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MACRO 7: IMAGES OF THE MYSTERY

Danny arrived at Sybernika house later than he’d intended. It was close to 10 o’clock when he burst into his office, slightly breathless.

Ms Grant was perched on the edge of his desk. Pencil skirt. Tight-fitting top with horizontal red and white stripes. And fishnet stockings.

‘I was just going to ring you,’ she said. ‘Thought something might have happened.’

‘Traffic,’ said Danny. ‘You know how it is in London.’   

‘You should have used the Radial Tunnel.’

Danny sat at his desk and fired up the PC. As he waited for the operating system to sort itself out, he beamed thoughts at Ms Grant: snapshots of his night with Chastity.

She seemed oblivious but he knew his thoughts were getting in there, worming their way through her brain, infecting her cells with his memories. Tonight she would dream of him, naked, virile and compliant. And when she woke up, it would be with a yearning to make the dream a reality.

Fall in love with me. Hunger for my body.

‘Mr Morganfield has sent me an email,’ she said, getting up from the desk and turning to face him. ‘He’s concerned you’re not putting me to good use.’

‘Guess I haven’t needed as much fetching and carrying as I thought I would.’ Fall in love with me, in love with me, in love with me.

‘You’d be doing me a great favour if you let me take you out tonight.’

It’s working, it’s working, it’s working. Come on, Ms Grant. Admit to yourself you want me. You’ll feel a whole lot better.

‘I’ve already made plans,’ said Danny.

‘Do they involve that girl you took back to your hotel last night?’

Danny felt a thrill of triumph. So she had picked up his thoughts. Seen every filthy thing he and Chastity had got up to. And now she wanted the same action for herself.

‘Do you want to know her real name?’ said Ms Grant.

‘Not really.’

‘Anything at all about her?’

And spoil the illusion? ‘No.’

‘Fine. The main thing is that she’s not a security risk. A bit of a flake – but Mr Morganfield doesn’t care about that. So, with your permission, I’ll book a table for three at Kafé Krypton.’

‘Sure.’ You and me and Chastity dining by candlelight in the world’s most exclusive restaurant. ‘Only I tried to make a reservation there a few weeks back and they’re booked up for the next two years.’

‘Leave it to me, Mr Jasinski. Working for a billionaire has its advantages.’

Danny’s eyes were fixed on Ms Grant’s hips as she sauntered to the door. He was sure she was exaggerating her movements for his benefit.

I just hope you’re as big a bitch as Chastity.

After Ms Grant was gone, he sat, breathing deeply through his nostrils, trying to absorb as much of her lingering essence as he could.

A ping from his PC told him it had finished booting and making all the necessary connections. He was online.

The first thing on his agenda was to see if his code sprite had successfully hacked the operating system of Sybernika’s Nyvax 890. With a few clicks of his mouse, he conjured up an analysis screen and scrutinised its readouts. At first glance, it looked like mission accomplished. If so, he now had a copy of something that was supposedly uncopyable. But he couldn’t be sure until he’d tested the pirated code to destruction. And he wasn’t going to get the chance to do that properly because Robert Morganfield wanted to cut corners.

I’ll run an integrity test. That will weed out any obvious nasties.

He started the test and watched the program’s progress bar for 10 minutes by which time it was stating 0.01% complete.

Danny had been known to stare at progress bars for hours. Somehow watching that red line creep slowly, often imperceptibly, across the screen held a fascination for him. One of the long line of psychiatrists he’d hired and quickly fired – and there were so many he couldn’t be sure which one – had explained he was meditating. Said his mind was synchronising with the progress bar, slowing down and generating beta waves. Exactly as if he were practicing transcendental meditation.

But this was no time to be generating beta waves or any other of that New Age bollocks.

He minimised the integrity test and linked into Avalon II. His screen showed the outside of the bungalow in Calvados Bay. There was no sign of Colette but he wasn’t unduly worried. She was probably indoors and it was Ariel he was after.

Danny clicked on the SUMMON SPRITE icon. The view moved to the sky which was a ridiculously blue shade of blue. There was a streak of light and then Ariel appeared, her wings a blur as they kept her in a holding position.

‘Hello, Danny,’ she said brightly. ‘And how are you this fine morning?’

‘Great,’ said Danny, leaning forward to make sure the PC’s microphone picked up his voice clearly. ‘You’ve done a grand job with the operating system.’

‘Oh, I’m so pleased that you’re pleased.’

‘Do you think you got everything?’

Ariel nodded enthusiastically. ‘I’ve been over every binary digit 3 times. I haven’t missed so much as a subroutine.’

‘That’s marvellous. How are you getting on with Colette?’

‘Miss Colette has gone, Danny. She is no longer here.’

‘What?’ Danny felt something akin to stark terror. ‘Where is she?’

‘Gone.’

‘Gone where?’

‘Maybe nowhere.’

‘You mean she’s been erased?’

‘It would seem that way.’

‘Shit!’

‘You’re not angry with me, are you, Danny?’ Ariel looked crestfallen.

‘No,’ said Danny and the sprite’s face immediately regained its sunny disposition. ‘I’m glad.’

Danny terminated the link to Avalon II and stormed into the outer office, startling Ms Grant at her desk.

‘Where’s Morganfield?’

 ‘I’ll have a look.’ Ms Grant tapped away at her keyboard and clicked her mouse a few times. ‘He’s in TIMMI 2.’

‘Right. I’m on my way.’

 

~o~

 

When Danny got to TIMMI 2 and saw that one of the sarcophagi was in use, he seriously considered yanking out the power cord. He’d heard all sorts of stories about what happened to people’s minds if the power failed while they were in total immersion. Depending on who you talked to, consequences ranged from mild amnesia to full-blown insanity.

Whatever happened, you’d deserve it, Morganfield, you murdering little fuckpig.

But he wasn’t about to do anything to upset his karmic balance any further.

Violence begets violence, he reminded himself. And I need to talk to him, find out what the hell’s going on.

Danny climbed into an empty sarcophagus.

 

~o~

 

He was on the beach of a tropical island. Blue sea, blue sky, white sand and lush vegetation. From the jungle canopy came the cries and trills and chirps of creatures happy to be alive.

Waves lapped playfully around his ankles.

He felt the sun on his face and tasted the breeze with its notes of ozone and brine. A shadow danced over the sand, causing him to look up at a sea bird spiralling on a current of warm air. He had never seen a bird like it, but from its large wingspan he guessed it was an albatross.

A crab scuttled over his feet, causing him to jump. Laughing, he crouched down and gingerly picked the crab up. The crustacean regarded him with eyes that were extended on stalks. It clicked its pincers menacingly, so Danny let it go.

The crab buried itself in the sand.

So this was Avalon III.

Even in Avalon II – until now the most detailed virtual reality in existence – some part of him had been aware of the illusion. A common mantra in the VR community was: You can fool the eye but not the subconscious.

That looked to be no longer true. If he’d woken up on this beach, he would have had no way of knowing it existed only as 1s and 0s in the core of a supercomputer.

Danny had no doubt that on some part of this island he would find Calvados Bay with its beach hut and bungalow – always assuming he could find some means of getting there. Dressed only in Bermuda shorts, he wasn’t about to tackle the jungle. Which meant his only option was to follow the coast and hope his way wasn’t blocked by rocks, cliffs or other obstructions.

But which way? Clockwise or anticlockwise? For all he knew Calvados Bay was close at hand, hidden from his sight by the curves of the shore. If it was to his left and he opted to go right, he would walk practically all the way around the island before he reached his destination. Assuming he ever did.

How big was the place? The furthest point he could see – a rocky peak rising above the jungle canopy – looked to be several miles away.

It was just dawning on him that he had no idea how to exit this virtuality when he heard, distantly, the sound of an engine.

He turned towards the sea. From around the headland to his left came a speedboat. Shielding his eyes against the sun, he watched patiently as it veered towards him.

It wasn’t till it was less than a hundred metres away that he could tell that Robert Morganfield was driving the boat and Colette was standing beside him, holding on to a rail for support.

Morganfield eased up on the throttle and the boat slowed to a halt just a few metres out. ‘Hop aboard!’ he invited. ‘Don’t worry about the water. There’s nothing nasty in it.’

Danny had only just climbed into the boat when it started forward again. He found himself sprawled on the deck, clinging to a perimeter rail for dear life.

Robert glanced over his shoulder at Danny and laughed. ‘You’ll soon get your sea legs.’

Colette smiled down at him, like a kindly aunt visiting the bed of a sick boy. She didn’t speak, nor did her expression change, not even when plumes of sea spray splashed her face.

She’s not judging me at all, thought Danny, scrambling to his knees. My predicament neither amuses nor worries her.

He found his way to a bench and sat down.

 

~o~

 

A jetty had been added to Calvados Bay. Danny’s legs wobbled as he stepped onto it. He held out his hand to Colette, but she ignored it and disembarked without his help.

Robert moored the boat and joined them. As they headed towards the bungalow, he said: ‘So what do you think, Danny? Is this Paradise or what? I’ve been waiting all my life for technology to catch up with my dreams.’

Danny decided to be blunt. ‘You should have told me you’d moved Colette here. I thought she’d been erased.’

‘Sorry, old chap. There wasn’t time. Someone on the board decided to pull a fast one and deliver me a googly. The Nyvax is being taken out of commission today.’

‘You could have left me an email.’

‘Too risky. I can think of at least a dozen of my staff who could hack any email system in the world.’ Robert shook his head and chuckled. ‘My Colette’s really gotten under your skin, hasn’t she?’

She’s not your Colette, you shit. Or at least she won’t be for much longer.

 

~o~

 

They sat at the picnic table beside the bungalow, drinking unnamed cocktails that were as blue as the sea.

‘This island,’ said Robert, ‘is two miles long and half a mile wide. It’s eco-system is nearly as complex as anything you’d find in the real world.

‘Avalon III uses about a trillion times more CPU capacity than Avalon II. It’s like we’ve gone from the stone age to the space age in a single bound.’

Danny was in awe. ‘You must be using the quantum core to squeeze out the processing power needed to keep this going. But I can’t see how you can translate the quantum domain to the classical quick enough for it to be any use.’

‘We use Page Zero.’

‘But that’s the most chaotic part of the core! This whole world is unstable.’

Morganfield nodded sagely. ‘That’s why I need you to get a move on.’

 

~o~

 

Get a move on, he says! Danny sat in his office fuming. What was wrong with the man? Robert Morganfield knew as much about quantum computers as any man on the planet – with the possible exception of Danny – so he should know that you leave Page Zero alone. It was owned by the operating system and could get overwritten at any time.

Oh Bridget, Bridget, Bridget. Do you have any concept of the danger you’re in? Your world could quite literally collapse in the blink of an eye or you could be sucked into a vortex or turned into a cockroach.

Why didn’t he put you on ice until we got everything sorted? Is it because he can’t bear to be apart from you for too long? Or is he using you to stick it to his directors?

Danny stood up and took his holdall from under the desk. It was time to attach the Schnell Integrator to the Quantium 7000. It would allow him to load Ariel into the quantum part of the computer and retrieve the data she harvested. Within a matter of hours, he could start unravelling the Multijax operating system – code he’d created only to have it stolen by the Quantium Corporation.

Now, because of its heuristic nature, it would have changed beyond all recognition. Mutated and evolved. But it was still his baby.



 

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