Life is sometimes best shown in the obscure

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 nightɉ۪

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.

 â€œSo 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.

My Mummy

On Monday I decided to get the boys to write a poem about their mummy as a test. I made each of them answer questions and then we compiled that into verse. To be honest it was a bit of fun to keep them amused. It was just as much fun for me. I did most of the compilation but almost all the words are theirs, and certainly all the imagery.

Enjoy:

My Mummy

by Ben, Elliott and Asher

My mummy is a nice grass,
A love that is good
With arms and legs.

Her hair is like candy floss
Twisting,
Paper filled with naughty words.

Her eyes are hazelnuts
They can see fear.
They play a game.

Mummies nose is a cone,
With dinosaur’s nostrils.
Or a big fat poo,
A towel,
Made for glasses.

Her mouth is a lipstick’s stick,
Of fiery breath,
That shouts all quiet.

Her ears just hear my voice,
Like a giraffe
Always listening.

She has legs that I don’t know,
Filled with muscles,
And with bones,
An organ wraps around them,
Right down to the toes,
As they came last.

Her arms are like her legs,
But they put things into cups,
Press buttons,
And create.

Mummies brain is the best.
Very, very, smart.
Is for talking just like me,
Is numbers
And a game pad.

But her love is so pretty,
And very, very, strong.
She loves Asher, maybe also…
Daddy,
Elliott,
And Ben.
Simply, all of us.