The pain in her wrists was nothing compared to the one splitting her head. She lay bound and gagged on the floor looking up and into the barrel of a gun. When, she wondered, had this relationship gone so wrong?
She should have listened to Hester. She should never have dated a vampire. Theyre all selfish monsters! shed said. And that conventional wisdom wasnt easy to argue against. After all, vampires existed only at anothers expense. But as shed gotten to know Anita
Oh hell, there was never any real getting to know Anita, and if the gun pointed at her head was any indication, there wasnt going to be much more getting to know anything. Period.
Po took a deep breath through her nose (her mouth was covered with tape), closed her eyes, and waited for the inevitable. And waited
She opened her eyes and saw that Anita had moved and was sifting through the contents of her desk. Even through the splitting headache and fear, this annoyed Po. She hated nothing as much as she hated people messing with her stuff. That was one of the reasons shed created possibly one of the most Byzantine organizational methods ever to come into employment in an office setting.
Its amazing you can find anything in this mess, Anita grumbled as she moved a stack of clutter to the side. All of this wouldnt have happened if you didnt work all of the time.
Po didnt know how this could be her fault. Sure she worked a lot, but was that any reason to knock her in the head with a gun and tie her up? She wasnt very knowledgeable about relationships, this being her first, but she was reasonably sure that she and Anita could have worked through this in some other way. Whatever this was
Pos attention shifted sharply when she saw Anita slide a small object out from between two folders piled on her desk. Anita took it and walked over to the interface slots along the wall and inserted it. The white wall shimmered and then went green as the Genedyne admission screen sprang to life. Pos heartbeat did some springing of its own.
Anita began to go through the entry process onscreen. Po stared wide-eyed as passwords were entered her passwords. Damn it to hell! Hester had been right, Anita had been using her! Why else would a woman like Anita be interested in her, Hester had asked. Anita, a woman of mystery, a woman of beauty, a woman of a few annoying personal habits (all of which were eclipsed by the warmth of her kisses). Lips like that didnt come along every day
lips like that had never come along before, which was probably why Po had overlooked her own and Hesters better judgment.
In fact, it took some seriously impaired judgment to get involved with a vampire. Vampires were a nasty lot. Which was why Anita deserved what she was about to get reverbed. In as much as Po was careful with her passwords, she was scrupulous with her iris ID methodology. And while Anita may have found her encrypted password files, there was no way she could know about Pos iris swapping protocol. In about three seconds, when Anitas eyes were scanned (and if she was any kind of competent hacker shed have lifted Pos iris imprints sometime over the last couple of weeks while theyd been dating) she was going to get the shock of a lifetime off the admission screen.
Getting reverbed was an ugly way to go. Po had witnessed it enough times in her security training sessions. Now that she thought about it, she didnt know what might be worse, watching someone get reverbed in person, or having the experience of someone getting reverbed piped straight into your nervous system through a virtual reality feed she was about to find out. Anita had made the fatal mistake of messing with Pos affections. Oh sure, Po had suspected that Anitas intentions were less than honorable from the beginning (her being a vampire kind of a clued Po in on that count), but with her passionate and distracting disposition it had been easy to remain suspended in an aroused state of denial. She wasnt in denial now she was lying in the harsh light of a discomforting reality.
If shed been just a little less desperate when shed met Anita, things might have been different. If shed been just a little less squeamish or a little more cruel she would have let Anita get what was coming to her. But Po was a lot squeamish and a total pushover. She promised herself that when this was over she was going to figure out how to meet regular people - there had to be a few left on this god forsaken planet, not every last decent soul could have been turned into a zombie or a vampire - dating sucked. Po groaned out loud, as out loud as she was able to through the barrier over her mouth.
Anita turned at the noise and glanced at her. Po shook her head at Anita as the iris scan image appeared onscreen. Anita turned back to the screen and passed her hands over a couple of buttons. Po made a louder noise, but Anita ignored her. Po was irked. It was bad enough that Anita had wormed her way into Pos well-guarded life and screwed with her permissions, now she was ignoring her? Fine. Let the bitch fry!
But even as Po thought it, she was positioning herself. As the yellow ID beam scanned out from the screen and across Anitas face, Po lashed out at the backs of Anitas legs with her own and watched as Anita fell backward and over just as a red beam flashed out from the screen and scorched the opposite wall of Pos office space. Now that was going to need paint.
The permission screen blinked off and the wall reappeared. Technically, this was phase two of Breach Protocol, also known as the secondary phase of the auto relay security sequence, sometimes referred to as those few precious moments before the shit hit the fan.
Anita pushed herself to her feet. How long until security gets here?
She looked down at Po and remembered the gag. She rolled her eyes, kneeled down and ripped it off.
Ouch! Po yelled.
Anita reached over and picked up the gun, pointing it at her again. How long?! Anita yelled
Three to four minutes, tops
Dont you dear me, youre lucky I havent blasted your head off. Anita stood and started looking around.
Only one way out dear, and thats through that door, Po gestured with her chin, down the elevator and out into the street. Not that that matters, because youre not getting as far as the elevator and if you did it wouldnt matter, because the second that permission screen blinked out, the elevator locked itself. Boy, oh boy, are you not going to enjoy what a detail of Genedyne security troops do to you.
Shut up, Po. Or should I call you Auggy? As in augment? Anita asked.
Screw you, you vampire hack. I knew I never should have fallen for all of that crap you laid on me. Vampires are the worst - bottom feeders on the DNA food chain. You make me sick. These were feeble counter attacks, she knew, but she was new to relationships and hadnt quite got a handle on the bickering thing.
You? The insular, paranoiac code monger augment who built the Genedyne interface, criticizing me? Youve got some kind of nerve. Anita untied the chords on Pos feet. Were going to walk out of here together. They wont kill their little gatekeeper. Augments are still too expensive to replace.
Look, I dont know if youve skipped your breakfast pill today or just lost your mind, but theres no way youre getting out of here. Were talking security detail - big folks with nasty weapons. You may as well sit back and relax enjoy the last couple of minutes of freedom you'll ever have. We can pass the time reminiscing about our grand passion. On second thought, let's not - let's talk about how it is that you decided to commit suicide by trying to hack my interface. You must be one desperate vampire. I've heard your type can get kind frayed at the edges when you're running out of time. I guess when you asked one of the docs at Genedyne to help you out they told you to go to hell, you vampire scum.
Actually, they couldnt have jumped faster at the request, Anita said, dragging Po to her feet.
Bullshit, Genedyne doesnt cater to your lot. Youre going to have to score your gene snapshot someplace else Vampira, the clinic doesnt traffic in them. They dont even have that kind of equipment. Pos aching head began to pound as she was pulled to her feet.
Dont play innocent with me. Ive been in that cesspool that passes for a gene therapy clinic its a front. You know it and I know it, so lets drop the pretense and start moving. Anita shoved Po toward the door.
Po turned and took a good look at the woman in front of her. Anita even looked beautiful when she was angry
and was carrying a gun
and was a vampire. Genedyne may not be the most forward thinking genetic research facility I know they mostly do cosmetic shlock work, but it's hardly a black market clone lab or a cut-rate gene reprocessing pool. And they don't do genetic snapshots for vampires! Id know, Im their bloody gatekeeper after all - I built their interface, so I know all of the systems that run off their networks and they don't do snapshots.
Funny, thats not what they said at the clinic. Now quit stalling and move, I dont have time for your games. Anita pointed the gun at Pos head again. Open the door.
Its your call. Po shrugged. But the minute we step out of this door youre history. I just thought itd be interesting to know, before you were past-tensed by a bunch of security troops, why it is that a vampire, a usually scrupulous specimen subclass of humanity, tried something this reckless? Its beyond reckless, its stupid and my opinion of vampires may not be high, but I dont think anyone ever got very far underestimating your survival skills. Maybe if you can tell me something plausible, I might be able to figure out a way to convince 20 of Genedyne securitys finest that there was a system error this evening, not an attempted break in.
A look of indecision flickered across Anitas determined features.
Po said: Its your only chance. And she wasn't kidding. Genedyne, like most corporations, took security seriously. And employees like Po, who were part of the security infrastructure, were taken especially seriously. Protocol dictated that a gatekeeper be secured at all costs... until they'd been fully scanned - then protocol allowed as how a gatekeeper could be "retired". Neither of these things required the gatekeeper to actually be alive, and for security reasons it was preferable that a compromised gatekeeper be retired before scanning. There was no way Anita could get out of that building, not without Pos help.
Anitas jaw tightened, time was running out. She said: "Judith Pendelton, 8A46-H418-T54.
Po accessed her auxiliary memory network. She usually blinked several times when doing this, it tickled a little, Judith Pendelton, 8A46-H418-T54, admitted Genedyne Fetal Care 07.02.20, pregnant, wanted a fetal scan done, the usual thing. Seems the father had some left over junk in his DNA she wanted cleaned up. Isnt that always the way? That its the father whos got the unwanted genetic material? Like, Could you make my child not express the personality of my mother-in-law? Im sure thats a genetic defect their line is carrying.
If a face could turn stone cold, Po had just watched Anitas do it.
Anita said: Judith Pendelton, my sister, 07.02.20, disappeared after visiting Genedyne, a supposed gene therapy clinic.
Your sister disappears after visiting the clinic and you automatically assume the two things are connected? That code wont run. Any number of things can happen to a person these days. Maybe she stepped in front of a velopod, maybe she pissed off the wrong systems manager, or maybe she just didnt want anything to do with her gun-toting sibling anymore and got disappeared? Ever think of that?
Judith was a prime, Anita said.
Pos eyebrows shot up, then she blinked rapidly as she rescanned the Genedyne information on Judith Pendelton. Not according to her file.
She had ways of keeping that information out of her files, Anita said.
Who could blame her for wanting to? Po admitted.
Primes had a tough time of it. Youd think being born with practically perfect DNA would be a good thing. For millennia it had been - primes aged more slowly and lived longer, despite whatever bad habits they picked up along the way. The uncle who drank too much, smoked too much and ate bad food but lived to be a hundred and two - he was a prime. When technology was invented that identified primes, and subsequent technology was invented that allowed the benefits of a primes DNA to be shared with another person it wasnt such a great or safe thing to be a prime anymore. Because the only way to share the advantages of perfect DNA structure, was through a DNA snapshot; DNA snapshots were nothing special in morgues where they were generally used for research purposes - a snapshot didnt bother a dead person. It would, however, kill a live one. And while harvesting primes was illegal, it went on and everybody knew about it. Thats where the vampires came from, these were the people who bought the snapshots taken from primes, thus stealing a few extra years of life, not to mention the rest of someone elses.
I think, Anita said, that someone at Genedyne figured out that Judith was a prime.
Figuring out someones a prime and taking a DNA snapshot arent exactly the same thing.
Anita pushed Po into the door, stood within inches of her and growled through gritted teeth, Then what happened to my sister?
Interesting question, Po blinked again as she rescanned her memory for any mention of Judith Pendelton. Nothing out of the ordinary came up
it wasnt anything unusual really
just a brief pause in the file data
they happened from time to time
Lights on her desk display flickered the security troops had secured the elevator and would be up in less than a minute.
Tell you what, Po said, seeing as were so close, Im going to do you a favor. Only youre going to have to get out of my face and stop pointing that gun at me
The door to Pos office slid open. Several security troops stood, weapons at the ready outside. Two troops entered to scan the small area, then signaled for two others to follow.
Officer Robart Kindell looked down at the figure sprawled on the floor then at his lieutenant. Scan her. Find out what the hell happened here.
Officer Blue Henry answered, Looks like she fell and hit the desk. Stupid augment probably tripped while she was signing on. I cant wait until these things are replaced by the GX5s. Augments creep me out.
Thank you for that in-depth exposition, Officer Henry, now if youll just humor me and do your job which is to shut up and scan her so we can find out what really did happen.
Officer Henry kneeled next to the still body, held a scanner above Pos head with one hand and raised a small screen up to where Officer Kindell could see it with the other. You want the last half hour? Or from just before where the screen blinked out?
The last half hour on quick scan, Ill tell you if I want it slowed. The screen Officer Henry held up blinked on and Officer Kindell watched as Po accessed the Genedyne interface screen in a routine manner, then saw the ID beam scan her and Po trip backward as she tried to avoid the scan reverb.
Stop it. Query her network, find out what the error was.
Officer Henry hit several buttons on his scan pad. Access error: 3FD2H. She screwed up her own damn iris protocol stupid augment. They can build an interface, but they cant friggin operate the damn things. I cant wait until theyre upgraded, creepy circuit heads.
Upgraded to a machine built by augments, Mr. Henry. That ought to make you feel that much more secure. Is she still functional?
Scan says only unconscious, no damage.
File the report and lets go back to barracks. Officer Henry and officer Kindell turned to leave.
Sir. Excuse me, sir? One of the troops whod entered to secure the room stepped forward.
Yes, Officer Jackson?
Officer Jackson looked uncomfortably from the figure on the floor to his superior officer. Should we
wake her? Or prop her in her chair
Officer Kindell glanced back at the figure on the floor. No, I dont think that will be necessary.
The troops left and the door slid shut. One of Pos arms moved slowly, until her hand was pointing toward the closed door. Her hand turned over, palm toward the ceiling, one flexed slowly into a fist from which Po raised her middle finger. Upgrade this, Officer Kindell.
She lay on the floor for a few minutes more, waiting for the troops to clear the building. She hated security troops. They were one step above zombies, cognitive function-wise, but it was a small step. Theyd been culled from the general population for their aggressive tendencies and size, which made them less than joyful to be on the other end of an altercation with. Not to mention the nasty array of weaponry they carried electro-pulse paralyzation applicators, zip-ray goggles, tazer guns you name it, they could maim or kill you with it. And leave your sensors and networks intact to scan and include it in their reports
unless, of course, you had a few tricks up your sleeves.
Po got up and rubbed her head where Anita had hit her earlier. She was going to have a large bump. You can come out now.
The door to Pos sleep room opened and Anita stepped out looking confused and wary.
Po walked over to her desk and slumped into her chair. Anita walked over and stood before her on the other side of the desk, just staring.
What? Po asked.
Anita looked at Po, then the door, then back at Po. What just happened here?
Po shrugged. Bunch of bigoted security troops crashed my office, scanned my network and sensors and left.
Yes, Anita said. But what really happened?
Po shrugged again. Guess they read my error code wrong.
They scanned you. They watched a security video recorded from your neural network; they didnt see me in it. They didnt pick me up when they scanned the room.
Neat, huh? Po asked.
Whats going on here? Anita insisted.
Po smiled. Augment stuff. Its creepy, yes, but also useful.
Anita stared at her. It was a fascinated, yet cautious regard. Po didnt mind it, it was an improvement over the usual blatant fear or disgust. And as much as anyone with an augmented brain should have been hesitant of a woman whod hit her over the head with a gun, messed with her desk and threatened her life, Po was out and out besotted with Anita. So instead of being wary she was feeling boastful. She considered telling Anita how shed accomplished this amazing feat, but a small voice said, Better not. Shes an unknown operator. As in - she doesnt compute. Lets find out more before we make an even bigger fool of ourselves, yes? Who knows who she really is and what shes really up to?
Po groaned internally. That little voice, Hesters voice, could be so logical. Which, of course, was her job and why Po had written her. Hester was Pos dearest friend, her greatest confidante, and the most advanced thought analysis program to date. Hester, that small insistent voice that ran parallel to Pos thoughts, was a remarkable bit of software engineering. Remarkable, because Po had written and implemented Hester in her own head. Or, more precisely, in the neural networks that were the augmented part of her own head.
Why are you smiling? Anita asked.
No reason, Po answered.
Anita rolled her eyes and shook her head. One of the most annoying things about the last two weeks with you has been competing with whatever it is thats going on inside your head. Its infuriating, youre not present half the time.
Oh gee, Im so sorry I couldnt be more attentive while you were preparing to hack my interface
but, um, while were on the subject
what was one of the less annoying things
if there was one, I mean
over the last two weeks? Po felt pathetic. Shed just blown a perfectly good opportunity to lord it over Anita. She sensed that this must be a tactical error in a relationship
and also, given the circumstance, she probably didnt want Anita knowing what a sap she was.
Anita started in that, Im sorry
kind of tone before fading off.
Forget it, Po said. Lets get back to business. What made you think you could hack my interface? And what did you think youd find if you could? Names and addresses of the people who took your sisters snapshot? And why does the data in your file read like a vampires if youre not one? And how do I know shes your sister? Just because you know her personal ID? Thats nothing, a zombie could hack that information. Hey! Po jumped out of her chair and stepped away from her desk. Anita had just sliced her finger open with a plastic datasheet from one of the piles on Pos desk.
Analyze it, she said, indicating the blood dripping from her finger to the desk.
Oh gross! You just bled on my stuff! Sick. Cut it out! Stop. Po was cringing, covering her face.
Its five drops of blood, hardly a laceration to a major artery, Anita said. She applied pressure to stem the blood flow.
Po returned to her desk, not looking at the unsightly wound. She took out a scanner and waved it over the drops of blood and waited. She took a biohazard neutralizing spray canister and a rag from a drawer in her desk and handed them to Anita, Could you
she indicated the blood.
Remove the suspect biohazard?
Uh huh. Po affirmed.
Yes, Anita sprayed the area, then wiped the blood off the desk and the datasheet.
Po gave the sheet a dubious look, before turning back to look at the scanner readout. She accessed the data on Judith Pendleton and compared the information. Correcting for sensor tampering and analyzing broad patterns in the data told Po that Anitas blood, however gruesome, bore out her story. It also told the Po something else. She cocked her head to the side and looked at Anita. Ive never met a prime before.
Not that you know about, anyway, Anita said.
How do you keep it out of your files? Your sensor data? Po was curious to know. Everyone had sensor implants that monitored bio-information. In theory, the sensors enabled doctors to diagnose disease, to analyze stresses and general health
in theory. In practice the sensors were another mechanism employed by the administrators of the New Republic to regulate the populace. Which, considering how the New Republic was founded, was fairly ironic. In 2008, when the United States government had invaded the last of the Middle Eastern states and terrorism had not decreased, but increased, and the national debt had ballooned to an unpronounceable level, the fed-up nations of the world called in their debts. The U.S. government didnt have the money to pay - corporations did. They paid the debt and fully privatized the government. George Bush became the first C.E.O. of the New Republic. A Christian conglomerate run from what was Washington D.C., but became Hallyburton county.
The country was divided into five states all corporate owned and run. There was great unrest and tumult which abated eventually, most markedly after the government of Mannsanto engineered a curious compound know as FL10-42, a quick acting cognitive sedative. It was incorporated into three staples corn, potatoes and rice; grown and sold to states and governments worldwide. That was before they figured out how to inject it directly into the system by way of a biosensor implanted in a persons head.
People who ingested FL10-42 were not adversely affected by it, on the contrary, they were terrifically content and healthy and conveniently compliant
if not also, Po thought, a little zombie-like.
This was a boon to the administrators of the New Republic, who may have founded their state on the principles of the free-market and deregulation, but found that running it without a regulated populous wasnt quite
lucrative enough. And so they paid the state of Mannsanto a princely ransom for the FL10-42. And they paid the state of Mycrosopht for the biosensors to replace the food distribution system. The sensors not only distributed the FL10-42, but monitored each individuals health and location and movements. And in 2043, things were moving along smoothly. And if they werent, most people didnt notice or care. FL10-42 will do that to you.
The greater populous was given the happy treatment, while the administrator class (and those with enough money to be in the know) forewent this therapy in favor of bio-enhancement procedures and pharmaceuticals all the while benefiting from the labors of a complaint and thoroughly monitored underclass.
Given all of this, Po wanted to know how Anita had circumvented the system and managed to conceal her prime status. The upper classes may not get FL10-42, but everyone had biosensors.
Anita hesitated at Pos question, then asked, How did you trick the security detail?
Tit for tat, eh?
You first, Po said.
No, you, Anita said.
Look, Im the wronged party here. Im the one that was used, in the most liberal fashion - for two weeks. I think you should go first.
Anita pushed a couple of datasheets aside and sat on Pos desk.
Poe tried not to cringe. She really hated when people touched her stuff
but if they were going to touch her stuff, she wanted them to look like Anita while they were doing it.
When we were little, my parents paid a doctor to alter the sensor read out.
Po furrowed her brow. How little? Youd have been picked up as primes pretty early.
About this little. Anita held the forefingers of each hand about half an inch from one another. The doctor at the hospital where my mother went for the fetal scans noted it and asked my parents if they wanted some help. I have two sensors; one that I can read, and one the government can read.
No way! Thats so cool! But what about blood scans and other readouts?
It does something to the regular sensor data
or some such I dont know, really. And since its all done through the sensors, not actual blood extraction and analysis I dont have to worry too much. Mostly, I try not to think about it.
Po stared at Anita in amazement. She couldnt fathom someone not wanting to know the inner workings of a device implanted in their own head. Especially one that, most likely, kept them from being killed.
Now you. How did you trick the security detail? Anita asked.
Oh, that was easy. I had Hester replay some old memories enhanced with a couple of imaginative flourishes while I rerouted a bunch of data from their scanner devices.
Who is Hester? Anita sounded worried.
Hester is a program.
Oh, Anita looked around. How did you use it? Werent you lying on the floor? Theyd have detected a remote device.
Po knew she was running a risk by telling Anita about Hester, but hell, she was going to be upgraded sooner or later
probably sooner so she didnt have all that much to lose. Hester is a program in my head. I wrote her mostly out of boredom and maybe out of a need for some companionship
were not allowed to keep pets and well
I dont meet many people, and the ones I do meet arent overly keen on developing a relationship
for some reason
Po trailed off, Anita was giving her a queer look.
You have a program in your head?
Yes, its a thought analysis program. I call it Hester. I can use it in lots of ways, but mainly, Hester analyzes my logic and points out inconsistencies
Anita held up a hand. Wait. Its not a program that youre somehow accessing remotely
with your head
its in your head actually in there? Anita pointed at Pos head.
Yes, Po said, tapping her head. In here.
Anita cringed. Thats different.
Yes, but so is my encrypted remote access protocol. Thats how I rerouted their scanner data. Which is, if I must say so, a little more whiz-bang than having Hester mess with my sensor and recorded data output. Thats kid stuff.
You can access data flows and grids without an interface? Without a computer?
Yes, I can.
And your neural networks and sensors dont detect and report it? As an augment, your sensor data must be analyzed constantly.
True, but somehow, Po smiled. Nothing out of the ordinary manages to get reported.
But how is that possible?
I told you, I can use Hester in a lot of different ways. Po tried to explain.
But how can you use it to
Anita trailed off, looking awestruck. Po, youve hacked your own brain!
In a manner of speaking, yes, I have. Po grinned.
Thats incredible! Anita exclaimed.
Not really. Po downplayed her accomplishment. People have been messing with code in their heads for years if you have the right implants you can do all kinds of stuff.
Well I know people were doing a lot with internal computing before they regulated it and restricted most of those kinds of things for augment use only, but I had no idea
a whole program
and retooling your own sensors and
its just a bit much to fathom.
Anita shook her head. Youre amazing.
Anita added, And sweet.
Po blushed harder and tried to ignore Hesters voice, Unknown operator! Unknown operator! Shes probably found another use for you and is going to try to manipulate you the same way she did before - because you were such an easy mark. Are you going to fall for this again and let
Hesters voice was interrupted as Po turned her off. As she did, the words Unknown operator flashed before her minds eye. Po sighed. She looked into Anitas bright eyes, she was sure they were sparkling. She sighed again.
Anita smiled. Po melted. Anita stood and walked around the corner of Pos desk and knelt next to her. She took Pos hand in one of her own and rested her other on Pos thigh. Pos nervous system went into overdrive the way it did whenever Anita touched her. It was such a pleasant feeling, to be touched. Po couldnt have imagined how such a simple thing could make everything else fade into the background.
Anita said: Will you help me?
And everything that had faded into the background snapped back into the foreground. Po didnt need Hester to tell her what Anita was up to and it didnt take an augmented intelligence to spot this maneuver. Then Anitas hand, the one that was resting on Pos thigh, began to move; it was a small, gentle movement a caress. Pos eyelids began to flutter. Anita leaned up and kissed her.
within a week or so.
Ya scared yet? Lemme know: firstname.lastname@example.org