Waking Up - Chapter 1
Posted By: kabu<email@example.com>
Date: 19 March 2010, 2:09 am
This is quite a pickle. My shirt is definitely ruined, and there's no way my hair is getting out of this without some major restructuring and a long shower. And I forgot to take out the garbage this morning, again.
It's because not half an hour ago I was in a real hurry to get to work but forgot to set the alarm. As a result, I did not awaken until the sun had reached an angle high enough to claw over the windowsill, through my eyelids, down my optic nerve and into my brain whereupon it savagely attacked whichever bit of gray matter controls the "oh fuck I'm late" neurotransmitters. Quick shower, no time for breakfast, throw on some clothes (where the hell is my jacket?), walk right by the trash can without stopping and into the car. Get halfway down the street before slamming on the brakes, rocket out of the car back to the house to pick up my briefcase and a laminated name-badge with "Jessica Anders" printed boldly in thirty-point capitals. Just out of shape enough to be a bit winded when I got back to my sedan, and then it's down the highway at a speed usually reserved for interstellar transports and taxi cabs, leaving a bit of burned rubber in the driveway with an earsplitting dolphin-like screech and pull into the parking lot twenty-three minutes late. Stumble out of the car, thoughts fixed only on the waiting coffee machine sixty floors down in ARCHER base, and then I ruined my shirt.
It's my third-favorite shirt too, the blue one with the flowers around the wrists. I normally wouldn't wear it to work, not really, but it was the first clean thing that I saw and I took it before I realized what it was and now look at it, with the ugly hole right where it can't be covered up. Not to mention the stain. What a waste. I'm contemplating just getting back into my car, but I don't really think that's possible now.
What the hell happened? I must have rolled my ankle and fallen or something, which explains why I can't get my feet under me when I start to pull myself up. But my ankle doesn't hurt, and that wouldn't explain away all the screaming that I realize, belatedly, is coming from my own throat. And what about that terrifically loud noise and a feeling like being punched in the back by the business end of a coked-up elephant's tusk that happened just before I fell?
"Gunshot," is the noun my brain draws at length from memory banks that are getting cloudier with each second. That noise sounded suspiciously like a gunshot. And all that gore lying in front of me like toys spilled from an unruly child's closet looks like it might have once called my torso home. And when I move my hand down below my breasts there's something warm and wet with the consistency of stale pudding where there should be flesh. Huh. Gunshot sounds about fuckin' right.
A scream strangles itself in my throat and sends little ripples through the blood pooling around my lips. They sting a bit -- I must have scraped up my face when I nose-planted into the cold asphalt. My freshly washed hair, already starting to revert to it's usual frizz, is sponging up my blood, drawn up like a wasp's venom diffusing through the body of a caterpillar. And I missed the damn garbage truck, two weeks in a row. For someone in my profession, I ponder ruefully, I'm awfully disorganized. The thought makes me laugh, but somewhere between diaphragm and larynx it turns into a shuddering cough that sends more little needles of pain through my chest. My mouth tastes like copper.
Right about now would be the time to panic but that just seems like so much bother.
A dark smog is rolling steadily across my eyes, punctuated by little flashes of silver. I try to push myself to my feet and am startled to realize that my legs won't obey me anymore. In fact, I'm not feeling much of anything below my ribcage and I must have scraped up my knees and shouldn't I be able to feel that? When did the sun start to set? It's getting kind of shady around here.
Did I leave the shower on? God dammit, I think I left the shower on.
I once overheard my former secretary say that I have a sense of humor like a dead rat nailed to a crucifix has good taste. I begged to differ -- my sense of humor is functioning perfectly well, thank you, I simply seldom have cause to exercise it in the day-to-day execution of my duties. I do garner some amusement from my underling's attempts to get me to laugh, though if they were to put half the effort of making me crack a smile into doing their God damn jobs the insurrection would be as finished as the aforementioned deceased rodent by this point. Life is to short to waste on pointless frivolities.
As I pull onto the exit that will take me to ARCHER base, I try to banish the image of pistol-whipping my secretary from my mind. Now is not the time to engage in pleasant flights of fancy. As usual, Wole has pushed the appropriations meeting as close as he can to the deadline for military expenditures. He's asking for Marines to act as paramilitary support for... well, for something shady. As usual.
It's a favorite tactic of the ONI Director's, to keep everybody in the dark right up until decision time when we're all off-balance and anxious enough to acquiesce with a minimum of fuss. It's said that every year, the week before the deadline, the sound of officials slamming their foreheads against the walls outside of Wole's office can be heard through all negative-eighty stories of the base. Hopefully I won't end up as one of their sad number today. My knuckles crack around the steering wheel as I attempt to throttle it to death.
Again, now is not the time for such introspection. It is quite vexing that I don't have the slightest clue as to what Wole is going to be asking for today. Director Wole is the only person on this planet, and one of the few in human-controlled space, who can actually... intimidate is the wrong word, of course. Impress me, yes, that's it. Standing a good six and a half feet tall, with dark, weather-beaten skin contrasting sharply with short a white buzz-cut, the Director cuts an imposing figure even at upwards of seventy years old. I have, to my frustration, tended more towards the scrawny side and the sight of the Director leaning over his cane and staring at me with those two eyes like black diamond drill bits is terribly... impressive.
I'll just have to wing this one, I think morosely to myself as I pull reluctantly into the employee parking lot. But still, I can't shake the feeling that I'm a mouse staring at a bowl on the kitchen floor labeled "Mister Muffins." I, for one, object most strongly to being the mouse. Scurrying into a spot next to a blue sedan parked awkwardly across two spaces, I step out of the car and am immediately struck by the smell of death.
Groping for a gun that isn't there, I quickly drop down into a crouch beside the door. There's a prone figure not twenty feet away, a short woman with frizzy red hair lying face-down in a pool of what I can only assume is blood, leather briefcase on the pavement as though she flung it as she fell. There's really no need to check for a pulse (nobody could lose that much blood and still be alive) but I feel bound to do so anyway dash across the open ground ready for a shot to take me in the face at any instant, I place two fingers against her neck. She's still warm, probably not dead for more than ten minutes.
There's a security guard lounging against the fence, ankles crossed and arms dangling, but seeing as he's missing everything from the nose up he'll probably be a less than adequate witness.
What kind of circus is ONI running here? What happened to all the automated defense systems? This is irritatingly lax security. I'll have to do something about this, one day, but in the meantime somebody is going to get severely scolded. Flipping open my phone, I punch in a number and start speaking as soon as the ringing stops.
"Hello? This is Colonel Mitchell Fuchs. Could you please alert security? There's been a breach."
It's dark and it's cold it reeks of memory, which smells oddly like my high-school's locker rooms after a hard volleyball practice. I used to play, but I sucked royally at the stupid fucking game. High school in New Chicago had a mandatory PE requirement and I hate to admit that as bad as I am I actually kind of liked the sport. I can taste the air of the court, cold and dry as sweat runs down my nose and I dive awkwardly for the ball, miss, fall, scrape up my knees and my shoulder twists and Michelle is laughing and there's my Mom on the sidelines and Dad and...
You have to get up, now, says the coach. Oh God, Coach Jesse is such a bitch. You have to get up now, kid. You've got the rest of your death ahead of you, after all.
The weight of death is heavy in the air as they lay the casket down into the damp earth. The light drizzle makes the first shovels full of dirt hit the heavy oak boards with a dull thunk of sound every few thunk seconds. Every eye that meets mine is filled with so much pity that it burns like dry ice. Black-clad family and friends on damp greenery with red flowers. Colors reach through the tears in my eyes and twist around until they take my brain somewhere else, somewhere without the pain and the grief until my baby brother falls into my arms and snaps me back to reality with a mental deceleration so hard it hurts. He looks up at me with damp eyes and a runny nose and don't cry, he says, don't cry because if you cry I'll cry too and you look ugly when you cry 7-2945-3.
Tell us your name.
I rock back and forth on my heels, digging my feet into the artificially perfect grass of the college quad and playing my hands through the shadow of a maple tree. The sun is almost directly overhead and hot, very hot, sending a trickle of sweat between my shoulder blades. Inane chatter all around as students flit from class to class, hummingbirds going after scholastic nectar. What's your name, asks the goddess of an upperclassman standing in front of me. She's tall and blond and with a smile that could knock down a regiment, and I feel ugly. 7-2945-3, I answer. That's a pretty name she says with a little false laugh. I've already decided to hate her.
--gen deprived for less than ten minutes, minimal damage to--
There's this brilliant spot of sunlight where the peaks of three waves crash together in an orgy of sea foam and the bow crests the waves and takes wings for a perfect instant before it smacks down onto the surface. A sputtering whoop of laughter, a fast-forward memory spooling through a tape recorder so quick quick quick it smokes and mingles with the ocean spray and th--
What's your name.
The lecturer is droning on about Greek mythology and I'm doodling circuit diagrams on a sheaf of notebook paper. A ceiling fan spins lazily as my mind dusts off some n memories of the totality -- boredom is nothing if not fuel for the imagination. But I guess something he said must of sunk in.
Tell us your NAME.
It's Tisiphone, all right? Will you shut up about it? TSN-7-2945-3.
Now just let me get started.
"So I'm an AI."
"But I'm not-"
"That depends on how you define it."
"How are you-"
"I've had this conversation a dozen times. Next you're going to ask about your avatar."
He's hit the metaphorical nail right on the head. I take a moment to pause and examine my shiny new holographic body. It's... odd. Familiar, in a lot of ways, but the details are all different, and somehow I know that my name isn't Jessica anymore. Now I'm Tisiphone. It's like reading over an essay somebody has edited for you, except instead of editing it they spilled coffee on it and scribbled bad romantic poetry in the margins. Which actually happened to me, back in college. I think he was drunk for most of it. But that's not important right now. Oh God, my conscious mind is wandering faster than I can process. Shouldn't being an AI fix that?
"I thought an AI's avatar was supposed to be some sort of subconscious ideal / repressed identity psychobabble thing."
Eugene gives me a look of reproach as if I had just told a fart joke at a funeral. He's been all but bouncing in his chair this whole time, threatening to crack the thin plastic back. "It's not psychobabble." He's young, for an AI technician, and supposedly a budding genius. His work is just about the only thing in life he has real passion for, and for now it's on full throttle. "An AI's avatar represents both a- a- a- well, a subconscious ideal and, well... fine. I know it sounds like nonsense, but..."
"By all means, go on." I quirk a smile and tap a holographic foot. He's cute when he's flustered.
He turns away and gives an exasperated sigh, pacing the confines of his cramped, cluttered closet of an office and running a hand through shaggy blond hair. A stack of old coffee cups threatens to collapse in a caffeinated bid to escape from the entropic horror that is his desk, which is a cheap thing that's about to give in to the inevitable before you can say "cleansing inferno." It reminds me of nothing so much as a sort of shrine to the ideal state of perfect messiness, a divine manifestation of... right. Back to the task at hand. Do I still have hands? His voice snaps me back to reality.
"Well, what do you think?"
I look down at myself again. There is, I cannot fail to notice, a bit more "self" than I was used to. Quite a bit more.
"So you're saying that my subconscious me is my old me, but with bigger boobs. And what appears to be a bronze-tipped spear. In a sundress. With... is my hair pink? My hair is pink. Did I mention the spear?"
"It's a very nice shade of pink," he says, mildly defensive.
"I think you're insane."
"You're the one with the spear."
I concede the point.