Category: Wrote in 365 Parts

Written in 365 parts: 175: Sequence Paradox

“When you say, what I know, I am guessing you mean about you? About how we got you out?” the Organic sat down on the edge of the bed. Marsh sat on the chair next to the table and noticed Drick lean against the wall. 

Drick had attached a security monitor to the door that was linked to the sensors they had placed coming into the building. Drick would be scanning them, Marsh had his internal screens set to alert.

“Whatever you think is relevant.” Said Marsh. “If I need more I can always be more specific. Start where you want to. How about a name. I am using Marsh, this is Drick.”

They nodded. “Call me Toni. It’s a neutral enough name and I have been using it since we busted you.” 

Marsh nodded and waited for Toni to proceed. “I was tanked on this planet. Wealthy parents who both worked in engineering fields. Both identified as male, one was a resource engineer, employed in the Kuiper belt, the other a structural engineer, part of the city planning division. I did well at school, went to college, decided I liked biology and eventually drifted into genetic sequencing towards my doctorate.” They looked at Drick. “Can I get a drink?”

Drick nodded and passed them a glass of water. “After college I did mostly postdoctoral research in the tanking facilities. Wrote a couple of papers on how to better sequence clones. Also did some research into the sequence paradox.”

“What’s the sequence paradox?” Marsh asked.

“It’s a well established paradigm in tanked organics. Ever since the Expansion we have been mostly tanking our organic forms. In fact there are very few births relatively, or there were, but I am getting ahead of myself. There are two issues to think about here. One is that it is incredibly messy to do it the old fashioned way so tank everyone is a great idea, you get the bonus of being perfect every time. However there is the sequence paradox. It is far better to let nature do the randomisation of genes. She’s been doing it for billions of years and it is a good method. Random variations and mutations lead to lifeforms that are suited to their environments or a quick round of extinction. We found a way of replicating nature without introducing variations that wouldn’t be the most efficient. There are enough patterns to create a wide variety of organics, but no compelling reason to throw a random sequence into the mix. Nature is random, she’s bloody good at it, and also horrible and it leads to species becoming a zero sum. So tanking wins as we can introduce a level of random and keep a very good quality of lifeform.”

They took a deep drink from the glass and paused for a short while. “Or so you would think. Enter the real part of the paradox. We’ve known for millennia that in-breeding leads to genetic inferiority. You need a broad spectrum of possibilities or you end up with the monarchies of the past, or backwater breeds of animals that enhance some defect until it wipes out the breed.” A pause and a look away. “Arrogantly we believed we had solved that. After all we can nudge the chromosomes around, and even re-sequence the DNA itself, even after birth. But we were wrong. Not enough random mutation. You see all of the clones, and people tanked after the Expansion, are variations of perfect forms. They are just a subset of random possibilities of constructed life. They had no defects. No variables that would result in too great a mutation. The tanking process refined, so nothing left to real chance, the algorithms that produced the best form of life were too good.”

A deep breath was taken. “As always in our arrogance we ignored the lessons of nature and history. By the time it was discovered that we had started to introduce a degenerative component to our genetics there were no real people left. It took us five hundred years to completely sterilize the human condition into this state. In that time the Expansion Wars had ravaged us and there were few who could trace their ancestry back to real birthing. Maybe some in the far flung colonies. But none since the first great colony ships and they had all started using tanks when they settled. The few birthed ancients that walked among us were so biologically altered they were useless to genetic science.”

“How big an issue was it?” Asked Marsh.

“Humanity would have continued. But we would have had to start adding in elements from other animals. Mostly from the higher order primates. But they would still be genetically altered, tanked. The same issue would probably occur somewhere down the line. We didn’t have the excesses of the DNA, the redundant parts that gave rise to mutations. Replicating them would have just created a different issue. We would maybe survive a few millennia as some organic life that resembled humanity. But after that we would start to lose any semblance of similarity. It might even had been quicker.”

“How did they solve it?” Asked Marsh. “You still tank new people and don’t just have clones.”

“They didn’t solve it.” Toni smiled. “That’s why i studied it for fun. Everyone knows about it and amongst geneticists there is still research into solving it as then we can strive once again towards some notion of perfection. But it was never really going to be solved. Best estimates said humanity had a few thousand generations before we were using synthetic bodies and electronic life simulation.”

“Then what do we do instead?” Asked marsh.

“We used an original source.”

“What? I thought you said that by the time we knew the issue we were past the point of finding an answer?” Said Marsh.

“I did, and we were. No one was able to have enough traditional human, but that was over six hundred years ago. If we move forward to just about five hundred years ago we had an answer.”

“What was that?” Asked Drick speaking for the first time in a few minutes.

“We discovered an original source. I don’t know from where, that’s high level Yee On Kline and above, maybe government. We just suddenly had the ability to clone from source original humans and birth them using traditional methods. We still can. That’s why we have breeding programs on most of the colony worlds. It is why we have the three percent rule, three percent of all organics are from source, not clones or descendents from only tanked lines. You just don’t find many of them at this level. They are always government institutions or speciality programs in the big pharmaceutical companies. Most people don’t even realise there are real people. They still come out of tanks, but they aren’t clones.”

“So how does that lead to me?” Asked Marsh.

“Ah.” Toni laughed with no real mirth. “Now you are a very special case.”

Written in 365 Parts: 174: Obviously Not Safe Enough

Marsh stood to one side as Drick stepped up to the doorway and looked into the privacy camera. Drick pressed the switch. The screen remained dark, but after a few moments a voice, feminine, spoke. “What do you want?”

“Hi.” Drick smiled. “We need to talk about your former career and the reason you ended it so abruptly.”

“You have the wrong person.” A slight waiver in the tone.

They had checked the plans to this apartment building before coming inside. There was only one good exit to each room, and a fire exit at the end of each floor. They could try and get out of a window, but they would have to blow it open as the windows in this complex did not open below level ten. They would then have to leap twenty-five metres to the floor and there was a highway close by the building.

“I don’t think so,” said Drick. “Look let’s make this easy. I am not Justice, or Union. I certainly don’t work for Volstron, or Yee On Kline. I imagine that all those people are looking for you.” As always Drick never revealed anything. It was the Union who had led them here. “But you struck fortune as I have found you first. Open the door, or I will open the door. Don’t try anything cute as it will go really bad for you. If I wanted you dead, there wouldn’t be an apartment on the other side of this door right now.”

There was a long silence of maybe thirty seconds before a voice spoke. “Okay,” there was a pause, “hold on.”

Drick dropped a holoprojector onto the floor and triggered the stealth setting on the soft suit they wore. An image of Drick appeared over the top of the now hidden one and they immediately stepped out of the image to one side.

The doorway opened a crack and then there was a bright burst of purple-green energy. A short throw plasma ejector. Drick waited a second for it to discharge. The operator was clumsy, they had spent the whole ten shot cartridge on the one shot. Drick stepped back into their holographic image and then kicked hard at the door. It flew backwards into the face of the shooter.

Marsh had taken three steps backwards during the plasma firing, and now he used that distance to get a little momentum as he followed Drick’s kick up with a charge into the door. He went through the doorway, sending the door crashing backwards even further, and rolled to the floor. 

Drick dropped the stealth mode and deactivated the hologram. They quickly followed Marsh into the apartment. There was an organic sprawled in the room just behind the doorway. They had knocked over a small table that held a small food humidifier. Marsh had rolled to the other side next to the single bed that was just to the side of the door. Aside from the bed there was another table and chair, and a small stand up utility closet of combined toilet and shower.

Drick kicked the gun away from the organics hand in the direction of Marsh and placed a hand on the butt of their own pistol. “I told you not to try anything cute.” Drick snarled the words but didn’t feel any real malice. They would have tried something themselves if the situation were reversed. “Get up.” Drick commanded.

Marsh had stood up and pulled the cartridge from the pistol. He walked over to the table which had a laptop, communicator and a spare clip for the gun. He placed the gun on the table. He turned back towards the organic. Marsh studied their ident tag. They were displaying as gender neutral with no sexual preference. Body shape seemed more feminine than masculine, but without any clearly defined biological features. They had short dark hair and rainbow coloured eyes. They looked to be grown that way, not altered or augmented by a tattoo or interface.

“Do you recognise me?” Asked Marsh.

“Depends,” they had a soft voice and there was clear fear. “You look like someone, but you may not be them.”

“I don’t really remember you,” said Marsh. “That was all so confused, for me. Still is. I know you busted me out so don’t try to lie about it. I just wanted to ask you some questions.”

“How do you know who I am?” they asked.

“We have the data files from Yee On Kline with your biological details, but no name. We also have the reports about you from Volstron. I notice you cut your hair, and it looks like you are bulking out a little. So you have taken body shaping meds. They would have still found you, you know that right?”

“I was hoping to avoid that.” They said quietly.

Drick moved over and quickly scanned the drawers of the small cupboard, finding only spare jumpsuit rolls. Drick scanned the apartment and suddenly smiled. There was a loose looking panel above the doorway and below the air ducts. There would be a hollow space there. They moved the chair to the doorway and looked at the organic. “If I look up there will I find some illegal contraband? New identity and funds perhaps?”

The organic looked crestfallen “Yes. Some medication and a few personal items”

“I presume you had those with you when you busted him out?” Drick indicated Marsh.

“Yes. That was always part of the plan. Get him out, and get dropped off at a secure location. Then split up and never see anyone you knew previously again.”

“Where are you headed?” Asked Marsh

“Back towards the core worlds. I have skills and could easily find work. It would be at least a twenty year trip and so any heat would likely be gone. They’d also be looking for the wrong person”

“What about ident tags?” Asked Drick, “they are a little harder to change.”

“Hard but not impossible. I have a doctorate in genetic manipulation. Tags can be rewritten. Our contact had the appropriate funds to change any legal identification, and records for new identities that would match the new passes.” The organic sat down. “We almost got away with it.”

“From my perspective you did get away with it.” Said Marsh. “Sit down and tell us what you know. Then we will leave and you can carry on with whatever you were doing, I promise.”

“Though if I were you,” said Drick. “After we leave, I would move to the next location you have planned. Because we found our way here, so this location is obviously not safe enough.”

Written in 365 parts: 173: More Fluid Still Rigid

Marsh followed Drick as they navigated a maze of corridors and passageways in the under city. This world constantly surprised Marsh, sometimes for the better, but more often for the worse. They were so advanced in technology and individual choice,  yet the society could be as regressive as the world he came from. 

At the thought of this a laugh almost escaped his lips. He didn’t come from that society, he was mostly a product of this age biologically. But internally, he felt as if he really belonged to an age greater than a thousand years dead.

They were on the trail of the third occupant of the vehicle that Marsh had escaped the compound within. Lane had found the occupant hiding out down here. Though, it was more likely that Lane’s network of contacts in the Engineer’s Union that had found them. It didn’t really matter as the information was given to Drick and Marsh. 

It was another part of the puzzle. Another piece to cross off. 

In the time that Marsh had known Drick he had come to understand that they trusted very few people, and they confided in fewer. Even amongst those that knew them closely there was not much that bonded. Krennar had made the comment that Drick was often a one way street, emotionally. You travelled down it one way but shouldn’t expect anything to come back. For his part Marsh was fine with that. Drick was cleaner to understand than many of the organics, as people were referred to. Biological people. Artificial intellects had many of the same rights and laws applied to them, there were differences but only to fit the nature of the host. 

For Marsh the notion of sentient machines were almost a terrifying prospect. His mind knew only of a society where artificial intellects could be determined as highly specialized inference engines with adaptive algorithms, to some they were no more human than a fast difference engines. Here they were considered alive. They had rights.

Marsh paused his thinking about Drick. It was still difficult to separate how his more primitive emotional culture worked with people who chose so much of their identity. It seemed odd. Sure there were people here who had a definite feel for their sexual and biological preferences. But everyone could choose, and could change with little issue such was the highly developed medical and psychological understanding. 

Many took the option of changing, sometimes seasonally, throughout their lives. They evolved and changed. Drick had declared there were probably as many organics who chose no gender bias, with no status, as much as any other combination. It made life easier sometimes not to have to emotionally invest.

Marsh knew that this freedom for centuries had resulted in massive shifts of how the brain operated. Here the people knew the brain was neither a sexual or a gendered organ, it had far more plasticity and that was evident in their cultures and society.

Yet there was less fluidity and fungible dynamics in the divisions of wealth and labour. That had not progressed, it had only widened. How could a society advance so much in their understanding of self and yet impose so greatly on the ability to adapt in other ways?

Marsh found the prospect of the undercity abhorrent. This world had the technology to grow just about any organic component. It had the ability to construct beautiful cities that could work as smoothly as a complex organism. They could be a utopia. They had no real need for fiscal systems except as a function of divisionism. But, they did have fiscal systems. They had inequality. They had wealth and poverty, luxury and squalor. Because it allowed them to keep stratified cultures.

Despite the undeniably broad equality achieved by allowing fluidity in choice of sexuality, gender and looks; they still suffered from finance systems mired in inflation, possession and the exploitation of capital. Maybe it was the only way that humanity could progress. Maybe we needed something to drive us. The enlightenment offered from curiosity, to go into the universe full of wonder, to discover, appeals to a noble part of our psyche, but does not drive us to exist. Organic life may need some challenge, some adversity, to keep pressing onwards. Societies and cultures may need inequality to define greatness.

Marsh personally felt that it just proved humans were full of shit. What they actually were, was greedy. Their underlying base survival instinct was to take and covet what was most desired. It seemed that power and wealth were those things even in this far flung time. That is why there was so much inequality still in these civilised systems.

The corridors were of mixed styles and materials. Some were clearly part of the network of internal buildings that rose impossibly high above them. Other corridors were added long after construction. Steel and glass fused to plasticrete and organic compounds. Sometimes they mimicked internal architectures, others were eyesores. The fastest, and cheapest, method of attaching two buildings. 

Around many of the walkways ran the vehicle surfaces. Even after centuries it was still much easier to have a stable surface to push against, roll upon, or be guided by. Automated systems could be built to function as full pilots, but it was easier and cheaper to build road surfaces and simple vehicles.

They reached a tower block that was just inside the protection area covered by Volstron. They were on a very low floor. If they were twenty floors above their current level it would have been extremely risky to hide out in this building complex. But Volstron security guards, systems, cameras and even the tactical support teams, never came below level seven. Not without heavy backup and a drone strike of a paralyzing gas beforehand.

Written in 365 Parts: 172: Nothing But Blackness

“Wake up.” A surge of electricity coursed through the restraints making Drick’s body arch despite them being hung from the ceiling. Drick’s legs kicked against the manacles that ran through a ring in the floor. “Enough.” The voice barked. The female voice. The Captain as they were called. “Are you awake? Or do you need another jolt?”

There was a dry cough before the rasping reply, “I’m awake.” Drick coughed some more, and felt their body shake from the spasms. How long had they been doing this same routine. Hours? Minutes? Days? Who knew. Drick could only remember pain. Mind scrambled by whatever toxin they wanted to jack them up on. Body ravaged by electrical stimulation, and the beatings.

“You’re looking rough,” said the Captain in her usual snarl. “Do you know how long you have been here? You’re tough but you’re dying.”

“No.” Deep coughing this time, and the coppery taste of blood in the mouth. Drick spat and through misted eyes saw the large red splatter. Drick’s jaw was aching where the medic had roughly inserted a pin after the Captain broke it with her boot. When was that? It felt recent but the pain was not sharp. It was dull. Was it striving to compete with the rest of the body? Or was it already fading from time? Drick couldn’t tell.

“Well,” Drick heard the Captain approach. Close really close. Drick winced as a hand lifted the head up from under their chin. The jaw sent a sharp pain this time and Drick closed their eyes and clenched their teeth to try and blot it out. It only made it worse. “It’s been months, little fish. Months and months. We smash you up and then our doctor, who isn’t very good. Patches you as best they can. Then we smash you up a little more. Honestly I would have given up by now.” The Captain squeezed Drick’s jaw and it took every fibre of Drick’s will to keep the scream to a low wail. “But you keep on going. I have to admire that. But I am getting bored.”

The Captain let go of Drick’s head. They didn’t even have the strength left to stop it crashed back into their own chest. Sending a stabbing pain from the jaw to behind the eyes, and a deep ache into their chest. Busted ribs. Yesterday, the day before, some time before, they had kicked Drick like a sack of meat. Ribs were still broken, hip as well from the searing agony that spread from there. They must be giving Drick painkillers to wake up. The agony was starting to make them black out.

“Truth be told,” the Captain said, “I got bored some time ago. I honestly thought about just shooting you and having done. Or maybe putting you in an airlock and setting the cycle to slow. Letting you die from oxygen starvation again. But I think that you are so nasty that you wouldn’t cry for help. We keep beating you, fixing you, beating you. Yet still you won’t submit. You won’t beg for your life, or your death. You’re a tough bastard.”

There was another wave of agony as the electricity was turned on once more. Drick couldn’t stop the screams this time. The whole of their body ached for death. They hadn’t eaten in some time otherwise they would have vomited. Even empty the stomach produced some liquid into the throat that burned. Drick was unable to spit with the spasms, so they gurgled on their own stomach contents. When the electricity was shut off they choked and coughed out bile and blood. Struggling to breathe.

“Beg me for your life. Beg me to kill you quickly. You will beg me. I will have you whimpering at my feet. You killed my husband. Beg me.” The Captain screamed the words into Drick’s ear.

Drick mumbled and the Captain punched them hard in the side. Drick felt bone grind against flesh. Broken ribs don’t take well to being thumped. They coughed and spat out more blood. In between ragged breaths Drick shouted hoarsely. “I said,” Coughing, spit blood. “I’d beg you to shut up whinging for shit’s sake. Why don’t you get a new lover, or a dildo?”

The Captain screamed and punched Drick hard in the face. Drick felt the jaw split. The pin that held it together pierced the cheek and grated against the tongue. Drick spasmed and tried to lift their head back. But the world span, turned, twisted about the head, and then they saw nothing but blackness.

Written in 365 Parts: 171: Born to Endless Night

‘…Every night and every morn – Some to misery are born,        
Every morn and every night – Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night…’

The dreamer did not sleep. Not in the traditional sense of the word. There was an altered state of consciousness, though the alteration was not a reduction or a distortion. The consciousness was enhanced by several levels both electronic and otherwise. Sensory input was not reduced. The number of sensations were massively increased as there were thousands more inputs. So the sensory perception was increased and not inhibited or reduced as it would be in sleep. So much sensory information laid out in a manner that the dreamer could understand.

Where it most resembled sleep was that it was a dream. It was a narrative. It was a fantasy constructed to keep the personality alive. The self, the ID of classic psychotherapy. The dream kept a mind from fully spinning out of control. It kept it alive, and in some semblance of what it was before, so very long ago.

But it wasn’t a real dream, even though it had a dreamer. The dreamer was not asleep, they never could be. The systems that it inhabited were always active, always working. They had to be. If the system were ever allowed to stop then the dream would end, and the self that inhabited it would be lost. A shadow suddenly encased in light.

The dream, the narrative, kept the self alive. The systems that it was connected to were not as linear, or as coherent, as the senses an organic body might possess. The sense of time not regulated by the ticking of a biological clock. To the machine all sensors reported simultaneously and  could be shifted in any manner. They could be processed in whatever sequence was desired, and in so doing the sense of casual relationship could be disrupted. Sensors that detected elementary particles travelling ahead of a stream of photons could be time-shifted to coincide with sounds from the emanating source. Or shifted so they arrived afterwards. Thunder could come before lightning. The narrative was constructed.

The systems presented to the self the ability to hold all the infinite variables of an event in the palm of an imaginary hand, and to examine them from multiple angles. It could alter the perception of time so that a moment could be a lifetime, and a century might pass almost in the blinking of an eye. In this way it had kept the self alive, and in some semblance of what it had been, for centuries.

Over time, however, even this would fail. The mind learned such trickery and felt the passing of the years, even if there was no sense of time. It was experience. The dreamer was needed. The dreamer kept the system alive. The intellect needed the construct of a dreamer in the falsehood of a dream. It was a fundamental component and without it the entire system would fail.  The cumulative experience of centuries of artificial construction and sensory input was the force that was driving the decay that destroyed the self. The self was losing coherence, it was losing the will to be.

There were no real senses. The dreamer craved the sensation of gravity. The feeling of pressure on the skin. The touch of moisture as a tear rolled down the cheek, the dryness as it leaves the skin lost to the elements. The smell of salt, the taste of a kiss. The dreamer had known these. But here it was birthed in the endless night of space and the coldness of data.

Written in 365 Parts: 170: Are You Ready to Talk

Perf couldn’t believe it. How was it possible? Hooper should be dead. They should be a smear at the bottom of a crater. They were in that tent. They were in that explosion. No way did anything survive that explosion. It wasn’t possible. And yet a few hours ago Hooper had arrested them.

How was it possible?

Perf had sat in stunned disbelief, as he had been handcuffed, and then roughly pulled to his feet. Hooper had stared at him for long seconds. Face to face. Eye to eye. Saying nothing. That look. That look was enough to chill Perf to the marrow. 

But surely they didn’t have any evidence. What could they get Perf on? A minor piece of deception. Failure to turn up for work. These were small matters, a fine or two, an ignoble release from duties and then Perf would be free and rid of this world. It was a minor setback. Nothing more. Perf might not even bother with a lawyer. A justice bot was enough to get these charges settled. Then Perf would be out of here. A minor inconvenience, as long as they pleaded guilty and then got away from here before a full audit could be done.

Perf looked up as the doorway slid smoothly back. Two legal reps came in, from the look of them they were with the government prosecutors office. Behind them Hooper came in, they were carrying two evidence boxes and a data slate. All three of them sat down. Without speaking each one of them allowed a recording drone to take a full scan and genetic sample. Then it did the same to Perf. It was thorough and took samples from both of his hands, his throat and a blood sample. 

“What are you charging me with?” Perf asked.

Hooper stared at Perf for long seconds before lifting the data slate and showing some information to the two prosecutor officers. They had both switched their ident tags to no display, so Perf had no idea who they were, how they identified and any preferences. Usual technique with lawyers, never give anything up for free.

Hooper smiled slightly. “I must ask you if you are aware of your rights? Do you wish a lawyer to be appointed or will a court appointed defence suffice?”

“I’m fine with a justice bot. I haven’t done anything bigger than a fine.” Perf said calmly. “Can we not just skip forward to the bit where I pay up and leave?”

“Do you know how we found you?” Hooper asked.

Perf had been thinking about that for some time. The only possibility is that someone had noticed him buying clothes in a different size. They may have got a line on the first class ticket, but that had to be less likely. The real worry was that Hooper was still alive. “It doesn’t matter. It was a minor offence.”

“Why were you running, Perf?” Hooper asked, “what were you running from?”

“I just needed to get away. I have been feeling it for some time. It was a mistake to sign on for another ten year stretch and I couldn’t face paying the penalty. This way I would end up with a fine. Not be around to pay it so they would just cancel my government stipend.”

“Wouldn’t that leave you destitute?” Hooper asked.

“No.” Perf smiled. “I always lived on satellite. I saved my money and have been using those savings as investments on the stock exchange.” This was true. What Perf didn’t say is that he had a few larger investments in hedge funds run under anonymous accounts that extra payments were made to by his associates.

 “So how do you think we found you?” Hooper asked again.

“I really don’t know.” Perf said. They smiled. “Why does it matter?”

“We both know why it matters.” Said Hooper. “Let me leave you to chew on that a moment more. Tell me, were you surprised to see me at the shuttle port?”

“A little,” Perf smiled, “I thought you were off duty, sick or something. Had I known you were about we could have discussed the upcoming Union meetings.”

“Sure we could. I mean aren’t you surprised to see me breathing?” Hooper’s voice was calm but his eyes were ice cold. They looked as if they wanted to drill right into Perf’s brain and pull out every secret that was there.

“Why would I be surprised at that?” Said Perf.

Hooper smiled. “Well because you supplied some of the equipment and information that was used in a surgical strike to attempt to kill me.”

“That’s a very serious accusation,” said Perf, “Maybe I will get myself a better lawyer.”

“I think you should,” said Hooper, “We have a lot more questions. Do you want to get one now? We can leave you with the court appointed bot to sort that out.”

“You can carry on, for now,” said Perf, “just be aware that I am not going to let you railroad me into a false confession and entrap me. Right?”

Hooper laughed. It was a dry laugh but it had genuine humour in it. Perf noticed that the two prosecutors also smiled. Perf suddenly felt like a piece of meat at a hyena party. Hooper stopped laughing. “We have no need to do that, Perf, we already have enough evidence to have you vaporised. This is just a formality. Your best option right now is to come clean and tell us everything.”

“I don’t know anything,” said Perf. Their heart was racing and their palms had started to sweat. Hooper should be dead and they were being very coy. Could be a trick to get Perf to confess, but they wouldn’t get anything from them. “I just wanted to get away.”

“Did you hear about the assault on Volstron?” asked Hooper.

Perf had, but there was little on the news and it had happened while Perf was writhing senseless from the body alteration drugs. They hadn’t logged in again so knew nothing other than what the media had reported. Which was very little. “I heard they had some trouble. Are we getting another rash of corporate fighting? Let the government forces deal with it.”

“It appears someone got into Volstron. Rumour has it that they managed to get into the secure servers. Terrible business. Way outside of the Justice Department. As you rightly point out. Private company compounds are only covered by government forces, and the companies can always lobby for special privilege. However we did receive an anonymous data package. Seems that Volstron kept a record of every communication that went into, or came out of, their system. They kept all of them. Even the encrypted ones. Of course encrypted comms would take decades to decode, even if you could. Unless someone gave you the encryption key as well.” Hooper stared hard at Perf, “I wonder what you make of this snippet?”

Hooper tapped on the screen in their hand and Perf heard their own voice and that of the Chief Officer of Volstron Services “‘That is quite a lot that you want.’ ‘We are paying you well. You would be wise to remember that you are well known to us and we expect results for our investment.’ ‘The officer took a deep breath. “I may need options in case this gets too problematical.’”

“Now, Perf.” Hooper smiled again as those cold eyes burned straight into Perf’s soul. “Want to start talking or do we move on to the rest of the evidence we have against you?”

Written in 365 Parts: 169: Escape

They hurried along the corridor trying to make their pace look like someone late rather than someone running away. Fast, but not too fast. Hurried, but not frantic. Don’t alert suspicion. Don’t get too far ahead of your carefully timed schedule. The computer program would activate in sequence, masking your location and passage, but you cannot be too far out of range as it was dangerous to delude the sensors for too long. Especially now. When you were finally leaving.

They could have laughed. They had managed to pull off decades of deceit and trickery. Now they had pulled off the murder of a colleague. The best part about it was that no one would ever know. Hooper had gone off grid and was masquerading as someone else. No one knew where they were and what they were doing. Bye, bye, Hooper. They were a smear in the desert now, there wouldn’t even be a trace of them. The only recoverable element would probably just indicate the presence of genetic material.

However the use of satellites, drones and secure networks. The bodies being examined in the morgue after a break in. The missing equipment from a corporate store. The numerous changes to Justice Department records in the last few days. All of this was an issue. There was no doubt that some small irregularity might be found. It was time to leave, and collect the very fat pension they had accumulated, before someone in government or corporate noticed something. Time to leave this satellite, job, world, system and persona behind.

Step one was to get off the satellite leaving no traces of how they went. This had been planned way in advance. They had a ticket on a public shuttle, but in the executive section that had private booths. They had a false identity and papers and a good enough disguise. They were currently six centimetres taller and a whole lot slimmer than they had been twenty-four hours before. Thanks to some very fast acting growth supplements and weight reduction medication. It had hurt, even the pain medication had only dulled the agony. But it was needed.

They had untyped their gender. For decades they had been clearly identified as male with a single partner, opposite gender, status. Now they had a new biological tag. They used a clone program to replicate skin cells and regrow their biological identity tag with the assumed identity, who had no gender and no preferences. They also had a faked genetic code. There would be a mandatory sample on the shuttle of a skin scrape on the left hand. They had grown a flesh glove over their hands for this.

They turned a corner and quickly joined the back of a short queue. They had timed it perfectly. This was the final group of boarding passengers. They waited until they were close to check in and then moved into the priority line and presented their ticket. The robot system took only a microsecond to log and scan them in. They placed their left hand on the biological scanner and held their breath as the system took a small slice of skin. A wait of close to ten seconds was like an hour until the screen went green, and they were directed into the boarding tube.

Ten minutes later they had stowed their luggage into a locker above the cubicle and opened the small door. They sank into the seat and adjusted straps to fit their new body size. They set the privacy screen and idly started to flick through the entertainment channels. The shuttle would depart in less than thirty minutes. Four hours of flight time to an orbiting station, and then they would disappear again with another identity. They had done it.

There was a flash on the screen. Someone had indicated they wanted to talk to them. Probably the vessel’s staff. A crew member giving some special courtesy to a high class passenger. Well, they were never one to refuse a courtesy. They hit the switch and dropped the privacy screen and looked into the muzzles of four weapons. 

A squad of justice drones were hovering around their cabin and stood behind them with a harsh smile was Hooper. “How are you doing, Perf?” Hooper asked.

Written in 365 Parts: 168: Fleshbags You Fancy

Drick found themselves, once again, sat at the same pop up food stall poking at a bowl of noodles with a resin bi-pronged fork. This time Marsh sat with Drick at a small round table near the back of the food court area. A quaint term for what was supposed to be a temporary location. Drick could remember when the tables looked just old. Now even the stains on the surface had stains on them. What appeared to be a laquer on the aluminium top was actually generations of sauces carefully smeared together and heat sealed by thousands of hot plates.

Marsh was tucking into the noodles with a gusto reserved for those who were enjoying life. He shovelled huge forkfuls into his mouth and chewed with relish. Drick didn’t have the heart to tell him that what he was eating was most likely a tunnel bunny, the local term for any rodent or creature that lived underground or rubble. He was enjoying the food and that was all that really mattered. Marsh even seemed to like the mushrooms and tunnel fungus that was at the bottom of the bowl. He finished and immediately went to get another. He asked Drick but they politely refused, they hadn’t finished the first bowl.

Marsh was close to finishing his third bowl when Lane arrived. Drick watched Marsh study the woman taking careful note of his eyes and his expression. Drick was impressed, he hadn’t lingered over Lane’s incredibly sculptured body, more looked her up and down in an interested, but casual, fashion. 

Lane smiled and sat down. She dropped a few credit bars on the table and waved a hand at one of the roving serving staff. “Beers and shots for the three of us and I will cover the food,” she said. “Take the rest of the credit as a tip.” The staff member smiled at Lane in a genuine fashion. 

“They only give real smiles to big tippers?” Asked Marsh.

“Pays to be a representative for the Union” Lane replied. “So you are Marsh, I guess. Your photo doesn’t do you any favours. You are a lot trimmer and more chiselled than a holoscan shows.”

“I am about fifteen centimetres taller as well,” said Marsh. He noticed the blank look on their faces. “Old two dimensional movie reference for you. I am Marsh, yes. I guess you are Lane?”

“I am.”

“Drick told me about you.” He smiled and shook Lane’s outstretched arm. She noticed that he took the time to read her bio tag. “Sorry,” he said smiling in embarrassment. “I haven’t really got used to scanning icons and knowing what they mean from a distance yet. So I have to take the time to look properly so that I don’t look more like an idiot later.”

“That’s fine.” Lane flashed him a smile. “I hope everything Drick told you was bad?” She winked at Drick who rolled their eyes.

“The worst,” said Marsh. “Did she talk about me?”

“Sure, she never said you had a nice voice though.”

“Of for,” Drick rolled their eyes, “will you two quit it or get a room.” Drick snarled, “I can only stand so much of this rat shit before I lose my stomach.” The end of Drick’s sentence was punctuated by the server placing drinks on the table. Drick held up the shot glass, muttered “up yours” and drained it. Putting the glass on the table Drick picked up the beer. “So we’re going to talk?” Drick stared at Lane.

“Sure. Always nice to have a conversation with new people, friends and total asshats like you Drick.”

“Sweet, I see the charm is only wasted on the flesh bags you fancy.”

“No,” Lane smiled. “I just add extra for them. I wouldn’t waste any emotion on you Drick. You’d simply use it against me or someone else. You are a serial bastard after all. Isn’t that your favourite phrase for yourself?”

“Maybe. Did you get the material I sent?”

“We did. I have to say on that matter I, and my superiors are understandably overwhelmed. We asked you to retrieve some very specific information and any other small bits associated. We didn’t expect you to get all the material, and so much more. It is an incredible achievement. Admittedly it cost us a significant sum in materials. The clones and vessels alone were an executive’s ransom, But the return is breathtaking.”

“Well, thanks. I guess that pays off all my debts and adds a little in reserve?”

“Of course.”

“Good. I will be wanting to use some of that straight away. I will need a ship and a crew, able to sweep and go anywhere in system. Then I will need some significant time with a medical team and I need you to clear up a lot of loose ends on the planet for me.”

“Interesting.” Lane frowned. “You sound as if you are leaving us Drick?”

“We are. Firstly to a location in the system, and then elsewhere. I won’t be discussing where.”

“That’s a shame. What you did for us nets you a lot of respect. You could easily retire here, or move into the Union full time. They would protect you and I know they would find use for your, quite considerable, talent.”

“Not interested. Thanks for the offer.”

“Well I was asked to invite you. I was also ready to negotiate a substantial reward package. But I know you, Drick. You have your mind set on a course and I doubt even a planetary body could pull you off trajectory. I can arrange for what you want. I would say that it will still leave you with us in your debt.”

“I know,” said Drick with a smile. “I will be transferring that credit to a few people on the planet. They will be made known to you. They will benefit from what I am owed. I assume that’s acceptable?”

“Of course.”

“Good. then get some more drinks in, and we can fill in some more details.”

Written in 365 Parts: 167: When Do You Go?

“Things are going to get very problematic around here,” Drick walked over to the sideboard and poured Krennar a malt whisky from the wide selection of drinks. “Here,” Drick passed Krennar the drink and noticed that they swirled it a little, and savoured the scent, before tasting.

“It’s good,” said Krennar, “hell Rodero you have real talent. If I didn’t know it wasn’t real I would swear that it was.”

“Some of it is the memory of the taste in your mind,” said Rodero, smiling, “the rest is, as you said, pure talent.”

“How problematical?” Krennar looked at Drick. “You want to let me know more? Or is this a case of minimum need to know?” Krennar sipped at the drink.

“I will tell you as much as I can,” said Drick. “Some of it I cannot tell you. It is a matter of professional courtesy that I keep some details back. I made a promise.”

“Very well.”

“How about I explain what I think you need to know, and then if you feel you need to know more, ask questions and I will fill in what I can?” Drick raised an eyebrow and smiled slightly. Drick moved over to the drinks once more and poured a large vodka and slipped some ice into it, looking at Marsh Drick noticed him nod and poured the same for him. Rodero was already nursing their own particular cocktail mixture that likely was infused with more than just spirits.

“We have a copy of pretty much everything that was on their server stack. Don’t ask what was on there as it is a lot and most of it I haven’t looked at, and nor will I. Someone else paid for that privilege. Don’t ask how and where we got it, as I won’t tell you that either.”

“I think I can guess.”

“You can guess as much as you like.”Drick smiled, “Onto the important bits. I have a confession from the chief of their operational security that they had planned to kill Hooper.”

“Hooper’s dead?” Krennar stood up.

“No. They’re alive. Very alive. We knew that they’d be targeted and we took steps to avoid it. They have been coming down like a hail of bastards since this event happened. They clearly are willing to sacrifice whatever they can to kill Marsh and stop any investigation. It stinks. It goes high up. So we have been planning every step and guessing their moves.”

“That must have taken some thinking?”

“Well I have a lot of experience of dealing with this level of shit. Centuries of it. Whereas Rodero here was given a lot of access to some very powerful intellects and a group of the world’s best slicers to help them narrow down probabilities. Don’t ask them how they did it as you will be on the sorry side of a conversation about differential equations and something called statistics and other such crap. Upshot is, we had good guesses as to their every move and so we prepared for all of them.”

“How was the data collected? I know those types of systems. They are more protected than half of the best military networks.”

“There are always gaps in any security. What had to be done was avoiding the system locking down entirely. Thankfully I had noticed the overconfidence of the operations staff. So I relied on that to wager they would keep the system in full backup and recovery mode. I kept someone alive to use their own extremely fancy implants against them. On the bonus side I also got a confession of the assault on Hooper and infiltration of the Justice Department, theft and fraud. A whole shebang with intellect imprint to prove the data is not faked. I need you to get that to Hooper and to secure a copy elsewhere as insurance.”

“I can do that. Where is Hooper?”

“They are in Justice Central. Hidden away doing their own little investigation and pretending to be dead. They should break silence very soon and that’s when you’ll be able to contact them and hand over this package of proof. There are some accompanying pieces of evidence, like the fact that Volstron had an illicit mech in their lobby. There’s enough for the Justice to get warrants and do a full study. The sensor footage on the data files we will give you should be enough for a conviction.”

“You said it went higher?”

“It does. Some high ranking executives in Volstron and Yee On Kline have been feeding massive sums of money and post-service boardroom positions to civil servants and military officers. All high ranking. They have been buying silence and secrecy. They are hiding something in the outer system. I have a vague idea about what it might be. I am not sure but my gut tells me that it is connected to Marsh.”

“You have proof?”

“Well that’s where it gets interesting. I don’t have anyone in Volstron or Yee On Kline. However our security chief, and the criminal gang he worked with, kept very extensive details of every call, payoff and deal they made. They also made secret recordings. I have those. I can let you have some of them, the rest are promised to an associate.”

“Who is the associate?”

“I am not going to tell you, I told you that you can guess. They financed this whole operation. When I delivered the initial data they wanted from the nightclub, with extras, they opened up some more finance to me. I have a meeting with one of their operatives shortly where I will be using that credit line.”

“Do you need anything more from me?”

“A couple of small things. I need a highly experienced surgical team and some tickets on very specific craft. The aftermath of this operation is going to be extensive. They will not be bothering to be discreet. Marsh and I will soon have a big bounty on our heads. Larger than before. So I need to get a long way away from here. But there are a few things to wrap up first. I need to find an experimental geneticist and visit the outer system. I can handle both of those myself. You need to get the other items I have asked for. Questions?”

“When you say you are going a long way away, I guess that means forever?”

“Probably.”

“So I will not see you again?”

“No. But I will be leaving you with that information. Trust me, someone is going to cover most of those people. They will not allow a scandal. That’s going to be very good leverage for someone like you. I also will be leaving you a sum of whatever funds remain after we leave.”

“Will you not need funds where you are going?”

“I will make sure that we are well cared for. The rest is left to you, Hooper and Rodero.”

“When do you go?”

“At this point this conversation is wasting my time? Any more questions?”

“No. I expect I will see you one last time. I will go and start with preparations.”

“Thank you.”

Written in 365 Parts: 166: Goose Lake

Krennar walked into the large room of the lake house to find three people already waiting for them. Drick was dressed in a tight fitting one piece jumpsuit with a slim utility belt. Marsh was dressed in simple green fatigues, functional and loose fitting without being baggy. Rodero had come in a cream tweed double breasted suit, canary cravat, laced cream coloured suede shoes and a bright red tartan mohican above a ginger bearded face with mirrored sunglasses.

Krennar glanced out of the broad windows that filled one wall of the room. They looked out onto a wide veranda that was over the edge of the lake. In the distance a v-shaped wedge of geese came slowly into landing on the lake bringing up thin lines of spray. The geese did not settle into the water, instead they started to skate upon the top, performing some elaborate dance with sprays of water, flips, twists and turns. The geese were walking on water and performing ballet.

“Interesting construct,” Krennar smiled at Rodero, “is that just for me?” They indicated the geese outside.

“Yeah,” said Rodero, “I thought you’d appreciate it.”

“You should have used swans.”

“Why?”

“Look it up.” Krennar turned to Drick. “I assume I am here for a very good reason? I also assume you are going to tell me you had something to do with the assault on the Volstron Compound?”

“Oh,” said Drick sweetly, “were they attacked?”

“Don’t play innocent, Drick, it doesn’t suit you. Can we go back to the aggressive sociopath please.”

“That’s not a nice word.” Drick smiled, “But I guess I deserve it for the bullshit answer.”

“You did, and so?”

“Yeah we were there. But I am not admitting to anything at all. Fortunate bystanders is how I will answer any question. There is no evidence that I was in their compound. I believe that if you check traffic footage, that was collected by Volstron themselves and transferred to Judicial Central during that assault, you will see that I was outside. I was clearly seen by a number of bystanders. I even had a brief chat with a robot sentinel guard who was preventing people from getting too close.”

“Well that’s nicely convenient.”

“Isn’t it just,” Drick smiled broadly.

“So why am I here?”

“We need your help,” said Marsh.

“And I need you to transfer some data to the Judiciary and I don’t want them knowing where it came from. You represent a number of people, hell you could even use it for a bargaining piece.” Drick paused. “Some of it will likely be of real interest to Hooper but I don’t want to pass this to them. They are using an, as close to a by the book, approach to nail their quarry. No need to directly muddy the waters with material gained somewhat unserupticiously.”

“Is it obvious that it may have been gained in an illicit manner?”

“Depends,” replied Drick. “Can you cook up a story that involves direct transmission traces of internal calls between Volstron and Judicial Central involving illicit obtained encryption devices? Where the information was obtained from Volstron’s own deep archives.”

“Not likely,” said Krennar. 

“Then best not to use it that way.” Marsh added.

A puzzled look suddenly came over Krennar’s face and uncleared almost as quickly. “Are you telling me you have access to Volstron’s deep security?”

“Not any more,” said Drick. “But for a short while we had access to their entire internal network and servers using a high ranking security clearance. The highest ranking. We might have made a copy of a lot of information while we had that access.”

“What the hell are you going to do with it? Once people find out the price on your head will skyrocket and that data will have an even bigger reward, whichever way it is sold.”

“Don’t stress. The first part of that isn’t as much an issue as they don’t know I took it. As I said I have an alibi, a government intelligence recorded proof of location. I was interviewed, as just stated, by a sentinel droid, outside the building, whie it was being attacked. I also will not be holding on to the data. It is going to some other associates. I just have taken a few specific pieces for my own usage.”

“And what usage is that, exactly?”