Thursday, November 3, 2011

Human Black Box: Devil's Advocate (part 5)

It's been a while, but that's only because life's gotten in the way. In the last installment, Zira was attempting to find her way into Zygote, and branch out to make the proper connections - in the world of transhumanity, it's very much a case of not what you know but who you know, and knowing the right people goes a long way to making the proper connections, especially when you go digging for men that seemed to have multiple lives and multiple identities...

Today's installment sees things heat up a bit; perhaps a bit literally in some senses...I present for your consumption Human Black Box: Devil's Advocate Part 5. As usual, you can find the character list here, and the archives here.

Due to recent outside interest in the story, I may split the difference and move Human Black Box to it's own blog, and leave this blog for just the political stuff. It'll depend upon how things go in the future, but I wanted to let everyone know that this is a possibly bouncing around in my head now. Anyway, let's roll that beautiful bean footage...

               Zygote, they’d learned, was actually two colonies. The first colony, and the primary colony, was property of Omnicor. Omnicor was one of the Hypercorps – while there were other hypercorps, Omnicor sat on the Hypercorp council itself. The corporation specialized in nanotech design, fabrication, chemical refining, and antimatter research, among other areas of research. Being lateral as a well as horizontal monopolies, in addition to having a highly flexible structure that minimized bureaucracy, were what had allowed hypercorps such as Omnicor to survive the Fall, unlike the Megacorps, who came before them.
                The primary colony of Zygote was a relatively large place that looked mostly geared towards manufacturing, buried partially under the Martian regolith, and partially exposed through a large dome-structure, giving them a grand view of the pinkish-blue Martian sky.
                The second part of Zygote was only accessible through a network of tunnels and emergency airlocks. It was the shipping and receiving part of Zygote; Omnicor would produce their materials, and then use the three air pads around the colony to ship and receive.
                Chloe tucked her hands in her pockets, looking around at the community. It wasn’t what she initially thought it would be – she was expecting something a little less organized, and a little more anarchic.
                Azure: [Chloe, I found something.]
                Chloe stepped over the raised concrete slab, looking down into a narrow ravine. They were only allowed in the public area of Zygote; there was a whole area closed off to them because they weren’t employees. As she looked into the ravine, she noticed that the split seemed to go deep into the Martian surface, where there was activity below.
                Chloe (private chat, #Zira, Azure#): [I did, too. They need safety rails.]
                Azure (private chat, #Chloe, Zira#): [No, I found something out about Cameron and the New Hope Village colony.]
                Chloe stepped away from the edge, trying not to bump into Zira.
                Zira (private chat, #Chloe, Azure#): [Then do share.]
                Azure (private chat, #Chloe, Zira#): [Cameron “Buck” Williams attends the New Hope Village church in a series of novels about the Rapture published more than 60 years before the Fall. They were poorly to lukewarmly received by critics, despite selling more than 40 million copies worldwide. The audience was primarily evangelical Christian, who believed in the Rapture. The books were about individuals who were left behind to face the post-Rapture world; suitably enough, they were called the Left Behind series. Evangelical Pastors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins were the authors. There’s some twelve books in the series, covering the entire time of the Tribulation from before the Rapture to the very end.]
                Zira: [I’m turning off private chat. If we need secure, let’s use a secure connection in the future. Anyway, on topic: that can’t be a coincidence.]
                Chloe watched as the activity continued around them.
                Chloe: [It probably isn’t. How deep did you have to dig to find that, Azure?]
                Azure: [Very. The books aren’t even in print electronically anymore. They seem to fall out of favor about 30 years after they were published. Except for, I guess, this small community of individuals who more than certainly feel left behind by our world…]
                Zira: [I lived through the end of the world. I could author one book to cover the whole thing from beginning to end. I probably should, sometime.]
                “Calix”: [You’re not supposed to be in here. Back away from the machinery!]
                Chloe turned to the new source, as a case walked towards them, waving its hands. Chloe held her hands up and backed away, Zira following. Once they were off of the platform, the case stepped off to meet them. Something triggered for her about this synth – the kinesics profile looked similar, but she didn’t have anything to compare it too.
                “Calix”: [What are you doing here? Who are, you anyway? You’re not regulars here. You’re not supposed to be back here; this is dangerous machinery; you can’t come back here.]
                Chloe (appearing as: Hana Vert): [I’m Hana Vert. This is my associate, and we’re here on official business.]
                “Calix”: [Un huh. I’ll believe it when I see it – and I’m here to kidnap Jesus. What do you think I was, born yesterday?]
                “Hana Vert”: [Honestly.]
                Zira pinched the bridge of her nose.
                Zira (appearing as: Goodall): [You’ll have to ignore Vert. We’re here on business from the Consortium; we’re looking into rumors about individuals who run the Earth Interdiction and smuggle goods from Earth back to Mars using this colony as a base. Any idea what I’m talking about?]
                “Calix”: [Nope. I run this part of the colony, and you’re getting way to close to dangerous machinery. Omnicor doesn’t care, but I’ve seen too many biomorphs lose limbs, or get crushed all together, and I’ve had to fish out too many stacks for my comfort. You keep away.]
                The case seemed to muscle Chloe and Zira back towards the exit, and into another part of the colony, shutting the door behind them.
                “Calix”: [Now, what were you saying? Something about interdiction smugglers?]
                “Goodall”: [Yeah. Reports of people making runs to Earth, smuggling things on Mars using this colony as a base.]
                Calix shook their head, and then started scratching their head. The robot face limited the degree of facial expressions that could be expressed; large headlight-like eyes with a small mouth, no nose, no ears, and no other facial features, made it difficult to read.
                “Calix”: [I haven’t heard anything of the sort.]
                Zira took Chloe by the shoulder.
                “Goodall”: [Well, thank you.]
                The two walked away, stepping back into the main “inhabited” part of the colony. Once they were out of earshot and Calix had gone back inside, Zira looked over at Chloe.
                “Okay, well, that didn’t work,” Zira said.
                “At least we didn’t use our real names. That’ll buy us a little time before security comes along to kick us out.”
                “I don’t think we have to worry about security; Calix probably won’t call on us. He doesn’t suspect us of being corporate spies – that’s what he was doing when he was tilting his head: comparing our kinesics profiles to any other known corporate spies,” Zira said, directing Chloe into a nearby building. It looked like a bar of some kind. “I think we’ll need to figure out some way to get into the landing areas from the outside.”
                Chloe nodded, sitting down at the table as Zira sat down beside her.
                “I wonder what kind of Martian beer they serve here,” Chloe said, as Zira looked around.
                “Won’t know until we ask.”
                The beer they had wasn’t the best quality, but it worked in a pinch.
                Chloe (secure connection, ++Zira++): [Maybe if we tried going outside in. It’s under the regolith, so depending upon how far down, we might not have to dig that deep.]
                Zira (secure connection, ++Chloe++): [That way won’t work. Too much hassle – they would’ve planned for it anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing wasn’t laced with lead and bolted down under half a metric ton of metalfoam. Besides, just hold off for a second. I’ve got a trick.]
                Chloe (secure connection, ++Zira++): [Oh?]
                Zira nodded, looking up as the door slid open and a familiar looking case appeared. It was hard to tell them apart, but this particular case had a kinesics profile that matched the one that she’d been given; this was their contact. Chloe, meanwhile, watched over Zira’s shoulder, her mind drifting away. She was about half gone when she looked up and spotted a familiar looking flat.
                Cameron seemed to spot her, and when he did, he took off down a hallway.
                “Oh hell no,” Chloe said, jumping upright and racing after him. She wasn’t going to let him escape again. Zira nearly tumbled over trying to follow her, as Chloe bolted through the doors. She was faster, stronger, and healthier than any flat, but Cameron had a good head start.
                She pushed aside a door, staggering out into a narrow hallway, surrounded by piping on all sides. This was clearly one of the older parts of the station that hadn’t been retrofitted, dating back to before the Fall easily. That such a place was easily within reach was a mystery to her.
                Cameron was moving quickly for a flat – he jumped over a front loader, as Chloe followed, shoving aside a collection of storage drums to keep them from falling on top of her. There was activity round the tunnel they were in, but in the tunnel – it made cashing after him easier and less dangerous.
                Zira (secure connection, ++Chloe++): [What the fuck are you doing?]
                Chloe (secure connection, ++Zira++): [Our blogging flat is here. I’m going to find out why, because this isn’t where he needs to be.]
                There were two cases ahead; one of them looked up as Cameron bowled it over, shoving the other one behind him as Chloe caught it, and then pushed it aside, continuing the run. The network of pipes and services tunnels inside of the large tunnel were becoming more and more cluttered; she found herself jumping between them and scuttling over them to avoid getting caught. Cameron was navigating them easily; far too easily than a flat should’ve.
                She jumped over one of the large pipes and nearly slipped, almost impaling herself on a bundle of broken pipes sticking upright below. She caught herself before she did, grabbed herself back up, and watched as Cameron made a jump, landed on the concrete ground, and then pulled out a handgun.
                She slipped, avoiding the bullet as it ricocheted off of the pipes. She hit the ground and made a reach for a gun she didn’t have; when that realization hit home, she ducked back into the network of pipes, Cameron firing two more times before turning around and bolting down another corridor.
                Chloe: [He’s got a gun!]
                She could hear clanging, and when she looked up, she spotted Zira and a case following her. They were fumbling through the spider’s web of cables and pipes, keeping their head from taking as nasty blow as they did so.
                Once she saw that she was going to have backup, Chloe stood up and made the leap over the chasm, not bothering to look down, and found herself racing down an even more narrow corridor. The pipes were more cluttered and clustered, and it was harder to maneuver, but her AR was telling her that Cameron hadn’t gotten far.
                She brushed the sweat gathering on her brow, and as she raced to catch him in the narrow corridors, the heat gathering in the concrete walls. The metal piping, concrete, and other insulation kept the warmth from the activity below trapped. Her feet lifted off the ground and she touched down on the other side of a collection of pipes, Zira finally catching up with her.
                Zira: [What the hell is wrong with you?! You just took off and didn’t say anything!]
                Chloe was breathing heavily.
                Chloe: [I saw him. I saw Cameron – the flat.]
                Zira climbed over a collection of pipes and stood beside her, looking into the murky darkness.
                “If he can find his way through here, he’s either got this memorized or isn’t the flat we thought he was,” Zira said, putting her hands on her hips.
                “I’m banking on it being memorized,” Chloe said. “That’s still pretty impressive.”
                “Don’t underestimate him because he’s a flat,” Zira said. “I think that’s a mistake we made the first time.”
                Chloe slowed her pace to a walk. If it was dark enough where she was having difficulty seeing even with enhanced vision, she didn’t understand how a flat could possibly navigate these tunnels.
                “Here,” Zira said, tossing her an object that looked like a gun. She looked down at it and then back up at Zira. “It’s got rubber bullets. It won’t hurt him… too much.”
                “Too much. That’s the key,” Chloe said, taking off after him. She frowned, holding the pistol and bolting down the corridor.
                Chloe: [So who’s the synth?]
                Zira: [Our contact. Well, my contact. When we stop, I’ll introduce you. Right now, he’s telling me that we’ve already found one of the older entrances to a different part of the facility.]
                Chloe: [You’d think that they’d have mapped it out and known about this already. Secrets like this don’t exist in this day and age.]
                Chloe could easily see how such a crawl space could be missed, though. It was a tangled mess of pipes and wires probably never intended for transhumans. It only barely accommodated her sylph morph. She couldn’t imagine trying to get her Olympian from Earth or even her Ghost through this narrow corridor.
                Someone in a neotenic more could navigate it easier than she could do.
                She ran over a long vent, heat from below lifting up and warming the corridor in a nice, reddish orange glow. Whatever they were doing down there, it involved smelting or heating of some kind.
                “It’s the chemical manufacture,” Zira said, following behind her. She could barely be heard over the thunder of activity below. “They’re mass producing a number of chemicals in there. I have the exact list – Benton just sent it to me.”
                Chloe brushed the sweat from her brow again, just imagining how cold it would seem in the rest of the facility.
                She could hear, just barely, the thunder of Cameron’s feet on the metal grating. Her AR triangulated the sound, and she cut down a narrow corridor after him. How did he know this place so well? It was just one of the many questions floating around inside of her head. She jumped through another collection of spider-webbed pipes, spotting Cameron’s long shadow.
                “I’ve got you now, motherfucker.”
                She bolted and cut down another corridor, spotting him as he approached a large drop chute. She aimed and squeezed the trigger, the “less-than-lethal” bullet cracking him in the shoulder. He fell forward; she heard a loud thump as he clumsily tumbled down the chute.
                “Got him,” she said, bolting towards the chute.
                Azure: [I hope he’s not dead.]
                Chloe: [At this point, I don’t care. We’ll bring him back and interrogate him. I want to know what he’s after, why he knows this place so well, and why he’s after Dr. M&M.]
                Chloe reached the chute and jumped into it, riding the chute down into an opening. She hit the opening and fell on a floor, Zira and the synth named Benton joining them a few seconds later.
                “I shot him,” Chloe said, looking around at the large room. It was cold compared to what it was inside of the tunnels, and neither one had a clue where they were.
                She stood up, and crouched down quickly behind a collection of boxes as several shells equipped with lifting devices went by.
                Zira: [I believe it. Benton says that this is one of the loading areas that we were wondering about how to get into earlier. The way back out, he says, is a lot less fun than the way in.]
                Chloe could only think of one immediate way out, and that was as a stack. It wasn’t the way she wanted to talk; that meant having to sleeve inside of a new body – probably her ghost – and taking a day to get accustomed to it.
                “He’s bleeding,” Zira said, looking at droplets of blood on the ground.
                “I shot him with a rubber bullet.”
                “He’s a flat. They’re not as tough as we are,” Zira said.
                “There’s no way he’s a flat. Not pulling some of the stunts he did.”
                “He could just be a flat in really good shape. That’s possible.”
                Chloe, shoving aside the possibility she might truly have killed him, followed the trail of blood.
                Zira: [Benton says that the I-Runners operate a few doors over.]
                Chloe was torn – to visit the I-Runners, or continue following Cameron.
                Azure: [What if Cameron is after the I-Runners?]
                Her question almost read Chloe’s thoughts.
                Chloe: [So you’re thinking what I’m thinking.]
                Azure: [No, I’m just anticipating what you’re going to ask, and trying to understand. I’m not a mind reader. I just know you very, very well.]
                Chloe smiled.
                Chloe (secure channel, ++Zira, Azure++): [Here’s what I’m thinking about Cameron. He’s some kind of Jovian agent, and was acting like an egotistical fool to throw us off the first time we met. Cameron might not even be his real name; it’s pretty obvious he took the name from fiction.]
                Zira (secure channel, ++Chloe, Azure++): [So why’s he down here?]
                Chloe (secure channel, ++Zira, Azure++): [The I-runners are doing all sorts of illegal stuff, right? What if they picked up a job for the Jovians, or they lost a Jovian agent?]
                Zira shrugged, stepping up beside her. “That’ll be a question to ask them.”
                The two walked through the corridors, approaching a door. The synth named Benton nervously looked around, and then unlocked the door for them.
                Chloe (secure channel, ++Zira, Azure++): [He’s an I-Runner, isn’t he?]
                Zira shook her head, and the two stepped into a room that had a couple of bodies in tanks. “He’s already alerted them to the fact that we’ll be paying them a visit. They know they have company.”
                “Do they know about Cameron?”
                “Benton”: [Yes, we know. I’ve alerted the others, and hopefully we’ll find this Flat that Goodall believes is a Jovian agent.]
                They stepped into the room with the bodies, the door shutting behind them.
                “Benton”: [Okay, so what do you want? I’m not going to take you all the way into the I-Runner base, but you’re close enough. Markus assures me that you’re fairly reliable – you’ve got enough rep to prove it, in both of your identities.]
                “Goodall”: [You flew someone named Dr. Erasmus Mahmoud-Martinique down to Earth. He brought something back, and we think that was what got him killed.]
                Benton’s synth nodded. “I think I know what you’re talking about,” he said, directing them towards another room. “But I doubt it got him killed. There were probably other reasons that Oversight went after Dr. Mahmoud-Martinique beyond his penchant for bringing back strange artifacts from Earth to sell to the triads. The ego you’re talking about, though, was far and away the strangest of the things he brought back.”
                Chloe followed, listening intently.
                “What was it?”
                Benton opened the door, displaying a synthmorph that was wearing a long white robe. It looked to be asleep, but with synths, it was difficult to tell.
                “It was a Christ-program,” he said.
                “A Christ-program?” Chloe asked, looking over at Zira.
                “Okay, that probably does rank among one of the stranger things to come back from Earth,” Zira said, scratching her head. “I almost feel disappointed now.”
                “What’s a Christ-program?” Chloe asked.
                “It’s a rare AGI that’s programmed to think that it’s Jesus Christ,” Benton said. “In the days before the Fall, there were literally hundreds of them running around all over the place. All of the Megachurches who were anyone had one. During the fall, most of them probably got wiped out, like the other 98% of transhumanity.”
                “So… he brought back an ego know it was a Christ-program?” Zira asked.
                “I don’t know. Dr. M&M was strange about the things he collected on Earth,” Benton shrugged.
                “Well, there’s gotta be a reason why he brought it back,” Zira said, running her hand over the synthmorph. “Christ-program or not.”
                “Whatever he intended to happen to it I don’t know. He left it here. We sleeved it, and interviewed it, and it believes that it’s Jesus Christ. Right down to the ‘love they neighbor’ shtick.”
                Chloe walked into the room, looking back at Benton.
                “What are the odds that we could get Christ out of here and get him somewhere else?”
                “Depends upon where you want to take him,” Benton said. “Christ-bots usually attract a lot of attention. There was one shortly after the Fall on Ganymede that made it’s rounds, but nobody’s sure what happened to it once it left the planet. Something about going off to save the universe.”
                Chloe (secure connection, ++Zira, Azure++): [I think I’ll need to get into contact with Antares on this.]
                Chloe put her hands on her hips, looking at the Christ bot. “There’s probably a lot of attention that’ll follow us if we move him. Or attempt to, anyway.”
                Benton nodded. “You know it.”
                Zira (secure connection, ++Chloe, Azure++): [I think this was a waste of time and effort. It probably doesn’t have anything to do with why he was assassinated in broad daylight, and it won’t tell us anything we don’t already know.]
                “I think he’s fine here,” Zira said.
                Benton shook his head. “The I-Runners aren’t sure what to do with him. They’re thinking about letting him go free.”
                Chloe frowned, looking over at her friend.
                Chloe (secure connection, ++Zira, Azure++): [But there’s a reason why Cameron was looking for him.]
                “But won’t that get him in trouble?” Chloe asked.
                Benton shrugged. “It isn’t our problem.”
                “That’s probably the next best option, then,” Zira said.
                Zira (secure connection, ++Chloe, Azure++): [Yeah. To find the Christ-bot.]
                “Where did he find the Christ bot at, do you know?” Chloe asked.
                Chloe (secure connection, ++Zira, Azure++): [That makes zero sense. He already knew his way around here, so he was familiar with it. If he wanted the Christbot, you’d think that he could come and get it anytime. He wants something else.]
                “North America, former United States. The only place you find something like this – it’s a WAT: Weird American Thing.”
                “Jesus is a WAT,” she said, looking at the synth.
                Zira (secure connection, ++Chloe, Azure++): [Then we’ll know when we find him. In the meantime, I maintain that this was a colossal waste of effort.]
                “Where at?” Zira asked.
                “Not sure. You’ll have to ask the I-Runners that were with him on that mission to know for certain.”
                Benton turned around and took a bullet to the face. The synth fell backwards as Chloe and Zira both pulled out their guns and opened fire on Cameron before the Flat could get another round off. He scored a shot in Zira’s leg, dropping her as Chloe pinned herself against the wall. Cameron staggered backwards, pinning himself against the wall.
                “I’m here for the ego in the synthmorph!” he shouted.
                Chloe: [Zira?]
                Zira: [I’m fine. It missed any kind of major artery.]
                “You’re here to get your ass killed,” Chloe shouted back. “Put the gun down!”
                She could hear Cameron fumbling with another round. She spun around the doorway and drew aim with the rubber bullet and planted the round right between his eyes. The bullet slammed into the bridge of his nose and he went backwards, crumpling to the ground.
                There was activity all around them now.
                “I think I killed him,” Chloe said, looking at the broken body that lay before her.
                “Good,” Zira said, hobbling out. “Now that he’s dead, we’ll get someone to copy his ego over and we’ll question him.”
                Chloe felt the muzzle of a gun against the back of her head, a Zira spun around.
                “Calix” stood there with gun in hand.
                “No, you won’t. I don’t appreciate you wanting to do bad things to my forks.”
                He couldn’t squeeze fast enough; Zira grabbed the gun and when it went off, right behind Chloe’s head, she was deafened. She staggered forward, covering her ears as Calix belted Zira. She fell backwards as he planted a bullet into her knee, and then ducked into the room.
                Zira: [Ah! Fuck! I though he worked here!]
                Chloe couldn’t hear anything beyond a deafening ring in her ears.
                She spun around as Calix appeared, hauling the Christ-bot over his shoulder, gun in hand.
                Cameron: [The greatest danger when fighting monsters is that you become them. Sometimes, we become what we hate in the name of destroying it. Other times, we give them the illusion we did, so they’ll lower their guard and we can strike when they’re not ready.]
                He pulled the trigger and that was the last thing that Chloe saw. The round slammed into her forehead and out the back of her skull, jerking her head forward and causing her to fall dead on the ground.

1 comment:

  1. and then using the three air pads around the colony to ship and receive.

    Use. Or used. I don't think it matters considering context.

    Chloe stepped over raised concrete slab

    A or the raised concrete slab.

    Tim LeHaye


    Hara Vert.

    Her Mesh ID says Hana.

    didn’t have anything to compare it too

    The "too" should also be "to".

    Omnicor doesn’t car


    Maybe if tried going outside in

    If we tried going outside-in.

    keep them from falling onto of her

    On top of her.

    There was activity round the tunnel they were in, but in the tunnel – it made cashing after him easier and less dangerous.

    This sentence is so confusingly phrased I'm not certain enough of what you meant to fix it.

    taking as nasty blow


    Some in a neotenic more

    Someone/somebody in a neotenic morph.

    It wasn’t the way she wanted to talk

    Talk? You mean leave?

    he brought back an ego know it was a Christ-program?


    ‘love they neighbor’ shtick.


    shortly after the Fall on Ganymede that made it’s rounds


    back of her head, a Zira spun around.

    Replace comma with period, delete the "a".

    I though he worked here!