In TSAT 24, we announced our third writing contest. This time, we wanted people to write the rest of the story based on an opening sequence we provided -- this opening sequence. At the bottom of this page, you'll find links to the resulting stories.
He didn't wonder why he'd been chosen for the job he was doing. He'd always been damn good, but now, with his biologic and cybernetic modifications, he was the best in the business. The long, intrusive, and painful series of operations had been a crapshoot -- before the fact, no one really knew how well it would all work -- but in the end, everything paid off. Including the electronic pseudo-mind which served as interface between his human brain and new inorganic additions.
He also didn't consider the larger consequences of this contract. Before he'd signed on, yes, he'd wondered why anyone would be interested in cracking the Foundation, an organization that gathered and preserved the genetic information of species at or near extinction. He'd also wondered about the Foundation's defenses, which he knew (both from personal experience and from reliable sources) to be among the toughest and most impenetrable that money could buy -- what the hell were they doing in there, to need that kind of protection? That was the deciding factor, really; if the Foundation didn't have any dirty laundry, if its public face told the entire story, it wouldn't need to surround itself with the blackest of black ice.
Not that the money wasn't a factor, of course. It always was, especially when the client's opening offer had been a full quarter-million Euros in gold. Money enough to get off the shithole formerly called 'Earth', buy citizenship in one of the orbiting arcologies, even have those damn 'enhancements' removed! All that said and acknowledged, however, only a fool would accept a contract based solely on the expected payment -- and whatever he was now, whatever he'd made himself, a fool he most definitely was not.
In the end, he'd taken the contract. And once he'd signed on, he stopped thinking about 'why?', instead focusing his attention on questions of 'how?'. Such as, 'how am I going to get across this room?'. The room in question was a large chamber, filled with plants and water and small animals; its landscaping and environmental controls were designed to emulate a small chunk of benign wilderness. It looked harmless enough, but...
The room's designers had created a masterful illusion. To merely human senses, it appeared as a natural garden on a moonless night, the silence only bent (not broken) by breeze-driven rustling of leaves, the rhythmic chatter of crickets, and the soft lapping of the brook that surrounded the garden. There was no detectable evidence of the silent pumping system which kept the brook's water circulating. And what else was there, present but indetectable?
LIZA, he thought, give me analysis.
The pseudo-mind's response was immediate: Working...
He felt odd sensations throughout his body as LIZA dialed up the acuity of various implanted detectors. He could have learned to interpret those signals himself, but his 'other half' did such a good job that he'd never felt the need to do so.
Done. IR, UV, ultrasonics all within nominal background ranges as provided in ops briefing. Seven cameras total (here LIZA highlighted various nondescript lumps), one inactive (one lump's highlight went grey). Motion sensors accepting false signal from piezo vibrators. No anomalous EM emissions detected. Target egress (a semi-regular section of a seeming rock face was highlighted) matches specs provided in ops briefing. Recommend continuing to follow plan alpha.
LIZA, acknowledged. LIZA, chronograph starting at... mark. With that thought, he stepped into the water, not even a ripple marking his entry. The room was riddled with sensors and traps, but the brook itself was not. Most people would think the brook a flaw in the Foundation's defenses. In reality, it was a trap. The brook was contaminated with a nasty cocktail of hyperactive nanobots and engineered retroviruses. He didn't care; he wouldn't be in the water long enough for it to penetrate his skinsuit. Some fish darted away and his glossy black head slowly rose up from the still surface, water dripping from the suit's gills. Silently, slinking like a cat, he stepped onto the shore, raising his long feline tail out of the water. A touch of a hand and the organic polymer skinsuit fell to dust, its disintegration marked by a tightly focused exothermic discharge which also neutralized the hazards in the water which clung to it, leaving his dry, black-furred form standing on the shore. After a good thirty seconds of silence, he fell to all fours and padded silently across the long grass, the only sign of his presence being an intermittent low-intensity glow from his eyes.
He stopped at the entrance into the Foundation offices. The door was almost invisible, its presence revealed only by a minor scuffing of the white stone it was built into. A quick search around the frame revealed a numeric keypad cloaked by a holographic façade that matched the stone. He extracted a black rectangular box from a pouch at his belt; nano-scale monofilament tendrils grew from the box into his palm, giving LIZA a secure connection to the new peripheral. Next he held the box against the wall just below the keypad, and waited.
To the natural eye, nothing was happening. To an eye that could perceive details on the molecular scale, quite a bit of activity would have been evident. The box extruded more monofilament tendrils which slipped between the atoms of the stone, blindly and with computerized patience seeking the wires that connected to the keypad. Before long, the sought-for connection was complete.
He crouched in silence as LIZA conducted cybernetic war against the native circuits. Most humans, unmodified or otherwise, would not have been able to maintain a peak level of awareness during the 29 minutes of inactivity it took LIZA to finish subverting the native circuitry. Most, but not all. And he was among the few who could -- and did. He waited for LIZA to confirm that the box's infiltrating tendrils had decayed into untraceable neutral particles, then broke the box/palm connection and returned the device to its pouch on his belt.
Still no discernable sign that the Foundation's defenses were aware of his presence.
He reached up, placing his fingers and claws in a specific alignment, and carefully applied physical force. The door abruptly shifted a few centimeters, then swiveled on its unseen hinge. He slipped through the opening thus created, making damn sure to never actually touch the wall, and was inside!
The corridor beyond was completely unlit. Seemingly ordinary marble floor was visible in the puddle of illumination from the open door; beyond that, nothing. He closed the door, cutting off the remaining vestiges of light.
LIZA, give me light.
At this command, LIZA spurred certain cones in his retinas into phosphorescence. He couldn't keep it up for long -- there was a sharp limit to how much of the necessary firefly-derived chemicals could be stored in his eyes -- but while it lasted, he could (barely) see. An unmodified human would have been blind, of course, but then how many of those were there anymore? Especially in this line of work...
He scanned the corridor.
Thanks to our two victorious contestants, Black Robed Mage and Draven Darklight, for their stories! Both tales appear in this issue (#26) of TSAT; in addition, First Place winner Darklight will receive a copy of Neuromancer, by William Gibson.
Descent Into Hades
by Draven Darklight
Memories and Truth
by Black Robed Mage