Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gideon's Chip, Part Fifteen, Final Installment


Gideon's Chip, Part Fifteen, Final Installment 

***

   Dr. Singapore was more helpful during our Net meeting than he was in
person - certainly less distracted. After an hour answering questions, I
authorized another electronic funds transfer into his European account an=
d
said my good-bye. I kept careful notes and went to work as soon I jacked =
out.
   The lapel pin sat on one side of me and Gideon's chip on the other as =
I
spent another few hours on computer work. Charles had fried my old deck a=
nd
the new one my mysterious benefactor had been kind enough to provide took
some getting used to. The keys weren't in the right places.=20
   When I was done with that chore, I cleaned my apartment. Not a cursory
once over, but an honest to goodness cleaning. I found dust in places I
didn't know dust could go. The bathroom was a mess.  And after finding
wrappers behind the furniture, I remember I used to eat out before Lily
started cooking for me.=20
   I thought about her as I scrubbed the counter clean.
   Lily came in to relieve Victor a few hours later, groceries under one =
arm,
various electronics and programs I'd asked for under the other. She smile=
d
and set them on the counter. I pulled her over to the rickety piece of ju=
nk
that passed for a kitchen table for a talk. I poured my heart out, explai=
ning
everything. I told her about Anna, and even managed to salvage my macho i=
mage
my not crying too much. It's hard to be macho in front of Lily anyway.=20
   When I was done, I kissed her on the forehead. Her hand came up, curle=
d
about the back of my head, and pulled me closer. I kissed her again, stil=
l on
the forehead. She let me go and I immediately wanted to erase the hurt lo=
ok
now in her eyes.=20
   "I can't do that," I whispered.
   "If its Anna, she's dead, Tom. Let her be dead."
   That ache. That old ache. "It's not that. I just don't feel right..."
   "I see." But she didn't.=20
   "I wanted you to know why I am doing this."
   "Remember that friend of mine? I can still help you disappear. We coul=
d
disappear together."
   I shook my head. "I can't do that either. It's not right."
   "You're going to die, you know," she told me, her voice coming close t=
o
cracking.
   "Maybe."
   "Not maybe. This is crazy."
   I went over to my deck and started packing it in its protective case. =
I
spoke while I did it. "Don't you understand, we're letting them win. We'r=
e
letting the big guys win."
   "They're bigger than we are."
   "No, they work harder." I paused, my packing done, then added, "You're
going to help me, right?"
   "Of course!"
   I didn't wait for Lily as I headed for the door. When I reached the ha=
ll,
she was there, pulling the deck out of my hands and slinging it over her
shoulder. I checked to make sure I still had my gun, then reached out and
took my bodyguards hand as we walked toward the lion's den.

***

   The ride to the mysterious benefactor's science facility was shorter t=
han
I'd imagined it would be. My stomach clenched itself into a knot when Lil=
y
scouted its parking lot and there were fine tremors running down my limbs
when we finally parked for the walk in. We decided entering the facility =
on
foot would be best.
   Like the benefactor's house, the buildings that contained the research
labs was well beyond the city limits. The way the night invaded my space =
with
only the sounds of crickets, only the light of a half moon, made me ever =
more
nervous.=20
   We crouched in a trimmed hedge and watched a guard pace for half an ho=
ur.
At some signal I did not catch, Lily burst from our hiding spot and had
incapacitated the guard before he could raise an alarm. She was fast.
   Lily nudged the guards shinny black assault rifle with a toe. "Watch o=
ut,"
she whispered. I rolled my eyes at the unnecessary warning, but she
continued. "This is a Militech Ronin. They're playing for keeps." I nodde=
d to
keep her happy. I wasn't about to confront any guards, even ones with
substandard automatic weapons.=20
   We didn't have the security codes for the door, so Lily watched my bac=
k
while I withdrew a Techscanner from my nifty black backpack and gave the =
lock
a once over. Satisfied that the program I had written could get us inside=
, I
forced the lock's face plate up and hooked a hand-held computer into the
system. With the touch of a button, my program fired up its algorithms an=
d
began to input quasi-random combinations.=20
   The door clicked open a second later. I was pleased.=20
   Lily took the point, some kind of electronic unit in hand. A few feet =
into
the building, she pointed to what appeared to be a gateway scanner like t=
he
one we'd passed through at Dr. Singapore's country club. This one could t=
o
more than detect weapons, however. If the company's security measures wer=
e up
to date, the scanner could read our features and compare them to a databa=
se
of employees. Or maybe everyone who was supposed to work here had a chip
implanted somewhere that kept the gate from going off. We couldn't risk
walking through it.
   So we did what we would never have been able to do during normal busin=
ess
hours. I got down on all fours and Lily climbed up on my back. She pushed=
 a
tile loose in the ceiling and then reported there was indeed space up the=
re
to crawl over the scanner. We did that. It wasn't so much fun. The cleani=
ng
crew would have to be fired.=20
   If what Lily knew about corporate security was correct, the gate scann=
er
should be the last obstacle before we reached our next goal. The corridor=
s
were carpeted and utterly silent. As we looked for a nice office, I could=
n't
help but imagine people walking through here in the day time, stopping to
laugh in the halls when they met up with co-workers, and gossiping at the
desks we passed. It was eerie.=20
   I set my program to work on the lock of the office we chose. It took
slightly longer this time, which elicited a frown from Lily. I ignored he=
r
and concentrated on getting the face plate back on straight. We got insid=
e
without seeing another guard.=20
   The decor was tasteful if somewhat pedestrian, all oak, leather couche=
d,
and leafy plants. It was just what you'd expect from a middle management =
type
and when I found the office's computer and logged on to it, I discovered =
my
assessment was correct. J.P. Morgan, assistant to the head of New
Acquisitions Department, was going to have so explaining to do tomorrow.
   I sat at the desk and wrote a letter. Lily paced by the door, sometime=
s
stopping to place a hand on its faux wood. The addressee was my own
mysterious benefactor and I launched into the work with glee. My first dr=
aft
went something like:

   Fate is a double-edged sword. I know who you are. I have dreamt about
confronting you for years and now the means has fallen into my hands. I h=
ave
the data you requested. I know what it is. Why don't you stroll down to y=
our
New Sciences Branch and let's discuss my payoff.=20

   But I deleted it. I would have very much liked to send it, but it was =
too
dangerous. I was walking the razor's edge as it was. If I wanted to see
things through to the end, I had to control myself and act according to p=
lan.
So I wrote another draft.

   This is Thomas O'Neil. I have assembled the data you requested, but
because of, shall we say, pursuers, I have taken refuge in your New Scien=
ces
Building. As per our bargain, I would like an extraction, and will hand t=
he
chip over when you arrive.=20

   That was more sane, better bait, and I sent it out to his personal
communications address.
   The second I did, Lily hustled me into another part of the building. W=
e
broke into another office and sat down behind the desk. My bodyguard woul=
d
not allow me the slightest light, so I occupied my time with thoughts abo=
ut
the past. I dug the lapel pin out of a pocket and turned it over endless =
in
my hand.
   We waited for three hours for the other shoe to drop....

***

   The men the mysterious benefactor had chosen to bring with him were no=
isy
and soon half of them had fallen prey to Lily. She was fond of kicking th=
em
as they passed open doorways, chatting with each other about the search a=
nd
sports. They all went down hard.=20
   I did my share as well. Accessing the facility's environmental systems=
, I
located a room with its lights turn on, heat turned up to a comfortable
level, and which was producing a moderately high level of carbon monoxide=
. I
pointed out of the headquarters of our prey to Lily and she began to brea=
k
the kneecaps of passing guards so that we could get their safely.=20
   Sneaking through the halls with just the night guards in force had bee=
n
nerve wracking enough, but creeping through carpeted corridors with hired
goons as well was even more unsettling. I jumped at every sound and when =
we
did encounter someone, my heart pounded as if I had just gone through ano=
ther
charming meeting with Charles.=20
   Once I was shot, however, I calmed down.
   We were three corridors away from the lab which the mysterious benefac=
tor
had holed up in, Lily scouting ahead for trouble and I clutching at Gideo=
n's
chip as I tried to silently follow, when I first heard the noise. It was =
a
kind of soft, streaking sound.=20
   It came again. I kept walking.
   But Lily had turned already and was running back towards me. By the ti=
me I
realized my shirt was wet with blood, she had tackled me and half pushed =
me
under a nearby desk. The man with the silenced gun kept firing and when h=
e
paused to reload, Lily attacked him.
   I was so absorbed in trying to comprehend what had causes the round,
ragged wound in my back that I don't know what she did to him. I was tryi=
ng
to touch the bullet hole with awkward fingers when she return.
   "Shhhs," she whispered, although I hadn't said anything. She took hold=
 of
my searching hand. I heard her tear open a foil package and then she told=
 me,
"Try to be quiet. This is going to hurt, but I have to clean the wound so=
 I
am see the damage."
   I flexed my hands to see if my spine was intact. It was.=20
   "Oh god," gasped my bodyguard.=20
   "What?"
   "Lie still." She was opening more first aid packages.
   "What happened?"
   She pressed something soft against my skin and taped it there. "You we=
re
shot in the back," Lily replied quietly.
   "I know that. Is it bad?"
   "You're going to have to roll over now so I can see if the bullet exit=
ed
your body."=20
   When I did, gasping through the sudden pain despite my decision not to=
,
she lifted up my shirt. There was another angry red button of wound on my
stomach. It wasn't bleeding much, but I started to feel a dull ache creep=
 in
all directions from it.
   Lily was crying as much as a solo was allowed to. I touched her hair.
   "Tom, we have to go," she said. "The bullet must have hit a rib or
something. The exit trajectory is different from the entry. Stand up."
   "What does that mean?"
   "It means a bone deflected the path of the bullet. It cut you up insid=
e. A
lot more than it would if it had gone straight through. You're probably
bleeding inside, so we have to get you to a hospital. Stand up."
   Lily's charge had knocked the chip out of my hands. It was lying by a =
leg
of the desk and I reached over to pick it up. It was strange making my
fingers work. It took conscious effort, like I was trying to get the chip
while jacked into the Net. Lily tried to take it away from me. I didn't l=
et
her.
   "Tom, we have to go to hospital." She had given up on crying, or had
decided to stop, and now let a commanding, stern tone enter her voice. He=
r
eyes were red and puffy and there was blood on her fingers. She tried to =
get
the chip again, saying, "Put that down. We have to go."
   I used a commanding and stern voice, too, when I said, "We have to get=
 him
the chip."
   "We'll do that later. You're hemorrhaging."
   "We'll go after we get him the chip."
   Lily went from sad and frightened to angry. "This isn't worth dying ov=
er!"
   I didn't know how to answer her. This wasn't worth dying over. I didn'=
t
want to die. But I couldn't stop. To tell the truth, if I left now, I don=
't
think I would have had the courage to come back. So I couldn't go.=20
   The pain was becoming more intense. My back wasn't aching anymore. Now=
 it
was as if there was a mindless thing drilling into my nerves, burrowing
slowly along my nervous system until it found my brain. My lungs whistled
when I breathed.
   "Patch me up," I told Lily.
   She was looking down the corridor - for more guards, I suppose - when =
she
said, "I could take that from you and break it. Then we could go to the
hospital."
   "If you did that," I wheezed, "I wouldn't go with you anywhere."
   She kept looking for guards for a few seconds longer. When Lily taped =
a
bandage to wound in my stomach, dragged me to my feet, and helped me walk
down the corridor towards the lab, I knew I loved her, too...

***

   Lily fought her way into the lab. I smiled, impressed, as I sagged aga=
inst
a sterile wall. My breath gurgled in my lungs, pain chiseled at my nerves.
The two men at the door were both knocked on unconscious with vicious kic=
ks
to the head as they ran towards us, then Lily, panting, dropped a third g=
uard
with a blow to the throat.=20
   I started forward, leaving a smear of blood behind me on the clean wal=
l.=20
   The lab was a computer-lined pit. The door opened onto a kind of walkw=
ay
the circled the room's lower central area. Stairs led down into that. Bel=
ow
was a bank upon bank of monitors and two mainframe terminals. There was a=
lso
some kind of huge round tank. It was filled with a bubbling goo deeper th=
an I
was tall.=20
   The mysterious benefactor sat behind one of the mainframes. His aide -=
 the
woman who had given me the lapel pin the night I met my unwanted employer=
 -
was standing just behind him. He rose as we entered.
   "There you are," he said. "Come in."
   Lily was already moving down toward him and his aide when two men with
automatic weapons brushed past me and sprayed a tight arc of fire down at
her. The concrete floor suddenly erupted with ragged chips and ricochetin=
g
bullets. Lily stopped dead. She looked up at the men, her eyes full of
predator as she mentally gauged the distance between herself and the
mysterious benefactor, then herself and me.
   "Lily..." I called down to her. "Don't."
   "Listen to him," said out mutual employer. "Thomas is a smart man to h=
ave
gotten as far as he has."
   She continued to stand where she was. Her eyes glittered.=20
   I was pleased she wasn't going to ruin my plans. I took the disk out. =
I
held it loosely in one hand and clutched at the pin in the other. I shook=
,
because of blood loss and nervousness, so I slid down the wall and sat.=20
   "Is that the data?" asked the mysterious benefactor, coming up the sta=
irs.
   I nodded, holding it against my chest.=20
   He stood over me, his men at the ready. Because I was not a threat, th=
e
pointed the muzzles of their assault rifles toward Lily. A kind of electr=
ic
arc leapt between her and the guards as each tried to establish themselve=
s as
dominant, more capable, and more deadly. I bet on Lily.
   "You're going to give it to me, aren't you, Thomas?" said the benefact=
or,
motioning toward the chip. When I hesitated, he added, "There's nothing d=
own
there that can't be replaced. Except for your bodyguard, that is. Grown f=
ond
of each other, have you?"
   Lily snarled. I tried to shrink back into the wall.
   "I have to admit I am shocked by your actions," our employer threw to
Lily. "Your file listed you as a true professional." Then he turned back =
to
me. "As I was saying, I have nothing of value you down there. I can have =
my
men fire if you don't give me the chip. So why don't you?"
   I paused, my heart thudding weakly, and offered it up.
   His face was transformed as he snatched it out of my hand. He smiled
broadly, nearly laughing. He ran his fingers lightly over the matte black
finish as he said, "My immortality is assured."
   He tucked the chip into a pocket and knelt by me. "That's the differen=
ce
between men like us, Thomas. I am going to live forever. I am going to be
here well into the next century because I have worked hard to do so. I ha=
ve
struggled against the odds, making the impossible possible. I worked at i=
t.=20
   "But you, you ride the current of things. At least, you do now. You're
like a leaf being blown where ever the wind takes it and then lamenting
because you have not control. You react rather than act."
   He stood. "Men like me, we're going to live forever. Men like you die.=
"
   As he walked down towards one of the mainframes, one of the two guards
followed him. They skirted Lily cautiously, shiny black gun at the ready.=
 The
other move past me and took up a position halfway down the stairs.=20
   "It's going to be pleasant being immortal," commented the mysterious
benefactor as he walked. "Think about how much money I can make off long
range investments. I'll see my great-grandchildren grow up. And now I'll =
be
able to see everything through to the end. You have no idea how frustrati=
ng
it is not being able to see your plans to fruition."
   I started laughing. I couldn't help myself. I laughed and coughed up
blood. Through a new wave of pain, I could see Lily staring up at me. She=
 was
concerned. It painted her face. The mysterious benefactor and his aide bo=
th
look at me quizzically. I ignored them.=20
   But I didn't stop laughing. I was very dizzy now. The catwalk was spin=
ning
beneath me and the lapel pin I was holding started to draw blood from my
palm. That was okay; the new, self-inflicted pain was a good focus.=20
   The mysterious benefactor tossed the chip to his aide. "Load the data.=
"
   "Sir, I'm not qualified to do the procedure. You should wait for a - "
   He cut her off. "I don't pay you to make decisions. Load the data."
   We all watched intently as she inserted the chip into a drive. Monitor=
s on
one wall came to life, coating the faces of the benefactor and his aide w=
ith
a sheen like a sweat. A second later and it was done.=20
   "Sir," warned the aide again. "We shouldn't be doing this now."
   "Initialize the program," he told her curtly, tugging at the top butto=
ns
of his shirt. She touched a key and more computers woke with chimes and
lights. The mysterious benefactor undressed as the tank of liquid started=
 to
bubble at a furious pace.=20
   The aide checked a readout out on the glass of the tank, then rolled a
short ladder over to it. My employer smiled at me as my bodyguard threw m=
e an
imploring look. I shook my head and I think Lily started to cry again.=20
   The mainframe chimed and the aide checked a readout on one of its scre=
ens.
"The program is up and running," she said slowly. "Reconstruction will be=
gin
as soon as you enter the bio-gel, sir."
   The mysterious benefactor beamed as he climbed the ladder. Lowering
himself into the gel, he said, "This is going to be the best moment of my
life. I am about to be reborn." Then he slid into the tank. He disappeare=
d
into the liquid.=20
   I wanted to laugh again. The emotion was there, but my lungs weren't u=
p to
it. I could hear air hissing out of them like an old tire. The bandages L=
ily
had taped to my wounds were soaked and moved from their original places w=
hen
the tape got wet. I was so busy listening to the silent, rocking booms th=
at
were going off around me that I didn't notice how much pain I was in. The
world spun under me, slowly, inexorably.=20
   The aide, the guards, Lily, and I all held our breath. We listened to =
the
tank bubble.
   Then there was a sound. A rhythmic sound. It was the mysterious benefa=
ctor
pounding against the glass of the tank. A second later, a red warning lig=
ht
lit up on a monitor. The aide, realizing something was wrong, hammered
frantically at the mainframe's keyboard, trying to abort the program.
   I knew it wouldn't work. She was trying to abort a program I had writt=
en.
I had changed the chip's data.=20
   As I listened to my ex-employer thrash about, as he tried in vain to
surface and breath through the bio-gel, I opened my hand to look at the l=
apel
pin. It's shiny brass Tetsura Bio Life Corporation logo was smeared with
blood. I wiped it off as best I could. The world was so dim.=20
   Anna. Oh, Anna.=20
   As the mysterious benefactor's genetic make up disintegrated with mute=
d
screams and the pounding of fists, the guard who was on the stairs drifte=
d
closer to the tank, fascinated as the previously blue-green liquid was ti=
nged
with red. When the guards' attention was fully fixed on the drama of it a=
ll,
Lily struck.=20
   She leapt at one, her feet catching him in the stomach and neck. He fe=
ll.
The other guard, startled, sprayed a wall with fire. Glass rained onto th=
e
concrete as monitors were shattered in the brief hail of bullets. Then Li=
ly
was next to him, striking him in the throat as she wrenched his rifle out=
 of
his hands.=20
   She shot them where they lay.
   Then turned toward the aide. As the muzzle of the gun swung up, the
corporate woman stopped typing. There was a long moment as Lily and she
looked at one another. Then, without hesitation, Lily shot the remains of=
 the
clip into the mainframe.=20
   Lily tossed the gun aside and ran up to me.
   I wanted to thank her, but my tongue wasn't working anymore. I could s=
ee
her crying. I wanted to comfort her. I could't hear what she was whisperi=
ng
as she checked my bandages. I think she said it was going to be okay. Bef=
ore
she had said I was bleeding inside.
   A peculiar feeling crept into my limbs. It was like a buzzing. It grew
very loud. Louder and louder, until I couldn't feel anything but it. It w=
as
like the molecules of my flesh were being vibrated apart, like they were
starting to drift...
   Then, as shadows poured down the walls, I started to see patches of
electric green in my field of vision. They wavered, settling down on me. =
The
world was so dim and growing dimmer. Dimmer and darker.
   The last thing I saw before I died was Lily bending down, her eyes red=
 and
puffy, to take the lapel pin out of my open hand.=20


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