Sunday, February 23, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Six

Here is the next chapter of The SubVersion Complex. Hope you all enjoy! If you missed Chapter Five, click here.

This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.


╗ SIX ╚


Anna tore into her lunch with a vigor that surprised even her. The last three hours had approached grueling in their intensity and food had never looked so good before in her life. Despite the greasiness and lack of taste of Central Admin cafeteria chicken, she was determined to have her fill before someone else grabbed her and whisked her away for more orientation.

Her hands still shook from the sheer physical exertion they had endured since she arrived. Her right index finger in particular ached, and now that salt and oil covered her fingers she realized painfully that she had rubbed a raw patch on both her finger and the web of the same hand. Terry's mention of one hundred more shots had proven entirely misleading; she had made Anna fire five hundred rounds before she was satisfied. But satisfied she was in the end, and their training had turned to cleaning the firearm.

Anna had no idea a gun could become so filthy so quickly. When she had first handled it out of the box it smelled new, a crisp scent of oil and fresh plastic. After five hundred rounds it smelled of propellant and ash. In her usual matter-of-fact manner, Terry had taken the gun and demonstrated how to brush out and oil the barrel, slide and stock. She was not squeamish about dirt and grime, and by the time the gun clicked back together clean, both her and Anna's hands were covered in black. After washing their hands, Terry had shown her to the cafeteria and left her to eat by herself for the next forty-five minutes.

Anna now silently thanked her for the solitude; it gave her some time to reflect. Her mind still reeled from the events of the morning and it was good to let everything settle. Since her arrival she had been accosted, searched, scanned, probed, and suddenly granted unmolested access to the Central Admin building. On top of that, she had gone from never having touched a firearm in her life to firing, taking apart, cleaning, and reassembling one. Her own, no less. The thought somehow refused to sink into her consciousness easily. The bulge in her waistband begged to differ, however, and she reached back to touch the weapon that nestled under her shirt in the small of her back.

Terry had given her that as well, an in-the-waistband holster that fit both her gun and her body perfectly. Terry had shown her how to draw the gun properly from behind her back and Anna had again impressed with her quickness to learn and her accuracy. With only ten or fifteen tries she had satisfied Terry's critical eye, at least for today.

She glanced at her watch: forty-two minutes had ticked by. Looking up from the remains of her lunch, she saw Terry enter the cafeteria with a business-like stride, accompanied by a very short stout man who was forced to run to keep up with his much taller companion. He looked to be in his late forties, dark skinned with a fringe of gray hair framing his ears. He wore a long white lab coat and a pair of glasses pushed high up onto his forehead.

The odd pair did not immediately approach Anna but instead visited the food counter first. Anna studied the small man with increasing curiosity and a growing sense of wonder; she realized she knew who he was: Dr. Konrath Jarrod, reactive computing specialist extraordinaire. His picture featured prominently in the news she had seen regarding the breakthroughs in reactive computing, and he looked every bit the scientist in real life as he had on the broadcast.

In a few moments they were headed in Anna's direction and Anna quickly wiped her mouth and hands in embarrassment, still oily from her chicken. Terry approached first and gestured to Anna: “Anna, I'd like you to meet the man who invented reactive computing, Dr. Konrath Jarrod. Dr. Jarrod, this is Annalise McLean, the one who will be writing your transfer protocols.”

Dr. Jarrod, all smiles, eagerly proffered his hand to the star-struck Anna. “It is good to meet you, Miss McLean,” he rumbled agreeably. His accent leaned Caribbean, but Anna found it impossible to narrow down any farther. “Officer Garnham has told me how smart you are already, but she did not mention how beautiful as well.”

Anna unexpectedly blushed hard. It had been ages since someone had called her beautiful, at least as sincerely as he just did, and her heart melted a little. Her instinct told her she was needy for being so touched, but for once she didn't care. She held her hand out to him. “I am so pleased to meet you, Dr. Jarrod. I've heard plenty about you as well.”

She was taken completely by surprise when Dr. Jarrod, instead of shaking her hand, took it in his own and kissed it gently. He looked into her shocked face and smiled, showing a full set of very white teeth. “All good, I sincerely hope. I wouldn't want my newest programmer to harbor any animosity.”

Anna stammered something unintelligible and the scientist laughed and sat next to Terry, across the table from Anna. “One would think a man had never paid you any of the proper courtesies due to your sex,” he chuckled almost to himself. “I cannot imagine why or how.”

The offhand comment bit right through to Anna's core and she winced inside. He was more correct than he knew. She pushed the garbage from her lunch to the side and leaned on the table in front of her, searching for a way to change the subject. “So, how far along are you with the whole reactive computing process?”

Terry tapped the doctor on the shoulder. “That is my signal to leave. She is in your care for the rest of the day.” She turned to Anna. “Please review the agenda for tomorrow's orientation before you arrive in the morning.”

“Yes ma'am,” Ann replied, then turned eagerly back to Dr. Jarrod, who had begun to dig into his own lunch. She repeated her earlier question as Terry exited, and he held up a finger as he chewed his first bite. Finally he was ready to speak.

“To be honest,” he said with a sudden seriousness, “now that Officer Garnham is gone, we are far enough along in the reactive computing process that I am surprised they even brought you into it.”

Anna frowned. “Wait, what?”

He looked deep into her face and for the first time she saw a troubled flame in his eyes. “We are almost done. Them bringing you into the project almost seemed like an externally-motivated stunt. I am sorry to say that most of the interesting work is already complete.”

“That's odd,” Anna mused, her spirits falling. She hadn't realized how eager she had been for this challenge until it had apparently evaporated. “So then why did they get me at all?”

Dr. Jarrod leaned back in his chair and chewed silently for a moment before he replied. “The day that I submitted my latest progress report to Central Admin, I included a small action item that I needed fulfilled at their earliest convenience. I told them that I needed a software person to provide a badly needed fresh pair of eyes. We had hit a small snag with the transfer protocol and needed an outside opinion.”

This sounded better than nothing. Anna perked up as he continued: “The reactive tech, as you know, works the same way the human brain works. And the human brain is in how it processes information.” He rolled his eyes, searching for the correct explanation. “Making that last jump between computer and brain is a bit like trying to pin a fly to a table while it's flying around. The brain attempts to reject the information at every turn.”

“That is fascinating,” Anna remarked. “So the reactive computer simulates the brain that well?”

Simulates may be a strong word for it. We actually use real brain tissue in the computer, so we are working with essentially the real thing.”

Anna started. “Real brain tissue? But I thought-”

“Most people think the same thing,” Dr. Jarrod said, smiling. “And we did originally build a computer simply based on the structure of the brain. Now we've enhanced it with some of the real thing and run into the problem. We didn't have this transfer issue with the man-made version. A major oversight on our part.”

“Ah.” Anna wasn't sure what sort of reply was appropriate.

“Let's just say that we are finding it much easier to extract muscle skills and thought patterns from the human brain than to put those skills and thoughts back in.”

Anna nodded, again unsure of a proper reply.

“The protocol is finished up to that point. And once we-or you- figure out that particular algorithm, then the project is complete. Central Admin and HomoGen will have instant education at their disposal for the Versions.”

Then it doesn't sound as bad as you were making it out to be,” Anna said with a dry chuckle. “It leaves me something to do, anyways.”

Dr. Jarrod smiled briefly. “I suppose.” He fiddled with his fork. “The question is, what will you be doing after the project is complete? They seem to want you for the long haul. Officer Garnham really hammered the firearms training this morning, did she not?”

Anna blushed again, this time for other reasons. “Word really gets around in here, doesn't it?”

“She told me herself,” Dr. Jarrod laughed. He became serious again and leaned forward closer to her. “Miss McLean- may I call you Annalise?”

“I prefer Anna.”

“Very well, Anna.” He wiped his mouth with his napkin. “I would recommend that you keep your eyes wide open. Something is going on here that is bigger than you, I think. As much as I will enjoy working with you, I feel your time with my laboratory will be brief. They didn't bring you in here just to program a protocol for me.”

A cold sensation washed over Anna as she listened. She could think of no explanations but in her gut she felt he was correct. She moved closer to him and asked in a lowered voice: “Why am I here then?”

The man across the table from her gave her a perturbed shake of the head. “I have no idea. All I know is that neither I nor any one of the scientists I work with keeps a gun on their person. You'd be the first in my laboratory to do so.”

The cold feeling settled into her stomach and began to wind it up in knots. “Should I be worried? Or should you be worried? I was never told keep an eye on you or anything of that sort.”

“I wouldn't worry for the moment,” the doctor replied. “I don't think. But...keep your eyes open. I like you already, Anna, and I wouldn't want to see you get hurt.” His face was gloomy for a few moments, then it suddenly cleared and he smiled his wide toothy smile again. “Speaking of laboratories and projects, shall we go get you acquainted with mine?”

“That would be wonderful,” Anna said.

They both were eager to change the subject and both left the cafeteria with Dr. Jarrod leading the way. They walked for what seemed like an eternity, down several long hallways and up another elevator, then down a long windowed gallery similar to HomoGen's huge windowed upper stories. Anna slowed down and Dr. Jarrod, realizing he was no longer being followed, slowed as well. She insisted on pausing here, and with her back to the windows she stared with wonder at an enormous mural on the wall opposite.

The painting must have stretched for fifty feet in either direction and easily stood twenty feet tall. Darker hues dominated the leftmost portion, gradually growing lighter as the eye moved from left to right. The individual images crowded together into a fantastic mass of chaotic motion, and yet each was distinct enough to easily make out. Men fought each other; tanks battled, bodies bled, and in the background of the dark section of the painting rose a glowing mushroom cloud. Anna wasn't sure if it literally represented the nuclear terrorist attack of 2024 or if it stood merely as a symbol of past violence, but either way it made an effective image.

Towards the middle of the painting the individual images began to change, forming into a charging slew of men and machines facing off against another army charging in the opposite direction. A different flag flew over each army, the one on the right she recognized as the blue and white flag of the Party of the Reunited States. The flag on the left she did not immediately recognize; it was striped red and white, with a blue field studded with white stars. She guessed it belonged to the rebellion forces, judging from the ugly snarl of the man carrying it. In fact, the entire rebellion army showed the bias of the painter with their bloodthirsty open mouths and animalistic poses.

Moving farther to the right along the painting, the images changed again to dark rivers and fields that gradually yielded to sunshine and brilliant light. From that point onward no darkness or violence lurked, no men fought, no blood ran. At the far right end stood a shining representation of the Central Administration building, with a portrait of a man emerging from behind it. Anna recognized him as Secretary Bono Clark, the first Executive Secretary of the Reunited States. The entire mural, she realized, was a history of the last one hundred years.

“Quite a stunning piece, is it not?” Dr. Jarrod remarked quietly, his hands behind his back and his gaze on the wall. Anna nodded.

“Maybe a little over-the-top, but yes,” she replied, taking in the vast picture. It reminded her of an image she had seen long ago as a little girl, in a book that her parents owned; she only remembered that the picture was titled The Divine Comedy and that it depicted a similar progression of images. Hard to forget, those images of twisted and agonized bodies in hell, of fire licking at damned souls, of the two men walking through the midst of it all witnessing the brutality of their surroundings. She had gone running to her mother in tears after seeing the picture, after which the book disappeared without a trace. To this day Anna could not find it.

She sighed and turned to Dr. Jarrod. “I'm sorry, I've never seen it before, that's why I stopped. We can keep going.”

Dr. Jarrod smiled graciously. “I do not object.” He turned and continued walking down the gallery with Anna in tow. She could not help but give the painting one last glance before they passed through another door and another hall. Finally they stood in front of a door marked Laboratory A1A, and Dr. Jarrod swiped his badge against the sensor pad. The door clicked sharply and he pushed it open, waving Anna inside.

“Welcome to my humble but very well-equipped abode,” he said grandly, spreading his arms wide. Anna grinned at him and, entering, looked around.

Everything was white: the walls, the floor, the equipment. It all gleamed and exuded the feeling of new and expensive. Most of the equipment stood in the middle of the room, forming an island around which the workbenches were arranged. Every work station featured its own omni-monitor and data inputs. Anna felt her spirits rise as she took it all in; this put her setup at HomoGen to shame. She finally felt at home. She poked and probed around, and Dr. Jarrod watched her with an increasingly amused smile. “You are allowed to touch, you know,” he laughed. “Although whatever happens in this lab stays in this lab for security purposes.”

Suddenly she gasped and pointed to the corner. “Is-that it?” she asked, looking to Dr. Jarrod. He nodded.

“That is the crown jewel, yes,” he said, walking to the corner where a large bank of monitors sat atop a shelf that hung suspended over a long black box. As Anna approached she saw that the entire corner was bursting with support equipment for the reactive computer, with wires and cables of all sizes and shapes snaking in and out of the black box and feeding information to the monitor array. She ran her hand along the tops of the glass screens, reveling in the feel of high technology under her fingertips. Looking down past the complex wiring harness, she suddenly found herself disturbed staring at the black box. It looked like nothing so much as a child-sized coffin made of black metal. She shook herself and willed the thought out of her head.

Dr. Jarrod cleared his throat and sat down in front of the monitors. “Sit down if you would, Anna, and we'll get started.”

They spent the next two hours sitting in front of the computer screens, Anna asking many questions to which Dr. Jarrod almost always had an answer. The scope of his knowledge and expertise was truly vast, and Anna thought she could never tire of picking the man's brain. She watched with rapt attention as he demonstrated the wave patterns the reactive computer core generated, and the thought patterns that he and his team were attempting to input. She soon found herself puzzled, though. “Dr. Jarrod? I have an odd question.”


“You said earlier that it was a lot easier to extract thought than to put it into the brain, correct?”

“That is correct, yes.” Dr. Jarrod pulled his spectacles off his head and began to clean them.

“And you are trying to input a specific thought pattern into the reactive computer core?” Anna continued.


“Then, if you don't mind my asking, where did the thought patterns come from? The ones we are trying to input? Who did you record them from?”

Dr. Jarrod seemed surprised by the question, but he shrugged and replaced his glasses atop his head. Anna wondered offhandedly why he bothered to clean them when he was just going to stick them back up there. “Now that is an interesting story,” he said. “I didn't get my choice of subject for the thoughts and muscle motor skills I was extracting. Central Admin, in their infinite wisdom, picked my subject for me. I would have chosen...oh, I don't know, a violinist, perhaps? Someone with finely honed artistic skill of some sort. But no, they decided I would get someone else.”


“His name was Daniel Marcus, ex-military Elite Combat Unit. The best of the best, or so they told me. Story goes that he fought his way single-handedly out of Mogadishu during the Allied campaign there and rejoined his squad with barely a scratch. Anyways, he supposedly represented the pinnacle of physical prowess so we recruited him to donate his motor skill thought patterns to us.”

Anna frowned. “You said his name was Daniel Marcus. Where is he now?”

Dr. Jarrod became silent for a long moment. He rubbed his fingers together and with a discouraged look on his face turned to Anna. “Something went wrong. Very wrong. He got mixed up with some woman around here and got into a huge fight. Even started demanding that I erase the brain data he had donated to me. Finally he disappeared into some Central Admin prison and word came out that he was actually an agent working for Verité.”

Anna drew in breath. “Were they attempting to break into something?”

Dr. Jarrod shook his head. “I have no idea. But Central Admin naturally wanted him as dead as they could make him so a brief went out just last week that he was to be executed. It was going to be televised, as a warning against any further Verité intrusion attempts. Then the whole affair just disappeared.”

Anna's eyebrows shot up. “What do you mean? Did they execute him?”

“If they had executed him they would have made it public, like they promised. But they haven't said a word about it since. So I think he either killed himself in his cell, or- and I know this is insane- he escaped.”

Something in Anna's mind instantly clicked. “He escaped,” she breathed.

Dr. Jarrod sat back and raised a doubtful eyebrow at her. “How the hell do you know?”

“The Central Police were stopping all traffic out of D.C. at checkpoints just a matter of days ago,” she explained. “And they refused to tell me why. I'd say it's a good bet that he escaped and they are looking for him.”

Dr. Jarrod chuckled grimly. “Heh, well, I wouldn't have known about roadblocks or checkpoints. I am almost chained to these desks; I sleep here many nights. Just over the weekend I got to go home for the first time in weeks, and I plan on leaving here at decent hours from now on.” He grinned. “Now that I have a savvy programmer in my lab to do my work for me.”

“You can expect work from me, not miracles,” Ann replied, catching his infectious humor. “But I already have some ideas as to how to fix your problem.”

“I'm glad to hear it.” Dr. Jarrod said, then stood as another man entered the lab. The new man stood much taller than Dr. Jarrod and sported a much younger face, a face which he was in the act of stuffing full of doughnut as he walked through the door and sat down.

“Anna, this is Dex Lynch, my assistant,” Dr. Jarrod said, motioning to the other man. Anna nodded to him and he nodded wordlessly back, the doughnut still obstructing his speech. Without another word he plugged his ears with digital music and pulled himself up to one of the computers to work.

“Not much of a conversationalist,” Anna remarked dryly. Dr. Jarrod chuckled and sat back down.

“No, and I prefer him that way. Nepotism at its best; Dex the Second, son of the founder of Dexworks. He's a whiz at brain pattern analysis but he spews some of the most obnoxious crap when he gets started.” The doctor tapped the data pad in front of him. “Shall we get back to the task at hand then? All of this talk of escaped convicts has derailed my train of thought.”

Click here to read Chapter 7!

Edits and Such

A very astute reader of mine who is in Special Forces pointed out to me that, in the original version of Chapter 5, the security protocols surrounding the Central Admin building would have been considered amateurish and inadequate. Bowing to his much greater expertise and realizing the inadequacy myself, I rewrote the scene to include a much beefier entrance.

Chapter 5 of The SubVersion Complex has been edited, but I didn't do it as a new post, just as a change to the original one to avoid confusion. In case you missed the chapter or want to read it with the new edits, click here.

Thanks to Ryan for his suggestions for the chapter! I am always open to critiques and suggestions, so keep 'em coming.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Five

Here is the next chapter of The SubVersion Complex. Hope you all enjoy! If you missed Chapter Four, click here. This has been edited from its earlier version.

This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.

╗ FIVE ╚


Monday morning dawned inauspiciously with a thunderous early autumn rainstorm, pelting and tearing with a vengeance at the roof and windows of Anna's home in heavy gray torrents. The trees thrashed and raged in the wind and colorful fall leaves alternately scudded across her yard or plastered themselves to various obstacles.

Inside, safe from the storm, Anna sat on her bed in her business attire with a variety of objects strewn in front of her on the sheets. Her new security ID badge lay there, as well as her transfer documents on their encrypted chip. Next to that was her commex, as well as a jumble of various electronic equipment. Anna reached out and touched one of the pieces, a fist-sized black plastic egg with a universal port connection on one side.

Anna sighed faintly. Just that one item was worth more than her entire house and the surrounding property, a mobile code slicer of the highest calibre. She had been looking forward to using it; her department at HomoGen had asked her to test the security of their system from her home using the slicer. She had planned the entire thing out and was certain she could break down their firewall if they gave her enough time. Now it looked like she would never get that chance. The joys and sorrows of a new job. She had three weeks to get all of HomoGen's equipment back to them.

She gathered up the pile of instruments and stuffed them into her safe, shutting the door with a heavy finality. This really was the start of a new career. Her stomach did a nervous somersault at the thought. A quick check of her watch confirmed that she would be on time for her first day if she left now. One final glance at the safe, and she gathered her accessories and rushed out the door.

Even under the protection of an umbrella the rain was relentless and the wind unforgiving. She struggled to her car and climbed in with the grace of a stumbling elephant, her umbrella refusing to close properly as the rain wet her hair and legs. She swore and pulled everything into the vehicle with one desperate motion and slammed the door shut. As she sat for a moment in silence, panting, she happened to glance outside through the downpour and was amazed at what she saw.

Mr. Vickers sat on his front porch, rocking slowly on his rocking chair with his eyes closed and a wide smile across his face. His arms were spread out, as if to welcome the wind that whipped at his sweater and swirled the smoke from his pipe in wispy blue tendrils. He was protected from the rain under the porch roof but just barely.

Anna watched him with complete incomprehension. Why? Is he insane? She couldn't fathom the reason. She noticed with a start that his eyes had opened and he had seen her. He raised a hand and waved, his smile growing even broader. She waved hesitantly back, remembering with a sudden pang that the last time she had seen him she had yelled in his face and stormed off. Brushing the thought aside, she started the car and raced away.


Her breath sucked in and she gazed out the windshield in unadulterated awe. She had driven past the Central Administration building complex hundreds of times to get to work; however, it had never been her destination before and as she sped closer she could feel her remaining confidence wilting. A huge brooding structure of gray stone and tempered glass, the complex squatted grimly on the combined sites of the old Washington Monument and the Ellipse and pummeled the viewer into submission with its intimidating scale.

She silently thanked Officer Garnham for giving her programmed directions to the building. It gave her time to gawk at the sheer vertical walls, besides the fact that she had no idea of the approach. The car did, however, and rolled obediently up into the entrance corridor and to the first security checkpoint, stopping by a concrete guard hut.

Before she even had time to produce her security badge, four guards emerged from the hut with the biggest dog she had ever seen and began to inspect her car from front to back. One guard swept her vehicle with a portable backscatter scanner for several moments while the other three probed the car with the dog. She sat nervously inside, not even daring to drop her window until they finished. Finally one of the guards tapped her window and gestured for her to open it. She did so and produced her badge.

“Officer Terry Garnham is expecting me?” she offered. “I am doing orientation with her today.”

The guard peered at her over her badge like she was stupid. “We know that, Miss McLean. Please let us finish.”

Anna sat back, chided and bewildered. The stories of Central Admin's fastidious security were shaping up to be very true. She remained in silence until the guard team finished their sweep and only gave them a slight nod when they waved her through the gate. She rounded a bend in the driveway and passed through another checkpoint, a purely electronic surveillance station, which photographed and scanned her car as she drove.

She mentally shrank into herself as she drove closer and closer to the building and the security protocols became strikingly more evident. The huge sweeping front steps were patrolled by more guards, but far more frightening were the two black auto-tanks whose protruding electronic eyeballs turned to follow her car as she drove up. The deadly robots eyed her dispassionately with a dead stare that made her skin crawl.

Two of the guards at the steps motioned to her to halt and approached her car with automatic weapons at the ready. She again produced her badge and her explanation, and the guards nodded. “We've been expecting you today,” one of them said, then proceeded to walk around to the passenger side of her car. He tapped on the door, and it took a second for her to realize that he intended to get in next to her. Her heart pounding, she pressed the unlock button and the soldier wasted no time sliding into the passenger set and shutting the door. He leaned into the walkie-talkie on his shoulder and clicked it on. “All right, boys,” he said quietly, looking out of the windshield up at the roof of the huge building complex. “You can stand down, this one's legit.”

Anna could feel a bead of sweat trickle down the back of her neck as she looked to where the guard was looking. To her surprise and sudden fright she realized who he was speaking to: three squat blockhouses on the roof, each with the hint of a sniper rifle barrel peeking out of the darkness within. She looked over at the man in her passenger seat, almost trembling and utterly unsure of what to do next.

The guard looked over at her. “Standard operating procedure, ma'am,” he said in what she figured he thought was a reassuring tone. He reached over to her nav computer touchscreen and tapped in a short set of directions. “Please release the wheel and let the car do the work, ma'am.”

She complied and the car hushed forward once again, navigating deftly on its own into an underground parking garage beneath the main building and coming to a stop next to yet another guard booth. The guard tapped her arm. “This is where we get out. You will come with me; we will park your car for you.”

Anna exited the car with a pounding pulse and sweaty palms. She was almost beginning to doubt that her presence here was legitimate as the guard took her by the arm and led her to the nearest elevator. They rode up one level in silence and as the doors slid back open the guard gestured for her to get out.

They had emerged into the main lobby and everything towered over her. The marble walls, polished to a mirror finish, reflected her tiny form and reminded her of her own insignificance. Blocky and efficient pillars rose fifty feet into the air and met the equally efficient ceiling in unadorned capitals. Harsh white LED lighting glared from ports in the ceiling and cast diffuse spots on the floor. Heavily armed guards stood in pairs at every door out of the lobby,

She shrank farther into herself than before and would have sprinted to the front reception desk in desperation if it hadn't been for the firm hand on her arm.

Behind the flint-colored desk sat a flint-faced woman wearing a brown uniform and a scowl. She looked up sharply as Anna approached and her frown deepened. “Name please and reason for visit?”

Anna found herself tongue-tied. She attempted to explain but the words wouldn't form properly. The flinty woman's eyes narrowed and Anna, in a cold panic, tried again. “I was told to report to Officer Terry Garnham for orientation. My name is Annalise McLean.” She swallowed and placed the chip with her transfer paperwork on the desk, and the desperate thought occurred to her that it might always be this tense around here. She recalled the mantra of every government announcement on radio and television: “Government is serious work.”

No shit.

The woman at the desk took the chip with a doubtful look on her face and inserted it into her computer. Her face changed as she perused the files and she tapped the console at her left. “Ms. Garnham? There is an Annalise McLean here for you.” She nodded to the guard, who released Anna's arm and stalked back outside.

“Please, Miss McLean, come over here so we can perform a security sweep.” The woman stood and led Anna over to a full body scanning unit, where Anna was commanded to remove her coat and shoes and to walk through the upright scanning frame. The procedure took less than five minutes yet still managed to feel horribly invasive, and Anna was glad to get her things back. When the guards manning the machine were satisfied, the woman took Anna's arm, turned her around and led her back to the reception desk. Against said desk with her arms folded in front of her chest stood Officer Terry Garnham, looking almost exactly like she had the first time Anna had seen her: severe and to-the-point. Still, she was a more welcome sight than any that Anna had seen so far today.

“Good to see you again, Miss McLean,” Officer Garnham said politely with a tiny degree of warmth, extending a hand. “Thank you for arriving early.” She turned to the woman at the desk. “Miss McLean is under my charge from now until her orientation is finished, and she is part of the Central Admin research team assisting the HomoGen Initiative. None of your personnel are to stop, search, or harass her again when she comes through here. She is one of us. Is that understood?”

The receptionist reddened. “Yes, ma'am.”

“Good,” Officer Garnham replied firmly. “Shall we then, Miss McLean?”

Anna, glad to vacate the lobby, eagerly followed her orientation officer towards the nearest doorway. They entered a long hallway together and strode in silence to the end of it, where Officer Garnham touched the “Down” button of the elevator.

“You brought your ear and eye protection, I presume?”

Anna nodded and opened her bag to show. The tall blonde woman nodded in satisfaction and, as the doors slid open, motioned to Anna to step in first. They boarded and Officer Garnham pressed the button marked Basement, Level 2. With a slight jolt they were on their way. They rode in silence; Officer Garnham as usual seemed perfectly content to keep her thoughts to herself. The doors slid open again and they emerged in a long brightly lit chamber with a low ceiling. One half of the room featured padded floor and walls, with various exercise and sparring equipment scattered about. But the other half was what caught Anna's attention. And it seemed to be where they were heading.

Splitting the room in half were built-in tables separated from each other by dividers of thick acrylic. Beyond the tables stretched long lanes, each with a long rail above that carried a metal hanger. The walls of this half of the room were baffled with foam and metal, and in front of each table sat a large metal rack full of various firearms. Anna realized with a quick thump of her heart that her earlier suspicions had been correct: they were standing in a shooting range.

Officer Garnham tossed her own bag onto the nearest table and pulled out hearing protection and safety glasses, then pulled a hair band from her wrist and twisted her hair back in a ponytail. She moved quickly and efficiently, and Anna now realized just how strong her arms and body looked. Her muscles were not bulky, but everything about them suggested a taut and powerful build.

Anna pulled out her own protection and silently eyed the other woman. Officer Garnham, seeing her stare, gave a short humorless chuckle. “I will let you know when you have to imitate me, Annalise, and trust me, you will be doing a hell of a lot of that today. And we are on a first name basis now, so you will call me Terry.”

Anna swallowed and nodded. “All right...Terry. Where do we start?”

“With this,” Terry answered, pulling a plastic case from a bin near her foot and dropping it on the tabletop. “Open it.”

With trembling fingers, Anna popped the double latches and pushed the lid open. She almost gasped as she saw a black semiautomatic pistol inside, nestled into conformal foam next to three empty magazines. She had never been this close to a firearm before, much less touched one, and she hesitated. Terry nodded to her.

“It's yours,” she said. “It will be yours until that day when you are no longer in service with Central Admin. Which,” she added mysteriously, “probably will not be for a while.” She sensed Anna's continued hesitation and, turning the case towards herself, she pulled the weapon free of the foam. “By the end of today you will know more than you ever wanted to know about how to shoot, tear down, clean, and reassemble this weapon. You should be able to do it all in your sleep by the end of your total orientation. Let's get started.”

She wasted no time at all. They began by drilling gun safety rules, where not to point it, how to hold it, how to clear it and safety check it. Terry then proceeded to strip off the slide and show Anna how to break apart the firing assembly for cleaning. Anna's head was spinning a bit during the tutorial, but by the end of the first thirty-five minutes she could recite the safety checklist by heart and tear down and rebuild the weapon with ease. Terry nodded and grunted her approval, then opened a drawer underneath the table and pulled out five heavy boxes of ammunition. Plopping them down on the table, she pulled a magazine out of the foam and held it up.

“Let's load up.”

The entire exercise suddenly felt real now, and Anna's blood began to pound in her temples harder. She would really be doing this. Following Terry's lead, she learned how to load the .40 caliber ammunition into the magazine without tearing up her fingers, watching with satisfaction as the double-stack of bullets slowly began to form. Finally all magazines were filled. Terry pinned a man-shaped paper target to the hanger on the track and, with the pull of a lever, sent hanger and target down to the end of the lane.

She motioned Anna up to the lane and demonstrated the correct posture and how to achieve a proper sight picture. Anna dry fired the gun several times, feeling the trigger break under her index finger, hearing the striker snap. Then both women donned ear and eye protection and Terry gave Anna a thumbs up sign.

Anna felt suddenly frozen in time. The target down the lane waited patiently, the HVAC system hummed unhurriedly in the background; all was ready and still. She slid a loaded magazine into the gun, racked the slide and lifted the weapon up in front of her. The sights lined up in front of her; she sighted as best as she knew how, and pulled the trigger.

The power and noise of the detonation that followed jarred her. She felt the shock ripple up her arms and into her shoulders, and it occurred to her that might be why her orientation officer sported such strong arms. It also occurred to her that she had closed her eyes at the moment of firing, and as she opened them again she realized that she had not even hit the target at all.

Terry, despite her naturally grim attitude, managed a small smile. “You're afraid of the trigger, Annalise. Find its break point and don't anticipate the recoil. Try again.”

Anna flushed red and gritted her teeth, aimed again and fired. She struck paper this time, but only on the outer edge of the human silhouette. She looked at Terry helplessly. Terry leaned in and looked down the lane at the hole that Anna had made. “It may sound counter-intuitive, Annalise, but you need to relax. Tension in your arms and shoulders is your enemy. Also,” she added, “squeeze the trigger, don't pull it. We're trying to shoot through the target, not at it.”

Anna took a long breath and turned back to the target. It waved slightly in the draft from the overhead ventilation. She narrowed her eyes at it, loosened herself ever so slightly, aimed. A dozen different bits of direction floated through her head but she pushed them out and sighted down the gun. The moment her dots lined up and everything felt right, she breathed and squeezed the trigger. The report resounded and the empty casing clattered to the floor.

Terry blinked and looked twice down the lane at the target. A new hole had appeared on the paper dead in the center of the center zone, heart and lungs territory. Bulls-eye. She turned to Anna with a look approaching pleased. “Do that one hundred more times for me, Annalise, and I may just call you a natural.”

Anna smiled and proceeded to empty the rest of the magazine into the silhouette.

Click here for Chapter Six!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Some Housekeeping

Just a short post to explain the disappearance of some posts I had put up earlier. I had posted the first drafts of several chapters previously and now only the revised ones remain. This was due to the fact that I had taken advice from my readers on some improvements, as well as rearranging quite a bit of material to the point where the flow of the story substantially changed. So I decided to just delete the old material for aesthetic and clarity concerns and let readers enjoy the modified and improved chapters.

I apologize if taking some of the posts down ended up deleting comments you all had made. Rest assured that I found your feedback helpful and many of your suggestions have found a home in the new text.

Stay tuned for new material, and thank you for reading!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Four

Here is the fourth chapter of The SubVersion Complex. Enjoy and leave your comments below!
This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised. 

Missed Chapter 3? Click here! 

╗ FOUR ╚


Perry's lay almost directly west of the city, tucked away in the midst of the older town of Sterling and sharing a home with a multi-acre strip mall that had once dominated the area's shopping district. The heavy traffic here had long since died away along with the elderly population, and most of the nearby establishments sported only boarded up windows and vacancy signs. Perry's singled itself out as an oddity, therefore, by sitting almost on the edge of the inhabited city but not quite falling off into the no-man's-land that constituted the old suburbs and countryside.

Anna had heard the horror stories along with everyone else: the outer suburbs and the country were to be avoided at all costs. Central Admin issued warnings concerning the city's dark edges along with the daily newscasts. Every day some new tale of suburban or countryside woe: a horrible public suicide by fire, a murderer on the loose, some crackpot who had somehow acquired a gun or other weapon and was killing people just for the fun of it. The last of these was by far the most widespread. Anna personally knew two people who had been killed by these crazies. “Bored killers,” the police called them, and they popped up everywhere. Nobody could figure out why exactly, just one day the random person would snap and start killing. The most frightening thing was the rapidly increasing number of people that snapped.

Those warnings, and those stories, made up the bulk of the local news. No wonder everyone crowded into the cities to escape. Crowding closer to the mother hen that was Central Admin and its promises of safety.

Perry's thrived somehow, though, right on the penumbra of order and chaos. Maybe the universal taste for alcohol brought people together in a way that other things did not. Maybe a touch of class in a decaying world gave people hope for the future. Whatever the reason, people came, people drank, and people liked. And Perry's thrived.

The place was only a third full, it only being a Thursday night, and the usual crowd sat idly at different tables or at the long curved mahogany bar that formed the convergence point for the entire floorplan. A couple of lonely businessmen sat by themselves at one half of the bar and a gaggle of women they were too afraid to talk to sat at the other half giggling to themselves. A lesbian couple occupied a dark corner in the back, and in the front at their own table sat Anna and Jesse.

In a tinkle of crystal and expensive brandy, they touched glasses together and toasted her promotion. Anna gazed into the translucent brown liquid in front of her for a long moment before shrugging, taking the glass and upending it into her mouth in one gulp. Jesse stared at her in disbelief.

“This stuff is expensive!” he protested. “And since when did you start drinking like that?”

“Just proves you were not paying attention all those times I drank at home,” Anna replied, setting the glass down on the table with a satisfactory clack. The brandy burned an exquisite trail down her throat and into her stomach, causing her to glow. Her cheeks were flushed, she knew, and the rest of her body would soon follow. Probably not a good idea to get drunk with Jesse around, but tonight she didn't really care.

Jesse leaned across the table. “So, if you're working for Central Admin, does that mean you'll be getting a gun?” he asked.

Anna's brow furrowed. She understood the question even through the growing alcoholic haze but it took several seconds for her to formulate her thoughts. A gun? Her? “I-I don't know,” she said uncertainly, regarding her empty glass with a vacant stare. “Officer Holloway and Officer Garnham wore them. But they said I'd be working with another wing of Central Admin, so I don't know.”

Jesse sighed and leaned back. “Somehow I think working with computers and 'transfer protocols' doesn't exactly put a target on your back. Not sure why you'd need a gun.”

More like 'Not sure why they'd let me have a gun,' Anna thought ruefully. She had heard enough of the news to know she wanted the protection of a gun. But for years firearms had been illegal if one didn't work for the government.

She motioned to the bartender for another tumbler of brandy, and when it arrived she sipped it rather than throw it back. It was good brandy, and she quietly rejoiced that he was the one paying for it. Served him right. She licked her sticky lips and looked up, and noticed that Jesse was staring at her. Or rather, his eyes were aimed lower than her face, and she recalled through her increasing buzz that she had worn her little black dress tonight. His gaze was firmly and obviously affixed to her plunging neckline and was not going anywhere.

She shifted in her seat, half-consciously crossing her sparsely covered legs with vague embarrassment. As stupid as it was, turning Jesse on in increasingly obvious and pandering ways seemed to be the only exciting thing left in her sexual arsenal these days, but even this felt wrong. She knew going out tonight was a mistake, and she racked her brain for a good subject of conversation. Abruptly the image of Mr. Vickers materialized in her mind's eye and the whole uncomfortable exchange she had shared with him came back as well.

“I had a talk with Mr. Vickers when I got home,” she said.

Jesse's eyes shifted reluctantly back to her face and he chuckled. “Some stupid moralization again?”

“Yes,” Anna replied, the recollection filling her with vexation and anger. “The 'devil's work,' he called it. Some stupid shit about the Versions and human dignity and manufacturing children.”

Jesse laughed out loud and took another swallow of his brandy. “That's rich!” he barked in his humor. “What the hell does he think it was like before HomoGen came along? This planet was a crawling carpet of people without dignity.” He bent close to her across the small table. “We're the good guys, Anna. The responsible ones. Ha, if he's so old he should remember how bad it was back during the overpopulation period!”

Anna frowned and remained silent for a moment, a disturbing thought crossing her fuzzy mind. She tapped her glass with her fingernail. “He was alive then, we weren't. All we know about the overpopulation period we've been told. Told by others.”

Jesse cocked his head. “So?”

“So I just wonder...” she trailed off. The words and the thought died simultaneously and she was left with a bad taste in her mouth. She took a quick swig of her drink to compensate.

Jesse eyed her warily. “Don't tell me you're turning skeptic now. You know the history is solid: the bodies, the pictures. My old case worker's family had to help clean up that cesspool. They told me some nasty stories about it. Rumor had it their whole town devoured itself for lack of space. Be grateful we've moved beyond the worst.” He laughed again. “I prefer Perry's food to human flesh any day.” His joke so tickled his tipsy brain that he sat chuckling to himself for an uncomfortably long moment.

Anna didn't share his jollity. Her own drunken thoughts had drifted again to something the old man had said. A tear glistened in the corner of her eye. “He brought up my parents.”

“Who? Mr. Vickers?”

“Yeah. I could have wrung his neck,” she blurted, her lip beginning to tremble. “I don't bring up his wife, why does he have a right to bring up my parents?”

“Aw, do you want to talk about it?” Jesse asked in a concerned tone. He slid his chair over next to Anna and she pressed her face into his shoulder.

“He can go to hell for all I care,” she sobbed. “I won't miss him. In fact, I'd trade him for my parents any day of the week.”

Jesse was silent. He had been an orphan for as long as he could remember and the thought of parents did little for him. “Well, if it hadn't been...that, it would have been the geriatric exam for your parents. They'd already be turning sixty-five and going to a home anyways.”

“You're a real comfort,” Anna replied bitterly into his shoulder. “The worst thing is, I'm already halfway to sixty-five. Someday I'll be found unfit. Unloved. Have I really done anything worth noting yet to justify keeping me here longer?”

Jesse chuckled and put a hand on her bare thigh. “Worth noting? Probably. And you are not unloved as long as I'm around, baby. Sixty-five is a long way off yet, enjoy the ride while it lasts. Speaking of enjoyable rides...”

Anna pulled away from his shoulder and cast him a foul look through tear-and-mascara-stained eyes. Then the look melted away as desperation possessed her. “My house tonight,” she demanded forcefully, grabbing her coat and turning for the door without waiting for Jesse to follow. He got the hint, hurriedly paid the bill and followed her out to the car.

But all that night, even while making vigorous and empty love to her empty man, the conversation with Mr. Vickers haunted her. However, her drunk mind eventually faltered and spiraled, and the day's proceedings and Jesse's body above her disappeared into a black hole of nothingness.


An insistent electronic beep echoed through her subconscious and Anna mentally groped her way toward it, beating away the ethereal visions of the night with clumsy hands and heaving chest. Light filled her room, burnt her eyes, knocked hard against her brain. Her temples pounded and her skin glistened with sweat. It was morning, and a horrible hangover gripped her.

She rolled over painfully and grabbed her commex to silence its infernal beeping. The words Doc Appt blinked cheerfully on the screen. In a sudden rush, she remembered Holloway's warning about her fertility appointment and realized she had set her alarm for it during her inebriated ride home last night; she had done it even in the midst of Jesse's crude petting and heavy breathing. It took a moment for her to wonder why she operated better drunk than sober. A bad sign. Turning into an alcoholic like her parents.

Damn, not my parents again.

Shoving the memories aside, she pulled a bottle of pills from the bedside table and tossed two into her mouth. The lozenges dissolved in an invigorating fizz on her tongue and the drugs began working immediately. Sitting up, the nausea only briefly assaulted her stomach before sinking sullenly into the background. The pounding in her head subsided and she turned around to see if Jesse was still there.

He was not. The imprint of his body remained in her bedclothes, though, and the debris of last night's indulgence lay scattered randomly about the room. Anna blinked and grimaced. It must have been fun; she couldn't quite remember. Although if the soreness between her legs was to be believed, he had had the lion's share of said fun. She dressed quickly in a comfortable sweater and slacks and walked into the bathroom to fix her hair, and was immediately assaulted by the stench of Jesse's cologne. Swearing to herself, she grabbed a hair clip and exited the house as quickly as she could manage, shoved the whole episode from last night out of her mind, and grumbled her way into her car.

During the entire drive she wondered why the joy of yesterday's announcement failed to register the same with her today. The euphoria was gone and all that was left was the fear of the unknown. She had had a brief glance at the schedule Officer Garnham had given her and it looked grueling: the orientation lasted two weeks and ranged all over the spectrum of intensive activity. However, the item that stuck out the most from her cursory scan of the schedule was at the very beginning of the list. It simply said “09:00 to 12:00 Monday @CATC, Level 2. Bring hearing and eye protection.” Now that the alcohol had worn away from last night she had a sneaking suspicion of what it might mean, but she dared not speculate about it even to herself.

The car pulled up into the parking lot of the Becker Clinic exactly five minutes before her appointment time, and Anna hopped out and rushed madly for the door. They were sticklers for patients being on time, these clinicians, and the punishment for violating that inviolable rule was to run the gauntlet of stares from the other patients as one made one's way to the back of the line. Therefore, Anna picked up her pace and attempted to take the porch step in stride. The attempt failed, her foot caught on the edge and she fell sprawling onto the concrete. Pain seared through her shins and hands and up one elbow; she cried out in pain and tried to stand.

From out of nowhere a pair of hands appeared and grasped her under one arm. Big, powerful hands, pulling her back to her feet in one motion. She blinked through her pain and looked up to see who it was that had helped her. It was a man; a very tall man, wiry and broad-shouldered, with mid-length dark hair sprouting from under a cap and heavy stubble on his chin. He smiled at her as he set her back on her feet and his dimpled face crinkled pleasantly around his sunglasses.

Anna blinked again and suddenly felt shy. “Thank you...”

“No problem at all,” the man replied. His voice was raspy and just as pleasant as his smile. “You might want to slow down just a bit. Although,” he chuckled, motioning to the doctor's office, “for a couple of skinned hands and knees you certainly did pick the right place to fall.”

Anna laughed and winced simultaneously, gingerly rubbing her arm. The man held his hands out to her, as if to catch her if she fell again. “You're sure you're all right?” he asked with some concern. Anna nodded hesitantly.

“I think so,” she replied. She was on the verge of asking his name but the urgency of the pending appointment shut her up. Instead, she smiled a genuine smile at him. “I really have to get inside. I'm sorry.”

“By all means,” the man said, grabbing the door handle from where he was standing and pulling it open. Only then did Anna realize how long his arms were. She thanked him and limped inside to the reception counter to confirm that she was signed in for that day. The receptionist confirmed her name on the list and silently waved Anna towards the nearest exam room door. With a nod of appreciation Anna slipped into the exam room and shut the door behind her.

It smelt clinical. Probes and lights hung on their respective racks and hypodermic needles crowded a jar on the table nearby. She hopped up onto the exam table and felt the paper crinkle under her. A generic print of an ocean stared at her from its cheap frame on the opposite wall, and a small computer sat idly on the table.

After a soft knock on the door a woman entered, wearing a long white coat and smiling widely when she saw her patient. Her face was pensive and petite; her eyes, skin, and hair all dark. A stethoscope hung around her shoulders and a tablet was in her hand. A plastic nameplate clipped to her breast pocket read Dr. Becker Criste. “Annalise! Good to see you again! What has it been, six months?”

Anna laughed and swung her legs from the table like a child. She liked Dr. Criste; the little woman almost made this semi-annual visit pleasant. “I was on time this time.”

Dr. Criste chuckled. “That's good. Although I'm guessing you had some help being so this time.” Anna's embarrassed smile was all the affirmation needed and the doctor laughed. “It's no matter, everyone needs the help every once in a while.” She pulled a small blood tester from her pocket and sat down close to her patient. “I am going to try to make this quick this time, if that's all right with you. I have so many other patients to see today it's not even funny.”

Anna sat still as Dr. Criste touched the device to her arm and pressed the button. There was a barely audible puff and a pinprick of pain and it was done. The results of the test began to rush across the screen of the computer on the table and Dr. Criste wheeled her rolling chair over to have a better look. The look turned into a longer look, and a frown crossed her face. Anna frowned as well and craned her neck to see the data.

“What's wrong?”

Dr. Criste turned and looked seriously at Anna. “You like to cut things close, don't you?” she said cryptically.

Anna was confused. “Cut what close?” she ventured.

“From the looks of it, you've had sex three times just this week.”

Anna groaned. “I'm sorry, I keep forgetting.”

Dr. Criste sighed and gave Anna a pout. “Anna, we talked about this. Sex in the last one or two weeks of your injection cycle is dangerous. You're at the outermost limits of its protection. I don't want to see my favorite patient catch the bug. You got lucky this time, it looks like. But please, please don't do it again.”

Anna's spirits sank. “I'm sorry, I really am. Can we schedule any less than six months at a time to make up for it?” She knew that the clinic could not, for health reasons but more importantly because they would never get to all their patients otherwise.

Dr. Criste confirmed her suspicions with a shake of the head. “No, honey, sorry. Six months to the day, that's how it goes.” She rose from her seat. “Ready for your shot of Lover Drug?”

“Not really, but who ever is?” Anna replied, attempting mirth. Dr. Criste's smile returned briefly and she pulled a vial from her other pocket and took a needle from the jar on the table. The label on the vial read “AnnexEstros.” The lifeblood of the new responsible generation, it was the most powerful contraceptive/contra-STD drug on the planet and Anna had been dosing on it since puberty. She held out her arm, which was duly swabbed with alcohol and pierced with the long hypodermic needle. With one long push of the plunger the pale blue fluid entered her bloodstream and she felt the familiar tingling in her extremities that was characteristic of the drug. Slight dizziness made her vision blur for a minute or two, then cleared up and left her feeling normal.

She smiled and hopped down from the table. “Anything else, Doctor?”

Dr. Criste sighed. “That's all, Miss McLean. And remember two things. The first: no sex for at least a day until the drug is thoroughly distributed again.”

“And the second?”

“The second is we need to grab a coffee at some point and just chat,” was the laughing reply. “Now scoot!”

Anna exited the exam room in better spirits than when she had entered and flitted lightly to the front door. She suddenly recalled the mystery man that had picked her up and her heart skipped a beat. Just the half-minute they had been together she had started to like him. She paused for a moment, then burst outside and glanced around in the futile hope that he was still hanging around. As she expected, he was nowhere to be seen. She sighed and climbed back into her car, trying not to speculate too deeply about who he might be.

As she pulled out of the parking lot she failed to notice a much older vehicle pull in and begin to follow at some distance behind her. Behind the wheel was the mystery man.

Read Chapter 5 here!