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‘You’ve had your hair cut.’ Ms Grant smiled approvingly. ‘Makes you look ten years younger.’

Danny blushed. He wasn’t used to compliments about his appearance.

Ms Grant ran a finger down his lapel. ‘Nice suit. Just like the one Mr Morganfield had on yesterday. You two must think alike.’

‘Quite a coincidence.’ Danny wondered if Ms Grant wasn’t humouring him. Perhaps she knew about his visit to a Chinatown sweat shop at 5 in the morning when he'd handed over the best part of a thousand pounds to have a suit made up within the hour. He’d long suspected that some women had the ability to read his mind – especially the beautiful ones.

Ms Grant had just shown him into his office. It was a scaled down version of Robert Morganfield’s with the walls coated with television screens. He had a desk, a PC, a phone, a coffee percolator and a walk-in VR cabinet.

‘If you need anything,’ said Ms Grant, ‘let me know. I’m the personal assistant Mr Morganfield promised you.’

Danny put his holdall on the desk and gave it an affectionate pat. ‘I’m going to need full access to TIMMI 2.’

‘Already arranged. You’re free to enter any room in the building – except Mr Morganfield’s office and certain high security ones. And the sarcophagi have been programmed to accept your presence. Is there anything else I can do for you?’

Get naked, thought Danny. He turned away from her and hoped she hadn’t read his mind.

‘No,’ he said. ‘Just make sure I’m not disturbed.’

Danny sat down and forced himself to make eye contact with Ms Grant. She was in the open doorway, smiling sweetly. Her pencil skirt flowed around her hips, drew attention to her black stockings which in turn led the eye down to her ankles.

‘Call me if you need me,’ she said. ‘I’ll be just outside.’

As she closed the door after her, Danny detected a hint of perfume.

He wondered if she’d slept with Robert Morganfield. The report prepared by his private detective had shown Morganfield to be a philanderer, but there was no mention of a dalliance with Ms Grant. Still, you never knew.

Concentrate, Danny. Keep your mind on the job. If you need sexual relief, you can sort it out when you get back to the hotel. Hire yourself a dozen prostitutes or jack in to a pleasure channel.

Danny fired up the PC and found a compiler for VX+, one of the half dozen programming languages he’d created. Feeling in his natural element once more, he set about creating a code sprite.

He skipped lunch and didn’t even know that lunch time had been and gone. Without being asked, Ms Grant had placed a sandwich on his desk. Somewhere along the way he must have eaten it but he had no recollection of having done so.

For the most part, his entire being was concentrated on writing a program that would allow him to hack into the Quantium 7000’s operating system. It wasn’t an easy task. The computer’s operating system was housed in the quantum core where it constantly rewrote itself on a Darwinian basis. It was forever changing its code and testing it in a multitude of quantum alternatives. Some changes proved beneficial and were kept. The rest got junked.

Survival of the fittest.

Multijax. He’d written the damn thing. Given it the power to evolve, to change from one processing cycle to the next.

What had it mutated into? And could he control it?

At 5pm, his wristy vibrated. It was time to take some Fromoxodin.

Rubbing the back of his neck, he yawned. The code sprite was nearly complete. A couple more hours and he’d be in a position to test it. To see if it really could decipher the Quantium 7000’s operating system and translate it into something the human mind could comprehend.

Danny went over to the percolator and switched it on. As the machine went about the business of dripping hot water through ground coffee beans, he opened the door and stuck his head into the adjoining room. Ms Grant was at her desk, typing on a PC.

‘Sorry,’ said Danny. ‘I forgot to ask what time you knock off.’

She paused in her typing. ‘I’m assigned to you 24 hours a day.’

‘What about your home life?’

‘I go home when you tell me – and you don’t have to. If you want, I’ll keep you company back at your hotel or out on the town. Physical intimacy, however, is not part of the package, although I can, if you wish, arrange something along those lines so long as it doesn’t involve me.’

Danny tried to look like he heard that kind of thing every day. ‘Well,’ he said, as casually as he could, ‘you’re free to go. I’ll see you tomorrow at 9.’

‘Thank you, Mr Jasinski. You have my mobile number. Remember: I’m at your disposal. If you need anything – anything at all – just ring.’

Ms Grant switched off her PC and rose from her desk.

Danny retreated into his office and closed the door. He prayed she hadn’t read his thoughts as she stood up and her blouse tightened around her breasts.

Back at his desk, he read through the code he’d written, looking out for obvious bugs. In theory, a code sprite was a simple enough program. All it had to do was roam a computer’s memory, picking out bits of code and copying them. But in a quantum computer, finding that code and working out the position of each machine instruction along with its relationship to the rest of the code was something of a nightmare.

Danny was certain he was the only person who could pull it off – and then only with the help of his stolen Schnell Integrator.

He fixed himself a coffee and swallowed a tab of Fromoxodin. Then he spent an hour refining the code and testing it as well as he could on the non-quantum PC. When he had what he thought was a robust program, he logged in to the Sybernika VR system and brought up a menu of avatars. There were thousands of them.

With a few clicks of a mouse, he eliminated all the males. He wanted his sprite to be intuitive and non-intrusive. Brute force would be counterproductive.

Danny scrolled down the menu, rejecting avatar after avatar. He didn’t have a clear idea of what he was looking for nor – in most cases – any firm reason for passing over the avatars he passed over. When he came to the right one, he was sure his gut would let him know.

Ten minutes later, he was halfway down the menu when something told him to stop. And there she was: slender and wispy, with long blonde hair and a smile that said she enjoyed mischief. She had wings like a dragonfly’s and a white chemise as substantial as a puff of smoke.

He read her profile.

Ariel. A spirit of the air. Playful and intelligent. Gentle too. She is based upon a spirit of the same name in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Although Shakespeare’s Ariel is generally portrayed as a male, (s)he has also been presented as a female and this is the incarnation we prefer. She is a free spirit but a loyal one. Be gentle and kind to her and there is little she won’t do in return.

Danny stopped reading right there. He’d found the perfect avatar for his code sprite.

He brought up a connection to the Nyvax 890 in TIMMI 1 and copied Ariel’s character into its memory. Then he sent across his code sprite and linked it to Ariel, adding virtual mind to virtual body.

Now all he had to do was test the damned thing and he could get back to the hotel.




Walking into TIMMI 1, Danny was surprised to find one of the sarcophagi with its lid closed. It could only mean Robert Morganfield was inside.

Danny’s first instinct was to turn and walk out. He could leave testing his sprite until tomorrow. No need to intrude on Morganfield’s cybernetic tryst. But the test would need to run for several hours and he was hoping to have some preliminary results first thing in the morning.

‘Screw it.’ Some things were more important than his employer’s jollies.

Fighting claustrophobia, Danny lay in the remaining sarcophagus. His heart hammered as he watched the lid swing slowly shut. When he was in darkness, he said to himself: This is what death must be like.

His nerve endings tingled.

There was a flash of light and then he was standing on the gently undulating surface of a sea at the edge of another world. Wearing only Bermuda shorts. His body was trim and tanned, unpunished by his years of drug abuse and other excesses.

Look at me! Walking on water and no one here to take a picture.

He looked at the sky behind him. It was inches away, a blue veil he could put his hand through. But into what? A chaos of mostly random binary computations.

The thought unnerved him and he ran from it across the sea to dry land.

For a few moments, he stood on the beach and let his bare feet sink ever so slightly into the white sand. He seemed to remember a beach like this from his childhood. Only the sand on that other beach had burned the soles of his feet and it had rock pools where he could look for crabs and other creatures of the deep.

There’d be no fauna in this world though. No creatures great or small. They took up too much processing power, cost too much money.

If this was my fantasy, Danny thought, I’d throw in a mermaid or three. And some dusky-skinned maidens in grass skirts doing that hula-hula thing. Maybe a Man Friday I could teach the ways of civilisation. Or is that just being racist?

He trotted up the beach towards the bungalow. Colette and a man Danny's age in swimming trunks sat at a wooden table on wicker chairs outside the front door. They were drinking blue cocktails.

Momentarily, Danny was puzzled. And jealous. Who was this interloper? Perhaps a virtual companion for Colette? Someone to keep her company while her lover was back in the real world running Sybernika...?

He felt cheated - as if something rightfully his had been snatched from him and given to someone else. Someone unworthy. Someone who did not love Colette the way he did.

And then came relief and a feeling of foolishness as he realised the stranger was none other than Robert Morganfield. Or, rather, Robert Morganfield's avatar.

He’s made himself young again. Young and virile and I bet he’s given himself a bigger prick.

Colette spotted Danny and waved. ‘Monsieur Danny! How good it is to see you again.’

He knew it was a pre-programmed response but it gladdened his heart anyway.

Morganfield turned round. He grinned a grin that was whiter than white and ran his fingers through a lush mop of black hair. ‘Danny! Do come and join us. We’ve been expecting you.’

Danny sat next to Morganfield, directly opposite Colette whose eyes twinkled, whose cheeks had dimples, whose lips pouted and whose breasts were inviting. He followed the sinuous outline of one side of her torso from armpit to hip.

There has to be a mathematic formula for those curves. An algebraic function. Oh Colette, Colette. What are you doing with this old fraud? This clapped out geriatric with a gammy leg?

‘Don’t worry about the sun,’ said Morganfield. ‘Unlike our own, it's totally benign. You won’t get skin cancer here.’

A blue cocktail appeared on the table in front of Danny. He picked it up and took a long sip through the curly plastic straw. The cocktail tasted of cranberry and blackcurrant.

He looked at Colette’s lips and wondered how they would taste. Of strawberry or cherry, I bet. Sugar and spice and all things nice.

He imagined the real Colette sitting in the real Calvados Bay. Feeling the heat. Sweating a bit.

And me running my tongue under her armpit, tasting the salt and the hormones. Across the top of her chest. Descending upon her breast. Teasing a nipple between my teeth. Possessing you. Exploring you. Celebrating all the trillion of atoms that have come together to be you. The real, pre-resurrection you.

Colette took a sip of cocktail and smacked her lips. ‘Hmm. This is delicious.’

But to you it tastes of nothing. You automaton. You plastic doll whose head would melt if that sun was real. I could take you, lay you on the beach, pick up a rock and smash your head to a pulp and it really wouldn’t matter, would it? I could make love to you and then die for you and be forgotten in an instant.

If I killed you, Morganfield would reboot you and you’d have no memory of being dead.

You’re a travesty and I love you.

‘How are things coming along?’ Morganfield asked. ‘I have to confess to being a bit anxious. The board wants Avalon II shut down as soon as possible. I’m holding them off for now, but it won’t last.’

‘These things take time,’ said Danny.

‘We don’t have time!’

‘I’ve created a code sprite.’

‘Yes. We’ve seen her.’

‘Her name’s Ariel. If she works OK in the Nyvax, we can move her to the Quantium in maybe three or four days.’

‘Tomorrow, Danny. It has to be tomorrow.’

‘That doesn’t give me nearly enough time to go through the test results.’


‘Even if she works in the Nyvax, there’s no guarantee she’ll perform properly in the Quantium. I need at least a month to fine tune her.’

‘You can do that as you go along.’

Danny gave up. There was nothing he could tell Morganfield that Morganfield didn’t already know. If the man wasn’t prepared to face facts, that was his look out.

As he took a sip of his cocktail, he felt the hairs on his arms rise and smelt ozone. There was a sound like a thousand tiny bells mixed with laughter.

Ariel landed lightly on the table. She was about a foot tall and glowed. Ripples of light flowed down her chemise like liquid silver.

‘Are you Danny?’ she asked in a childlike voice.

‘Yes,’ said Danny.

‘My creator?’

‘I suppose you could call me that.’

‘Thank you,’ said Ariel. She soared into the air, calling, ‘I love you, Danny Jasinski.’

She disappeared in a flash of light.

Danny felt self-conscious. He’d have blushed if such a response had been programmed into his avatar.

Colette acted as if nothing had happened. A sense of wonder was not one of her attributes.

Not yet anyway, thought Danny. Not yet.



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