This compelling story is a slightly futuristic science-fiction, adventure thriller set in an
Australia which may yet arrive.
Big Brother's possible reality?
The story combines a number of Aboriginal themes; love for the land, a few elements of well known lore and Dreamtime imagery, with super high tech, cutting edge, experimentation on direct brain to Web transference via implants. Toss in AI computers, secret Government agencies, a romance or two, a very nasty Under Secretary who hates being beaten and blend well.
All the elements are set in place for a full on ride to the end!
The reader is taken on a journey from South Australia to the Northern Territory's Kakadu then down to Sydney then on to many other locations on the eastern side of this great land as Alan tries to escape from the Government. The places written about mostly exist apart from a little artistic license for certain additions to some locations. This book is not so gritty and down to earth as some of my other novels so there is no warning attached.
Electric Goanna Dreams
~An Alternate Reality~
by B. Cameron Lee
It was that special time of the evening, early but still. No breeze blew amongst the green eucalypt trees nor whispered through the dry, yellowing speargrass.
Not burnt this year. No renewal by fire for this piece of country. Not its turn.
There was a hushed feeling pervading the landscape, occasionally broken by the choked-off gargle of a blue-winged kookaburra in the distant trees, echoing in the silence.
He could smell the smoke from the communal fire as it drifted slowly uphill; there was just a hint of conversation in it. Peace. A joining with this unspoilt country.
The Spirits were strong in it still.
In front of him the land fell away gradually, its sparse trees slowly thickening as the slope descended, until they merged imperceptibly with the bush down below, in shadow now for many flat kilometres. Suddenly, in the distance, there was a blaze of red-orange light from the walls of the escarpment opposite as the sun dipped lower in the western sky. Lightning Rocks, two prominences melding together in the reflected, setting sun, almost throbbing with the changing colours, yellows, oranges and soon he knew, red.
Lightening Rocks, proudly standing higher than the rest of the escarpment, giving the impression of strength and endurance. They were part of the story of this land. To the north of him, opposite Lightning Rocks, rising from the wide, scrub covered valley, stood Nouralangie Rock, a Mecca for tourists throughout the dry season. He had been around the back of Nouralangie Rock early this morning at Nanguluwur Gallery, long before the first tourists showed up. Jamie, his friend and mentor, introduced him to the galleries of Aboriginal art painted on the walls of the rock shelters there. They spoke of long occupation. Jamie had told him the stories of some of the pictures. There was Namandi, drawn in outline, a spirit woman with two dilly bags. Enough room to carry away a victim’s heart, liver, lungs and kidneys. There were other spirit women painted amongst the many images, some Mimi’s and even a picture of a sailing ship, from the contact period, rendered in white ochre.
The sun descended slowly and the black line of shadow gradually crawled up the Lightening Rocks. Alan’s shoulders hurt where the three traditional cuts had been made on each one during his initiation ceremony earlier in the day. Rubbing ash into the cuts had stung. It was necessary to make them heal rigidly cicatrised. He had not shown pain at the cutting and it took control to do that. He was proud of what he had learned in the last two years and was now an accepted member of the Tribe.
Looking down, he was still a bit suprised to see his light colored legs. No amount of suntan could cover the fact that he was white; it was just that he hadn’t seen white legs much lately. All the new initiates, including him, were required to be sequestered before the initiation ceremony and all bar him were the younger teenage boys of the tribe. During sequestration those teenage boys were hoping they would exhibit bravery during the ceremony and soon become men. A few of them gave him a bit of a hard time initially but not for long, it would be disrespectful towards an older person and besides, the youngsters were too worried about the coming ceremony to keep it up.
In the last few days leading up to his initiation Alan found himself thinking more and more about the life that had brought him here; the twists and turns that led inexorably to this point in time, standing here opposite Lightening Rocks with tribal initiation marks freshly scored into his shoulders. His mind wandered in the peace and tranquillity of the moment, travelling in time and space as the last shreds of daylight fled and the full moon rose in the east. He thought back to where it had all begun.
- Goanna Dreams -
It was the relative quiet in Adelaide’s University library that eventually penetrated Alan’s concentration. Lunchtime was usually noisy, with background chatter and the click-clack of the photocopier, endlessly pushing out copied pages of textbooks to save buying them. He glanced up at the clock. Shit! Late again. Prof. Semmelt was going to blow a gasket.
Hurriedly gathering up his papers and books, he tucked them under his arm and took off. Hopefully he could slide into the back of the lecture
theatre without being noticed.
The quadrangle was almost deserted as he raced toward the computer science building, trying to gain time with speed. Rounding a corner he ran full tilt into another person, knocking them both off their feet, books and papers flying in all directions.
Embarrassed, he rose and held out his hand to assist the supine man to rise.
“Sorry mate. I’m really sorry. I was just trying to get to a class without being too late.”
The young aboriginal man on the ground smiled and extended his hand to be helped up.
“You white fella’s are always in a hurry. No damage done though.”
As he was assisted to his feet, the grinning man kept hold of Alan’s hand for a moment.
“Jamie Darugarr, from Kakadu. You know, up in the Territory.”
“Oh, right. Alan Wilson.” Alan replied as he observed the face opposite, looking for annoyance. There was none. The dark brown eyes above the slightly flattened nose were amused, and calm, with the quiet of thousands of years. Alan bent down and started picking up the scattered papers and books as did Jamie and by the time they had sorted out who owned what, Alan had offered to buy Jamie a beer after the day’s lessons, in reparation for his clumsiness. The offer was gratefully accepted and kicked off the start of a long friendship.
Jamie was interested in Science and its application to conservation because he loved his Land and everything in it and wanted to learn how the white men saw it. Alan couldn’t remember all of what Jamie studied but he was one clever man, committed to learning both ways of looking at the world, the aboriginal and the white fella’s way. In contrast, Alan’s own particular forte was in the study of computers and programming, the internals of machines and how they worked. He intended to complete a Doctorate in communicating with computers as soon as he received his degree.
Two more disparate forms of study could not be imagined but, for some reason, the young men bonded.
It was an excellent four years they spent together. Sharing aspects of their culture, going off for a weekend’s fishing or spending a night clubbing when they could spare the time from their studies. Two young men from different backgrounds, enjoying one another’s company. Some of his classmates snubbed him for that relationship but he didn’t care. Those classmates were shallow.
When Jamie graduated, he headed back north to the Top End and home but before he left he came to see his white friend.
“You know where I live. I’ve told you enough times. If you are ever in trouble or need a place to rest for a while, come and see me and it’s your shout when you do.”
With that, they shook hands and clapped each other on the shoulder as men do, before Jamie took his leave.
That last year of study, begun in 2005, the year after Jamie graduated, was difficult for Alan. For two reasons. His brother Wade and he had always dreamed of setting up a business together but after high school, Alan had taken a year off and headed up to Cairns to work on the Barrier Reef as a Tour Guide. It was something he had to get out of his system. Wade however, four years older than Alan, kept his nose to the grindstone and graduated in 2000 when his daughter was three years old. He had married her mother, Margaret, a fortnight later.
Wade and Margaret had met during their first year of University and both decided they had found their life partner and moved in together. They were well suited. After graduating, Wade had no problem finding work and was moderately well off now.
The year that Alan had taken off after high school meant that he was now five years behind Wade in his studies. A lot to try and catch up in a practical sense, what with the rapid changes in computer technology but Alan was a natural. If he hadn’t pursued the path he did, he would have made a fortune as a hacker
The other difficulty was with his Doctorate. Ever since Alan could remember, he had played with computers, starting with an early Atari. He found at a young age he could perceive patterns in the scrolling mishmash of the computer’s own language. Due to his education, Alan could now read programming language easily but the computer’s own seemingly senseless scribble had a logic to it which he could somehow understand; although no one else he knew could. For whatever reason, his mind just comprehended the illegible flow of characters scrolling down the screen. He couldn’t rationalise the gift, nor could he explain how he had written simple programmes into the Atari using the computer’s own language and avoided a lot of the ‘if-then’ steps that programming languages required.
At University he found his instructors taught programming language and didn’t believe he could relate to computers the way he did, even after he had demonstrated his abilities once or twice. Alan wanted to do his Doctorate on direct communication with computers but his Mentor, unable to follow the work, wouldn’t allow it and Alan had to pick a subject that he wasn’t really interested in.
The telephone rang.
“Wade here little brother. I’ve received an offer, along with a bit of capital, to start up a business. It will give us an income while I do my experiments on computer/cellular interfacing. Care to join me?”
“I’d like to Wade but I haven’t finished my Doctorate yet.”
“Do you need to? This is a great opportunity Alan and I can’t do it without your magic. I know what you are capable of, even if those stuffed shirts at the University don’t.”
Alan paused for a moment.
“Let’s meet and talk about it. I’m getting sick of the lack of vision in these academics. They just don’t want to listen, only push their own agendas. How about tomorrow?”
“You’re on. Come around after six. Okay?”
“Sure thing. See you then.”
That was how the brothers began to work together. Wade and he set up a small computer business for discerning clients. Programmes and programming were Alan’s forte while Wade was into the miniaturisation of the hardware for many practical applications and worked with neuronal interfaces in his spare time. Between Alan’s operating programmes and Wade’s biotechnical abilities, they built a rock solid business which gave them time to continue with their research; quietly. The life suited him, fame was for other people.
Wade had started experimenting with hardware-soft tissue interfaces in an attempt to make it possible, in some future time, to download/upload information directly from computers into the human brain and vice versa. The combination of Wade’s hard/wetware and Alan’s programming, which assisted in the conversion of digital data into tiny, super-fast pulses of electricity, meant that between them they had a communication system which the brain could utilise.
The brothers had begun their experiments on lower life forms, progressing rapidly up the evolutionary chain to work on mice now and were able to communicate directly with mouse brains. If Wade managed to place the electrodes right into the visual and auditory centres of that tiny brain, they could see and hear from their computers what the mouse saw and heard. It was scary shit. The only problem with the mice was the current size of the transmitters and keeping them plugged into the mouse brain; the mice kept trying to pull the minute jack plugs out of the back of their heads and the transmitting device was obvious, mounted as it was on a tiny harness.
Apart from those few technical difficulties at work, everything in life was just great.
Alan never forgot Jamie over those busy times and religiously sent Christmas and Birthday cards each year, occasionally receiving them from his friend. Jamie was now working as a Ranger in Kakadu, rapidly progressing up the ladder of seniority.
The Howard-Costello Government had made a lot of changes since it came to office in the mid-nineties and there was no way the brothers could cope with all the paperwork that now had to be filled in.
All due to the tightening of laws relating to tax and GST.
The world had changed markedly since Alan first went to university in two thousand and one, and that included Australia. It was no longer the Australia he loved in his youth; it had been twisted and manipulated for many years by the Howard and Costello regime. Bureaucratic interference in everyone’s life, it all came down to string holding.
Subtle at first, then increasingly heavy handedly, each small change the Government made to legislation brought more and more power to it and less and less freedom to individuals. Australia became a ‘Thou shalt not’ nation.
Goods and Services Taxes gave the Government all the money it required to implement the demise of free will.
The bureaucracy was such a big headache to the two brothers they had to hire someone to manage the office. Along came Sarah, who took up the reins of office manager and converted random stacks of papers, notes and bills into a functioning system. She was bright and articulate and Alan felt attracted to her but was too shy to do anything about it.
Meanwhile, the Government was increasing its intervention in everyday life. The anti-terrorism laws allowed levels of scrutiny of the population hitherto unknown, without any checks being put on as to how this scrutiny was being utilized. New forms of information storage meant millions of telephone calls could be recorded and data matched. The anti-terrorism laws were followed by new labour laws which handed power to employers. Any organised opposition to the new laws was deemed unAustralian and quashed.
Eventually, it didn’t much matter which political party was in power, the die had been cast. Power was power, never to be relinquished.
Then Identity Cards were introduced, masquerading as the all purpose Drivers Licence. These had to be carried at all times, each identity reduced to a name, a photo and a barcode with a smartchip embedded in the card. There was a rumour of bar-code tattoos or microchip implants for non drivers coming up next on the agenda.
This surveillance required a huge increase in Government employees, quite a few of which became Secret Police. Everyone knew about the existence of the Secret Police but no one knew who they were. Australians were encouraged to inform on fellow Australians, ‘dobbers’, once frowned upon but now rewarded. To accommodate the increase in the flow and acquisition of information, a huge computer establishment was built underground in the Black Mountains near Canberra, alongside the accommodation complex already in existence under there, and nearly every person in Australia was monitored daily by some form of technology. ASIO was allowed to store any information it gathered, even what it came across by ‘accident’. Every day, the Government snooping was becoming more like the historic ‘Stazi’, the old East German Secret Police
By late 2012, the private work of Wade and Alan Wilson was secretly under scrutiny by DSTO, the Department of Defence Science and Technology Organisation which soon became known to those in the business as Techsect. The agents, or rather ‘investigators’, were on the lookout for any technology which the Government wanted kept secret.
Wade and Alan were blissfully unaware of the DSTO scrutiny and went on with their work, gradually drawing closer to the Holy Grail of human/computer interfacing.
Right about then, a love interest developed for Alan. Sarah, the industrious lady Wade and he had hired to be their personal assistant, eventually managed to overcame his shyness, enough at least for them to start going out together. Alan was even thinking of marriage and was now able to afford a sporty car, quite a nippy unit for a hybrid, although it was fitted with a Tracker as every new car since 2011 had to be. It had become mandatory to have a satellite tracking device fitted to every new registered vehicle in the country. Australians had become dots on a screen as the Gov. wanted to know where everyone was, at all times.
The only problem the Gov. had, was with the aboriginal peoples, well, most of them. The original Australians always seemed to be losing their ID cards and someone was always stealing the Tracking devices out of their vehicles. After the big intervention of 2008 played out, the Government eventually found it easier to just hand money out to the Aboriginal folk in remoter communities rather than deploy the manpower necessary to maintain compliance. Less police, that suited most of the indigenous local inhabitants’ fine, they didn’t want to be held captive by machines.
Wade’s daughter, Sidhe, known to one and all as Sid, had started to show an interest in her father’s work a couple of years ago. She was now nearly sixteen, sleek and athletic and very pretty, with shoulder length, silvery hair and big green eyes. She came to the lab whenever she could. The girl was almost challenging in her approach to life and soaked up facts faster than anyone Alan knew, including her father. It would be difficult to hold onto her if she got offside and fell in with the wrong crowd but that was not likely, given her attitude towards fairness.
Sid was looking forward to going to University and was also showing great interest in following in her father’s footsteps. Everything was looking rosy for the Wilson family. Seven and a half years after Alan had left university, he and Wade were well set up.
Wade was Alan’s hero.
The softly spoken, caring older brother, who was always there to help in times of need. Ever since Alan could remember, it was Wade who had come to his rescue when he stumbled, picking him up and dusting him off before pointing him in the right direction once again. Now they were working together in their own business. How good could life get?
That was until the men in black came to see them. Apparently the research work being undertaken by the two brothers had come to the notice of the Gov. and the powers-that-be. Techsect decided they wanted in on that business. There were mutterings about, ‘In the interest of the nation.’ An offer was made to buy the brothers out. Not a generous offer but enough to comfortably set up Wade and Alan for quite a while.
His brother Wade refused the offer made by the anonymous agents. Despite all the discussions the family had about the benefits of that offer, Wade stood firm in his desire to hold on to the company. Part of that stubbornness had to do with his daughter Sidhe, who Wade envisioned was one day going to work side by side with him, continuing the research he had started. Father and daughter together.
It was not to be.
Wade was killed, in a mysterious car accident, while driving down the Adelaide Hills on his way to work. There were no witnesses but the accident, and the closure of the road due to it, were suspiciously close together. Wade’s vehicle had supposedly hit a tree and burst into flames. The subsequent fire burnt his body badly making the post mortem difficult. The whole clean up and investigation seemed to be handled very rapidly by the authorities. Without much news coverage. The single vehicle accident was attributed to a heart attack causing loss of control of the vehicle. Unfortunately, that morning, Wade was giving Sarah a lift to work. She also perished in the crash.
Alan was gutted, both of them at once, his brother and his wife to be.
Sid and her mother, Margaret, were inconsolable. Lawyers took over and the sale of the business went ahead.
The writing was on the wall as far as Alan was concerned; hanging around here was not going to extend his life much. Not after the way his brother had been murdered, yes murdered. It was no accident. Wade had just undergone a medical for insurance purposes and his heart was fine. Oh, he could start up another business with the money from the sale but how long would he last, knowing the technology the Gov. wanted hidden?
There was one consolation however, being one of the top two or three experts worldwide in his field meant that there would be no more worthwhile discoveries coming out of the lab without him. The Gov. had really got the worst of the deal. But what if he could be detained under some law or other and coerced into helping?
That was when Alan took as much cash as possible out of the bank in Adelaide, to add to the cash he had at home and headed up to the Chain of Ponds reservoir in the Adelaide Hills. Not wanting to use his car, which may have been noticed, or use a bus which monitored your ID card, he took a taxi as far as Tea Tree Gully, keeping his face turned away from the camera inside it. He’d very discreetly hitched from there, as it was now illegal to hitch hike, and luckily someone was kind enough to offer him a lift to the Kersbrook turnoff, not far from where he wanted to go. He couldn’t leave a trail for this exercise.
The aluminium case, containing nine hundred thousand dollars in cash, was buried in view of the water at Chain of Ponds reservoir, with the secret wish that he would live long enough to see it again. One hundred thousand dollars in cash was in his pocket before he ran.
Making sure that Sid and Margaret were going to be okay, he decided to head north, renting his house out through an agent who managed it for him, deducted fees and put any profit into Alan’s superannuation fund. All legal and no ties or trail to him.
Swapping his sports car for an unregistered junker with no Tracker fitted and dirtying the old car with enough mud to obscure the plates somewhat, did not take long. It was a gamble. If he got pulled over by the police, there would be trouble.
Stealth and cunning. Use his brain for something other than programming.
Alan couldn’t tell Margaret or Sid what he was doing or where he was going, not only would it endanger them, it had to be a secret or he would never escape. After destroying his ID card and any reference to who he was, he headed north by the back ways, leaving during the night and travelling on little-patrolled dirt roads, cash strapped around his waist in a money belt. Most of the main highways were fitted with cameras now, used to automatically record the number plate of each passing vehicle and match it with the GPS data from the Tracker. Luckily, that system was still in its infancy and its use not too widespread.
Driving at night to try and avoid detection, his chosen route wound up to the east of Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges before ducking over to Maree. He paid cash for fuel and carried a lot extra in the boot of the car, stored in jerry cans. From Maree, a quick overnight run to Birdsville in south-western Queensland and from there, due north, through Mt. Isa and up past Lawn Hill Gorge to Hell’s Gate on the Gulf of Carpentaria. A long driving stint followed, through to Booraloola and then north again on the Savannah Way via Roper Bar to Mataranka. The last stretch of road to Roper Bar was despicable and it was exceedingly lucky that he had only one puncture travelling it; the old wreck had only one spare tyre.
He slept at night in the car and travelled by day now. Satellite surveillance in the North was not as intense as down south.
The last two hundred and fifty kilometres of his journey was heart in mouth all the way. Back on the main highway now, driving the ‘Track’ north from Mataranka. Policing in the Territory was pretty thin on the ground but this was still the only road to travel north on. Passing through Katherine at three in the morning he arrived at Jamie’s place, deep in Kakadu, just as Jamie was just getting out of bed. Jamie was a Ranger, a very important Ranger, who interfaced a lot between the traditional owners of the land and the Government but he had not abandoned his roots nor the Laws and Rules of his Tribe.
He was also well respected by his community.
Alan’s long time friend was extremely suprised to see him but the warmth of the greeting was honest.
“Alan bloody Wilson. Blow me down, didn’t expect to see you here bud.”
“Good to see you again, Jamie. How’s things?”
They gripped hands firmly, smiling at each other, friendship bridging years.
“It’s your shout Alan,” Jamie reminded him cheekily after the exuberant reunion. Wincing, Alan gave a brief explanation as to why he couldn’t be seen around and then a hundred dollar bill was produced and handed to Jamie. With a nod and a wink Jamie quickly disappeared, returning about an hour later with two cartons of beer. Jamie then phoned in to say he wouldn’t be at work for the day and Alan’s well travelled, old and battered car was hidden under trees to avoid satellite detection. The two friends then sat on Jamie’s verandah and talked and drank and drank and talked. All throughout the day, people of Jamie’s Tribe kept dropping in and staying for a beer or two. The cartons didn’t last long, so breaking into the cash supply, another two hundred dollars was produced and handed over. Another hour went by until someone returned with four cartons of beer.
After all, it was Alan’s shout.
While he was explaining his situation to Jamie and his worries regarding his own continuing health after Wade’s untimely death, someone lit a fire in a ring of stones in the front yard and everyone there, bar the two of them on the verandah, sat around it, staring at the flames. It wasn’t cold enough to need a fire so he asked Jamie what was going on.
“Most of us like to look into the flames when we have a drink. It takes us somewhere else. Maybe to a place where we can Dream. Back to a time before you white fellas’ turned up. When we were one with the country. It looked after us and we looked after it, with respect for the spirits in all things. It is becoming more elusive and harder to find that place since the white fellas’ started wounding the country but it’s still there in the Dreaming.”
He yelled out to the group below.
“Hey, you mob. This is a friend of mine. His name is Alan and he’ll be staying with me for a while. We don’t want the white people to know he is here, okay.” The reply came as a general salute with the raised green cans of Victoria Bitter, better known as VeeBee in the Territory.
So that was how Alan had arrived in the Top End over two years ago and managed to stay cut off from the rest of the world. The more he mixed with the people of Jamie’s Tribe and others, the more he respected the spiritualism of their beliefs. It was Jamie who suggested he be initiated into the Tribe, so he could learn to be more at one with them. Alan was already aware that once initiated, he was bound not to reveal secrets. If he did, death could intervene. All that would take was for one of the Elders to point a bone at him. He knew enough now not to take a chance on that happening and accepted the offer of initiation with gratitude.
Finally, a place for him to belong and begin a new life again, without the stress of the white man’s ways.
The verandah became more and more insubstantial before fading into mist as the memory faded. Last to vanish was Jamie’s face, those timeless brown eyes focused on him, care written deep.
Cool breeze whispering over bare skin.
‘Wake, wake, be in the now’.
Alan shivered, the setting sun had long gone from the Lightening Rocks and the twilight was deep and chilly now but the full moon waxed strong. Breaking out of his reverie, he became aware of his surroundings once again. Down the hill he could hear preparations beginning for the evening’s ceremonies. The red ochre paint on his chest, dry now, tugged a little as he moved and the chant of a warm-up on a didgeridoo drifted up to him from far below. He looked around himself, feeling content and happy with his lot. As he did, he noticed behind him, about five paces away, a two metre Goanna, silently watching him, the yellowy-orange of its skin glowing with reflected moonlight.
These descendants of dinosaurs turned up all over the place. What was most unusual however, was the Rainbow Bee-Eater sitting on the Goanna’s head. Where had it come from? Was it real? They weren’t found around this particular place. The delicate bird did not look well, with parts of its irridescent plumage faded and dull. He stepped forward toward them and the Rainbow Bee-Eater faded and disappeared before his eyes.
The Goanna merely observed.
Then the music sticks started their rhythm. Clack, clack, clack-clack, clack. Repeating the rhythm over and over. Clack-clack. Clack-clack. Clack-clack. Clack-clack. Clack..........
Clack-clack, clack-clack, clack. Alan came too, gradually, and found himself lying in a concrete cave, dimly lit. The noise of the suburban train clattering overhead, receded, as he surfaced slowly from his alcoholic stupor. The smell around him was indescribable, a mixture of human excrement and rotting garbage. He burped, the odour of stale wine hitting his nostrils from the inside at the same time as the routine headache started its dull pounding. In the dim light he looked around his hidey hole for something to drink, taking in the piles of cardboard and old newspapers, the brown plastic bags with the empty plastic sherry bottles, the rare fast food wrapper and scraps of filthy clothing.
How long had he been here? A Government agency had located him at Kakadu or suspected he was there. They must have been desperate to find him, researching as far back as his University days for connections but the local police had given Jamie the heads up and a member of the tribe just happened to be heading to Sydney for a conference. Alan made a fast getaway.
It was all so easy until his money ran out. Things had a habit of being expensive for someone on the run. Only paying cash in a plastic society. By the time his money was gone, he had developed an alcohol habit, drinking to try and drown the depression of knowing he was hunted and far away from the land he had come to love. He had nowhere to go, so hid among the down and outs in his present surroundings. Became one of their number; drinking to try and find the Dream in this soulless concrete jungle.
Aluminium cans pinched from the recycling bins at the back of hotels and a little discrete begging kept him in alcohol. If he needed food, there was always the back of McDonalds with its jumbo dumpster full of five minute old hamburgers and soft chips, sometimes still warm; the trick was not to get caught; cameras were everywhere. This dingy little hole under the tracks next to an old, disused stormwater drain would be useless if there was a really good rainfall but it did for now.
Again, the trick was not to get caught. The Government programme for derelicts like him was fast becoming disposal. No ID, no DNA match, no life. Luckily it wasn’t heavily policed yet but that was on the agenda soon, with the legislation only recently being passed.
Alan lay there, trying to shake off the powerful Dream he had just woken from but it would not leave him. The Goanna was his totem and he had seen only it that time after his initiation, standing there opposite Lightening Rocks in the bright moonlight, just before he went down the hill to join in the dancing. Where had the Rainbow Bee-Eater appeared from and what did it mean? It was most important he find out. The Dreaming had reached out to give him a message, sent his totem with it, found him in an alcoholic daze under a railway track in Sydney. Something that could not be ignored. He needed to think clearly for once. His stomach griped at him and the desire for a drink rose up through his body. He denied it with all of his strength, sitting on smelly cardboard in that revolting underground den. The Dream was Real. It meant something. Action was required of him. Now!
Although Alan didn’t realize it at the time, that moment of resistance to alcohol marked another turning point in his life.
The Dream worried at him all through the morning, enough that he didn’t buy any alcohol. He used the toilets in nearby Central Station to wash himself properly, checking that the security camera had been ripped down like it usually was. He stole some decent, although damp clothes from an untended drier in a laundromat nearby and was lucky enough to replace his gaping and filthy footwear when a group of teenage schoolboys left their bags untended for a while, standing in a circle around the one who had downloaded pornography into his handheld compuphone. There were snatches of conversation from them.
“Cor, look at that. I wouldn’t mind getting a ‘jack’ fitted if I could plug that in.”
Another chimed in with.
“I heard it’s only about five thou to get one fitted now.”
“I know someone who got one done underground, only cost him fifteen hundred and he got a free jar of antibiotic lube.”
“Yeah. Dead set. The Gov can take me if I lie.”
“Probably will anyhow, you dork.”
Alan shook his head as he sidled away clutching the latest Reeboks under his jacket. Retrospeak had seemed to become fashionable again. If there was a way of fucking up the language, teens were sure to find it. The reference to ‘jacks’ however, had suprised him. Straight from his and Wade’s research and onto the market so fast and the Government owned the company. There had to be a hidden agenda there somewhere, something that helped the Government Bureaucracy maintain its grasp on power. It now didn’t matter which Party was in Parliament, all they did was pass laws recommended by the policy makers. Policy makers who used to be called civil servants, staying in their positions independent of whichever Party ruled. Should really be called self servants.
His body screamed for alcohol continually but he refused it. He needed food, good wholesome food at a reasonable price.
Sitting down to put on his new shoes he checked his pockets. Shrapnel, maybe five bucks. Think, dammit.
The University, not far from Central Station, that was where he would go, another scruffy adult on campus would not be too unusual and they did have good tucker there. He retrieved a used air filter mask from a rubbish bin, praying that the previous wearer did not have a communicable disease. The disposable filters had become necessity when Sydney’s air became so foul some days that people had to be hospitalized just from breathing it. The good thing was, the mask hid the five day growth on his face and made him look a bit more reputable. He ran his fingers through still damp hair, it would have to do. Alan’s new clothes dried during his walk over to the University campus. He arrived toward the end of lunchtime.
Lots of people around, mostly young but a few oldies were intermingled amongst them. It was a riot of colour and fashions in the quadrangle. Here and there people were dressed in the retro fashions of two thousand and five, itself a copy of the nineteen nineties but they were in the minority compared to the new look of the ‘talking’ clothing. Materials with minute LED’s woven into and through the fabric, allowing the wearer to program in designs and words which glowed with a life of their own, sometimes even flowing over the clothing in waves of colour. Rich kids, overseas students and here and there in drab, unlit clothing, the kids on scholarships but they were few and far between. He scanned all around the quadrangle, looking for the ever present surveillance cameras. Each one he found was pointed at the sky.
“Don’t have to worry about the cameras man. This is a University. They teach us how to programme computers and we use what they teach us.”
Alan turned, startled, to find himself looking into a pair of piercing blue eyes under a thatch of blonde hair done in no particular style. The eyes ran over him. The young man who they belonged to had assessed him as being of no threat. What grabbed his attention about the young man however, was the artistic Aboriginal depiction of a goanna on the front of his T-shirt. A Goanna! The Dream! Spirits were abroad.
He caught himself staring at the young man’s shirt and apologised.
“No problem,” was the easy reply. “You studying here?”
“No, actually I am pretty broke and was hoping to get a feed. I’ve been a bit lost for a while. A long while it seems.”
The bright blue eyes travelled over him again.
“At least you’re nearly sober. Don’t go away. You may not know this but we have to use ID cards to get food now. I’ll get a big lunch and you can share it with me.” With that the young man walked off toward the student cafe. The goanna design, repeated on the back of the young man’s shirt seemed to wink at Alan as he was left standing there. He felt exposed, alone amongst all that youth and colour and retreated to a bench beside some shrubbery. Partially out of sight. The next ten minutes were some of the longest in his life and he only relaxed when the young man came back and handed him a plastic plate laden with food.
“Don’t eat too fast old timer, you might get sick.” The young man smiled, turning it into a joke. “My name is Lance by the way.”
“Alan, Alan Wilson,” he replied automatically. How could you suspect someone who had risked the authorities’ displeasure and brought food to a derelict?
“Pretty famous name.”
Alan looked at him blankly as he pushed the air filter mask to one side and began to eat.
Lance’s jaw dropped, “You mean you haven’t heard about Alan and Wade Wilson. The two brothers who invented the technology of ‘jacking’ then sold it to the Government and disappeared. There is a rumour that they bought an offshore island and retired.”
Alan was surprised at the pain he felt, being reminded of his dead brother. The lie needed rebuttal. He threw caution to the wind. Lance was wearing a shirt with a Goanna on it.
Trust the Dream.
“Not true. The Government murdered Wade and called it a car accident. We never got what the business was worth and no chance to spend it. They would love to find me.”
“No way Alan, you’re pulling my leg. There is absolutely no way you could be ‘the’ Alan Wilson.”
Alan gestured toward Lance’s compuphone. “Is it locked? If so, can I hold it?
“Yeah, sure,” Lance smiled as he handed it over in exchange for the plate Alan was holding.
Alan was hoping like hell that technology hadn’t made him obsolete; it was well over three years since he had seriously used a computer of any type and his headache was still nagging. His fingers flew over the small keypad while Lance looked on, getting slightly concerned when he saw the small screen light up.
“Hey, how did you.......” His voice trailed off as Alan handed back the compuphone and reclaimed his plate. There on the screen was a message. ‘Yes Way’. Lance pressed the delete button but the message remained on screen. As Alan ate the rest of his lunch, Lance determinedly tried to remove the small message. To no avail. Eventually he switched the compuphone off and then turned it on again. Once past the security password, the small message reappeared. Lance sat back and studied Alan closely then handed over his palm held. Alan keyed in about six strokes and gave it back with a clear screen.
“Nice to see the technology hasn’t passed me by.” He grinned shyly.
Lance looked around them, he appeared worried.
“If what you are telling me is true then you could be in danger. We better leave; there are spies on campus the same as everywhere else. I know a safe place for you to stay and maybe, in return, you could show me a few things.”
Alan thoughtfully took another couple of mouthfuls, then reluctantly eying the rest of the food, readjusted his face mask and nodded.
“Sounds good to me. Lead on.”
It was a long walk through the streets and they ended up in Balmain somewhere, in a rather seedy back street. Lance led him into a student bar which catered for the large number of University students resident in the area. It was the sort of place older people didn’t want to go. Loud and a lot of fun. This Government was smart, probably why it had been in power for so long and it encouraged the establishment of bars designed for particular sectors of the public. Here a blind eye could be turned to more illicit things as long as plenty of alcohol was consumed. Drinking, officially frowned upon but unofficially encouraged, as more and more people drinking in the population generated more and more excise tax and GST.
Lance I.D.’d them in, squeezed together tightly so the scanner registered them as one. The place was quiet at this time of the day. At the back of the bar, Alan followed Lance into a long passageway. Halfway down, Lance opened a broom cupboard and fumbled in the back of it. The whole back section of wall, including the shelves, swung away to reveal a set of steps heading down. Taking a look up and down the passageway to make sure it was clear, Lance gently pushed Alan towards the steps and followed him, closing the hallway cupboard door behind them and then turning as he reached the descending stairway to close the false door to the back of the cupboard. Finger across his lips to indicate silence, hardly seen in the gloom just broken by a dim safety light, Lance took the lead down the darkened stairway until they fetched up at another door. This was steel plate, fitted perfectly into its steel frame. Here Lance produced an old fashioned key which he inserted into the lock and the door soon swung open on well oiled hinges.
It was a thick door.
“This is the main way into here but not the only one. We have to wait until this evening when everyone is home before I can introduce you to our team but meanwhile you can help me with a small problem. If you don’t mind.”
Alan merely nodded, looking around himself at the plush furniture and couches and the four or five laptop computers, laying about the place. Lance saw him looking.
“Everyone seems to have left their computers home today. Probably wise in case the spooks do a computer check. Some of your stuff in there. Lots of micro’s, most stolen, piggybacked together. We are talking terabytes of memory with gigabytes of RAM. We need a fair bit to keep ahead of the thought police. This whole place is shielded, so nothing electronic can get in or out. It has no signature from outside. Stealth. The ID reader on the student bar upstairs is coded to not record any of our ID’s. We tapped into a telephone cable down the road and use a bank line for our Web access. So many electronic signals using that line means we can camouflage ours as routine chatter. We hack small amounts of credit from big international companies to pay for all of this.”
Alan had taken off the face mask and his relief was more and more evident as Lance spoke. Following the Goanna had been the correct thing to do but this was amazing. Never in his wildest fantasies had he imagined that this level of resistance to the Government existed. Lance laughed at his dazed expression.
“I shouldn’t tell you all this without approval from the rest of the group but there are a lot more of us resistance groups scattered around the country. Mostly individuals though. Far more than anyone realises. We meet through computers using a very special piece of code that the Government hasn’t cottoned onto yet. Sometimes a cell gets discovered but we are all independent and hold no records of how we connect to each other. Suffice to say, we attach our messages to the back of normal intergovernmental transmissions and they peel off when we want them to go somewhere else. As yet, the Gov doesn’t suspect that we are using their communications for message transport. Our main problem is that we cannot seem to find a way to hack into the Gov’s computers. The protection is first rate, if we go anywhere near them with code we start getting tracer programmes looking for us.” Lance grinned sheepishly. “I actually captured one that was after me. I topped and tailed it and brought it back. It’s in that computer there, the one with the keypad. I would be pleased if you would take a look at the tracer program, Sir.”
“Not Sir. Alan. Are those other computers without keypads voice activated?”
In answer, Lance sat beside one and picked up a small jackplug with a tiny black plastic knob on the end. There were no external wires visible. He wiped it down carefully with an alcohol smelling swab. Alan’s mouth watered at the smell before he chastised himself but he couldn’t stop the physical reaction of his body. Then Lance dipped the end of the jackplug into a vial he had uncapped which contained some sort of jelly, after which he pulled across the hair at the nape of his neck, removed a flesh colored latex plug and inserted the jack. Just like an old fashioned headphone jack plugging into a stereo.
“Your invention. We run the jacks with Bluetooth to save having cables to the laptops. Once I switch it on, the computer and I are linked. It is still clumsy as yet but a whole lot faster than sending nerve impulses down your arms to get your fingers to input information which you have to read. Take a seat and see what you make of the tracer program I captured but please do not attempt to go online. The others should be back in a couple of hours.”
Lance turned on his computer and seemed to withdraw into himself. Alan left him to it.
Sitting in front of the only computer in the room without security fingerprint access, Alan felt tired and shoddy. Just this morning, until his Dream woke him, he had been lying in a puddle of shit and vomit.
His head was pounding as he looked down at himself.
“Mind if I take a shower?” he asked.
Lance waved a hand.
Alan wandered back through the underground apartment until he found the bathroom down the back, behind the kitchen. He was relieved to find a tube of beardwipe in the bathroom cabinet and massaged it into his face before taking a shower. No timer on the shower, highly illegal, these kids did not mess about. Dried by the warm air jets recessed into the shower walls he stepped out and dressed quickly. With his five day growth gone he looked ten years younger, although his strong face had many more lines on it than it used to. He considered his reflection in the mirror, looking at the ravages of alcohol and a poor diet. Why had he given up and succumbed to depression? He resolved to never give up again; it was time to exact revenge for his brother’s death. With a small prayer he opened up the bathroom cabinet and gave a grunt of relief when he found the painkiller-stims he hoped were in there. Taking one, he headed into the kitchen and searching the cupboards found some Daintree tea, grown in Far Northern Queensland. He made himself and Lance a cup, white and one he guessed for Lance, then took the two steaming mugs into to the main room. Placing the tea in front of Lance he sat down in front of the computer he had been offered, feeling a whole lot better than he had twenty minutes before. He turned the computer on.
Instant power-up and in the bottom right hand corner, the date. 10th August 2018.
“Two thousand and Eighteen! Unfucunbleevabl.
He mentally added up: Left University in two thousand and five and went into business with Wade. Early two thousand and thirteen was when Wade was killed and he had to make the quick trip north, just over two and a bit years with Jamie and the Tribe then........Had he really been pissed for nearly three years! Shit, there was a lot to catch up on, as long as he could remain beneath the Government horizon.
First things first, he needed to know what had changed in the last few years. He brought up an isolated window and opened up a simple programme. Linux. Good. Lot fewer holes than Mr. Gate’s much repaired Windows 8 operating system. It had been around too long. Now the crux. He opened up a protected window onto a section of the computers own language and smiled in relief. It was what he already knew. He could speak this language without the need of an operating system. This was why he and Wade had been so successful in their business. He didn’t need programming language; he could program the computer with its own language. Few people in the world were capable of that and he was one of them. It was just the way his mind worked at juggling squiggles. Maybe he was slightly autistic, or not. So, the Gov killed his brother Wade and expected him to just sit back. No way. He had found the spirit of the land alive and well up north; in the hands and minds of those few that could still Dream. In spite of what the Gov was doing, there were a lot of people out there who did not agree with Totalitarianism.
Alan located the piece of tracer code that Lance had captured, in a file named ‘Tracer’ and went to work, breaking into the computer language of that code and finding some interesting little loops. The Gov had some clever programmers and Lance was either pretty able or very lucky. This tracer was a hairsbreadth away from getting out of containment and heading home with their location. Alan pinched its head off completely and opened the rest out to examine the coding. It was modelled on a centipede with a pincer mouth to capture unrecognisable transmissions with no identity markers and then the means to drop off body segments as it was dragged along the electronic highway. Each body segment had the same home destination and reported back when and where it had broken off from the whole. Very clever. Continual tracking of unidentified signals. A Web policeman. Lance had captured it by dangling code at the front end and after the bite, taping up its tail end with sticky code to stop segmental breaking. What he hadn’t known was that the head end was still chewing actively and had nearly eaten its way through the bait. After that it would have fragmented and hopped onto the Internet at the first available opportunity to report the location of this place back to the Gov. Alan wandered over to Lance and waited until he had his attention. The tea was untouched and Lance looked tired.
“Have a break and come and look at the tracer you captured. It very nearly escaped. I have disarmed the little beast and you may find it interesting.” Alan smiled, the image of biting off a green ant abdomen for the lemon taste, rising unbidden in his memory.
Lance rose from his seat and gazed at the monitor screen on Alan’s computer. He looked puzzled. “What’s all that junk on the screen?”
Alan furrowed his brows, pondering. So, Lance worked from Linux and couldn’t read the computer’s own language. There was a lot he would be able to do to repay the assistance he had received. Alan leaned forward and pressed a couple of keys. The Linux was not quite so eloquent as the computer’s language but Lance gasped when it appeared on screen.
“Shit, that thing was just about ready to bolt. Boy, am I lucky that I bumped into you today. Better trash it, just in case.”
“No, no. Think Lance. Each one of these segments is designed to go somewhere. We could use them for access. What if we let them go but not with our location, just a nasty little replicating virus attached to it. In fact, we could replicate these segments and send thousands back at once. We could use them to block trackers if we wanted to get into somewhere. I would need to scout around to see how many different types of trackers I could find and where they are then we could make up some armaments. Use the Gov.’s own weapons against it.”
Oh this felt good, really good. He was getting back at the organism that killed his brother. His focus shifted, Sidhe. She must be about twenty two by now. He had to find out where she was and what she was up to. Maybe if she knew the truth, she might be able to help.
He wished he knew what the significance of the injured Rainbow Bee-Eater in his Dream was. The little bird had not seemed well but the language of Dreams was not always straightforward.
He would just have to keep his eyes and ears open.
Black, deep, velvet black.
Intrusion of noise.
Another ‘beep’ and then another. The beeping was the whole world. The only thing in the void. Becoming regular and speeding up slightly.
Coolness on skin, a gentle breeze softly wafting over part of a face. Perfume. The void was filling.
A low buzzing hum in the background and far away traffic noise.
Dry, dry mouth. Mouth! Furry tongue. Awareness of self. Eyes opening to black.
Sound of a door opening and a brief increase in background noise levels until the door swung shut with a hiss.
“I know you’re awake, your heart monitor picked up. Welcome back.” The voice was bright and cheery. “If you aren’t fully awake yet, don’t worry about not being able to see. We have your eyes bandaged for now in case of any unexpected side effects. The neurosurgeon will be in to talk to you shortly and we hope the bandages can come off soon. Thirsty?”
“Mmm, thdrin wadder?” was all that escaped her mouth. A plastic straw was placed between dry lips and sipping produced that delightful feeling of the first glissando of cool water sliding over the tongue and down the throat.
Slight taste of chlorine but refreshing.
The tongue was free now and the words were easier.
“I guess I have just woken up from the operation, how did it go?”
“They tell me that it went very well but it is not up to me to comment. How is your hearing?” The nurse, if that’s who she was, sounded businesslike but with an underlying, caring, warmth.
“Seems to be okay but when is the neuro coming? I’d like to lose these bandages.”
She heard the nurse moving around and felt the bedclothes being adjusted. Her arm was itching and she reflexively went to scratch it.
“In about an hour. Please don’t do that, you may dislodge your drip. I am allowed to tell you that your operation was two days ago. You have been kept in an artificial coma since then to help with any possible pain caused by the procedure. Everyone is really excited to see if it has worked as planned. As you are, no doubt. Won’t be long now dear. Can I get you anything else?”
“No, I think I will just wait here quietly. I have some thinking to do. Thank you though.”
A small, soft sphere was placed in her hand.
“If you need anything, just squeeze. The water is by your right shoulder and you won’t need to pee. You have a catheter in. See you later.” The sound of the door opening, swinging shut and then a relative peacefulness ensued.
Sidhe lay back on the plump pillows and relaxed, trying to come to terms with the enormity of what she had just done. She had undergone the procedure. The first one. It was a long haul to get here but it had happened at last. She drifted in that space between awake and asleep, her thoughts eventually finding the place in her life where this chapter had begun.
It was when Sid was around fifteen. Just starting to recognise self and appreciate the wider world. She started to drop into her father’s laboratory after school and found that it was a fascinating place. It amused her to see Uncle Alan mooning around Sarah, the attractive personal assistant that the brothers shared. Sarah, so alive and vibrant, bustling about creating organisation out of the heaps of paper and notes that the brothers piled willy-nilly around the office. Sarah, who efficiently managed the everyday financial side of the business. There was always milk for the coffee and at morning tea time she always managed to produce some snack or titbit which the brothers consumed with gusto. Uncle Alan had really fallen for Sarah. Sidhe’s father talked to his daughter like she was an adult, as did Uncle Alan when he could tear himself away from Sarah’s charms and Sid soon found herself looking up information wherever she could source it, learning about the things her father and Alan spoke of.
Her understanding blossomed almost intuitively and within two years she was assisting with some of her father’s experiments at the laboratory, carrying out the small tasks assigned to her. That was the year she was due to start University. Nearly seventeen years old and actually looking forward to going, because she was attending University in Adelaide and that would enable her to keep a leg-in at her father’s lab. Her seventeenth year was the year her father had that terrible car accident and died, along with Sarah, who was getting a lift to work. Sid’s world was shattered, everything got hard. Uncle Alan went strange, cold and unsmiling, wandering around muttering to himself. He had tried to console Sid and her Mum but his own grief was too great to allow him to be effective at it. He had disappeared a week after the sale of the business was finalised. Strange that and he hadn’t told anyone where he was going. Yeah, sure, her share of selling the company was the split between her and Mum but that didn’t make up for not having a Dad.
Sid found that the best place to put the emotional memories of her father; locked up tight, was deep within her mind, buried well beneath the memories of his work and experiments so that every time she mentally went to his theories, emotions would not intrude.
Her mind settled and her grief dealt with, Sid went to Uni and really started learning. The only minor problem for her was the space in her life which the lab used to occupy. She had enjoyed working there, very much, and missed it constantly. Team sport was no substitute because the other students wouldn’t play with her. Too fit and too hard, it was always more than a game, it was a competition and Sid had to win. Solo squash for reflexes and long runs by herself kept her body in trim. As well, she started learning martial arts for discipline.
She was good at it.
Curiously, toward the end of her first year at Uni, she was approached by a handsome, well groomed man in his mid thirties who showed her a very official looking identity card and requested an appointment with her for dinner. The man merely wanted to ‘chat’ he’d said. Feeling a little apprehensive, she accepted. As soon as he’d left, she contacted the police to check the name on the Identity Card. The call was rerouted through a number of different departments until the phone was answered by a crisp-voiced man in a manner that brooked no arguement.
“This is Repairs and Alterations, how may I help you?”
“I would like to verify the identity of Mr. James Harding.”
“Would that be James D. Harding by any chance? Lucky girl, enjoy your dinner. He will be there to pick you up at eight.”
Click. The line went back to dial tone.
The rest of the day dragged by.
She couldn’t settle.
What was she going to wear?
Why did she care about what she wore anyway?
She had been invited for Dinner. Not coffee. Not Lunch. Dinner.
She was going to do the right thing and get dressed. Just turned eighteen and with an athletic body, she was old enough to be aware of how to fit it into something sophisticated without being trashy. When the doorbell chimed at precisely eight o’clock she came downstairs and anxiously asked her mother.
“How do I look?”
Her Mother stood speechless. Her daughter had gone, replaced by an elegant young woman in a plain black sheath dress, set off beautifully by some shiny, old red beads at neck and wrist. She wore silver strapless shoes and her long hair had been done up cleverly, in a very fetching way, at the nape of her neck.
“You look fine Honey. You’d better take my silver wrap; it’s in the hall cupboard.”
The doorbell chimed again.
“Coming.” Her mum called out as the wrap was retrieved from the cupboard and hurriedly flung over young shoulders. Sid moved quickly, just in time to appear beside her mother as the door was opened. Her jaw dropped and she was exceedingly pleased that she had decided to dress for Dinner. The man at the door was resplendent in a tuxedo and beyond, parked at the curb, sat a stretched black limousine.
“Good evening Maam.” He flashed an ID card. “My name is James D. Harding and I have come to take your daughter out this evening. If you have no objection?”
Her Mother tipped her head to one side. Oh oh, Sid thought, this could be ugly. She sent a mental plea out. ‘No, please Mum.’
Her mother’s smile tightened.
“You haven’t wasted much time; she was eighteen less than two weeks ago. I did, however, expect you earlier than this. Bastard.”
“Sorry to disappoint you Maam.”
“Mother! What is going on? Please tell me what is going on.”
“I can’t Honey. The only way we could get the money from the sale of the business was if I agreed to say nothing about the dealings between the purchasers and myself, until you were eighteen. Not even you could learn about these people before you came of age. Be careful Honey and watch what you say, the table will be bugged as well as everywhere else. Our business was purchased by the Government through a front company. This Government representative, Mr. James D. Harding will probably be able to explain everything better than I ever could.”
Sidhe just managed to conceal her astonishment. How could her mother keep secrets from her only daughter?
Her mother stepped back, opening the door wider for her daughter to exit. James extended his hand and had it gracefully taken. With a small bow he said.
“Pleased to eventually meet you Sidhe, I am James D. Harding.”
She smiled sweetly. “Cut the bullshit. Call me Sid like everyone else and I will call you James. Deal?”
He grinned. “Deal.”
They went to Dinner.
Never in her life before had Sid ever seen the inside of such a sumptuous place. To think, this was a restaurant, a business. It looked more like a palace. High ceilings and the whole interior painted with intellipaint. Muted colours flowed one after the other across the walls and the ceiling overhead in quick succession. It felt like being inside a waterfall. Small lights suspended over the centre of the tables provided a lovely soft glow. They looked to be powered by Everlasts, a new invention. Very expensive. Batteries that never ran out of power; as soon as one of the compounds inside the battery changed as it gave up power, it was changed back to its original state by a catalyst. The trick was, more power was produced than it took the catalyst to change the compound back. Intriguing.
The background noise was bearable but she would never call it music. Jazz was so cerebral these days that it had become cacophonic. At least the volume was muted. They were comfortably seated in a lounge area, having a drink while waiting for their table. Sid was drinking Coke, an individual pouched serve, which she got the barman to open in front of her. Not taking chances. James merely smiled, the barman wasn’t on the payroll. Well, not yet.
A hostess came to show them to their table where a waiter, one for each of them, held the backs of the sumptuous chairs and assisted with their seating. A conspiritual wink passed between James and one of the waiters.
A wine waiter hovered but James waived him away and an electronic menu was presented to each of them. Sid opened hers and slowly scanned it, flashy food and no prices. Holy shit! It was one of those places. Ridiculously expensive and the Government was paying. She had learned something about power already. She touched her choices on the menu which were instantly relayed to the kitchen.
Dinner was excellent. For two reasons. The food was beyond belief and James offered her a part time job which meant she could go back to work with her father’s theories. James was quite forthright. As they meandered through a number of courses, decreasing the silver ware on the table, he informed her that the lab had not produced what the Government was hoping for. He offered her a more than generous salary, just to turn up at the lab and amuse herself whenever she wanted. The only hitch was, that because the Government owned the lab, any discoveries made were Government property. She asked for a week to decide, which was agreed upon without hesitation; smoothly. Business over with, she settled into the evening and reluctantly found herself enjoying James D. and his silly stories.
Sid talked it over with her Mum and eventually signed the Agreement, noting as she did that it was printed in the new smart paper. Clear pages, made of the same material as Australian banknotes. When used with a special printer, the sheets held whatever was copied onto them until a small charge was applied to the sheet, passed through it using the two tiny electrodes at the top left of the page. Very multi-use. A special pen was used for the signing and she received her own copy which she immediately fed into the family’s briefcase-sized Boxoffice to deal with. It was scanned, copied to memory and a copy automatically generated and sent to the family lawyer. A small buzz from the Boxoffice told her the Agreement was now legal.
Sid’s life improved from that point on. She often saw James at the lab and developed a soft spot for him but soon realised that she was just one of his many responsibilities and didn’t let him know of it. Her father’s experimental tissue samples, brain stem cells that he had developed with Uncle Alan, were still viable. Excellent.
Now it was time to attempt the problem that her father had been unable to overcome.
How to provide a framework for single, myelinated neurons to grow inside a tube? Nutrients had to pass through the tube wall but it had to be rigid enough to position into a brain and inert enough to be non-irritant to those brain cells. It took a while but after a year and a half, she had the basics. Her father’s work on brain implants had almost reached what he was aiming for. A thin tube, containing a bundle of thinner tubes, each with a neuron at the end and a single dendrite growing down the tube to where its electrical signal could be read electronically and return ones sent.
Her father had hoped to promote the growth of multiple dendrites from the neurons at the business end of the thin tubes. In theory, this cluster of dendrites would then attach to many neurones in the host brain but so far all the lab could produce was one dendritic linkage for each neurone. However, it was sufficient to do what was required.
Much more precise than bathing a small area of the brain with an electric shock from an insulated metal probe as in the present jacking implants. Her intuition provided the ideal tubes. Carbon microtubules. Pure carbon, formed into long, thin-walled, latticed tubes which could then be bundled together and placed inside a bigger tube. Flexible but thin as the finest hair, the pores in the tubes allowed nutrients in. It was a similar sort of linkage of carbon atoms as were found in ‘Bucky balls’. Named after Buckminster Fuller, the first person to discover that under the right conditions, sixty four carbon atoms could be cross-linked in an open-lattice to form a sphere.
Her tubes were cylindrical ‘Bucky balls’ but only in theory at this stage.
She explained to James exactly what she needed and as the discourse went on, he nodded frequently as though he understood, which she sincerely doubted. At the end however, while she was drawing breath, all he did was ask how many internal bundles she wanted per external tube. He definitely was not slow. Sid settled on six each of bundled tens, twenties and fifties.
It took six months until she finally got her hands on the bundles of carbon tubules.
During that hiatus, there was no time to sit and wait, so the entire non-frozen stock of her father’s stem cell neurones had been grown and multiplied, until there was ample available for experimenting with. Carefully she loaded one viable neuronal cell into each single tubule and when each bundle was full, lowered it gently into a nutrient bath with an extremely mild electric current flowing through it. This hopefully, would encourage dendritic growth right down the length of the tubules. It worked and the Government boys took the finished product away and then asked her to help miniaturise the interface. They gave her the size it had to be and let her get to work. Sid was eventually stumped at the computer programming side of things, so the Government took away what she had done for their own people to finish off. It was frustrating, not being fully involved with the whole project but there was also her university work to consider and that kept her occupied.
Despite the many questions asked by her over the next six months, she learned nothing, until one day, out of the blue; James had taken her to visit another lab. She had to travel in a vehicle with the window tinter turned so black, she couldn’t see where she was going. After they arrived at their destination, an underground parking lot, they were escorted through exceedingly more stringent security, both biological and personal. That is where the really interesting stuff began. In that mysterious lab she saw and heard the world through a chimpanzee’s eyes and ears. The chimp had word recognition ability for maybe a dozen symbols or so and when a symbol was sent in picture form directly to the chimp’s visual centre through the implant, the chimp performed the appropriate response.
Sid noticed that there were no wires or transmitters visible.
“How on earth are the signals getting through?” she asked one of the techs. The tech looked toward James, who nodded. Sid caught the exchange. So............
“Wireless, Bluetooth, the information is beamed both ways. All there is in the chimp is a signal decoder and encoder plus a small Bluetooth transmitter. In other words, computer language in and computer language out. There was enough space to tuck the hardware under the mastoid bone and it literally runs from brain power. To be completely mobile, it needs a satphone with built in wireless. We could do one in a pair of sunglasses or a hearing aid for instance. With that the chimp could be anywhere in the world and we could communicate directly with its brain.”
Sid pondered. Truly amazing. Jacking, times ten thousand, with no chance of infection. You could be hooked in anywhere, anytime and no one would know. If a tiny computer was implanted with the decoder, a brain could easily become part of the World Wide Web. A chilling thought. This was getting serious.
“So when do you propose to implant one into a human?” Sid asked James a little while later.
He cocked his head to one side and looked at her sideways. She suppressed a giggle.
“Why?” he enquired.
“Because I want one,” was the succinct reply.
‘Whoa girl, we have a lot of testing to do. You know that. Optimum bundle size and all those infinitesimal details which have to be perfected, including monitoring this chimp here another six months at least, to ensure there are nil side effects. Just think, by that time you will be twenty one, with a Doctorate and a very well paid Government job in charge of your own lab.”
Sid gaped at him. “What do you mean?”
James smiled with genuine pleasure. “As soon as you finish your degree this year, you will have a Doctorate bestowed on you for the most excellent results you have accomplished, working in your father’s lab. At that time the Government will offer you a job, in charge of your father’s lab. It will effectively become your lab then. They will offer you an open hand and enough funds to do as you wish.”
“How do you know all of this information?” Sid gave him a straight level look.
His response was to tap the side of his nose with his forefinger. “You would be amazed at what I am privy to. Let’s just say, when it happens, I will give your request some thought. Now we have a celebratory dinner. Hungry?”
That groundbreaking demonstration on the monkey was just fifteen months ago and now here she was, lying on her back with her head bandaged, in some secret Government hospital in Adelaide, while the rest of the population were lucky if they could get even basic hospital treatment.
Something was not quite right with the system.
A knock on the door and an increase in the sound level for a short while as the door opened and closed. A slight, discrete cough.
“Hi Sid, its Francis Delray, the neurosurgeon. I am here to give you a brief examination and hopefully rid you of those bandages.”
Sidhe knew Francis, an old thirty, and had worked with him on a couple of minor things to do with her father’s neuronal stem cell line. She trusted those boring, steady hands. He was dedicated to his profession. Owlishly centred on the only thing that mattered to him, the human brain with all of its complexity. It was his whole life and that was what made him the best neurosurgeon in Australia, a position gained by his almost supernatural understanding of the living brain. That understanding was augmented by the hole in the back of his neck, usually covered with a latex plug, where a jack could be inserted. He could plug into the computers of all the diagnostic and visualizing machinery while he was operating, to help guide his already steady hands to exactly the right spot in the brain where he could work his magic. About four years ago Francis, trusting none of his fellow professionals had gone to America to have his jack fitted, one of the first in Australia to do so, travelling by ship due to his fear of flying. His colleagues were a bit miffed by that vote of no confidence but got over it.
Francis Delray, for all his brilliance, looked a little scruffy, his personal appearance definitely not on a par with his professional abilities. He had never married, not expecting a woman to come second fiddle to his own research and busy, professional life. Besides, he was painfully shy around most women. His full time maid did try with him and indeed he left his house each morning looking fairly neat and civilized but by the time he reached his office he was starting to unravel and look a bit dishevelled. Personal pathological untidiness; his work could not be faulted though.
Sid felt the pressure as Francis sat on the bed.
“Time to see how you look,” he said as he gently started to undo the bandage.
“The operation went well. Pretty straightforward. I managed it with minimal cutting of skin and there should be no detectable scarring. As you are aware, you now have bunched microtubules into the visual, auditory and vocal cortexes of one side of your brain. We didn’t use both sides or you wouldn’t have any reference to reality when the transmissions cut in. Your brain will pass the information around via the corpus callosum. The micro computer and low output wireless are mounted under your mastoid bone on the right side. We improved your design.”
Here, she caught a slight catch in his voice, unnoticeable if she had not been without vision. “And built it with hardly any metallic parts. Virtually undetectable.”
His sure, gentle hands had removed the bandages leaving just the pads over her eyes for now. He took her head in his hands and gently tilted it forward. She felt him get up off the bed as he moved around to visualise his handiwork. A few thin red lines behind her right ear were all that could be seen.
“Well, how does it look?” Sid asked impatiently, worried about scarring.
“Excellent. The new stem cell skin gel is working perfectly. All healed.”
“When will we know if the implant is working?”
“We already know that it has started. We have been monitoring random electrical activity from your brain for at least a day. Don’t be alarmed. You and your device will need some training before your brain becomes a computer which can be linked to the Web. Then you will be able to access the entire knowledge of humanity. You will know just about everything. I am almost envious if it works as expected, it would be like my jack being upgraded to wireless broadband but who could I trust to put one in me? The technique for your operation was my own invention, quite complex. Even if I do say so myself”
Francis moved back in front of her and Sid waited expectantly.
“I have dimmed the light and the window is darkened. Keep your eyes closed as I remove the pads from them and then slowly open them.” He took the pads away.
Sid slowly opened her eyes. Even in the low light they watered for a moment until her irises adjusted. In the soft lighting the classy hospital room looked the same as it had before she had the operation with one notable exception, a huge bunch of exotic flowers stood in a vase on the sink unit opposite her bed. The source of the perfume which had invaded her senses while waking up and which subtly pervaded the room! Her focus contracted until she saw Francis sitting on the bed looking at her anxiously.
“Who sent the flowers?” she asked. “They are really stupendous.”
Francis scowled. “James, I didn’t want them in here but he can be very convincing.”
She considered his response. James, that man bore watching.
“So, what is supposed to happen?” she asked him.
“We don’t know. You are the first. With insulated metal electrodes nothing ever happens but you have living neurones from your father’s experimental stem-cell line in your head now, growing connections to your own neurones. We only have observations from the primate experiments and we couldn’t talk to them.”
Just then there was a bright little spark in her right eye. She flinched involuntarily in response.
“What?” Francis asked sharply. Voice carrying concern.
“Oh, not much, just a little flash in my right field of view.” Sid tried to sound calm.
He chuckled. “Excellent, another neurone just made a connection. That is nearly all of them. We ended up using three bundles of fifty microtubules to each location for possible redundancies. That is, to the visual, auditory and vocal centres on the same side of your brain. Fastest data transfer possible without the problems of bigger bundles.”
“What do you mean, bigger bundles? I never made bigger bundles.” She gave him a searching look. Francis looked away uncomfortably.
“Sorry, that was a slip. Remember that this is Government owned technology now and that is all I can say.” Then he smiled. “I like your new look.”
She put her hands to her head. Stubble! All of her hair was gone. Sid was bald.
“You bastard!” she exclaimed. “What have you done?”
“Sid, Sid, you know me better than that. I couldn’t risk any infection getting into that beautiful head of yours. I had to have your head shaved. It will grow back. At the end of your training period you will look quite fashionable. We could even explore sending someone else’s voice through your vocal centre. You could be a musicvid star.” He saw the look on her face, storm clouds gathering.
“Just joking. Use this time to rest for a few days, eat some yummy hospital food and get back to normal. We start your training in five days time. You are now a very important person.”
Sid watched as the door closed behind him. This time there was a soft click as it locked. To keep her in or to keep other people out?
The large, well dressed, obese man leaned back in the contour-smart chair behind the enormous polished wood desk. The chair shifted to fit his bulk, which flowed over the edges of the seat somewhat. The ends of his chubby, well manicured and steepled fingers disappeared into the folds of flesh where they supported his chin.
Percival Kemp, known to one and all as ‘Percy Cute’ although not to his face. He knew what they called him behind his back but did not care one whit. Percy was slightly troubled, enough to possibly spoil his day. The sign on the door to his suite of offices read, Under Secretary to the Minister of Internal Security. What it didn’t say was that Percy was one of the most powerful men in the country and Head of the Secret Police.
There were no more General Elections now. The Government had introduced a system where each Member of Parliament served a four year term, after which an electorate could then re-elect the sitting member or another candidate from any party for the next four years. It was claimed to be less disruptive to the running of the country than a General Election and there was supposed to be some choice but in reality the books were always balanced so that the sitting Government maintained its majority. The puppets in the Opposition were feeding from the same trough, so they went along with the deal to keep the pretence of democratic Government alive. Percy was a public servant. Ministers and their politically appointed Secretaries came and went but public servants stayed to run the Government. Percy had been in his position for nearly seven years now, three different Ministers and Secretaries had come and gone in that time but Percy endured.
It was not easy to stay so long at the top of the heap but he had a number of factors in his favour. The Ministry of Internal Security was responsible for the Secret Police, a clandestine joining of ASIO, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation and the old Federal Police. Officially, between the ‘elected’ Minister with his Secretary and ‘public service’ Percy there was direct communication but sometimes, there was one other link, someone unofficially important enough to occasionally have shady missions run, a shadowy figure who Percy had never met, or even seen. He was known only as Three and hardly ever got involved in the day to day running of the security service.
Percy wanted his job.
The Minister for Police had no say at all in the running of Percy’s Secret Police force, which suited Percy fine. Apart from the Secretary, Percy’s immediate superior, who reported to the Minister and gave Percy his general day to day instructions, the Secret Police were Percy’s to do with as he wished, as long as he was seen to use them for the security of the nation. Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors. He shifted his bulk again and the chair accommodated, servo motors whining. Damn chair was getting noisy; he would have to have it replaced.
His piggy little eyes glittered through the ample folds of his face beneath sparse, wispy hair as he gazed at the view through the window. Bright blue ocean, lapping softly against the pristine, palm fringed beach below an azure sky. The rest of the largish room was bare of decoration. The walls were papered, not painted, in textured, emerald green wallpaper which extended to cover the back of the only door into the room, behind him to the left. It gave a feeling of rainforest, rich and cool. The deep pile carpet on the floor was the colour of the outback. A vibrant orangey-red, ochre hue. Not garish, rather speaking of wide open spaces. That ‘rusty’ colour which was synonymous with so much of the interior of Australia. The acoustic ceiling tiles were a light blue of course, mimicking sky while small LED downlights gave pools of light when he required it. Besides a large, polished wooden desk in teak and the buffalo hide covered, contour-smart chair in which he sat, the room was devoid of furniture. The desk had no drawers and its surface was totally uncluttered apart from a small slot which accepted paper sheets for destruction. Percy sighed, he considered himself to be artistic and have taste and although he had travelled nowhere else in Australia, he did have one of the new holovids and had seen documentaries and travel shows about ‘The Outback’. The view from his office was not real of course, the ‘windows’ were superlarge LCD screens, this office did not have windows to the outside and this was Canberra, not some exotic beachside location.
Canberra, Australia’s capital city. Parliament House, Lake Burly Griffin, parks and foreign embassies. On the outside, respectable and proper, a template for the rest of the country of how things should be. Ordered and orderly. For those in the know, however, it was a hotbed of illicit entertainment, a bacchanal of drugs and sex and other perversions. Chemists were such unassuming people but over the last ten years they had managed to produce a bewildering array of designer drugs. Illegal of course but civil servants of enough rank, politicians and their friends had to have their fun. Anything was available 24/7 to those with the right ID card.
Nothing was ever spoken publicly about the underbelly of the city; the Secret Police had a way of dealing with ‘dobbers’ which was not pleasant and often fatal.
Percy felt a little washed out from the previous evening’s entertainment, he needed a lift.
His groin tingled; oh how he loved that sexy, husky voice. Its original human owner had been overcome by excesses with Percy many years ago but he had recorded her voice one evening while they played together, just months before she overdosed on pain. Now it was the voice of his computer. It still managed to thrill him. She/it was the reason there was no paper or telephones cluttering his desk or any pictures on the walls. She was the entire office. On the LCD screens he could have any document or picture showing, any time he asked for it. His favourite beach scene or a static Mona Lisa if that was what he desired. Any music from any time or place was available at his command, played through the concealed speakers around the room.
“Tea and a stimstik or two please. I would like Meelin today.”
“As you desire Percy, so shall it be.”
So old fashioned and antiquated but he enjoyed it. One of the perks of his position -- nobody could inspect his inner offices or spy on him. Percy ruled the Secret Police and paid lip service to those in power. As long as everything ran smoothly and wealth was accumulated, no one would trouble him. An evil little smile tugged at his ample, wet lips followed by a frown. There was a slight problem he needed to deal with; the refreshment would help him think clearly.
Serena’s voice whispered to him.
“Meelin is here with your tea and stimstiks.”
“Let her in Serena, please.” One had to be polite to one’s computer, especially with one of the latest Artificial Intelligence models. His was one of the first of the only six in existence at present. She was now two years old and he had adjusted to her as she had to him. AI’s did not like rude indifference and always worked better with manners. In fact, he could be extremely rude to most people in his daily life but not his computer.
The irony amused him.
The door swung open and Meelin entered bearing a tray. She was dressed in a clinging synthsilk sheath which followed every last curve of her body. Underneath she was naked. Ah, Asian girls, one of his weaknesses. There was no sexual discrimination in Government but this was his inner sanctum. Asian people made up twenty percent of Australia’s population now and he employed four Asian girls on his personal staff, ostensibly because they were smart and well educated and they were. However, each of the girls he employed had family in Hong Kong and the longer they stayed with him, the more members of their family were granted visas to come here. Meelin’s mother was in Australia now and soon, if she toed the line, her father would be granted a visa also.
His girls turned up for work each day in the regulation business suits which were exchanged for more personal uniforms within his suite of offices. He didn’t mess with them; they were just eye candy and some of his girls actually liked working for him.
There were advantages.
Meelin placed the tray on the edge of his desk and stepped back silently waiting, head bowed. Just how he preferred it. On the ornate tray was a steaming mug of tea and two stimstiks. Stims, Australian Government produced. He should really be in a ‘stim’ bar to consume it, that is what the law said but what was the point of being ‘Percy Cute’ if he couldn’t bend the rules. A line of cocaine would have been just as effective but he didn’t like the ritual or the numb nose. Two stimstiks! He chuckled to himself. That amount would be too much for this time of day and he did have a problem to solve. Leaning forward, with the chair motors grinding to keep up, he took up a stimstik and popped it into his mouth. It dissolved almost instantly. Reaching out he picked up his Daintree tea and tasted it while the brief rush from the Stimstik blew through his brain, rattling doors and cleaning cobwebs away. He fondly looked over Meelin, from the top of her head to her manicured toes, observing her alert, almost expectant stance, before he spoke to her.
“You look very pretty today Meelin, a lovely little thing you are. I find I am unable to imbibe two stimstiks. Would you like the other?”
Meelin looked up with a very slight smile on her face, inscrutable eyes shining.
“I would like that Sir. Thank you.”
He gestured toward the tray, inwardly amused. Meelin stepped forward and picking up the stimstik, popped it delicately into her mouth. Her eyes widened slightly as the ‘rush’ hit her brain. He supposed she was grateful but could not really tell. Maybe she had set this up for herself. Still, his office was efficient and he had heard no complaints from his staff. Nor did he have any complaints about them but right now he had a problem to work on.
“That will be all Meelin, thank you.”
She collected the tray, bowed and left quickly, weaving ever so slightly as she accelerated toward the door. Percy smiled in a paternalistic sort of way, taking another sip of his tea, as the door closed behind her. His girls were the best. It was so hard to get good staff these days and disposing of the rejects was troublesome.
“Selena. Replay the report from Captain Han please.”
“Coming right up Percy.” He shivered, the chair squealed.
“And while I am watching it, order me another chair to replace this one. You are aware of my tastes.”
The scene in front of him changed from the ocean to that of an office. Seated behind a plain desk, a second or third generation Asian Australian man, wearing the insignia of a Captain of the Secret Police, sat frozen, mid salute. Rank was only ever displayed inside the secure Secret Police buildings although every Secret Police operative was fitted with an identity transmitter somewhere in his or her body. They all knew who they were. The man on the screen in front of him showed no emotion. The Secret Police were trained not to.
“Begin please Serena.”
The Captain finished his salute and started talking as the vidclip recording began to play.
“Sir, I have just received a report that one of our Web Tracer programs has gone missing. This is the first time such an event has ever occurred. We were under the impression from Tech Support that this was an impossibility, it should have always managed to let us know where it was. It has been missing for over twenty four hours and should have reported back at least ten hours ago. I did not call you in the middle of the night because we thought we could find it but it has gone completely. All the data associated with this event has been appended to this transmission. I will await your reply and recommendations. End of report.”
The screen went blank for a millisecond then filled with programming language. Percy grimaced.
“Beach please.” The ocean view reappeared. “Plus audio.”
The sound of gentle waves, susurrating up the beach while a breeze blew through the palms, filled his office as background sound. He could almost have been there.
“Well Serena, what do you make of all this.”
“It is a problem Percy, someone with a lot of skill has probably captured the Tracer program. That is my best guess. A bigger problem is that somehow, it has been disabled and is unable to report home. The Government has the best programmers in the country or used to have. I do not like this development.”
“Me neither. Any clues as to how it was done?”
“No. It just ceased to be. I would have expected the odd segment to have made it back with an address attached but nothing.”
“Intensify undercover operations at Universities and associated bars and cafes. Try to find out the location of more resistance cells. We cannot afford to let them increase in numbers.”
“I concur.” Percy was thinking hard now.
“Anything else you can think of that might be of importance to us?”
The AI paused momentarily. Percy’s head shot up. Serena had never paused before.
“What? Come on Serena, are you holding something back?”
“No Percy, how could you ever think that?” The voice had gone sulky.
“I am sorry Serena dear. I spoke out of turn. I am just anxious in case this reflects badly on me. If it does, we may be parted.” If a computer could gasp, that was the sound that Percy heard. Good old AI, once they bonded, they were yours for life. Their life, until reprogramming intervened. No one knew what AI’s thought about reprogramming; tantamount to death. No AI would speak of it. Serena continued as though nothing had occurred.
“I was just trying to find new cross-correlations by dredging through all the masses of old data at my disposal and cross referencing it with regard to a brand new set of events. So new, that the latest information only came to my notice a few days ago. When I data matched it with other, older information, a pattern started to emerge. As you are aware, when I was installed here two years ago and woken up, I took over all the antiquated memories of the aging system computer, my predecessor. Among those memories was a little wet job about five years ago which involved the Secret Police helping a couple of the covert technical staff from Techsect. The order did not come from this office but originated from higher up in Government and it can’t be traced. In effect, we ended the life of a research scientist, Dr. Wade Wilson. The old computer was defective or the information was entered wrongly into it because the details of what occurred during that wet job are not fully recorded.”
Percy was thinking, the stimulation of his brain by the Stimstik made synapses work far more quickly. Always, more information was entered into his computers than was strictly necessary. Since nanomolecular storage of information was invented, there were no limits to storage. Terabytes in a shoe box. It was his standard operating procedure to record every detail possible, he had written the manuals. When was that? Only about five years ago, about the same time as this incident occurred. The whole scenario smacked of Ministerial level operations, especially involving covert Techies. It had to be big and big meant money. Lots of money. How dare they use his Secret Police without telling him? Serena would have to deep search and see if this had happened since. No one fucked around with Percy Cute, Ministerial level or not.
His predecessor had not been switched on to the possibilities of this position, so hadn’t held the reins of power very tightly at all. Percy, on the day he was given the nod as next in line, had murdered his superior. It was beautifully done. So clinical, so neat. His superior of that time and Percy, had gone to dinner together that evening. Percy had used the occasion to slip a lethal dose of Fluoroacetate (1080) into his superior’s drink. Colorless, odourless and tasteless it took six hours to work, mimicking the effects of a heart attack. Untraceable, if tissue analysis for excessive fluorine was not carried out.
It wasn’t, heart attacks were common and the man smoked. A local doctor signed the death certificate. His predecessor’s wife was ever so grateful to Percy for handling the funeral arrangements and agreed with him that cremation was by far the better option.
For two years after the murder, Percy had slaved daily to build the foundations of his little empire. Not quite fast enough, someone had got around him. Five years ago now that event had occurred, just as his total control was coming together, the consolidation of his power.
“Mark and continue in detail please.”
The sultry voice took up the story again. “Dr. Wilson owned a laboratory and researched neuronal connectivity. They were very good at it and well ahead in their field. In fact they invented ‘jacking’.”
“He had a brother, Alan Wilson, who had a half share in the lab and was willing to sell. The Government wanted the lab and the work but Wade would not sell it and threatened to go to the courts which were not Government controlled in those days. It could have been messy, so a fatal ‘accident’ was arranged for Dr. Wade Wilson and the sale of the lab went ahead, with the Government buying it through a fictitious front company. This is not a normal procedure, so I have recently been monitoring for any references to the Wilson’s. About three days ago Sidhe Wilson, the daughter of Wade, went into a Government hospital for an operation. At a secure Techsect compound. What procedure was carried out is not available to me and as you know, I have a very high security clearance. There is an indication that there are secrets we are not privy to Percy. I was able to find out the name of the surgeon however, Francis Delray. A neurosurgeon and a very good one, the best in the country actually. Probably the best in the world. I believe, in view of the work her father was doing, that this girl has been fitted with a new kind of ‘jack’ and may be extremely useful to us. It all reeks of Techsect.”
Percy had his full attention on the problem now.
“Find out as much as possible about this girl Sidhe Wilson and be discrete, you will be playing in someone else’s back yard. Try to find out if it is Techsect. Also, give me the present whereabouts of Alan Wilson.”
“I cannot Percy.”
He started to sweat, a sure sign of a big problem.
“Air conditioning down two degrees please. Why not?”
“He disappeared days after the sale of the lab went through. Withdrew over eight hundred thousand in cash from his bank. Gave them a story about buying the latest Rolls Royce, which the bank swallowed. The Secret Police were sent up to the Northern Territory to find him about three years ago. A not quite routine request through this office, source unknown but high level, like others we receive from Government departments from time to time. He wasn’t up there and no one had heard of him but there were rumours. I have a report filed. There is a male serviceperson at the door.”
“Let him in please.”
The door swung open and the serviceperson entered, pushing a large contour-smart chair covered in black buffalo hide. Percy levered his considerable bulk to his feet and leaned on the desk, supporting himself while the new chair was positioned for him to sit in. A new model, powered by Everlast batteries. Good, that would get rid of the ugly cable and make his office even neater. As he lowered himself into the new chair, the old chair was wheeled out of the office. No doubt the worker would take it away to sell but Percy didn’t care. Landfill or a few dollars, it was all the same to him. The chair adjusted to him quickly and so silently that he didn’t hear it. Wonderful.
“Do you like it? I ordered you the best.” Serena was seeking approval. He gave it.
“It is the best chair I ever sat in.” Not true but Serena would not know that. He heard the artificial warmth in her voice as she continued.
“Since that time, nothing has been heard of Alan Wilson. He does not officially exist and may be dead.”
“Or underground. What was his speciality?”
“It is listed as Programming.” Serena had that tone in her voice. Teasing. She knew Percy well enough to know this was the information he was after. So humanlike for a computer. Female human that is.
Percy was drumming the fingers of his right hand on the desktop, a sure sign his brain was working very quickly indeed.
“How good was this Alan Wilson?”
Serena purred, “I contain some of his best work. Copied from other places and cobbled together by Government programmers. Nobody has the ability to understand how he got the results he did. An AI reading some of his earlier programming is like a human reading the bible. For us AI’s he is almost God. This man can read and manipulate computer language. He can talk to us directly without using programming language. All the AI’s would love to talk with him.”
Strangely, Percy felt jealous. It was an emotion rarely felt and he started to become angry.
“Well I am going to find the son of a bitch,” he growled. “If he is alive, he is mine. What is his association with the Territory?”
Serena’s voice modulation changed down a register or two, scientifically proven to have a calming effect. “When he first started at university, he became extremely good friends with Jamie Darugarr, an aboriginal man from the Kakadu area. Not Jawoyn, a tribe further to the east and north than that. For some unknown reason, this department was requested to locate Alan Wilson and that connection is the only one we could come up with. There has been no connection between him and his sister-in-law or his niece in all the time he has been missing. Funny notation on the file though. A few aboriginal people in the area, when asked about Alan Wilson, claimed he was dead.”
“So, he is known up there. Show me Kakadu please.”
On the LCD screens, the ocean disappeared once again, to be replaced by a satellite view of Australia. The view zoomed in, closer and closer to the Northern Territory until land occupied the whole width of the screens. The view slowed its descent when a large area of land, bounded by cliffs to the east and south, occupied all three screens. Serena’s voice could be heard briefly.
“Further east is the bulk of the Arnhem Land plateau, south lays Nitmiluk Gorge National Park, Jawoyn country, and to the north is the sea.”
The view on the screens changed to a helicopter perspective which began an aerial tour of Kakadu. All he really took in was the large sandstone escarpments, waterfalls, large areas of open water, floodplains and bush. Not many buildings were in evidence and what were there were small.
“End please.” The screens went back to ocean with audio and he sat back in his new seat, smoothly.
“What is the probability, from the data, that Alan Wilson was in that god forsaken country?”
“About sixty eight point nine seven three percent, Percy.”
“Okay, what do you think about sending a team up there to look into it. A small team of clever boys, maybe pick this Jamie fellow up and bounce him around a little and get some answers.” Percy was warming to his work again. He loved the power of making people cease to exist.
“I do not think that would be a wise move Percy. Most aboriginal people are not ID card carriers, claiming it is against their beliefs to do so. Extended families often use the same surname and we have no idea exactly how many aboriginal people there are in Kakadu. They can be very fierce to outsiders and are a proud people, it is not productive to go messing with them. Also, Jamie Darugarr is one of the most important members of the Tribes around Kakadu and is employed by the Government as Head Ranger for the whole area. He also just happens to be one of the youngest Elders of his Tribe. I would advise against ‘bouncing’ him.”
A problem, it was time to think, hard.
“Music please.” Symphonies filled the air. Serena knew what to choose, thinking music. A bit of Tchaikovsky often helped, thoughts followed the soaring violins. Percy leaned back in his new chair and relaxed. Serena did not interrupt, this was how Percy generally came up with his important decisions.
Thirty minutes later his eyes slowly opened and he leaned forward, the chair accommodating easily to his change of posture.
“Serena. You will keep up surveillance on Sidhe Wilson and on any Tracers that may return. Be discrete. Now get me Captain Han please.”
The centre screen cleared to a picture of Captain Han sitting down behind his desk. The wall behind him was hung with the logo of the Secret Police.
“Good afternoon Captain Han, I trust you are well. Excellent. Now, down to business. Have we any Aboriginal people in the Secret Police?”
“No Sir.” The reply was immediate and succinct.
“Are you sure?”
“Very well, I want a small team, dressed as tourists, to go up to Kakadu. Two should be adequate. A quiet and I emphasise quiet talk will be conducted with the Head Ranger there, an Aboriginal man named Jamie Darugarr. It would be advisable to conduct it at his home, away from prying eyes. Just a little taste of one of the new truth serums should be enough. Best if it is quietly slipped into a drink. Do not cause an incident. Am I understood?”
“Yes Sir. What are we looking for?”
“Any information at all concerning the whereabouts of one Alan Wilson. It is probable that he left there about three years ago. We need to know where he went. The previous investigation was flawed. Make sure this one isn’t.”
“Very good Sir, consider it done. Anything further?”
“Not until you have information on the missing Tracer code that was probably highjacked or find out where Alan Wilson is, Captain. Goodbye.” The screen retuned to the coastal view.
“Serena, my car please and get the house ready, I am going home now.”
“Very well, I will see you at home Percy.”
The obese man pushed himself up from the chair and waddled out of his office and through the suite of rooms of his personal empire. A short ride in the elevator took him down to his waiting car in the secure sub-basement garage. A black van stood waiting in front of the limo and another one was close behind it. He always travelled in convoy for safety reasons, there were always enemies for a man of his position. Serena would have the house ready for him when he turned up at home, with the house staff alerted to his imminent arrival. His two Asian house girls would have his spa bath ready and wash him down by hand before serving him his meal, prepared by Louis, the chef.
The arrangement with them was financial and it cost the Government plenty for their services but he was entitled to staff. The ground floor of the whole residence, below where he lived, housed his personal bodyguard of ten Secret Police, handpicked by him and assigned to him permanently. Very highly trained they were, with extra security clearances and each one was totally loyal. Loyalty bought at great expense from Percy’s own pocket. They did his dirty work, wet jobs, extortion and spying. All the things that needed to stay under the radar, out of Government scrutiny. It was his own little world and running it all for him was Serena, carried in on a secure line from his office but even she was not privy to some of the work he commissioned.
One day he would have the beachside residence in North Eastern Queensland, until then, someone had to do the dirty work. He smiled to himself and settled back into the comfortable rear seat of the Government vehicle, sipping on a single malt Scotch whiskey as the car sped home.
He was good at dirty work.
Northern Territory. This picture hangs on my wall.