Sunday, March 23, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Nine

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

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


╗ NINE ╚


“You look at me like you've seen an apparition of some sort,” the Secretary remarked with a chuckle as she slowly sat down. He pulled an electronic cigarette from a pouch on his desk and took a drag on it, and clouds of bluish vapor began to billow from his mouth as he breathed out. “I have another if you smoke as well?”

Anna shook her head wordlessly. She had quite forgotten if she was supposed to speak or listen, or ask a particular question or wait for an answer. The man apparently sensed her discombobulation because he leaned forward over the desk and clasped his hands together reassuringly. “You, I am sure, are quite full of questions.”

“If . . .” Anna said, hesitated, then began again, “If I am allowed to ask.”

The Secretary laughed quietly and licked his lips. “You are allowed to ask me anything. Whether I answer or not is up to me.” He tapped his fingers on the wood. “It's been quite a whirlwind of three days so far, I can imagine. Your career has taken a completely different turn? New location, new faces, new everything?”

Anna's confidence began to ooze back into her body. He was open and friendly enough and his demeanor put her at ease. She nodded. “I figure that I have you to thank for all of that.”

Adam shrugged. “As much as you've had me to thank for anything else, yes,” he replied cryptically. He hooked his cane onto the edge of the desk and leaned back again in his chair. “I hear that our esteemed Dr. Jarrod has begun to initiate you into his reactive computer project. Your progress on the transfer protocol problem is impressive.” He picked up a remote control from his desk and pressed a button. An omni-monitor rose from the front of the desk, and on the screen played security camera footage of Anna and Dr. Jarrod in front of the mural. “As you can see, we've been keeping a close eye.”

Anna swallowed. She was so used to seeing the security camera bubbles on the ceiling of every public building that the thought of being constantly watched never really registered strongly in her mind. However, her stomach flopped over as she watched video of herself interacting with Dr. Jarrod, in the hallways and the lab.

They had followed her everywhere.

She looked up at Adam with what must have been a stricken look on her face, because he moved quickly to reassure her. “Rest assured, our surveillance only found satisfactory things to see and hear from you, Anna,” he remarked quickly. “You are quite the catch.”

“Am I?” she replied worriedly. She couldn't shake the feeling that she had done something wrong. What it might have been escaped her at the moment. She finally worked up the courage to blurt out, “Why am I here, Mr. Secretary? What did I do to have all of this thrown into my lap?”

He stared at her for a long moment with a look of such intensity that it frightened her. He looked at her like he knew her, although she couldn't possibly think how; she was certain she had never met him before. He took his cane and leaned his chin on the handle. She could feel his mind working behind his soulful eyes, although the content of those thoughts she could not decipher.

“You look so much like her,” he finally muttered to himself. “It's uncanny.”

“Like who?” Anna asked, taken aback.

He shifted in his chair. “Your mother. Your eyes are exactly the same . . . “

Anna jumped with surprise. “You knew her? How? When?”

Adam licked his lips again, thinking. “I knew your mother before you were born, Anna. She was a friend. Almost a mother to me, in fact.” He gave her a strange, almost longing look. “She is the reason that you are here in the first place and not wasting the rest of your life at HomoGen working on dead-end projects.”

Her head spun. Dead-end projects? Her mother, friend to the most powerful man in the country? She hadn't known her parents very well as it was; now it looked as though she didn't know anything about them at all. She sat stunned for a long minute in silence before she could think of her next question. “How is my mother the reason that you wanted me here?”

“The entire answer to that I will save for a later time,” the Secretary said as he sat regarding her, sizing her up it seemed. Anna wilted a little under his scrutiny. Finally he appeared satisfied and turned in his chair towards the window. “Anna, you were called here to do far more than simply write some transfer protocol. Or to help a cooped up and harried scientist do his work.”

“I gathered as much.”

Adam smiled. “Yes, Dr. Jarrod's musings helped with that, I am sure. As I said, we were keeping an eye on you both.” He tapped his cane. “The reactive computer project is vitally important but it is almost complete. No, you were brought here for another reason entirely. You were recruited to replace me.”

Anna's jaw dropped. “What?”

“You are my successor, the Party General Secretary-in-waiting. That is,” he added as he moved towards her, his voice growing low, “if you will accept the offer?”

Anna couldn't remember anymore if she had felt sick earlier in the elevator, because now she was afflicted with a full-scale attack of nausea that dwarfed whatever she had felt on the elevator earlier. Her brain refused to process what he had just said; it instead preferred to focus on tamping down the remains of her breakfast. She gripped the desk with both hands. “Is this a joke?”

“Hardly,” Adam replied with complete seriousness, turning to the side of his desk and filling a small paper cup with water from the pitcher perched there. He handed the full cup to Anna, who snatched it mindlessly and downed the whole thing in one gulp. The icy cold liquid seemed to help a little.

“Why me?” she whispered eventually.

“A favor,” the Secretary replied.

“What kind of favor is that?” she said incredulously.

He smiled kindly at her and tapped his cane on the floor. “If you have to ask that question then I trust my choice of successor even more than I did before.” He turned slowly back and forth in his chair as he spoke. “Your parents were some of the best people I ever knew. Their untimely death crushed me. You were all that was left of that stock, and now here you are. A woman, grown and complete and skilled. I have no children of my own, and I need a successor.”

Anna sat, silent, in shock. She didn't want to believe him; every instinct she had rebelled against the thought. Besides, it didn't quite make sense anyways. She was a nobody in the grand scheme of things, an outsider. “That doesn't answer my question,” she said quickly, breathlessly. “You could have picked anyone. Why me? Tell me.”

Adam thought for a moment, rubbing his chin while he chose his words. “Your major undergraduate and graduate fields of study were computer science and systems technology, yes? Top grades in all your classes?”

These people know everything about me. “Yes, that's true.”

“You almost single-handedly repaired the University of Virginia's central database system, did you not? And rebuilt HomoGen's database and streamlined their output system, yes?” Adam ticked the items off on his fingers as he mentioned them. “And your new system enabled nearly triple the output of Versions? Does any of this sound familiar to you?”

The question was obviously rhetorical, but a flicker of understanding flared up in Anna's mind as she began to think again. Memories of each accomplishment flooded back as he listed them. She had been proud of each one, but the victories had always left her a little hollow and searching for more. She nodded weakly. “I remember them all.”

The Secretary sighed and played with his cigarette. “This is no longer a government and a nation of people, Anna, but of systems and machines and lines upon lines of computer code. You are a computer scientist, a digital systems engineer with a profound grasp of the importance of those systems. You are simply . . . perfect for the task at hand. The next Secretary must be well-versed in these systems and their operation; I am not, and you are. It all makes sense.”

It did make some sense, as unwilling as she was to admit it. No wonder they had all been so concerned with her previous work. She felt recovered enough to press forward with questions. “But again, that doesn't really answer my question. Why must the next secretary be so concerned with systems and codes and machines? You have men, the military, police and whatnot for control and order. Surely this is not totally a matter of computers and systems?”

The Secretary regarded her silently for a long moment. “You think that, do you?” he asked at length.

Anna nodded. “Yes?”

“I suppose it would be perfectly natural for you to think that,” he said, standing and lurching to the window. “Perfectly natural . . . “

“It is true, is it not?”

The Secretary turned suddenly towards her. “Anna, there are some secrets that simply must be kept at all costs. You understand that, yes?”

“I understand,” Anna replied uncertainly. “I think.”

“Secrets that must be kept guarded behind a wall of lies if need be?”

Anna hesitated for a moment. “I suppose, yes.”

He continued. “Because if you thought that I shattered your world with what I've already told you, then I must warn you that we've only barely begun. Everything I tell you here is classified and must not go beyond the two of us.”

Anna's heart sank. There was more?

The Secretary motioned to her to join him at the window. She did so, slowly, crossing the plush carpet to stand in front of the dusty glass. He pointed out the window. “What is it that you see? Out there?”

She looked; all she saw was the restless Washington cityscape below, with all of its usual sights. The traffic moved, people walked, steam rose from the street vents. It was all ordinary. She turned to Adam. “I just see normal life.”

“As you should,” he replied. “And this place? Central Admin? What do you see here? What impression does it give you?”

She thought for a moment before answering. It felt like a trick question that she didn't know the answer to. “Strength, power. It feels . . . very secure,” she ventured.

“It is the proper impression. A sleight of hand trick that works for the most part like a charm. Truth be told, Anna, that your impressions could not be farther from the truth. This entire system is in actuality on the verge of falling apart.”

Anna turned to him in complete surprise. “How is that even possible?”

Adam smiled at her. “It is far more than possible. It is happening as we speak. To understand my position, you must know the truth, the whole truth. Where to begin?” He bit the inside of his cheek in thought. “Well, I will begin at the end and move back to the beginning. I am sure you remember the police traffic stops a couple days ago?”

She nodded, almost with excitement. Her conversation with Dr. Jarrod came to mind. Perhaps she would finally find out what really happened; although, she sighed to herself as she realized she wouldn't be able to tell the doctor her findings.

Adam grimaced at the memory. “Just last week we suffered the most serious electronic systems breach we've ever experienced since I became Party Secretary. Due to a code flaw, the criminal group known as Verité hacked a digital hole in our system three security layers deep, all the way down to the Central Detention Complex where a special prisoner was being held.”

Daniel Marcus. I was right.

Adam noticed the look of dawning realization on her face and nodded. “So you had some clue of what I am talking about from the good Dr. Jarrod. Yes, the prisoner was Daniel Marcus, ex Elite Combat Unit. Extraordinarily dangerous man, Daniel. The stories are true about Mogadishu, by the way. He was considered a hero at one time.”

Anna's interest had been kindled and she suddenly had a stomach for questions again. “What happened? I assume he escaped?”

He did indeed, an escape the like of which I have never seen in my lifetime. Our detention facility was hit by a blanket attack on the surveillance system, which locked us out of the controls and looped all the security camera footage until somehow Daniel had disappeared. The only trace was two of my guards who ended up dead on the floor. And the message that Verité left on our screens.”


Yes, all it said was 'Let There Be Life.'”

The blood boiled in Anna's temples. That message. The same anger that always rose up in her throat at its mention. “I've seen that message before,” she said.

Painted on everything, yes?”

Yes.” Anna's jaw worked. “It's an insult, frankly.” The thought of being able to help the Secretary suddenly took on a certain relish and the knot in her stomach began to unwind.

An insult, and a taunt,” Adam replied in agreement. “Verité does not share the same values, the same concerns as I do, and you do. From what I can gather, their obsession lies with some outmoded ideology and they are willing to do anything to tear down what we have built.” His expression took on an extra layer of gravity. “I recruited you partly due to your passion for your work with HomoGen. HomoGen's work is what keeps us alive and functioning. You were born for greater things than them but it provided a start.”

Anna managed a small smile. Oddly, for once she felt truly complimented for her work. She regarded the Secretary with a new respect as well. As she looked into his prematurely lined face it was suddenly clear to her the burden he carried on his shoulders. His responsibilities truly stretched to vast limits.

A nagging thought bubbled up in her consciousness, though, begging to be asked. She licked her lips. “You said you'd start at the end of the story and go back to the beginning. I still don't see how the system is so near catastrophe. Why was your security in such poor shape as to allow a breach that large in the first place? With all of your personnel and equipment I would have thought for sure Daniel Marcus would have been apprehended by now.”

Adam cocked his head at her. “A probing question. One better answered over lunch, what do you say?”

With a growl Anna's stomach agreed.

Read Chapter Ten here!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Eight

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

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



The next day proceeded almost exactly as the one before it: arrive early, proceed through security, and run orientation with Terry for several hours. Terry introduced her to the workings of her security ID badge, a holo-electronic scan key which unlocked everything concerning her new job. Any restricted access point, including computer terminals and secure databases, would unlock with a simple swipe as long as it represented a relevant part of the reactive computer project. The key would also only work when the card detected her particular bio-signs, so that it could not be used if stolen.

Then lunch, then spend the afternoon immersed in computers and bio-tech technical jargon. There would be no more harassment by Central Admin's security personnel, however. They even stood at attention as she walked in and flashed her badge to the woman at the reception desk. A bit surreal, but Anna shrugged it off. At least they were not poking and prodding her inside the building anymore, albeit still scanning. She was still required to traverse all the same checkpoints to get through the perimeter fences, but the process had smoothed out considerably.

It was a good thing that she liked Dr. Jarrod too, because he decided that the second day was soon enough to dive into the deep end of his work. He also suddenly showed a strange reluctance to mention anything more about his suspicions and opinions, and remained in full-on business mode the entire time. They spent three solid hours after lunch going over the reactive computer and steeping her in its complex workings, and Anna found herself slowly coming to an appreciation of how involved Dr. Jarrod's work actually was. He boasted eighteen-year veteran status in his technology; Anna felt puny by comparison. However, by the end of the second day they had already begun to hammer out a workable solution to the transfer protocol problem.

Anna's third day began to feel routine. She breezed through the multiple walls, fences, and scanners and headed to Level 2 to meet Terry for more training. The tall blonde woman stood waiting for her in her usual pose with arms crossed and grudging approval on her face. However, Anna almost felt there was something more there now: grudging fondness as well, perhaps? Something about Terry's eyes had softened, maybe? Whatever it was, Anna felt more comfortable with her.

Terry nodded in greeting. “You're consistently punctual. I like that.”

Anna almost laughed. “Drilled into me in boarding school. They didn't tolerate tardiness.”

“I see,” Terry replied noncommittally.

Anna inwardly shrugged. Maybe she's not so fond of me yet. And with the way they've scrutinized my past, she probably already knew that. They both proceeded to the tables and, pulling their firearms from their holsters, arranged them on the tables before loading extra magazines with .40 caliber ammo. However, when they were ready to shoot Terry did not immediately pin up any targets, but instead stood with the last magazine in her hand while looking at the floor.

“Anna,” she said quietly.

The word was spoken so softly and with such concern that Anna looked up with a start. For someone who epitomized clipped and authoritative speech, this was jarringly unlike Terry. Anna raised her eyebrows in question and waited for her to speak again.

Terry swallowed and brushed a hair back from her face. “I want you to take everything we do here extremely seriously.”

“All right. I thought I had been?” Anna offered, unsure of the point of the statement.

“You have been diligent and thorough, yes,” Terry replied, finding her mental footing and proceeding more confidently. “But I have the feeling that this has not all sunk in like it should quite yet.”

Anna's mind remained a blank. “I'm-not sure what you mean. This is only my third day.”

Terry's jaw worked as some inscrutable thought flashed through her mind, and Anna could decipher nothing from her face. Finally the older woman spoke again. “You are not armed simply because we arm our officers and personnel. You are armed so that you can kill, when necessary.”

Anna swallowed and her heart beat faster. The thought had occurred to her while firing at the silhouette targets, but it had registered on some lower plane of her consciousness while her higher thoughts focused on making accurate holes in the paper. Now that Terry had mentioned it, however, Anna could feel her skin bristle with sudden cold. She licked her lips. “Kill?”

Terry nodded, looking hard into Anna's eyes. “Yes, kill. Using your firearm gave you a rush, did it not?”

Anna nodded. “I-I felt powerful,” she said slowly, almost with embarrassment.

“It's not an uncommon feeling,” Terry replied. “The feeling of power when handling a firearm, shooting it, becoming acquainted with it. It is power over the life of another, power to eliminate a threat. Potentially, the power to dominate others.”

Immediately Dr. Jarrod's comment rushed back into Anna's mind: She was the only member of the reactive science team with a gun. Her breathing increased as her mind became a rushing tumult of conflicting emotions and thoughts. Why did they give me a gun? Why did they choose me for any of this? Why not someone else? Why?

Terry must have sensed the maelstrom raging inside Anna's soul because she shook her head. “I cannot give you the why or the how of any of this, Anna. But I can help equip you for whatever is coming. I want you to trust me, with your questions and concerns. I want you to follow my advice, and follow it well.”

Anna looked hopefully at her and could feel a sudden warmth and concern in her mentor. Almost unnerving, but reassuring. Terry continued.

“You are part of a unique team here, doing unique work. Which means there is now a target of sorts painted on your back, a target that will only likely grow as time goes on.” She stared hard at Anna as she finished.

Anna bit her lip as a terrible thought suddenly crossed her mind. “Is someone trying to kill me? And if so, why was I not assigned a protective detail?”

Terry opened her mouth to speak, then thought better of it. She turned her face away from Anna and tossed the magazine onto the table with a thud. “You never know who is going to do what in this profession,” she remarked almost to herself. Anna's heart quickened again.

Terry had failed to answer her first real question.

The older woman quickly added, “I have killed before.”

Anna felt the attempted redirect strongly and anger began to bubble up inside her. But the admission intrigued, if not surprised, her. Officer Garnham looked the part in her efficiency and stolid temperament. However, it still came as a shock to hear her admit it. She decided to humor Terry's diversion for a moment. “You have?”

Terry continued to look away, her silence only prolonging the tension. Finally she sighed. “I have. I shot a man through the eye and blew his brains out of the back of his head. He was dead before he even hit the ground.”

Despite her anger Anna felt reluctant to pry, but her curiosity hounded her to find out more. “How long ago was this?”

“That doesn't matter,” Terry replied sharply, her sudden emotion not directed at Anna but at some other unknown entity. “I would have been dead had I not pulled the trigger, had I not had the will to pull the trigger. But I did, and I am alive and he is dead. And I want you to remember that, Anna. That in the larger picture, we need you alive. Which means that you need to have the will to pull the trigger if and when the time arises.”

Terry's tone had risen to an urgent pitch throughout her speech, and Anna was once again both confused and distressed. Everything felt even more cryptic and opaque than before, but Anna no longer felt like she had the permission to ask any more today, despite Terry's “open door policy.” Besides, Terry had in effect admitted that she either did not know what was going on or did not have the clearance or desire to tell her.

Disheartened and indignant, Anna picked up her weapon with less enthusiasm than before and walked up to the firing line. “I assume we are doing the same exercises today as before?” she asked flatly.

A strange look passed briefly over Terry's face before it reverting back to the usual business-like somberness. She shook herself and picked up a rolled up paper target. “You assumed correctly.” She clipped it to the sliding hangar and let the paper unfurl. Anna felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as she saw, not a black human silhouette, but a full-color representation of a man holding a gun pointed threateningly in her direction. The whole exercise had become much more personal.

For the next two hours she practiced with minimal supervision, then broke down the weapon and cleaned it. When the gun was clean again a new officer joined Terry and introduced himself to Anna as a Sergeant Revier. A short, powerful and blocky man, he began to demonstrate some tactical maneuvers to Anna with a dummy firearm. No sooner had he begun, however, when Terry's commex began to chirp. The group paused the exercise as Terry answered the call.

Her conversation was short, but dramatic. Anna watched Terry's face go red with consternation, and then turn completely white. “Really? Now? He wants her now? What for?” After another moment she sighed with resignation and tapped the screen to cut the call. She licked her lips nervously and slid the commex back into her pocket. “You can go now, Sergeant,” she said, waving him off. He grunted something in annoyance and stalked away.

“What happened?” Anna asked, mystified.

“You are spending the rest of the day with someone else,” Terry replied uncomfortably. She picked up her firearm from the table and holstered it and Anna mimicked her reluctantly. The two of them exited the firing range and returned to the elevator, where Terry tapped the topmost button and watched the doors slide shut.

Anna's blood churned. “Where are we going?”

“To the top floor,” Terry remarked solemnly. “The Party General Secretary wants to see you personally in his office.”

It was as if a bomb had exploded inside her head and Anna felt as if she were falling even though the elevator moved steadily upward. The combination sickened her. She shot an arm out to the wall to counter her sudden vertigo and save herself from falling over, but her head would not stop spinning.

The leader of the entire Reunited States, the General Secretary himself, wants to see me. The most powerful man in the world wants me in his office. She had no time to prepare, no time to gather her thoughts or steel herself for such an encounter.

“Terry, help, I'm going to be sick...” she blurted out. Her own body surprised her in its total breakdown of higher control. It had rarely happened before like this, with no alcohol or medication of any kind in her system. Terry reached out a supporting arm and Anna grabbed at it.

“Pull yourself together Anna, he wants you now. And that means that you're going to see him, no matter how you're feeling about it.” Terry's voice was harsh but definitive and represented a rock to cling to. Anna gritted her teeth and willed herself to calm down. Few ever got to see the Secretary on a regular basis, and very few people were ever especially summoned to his private suite. At least that was as far as Anna knew. She barely knew what he looked like anyways.

Terry became business-like. “Just answer his questions and follow directions,” she said quickly. “And remember that he is just a human being like anybody else.”

Just a human being like anybody else?? The sentiment did not resonate with Anna at all. She found herself possessed by a sudden desperation to know what the hell was going on and to either escape from it or throw herself into it headlong and be done. All of this cryptic behavior surrounding her did not help. The desperation fueled her anger and she turned on Terry.

Terry, how much are you telling me? Or not telling me?” she asked quietly. “I feel like the world around here has begun to revolve around me and no one will give me a clue as to why. Why am I special? What does the Secretary want with me? What do any of you want with me? Why was I brought in, besides the transfer protocol?”

Terry stared at her for a long moment. Her face showed no signs of returning Anna's anger; if anything, she looked sad. “Anna, I don't know.”

“Bullshit!” Anna muttered miserably.

“It's true. You mistake my rank. I only know my orders.”

Anna groaned and slumped against the elevator wall. “I don't want to do this,” she groaned.

”I think he wants you in his office so that he can tell you what is going on himself,” Terry proffered. “He doesn't mean to make you anxious and miserable. This is unlike you, Anna. ”

“If you say so . . . ” Anna shook her head to clear the nausea.

The doors slid open and Terry crossed into the new hallway. She turned on her heel to face Anna through the opening. “Are you coming?”

Anna nodded and followed her through the doors. This new floor differed strikingly from the rest of the building. Instead of the sterile grays of the lower levels, the top level of Central Admin boasted sumptuous salmon-hued marble walls and floors lit by imitation-incandescent lighting. Beautifully executed vaulted ceilings stretched the entire length of the hall and one whole wall was dedicated to tall windows in cherry wood. The effect it produced was warm and dignified, if not exactly inviting. Despite her anxiety Anna couldn't help but notice its beauty and she found herself stealing glances out of the windows as they traversed the length of the hall.

A beep emanated from her pocket. Anna distractedly pulled out her commex and swiped the screen. Then she froze; Jesse's number blinked on the screen. She hesitated, then realized that he was the last person she wanted to talk to right now. She mashed the exit button and pocketed the device, and tried to put him out of her mind.

They came to another scanner manned by two guards, one of whom requested that Anna hand over her weapon and walk through the frame. She complied and, after a physical pat down from the other guard, she was given the thumbs up. She turned to Terry.

Terry waved her ahead. “His door is right there. You are to go in alone.”

Anna's stomach dropped again. “Are you sure?”


The door in question was the last door at the end of the hall, a huge heavy oak affair stained an extremely dark brown. It looked old and imposing, and Anna hesitated before walking up to it and knocking timidly. She jumped as she heard an electronic lock click open and turned to see if Terry still stood behind her. Terry raised her eyebrows at Anna and gestured for her to go. Steeling herself, Anna pushed the door open, stepped inside and shut it behind her again. The rest of the world seemed to disappear and a profound silence enveloped her.

Her first impression was the dim light. Only one tall window allowed a shaft of sunlight in from the right side of the room, revealing a dark oak desk and an empty chair behind it. Every wall was a bookshelf, and every shelf was crammed with books and documents of all kinds. A fire crackled in a large fireplace behind the desk, and in front of the fireplace stood a man.

His back was to Anna, one hand on the mantelpiece and the other on a metal cane. All she could see of him was his long brown hair overlapping a beautifully tailored suit coat. She hesitated, completely out of her element, the desire to simply bolt back out through the door growing to almost overwhelming levels. Before she could act on that impulse, however, the man turned suddenly and smiled.

His face was long and thin, his teeth very white. Every stitch of clothing he wore screamed designer label, from his frock-type coat to the shoes on his feet. Anna also noticed that the clothing, although well-made, exhibited signs of age and dust. The man also stood at an impressive height; Anna guessed he would easily have measured at six-two.

He stood with the whole weight of his upper body leaning into his cane through both hands, regarding Anna with a strange sort of quiet excitement. His eyes took her in from across the office and he nodded with what felt like approval. He gestured for her to sit in one of the plush leather seats in front of his desk.

“Please,” he said. “I won't have you standing there like that, come and sit.”

Smooth and reassuring, Anna decided. Which was good, because her knees had come close to knocking together in her anxiety. She slowly shuffled over to the desk, eying him the entire time. He watched her with a quiet amusement as she warily approached.

He held out a hand to her and smiled. “Welcome, Miss Annalise McLean, to my humble office. It is so good to finally officially meet you. I am the Party General Secretary, as you might have guessed.”

Anna shook his hand. “It's an honor to meet you, sir,” she croaked through a dry throat.

The man smiled again reassuringly. “Please, there is no need to stand on ceremony. Your name is Anna, is it not? And I will call you that. My name,” he added as he sank into his own chair, “is Adam. And you will call me that.”

Click here to read Chapter 9!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Book Covers!

I've been hard at work creating sample book covers to see which one works the best for the book. But since you all are here to help me better my writing and story and whatnot, I figured it was only fair to let my audience have their say on which cover design they like better. I have two designs so far to share with you, both similar in color but with slightly different looks and impacts.

This first cover is the older of the two designs, as my ideas were evolving:

And here is the second and newer of the two designs, going for a slightly more minimalist design:

Let me know your thoughts on both in the comments section below!

Monday, March 10, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Seven

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

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




“The man just keeps talking...”

Standing arms akimbo in the half-light from the computer screens in front of him, Officer Sam Holloway shook his head and smiled with dark amusement. A monochrome video feed of Anna and Dr. Jarrod talking together at the cafeteria table flickered softly on the main monitor, and the pair's conversational audio played over the main sound system.

The two young security officers sitting in front of the monitors turned around with identical concerned expressions on their faces. “Should we intervene?” one of them asked.

Sam rubbed his stubbled jaw in thought. “I'm sorry, that wasn't a question,” he replied sharply after a pause. “And technically, he hasn't violated protocol. Yet.” He looked back to the monitor. “Miss McLean is entitled to know what her job entails.”

He watched the pair for a while in silence, his eyes flicking from one to the other and back again. It had been a while since the last time he quarterbacked a surveillance operation personally and the rush of the moment showed clearly in his face. Normally, an operation like this consisted of long stretches of time in which nothing of interest happened, punctuated at intervals by hectic activity, followed by more boredom.

This was different.

Ever since Anna had entered the first of the outer perimeters she had been interesting to watch. How she reacted to the guards, dogs, scanners, security protocols; he was interested in it all. Her time with her new sidearm had particularly intrigued him, especially the tight groupings she had perforated in her paper targets. But this conversation struck him as particularly worthy of his time.

Dr. Jarrod's voice crackled over the speakers: 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.”

Sam frowned and leaned forward towards the screen. His eyes twitched and he gestured towards the young officer who had asked the question. “Zoom in on Dr. Jarrod.”

“Yes sir.”

All three men watched and listened further.

Dr. Jarrod's electronic voice on the speakers continued: “I wouldn't worry for the moment, I don't think. But...keep your eyes open. I like you already, Anna, and I wouldn't want to see you get hurt. Speaking of laboratories and projects, shall we go get you acquainted with mine?”

Sam relaxed again, but tapped the younger officer on the shoulder. “Make a note, Lieutenant, for me to visit with the good doctor after he relinquishes Anna for the day. We are going to have a little chat.” The lieutenant nodded in reply and they all continued to watch the screens.

Anna and the doctor rose from their table and began to wend their way back to his laboratory and away from the cafeteria security cameras. Sam returned to his standing pose, scanning the wall of monitors from his position behind his two officers. The two lieutenants began to tap their controls, following the doctor and Anna with the appropriate camera angles.

The door several feet behind Sam suddenly buzzed and he turned in surprise to the security monitor to see who it was. He was met with the stern pixeled face of Terry Garnham staring back at him. With a roll of his eyes he stepped back and tapped the door lock button; the door unlocked with its characteristic thud and Terry swept into the room.

Terry,” Sam acknowledged, nodding to her with little warmth. Terry nodded back with even less emotion and stopped beside him, clasping her hands behind her back and watching the screens with him. They stood together in silence for so long that the two lieutenants turned around to steal an awkward glance at the pair, a glance which was cut short by a glare from Terry.

Sam was the first to speak. “I wouldn't have expected you here.”

The woman remained expressionless. “And why is that? I'm giving them the perceived freedom of speaking freely. Where else would I be?”

Sam smirked and shook his head. “You have been such a smothering mother hen to Miss McLean that I thought you'd be down there making sure she didn't trip and scrape her knee.”

Terry didn't deign to look over at him. “Hardly. I just take my job seriously, unlike some of my colleagues.”

Sam smiled and sighed. “And I thought we divorced so I wouldn't have to listen to this sort of shit.” He leaned forward to the young officer again and mumbled a direction to him. The young man tapped his controls and the cameras angled in for a better look as Anna stopped in front of the mural. Sam, satisfied with the new camera view, leaned back again and folded his arms.

Terry turned and regarded him with a look of thinly disguised disdain. “You divorced me for far more trivial reasons than that.”

“Triviality is in the eye of the beholder,” Sam responded with sarcasm.

“Well, you are the beholder. And this spying is a little obsessive, don't you think?”

Sam pursed his lips and kept his eyes on the monitor. “If you say so. The Secretary was quite clear, he wanted keen observation of her for as long as she is in the building. Besides,” he added with increasing sarcasm, “why should you care? We treat all the new people this way.”

“That's not true and you know it,” Terry replied, irritated. “This woman has had her life picked apart like nobody else that we've ever brought in. And I've never seen you monitor someone new personally like this.”

“And I've never seen a man talk as freely and without restriction as Dr. Jarrod,” Sam replied, pointing to the figure of the doctor on the computer monitor. “He barely waited until you left the room before all manner of theories and opinions began to come out. Makes me wish we still had the infrastructure to monitor the citizenry like we used to. It's men like him that keep me awake at night.”

“Besides your own snoring, that is,” Terry ripped dryly. “He's been cooped up in that lab for too long, I think it's getting to his head. But oh wait! That's your doing as well, is it not?”

Sam smiled his wide smile at her. “You just keep getting more delightful with every passing month. And tell me, do you still have nightmares about the downtown shooting that keep you up until three in the morning? And can you find a man understanding enough anymore to pat you on the shoulder and tell you it'll be okay?”

For the first time since she came into the room Terry appeared visibly discomfited. Her usually poised and rigid figure flagged and she looked away. “My lovers and private life are my own business now, not yours.”

“Oh, but you're mistaken!” Sam shot back, still smiling although his eyes had turned cruel. “When you enter the Tower nothing is private anymore!” He gestured widely to the room at large; it was a huge round affair consisting of two levels of seating arrangements and computer desks. In front of almost every computer monitor sat an officer, dutifully scanning the glowing screens for signs of anything amiss in the Central Admin complex. The lighting glowed a dim moody blue and gave the Tower an almost theatrical feel.

In here there are no secrets, in here . . . ” he said slowly as he pointed to himself, “I am God.” He turned back to the flickering images of Anna and the doctor, entering Laboratory A1A. “I am God, surrounded by my avenging angels and messengers. I thought you would have known that by now.”

Terry was silent. Sam chuckled at her discomfiture. “So yes, we will follow and listen and learn. We will track her and you will not interfere or question.

Terry, visibly eager to change tracks, gestured to the main screen. “Have you found anything out that I can make use of tomorrow during my training sessions with her?”

The cruel look faded away and Sam shrugged. “Not too much. Although,” he added, chuckling again as he watched the screen, “this man cannot stop talking.”

Terry frowned. “What do you mean? Has he broken protocol?”

“Technically, no, since Anna has the clearance. But he's skirting the line...” Sam's voice trailed away as he listened to Dr. Jarrod speak. The doctor was explaining Daniel Marcus's disappearance, and Sam paid close attention, hanging on every word. Finally he shook his head again. “I can't figure why the Secretary let a man like him into this project.”

Terry sighed. “He knows what he's doing.”

“Who, our Secretary or this buffoon of a doctor?” Sam fired back.

“You know who I'm talking about,” Terry replied, glaring at him. “And I get the distinct impression that he didn't authorize this level of scrutiny.”

“Ha! He authorized me to background-check the hell out of Miss McLean, as well as to glean what I could from her time here. I don't like being doubted in my own domain, Miss Garnham, it only serves to irritate me.”

“Are you still surveilling her house?” Terry asked, ignoring his outburst.

Sam paused petulantly. “No, we're not.”

“Why not?”

He won't let me anymore. He claims we got what we needed during the vetting process and he wants to leave her alone there. He's oddly touchy about that. So we pulled everyone out.”

“Why don't I believe you?” Terry queried, shaking her head.

“If you don't believe me, ask Lieutenant Farkas down there at console six to pull up the three-sixty degree traffic cam on her street. It doesn't work. We lost it during one of those outages we had last week.” Sam reddened as he spoke, whether it was with anger or embarrassment was unclear. “We've been losing cameras like that for a while. We've tried keeping up with replacing them but its become a bit of an epidemic. I don't know if it's Verité or just some screwball gang who's doing it.”

A hint of a smile crept over Terry's face. “If you can't play peeping tom on Anna in her own house you could perhaps find a way to spy on her next door neighbor instead. I've been told he's quite the character.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Just a crazy old man. Our records say he's up for a geriatric home in a couple years, so we're letting him stay in his house.” He turned suddenly on Terry. “You may leave now, Miss Garnham. We have work to attend to. Go back to babysitting our new arrival.”

Terry's face darkened but she said nothing, opting instead for one last look at the monitor and the image of Anna sitting at the reactive computer. Terry sighed and strode quickly out of the Tower, letting the door shut behind her with a dramatic click.

Sam once again chuckled under his breath as he watched the screen. “That man just keeps talking...”


Terry stalked down the long hallway to her office, her fists clenched and her knuckles white. Her heels clicked even more quickly than usual, echoing hollowly off the marble slab-sided walls with a steady but urgent tempo. The usual grimness in her face had nearly vanished and was replaced by another stronger emotion, nearly inexplicable even to her. It could have been terror, had it not been so well-controlled. Or anger.

She pushed unceremoniously through the glass doors of her office and sat down at the spartan desk, a desk meticulously clear of any of the usual office clutter and containing only a commex charging station and her office computer. Her breath drew in and let out unevenly and she sat for a long moment with arms extended, her hands flat on the desktop, attempting to calm herself and soothe her nerves. The brushed aluminum slab felt cold to her palms.

She glanced quickly around; no one walked the hallway outside her office. When her hands were steady enough she reached up to her left ear and slipped the earring out. It was a large, dangling pendant earring in an entirely nondescript color. She took a long breath, then grasped the bottom of it firmly and pulled.

Out popped a small micro-data plug cleverly concealed inside.

She peered over the top of her computer monitor at the security camera outside her office. It only spied on her through the glass door of her office, affording her a small bit of privacy, the same as it was with all higher ranking officers of Central Admin. Rank equaled privacy, or a degree of it anyways. With a nervousness that was not her wont she slipped out her commex and, holding it near the desk where the cameras couldn't see, she slid the micro-data plug into the slot at the bottom.

The screen of her commex lit up briefly, flashed, then went dark again. Then the device began to reinitialize and long lines of text scrolled past as a new subroutine took over. Terry held the device with fraying patience waiting for the subroutine to complete, occasionally glancing up to make sure nobody was coming. Finally the text stopped scrolling and all that was left was a blinking bar, waiting ominously for input.

Terry hesitated, then began typing on the screen: “Anna's three-sixty degree street cam is confirmed still dead. Probably no fix for at least a week. Recommend you move now.” She tapped the Send button.

And waited.

Not fifteen seconds later the screen flashed as a message appeared. Terry opened it, breathing slowly: “Is Anna's security clearance fully initialized? Will her ID badge work everywhere now?”

Terry hesitated again, biting the inside of her cheek. When she began to type again her fingers were not as steady: “ID badge is free and clear. Will work on everything.” She paused, then added, “You're not going to hurt her?”

The return message took much longer to come this time. When it did Terry opened it without enthusiasm: “That depends on her. You need plausible deniability. No more questions. Good work. Over and out.”

Terry gritted her teeth and pulled the data plug out of the bottom of her commex. The screen flashed again, then returned to normal. She grimly reinstalled the plug in her earring, then breathed another long breath and rubbed her hands together. Her palms were drenched with cold sweat.

Click here to read Chapter 8!