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Authors: Stephen B. Pearl

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War of the Worlds 2030 (5 page)

BOOK: War of the Worlds 2030
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“This ring any bells?

“Honestly, if you feel that way maybe the two of you should get together. It would make Wendle happy.”

“Ashley, I'm sure it was the alcohol talking. You are a sweet girl and—” began Richard as he fought to rise up on one elbow.

“Ash, nothing happened, did it?” Zane sped to sit on the edge of the bed then clutched his head, groaning.

“Well…”

“Ashley?” gasped Richard.

“You both passed out as soon as I got you out of your clothes. By the way, Doc, nice tat'. Zane, if I tell mom about yours, she's gonna kill you.” Ashley smiled viciously towards the men.

Richard and Zane blushed crimson.

* * * *

Upload monitoring/ Zane Hinkly /Index 15:42/ 14/4/2030

* * * *

Richard leaned back in his office chair relaxing as he spoke. “Zane, I know you're only beginning second year but, frankly, I think Betty might enjoy having you around for the summer. In addition, I trust you. I like to believe we are friends as well as professor and student.”

“What's the job?”

“Gopher. We'll call it general laboratory assistant of course. Do what Ashley or I tell you, and don't foul up the experiments. Following Ashley's instructions should come as second nature to you.”

“You know it. When we were little she'd knock me down and sit on me, if she didn't like what I was doing.”

“What a motivation for poor behavior,” muttered Richard.

“Doc!”

“What…oh…sorry!” Richard blushed. “Yes, um…well. Will you take the job?”

“You bet. When do I start?”

“Tonight. I've contacted the housing department and made arrangements for you to keep your dorm room.”

Chapter Five
We Also Serve

Ashley lay on the interface couch in the
Darmuk
headquarters' data section. The shackles around her wrists and ankles held her in place and the cerebral symbiont that grew out of the back of her neck was now as thick as her wrist. Tannal the
Darmuk
leader, lounged on another interface couch, his once perfect appearance was marred by obesity. She shivered despite the room's climate control.

“You are awake. Good. I need a service,” snapped Tannal.

“Yes, master,” said Ashley.

“I need a data search. The Canadians are proving troublesome. I want their military history.”

“Yes master.”

“After that I will grant you the honor of pleasuring me. You will enjoy a time free of your shackles; will you not, my slave?”

Ashley's guts churned and hatred blazed in her eyes but she replied. “Thank you, master.”

She closed her eyes, accessed the bio-mechanical interface in her skull and began surfing the human net. As she did this she also sent information on the
Darmuk
troop types that had recently been developed to databases known to the resistance and the human forces.

I probably know more about the war than anyone else, and Gods I wish I didn't,
she thought. She allowed the data on Canada to flow through her mind into the cerebral symbiont that connected her to the
Darmuk
bio-mind.

Opening her eyes she scanned the large room. The walls were draped in satin curtains, interface couches lay in neat lines on the floor. A seemingly unconscious human lay in each couch, connected to the others around them by cerebral symbionts. The
Darmuk
s called them bio-ram the most horrid kind of slavery she could imagine. Reaching with her mind she could feel Betty. The girl's consciousness was imprisoned in horror.

Three years and I still haven't broken your program,
thought Ashley.
Every hell should have an end
.

There was a screeching sound and she turned her head to see something huge and scaly move by a place where a hole had been opened into the facility's wall. A steel grill closed off the passage and she knew if she moved closer, she would be able to smell the stench of the sewers it led to. The dumping ground for the
Darmuk
's failed experiments.

She mentally brushed against her memories of Richard. Somehow she had kept them sealed against all Tannal's probes and now they were her refuge. Those memories were her only comfort. She knew that he was out there, a force to be reckoned with even in a swiftly darkening world. Colonel Richard Green, chief researcher of the bio-warfare division, liaison officer for the underground. Her Richard. As long as he was free she dared keep a sliver of hope in her heart.

She focused on the memories, branching out from this secured place. Finding mental trails that moved around the blocks Tannal had place in her consciousness.

Soon, you son of a bitch, your blocks will fail then we'll see how much you like my data feeds,
Ashley thought.

The data finished downloading.

“Master, the military history of Canada is now compiled. Do you wish hard copy or direct mental input?”

“Later, my pet. Come; show me you remember how sweet our time together was.”

The shackles around Ashley's wrists and ankles released. She shuddered, but knowing there was no choice she moved to kiss the fat
Darmuk
. The weight of the cerebral symbiont that connected her to the bio-mind dragged against her neck like a chain.

Minutes later Tannal grinned as he once more caused the restraints to close around her wrists and ankles. Ashley hated him, hated the seed that even then trickled out to add to the stain on her data chair.

“Tannal,” intruded a voice from the room's entrance.

Ashley turned her head and saw a beautiful Amerindian woman, who was beginning to grow plump. A cerebral symbiont grew out of the back of her neck. The symbiont's loose end ran into a bizarre creature. The engineered form looked like a baby elephant, but armored plates, like an armadillos, grew over most of its surface.

“Osa, What is it you wish?” Tannal sounded impatient.

“The field command unit for the Costa offensive is ready, captain. It requires the command and strategy uploads,” replied the woman.

“Bring it over.” Tannal unwrapped a second cerebral symbiont that he kept around his neck like a scarf. Osa led the creature to Tannal's side and he placed the symbiont against the beast and closed his eyes.

Ashley could feel the process through the bio-mind. Tannal selected elements of his own memories and experience to impart to the creature. She knew the limits of those experiences. Tannal was command and strategy; only those elements of the mother ship's knowledge had been imparted to his human-like brain. Each of the
Darmuk
s' original landing team's minds was a copy of part of the single intelligence housed in the
Darmuk
spacecraft. Each programmed for a specific expertise, because no solitary human brain could contain all the mother ship's experience. Ashley wondered how large that genetically engineered ship's brain must be to hold such a vast store of information.

The download continued. Ashley felt the odd creature become aware. Basic protocols for feeding and hygiene had already been implanted. Now it learned tactics, human weakness, the terrain of Central America, the parameters of what its troops and equipment could do. Tannal cut the feed far short of duplicating even his core program and removed the cerebral symbiont.

As Tannal's human-like mind could not contain the full experience of the mother ship, the creature before him could not contain his full experience. The brain simply was not large or complex enough.

The creature spoke a sentence in Spanish, lifted its trunk in salute and left the room.

“Is there more, Osa?” demanded Tannal.

“No captain.” Osa examined the feeds leading into Ashley's brain. “Are you in any pain?”

“Physically no. Osa, why do this? We're no threat to you. We aren't like the Quarg,” said Ashley.

“Silence,” snapped Tannal. “You are like the Quarg. The mind we are drawn from remembers. Our world was rich and green, beautiful. Then they came. Slaughtering. If they had come in peace perhaps something could have been done. Their sun was dying, but that is no excuse to steal another's world. Nine out of ten of us died before we drove them off. Never again! Never again will we permit a species to threaten us.”

“Perhaps we can leave some humans alive, captain? Once we have conquered. Reduce them to a primitive level,” suggested Osa.

“Why? So in another five thousand years we have to repeat the process. I do not expect you to understand. You are the biologist, I have the history. I have the memories. We must never allow a race to achieve interstellar travel. We must never be faced with extinction again. Now go. The interface unit is functioning properly.”

“Yes Tannal,” agreed Osa.

Ashley closed her eyes praying that someday the doubts she sought to sow would take root.

Chapter Six
Ashley

The man lay almost eagerly on the data couch Mary had just vacated. He focused on the new calendar and said quietly. “March sixth, twenty-thirty-seven today is March sixth, twenty-thirty-seven. That's my mark. March sixth, twenty-thirty-seven.” He smiled displaying even white teeth.

“Hi Ben. You seem chipper,” remarked the nurse who monitored the feeds displaying his vitals. She was an attractive woman, mid-twenties, of African extraction, with deep, brown eyes and a southwestern American accent.

“I am. I know it's weird, but I almost look forward to monitoring the feeds.” The twenty-something man was Caucasian with black hair and a wiry build.

“That is weird, everyone else says it hurts.”

“It does. Carol, I think I'm going a little crazy. I…I have a crush on Ashley.” Ben settled on the interface couch.

“What?” Carol prepared the IV for insertion.

“All this time scanning her memories. Seeing the world through her eyes. Knowing her thoughts. In a sense becoming her. It's…I like her. I like her a lot.”

“Ben, you are weird. You're supposed to spot check that the data flow is inputting smoothly into the Ashley, biological unit, not fall in love.”

“I didn't mean to.”

“We better get started.” Carol pushed the IV home.

“Ouch! Take it easy.” Ben slipped the jack into the port in his skull.

“Sorry.” Carol grinned sheepishly.

“No problem. I better check the feed.”

Carol watched Ben as he dipped into the flow of memories entering the biological unit and became oblivious to his surroundings. “Great, now I have to fight a data ghost to get him to notice me!”

* * * *

Upload monitoring/ Ashley Hinkly /Index 13:04/ 3/12/2030

* * * *

Ashley crossed her fingers as Richard examined the mouse. They stood in the cybernetics research lab. The most advanced equipment the Earth had to offer filled the wall space. Richard worked on a central bench. A large habi-trail occupied the other research bench. White mice filled it, seemingly enjoying a life of leisure. One of their number lay dead on a small dissection tray. Its stomach and chest were open and Richard examined it through a magnifying glass.

“I hate animal testing,” said Ashley.

“So do I. Adjust the light a little to the right, would you?”

Ashley compiled moving the arm of the lamp mounted to the tabletop.

“Are you sure we couldn't have gone farther with computer SIMS or cell cultures.”

Richard looked up from his work. “Ash, sooner or later you have to test in a living organism. We do everything we can to keep the number of subjects down. If you want a cure for cancer or AIDS, or just about anything, it's part of the process. Life is too complex to model on a computer. Some things that look great in cell culture are deadly in the real world.”

“I just hate doing it. I couldn't dissect the rat in grade ten.”

“Now that's an inexcusable waste of life. Repeating experiments that have been done thousands of times so a bunch of slack-jawed teenagers can do a necropsy, stupid! If they want to teach them rat anatomy, show a film.”

“Relax,” Ashley touched the back of his hand.

“Some things bother me. Betty's last letter didn't help. She's been vandalizing fields of Franken-crops. In a sense I admire her. I just wish she'd get her little behind back to school. What kind of future does she have, fighting every major corporation that comes along? She is so radical.”

“She was always a hot head. Even when I baby-sat her. How does it look?”

Richard stood straight and smiled. “Not a trace of cancer. I will have to examine the microscope slides, but all the macro indicators are gone. You can take your conductivity readings now. Ash, I think we may have done it!”

Ashley smiled at him as she picked up a pair of micro-probes and began examining the mouse's nerves.

* * * *

Upload monitoring/ Ashley Hinkly /Index 13:04/ 12/6/2031

* * * *

Ashley stood beside Richard on the wide, concrete steps leading up to the hospital's front doors. The senator swaggered into the light of day and lit a cigarette.

“It's amazing,” she remarked. The sky was clear and birds sang in the trees that lined the street behind them.

“What, that it worked?” asked Richard. He was dressed in a tailored Harris Tweed suit. The breeze ruffled his short hair.

“No, that that idiot is still fool enough to smoke. When we first saw him I wouldn't have believed he'd last three days. Two weeks later, not a trace of cancer.”

“It's wonderful when you can make a contribution.”

“Richard, all the funding we've had. Doing the first field trial on a senator in Washington. All those weekends you go fishing, when I happen to know you hate fishing. Something weird is going on. When I joined this project you said you'd tell me where the information came from.”

Richard turned to face Ashley. “When I can, Ash. I promise, when I can.”

“About my master's. I'll still need access to the lab.” She stared up into his face and felt a lump in her throat.

“Of course. You don't think this project is over, do you?”

She forced her voice not to squeak. “The cure works.”

“Yes, now we have to understand why it works.”

“You built this thing without understanding it?”

Richard shrugged. “I'm fuzzy on the details.”

Ash pushed her emotions aside and focused on the intellectual. “There are implications to this technology that go a lot farther than a cancer cure.”

“I know, Ash. It frightens me what this could do. We should fly back tonight. The baggage handlers' strike at L.A.X. isn't due to start until after midnight.”

“I'll have Stan pick us up.”

“It's nice of your boyfriend to drive all that way.”

Ashley imagined she heard a hint of something in her friend's voice.

“That's right, I didn't tell you.” Ashley held up her left hand, there was a thin gold band with a small diamond on the ring finger.”

“Oh…um…Congratulations. So it will be your fiancé picking us up.”

“You betcha'. You know, Stan's mother is divorced. She's not that much older than you.”

Richard smiled sadly. “No thank you, Ash. I will find a companion, if and when I desire one.”

“Richard, for a brilliant scientist you're a dud in relationships. You don't even look.” She squeezed his arm.

“Correct, which should tell you something.”

* * * *

The image jerked. Ben knew that marked a point where Ashley had been forced to interrupt the download. He hated the
Darmuk
s for causing this woman he'd never met so much pain.

* * * *

Upload monitoring/ Ashley Hinkly /Index 15:04/ 13/3/2032

* * * *

“Stanley.” Tears streamed from Ashley's eyes as she reached to touch Stanley's short brown hair. He sat beside her on her bed holding her hands.

“I'm sorry. I love you, but I can't deny what I feel. Ever since we met at Richard's party it's been magic. I always suspected that it was part of me, but I didn't want to admit it. Ash, it's better now than later. Wendle showed me who I really am. I love him, and it isn't fair to either of you if I keep hopping from one bed to the other.” Stanley stood up and stepped away from her. His short, muscular body was tense with emotion.

“You cheated on me, with a guy! Please, Stan, tell me it was so he'd manage your band.”

Red tinted Stan's boyish face. “I should have expected that from you. I can make it on my own. I don't need to sleep around to get work! You never believed in me.”

“After all the times I sat through your gigs? All we've been through? I thought we were going to be together forever. You said you loved me. You asked me to marry you.” Ashley pulled the battered stuffed panda she'd had since infancy from the top of her bed and hugged it. The small room seemed to close in around her, and it was all she could do to not throw herself down on the double bed and sob.

“Wendle believes in me in a way you never have. You sat through my gigs; you never tried to get what my music was about. Wendle does.”

“Oh, Goddess, what kind of woman am I if my boyfriend needs to sleep with men to get satisfaction? What did I do that turned you off women? What did I do that was so awful?” An icy claw seemed to clutch Ashley's guts.

“It's not like that. I just need a man. Wendle and I like the same things. I don't have to listen to him yack about some boring experiment and pretend to care.”

“We're developing a cure for cancer!”

“So, any scientist could do that.”

“Stan, you have no idea what you're talking about.” Ashley felt herself trembling all over.

“Look, I'm sorry. I can't keep lying to you, myself, or Wendle.” Stan refused to look at her.

“Fine, you told me. You should have had the balls to tell me what was going on before you slept with that tramp. Of course you don't need balls anymore, do you? Mister Fairy Prince.” A wave of anger swept the icy feeling away.

“I'm sorry, Ash. I'm gay, if I'd known sooner I wouldn't have proposed.”

“Just goes to show what a fool I was to ever care about you!”

“Ash?”

“Only my friends call me Ash!” She clawed the engagement ring off her finger and threw it at him. “You wear it, since you're Wendle's wife now!”

Stan closed his eyes and took several deep breaths before speaking. “Look, Wendle and me, it just happened. I'm sorry, but isn't it better to find out now than ten years from now?”

“Fine, apology accepted. Now get out of my room. I need to have a good cry and I don't want you to see me do it.”

“I'm sorry.” Stan left the room.

Ashley collapsed onto her double bed and hugged her panda. “Oh, Goddess, I'm so awful, I turned him off women completely. What am I gonna' do?” she asked the toy.

A long time later there was a knock on the door.

“What?” she called.

“Ash,” replied a distinguished British voice.

Ashley got up and opened her door. “Richard, I was just…”

“Stanley dropped by my office. He seemed rather upset and said you needed a friend.”

“We broke up.” Ashley stared at the floor. “He…He's been dating Wendle behind my back.”

“Oh my! Stan is…I'm so sorry. I'll clean my brother's clock for this.” Richard gently lifted her chin with his finger until she gazed into his eyes. “Don't think less of yourself. Stanley is a fool!”

Ashley stepped back from the doorway and Richard entered.

“Maybe you should leave the door open. The deans are still pissed at you because of those students.”

“If they can't accept that I am spending time with a dear friend that is their problem, not mine.” Richard closed the door.

Ashley sat on the corner of her bed and Richard pulled the office chair from its place in front of her desk and sat facing her. He took her small hands in his. “You aren't alone. I'll always be here for you.”

Ashley hugged him and let him hold her. She felt safe and secure; something Stanley's arms had never done for her. She knew she should pull away, but couldn't bring herself to do it.

‘He's big brother, he's big brother. Just keep telling yourself that, Ashley, and maybe someday you'll believe it. He's too old. You're just a kid. Oh shut up brain!'

“Richard?”

“Yes?”

“Don't let go.”

“Hush. You aren't alone. This is what friends are for.”

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