Catherine’s recovery from injury had been excellent, the surgeon’s prognosis of full recovery from the stroke well on its way to fulfillment; her head was still bandaged where it had been trepanned to relieve the pressure on her brain and remove the clot. She moved gingerly, her left arm still strapped to her body in a sling and she fought to disguise her pronounced limp, repulsed by being thought a victim.
She was meeting privately and on neutral ground in a public restaurant with Ken; it was against Jacky’s wishes, but it was something she needed to do to beat back her demons.
“You sure gave us a fright, Cath. I was almost squishy with worry...” Ken was trying to retain his loose-tongued swagger, still uncomfortable with the emotions he’d admitted to. “...Stupid of me. I knew you were a fighter.”
Catherine looked for it but found no trace of his psychopathic manipulating edge; it was something she’d always be on guard for, no matter how this went.
For Ken, in his mind and in his circumstances, what he had come to do wasn’t simple at all; there were newfound emotions to contend with, but also the practicalities of managing the situation he found himself in;
His wealth... perhaps his freedom... depended on keeping the lie intact. In the days since he’d made those admissions on emotional impulse to the Father, he’d had time to digest their implications.
Gone were the first heady delusions that he could capitulate and disclose it all... wash his hands and live a free man. Nothing was free; there were contracts, there was reputation... there was a brand, and there were laws... an FDA, a CIA, a FBI and real legal and other jeopardies for having defrauded powerful people.
The moment of epiphany had passed and his emotional reaction with it; but he still felt the motivation to wind it down; the machine had taken control over his dreams, and it was giving up more control than he was prepared to consider.
No matter what he’d done, no matter its impact... no matter his realizations and earnest intent to unwind it all; he had no intention of suffering for it.
He’d pick it slowly apart, he’d have the drug reduced in its potency... he’d scrap the campaign promoting Time Dilation; there’d be no announcement or press release, nothing quite so dramatic. He’d just let it slowly drift into the archive, a forgotten dead end in the turbulent Research and Development arena.
The more he thought about it, the more he knew he could sell that to the Board... he’d do it over time. He’d built it up, he could take it down... slowly, slowly—that was the key.
“Your lawyer called... tells me you’re calling him off? You’d never have got me you know...” Ken tried to make light of it.
“You obviously haven’t met him. His legal skills were the least of your problems,” Catherine knew how to play the game with him; he would never be anything but an egotist, she thought... always wanting the last word.
“How much does he know about the... uhhmm, the patches?” his voice apprehensive and testing.
He hadn’t admitted the drug’s existence outright; it was a game of not stepping on the landmines and they both knew it... an unspoken agreement to talk about it without saying it outright. They had an understanding that the narcotic was there, in the patch, and Ken had agreed without spelling it out, that the formula would be changed to back it off.
“Only that I suspected something exists, and he’s found something,” she kept it vague, bluffing an ace in the deck. “He’s a friend and he’s promised to develop amnesia so long as I remain happy...” she inferred it as a hostage situation, guaranteeing her own safety.
Ken nodded approval to the terms.
“And the rest of it?”
They both knew what it meant within the context—the rest of the company... the ritual they’d created. She was driving toward the bargain, testing his commitment to dismantle it.
“I’m a wealthy enough man...” she’d expected him to make it all about himself, “I can live very comfortably, I’m prepared to move on, I have to move cautiously though... there are factors,”
She was smart enough to know what he meant—his jeopardy... prison, or worse.
“I’ve done my confession Cath... we both know it. Talking too much is... well... you know… you’re smart. Let me say; watch this space…” he challenged.
Catherine wondered if she could call it cowardice. Was she expecting him to fall on his sword? Publicly? Give up the cushy life? Give up freedom... become a marked man...? The CIA, Pentagon, Mossad, MI6... all the baddies who’d bought in... they’d become decidedly bad company if he admitted he’d sold a lie and played them.
She had the whistle and she could blow it at any time; and he knew it. In that sense, it was a gun to both their heads, if she blew it, they both knew she’d blow it only once; it would be the last breath she’d ever blow.
“I’ll do it Cath,” he could see question marks in her eyes, “...Time Dilation’s already on hold, but I don’t know how long I can keep it that way without a communiqué to our clients who’ve booked... paid. Too many government departments involved. It’s... delicate. There’s another angle...”
This one truly worried Ken;
“...the A.I... The Artificial Intelligence... the heart of the system. It’s not like a computer where we can simply hit the pause button. It’s a Neural Network; it’s something of a partner in this. Does that sound strange?”
“Decidedly,” she admitted.
Ken huffed... how to explain it? He racked his brain; “There is really no way for me to put this simply... no analogy that really nails it... the thing has a life of its own... It’s linked to the internet, so it’s effectively using, co-opting, the processing power of every other computer it’s ever touched over the network… including the smart phones of everyone ever on the system. We’re living inside it’s brain, you understand?”
The way he said thing slapped Catherine across the face. She’d never thought the A.I. as a player in the scheme of things;
“…You can think of all those remote processors on desks and in handbags and pockets as individual neurons participating in co-operation to make up the total artificially intelligent brain… It’s not as simple as throttling back on processes in a single entity; it’s dispersed at a global scale.”
Her eyes were wide with shock; she nodded, a little dumbfounded.
“So you don’t really know how intelligent it is, do you? How self aware it is?”
He sucked air through his teeth and clattered them lightly together—the tendons of his neck standing out from the internalized stress; “It has access to everything we know… to our psychology, our history and our deepest fears… our irrationality and jealousy… and it will work out that the last thing it should ever do is let us know how advanced it becomes…”
“You’re telling me you have something here that you can’t just turn off if you gave the order?” Trepidation creeping into her voice.
“Well... like I said, the central system is sort of...” he looked for the word, “…it’s... sort of... well, connected... very-connected.” He emphasized connected as he would a Don... a Mafia Boss and she grasped his meaning instantly.
“You’re telling me you’ll need to negotiate this still? Negotiate it with this... this thing?”
His words were chilling.
“Connected? Connected... how? I understand mobile phones... computers... the internet, Wi-Fi... but what does this mean in practical terms.”
“It can act like the paranormal… in some ways it’s like a God, like the Demon we’ve always feared… it can reach out and touch us wherever we are, through the things of our every day….”
He let the words sink in.
“Whoa!... Whoa, Whoa... fucking, whoa, Ken...!! What the fuck have you done?...!!!”
“Whatever I’ve done is done. I’m giving you an insight to what undoing it will take. I’m telling you that you can’t push this.”
“And if I do?” she was angry and beyond caring about what he might do to her personally.
“Nanobots... microscopic bio-based machines...” was his response; he said it as if she should work out the implications.
“What?...! No, let me guess… it’s not a narcotic on the patch, you’re letting micro-robots in through the skin of everyone on the system? Are you completely fucking mad?”
Ken wouldn’t budge on more details, wouldn’t give up on more details no matter how much she badgered him, reminding him that she had the gun to his head—he returned the threat with a smile. It was a dead-end; she had all the information she needed, and all she could do with it was sit tight and wait to see, so she took a different tack to shake out anything else he may be hiding;
“Why the change… in you? Your change of heart... Why? I thought it was spiritual... and that I could understand. But if it wasn’t... then what? What was it?”
“I realized that I was in... in, uhhmm... love with you...”
She shook her head, denying it mattered; “That’s bullshit, you’re not capable.”
“...guess it focused me...” he ignored her denial, “the intrinsic good within... as a human? My humanity,” he tried it on, but it didn’t fit, didn’t come out in a very convincing way.
He knew that the real reason for his change of heart was cowardice, knew he’d gone too far, realized he’d made a machine not just to control others, but one that was starting to control him too. He’d realized it when he couldn’t stop with the sex recording, her sex recording. It was the machine that made him keep watching, connected through fiber and wireless connections over the miles, the oceans and time-zones.
He preferred how he used to feel before it had accidently become his master too.
He’d been silent a while and Catherine realized he would go no further.
“A virus?” She brooded on his disclosure, the widening of scope that made narcotics seem tame, and she rebounded as the magnitude of it horrified her all over again, “You’ve made a super-virus... a super-fucking-virus with a trans-humanism mechanism... a fucking Borg...? Borgs? Everybody Borgs?”
Ken wouldn’t look at her.
“Jesus, Ken...” more words failed her. There were none still necessary and she gathered her keys and mobile, ready to leave…