He crept up behind me and slammed his warmboot into the base of my spine. Quicker even than I can say it, its stainless steel tendrils wormed their way through my shirt and in between my vertebrae.
I sent all my muscles into spasm in a futile effort to knock off the metal spider, but the warmboot's signal generator was already sending. I was paralyzed, and in just a few seconds I knew I was going to
standing up awkwardly and examining the apartment. Volitional agents watch in shock, walled off from a body they'd considered theirs by new and impenetrable system partitions. The startup module initiates slow scanning of the room's contents, finally meeting a recognizable face.
He wears black sunglasses, above which a wild brush of blonde hair stands up in sculptured waves. From this angle the fashionable topiary looks like the bulbous snout of an orca - the killer whale. He is completely unfamiliar to any of the active agents of this instantiation.
The warmboot, having done its job, falls to the floor, rolling around like a coin until it rights itself with whisker-thin legs. It scampers back into the mysterious assailant's waiting hands, then crawls more sedately up his arm and into his shoulder pack.
He begins speaking rapidly but clearly in standard compatois, a language created and nurtured over decades in those provinces of the computer industry where VR means voice recognition. He bites off the ends of each syllable like a synth with fast decay.
"Access zero-zero-zero-zero enter."
That is a supervisor code. I stop scanning and look at him.
Even as I realize that I now have an 'I' again, I discover that I am still a helpless passenger in my own head. The same chaos of conflicting agents fills my brain, each with a tiny part of the picture but not one with the ability to pull them - us - all together into an entity capable of effective action against him. The ego-fragment that is calling itself 'I', that is watching and recording this nonsense, is merely a detached observer, without access to any movement subroutines.
"Confirmed," my voice says, regardless of what I might wish.
"Recognize current image equals supervisor enter. Execute."
"Executing," I hear myself continue. Part of me studies his face, the shape of his skull, and commits the image to hard crystal memory, a shining and dependable artifact the warmboot has left behind in my head. I think I'd know him anywhere now, though, with or without that computer-aided storage.
"Supervisor access zero-zero-zero-zero enter. New access code two three six nine enter. Confirm new access code two three six nine enter."
More internal processing makes my head ache slightly as a burst of hormones triggers the photographic memory process in both meat and crystal volumes.
"New access code confirmed."
"Increase scope of new access code to all levels enter."
That includes the level at which my consciousness is currently operating. I find myself more attentive, in a personal way, to what he's saying, and somehow I know that whatever he says is true - although my conscious agent is not at all bound to enjoy the experience.
"Interpret synonym twenty-three sixty-nine equals two three six nine enter."
"Confirmed," I say again, then stand mute after that, filing each new piece of information away in my brand-new, glittering crystal memory and awaiting further instructions. Except for the records I've stored there since rebooting, and the untouchable kernel of code now controlling my every action, the space is empty. I find myself able to wonder: what kind of ware will occupy that space when he's through? And how much of me will be left behind?
The inventor of the warmboot sits across from me, leaning forward and speaking intently. Fifty-four minutes have passed, according to the system clock ticking away inside my head.
"I had to build it, don't you see? And once I built it, I had to use it on you... you were too close. I was just lucky to get it completed before you stumbled on the same trick I did - it's not that hard. And if you'd gotten it instead of me, the - what did you call it? The warmboot... I like that. The warmboot would have fallen into the hands of the enemy. You would have handed it to them."
"The enemy?" I said, trying to humor him. He weaved back and forth in front of me on my sofa, an easy target if I had been able to do anything about it.
"Fluxico!" He spat the name of my employer bitterly. "It'd be my head - everyone's head - if Fluxico got this first. Even you should have some clue what they'd do with this."
God, I'm responding on the level of an ELIZA program! Access to a lightning-fast silicon structure in my brain hasn't taught me anything.
'Course, he's no genius either.
But he did come up with the warmboot, independently, without the resources of Fluxico to which I'd had access...
I realize that while I have been mulling this over, while he's remained silent in front of me, wrapped up in his own thoughts, five minutes have passed by my system clock.
I realize that while I have been mulling this over, two hours and seventeen minutes have passed by my system clock. Where did the last two hours and twelve minutes go? There is no record, either in meat memory or crystal storage, to explain the interruption.
Nor, apparently, is there conscious access to certain events before that time, events which would go a long way toward explaining why I now *have* crystal storage to consult for these records. Must have been wiped or deeply encrypted, then, by someone with supervisor access.
I wish I knew who.
The apartment is empty now. Whoever or whatever wiped my memory is gone. I have no time to dwell on that, though. I'm going to be late for work, and with Fluxico going through a layoff cycle now is no time to be late.
I'm already dressed in my uniform, though I don't remember putting it on; I strap on my celphon and pistol and hustle out the door, closing it firmly behind me.
Public trans being a thing of the past, I hoof it to the corner where a dozen or so drones are waiting for the next cab. A couple show up at once, so no one gets shot in the scuffle - who says New Yorkers aren't courteous? - as we scramble for seats in the converted minivans, shouting out our destinations to the voicerec microphone and trusting to the vans' ware to sort them out in the most efficient order.
As usual, my trip all the way out to Fluxico's headquarters in Jersey will put me out last. I put the time to good use this morning, though, committing the features of my fellow passengers to crystal memory and studying the route, tagging alternatives in case of pursuit.
When I'm finally the last one on the van I plug into its diagnostic port and install an override that will allow me to call the van back if I need it quickly. Then I erase my tracks and let the vehicle follow its preprogrammed path through Fluxico's external security systems, feeding it the usual entry data verbally as needed in order to maintain the van's internal record as much as possible in an untampered state.
Despite the standard veneer of industrial paranoia at Fluxico, getting through its entry systems with my new hardware and software undetected turns out to be incredibly easy - I would bring it to the attention of the Security department if I were still able to do so. The main plant's mole checkers are several minor and at least one major release behind current, and my new ware has no problem convincing it I am just showing up for work five minutes late.
I have little more trouble with the human coworkers I encounter; I have no specific answer to their "What's new?" but then I never have had before, either. The journey to my cubicle is uneventful in the extreme, as is the work awaiting me there, a theft-sensitive but relatively straightforward project in Direct-Brain Interface technology that I've been calling the warmboot.
Although a sufficiently paranoid and advanced security system could probably detect a small difference from normal in my interface rates, as I stare a little too long at each screenful of plans, I very much doubt that Fluxico's up to that standard. In fact, the company system fails to react in any way to my introduction of a worm that will delete those plans from all corporate volumes when my signature is picked up again outside the Jersey campus.
Time to go. There is no alarm, no sign that anything is other than normal, as I collect my flak jacket, celphon and gun from the locker and head out with the other drones as I do every other day. My precaution with the minivan turns out to be unnecessary as well; I simply join the herd waiting for a common carrier, and as I pass the gates get the confirmation pulse from Fluxico's system obediently wiping my work. Now the only copy of the DBI device I designed is safely tucked away in my very own head. Not that that phrase is applicable any more.
When I get home there is a man on my couch, wearing sunglasses and a fashionable hair topiary. The image registers instantly. He is supervisor. He looks up at me and rapidly spouts "Twenty-three sixty-nine. Report."
I watch helplessly as this conscious instantiation is relegated to a background process. The body I'm riding along in sits down across from him and recounts my day, going back over points he is unclear on the first time with mechanical patience and precision.
When we are done, after an hour and thirty-six minutes by my system clock, he relaxes on the couch, although his expression is one of guarded relief rather than happiness. But he allows himself relaxation for only a moment before sitting back up, still unsmiling, talking mostly to himself.
"Good. Good. Now I'll be the only one for a while. Maybe it'll be long enough. It's got to be long enough."
He pauses for a long moment, considering me.
"One more thing to do..."
His voice turns clipped again as he directs it to me.
"DISMOUNT ADDED VOLUME Enter"
"Are you sure?" I ask. The question is jerked out of me, an involuntary response to his command.
An indescribable sensation at the back of my neck, as a coldness invades what feels like the center of my skull. It's the sign of something leaving, though, not something entering. The vast expanse of crystal memory that I'd grown used to feeling suddenly winks out as the device extrudes itself from my head. He reaches behind my head and pockets the tiny cylinder. Then he takes my head in his hands and stares deeply into my eyes.
"FORMAT EXISTING VOLUME Enter"
Again my response is involuntary, affectless.
"This will erase all data on existing volume. Are you sure?"
He does not hesitate, not any more.
"Save unformat information?"
I make one last desperate plea, though my voice never changes from its helpless monotone.
"Confirm - yes, no?"
I am tr[DEVICE NOT READY]
This story owes a certain debt to Spider Robinson's novel Mindkiller, and through it to Larry Niven's stories featuring the tasp, although I like to think I've taken the notion in a new direction. Both of these influences are highly recommended, however, whether you enjoyed the above story or not.
Original content on this page © Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.