taken from one or two rotations ago. As for their weight, I am not an engineer but I think it is nanotube tech.”
“Is it wise being this close to where I was taken from?”
“Probably not. But it is mischievous.”
Marsh stared at Drick for a long moment. Drick stared into his eyes until he blushed slightly from the attention. He looked away and took a drink of his beer. “Yikes,” he grimaced, “that’s not the nicest beer, but strangely it is also like nectar.”
“Your sense of taste will likely return, or it is because you are a grunt, as in you’re military.”
“A bit of both, I reckon. So. What happened then? Talk to me about my death.”
Drick smiled at Marsh. “Well let me see if I can summarise this for you. I was attacked at the Spaceport, but I knew I would be.”
“How what? How was I attacked or how did I know? I can’t have you interrupting me every moment with vague questions to my vague story. Do you want explanations as well as a list of events?”
“Sure I do. I also don’t care that you are vague, matches my head.”
“Goddammit, needy baby, greedy baby. Okay. I knew I… Actually, let’s go back a bit further than that, let’s go back to you.”
“You were supposed to be telling me what happened to you?”
“I know, but in order for the context, and to stop you asking why all the time, we have to start with you. So some of what I am going to say I either learned later or we are guessing at. Just bear with me while I tell the events and leave questions to the end.”
“You were busted out of a facility. We don’t know which one yet, or why they had you there. But, we know you were moved from there and some people were very angry about it.
“You were taken down in an elevator and then whisked away in a hover vehicle, at that point you had two other organics with you. At some other point, probably very soon after. but maybe after one of the organics got out of the vehicle, you were picked up by a security team who decided to fire on you. There was a chase, you came to a stop, likely a crash. This bit I am speculating on as we haven’t any evidence of that yet. But I am working on getting as much info as is now available.
“From this point in time, but stretching backwards to your release and forwards to cover everything they are doing since, the security forces of Volstron started to cover everything. They had to work fast at the crime scene, which is why it was sloppy, as unfortunately for them there were a couple of justice bots nearby. This was good for you as it meant they couldn’t just grab you and make you disappear. The justice bots K-Tagged you at the scene of the accident, as there was a dead body in the vehicle, and you had a weapon in your hands. I am unsure as to why you had the weapon. I assume it was in the vehicle and in the noise and confusion you were either given it or you picked it up. The bots seem to have strongarmed the arrest, maybe you became confused or violent, likely both. You were sprayed and bound.
“You met me. I did a little digging at the Justice Central and worked out that your case sounded odd. I also knew that somebody was covering up. It could have been small, or it could have been large. I am a cautious soul so I arranged to have a few contingencies in place, took your case. Brought in a few people and headed back to the planet.
“It was a good thing that I had thought ahead. I was attacked at the Spaceport. I would have expected a small team to rough me up a little. However the team that came for me were very experienced . There were also a larger number of them than was warranted. It is clear that they wanted the roughing up to be a permanent lesson, but I do have a history and a reputation so that’s probably a factor in the numbers as well. I don’t think they wanted the lesson to be terminal but not easy to forget. I however returned the favour and I am less forgiving in my teaching methods. In fact, I returned it to the point that I still have a loose end sweating in a box waiting for me to get back to them.
“I knew that the people covering this up would not have expected me to walk so easily out of the Spaceport. It meant they were a little clumsy. Powerful, but not in a position to plan carefully. So I took the initiative and decided to push a little harder. If the quarry was making mistakes then it is wise practice to beat the bushes a little and see if it makes them fly in the right direction.
“Meanwhile we, Hooper and Krennar for the most part, worked out that someone was monitoring communication in Judicial Central. What was worse was that we discovered there is an active force working against us there. They are on the payroll of someone connected to all of this, whatever this is. You are a clue to it, but we don’t know what that is as yet. That’s a long game to play as the quarry there must have been hiding for a long time.
“Again I underestimated, slightly, the ferocity of their response. After a rather heavy little vehicle encounter. And my death at the hands of an old trick, that I should have seen coming as it was telegraphed from a distance…”
“Yes. I got better. Are you wanting to hear this?”
“Sure, forgive me for being shocked again. Go on with the story.”
“I made a deal with one of my pursuers. I wanted to get some more information from them about what happened and I did. I also attracted some attention from an organised group on the planet during the conflict. The upshot of the information from the deal was that you were marked for death. They were having no luck in getting their legal team associated to you. My contact at Justice had started to sniff around, and they believed I needed to have my evidence taken away from me. That evidence was you. At that point you represented the major component of evidence, whatever that means.
“That’s when Hooper cooked up a slightly crazy plan to kill you, and kill Krennar. I had no real part in that plan. They worked it out with my own personal angel.”
“My angel, did they not have those in your time, a backup person who watches over you.”
“You mean like an oversight ops for an infiltration team?”
“Then they did have them. Yes. I have one. We have worked together a lot. They also owe me. Significantly. But I also owe them.”
“So they contrived to have me and Krennar killed?”
“Yes. Meanwhile I now have to break into Volstron’s rather secure facilities. I need to discover if there are any traces of what they are up to, and more importantly, I need to know exactly who in their higher echelons is involved as they are the next link in the chain upwards towards the answer to all of this.” Drick smiled without any trace of mirth, “I also need to do a job for the Union while I am there as payment for a little transgression on their turf. Now you know.”
“Yeah, I’ll tell you about them later.”
“Is it worth it? I mean finding out? I am dead, right? If I just disappear somewhere then it goes away.”
“That’s true. But I took your case for a reason. I am doing this for a reason.”
“What’s the reason?”
“When I find out, I’ll let you know.”