Life is sometimes best shown in the obscure

Written in 365 Parts: 178: You Have Told Us Almost Everything

“How can I help you, officer?” The Officer strode into the room and stared at the occupants. There was a Justice Department Officer, sergeant stripes on their arm. A paralegal, likely from one of the government departments judging by the expensive outfit. Two justice department robots and a detention droid. The latter looked more like an upright coffin than a robot and was used primarily to transport prisoners.

“Hooper,” said Hooper. “Sergeant Hooper. I usually work from Justice Central. But today, Officer Camonte, is a special day. I thought the fresh air and personal touch would do me a lot of good. I am here delivering a warrant.”

“Well that’s delightful. How can I help you, Sergeant Hooper? A warrant for what?” The Officer stared at the man. The gall of the Justice Department flunkies, thinking they could show up in his office and act like they owned the place.

“For whom.” Hooper’s voice was quiet. “So, if you could tell me all your crimes in a nice detailed statement? It would make the conviction and sentencing easier. I am sure that the judgement would be more favourable in that regard.” Hooper smiled.

“You must have taken leave of your senses.” The Officer laughed. “I have done nothing wrong. Had I thought that I had done anything that would require even a caution, then I would have my legal team in here. Now, let’s be sensible. I am not going to tell you anything. I doubt that you have anything. So please leave and don’t let the door catch you on your way through it.”

“Very well,” said Hooper. “As with all department duties this is being recorded by the artificial intellects in the room. It will be noted that you were told that we wished you to make a statement, and that you have declined. At this point you have also refused legal representation.” Hooper stared at the Officer. “Is that correct Officer Camonte?”

Camonte waved a hand nonchalantly as they stared at Hooper. “Go on then. Ask your questions.”

“I need you to confirm that what I said was correct.” Said Hooper.

“Very well. Yes, it was correct. I understand it is being recorded. I decline to make a statement. I do not need legal representation.” Camonto smiled sardonically. “This is me. Officer Camonte who has stated this without coercion, but with much irritation at the pomposity and pointlessness of the proceedings. Is that good enough?”

“Thank you.” Hooper indicated the chairs, “might we sit down?”

“If you must.” 

“Can I confirm that you are Officer Camonte?”

“I am. I just stated as such”

“And you accept who I am, though there is no need to confirm that as we made sure to deliver our identification to your very helpful secretary. Recordings are also matching our bio information.”

The Officer made a mental note to demote the secretary, but waved a hand. “Of course I accept the credentials. You said there was a warrant?” Officer Camonte attempted to make an external call on his implants but the termination of service message flashed in front of his eyes. He must be being monitored as he saw the Justice Department Sergeant.

“I am sorry, Officer Camonte,” Hooper smiled. “But we have started a formal interview so your communications have been suspended. If you wish to make a call you will have to wait until after our interview. You can call your legal teams though? But since you declined initial legal representation that will have to wait until after the initial serving of the warrant and declaration of charges and evidence. This is a statutory right. We did confirm that you wished to make no statement and have no representation, as yet.” Hooper smiled slightly.

“I will let you know when, and if, I consider that to be necessary after you have made your statements.” Camonte sneered but a growing sense of unease had started to form in the lower parts of their abdomen.

Hooper placed a small data recording device on the desk. “So let us confirm for the record the position. I will begin by making a few statements and give you the accompanying evidence. Since it hadn’t been asked, I requested you to identify yourself as Officer Camonte, which you did. I also asked you to make a statement, which you have declined. I have identified myself as being on legal business by informing you we have a warrant, which we do.” Hooper looked at Camonte, he could already see a slight nervousness in the organics eyes.

“Now, this first excerpt,” Hooper activated the playback device.

“…A pause and an intake of breath. “good, I have a task for you.”

“That is apparent, otherwise you would not have contacted me. We do not have a social narrative.”

“Obviously.” 

“I have work I need you to perform. It will require a significant lesson but it will have to be discreet.”

“Who. Cease with the extraneous verbiage.”

“They go by the current disposition of Drick and will be landing at the south-east quadrant in a justice central shuttle in forty-five minutes. Do you have the resources and capabilities.”

“I will send two operatives. The spaceport is heavily monitored. We will only be able to engage with low level force. Though that is only the method and not the outcome. What is your desire?”

“My personal desire is termination with extreme prejudice. But the order I must convey to you is to ensure they do not pursue the current activities. You should be warned that they were tanked as a military grade. Specifically enhanced.”

“That will cost extra. I will send double my usual team.”

“Your usual team is only two. Send quadruple at minimum.”

“That is excessive and will draw attention. So many people increases the chance of secondary and tertiary witness and detection.”

“It will be taken care of. As will the extra fee. If there is a misunderstanding of a stop to their activities then terminate with prejudice and I will ensure that this is covered.”

“I do not care for mere assurances. I require a claim identity so that I have a legal route to pursue with your authority.”

“Here is your authority and claim route. You are covered. Do not fail.”…

Hooper looked at Officer Camote. “I am sure you recognise yourself from that file. It was from a recording recovered from the servers at the Peyote Club. You know we have tried to find the owner of that club, but they seem to have disappeared. Care to comment on that conversation? Care to tell me where they are?”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.” Hooper saw the small beads of sweat starting to form on their forehead and upper lip. Hooper smiled and idly wondered if they were aware that the robots were recording every microscopic change. The artificial intellects he had requested were the most powerful and sensitive that could be found outside of the military. At this moment they were recording such minutiae of detail as the fluid pressure in the various organics arteries using intense electromagnetics. Detect microscopic variations in all body functions that would be used as evidence.

“All of these recordings have been verified with material from your own systems and matched to your biological imprint. We even have the data confirmed as to your location and actions from your own security systems.”

“How did you get that? That is material obtained illegally.” the Officer snapped.

“That is not relevant to your case. How we obtained the material is inconsequential as we have committed no impropriety or illegal actions in obtaining the material. The actions of others would constitute a different case outside of this.” This was calmly stated by the government appointed legal brief. “However since it is irrelevant to the case we are making, I can for clarity state that it came from yourself, as far as we understand. Our records show that it was sent by you. From your personal terminal. During the attack yesterday.”

Hooper smiled, “care to comment on that?”

“I cannot. This copy of my personae and memories is from three days ago. My backups are lost.” 

“Shame.” Hooper smiled grimly. “Loss of memories, deliberate or accidental removal of memories, is not an acceptable excuse for a crime. You are aware of that. Now listen to this.” Hooper keyed the second recording.

…“This is very dangerous.” 

“I appreciate that, I am aware of your preferences for subtlety, but we were given little choice.”

“How can I help? If I can help?”

“We are attempting to close every last loophole in this rather regrettable incident.”

“I see. I am not sure why you need to go to so much effort. It appears as if you are drawing more attention to this matter. Had you left it alone there wouldn’t have been so much of a story and we could have dealt with things more carefully.”

“I agree. There was some initial panic caused by the coincidence of the initial Justice Robots and underlings who do not have an inkling of our capabilities. So there was some avoidable judgement calls. These will be dealt with in due course. For now we have managed to obfuscate a great deal but there are a number of minor, yet irritating, loose ends.”

“Those are? I do not have a great deal of time so be brief.”

“Of course. There is the matter of the k-tag.”

“Out of my hands. They have been placed under secure protection of the investigator and their legal.”

“Regrettable but we have other avenues to further in that regard. There were a number of potential witnesses. Vehicles that may have been in the area and similar, can you get a list of those?”

“Tricky. The officer in charge of that evidence is very careful and almost completely straight and reliable. I would have to burn several long term schemes and contacts to get that information.”

“Please do so, I will pay ten times our usual rates.”

“That is generous but I will need more. They are closely connected to the investigator and will be more careful. I also have placed one trace on them today for you so further observation will have a higher chance of being detected.”

“Very well. This one time I will allow you to bid upwards. Fifteen times the rate and no further negotiation.”

“Accepted. I will attempt to gain all the information they have. Is there anything more?”

“Yes. The investigator. We know they are formerly Judicial Special Tactical Forces, but they seem overly-competent even for that division. I would like all the information you can obtain. Including a list of all their known contacts inside and outside of Judiciary.”

“That might take some time. My initial sweep indicates they had some connection to the inner circles of the governing systems, Possibly even an Accord status or rank.”

“Really. That is more than what we have. How do you know that?”

“A chance comment from the officer they have a connection with here, Hooper. He said something at a poker night a few months ago. I only put the comment to the person when I viewed the trace. Do you know them?” …

“That recording was made by your contact Perf. The Desk Sergeant. I am not even going to ask you to comment upon it. We have your vocal imprint and location. We cracked Perf and they gave us everything. Hooper didn’t mention that they had broken the computer code not for this information. Never reveal all your information or sources. “Let’s listen to the next one. This isn’t directly about you. But it does implicate your organisations involvement, which they claim was all at your authorisation.” Hooper noted them look up sharply. “Oh yes, we spoke to the board of directors initially, to arrange this interview. They were quite definite that you had full authority and the freedom to take all decisions. Quite certain. They are almost eager to appoint blame in precise locations.” Hooper smiled a little more warmly. “This was recorded in a nightclub between a hitman named Minch and his contact with Perf who is called Susa Camile.”

…“Razed the area to the ground with the targeted strike as instructed. There was nothing but a smouldering crater. I waited but there was nothing moving except fragments of dust. The heat scans showed nothing except a rapidly cooling impact zone. Whoever they were, they are dead.”

“They were likely to be a justice operative named Hooper. A clever guy but clearly not as smart as our mutual employer.”

“Who is still a mystery to me.”

“Which is the best thing for you. You don’t want to owe them any more than you currently do. You also don’t want their attention. They won’t appreciate your loyalty like I do. They are likely to just see you as a liability. They tend to eradicate those. They don’t like threats or loose ends.”

“Must be someone high up to have access to that kind of smart technology, the tent and the missile?”

“Nope, just someone with impressive connections. The tent and missile were not government, they were from a private organisation. Though the guidance systems, satellite coverage and launcher were different matters….

Hooper leaned back. “You really should have made a confession. It would have helped a little. Your company deems you disposable, that’s because they are facing a full government enquiry. Yee On Kline have severed all formal relationships with you. The stock of this company has probably halved in the time I have been talking to you. We of course leaked to the news organisations most of this story. We though it appropriate, shame that you already have a falling market share. And, you know I think you’ll love this last snippet of information.  I walked through the door today with a full confession from Perf; from some of your officers; and with full recordings of every call you have made in a year that your board has authorised me to use. And with your own confessions, mailed by you yesterday, from your own personal logs. I didn’t need you to be so stupid as to make a confession. It would have only made you look more guilty had you bothered with legal representation.” Hooper played the final recording.

…“ …even if you are not here, I will find you and destroy you, and Marsh. I mean, I already took out your justice department friend. Did you really think that ruse in the morgue and the desert would work? Why would I tell you anything?”…

“Looks like you have told us almost everything.” Hooper said. “Now, are you sure you don’t want to call someone?”

Written in 365 Parts: 177: Someone is Going to Pay

The Officer paced along the corridor towards their temporary office on the eighth floor of the compound. The Officer would be stuck in a small room for the next few weeks while their own office was completely replaced. Though replace was an interestingly appropriate term considering it was completely missing. Blown to fragments, some parts of it vapourised.

They flicked their eyes over a data sheet, it calculated the losses that the attack had caused. The structural damage alone was significant, several million credits to complete. The damage to equipment was even more impressive. The weapon used on the combat mech had completely scrambled the internal systems and electronics. From the outside it looked unharmed. A close visual examination of circuit boards would reveal little damage. However under a microscope, and penetrating electromagnetics, every fragile circuit had fractures. Warping and distress caused by an intense burst of gravity. 

The operator was dead. Their body had been wrenched apart at a molecular level. Cells and fine electronics do not take well to sudden gravitational forces. The prognosis was that they had suffered forces of several thousand Gs for a tiny fraction of a second. Even the metal armour was damaged at its molecular level.

Then there was the damage to the server rooms. That was catastrophic. Aside from the payments to personnel, and to those who had families, to keep things quiet. There was several hundred millions in computer infrastructure costs. This was a fraction of the cost of the data loss.

The Officer snarled even louder when they looked at the potential cost to replace data and the effect it had on their systems. They were a security company. The loss of data was expensive. The loss of reputation was devastating. They had lost nineteen percentage points from their stock this morning. A cost of billions in shares  wiped in a day. Someone was going to pay very heavily for this, the Officer would see to that.

The Officer studied the reports of the forensic analysis of the attack. There was nothing significant yet, nothing to say who was responsible. Nothing to indicate how they had even got into the building in the first place. How had they managed to get stealth attack pods onto the grounds? How had they managed to infiltrate the upper levels past all the layers of security. How had they known the location of all the guards, sensors and equipment. Why did they want to destroy the servers? 

It was sophisticated. They had a lot of information. This must have been years in the planning. It had to be a major competitor with a lot of inside information. This has to be to wipe them from the market. The run on their stock was evidence of this. That was not just a coincidence. 

They would find the traitors in their organisation. They would find them and they would recover every morsel of information before mailing their remains back to their loved ones.

The Officer felt sure that Drick had something to do with the events. Yet, they had video and sensor footage of them. They were nearby, in fact they were at one of their usual spots, observing the Volstron Compound when the attack happened. They had even tried to get a closer look past the sentinel droids during the assault itself.

The Officer ground their teeth together and went into the section where their new offices were located. Their secretary was standing waiting for them.

“What is it?” They growled. “If it is more bad news I will not be impressed.

The secretary visibly shrunk away from the tone in their voice. “I’m sorry. There are two officers from Justice here.”

“What? Where?” the Officer snapped.“In your office.” They indicated the small room where the Officer was temporarily housed. With an angry look and a hand gesture he dismissed the secretary and strode into the office.

Written in 365 Parts: 176: A Very Special Case

“You care to elaborate on the special case?” Asked Drick.

“How much do you know already?” Toni looked at Marsh.

“A little. I know I was birthed naturally and that I am apparently a pure link to my real parents. But I don’t know how that’s possible.” Marsh stared at them and realised he had sounded harsher than he felt.

“Well I don’t know where the samples come from.” Said Toni. “But that’s pretty much true. What we actually work with is embryonic material that matches your birth parents and you. So the original Marsh. That’s actually enough for us to replicate an almost perfect match.”

“But there’s more. As you built some simulation to make me think I am the original Marsh. How and why?”

“The how is out of my pay grade. As I said I worked on the genetic side. What I do know is they were trying to create an exact replica of the original brain.”

“I thought you just said that they did?” Marsh looked puzzled.

“No,” said Toni. “You misunderstand. The brain is a unique organ. Not just biologically. The connections that are formed in the brain as a person develops over time, the chemicals that are introduced to the body, all of that changes the brain. It evolves new pathways and connections. We can replicate fairly easily the biological composition of a brain. But the alterations that a lifetime of experiences create make for a unique mind. That’s not just psychological changes. There are small, but very relevant, physical changes. If I were to bring two clones up in exactly the same circumstances, feed them the same, nurture them the same, there would still be billions of differences in the connections inside their brains.”

“So what was the purpose? I mean if it is that specific, why would you even try?”

“I don’t know.” Toni smiled. “Sorry. All I know is that we had to replicate as close a match as possible to the record we were given.”

“What record?” said Drick.

“There was a copy of the original Marsh’s brain. A deep level scan that revealed close to a one hundred percent match. We were attempting to get as close as possible. That’s what the teams have been doing repeatedly for hundreds of years. We don’t even do one at a time. You realise that, right? Your surrogate mother was only one of a hundred. We work them in batches. I was only part of one team but we all worked to the same goal. I was paid to get you out. There are ninety-nine others in this batch growing right now. They are about eighteen months from completion. There are at least ten other groups in their formative stages. Teenagers, young adults and babies. This is a very important program.”

“Why the hell am I so important?” asked Marsh. He saw the smile on Drick’s face. “You don’t need to say anything. I don’t mean me. I mean the original me. What is so important that he did eighteen months from now, that I will do, if I was the person from that time will do? What is it that they need an exact copy of him for?”

“I don’t know.” Toni shrugged. “Look there is little else to say. We were offered a large sum of money from your birth mother to get you out. I wanted out. I knew too much and I got the feeling that i would end my career as a biological smear or a sample. I think your mother had grown disillusioned with everything. I worked with a technician who was good with computers. They assured me we wouldn’t have any issues. As you know. We did. I wanted to surrender, the driver got into a firefight with a security guard and we had to race away. When the vehicle crashed I panicked and ran. I was lucky. We were close to the lower levels. I leapt over the freeway wall and managed to land in a waste outlet about fifty metres down. That’s all I have.”

“It fills in some blanks,” said Drick. “We had better get you to your next safe location and then you are free to go.”

Marsh looked at Toni. “Do you know what they do with the failures?”

Toni looked away. “All I know is that we get the results of their autopsies.”

Marsh held out his hand. Toni looked down at it, stood and then took the hand. Marsh gently shook the hand. “Thank you.” He said solemnly. “Thank you for saving my life. I don’t think I would have been the right Marsh.”

“I was being paid,” they said quietly.

“But it was fairly clear that you wanted to be free of that life. Thanks for taking the money and getting me out.” Toni nodded looking relieved.

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.

Lockdown Exercise

I have posted a couple of my longer walks to this blog during the lockdown. I thought I’d share some of the other exercises I do. Just to show the variety, it isn’t much but there is some.

I own a treadmill. On the days I don’t go out I will mix jogging and walking on the treadmill. This is usually early morning and I do between 2-3hrs while the rest of the house is asleep. Distances vary between 15 to 22 Km.

I also do runs outside. These will be between 5km to 10km and take between 25mins to an hour.

I do mixed walking (Uphill walking as Lancaster has a nice monument that is 320ft or so above the river) then jogging a circular route back downhill and flat with some uphill back to the river. This is usually 2-3 laps and varies between 15 to 17 Km taking about 2hrs.

Today was the latter. this has kept my daily step average around 23,000 steps and distances daily between 18-28 Km. Keeping me fitter than I could have hoped considering all the other bad lockdown habits.

Thanks for listening.

Me with my virtual chum after today’s exercise

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?”