Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Three

Here is the draft version of Chapter Three of The SubVersion Complex. As always, this is for mature readers so read at your discretion. Enjoy!
 Miss Chapter 2? Click here!



Two Central Admin personnel stood waiting in the doorway behind Jesse, a pair of the most completely opposite people Anna had ever seen: on the left, a towering and obese man with a severely receding hairline and a cheerful smile; on the right, a short and spindly woman sporting an unruly shock of dyed-blonde hair and a frozen expression. One radiated warmth, the other cold; like an inviting campfire standing next to a glacier. In each of their right hands they carried tablet commexes and, as Anna recovered her composure, she noticed both wore sidearms strapped to their belts.

“We are not interrupting an aural-dosing session, are we?” the man remarked in a pleasantly deep voice. “I saw the headphones and I just assumed.” Anna blushed in deep embarrassment at the suggestion and stood up to greet him properly. The man stepped forward and held out his hand to her. “I am Officer Sam Holloway. Good to meet you, Miss McLean.”

Anna shook his hand vigorously, a little too vigorously whilst cringing inwardly at the awful first impression she had made. “Good to meet you, Officer Holloway,” she replied. “And just so you know, I am not an aural-head. I just do music.”

Mr. Holloway split open in laughter as he released her hand. “We know that already, your file says nothing about you being an aural-head. It was a joke, Miss McLean, a joke,” he said reassuringly. “We wouldn't hold it against you even if you did, since it's legal. Although,” he added, leaning in conspiratorially, “I've been told one should never try the heavier stuff. It has been known to induce seizures.”

Anna failed to see the implied humor in the remark. Her own cousin had endured a seizure during an aural-dosing session and had not been the same person since. However, she decided it would be best to leave the subject alone and she turned to the woman and held out her hand. The woman responded with her own hand and the two shook awkwardly.

“I am Officer Terry Garnham,” the woman said frigidly. “Please, let us sit and get to business.”

They all sat down, and the two Central Admin officers set up their tablets on the table in silence. Anna noticed Jesse fidgeting next to her in his chair and she cast him a dirty look to shut him up. He failed to get the hint, however, and Anna rolled her eyes in frustration. Thankfully Mr. Holloway was ready quickly and he leaned forward from across the table. “Shall we begin, then?” He held out his hand to Jesse. “The reports, if you please, Mr. Atkins.”

Jesse produced the e-paper sheet and Mr. Holloway took it from him with a strange solemnity, tapping it to zoom in on the text. He pulled out a pair of old-fashioned glasses and perched them on the end of his nose, but it was clear he was not really reading the paper.

“I am glad to see HomoGen's willingness to produce its own reports for the Government, even though Central Admin already had a copy,” Officer Holloway remarked matter-of-factly. “I was more interested in seeing that willingness from the two of you.”

Anna and Jesse exchanged puzzled looks. Officer Holloway smiled and continued.

“Your Version numbers are right on target, the budget is still within the proper range, and the system is secure,” he said pleasantly. “We could not have asked for a better report.”

“But that's not the reason you came,” Anna replied bluntly. “Did we miss something?”

“No.” Holloway smiled. “I came to make you an offer. Both of you in general, but you in particular Miss McLean.”

Anna's heart thumped. This was unexpected. She leaned closer to him and kept her hands flat on the table to prevent them from shaking. “An offer?”

Holloway laughed again, a deep belly laugh. “Don't act so alarmed, Miss McLean! I'm not here to take you in.” He chuckled. “I'm not sure if you are aware, but your superiors send us a weekly report of your progress and your skills, and you have duly impressed. Your programming expertise is off the charts, and your skills adapting to new digital languages is unprecedented. No, we are here to make you an offer. An offer of new and more challenging employment.”

The thumping of her heart increased and Anna blinked. “Employment? With who?”

Holloway leaned back in his huge leather chair, apparently satisfied that his announcement had produced the desired dramatic effect. “With us, Anna. Employment with us. With an arm of Central Admin.”

Anna sat stunned, with her mouth hanging open and her hands still flat on the table. Holloway looked like he had expected a similar reaction and he continued without giving her a chance to respond. “HomoGen is doing good work in the fertility field, but babysitting Versions is child's play for you. The Versions already have their training schools and teaching programs and, quite frankly, we think you need more of a challenge. You've already helped us invent the Cure. Now we need your help perfecting it.”

Anna looked over at Jesse, who looked as stunned as she felt. He held his hands up, pleading ignorance. She looked back to Officer Holloway. “Perfecting it how?” she murmured in astonishment. Holloway turned to the woman next to him and gestured with his head. She nodded and began to speak.

“The human egg harvesting and human development part of the equation is close to perfect,” she said, “thanks to your excellent work. Along with HomoGen, our own facilities are producing Versions at or very near population replacement levels.” She tapped her tablet commex's screen several times, then turned it to face Anna. Anna twisted her head to look and saw a dynamic graph plot lazily updating across the display. She instantly recognized it as a population graph line, but also noticed another line beneath the first one.

“What is the plot below it?” The line she referred to was black and was angled much lower than the population graph drawn above it.

“That,” Holloway answered with a sigh, “is our problem.”

“Yes,” Officer Garnham continued, “That is our indoctrination and skill set input protocol.”

“English please?” Jesse cut in curtly.

Holloway chuckled yet again, and Anna realized that the sound irritated her. He turned to Jesse. “It's the rate at which we are educating the Versions that we've already produced,” he explained. “We are having an enormous problem keeping up with it.”

“Boosting the growth rate of Versions is proving helpful to the population side of things, but not the education side,” Officer Garnham said, casting Jesse a miffed look. “The host families are getting their Versions 'half-baked,' so to speak.”

“Precisely,” Holloway concurred.

It was Jesse's turn to chuckle now. He put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. “So I marketed the growth rate boost to you people so well that it's now a problem?” he asked with affected incredulity. Officer Garnham cast him a dark look.

Holloway was more forgiving. “Correct, Mr. Atkins,” he said. “And this is where your colleague comes into the story.” He saw Anna's attention perk up at that and he turned back to her. “We have a brand new program that needs your particular expertise. Have you heard of the Dexworks Corporation?”

“I have not,” she replied.

“They hold all the patents for reactive computer technology,” Holloway explained with a flourish of drama, “and they are currently developing a way to educate the Versions directly.”

Anna's heart leaped. The Holy Grail of computing had landed with a roar right in her lap. She recalled with a vivid flash the news report from several years ago (back when the news channels still reported interesting news) about reactive computing: a direct mimic of the structure of the human brain so faithful that it enabled programmable thought. The only problem was finding a fool-proof way to transfer the data from the computer to an actual human brain. So far such a feat had eluded even the smartest neuroscientist. If it could be done, however, the possibilities were staggering. Entire blocks of knowledge could be programmed directly into a person's brain; whole skill sets downloaded and set in motion deep within the neural tissues. Languages learned overnight, doctorate degrees' worth of research acquired instantly. Giddiness spread over her as she mused in awe.

Holloway regarded her with satisfied amusement. “I see you already know what is at stake here,” he said. “It would eliminate our education costs virtually overnight.”

“Yes it would,” Anna said dreamily. “A perfection for the ultimate Cure.” She attempted to focus again. “Has Dexworks found a way to transfer from computer to brain?”

“They have, and they need you to design the transfer protocol for doing so,” Officer Garnham said. “If you say yes you can start next week.”

The female officer's bluntness only accentuated the explosive effect her news had on its subject. Anna blinked several times, then looked back over to Jesse. His face reflected her surprise. He bent close to her and whispered, “I think this is the part where you say 'yes.'”

She held her hand out to Holloway in a daze and managed to stammer out a whispered “yes.” Holloway took her hand and shook it with another of his laughs but Anna had forgotten that she ever thought it was obnoxious. The room had become a cloud underneath her, and the air seemed similarly rarified. She grasped Holloway's hand hard to keep from floating off into the joy of her own mind.

“So that's settled then?” Officer Holloway asked, a rhetorical question at best since Anna had begun jumping and laughing after he had managed to release himself from her grasp. He looked to Jesse. “And Jesse, you will be taking over Anna's administrative responsibilities here as soon as she leaves. We've already spoken to your superiors and they've pre-okayed any change.” He smiled. “I was confident you would say yes.” He suddenly checked his commex tablet again. “And Miss McLean, I see that your semi-annual fertility appointment is due tomorrow. I'd try not to forget that.”

Anna's stomach dropped a little and the emotional high she had been riding froze. She had forgotten all about it. Now that she thought about it she hadn't even put the appointment into her schedule. She nodded wordlessly at Holloway in answer and he seemed satisfied.

Officer Garnham handed Anna an envelope. “This has all of your transfer paperwork on it, as well as your training schedule and new security ID badge. I am your orientation officer for the foreseeable future. Contact me on Monday at the time on your schedule and we will start.”

With a garbled thank you Anna took the envelope, and the group made its goodbyes. With a final smile, Holloway turned to Anna and pointed at her playfully. “You are going to do great, Miss McLean. A great service to society.” Without waiting for a response he and his compatriot exited, leaving Anna and Jesse alone in the conference room.

A stunned silence held the room captive for several moments. Finally Jesse shook himself. “I haven't seen you smile like that in days,” he remarked as he gathered his things. “It's sexy.”

Anna, despite her joy, managed a scowl at him. “That's because you haven't given me that much to smile about in a long time.” With a sudden thought she poked him in the shoulder. “I can't work the rest of today with this kind of news hanging over my head. I'm going home now.” She turned to go but Jesse grabbed her arm.

“Wait, how about we grab drinks tonight to celebrate? Someplace special?”

Anna recoiled inside. “I don't know. I'm not speaking to you. And I drink better at home alone...”

“Oh, come now Anna! You just got the promotion of your life and you don't want to get even slightly drunk in public?” Jesse pleaded. Anna bestowed a wry look on him.

“Tempting, yes, when you put it that way,” she ragged.

“I'm paying,” Jesse suggested desperately. “The best vodka, rum, or whatever the hell works for you these days. I'll pay it.”

Anna sighed. Her resistance levels to bad personal choices must have fallen shockingly low. Good news must do that to me, she thought ruefully as she made up her mind. “All right, fine, pick me up at seven-thirty. And cut back on the cologne this time, maybe?”

“If I remember,” Jesse replied with a laugh. Anna glowered at him and stalked out, to the elevator again, down to the parking garage level, and out to her car.

She frowned as she climbed into her vehicle and pressed the start button, listening moodily to the soft gurgle and whirr of fuel cell plumbing coming to life. After tapping “Home” on her nav system the autodrive took over, gently guiding the car out of the underground garage and into the filtered morning sunlight. She barely noticed the fluttering fall leaves and fiery colors as the car sped ever closer to the Potomac; her mind was fixated elsewhere. Just as well; the beautiful trees belied the adult shoppes located behind them, Jesse's obsession and an ever-encroaching force on Anna's dignity. She used to not mind them, now she hated them with a passion. They didn't even have the decency to keep their wares indoors where she didn't have to see them. Products and provocatively-dressed dummies spilled out onto the sidewalks with signs announcing various deals. She refused to notice them and let herself wander.

It was not to be for long. The car suddenly slowed and finally ground to a halt behind a wall of traffic that snaked in an unbroken line into the distance. Anna swore colorfully; she was almost surprised that her good mood could have left her so quickly, but traffic exerted a soul-draining effect on her from which she had never found a proper escape. She sighed, flipped the radio on and settled back into her seat with her eyes closed, letting the news and talk channel funnel into her brain as the autodrive did all the work.

“Good morning to you citizens across the nation! I am Josef Goodman with the latest breaking news this morning! Today's top stories...”

The broadcast played on and on in the background, an occasional item piquing her interest to the small degree that it ever did. She only ever half-listened to the stories these days. They had of late assumed the repetitive character of an outside world gone mad: war, violence, threats, political instability. All stories from abroad too, not a great many local tales; an active avoidance of most things local. At first the rush of foreign bad news had made her vaguely fearful. Fear quickly turned to petulance, and now in its place all that was left behind was just a strange numbness.

A commercial now blared from the radio. In earnest tones a sensuous woman's voice narrated the script: “Be a part of the Cure, and leave the work to us! Our newest Versions are the best ever created: smart, well-behaved, tailored to you. Enjoy sexual activity free from fear; build your family with our help. Join the HomoGen Initiative.” Even Anna had to cringe at the overbearing sales pitch.

The commercial ended. “In other news today,” Mr. Goodman continued in his faux interested tone, “the Vatican has, yet again, released a statement condemning the Reunited States for its stance on reproductive issues.” After a pause he continued: “The text of the condemnation singled out the HomoGen Initiative for specific criticism, calling it 'immoral and destructive.' This is the fifth such condemnation the Vatican has directed towards HomoGen in half as many years, ever since the project unveiled the extent of its human egg-harvesting processes and showed the first Versions to the public.”

Different popes, same old tired pronouncements, she thought dismissively. Distracted, she glanced back out the window and was surprised not only to have moved quite a bit since she last looked, but also to be staring almost directly into a police cruiser's flashing lights. She blinked at the bright blue strobes and her stomach sank. So this was the reason for the delay. She cut off the autodrive and resumed her station at the steering wheel, only to remember that she ought to have her license and papers in order to show the officer when it was her turn. Grumbling, she snatched her purse from the passenger side seat and rummaged through it.

The police officer finished with the vehicle ahead of her and came striding towards her car. Before coming to her window, he pulled a scanner gun from his belt and pointed it at her license tag. A beep and a check of the screen on the device and he appeared satisfied. He continued to her window. “License and registration and security paperwork, please.” His tone was both urgent and tired.

Anna complied, and after a quick check the officer was again satisfied and even a little surprised. “Thank you, Miss McLean. Good to see a sensible Party member out here at this time.” He turned to leave when Anna decided she couldn't contain her curiosity any longer.

“Officer?” she asked tentatively. “What's the reason for the stop? This can't just be routine traffic stops.”

The officer stopped, turned, and hesitated. “It's classified, Miss McLean.”

Anna's shoulders fell. The authorities felt it their duty to be tight-lipped. All the damn time. She tried again. “Is it a missing person case?”

The officer's face contorted and his tone darkened. “I'm sorry, Miss McLean, I can't satisfy you there. All I can say is that we are running an operation for Central Admin and that it is classified. Have a good day.” He turned and walked to the car behind Anna's and continued his work.

It must be a missing person case, Anna thought. He as much as admitted it. She shrugged and, putting her arm out the window into the cool air, proceeded to pick up speed as traffic began to move again over the Potomac. However, she had been cut off from her exit and had to take the next available off ramp to her neighborhood. Finding herself on relatively unfamiliar roads, she reset her autodrive and let it take over.

It was not long before the car suddenly bumped violently and recovered, and Anna shook from her reverie long enough to glance around for the cause of the bang. She realized the road had turned from smooth suburban pavement to the much older and badly maintained asphalt surfacing, and the road was now riddled indiscriminately with potholes. She switched off autodrive and took the wheel again, deftly navigating a path through the broken pavement.

Her eyes were immediately drawn to the homes lining the street. They were all older homes from the early twenty-first century, a sad parade of huge homogenous dwellings now fallen into a serious state of disrepair. Vinyl siding hung loose from the exterior walls, cracks spread spidery fingers across masonry, holes pierced the glass in the windows. No cars sat idly in driveways, no sprinklers sprayed and no children played. The yards exploded in messes of overgrown weeds and unkempt grass, the mailbox doors hung loose from their hinges. A dead neighborhood.

Honest regret twinged in Anna's heart as she watched the crumbling edifices pass her by through her closed window. A shame that her work many times led to this sort of scene. A shame that the world had become so grossly overpopulated. But then, it had been the human urge for centuries to populate willy-nilly and hers was the generation to wield the responsibility to curb that. To clean up the mess, to tidy the world away. For the sake of humanity's future, of course. And the children.

Her breath sucked in and the regret suddenly dried away as she drove by the last house before her neighborhood. It rotted in an even more dilapidated condition than the rest, but that was not the reason for the surge of anger that welled up in her heart. Rather, it was the graffiti painted across the sagging front door in garish lettering: LET THERE BE LIFE.

She cursed the police for taking her out of her normal route but it was too late to switch directions. She attempted to calm her anger until she saw the words again, painted on the concrete pillars of an approaching overpass: LET THERE BE LIFE. Mocking her, leering at her. Challenging her. As if her work didn't bring about life. She knew it was Verité's graffiti, and her hatred of them boiled up in her breast. She switched her music on and let it begin its mind-numbing pounding.

Finally the car left the derelict homes and troubling paintings behind, and far more upscale homes came into view. Mostly Party members' homes and those of their associated lawyers and attendants. And then there was hers, a wide brick affair cloaked in beautiful thick green ivy. Her parent's old home, her home, the only home she had ever known.

The car slowed to pull into the driveway and Anna groaned as she saw a man wave to her from the next yard over. He was an older man, early sixties, with close-cropped gray hair and the slightest stoop. He began making his way towards her as she parked and gathered her things. She hurried her pace to get out of the car and inside the house as quickly as possible, but he was quick for an old man. It wasn't that she hated him; on the contrary, he could be sweet when he wanted to be. But he was strange.

“Mornin', Annalise!” he called out to her in a good-humored voice. He always called her by her full first name, she never knew why. Even when she had told him long ago that her nickname was Anna, he had smiled and said, “I'll remember that, Annalise.”

“Good morning Mr. Vickers,” she replied as agreeably as she could. Her generous mood had recovered to a degree; promotions did that for a body. She even added to her standard greeting with a “What are you up to?”

He smiled a pleasant crooked smile at her and shrugged. “Enjoying the birds, the trees, the air, the autumn. The only time all year that this entire street turns orange and red. Feels like you're looking down a hallway with fire springing up from both sides and arching over your head.”

Just strange, Anna thought. She nodded and was about to turn to go inside when Mr. Vickers cocked his head and gave her a puzzled look.

“You're home mighty early,” he remarked. “I don't usually see you arrive home 'til at least five-thirty.”

Anna hesitated, but realized that none of what she and the Central Admin officers had spoken of earlier had been deemed confidential so she relaxed again. “I got a promotion,” she said simply.

“A promotion, eh?” he replied, scratching his chin. “And what sort of promotion might that be? Higher up? Higher out? Deeper down? What does that mean with your company?”

Scratch that. I do hate him. Anna gritted her teeth and inwardly willed the old man to shut up. He was the only one who ever gave her grief for her work, and now just from his tone she could feel his gentle criticism coming. The images of the paint on the doors flowed back into her brain and upset her equilibrium again. “I am transferring out of HomoGen completely,” she offered ambiguously, hoping he would accept it and let her go.

“Oh, is that so?” Mr. Vickers said in some astonishment. He added almost cheerfully, “Giving up the devil's work or simply transferring to another post to do it more efficiently?”

“You don't know what you're talking about,” Anna said in irritation and turned away. Her goodwill from the morning was now officially spent. She started up her sidewalk but still heard his voice behind her, following her.

Versions are people, Anna. Real people. How can you devote your life to a company that desecrates people so?” His voice was mild, but insistently pleading. Like it had been every other time she had to listen to his drivel. Before, he had only brought it up every once in a while. Now it seemed like every day.

She stopped, turned on her heel and strode back to the driveway, coming face-to-face with the elderly man. Her breath pulsed rapidly in her anger and her words tumbled out sharply one on top of the other. “Maybe they are truly human, and then again, maybe they're not. But consider this: I actually give a damn what happens to this species of ours, so much so that I get up every morning and go to work just to make sure that we continue. Is that not good enough, even for you? How is that the devil's work, if there even is such a person as the devil?”

“The day HomoGen turned to manufacturing women's children outside of them; that was the day they started doing the devil's work.” He looked at her sternly.

Anna glared back at him, blood surging to her cheeks. “Every Version we make,” she pronounced slowly, irascibly, “has a place. Every one of them has someone to go to, to take them in and to care for them. Every Version is wanted.”

“So if it happened that they were not wanted, then what?” the man asked.

“There has never been a Version that someone didn't want,” Anna answered quickly, reflexively.

Mr. Vickers stared her straight in the eye, and his voice became very soft. “Do you have a father and a mother, Annalise?”

Anna blinked and frowned in confusion. “Yes...no. You know I don't.”

“But you did?”

“Of course I did!”

Mr. Vickers smiled faintly. “And, while they were still around, did you ever ask them why they were your father and mother?”

Anna's anger faltered amidst her discombobulation. She had no clue what he was driving at. “Why would I ask them that?” she wondered aloud. “There was no specific reason. They just were, I suppose.”

“I can guarantee you that was not the answer they would have given,” Mr. Vickers said in his soft tone.

“And what answer would they have given?” Anna asked, her irritation suddenly returning. “That I was useful to have, I suppose? That another girl in the world was a benefit to society in some way? You knew them before they died, you tell me what they would have said!” Her voice rose in unison with her frustration with the old man, and again she turned and attempted to walk away. Again that soft voice behind her.


She stopped, back still turned to him but waiting for what he had to say. No other word came though and she was forced to turn around just to see if he was still standing there. He was, and his face carried a look that she thought might have been compassion.

“Annalise, are you happy?” he asked quietly.

Anna stood motionless for several seconds, a dozen possible answers darting through her head. Her brain refused to process the question, though, and in a resolutely flat voice she replied: “Yes.” Then she turned for the final time, marched up her sidewalk, opened her front door and slammed herself shut inside. Away from old men asking awkward questions, away from her job, away from the autumn day, maybe even away from herself. She needed to be drunk.

Am I happy? Of course I am happy. Why wouldn't I be?

Read Chapter 4 here!

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Two Revised

A couple people left comments for me about what they thought of Chapter Two, and they were all worth hearing. One of my readers suggested that, although they enjoyed the character development, they thought I gave a bit too much away about the Initiative right off the bat. Her suggestion was to show what Anna does and thinks through dialogue with another character. I think that was an excellent idea and it fit with my ideas for an edit. Plus I am trying to tidy up my prose, and the more layers of plot that happen at the same time, the better.

Another of my readers made the comment that I as the author showed which ideological direction I am biased toward too early, thus not allowing the reader to make his own decision based on the story arc. I agree, and the rearrangement of the text and significant rewrites should I think mitigate some of those issues.

Other changes were made simply for better storytelling effect.

Otherwise, enjoy!

╗ TWO ╚


Sterilization was a dirty word. Cure polled much better.

Or so Anna had been told. Her expertise lay with computer code and systems tech, not with public relations and advertising buzzwords. However, as she stood and smoothed her business skirt in front of her office mirror and rechecked her makeup, she implicitly felt the difference. Sterilization was a word born of much darker times, and even the newer term liberation didn't quite have the same flavor. Cure had the effect of a necessary solution, which it most certainly was. Besides, the Central Administration Office had already anointed it as the central part of the national lexicon, and so Cure it would be called.

It was a good word.

It gave her selling power this morning, anyhow. Not usually the company's point man for customer presentations and company tours, the task had fallen to her anyways because of some scheduling fluke. No problem; it would be a pleasure to vacate her desk for an hour and give someone a tour. The file on her desk claimed the customers in question were a lesbian couple in their early thirties, finished with the twenties romantic fling thing and ready for a child.

At the least, she did not expect this to be difficult. At best, it would be enjoyable.

She touched her auburn hair, again, ensuring it was securely pinned back in her characteristic messy bun. She also fiddled with her name tag, straightening it: Annalise McLean, Senior Software and Systems, HomoGen, Inc. In the past five years the HomoGen Initiative represented the only thing that she had approached recently with any modicum of passion. If she was proud of anything, specifically of her work on anything, it was the Initiative.

Last look in the mirror, last check of her jewelry, blouse, face, shoes, skirt, smile. The smile... That was harder than the other things. It still would not fasten on with the same ease as her professional attire and expensive watch. Still, what she could muster should be sufficient for now. Besides, this wasn't a money-grubbing meeting with Central Admin, where she had to grovel and even show more skin than usual to grease the right palms. This was customer service, plain and simple.

She looked at her timepiece and noted it at eight fifty-eight and a half. Her meeting began at nine precisely. She snatched her commex and purse off her desk and exited her office with more than a hint of smugness.

In the gleaming white and chrome lobby downstairs, the lesbian couple sat and waited just as they were supposed to be. They were both slender blondes and dressed to perfection, with noses buried in their respective commexes when Anna rounded the last bend and willed her face to smile. She must have had some success with the exercise, for both of the women stood and smiled back and held out hands in warm greeting. Their names were Sara and Pearl and they wanted a child.

Anna began their tour with the lower floors, the laboratory showcase level of an almost decadently beautiful building. Her enthusiasm waxed ever greater as she showed off the facility and her subjects caught her spirit and explored with growing interest. From there they moved up several floors to the presentation level, replete with the appropriate conference rooms and curved window-walls looking down over Washington D.C. below. Finally they stopped at one of these windows and the two women spent a long moment staring out at the tiny cars and people below. Finally Sara turned around and leaned on the window rail, smiling at Anna.

“So why do you do this, Miss McLean?” she asked innocently.

“Do what?” Anna smiled back, masking her confusion.

“What you do, all of this.”

Anna swallowed and thought for a moment. She marshaled her sales pitch as best she could to the forefront of her mind and began. “We here are providing humankind, women especially, with a solution. A Cure, if you will. A cure from the way things have always been. I want to be at the cutting edge of that. We solved the problem of STD's successfully a long while ago, so it was only natural that we tackle the population regulation problem next.”

Pearl turned back from the window as well and eyed Anna. “And how successful has that regulation been? Just out of curiosity?”

“Overpopulation is now under control, overall.” Anna forced another smile. “Although our AnnexEstros intravenous shots take care of that pretty well. No, what we have done here with our 'Versions' is to truly perfect the art of reproduction without the pain and potential heartbreak.” Anna almost chuckled as she added, “Hell, you can even pick your child's hair color, eye color, skin color, and sex if you want. Every Version we make is to the exact tastes of the parent.”

Pearl smiled widely. “So there is never an unwanted Version?” she breathed almost reverently.

Anna nodded. “That is correct. There will never be an unwanted child ever again if we have our way.”

Sara shook her head. “You have done something really special, Miss McLean.” She chuckled and added, “And we are planning on being pretty specific with what we want. Although Pearl and I cannot decide on eye color to save our lives.”

All three laughed and Pearl put a hand on Anna's arm. “I want to thank you for giving us your time today, Miss McLean. I know you have a busy schedule and it was good to hear all this from you.”

Anna nodded. “Thank you. I am a woman, like you. I like to think I understand the challenges and the rewards of your situation. Rest assured, that as soon as you open your account here that we will begin work with your Version and will notify you of every stage of his or her progress.” A soft beep emanated from her hand and Anna glanced down at her commex. She tapped it and the screen lit up to reveal a new message. In the Sender box it read “Jesse Atkins”. She quickly swiped it with her thumb to reveal the words: “Get done soon, we are having guests. Be prepared to talk A LOT.”

Guests. A loaded term in her line of work. Her stomach churned whilst her brain processed the idea. It could bode well: perhaps Central Admin had sent emissaries who would provide more funding for the Initiative if they liked what they saw. Then again, it could be the same emissaries wondering about inefficiencies and wastage, and coming to deliver the bad news about a funding cutoff.

With profuse apologies she excused herself from the two women and began heading back to the elevator. She shook her head to clear away her consternation; she would find out everything about her surprise visitors in due course. Try as she might, though, the weight of her ignorance bore down on her and she rushed with a quicker step than usual back to the elevator and tapped the “Up” button.

Would the emissaries arrive with open or closed hands, with an offer or a verdict? She attempted to mentally divine the purpose of their visit but came up just as devoid of an answer as before. Unless she or her team had performed a task incorrectly, there was nothing she could think of to warrant an unannounced intrusion. Then again, it occurred to her that it may not even be Central Admin who was coming.

Ah, who am I kidding? she thought. It is always Central Admin. Their offices stretched vast feelers over the entire width and breadth of society, constantly tuned to the hum of human activity and always listening for the occasional discordant note. Of the fates of the discordant notes she was unaware, and she was firmly set on never finding out.

And why the hell was Jesse Atkins the one giving her this news? Her anxiety turned to annoyance as she remembered that she wasn't speaking to him this week. Flaunting their office romance to her friends was bad enough, but watching porn in her house after their own bit of naughty fun was the last straw.

The doors slid open and she stepped inside. Just as they began to close again a tall, slender man with a well-cropped goatee came rushing up and touched the doors to keep them open. “They are keeping completely tight-lipped about this one,” Jesse remarked as he slid into the elevator next to her, and he began stabbing the eighth floor button with an urgency that was not his wont.

“Good morning to you too,” Anna replied coldly. “It seems you pulled yourself away from yourself long enough to give me the time of day.”

Jesse grimaced at her sidelong. His long face was unusually focused for this time of the morning and Anna even imagined she could see a thin sheen of sweat cloaking his dark skin. His nervousness oozed out of him with almost the same intensity as his powerful cologne. The manly smell overpowered the tiny room and left the air almost unbearably pungent to breathe. She had a weakness for that particular scent in its proper dosage, but there was nothing even remotely erotic about the concentration of this stench. She coughed and theatrically put the collar of her blouse over her nose.

“Really threw that stuff on this morning, didn't you?”

“Maybe I could have gotten the percentage correct if you had let me come over last night,” Jesse countered. “I'd have had you right there to tell me when to stop.”

“You never know when to stop,” she replied. “With that or anything else. And you never do stop anyways, even when I do tell you.”

Jesse turned to look at her over his shoulder. “That's because you want it,” he said with a leering smile and a sultry look. Anna frowned at him and looked away, although her skin prickled; she could still feel his gaze probing her. He did that too much now, the long looks and the obvious mental undressing. The first couple times it had been sexy. Now it just reminded her of the porn shoppes he loved so much.

“So what do you know about this meeting?” she asked in a desperate attempt to fend off more of his unwanted attention. Jesse either got the hint or got bored, and he turned back to the closed doors in front of him before he answered.

“Central Admin. They're sending two of their top people. The subject matter? I have no clue but I can guess what it's not.”

“Is it budget again?”

“I don't think so.” Jesse scratched his chin. “They sent nothing on ahead, except for a request that you and I have the Project main quarter report available and be willing to answer any questions they might have. At least they are done acting like HomoGen is a private company anymore and are just giving us orders like they do with everyone else. Makes life so much easier.”

The elevator pinged and the doors slid open, and Anna stepped gratefully out of the cologne-soaked sweatbox into a long hallway. The opposite wall was constructed almost entirely from huge panes of glass and allowed prodigious amounts of morning sunlight to stream in. She crossed to the windows and looked down at the miniature city below in a distracted fashion. “I just hope they are not taking away our funding,” she said quietly.

“I don't think that's why they're coming,” Jesse reassured her. “Their request for info seemed perfunctory anyways. I think it's something else. Come on, I nabbed conference room two. You go in and wait, I'll be there in a moment.” With his hand a little too low on her back he guided her towards the conference room door and opened it. “And don't drink all the coffee before we start.”

“Ha ha,” Anna replied without humor. “And I find it funny that you give that decaf crap the name 'coffee.' You can rest assured it'll be full for you when you get back.”

Jesse opened his mouth to voice a snarky counter-opinion, then thought better of it, wordlessly turned and walked away. Anna meanwhile entered the room and found a home in one of the giant leather chairs surrounding the long table. Dim lights set at intervals along the walls cast shafts of soft illumination up to the ceiling. The table reflected them back from deep within its dark oiled finish and from the chromed video conference stations inlaid into the wood.

She tapped red-painted fingernails on the table impatiently, waiting for another human being to enter. The clock on the wall monotonously ticked away the seconds, the distant traffic outside noised its low rumble, and nobody came. The room remained silent and empty for much longer than she had anticipated. Her foot began tapping now too, her heel clicking on the marble floor in time with the clock. Finally her hand reached of its own accord to her bag and pulled out her commex. Her earphones followed and she was soon gratefully drowning in a sea of inner-ear sound. She still blasted the music like everyone else but her preference lay with artists from near the turn of the century. It was not stellar but also not bad in the same way modern music was bad. At least the early stuff used intelligible lyrics; the current music had casually dispensed with that component and gone for the heavy electronic sound instead.

Her music was a soothing drug, a cathartic exercise that staved off boredom and deep thought. As she listened her eyes slipped shut and she leaned back in her chair with a sigh of contentment. Her mind emptied and the sound flowed in, possessing her brain and matching her biological rhythm to its pulsating electronic one. She sank into its raging tumult and imagined herself at peace.

The tap on her shoulder shocked her back into reality and she came ungracefully bolt upright, ripping the music from her ears and stuffing the entire ensemble back into her purse. Jesse stood bent over her, his face nearly on level with her nose and an amused expression on his face. He smirked and motioned behind him with his thumb. “We have visitors.”

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter One Revised

I had a short but intriguing conversation with my sister-in-law this past week concerning the first chapter of my book that I had published. She suggested that she liked the chapter and that she realized that I was not planning on giving much away in the first four pages, but that she would have preferred to have a bit more emotional involvement in the fate of the prisoner than was originally portrayed. I thought about that one long and hard, and realized that the character of Captain James could be used in place of another character I had been planning for later on. I revised Chapter 1 to reflect this change. It should be subtle but sufficient to suggest the new status of the characters. Hopefully the connection between the characters I have included now lends more involvement to the scene. Enjoy the changes, and thank you Caitlin for the suggestions!

╗ ONE ╚


“Perimeter control to Central, come in please...”

“Go ahead, perimeter control, you're on vox. The room can hear you.”

“Central, we think we have a problem.”

A ripple of professional consternation murmured around the Central Control room as each man at his post began to check monitors and stats. The tension dripped off faces, dampened palms, raised vocal pitches. Above the heads of the troubled crowd, a wide digital timer silently and ominously marked off the time. The current decimals displayed 05:57:37, and slowly but steadily ticked away the seconds.

“What seems to be the problem, perimeter control?” The Central Control officer in charge paced in front of his desk in short bursts, his temper as jerky as his movements. He nervously rubbed his close-cropped military-style haircut with his palm and clutched his headset mic with his other hand. Reddened eyes stared out of his head with a harried feverishness.

“We think we have a loop on Cell Block 3-2 camera, Central. We'd like you to check the video timecode on your end to be sure.”

The harried Central Control officer abruptly stopped pacing, frowned and leaned over to tap his console. “Perimeter control, the external digital filters didn't catch it. It's probably a negative.”

A long silence from the other end, then the voice again. “Captain James, it's worth a double check.”

The large screen at the front of the room showed what it had already shown for the past ten minutes, and the Central Control officer squinted at it with growing frustration. “Perimeter control, what evidence do you have of a loop in the system?” he inquired into his microphone. “Just because the prisoner hasn't moved in ten minutes doesn't mean there's been a breach. It's edgy enough over here without another false alarm. We've been plagued all day by that crap.”

Another silence from the disembodied voice from Perimeter. Then: “The video timecode is out of sync. We think we may have had a hardware security breach.”

The Central officer startled but still appeared skeptical. He attempted to rub the fatigue out of his eyes before staring back up at the main monitor. He hoped his mind was not playing some nasty trick on him.“Perimeter, the prisoner has not moved from his bed for almost a quarter hour. Steady breathing pattern, and the bio-sensors in the room are all registering normal. I say again, the video does not appear to be looped. Check the damn thing again from your end.”

The man on the other end of the line grunted, peeved. “Can you check it from your end, Captain James? Just to be sure? Someone might be trying to tamper with the feed from the outside.”

Captain James sighed into his mic. “This system has never been breached before. And besides, the prisoner will be dead in less than six hours and off our hands.”

A nearby controller snorted in agreement. Captain James' eyes flicked over to his colleague but he could not share in the mirth, no matter how wry. The entire situation bordered on the ridiculous, mixed with the tragic: diverting a significant portion of already scarce security complex personnel in order to watch one man. Captain James stared closer at the inert digital form of the prisoner on the screen, and the longer he stared the more he could feel guilt rising in his throat. It wasn't right, to kill a friend. But he shook his head; the prisoner's file was marked Blackout 1 Solitary. One was not awarded that level of incarceration without a serious cause.

“Please check the video feeds from your end, Central, that's all we ask.” The voice from perimeter control was resigned.

Sighing, the man in Central Control complied. In a flash of rebelliousness he almost hoped that someone would be decent enough to break the prisoner out. He gestured to his console and the thin glass omni-monitor reacted, spitting out a stream of visual data for his perusal. He frowned as he watched the data flow past on the screen; something didn't look right at all. He hesitated, then typed in a command. The computer failed to respond. Typing again more frantically, he again entered the same command. Still, nothing changed. He tapped his headset.

“Perimeter? I can't switch over my video feeds. Can you?”

Tapping from the other end, then a low growl. “Dammit, I can't either. Check the bio-sensor switches?”

Captain James had broken out in a cold sweat as his fingers flew over the keyboard, and his stomach sank as the computer again failed to respond. “No bio-sensor control either from this end,” he croaked.

The Perimeter officer could be heard pounding his desk in anger. “Has the command line been hacked? Can you trace the source?”

Captain James typed away madly on his console, but before he could pull any meaningful data the main monitor suddenly changed. The video feed of the sleeping prisoner flickered, pixelated, then abruptly morphed to an image of an empty cot in the same cell. In another split second, words appeared superimposed over the video feed. They said: LET THERE BE LIFE.

The earpiece in the captain's ear exploded in a violent string of curses, and he could hear the main alarm beginning to bellow over the radio. “Do you see this, Central?!” the Perimeter man shouted at Captain James. “Do you see this? The system has been breached!”

“I see it,” Central replied, fear palpable in his voice. “Run a full system rescan and lock everything down now!”

“We just did that!” Perimeter said furiously. “Whoever breached the feed is gone, though.”

“Get some of your men down there,” Captain James said through gritted teeth, “and do a physical assessment on the status of the prisoner. He couldn't have gone very far.”

No voice answered but he could hear the sirens wailing and the trampling of feet in the background. It was obvious they were already doing just that. He waited a tense thirty seconds, a minute, two minutes. He pushed his mic nearer his mouth. “Perimeter control, what is the status of the prisoner?” Another thirty seconds elapsed, and he repeated the request. No answer. Then the sound of the headset being reinstalled on someone's head and the familiar voice returned.

“He's gone.”

The Central officer's jaw fell. “What?”

“He's gone. It's like he was never here. I'm not even sure how long he's been gone.”

The captain began to tremble. This was awful. He tapped his screen in a silly and futile attempt to bring back the image of the sleeping man on the monitor. However, the bed on the screen remained empty, and the ominous text persisted. He looked closer and his jaw began to work in realization.

“Perimeter, this wasn't just a breach.”

The distant voice was puzzled as well as angry. “What do you mean?”

“This was a taunt.”

“A taunt?”

“'Let There Be Life'...that's the Verité hacker group's MO. They spray paint that everywhere. Verité is taking responsibility for the jailbreak.” Captain James didn't sound as if he himself entirely believed what he was saying. His hand shook. “And if they hacked the system as far as Level Three, then they must know about the Complex too.”

The Perimeter Control man audibly gulped. His voice emerged almost in a stutter. “They-how-how could they possibly know? Nobody knows about the Complex!”

“I think someone does now.” The Central officer clenched his fist hard until the knuckles turned white; equal parts relief and terror gripped him. “This was supposed to be all over within five hours or so. We gave our assurances to the Secretary himself.” He paused, then added: “I think we need to call the Secretary's office.”

The Perimeter man failed to respond. Only heavy breathing came over the headset. Captain James continued. “I will make the call. He needs to know. Now.”

“Yes,” Perimeter croaked back. “He ought to know. Although, what do you think he'll do?”

The Central officer sweated as he punched up the Secretary's office on his console. “I don't know,” he said, “but it had better be damn good.”


The aide's knees were close to buckling underneath him as he placed the tablet on the heavy oak desk. “The prisoner in Cell Block 3-2 has escaped, Mr. Secretary, and we have no idea how.” His voice emerged half-baked and tremulous.

The man sitting behind the desk regarded the aide with curiosity, then slowly picked up the tablet and looked intently at the image on the screen. He brushed long brown hair back from his eyes and squinted up at the terrified aide standing before him. “No idea?” he inquired mildly. “You have no idea?”

The aide shifted uncomfortably, sweat beading on his forehead. “The security system was breached, to be more accurate. And the prisoner escaped. We have no idea where the breach happened or how. Two guards are also dead.”

The Secretary blinked and leaned back in his huge leather chair, his expression thoughtful and his large green eyes darting about. He put his fingers together and sat for several seconds in silent thought. Finally he stirred.

“This is most unfortunate,” he remarked almost offhandedly, standing slowly and walking to the window in a deliberate fashion, his metal cane creaking on the floor. In the darkened office the tall window let in a dramatic shaft of afternoon sunlight that sliced through the dust and threw the oak furniture into sharp relief. It also illuminated his aging face and piercing eyes, and he stood and frowned down at the urban world through the glass.

“Verité is growing bolder.” He turned to the aide and handed the tablet back. “How far did they penetrate our security protocols?”

“Level Three, Mr. Secretary.”

“Hmm. And the Complex is right next door.”

“Yes, Mr. Secretary.” Sweat rolled into the aide's eyes.

“So Verité must be aware of its existence by now, perhaps?”

“We're ninety-nine percent certain they are, yes.”

The Secretary's gaze was once again captured by the view from the window. His eyes twitched but otherwise nothing else moved. He heaved a long burdened sigh. “The plan will continue to proceed, albeit on an accelerated timetable. Verité will be emboldened to act quickly in the wake of their success. What is the status of the woman?”

The aide looked confused. “Miss McLean, you mean?”

“Who else?” The Secretary smiled. “How has the vetting process gone?”

The aide cleared his throat and buried his face in his tablet. He tapped the screen several times until the correct personnel file popped into view, then turned the device around so the older man could see. “She is clean. Thoroughly vetted, no skeletons in her closet other than a misdemeanor in vocational school involving a hacking prank. Solid party credentials. The only small point of concern is her parents...”

The Secretary breathed slowly and nodded, pressing his weight onto his cane. “I knew her parents,” he said softly, almost intimately. Shaking himself, his voice reverted to a more business-like tone as he continued, “But they will not be a point of concern. Have Holloway make the pitch to her as soon as he can. We need her. I...need her.”

The aide bowed slightly and ran from the room.

The Secretary cocked his head at the windowpanes; they were covered in a thin layer of dust. He put out his index finger and wrote “ Verité” on the glass in the dust. Then, with a sudden slash of the same finger, he cut a line through the word. He smiled and returned to his desk.

Reach Chapter 2 here!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How To Blog A Book

A friend of mine mentioned very kindly to me the other day that she thought this book-blogging idea was a brilliant concept. I have to confess that, yes, it is brilliant. But it's also not my idea.

Just sayin', I need to give credit where credit is due. I actually have a book sitting next to me right now titled (you guessed it) How To Blog A Book. I bought it at Barnes & Noble a couple months ago. It is written by a woman named Nina Amir, and it has proven to be an invaluable resource for ideas and tips for getting your work out into the world via blog.

Here is the link to the book if you all care to check it out. As I said, a gold mine of ideas and suggestions. Worthy of checking out if you are writing a book and need the motivation and excitement that a blog of your book provides.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Let There Be Life!

Welcome to the official site of The SubVersion Trilogy!

Here you will find updates on the progress of the books, info on where to find them when they are released, chapter sneak peeks, and much more. So feel free to browse around, read the synopses, and check back for updated content.