Thursday 8 July 2010

In the first beginning (Atlantic)

The following is part of the discarded material from the first draft of 'The Atlantic Connection'. I would have otherwise just deleted it, but here seems a good place to dump it. It was originally the beginning, and I wrote myself into a corner and really didn't like it. So I binned it all and started again.

From the chair behind the desk in this office, he could see everything. Not just what the broad picture windows could offer of the view across the city, though that was a view that cost a lot of money in the centre of the city.
Running down the centre of the long table in the office, below the mezzanine where his own personal desk lay, banks of monitors set into the top scrolled their endless displays from around his empire. Behind him, another wall had yet more flatscreens set in it, each patiently displaying reams of data on loops.
Those screens that showed the outside World seemed at first glance to be taken with a camera, perhaps on some-one’s shoulder. An ever-moving silent World at eye-height, hushed into monochrome in the darkness of night in the City.
Two showed an image of this very office, and in the centre, sitting back in his chair and deep in thought, was Julius.
It didn’t seem to bother him that they were watching. Who really cares that machines could watch? That was his view. To him, the two genetically engineered Assassins stood by the door were no more than organic machines here in the task of his personal bodyguards.
Once they had been human, but science does not sleep or stagnate in the hands of the curious. Especially when morals or ethics did not bind the curious. There was a lot that could be done beyond the stifling prying of regulation.
The application of science had been swift and absolute. Using adaptations of organic computing technology, they had been enhanced and tamed to become the most efficient of assassins.
There was one small flaw that had at first made them controllable, but had quickly become an Achilles heel. In the transformation into Homo Superior, they had lost their emotions and ability for truly independent thought.
Because of this, Julius had come to think of them as mere machines. Others were scared of the human form that did not think for itself but was told what to think from the main Citybase computer network.
The Assassins were not without their enemies, both within Citybase and beyond. But so long as Julius – the head of the Syndicate – pursued the programme, then the warnings and discomfort of others were not important.
Footsteps echoed in the corridor from outside, drawing him from his thoughts. The two impassive Assassins did not move, though data flashing on the screens showed they had registered the sounds.
He moved soundlessly to the doors and waited for the steps to draw up outside. Without waiting for chance for the newcomers to knock, he opened the door. He had been expecting them.
“Come in,” he said to the heavy-built man outside.
The man nodded, and entered. Julius stood to one side as a short man in technician’s robes followed and then two women.
As they passed, the technician nodded his greeting, but the two women ignored him. Looking to their eyes, he saw the characteristic stare of the Assassins, behind green eyes that hid the implants that made their vision systems work.
The technician scuttled to the flatscreens and began entering information on a keypad. Screens flickered and changed in front of him, and he was lost to his work.
The other man directed the women to stand in front of the other two Assassins, and stood to one side waiting for Julius as he shut the door and turned to inspect the two.
“Second generation, Connolly?” he said at last.
“Yes,” replied Connolly.
Julius nodded, seemingly drawn in with looking the two up and down. Both were smartly dressed in tailored skirt suits. They reminded him of his secretary in the ante office, though she was at least naturally human.
“I’ve got the data entered now,” said the technician, finally looking up from the screens.
“Okay Dreyka,” said Connolly.
The technician shuffled down off the mezzanine.
“So,” said Julius at last, “What am I waiting for?”
“All improved,” said Dreyka happily in the fast talking of some-one who is more accustomed to talking to his computer than to people, “Better nerve kinetics and quicker responses. They also have capacity for independent thought. I’ve been able to isolate the errors in the first generation process to give these subjects their emotions. I found that only with emotional responses to external stimuli can a subject become able to extrapolate a response to it such as a normal human might.”
Julius looked to Connolly.
“Translated from techno-babble to English, that means what exactly?”
“More human than human.”
He nodded, ignoring Dreyka’s irritation of feeling sidelined. Peering into their eyes, he could sense nothing other than their impassive stare to the opposite wall.
“What are they thinking?” he asked.
Dreyka glanced to the flatscreens where data scrolled.
“They are waiting.”
“Waiting for what?”
“For this meeting to end.”
“So they can go back to the labs.”
“That doesn’t sound like independent thought to me,” said Julius.
Dreyka shrugged. “They’re just not interested in you.”
Julius shot him a sharp look, and the man shifted uncomfortably.
“You promised me something more than the first generation. Yet they seem no different. I expected interest and involvement in their surroundings,” he said.
Dreyka tapped some commands into the keypad, and two of the screens flicked to showing an image of Julius and the room: live feed from their retinal implants.
Julius did not seem so impressed.
“I get that from all of your toys. Show me something new.”
“Ask them a question.”
“What’s the point?”
“Just ask them,” pleaded Dreyka.
Julius sighed, though did as he was asked and turned to one of the women. She had the green eyes that all the Assassins had, and a faraway look.
“What is your name?” he said at last, struggling to think of what could possibly asked of a machine for idle chat.
“Elizabeth.” She responded flatly.
“And her?” he continued, glancing to the second.
Dreyka shuffled, agitated. This wasn’t quite the triumph he was looking for.
“Not impressed,” warned Julius.
“What are you thinking?” asked Dreyka to the woman.
In a first generation Assassin, there would be no human-like answer. Their minds would not process such questions in any other way than with pure computer logic. The answer would have been of relevance only to their technician.
Instead, Elizabeth looked across as her eyes refocused and looked Julius up and down slowly.
“I’m a little bored of playing word games with you.”
Julius was taken aback. No Assassin had ever talked back like that. Both Connolly and Dreyka looked nervous; even Syndicate personnel would not have dared to say such frank things to Julius.
But Julius was impressed. He scrutinised the woman more closely, looking to see that she really was an Assassin and not just an ordinary woman sent to test him. He glanced to the screens and back again, noting how the image of him could only becoming from her optics. At last he seemed satisfied.
“Very well. What can they do for us?” he asked.
“Almost anything,” replied Dreyka with a smile, “No-one will suspect them as Assassins until too late."
It was a limitations of the first generations that whilst their initial effects had been devastating, people were quick to learn and soon had devised ways to spot them. Their effectiveness had diminished as their reputation and stories about them had spread. Such was the way with all advances; others learnt to adapt, which a first generation never could.
“I have concerns,” said Connolly, breaking the glow of the meeting.
Julius looked to him.
“I don’t like these creatures. They scare me,” he went on, “I don’t think we can ever have complete control.”
“Scared, you?” scorned Julius, “However that fear is just what I want people to feel arounf them. They are a new tool and weapon to make us great again.”
“We can be great without them,”
“Not this great.”
Connolly sighed. It was always this way, to try and reason with Julius. There was no point to continue; he never listened.
“How many do you have?” Julius asked Dreyka, ignoring Connolly.
“Just these two. The process is proving hard to replicate.”
“Then two will have to do for now.”
He looked to the pair. “They pass well enough, but can they walk the walk?”
He considered for a moment.
“We’ll take them to the Starlight tonight, to see whether anyone notices. They’ve seen the first generations, but I’d like to see if they can spot the second generation. If they pass the test, then I want them in the field to evaluate by the end of the week.”
Dreyka nodded. “I will have them ready for tonight.”
Dreyka and Connolly turned to go, but Julius stopped them and looked at Elizabeth.
“Do you understand what has been said?”
“You want to go and flaunt us to your business rivals and see if they realise that we are just Assassins.”
She looked at him, and he felt a shiver run down his spine. It thrilled him that his machines could finally reason with him.
He laughed, returning to his chair.
Connolly nodded to the pair, and they filed out together in silence.

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