by O. J. Anderson
part 1 of 2
Billy Mellow, frequent body-fluid donor and experimental drug test subject (several parties are currently embroiled in a fierce on-line auction bidding for the advertising space on his forehead and hands) falls upon the receptionist’s desk, knocking over her pencil holder. His eyes bloodshot through. Skin pallid, like 2% skim milk. Hair a briar patch of knots and dingleberries. He smells like vinegar.
“Uh, may I help you?” The receptionist pulls back a little. Whatever this kid’s got, she doesn’t want it. She’s seen plenty of these pro donor types but this one seems to be going for some kind of record, maybe saving up for a Ferrari or something.
With his last bit of strength, Billy gasps, “I haven’t slept in two months!” He collapses to the floor. His blood-soaked eyes wide open. Two hardboiled eggs floating just beneath the surface of cranberry juice.
The receptionist, Janice, stands and leans over for a look at the boy lying there in a heap. Her finger presses the intercom. “Doctor Mullins, could you come out front for a moment?”
* * *
6 hours later
New Data Solutions, conference room
After he takes the cup of coffee from Janice, thanks her, and takes a sip, Dr. Mullins says, “We really appreciate you coming on such short notice. You guys sure move quickly.”
Jack Creed is silent for a moment, until he realizes that the doctor is expecting some sort of response. He then says, “Well, that’s what we do. We move quickly on short notice.”
“Excellent. Super.” Mullins nods and taps his knuckles lightly on the shiny table. His persona more CEO than doctor. He then introduces the rest of his team: Dr. Fred Wilkes, PhD and chief technical officer, and Jason Fletcher, attorney at law. After he checks once again if Jack or any of his men need anything, Dr. Mullins finally gets down to business.
“Let me start by giving a brief explanation about what we do here at NDS.” Mullins laces his fingers. Leans on his elbows. The gist of it is this: they rent people’s brainspace to multinational corporations, government agencies both foreign and domestic, and any other company with enormous data storage needs.
“Affordable, space-efficient, nonvolatile storage mediums,” Dr. Wilkes says. “That’s what we offer in a nutshell.”
“There’s a very simple procedure,” Mullins says, “where we implant a wireless input device into the frontal lobe of the brain. It’s painless, of course. And in a matter of days the patient is up and about with no residual effects whatsoever. Then, about a week after the procedure, we can begin uploading clients’ data into the carrier.”
The doctor sips his coffee, then continues: “I’m sure that you are aware of the tremendous storage capacity of the brain, Mr. Creed. Suffice it to say the exact figure is still largely theoretical. But some estimates go as high as 1000 terabytes. Now in most cases we would be hesitant to tax the brainspace anywhere close to full capacity and as more units come online more stringent standards will be put in place. The loads more evenly distributed throughout the carrier community.”
Dr. Wilkes adds, “We’re in eight cities already and we’ve got two projection towers going up weekly. We’ll have access to one-hundred million brainspace units within the next three months. By fall we’ll be in east Asia. Incredible market opportunity over there, just terrific.”
Jack asks, “Isn’t that kind of risky... renting out someone’s brain for potentially sensitive information? What if someone steals the brain?”
“We’ve considered all that, of course,” Dr. Mullins tells him. “The brainspace is completely protected. The list of carriers is totally confidential, as are the clients. Even if a carrier were identified as such, it would be impossible to know who is leasing the space, let alone what type of information he or she is carrying.
“Once the client leases the brainspace our encryption team generates a random routing number which is provided directly to the client. They don’t know who the carrier is and we don’t know what the carrier is carrying.”
“Any tampering with the data port triggers an immediate infodump back to the mother unit,” the attorney says. “Which includes serious accidents. If the carrier falls off his bike and whacks his head hard enough, the data package comes home where it awaits instructions. It will either return to the carrier after a systems check, or it will reload into another carrier.”
“And what if the carrier dies of a heart attack?”
“Same result,” Dr. Mullins says. “The port also relays the carrier’s biometric readings to our monitoring system. If the vital signs drop below our survivability baseline, the trigger dumps the data and the data come home.”
Jack says, “And await instructions.”
“So what do you need us for?”
Dr. Mullins faux laughs and fidgets with his coffee mug. “Well, apparently some of the data have become hostile to the carrier environment. There’s been some spillover. Contamination of the carrier as it were. And, uh... we can’t seem to retrieve any of it.”
“This happened before?”
“Not quite. This individual was among the first group of test carriers. And this is the first case we’ve yet seen in which the data failed to be retrievable. It may have something to do with the nature of the data package itself.” The doctor pauses. Clears his throat. “And there is a slight chance that we uploaded too much.”
The conference room is silent for a moment. The tension builds.
Jack finally asks, “Well how much data did you upload?”
“Oh, we packed him to the gills, this one,” Dr. Wilkes says.
Jason Fletcher quickly adds, “He signed a waiver.”
Dr. Mullins: “And he was more than fairly compensated.”
“Of course he was,” Jack says. “So why not just stop his heart for a few seconds? Or whack him in the head. Have it do that infodump thing, then revive the carrier.”
Mullins’s finger now taps the table nervously. “That, in fact, was our original plan, Mr. Creed. But this particular carrier seems to live on nothing more than Pizza Pockets, Mountain Dew, and video games. And that was before the upload. He was barely able to drag himself back here. He’s in such poor physical condition at the moment that I fear we may not be able to revive him at all.”
“Mm-hm. And you said it may have to do with the nature of the data. What kind of data is it?”
Wilkes: “Are they.”
Wilkes: “Never mind.”
Dr. Mullins turns to the attorney. “Jason?”
“Hm? The client?” The lawyer bites his lip. Almost like he doesn’t want to say it. “Uh... that would be the Department of Justice.”
While Dr. Mullins buries his face in is hands, Dr. Wilkes says, “We gave them a great intro rate on a three-year lease.”
“Okay,” Jack says. “So you’ve got a ninety-pound slacker who rented out his head so he wouldn’t have to get a job. And now his brainspace is popping at the seams with every kind of criminal the Justice Department has ever had to deal with. That data is messing up his head, and he’s going tits up sometime soon. And if he goes down he takes New Data Solutions with him. The investors will come looking for your heads. Never mind what the DoJ will do to you. How warm am I getting here?”
“You’re on fire,” Wilkes tells him.
“Right. What do you want us to do?”
Dr. Mullins pops up, almost out of his chair. He says rapidly, “We’ve set up a hard line data port in the kid’s head. We want you and your team to hook in and retrieve the data manually. Just get them to the hard line and we can download ’em by force.”
“Hook in? What does that mean... hook in?”
Wilkes: “We have a means by which you can enter the brainspace.”
Jason: “You’ll need to sign a waiver of course.”
“Hooking in” to a brain doesn’t concern Jack so much as this: “You want us to retrieve a gazillion bytes of data by force? Is that even possible? Would you like it done in this lifetime?”
Dr. Mullins’s face falls back into his hands. He knew it. Stupid idea. Wilkes and Jason sigh. It’s hopeless. While Mullins thinks: New Data Solutions is going down, Dr. Wilkes is thinking: Maybe we can keep the kid on life support. And Jason Fletcher: What if he fell down some stairs?
In this thicket of crushing disappointment Jack Creed stands. Walks to the far wall where there is posted a large color map of the human brain. After studying the map for a moment, the master tactician addresses both the NDS team and his own crew. “We won’t need to extract all the data by force. Only the ringleader. Someone’s in charge in there. Calling the shots. We find the head and cut it off... the rest will come along without much of a fight.”
Dr. Mullins pops back up. “What? We’re doing it? We’re going in?”
Jason Fletcher pumps his fist. “Yeah!”
“We can assume the data is highly organized and extremely dangerous. We can also assume that we won’t have the element of surprise. So we go in hard and heavy. Everything we can carry.” He points to the wall map. “Entry point will be here in the southern cerebral cortex, just below the medulla oblongata. We’ll work our way north to the pons, then clear the cerebellum. From there we’ll clear the brain from back to front, toward the hard line data port in the frontal lobe.
“Jones, you’ll take Alpha Team through the left hemisphere. Smith, you’ve got the right side. Doc, Rivers, and Lucky, you’ll stay outside the brain in a tech support position with the NDS team. While we’re inside I want you doing a department wide search looking for anyone who fits our ringleader profile. Compile a list of suspects and feed it to us on site. We’ll find him, and he’ll either come out the easy way or the hard way.”
Jack turns to the two doctors and asks, “How do we get our weapons and explosives inside?”
“Got it all taken care of, Mr. Creed,” Wilkes says. “I’ve already programmed every kind of weapon you might need into the system. Everything will be provided once inside.”
“So...” Dr. Mullins is almost bouncing with excitement. “You can do this? You’re really going to retrieve the data?”
Jack nods slowly. Time to give Mullins a little reality. “But I’m not going to sugar-coat this one, doctor. After my crew moves through that brain you should expect to see a casualty rate of anywhere between fifty and a hundred percent. A lot of that data isn’t going to make it out of there alive.”
* * *
A team of NDS technicians has already set up a brainspace portal command center. Chairs have been brought in for the entry team. Lined up. And on each chair is placed a bundle of wires, leads, sensors, straps, and needles. Dr. Wilkes explains, “Obviously you won’t be physically entering the brainspace. Only your avatars. You will communicate normally with each other and the tech support team as though you were sitting right next to one another — because you will be. Your cognitive functions, however, will be interfacing with the mainframe.
“I’ve programmed the system to read the data in a three-dimensional virtual world. That means if you come across data that is a person, you will see a person. If there are any car accidents on file, you will see car accidents. Dead people will still be dead people, sort of. Weapons. A sandwich. Books. A hammer maybe. Anything is possible in there. Any data that couldn’t be translated will appear as arbitrary shapes and blobs. Don’t worry about those.
“If you have to fire on any data I’ve programmed in a binary crash response. Meaning that when you shoot something inside the brainspace it will collapse into a pile of ones and zeros. And hopefully we can reconstruct it later.”
Dr. Mullins says, “But if you could go for non-lethal shots we sure would appreciate it.”
The brainspace battlefield, as Dr. Wilkes goes on to say, will appear as a series of connected corridors representing the interneuronal synapses. “But don’t worry, we’ll be feeding you a live directional indicator to guide you through the space. Each lobe is color coded.” He points to a wall chart. “The occipital will be orange. Temporal yellow. Parietal green. And frontal blue. So you’ll know which lobe you’re in by the color of your surroundings.”
Jack is impressed. Likes what he’s hearing. This operation has been organized quite well by the NDS guys. They seem to have thought of everything. He asks Dr. Wilkes, “You do any time in the service?”
Smiling for a second, but only a second, the doctor appears flattered by the question, but then has to admit, “No, but I uh... I paintball on the weekends. I’m in a club. We’re called the —”
“Right,” Jack says. “Let’s get to it then.” He sits in his chair.
Rivers then hurries over to Jack with a printout. “Here’s our first suspect, boss. Name’s Tony Bianco. Italian mafia. Number three guy.” There’s a picture of a bald lughead with no neck and a chin like the front end of an Iveco Combi.
Jack commits the picture to memory and hands the printout to one of the technicians. “Color code this guy for me. Pink. And put a bull’s-eye on his chest.”
After the technician gets Jack all rigged up with the sensors and electrodes, he shows him a thin bundle of wires with tiny needles at the ends. “I’m going to insert these axon receptors around the base of your neck. They might sting a bit. Have you ever had acupuncture before?”
Jack looks up at the technician flatly. “No, but I’ve taken about a pound of shrapnel, been shot three times, stabbed four, and sliced up like a honey ham on Thanksgiving morning.”
“Oh,” the technician says. “You probably won’t feel a thing then.”
* * *
“I”m in,” Jack says. He turns and sees the avatars of his crew. Then he looks down at himself. There is a Colt M-4 carbine in his hands. Two Glock 19s strapped to his legs. Grenades. A rocket launcher strapped across his back. And a big friggin’ knife hanging from his belt. It all weighs nothing. It’s a nice little hardware rack the doctor’s come up with except there’s no ammo. But before he can even ask, Dr. Wilkes says:
“Don’t worry about reloading. Your weapons will fire in perpetuity.”
It’s like a dream come true, but there’s no time to get emotional. They’ve got a job to do. “Let’s move,” Jack says. And they double-time north following the black arrow.
“You shouldn’t see much action until you hit the cerebellum,” Dr. Mullins says.
And they don’t. It’s a clear sail through the grey corridors up to the pons. They dogleg east and storm into the cerebellum. A darker shade of grey. The corridor funnels open into a vast area the size of a football stadium. Jack Creed signals a halt. The men spread out and drop to a knee. Gonna take a whiff before they move through.
Big blobs of data float slowly across the expanse. Assorted shapes and sizes. Black squares. Blue triangles. Info-dingies sailing across a sea of interstitial fluid. Nothing overtly hostile at the moment. Jack signals his crew to move out. They double-time across in a wedge formation.
Things get a little more ominous toward the far end of the open area where it closes in like a cave. Large pointed stalagmites of data rise up from the floor. Jack’s internal warning indicator goes off. He doesn’t like it. Too many places to hide. He waves for his men to spread out.
No sooner does he put his hand back onto his weapon when they run head-first into the Cambodian drug cartel. A real rag-tag bunch. Part pipe-and-chain gang hopped up on virtual smack, part paramilitary force. AK-47s. Some old M-16s.
Fire comes from all directions. All at once.
“It’s an ambush,” Jack tells the tech support team as he ducks for cover behind a datamite. Pops up and rips off a long burst, then chucks a couple grenades.
Three bazooka rounds zip across the battlefield and burst into giant orange fireballs. More grenades amidst the heavy volume of small arms fire. An impenetrable wall of munitions spews forth from Jack and his crew for about two minutes — the average time it takes to destroy thirty percent of the enemy force. Then it slows to a more measured and accurate rate of fire. Time to maneuver and finish off the rest.
Alpha Team has configured themselves online as the base of fire team. Their fire alternating in short bursts. Jack signals Bravo team to flank right. Smith picks up his team and they sprint off and disappear.
Copyright © 2007 by O. J. Anderson