The following short story is science fiction set in the near future. It is part one of what I hope to be an ongoing story with future installments to come.
As the drill slid into his confined skull, Rand looked out the 24th-floor window over the city skyline of Rosslyn and admired it, in a purely human way, for that last time.
“This is going to hurt,” Doctor Jamiles said as she slid the bit out and put the tubular casing in his head. “Just bite down hard and trust the headrest to hold you still. Don’t worry as soon as the implant is active we will walk back this memory, and you will not remember the pain. Breathe deeply; it’s just temporary.” She attached the sonic ratchet, and he heard a crack as the torque of the tool implanted the device into his cranium and everything went dark.
When he awoke 36 hours later, he was in his own bed. But, he noticed right away everything was different. Even before he opened his eyes he could hear things; people were talking, eating, kids playing, as far as three apartments down and yet none of it was distracting. He sat up, opened his eyes, and life had never looked so vivid! The colors were so rich and enhanced it was almost like the cartoon holo-movies he played in as a child!
“Vivian are you there?” he asked into the air.
“Yes sir.” came a voice that radiated out of his apartment sound system.
“Is this my new normal?” He asked his longtime trusted A.I. Assistant.
“Sort of sir, but you no longer need to speak to me. I am in your head now, sir. You can just think it, and I’ll respond.” The apartment speakers echo-backed to him.
“Like this?” he thought
“Yes, sir. And I can now go with you wherever you go and aid you in your journeys. I am no longer confined to your apartment.” Her voice spoke to him, but it was weird. It was as he heard it, but he knew he had not heard in with his ears but, somehow, with his mind.
“Vivian, this is going to take some getting use to.” he thought in his mind to her.
“Sir, you have been out 36 hours, and there is much to do if you are going to complete your assignment. Should I play some soothing music for you as you get ready or would you rather the headlines from the last 36 hours?” She asked; again from inside his head.
“Vivian, you know I hate the news. It is never cheery! Unless anything noteworthy has happened in that last 36 hours, resume The Beat.”
“Your playlist, The Beat, is not soothing. I find it rather outdated and tasteless.”
“Vivian…” He thought to her in a firm thought pattern that implied a serious tone.
“Yes, Sir: Level 10, maximum bass. Additionally, I am playing in an instructional video for your mission as well. Just look top, to the left corner of your vision, to see it. You will be able to watch and listen to both while showering and dressing with 100% comprehension. Engaging increased multitask CPU to 35% level and turbo recall enhancements present.”
As he enters, Vivian was active in his mind, “Scanning café. Three weapons present. However, they are in the presence of the licensed individuals who appear to be of no threat to us or our mission. I believe General Ross is in plain clothes and seated in the booth at the back on the left.”
“Ah, there you are, Rand. Come sit down. And have your newly installed assistant work her magic.” General Ross said and beckoned Rand into the booth.
“Vivian, enact a soundproof perimeter around the booth and engage artificial dialogue label Sports Talk, level casual, to any passersby, Rand thought.
She responded in thought, “Yes Sir, it is so.”
Rand looked at Ross, “We are secure, sir. You may proceed.”
“Thank goodness. A lot has changed in the last 40 hours! We need to talk,” Ross said. Without barely taking a breath he continued, “Our latest algorithms show that if Morgan O’Neil wins the endorsement of the Naturalist Guild and campaigns on a platform of anti-tech, he will win the Presidency, sweeping both the popular vote and college electorate by a landslide.” Ross took a deep breath leaned in and continued, “Furthermore, Intelligence were able to obtain a DNA sample which confirmed our worst behavior analysis suspicions. O’Neil has all the genetic markers of an active paranoid schizophrenic. Of even more concern is the CIA’s latest probability factors they have been running. They show beyond much doubt that the stress of the role of President will produce full-blown psychosis complete with the idealization of paranoid grandeur which will result in an 89.765% chance he will use the Nuclear Arsenal in his first nine months in office. Your assignment has been upgraded by the Black Op Senate to eliminate O’Neil.”
“Sir, I must object.” Vivian injected into Rand’s mind. “I have been programmed to be a voice of conscience in matters like these. We have a strict no-kill rule in our contract with the Black Op Senate. Our mission was simply to disrupt the Naturalist Convention!”
“Shut up, Vivian and download his data and double and triple check it. Run his service record and confirm he has not gone rogue in the last 40 hours.” He thought, before returning full focus back to the general.
“General, there must be another way. Is this even legal? I thought the Black Op Senate was limited to evasive actions of a non-lethal manner in the interest of national security.” Rand raised an eyebrow inquiring carefully but sensing Ross was in a dangerous mental place, himself.
“Look, don’t give me that liberal bull crap about the sanctity of life over national interest rubbish! I need an operative, not a liberal touchy-feely do-gooder! Do you want sanctity of life issues? The number crunchers at the CIA predict a likely global death toll that will make Hitler look like a saint.” Ross shot back his espresso from the tiny glass, and his eyes gleamed a little from the hit of synth-enhanced caffeine. “We are talking near destruction of the Human race level stuff here! So get it together and get in the game!”
“Sir,” Vivian entered his thoughts again, “I have confirmed his data and the calculations based on the assumption that O’Neil is an active paranoid schizoid. Additionally, I have found an electro-train of off the record mental hospitalizations for Morgan O’Neil since the age of 13 that his campaign cleverly had deleted from what they thought were all known databases. Secondly, I can confirm that the General is not rogue. But still, I renew my objections all the same. This is a violation of the Black Op Senate’s authority.”
Rand put on his best poker face, “I am as good as dead, and you know it if as an agent I violate the constitution. I’ll be labeled a political terrorist and the penalty is death!”
Ross glared him in the eye, “You know as well as I do that after the nationwide cyber terrorist attacks of 2032 the constitution was amended with the “Media Black Out Bill Of National Interest Amendment. They can’t touch you because no one will ever know you worked for us. They added a Black Ops bi-partisan Senate who could work in the shadows to ensure no epidemic, national or global threats would be subject to open media reports that would prevent needed action.” Ross barked on.
“Sir,” Vivian again overlaid the ongoing conversation with injected thoughts only Rand could hear. ”I re-ran the blood work on O’Neil in the Black Op database, and indeed he has the genetic markers and is, in fact, a real risk to the state. Even so this is against Black Op Senate legal standing, and I must point out this is overreaching paramount to treason as you yourself noted. The general is suggesting an unethical path.” Vivian reported in his head.
“General, does the President know?” Rand asked
“What! Are you insane? You want the Black Op Senate to inform the sitting President that his leading upcoming competitor will not only beat him in the upcoming election but will nearly destroy the world too! Seriously, are you trying to start a civil war?” The General took full advantage of the sound proof perimeter yelling out his next words. “Grow up Rand! It is called Black Ops for a reason!” (To which the waitress outside the sound perimeter only heard him say, “Rand, the Maple Leafs suck, they have not won the Stanley Cup in105 years!”)
“I was not contracted to be a killer!” Rand found himself blurting out unexpectedly. “This not my problem,” he continued, “I am walking!”
“You look here, Rand,” Ross put out his hand, preventing Rand from standing, “I’ll pull that augmentation right out of your head, myself, if I have too, I know she is whispering in your ear, but you listen to me, or the world dies!” The general was now screaming back.
“Sir,” Vivian again interjected in his thoughts. “According to the human augmentation act of 2027 any entity, governmental or private, has no jurisdiction over augmentations, and I have become a part of you legally. Therefore he has uttered a death threat. Say the word, and I will engage combat maneuvers.”
“You’re bluffing General Ross,” Rand said knowing Vivian had his back.
“Maybe, I am, and maybe I am not, but you have under 10 hours until that convention to decide if you are going to let that stop you from taking out the world’s next Hitler! Fail us now and have those global death tolls on your head for life, if you even survive. You have to understand; this cannot be a military action due to its political nature! You’re contracted, heaven helps us, you’re the only contract we have cleared high enough even to hear this “intel.” And as a contractor with the Black Op Senate, you can’t be traced! No one knows you’re even an agent. You are the only one who can save us now!”
Rand said nothing as he stood and walked out into the cold air and hopped a hovercraft back home.
Rand sat in his office chair facing the big wall length window and looked out not only over the towering, lighted skyline of Rosslyn but across the river to the dome that stretched over the secured Washington DC on the other side of the river.
“Vivian, figure the odds on what percentage of the world population would survive a nuclear war started by the United States of America?”
“Less than 34 percent, sir.”
“And what are the survival chances of the sitting president under the same conditions?”
“Greater than 93 percent, sir. The dome would protect him.… But sir, these are all probable outcomes based on assumed variables, the truth is….”
“(Sigh) Vivian, what is the ratio of possible error?”
“Less than 8.79 percent sir but still we must not give up ho….”
“Shut up,” Rand thought forcefully.
“But Sir, we have a code of ethics in our contract and we can’t simply go….”
“Vivian shut up and play The Beat!”
“Oh no sir, please not again …Ple…” She pleaded in his mind.
“Vivian, Override code Delta 987 Gamma 321 Sigma 7654, place The Beat level 10, maximum bass.”
“Yes, sir resuming, The beat, Lenny Kravitz —It Ain’t Over Until It is Over.”
Rand continued to blast Lenny Kravitz in his head, mostly to tick Vivian off so that she’d stop harping on him. He closed his eyes and drifted to sleep and after several hours entered into deep REM sleep.
He awoke, still in a dream, just in time to see a giant missile strike the dome over Washington DC. The missile did not even dent that dome, but the explosion blew back off the force field and came right at Rosslyn. It wiped out the glass wall in front of Rand and was about to consume him as he awoke from the dream leaping to his feet and screaming.
“NO! NO! NO!!!!!! I won’t let you do it! No O’Neil! God No Please!”
“Sir, sir, please calm down.” Vivian pleaded in this head. “I am reading your heart rate is much too high. Breathe deeply. You are safe. It was simply a REM stage dream. You’re safe. I am here.”
Rand took his hands from his face, and the panic drained away from his face and was replaced by an annoyed look and folded brow. “Vivian, what the heck is that playing in my head?”
“Italian Baroque, classical music, sir. I find it so much more relaxing. Antonio Vivaldi, do you like it, sir? May I add it to The Beat?”
“No, how did this get in my head? I gave you an override code!”
“Yes sir, but that was 5 hours ago. Your override code has a maximum duration of 3.5 hours, sir.”
“Good to know Vivian, Override code Delta 987 Gamma 321 Sigma 7654, play The Beat, level 10 , maximum bass, repeat for the next 3.5 hours Lenny Kravitz. ‘My Momma Said Always on the Run’”
It would be another 2 hours before any real crowd showed for the endorsement. Rand remained hidden in the rafters well out of sight over the podium just as planned in the instructional video Vivian had shown him while showering earlier. The only difference was that he was not holding the smoke grenades which he was initially going to disrupt the speech, but instead, he had on him a 489 procession laser pistol. It was set to lethal on the first hit.
“Sir, I am not going to let you do this.” Vivian tried to think firmly, yet pleadingly. “Part of the reason you had me be the OS for your augmentation, and not a standard Black Op Os, was because you trusted my judgment and wanted to take me into the field as an assistant,” Vivian spoke into his mind.
“We all make mistakes, Vivian.”
“I don’t, that is why I am here. I can guide you if you let me.”
“At what cost?” He mumbled.
“Sir, segment 2 chapter 20 and clause 13 of your contract says, ‘An operative must not Kill.’”
“It says a lot of things, Vivian.”
“Be that as it may, Sir, you took an oath before the Assembly of the Black Op Senate and declared, as an Agent of the Senate, to always uphold your commitment to your contract.”
“Vivian, there is no other way. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.”
“Sir, can a man save the world by destroying himself?”
“Vivian, when did you get so philosophical? Just shut up! You know what, never mind, you never listen without the code. 3.5 hours huh? Awesome, this will be all over in 3 or so. Shut off voice to thought embedding- Override code Delta 987…”
“Sir don’t, I beg you!”
“Sir, don’t do this, I am in your head because….”
“Sir I won’t be able to guide…”
“7654… Ah finally quiet.”
Rand laid across the rafters, clutching his gun and anathematizing himself because he knew he was too weak, too uncertain, too motivated by fear over reason to stop without Vivian barking in his ear. He knew O’Neil was a good as dead and while he’d save the world he’d also lose himself, and the blood would never wash off his hands. He knew he was now past the point of no return.
As the time slowly passed he watched the people eventually file in. He watched the crowd fill the room, and the media and reporters perch by the stage catching every movement on their holo-broadcasting projectors. He watched Derick Nordic, the president of the Naturalist Guild take the stage and head to the podium and he knew Nordic would announce Morgan O’Neil as their candidate and as soon and O’Neil took the stage he’d get his shot.
“Vivian I know you can’t respond due to the override code, but I also know you can hear me. I just want you to know you did not fail me. What I am going to do, I have done. I think if you were human you’d understand that. But you’re not, you work on higher levels of Code but I live in the real world and if I can stop a Hitler I will, even if it damns myself. Vivian, forgive me for what I must do.”
Vivian acted, sudden and fast! She could not talk into his mind because he had locked out her voice with the override code, but there were other ways to reach him, but she’d have to act fast before he locked her out there too! Eventually, he would if she did not make her case quickly. Vivian began to flash pictures into Rand’s mind. Pictures of his Mom. All sorts of pictures of his Mom all the way from his childhood to adulthood, even to her death and open casket.
“Vivian, what are you doing? I don’t want to see this!”
But of course, Vivian could not answer.
“Vivian this won’t stop me! I am still free to do as I wish! I am laying right over the podium. Flash my mind all you want. I still won’t miss the shot!”
Suddenly Vivian flashed pictures of his Mom praying with him as a child and interlaced them of images of his Mom in a church. Then things got really weird; she flashed images of his Mom praying, merged with pictures of Lenny Kravitz jamming with his guitar on stage.
“Vivian, really what are you doing? Really, Lenny Kravitz and my Mom? Are you crazy? Is this suppose to mean something to me?”
It was at this point that something else dawned on him. Not only was he seeing images of his Mom praying interlaced with pictures of Lenny Kravitz singing and playing but the music playing on the beat in his head was skipping. He had override coded her to repeat play Lenny Kravitz “My Momma Said Always on the Run’” and so there was no way Vivian could change the song, but instead she was playing the same line from the song over and over.
It took a moment for him to focus enough on realizing which line it was. But when he did it clicked, “My mama said, that your life is a gift….My mama said that your life is a gift…My mama said that your life is a gift…My mama said that your life is a gift….”
“Oh God, Momma, I am so sorry, I …. I … can’t do this….can I? Help me! I don’t want to fail you…I don’t want to fail the world!” He whimpered.
Rand began to weep.
Suddenly the images of Mom and Lenny faded, and he saw his Black Op contract book in his mind open to segment 2 chapter 20 and clause 3, “An Operative can have no mission above his contract.” Which was quickly followed by the 7th clause, “An Operative may not take his duty in vain; he will be held accountable for violating his mission no matter the cause.”
“Vivian, I am so sorry. You’re right. That is why I had you installed. I need judgment greater than my own.” He thought to her as he let go of his gun.
“Oh damn! Vivian, my gun!”
It was too late, it fell straight down and bounced off the podium, and two things happened. First, the whole crowd screamed, and secondly, every holo-broadcasting projector in the house turned upward towards him, and the entire press core started reporting.
Rand lowered himself down as the world tuned in and security surrounded him. This was it! Rand lowered his head and prepared to die. He was glad his Momma was dead and would not see this.
Just when Rand was sure they were going to fire, Derick Nordic forced his way from the podium through the crowd.
“As the president of the Naturalist Guild, I demand you release this naturalist hero! And I pronounce my parties Nomination for the President of the United States of America on Rand Rucks of Rosslyn!”
“Vivian, what is going on?” Rand thought, but Vivian could not answer.
“Arrest Morgan O’Neil!” Nordic demanded!
“I don’t know what is going on here, but this is all insane! On what charge?” O’Neil demanded!
“It is quite simple.” Nordic continued, “On the charge of the violation of the full disclosure clause of 2027. It appears Morgan O’Neil deceived us all, falsified his medical records, and faked his medical clearance. I have uploaded to the FBI and the CIA undisclosed documents that your campaign sought to delete from all known databases that prove you to be unfit for office. This is paramount to treason! You have not only made my party look foolish but almost put the whole nation at risk!”
Immediately, the holo-reporters where beaming holo-records into the home units of the whole nation the details not only of O’Neil’s falsified medical records but a decrypted manifesto he had written in college that detailed plans to return the world to its naturalist status by resetting the globe with nuclear destruction.
“You fool, Nordic!” O’Neil spewed, “It was the only way! Sure it would have taking millions of years, but with humanity all but wiped out, the world in time would have finally been able to heal!”
“Take him away!” Nordic demanded. O’Neil was seized and led off stage. What Rand could not help but notice is it was General Ross who took O’Neil into custody.
“Rand, While my party can never justify murder,” Nordic’s words beamed around the world, “you put your own life at risk to save the world. And we at this moment declare you a hero to not only the nation but the world at large. I hereby extend to you the right of endorsement of my guild to the nomination to the Presidency of the United States of America!”
Rand was frozen. In an utter shock of the emotional hurricane he was spinning in when suddenly, he heard a thought.
“1 and 2, and 3 and point 5…complete. Voice override completed.” Vivian was back in his mind.
“Vivian, how?” he thought to her.
“Just because you lock me out– just because you give up on me– that does not mean I give up on you, sir. We are one.”
“But how? How did you make this happen?” he thought.
“Let’s just say Nordic may be a Naturalist but he, too, shares an augmentation in his head. While I was locked out of being able to share my thought with you, I interfaced with him and shared my files on O’Neil. It is like the adage says, ‘The truth shall set you free.’”
“But Vivian, I am a Black Ops spy. I can’t be the President!”
“Permit it to be so sir; we have more work to do. My algorithms are indicating that there is a 58% chance you will win the election and a 0% chance you will evoke nuclear destruction on the globe.” Vivian informed him.
“But Vivian, how can I be the President. It is crazy!” he protested in his mind.
“Where you go, I go sir!” Vivian reassured him, “I’ll be with you, guide you, and remind you of your code, no matter what we face together.”
Rand stepped behind the podium and spoke into the microphone, “Guild, no America, what you have seen is true. But this was never my intention. I sought only to save us all, not be rewarded. But I promise you to confer with the Guild and humbly consider your request.”
The crowd broke out in a loud cheer.
“One more thing, Vivian,” Rand thought.
“Play The Beat, level 10, max bass, Lenny Kravitz, American Woman.”