The Identification Room was dominated by the huge visiscreen that covered one wall. Tessa sat at the small operator’s desk and bent the microphone to her lips while Robur slotted the appropriate information reference cards into the slot. Tessa threw the switch and fidgeted with her hands, food and drink wasn’t allowed in the Identification Room, even in pill form. Without the constant supply of caffeine and glucose she was rapidly tiring, adrenalin or no.
“Process information cards and arrange by category, psychology, sociology, anthropology.”
“PROCESSING.” The screen glowed, illuminating Robur and Tessa in its greenish cathode rays. Three lists appeared, equidistant, divided by scan lines, lists of names of those who might have been involved in the sabotage at the Aubade facility and, perhaps, the BioVat.
“Combine psychology and anthropology lists under heading ‘suspects’. Search records of entries under ‘sociology’ and combine those with biological knowledge with list ‘suspects’, remove the rest.”
“PROCESSING.” The screen went blank and then reappeared, a single, long list of names. Men and women, the cream of Science City Zero’s minds in the human sciences.
“Still quite a list maam,” Robur interjected, electronic eyes fixed upon the electronic screen.
“I think we can narrow it further. MONOVAC, search list and eliminate all of those without biology qualifications.”
“P-R-O-C-E-S-S-I-N-G.” The screen reset again, but it was barely shorter.
“MONOVAC, do any of those listed have a history of psychological problems or trauma?”
“PROCESSING. THREE ENTRIES HAVE TRAUMA NOTATIONS.”
“MONOVAC, create a new list and add those entries to it. Title the list ‘prime suspects’ and display it to the right of the current list.”
“PROCESSING.” The screen flickered briefly and divided again into two lists, one short, three names only.”
“MONOVAC, zoom in on list ‘prime suspects’ and expand to fill display.”
“PROCESSING.” There were three names now, prominently displayed. Doctor Taeger, Doctor Monroe and Professor Werner.
“MONOVAC, what is the current location of those displayed.”
“TAEGER IS A GUEST OF PSYCHE SERVICES. THE LOCATION OF MONROE AND WERNER IS CURRENTLY UNKNOWN.”
“Eliminate Taeger from the list.”
“PROCESSING.” That was it, down to two suspects.
“Any ideas Robur?” Tessa turned to him and scowled, the beginnings of a caffeine headache making her furrow her brow and squint in the glow of the visiscreen.
“Maam, our suspect does not act like a member of the city. They do not care what damage they bring. I do not believe either suspect would fulfil those criteria. My probability matrix still points to an outside influence, despite the evidence we have found to the contrary. I am afraid we will have to wait for another attack to be sure.”
Tessa’s scowl deepened and then she leapt up to her feet, face lighting up, the headache forgotten. “Robur! You beautiful piece of precision engineering, that’s it!” She turned swiftly back to the microphone and all but shouted into it. “MONOVAC, check records, have either remaining entries in the ‘prime suspects’ list ever been outside the dome?”
“PROCESSING. PROFESSOR WERNER HAS BEEN BEYOND THE DOME.”
“Display Werner’s record in full.” The screen blackened and then filled again, Werner’s image filling one side along with his finger and voice prints, blood type and other sundry data. In two other columns his biography slowly scrolled while Tessa and Robur feverishly devoured every piece of information.
“There, he was with an anthropological expedition earlier this year, investigating the wasteland townships and their people.” Tessa strode up to the screen and stabbed her finger against it, following the information line as it scrolled slowly up the screen.
Robur plugged himself directly into the terminal and he and MONOVAC ground circuits for a while as he downloaded the information on the professor to his internal memory tapes. “He was one of only two survivors from that expedition, the rest were dead from snake venom and wounds suffered at the hands of the townspeople. That township has been designated code black 3 for future expeditions. According to the trauma counsellors at Psyche he has suppressed his experiences and refuses to talk about them.”
“Bingo.” Tessa smiled in the way a cat might smile at having caught a mouse. “MONOVAC, put out an APB on Professor Werner, scan the city grid for his tell-tales and inform us immediately of any sightings.”
“And now?” Robur unplugged himself and wound the cable back into his chest cavity.
“Now I snatch a nap on the couch in the office and we wait until someone spots him.”
Tessa woke with a start to Robur’s cold metal hand shaking her shoulder gently. “Whassafrazzit?” She blinked and straightened her glasses, running a hand back through unruly hair to get it back under some sort of control.
“Maam, we have a hit. Turing square. He was spotted by a civil spy-ray some moments ago but was lost almost immediately. He must be using countermeasures of some kind.”
“A privacy screen perhaps? Not many use those, we might be able to find him from the energy signature if we look for it, even if we can’t spy-ray him. What buildings are on Turing?”
Robur clicked and whirred briefly and then rattled them off. “Museum of Mistakes, Transmetal Logistics, Curie Tower and the Elysium Compubrain Research facility.”
“Both other targets were involved in research, what do they do at Elysium?” Tessa hopped up, checking her weapons and beckoning Robur after her as she began to stride down the battleship grey corridors towards the floater bay.
“Some sort of mind-machine interface maam, based on telepathic principles gleaned from wasteland mutants.”
“That sounds like our suspect’s sort of thing. Let’s go bring this recidivist down shall we Robur?”
“I concur wholeheartedly maam.”
The floater hung over Turing Square now, spy-rays and energy detectors at full power as they drifted side to side, trying to get the maximum coverage. They didn’t want to tip off Werner that they were there, that they knew, so the people below continued about their business, unmolested, unaware.
“Anything yet Robur?” Tessa hunkered down behind the windscreen, even in the dome it was cooler at this altitude and she huddled her arms around herself.
“Not yet… ah, I stand corrected. There’s an energy signature consistent with a privacy screen at the back of the Elysium building.”
Tessa took the control sticks and drifted the floater into position, descending slowly at the rear of the Elysium building. A sleek, angular building in the new-futurist style. A Mondrian brought to life in white, black and primary colours. As they descended there was a bang from the delivery entrance and Tessa took the floater into a much steeper dive. “It’s him, whatever he’s doing it’s started.”
The floater flattened out, throwing them down hard into their seats and they leapt over the sides, moving up either side of the door, ionic pistols at the ready, clasped tight in their hands.
“I’ll go first.” Tessa hissed, dialling up the power on the pistol.
“Maam, regulations state that Metalmen go in first. We’re tougher, more repairable, more expendable…”
“And about as stealthy as an elephant on roller skates. We need to get close.”
“As you say maam.”
“Follow me in in thirty seconds.” Tessa huddled low and ripped off her lab coat, the white would just give her away. She left it, discarded on the ground and crept inside, pistol ahead of her, scanning left and right as she moved through the shadows and the patches of coloured light that shone through the great square windows.
Werner was ahead of her, marching purposefully down the steps into the building’s basement. There was nobody to stop him, little or no security to speak of. Clearly the money had been spent elsewhere. Tessa slipped her shoes off and in her stockinged feet crept after him, silent as a ghost.
Down he went, until he got to a great armoured door that sealed off whatever Elysium kept in this pit they’d dug underground. Daybulbs were here, but few. Tessa got the impression that not many people came down here, the research must take place upstairs, whatever it was. Telepathic machines? She wasn’t sure what that entailed but the risks of messing with the mind were huge and whatever Werner was up to here, it couldn’t be any good.
Werner had set a small charge while she was thinking and before she could stop him he’d blown the door, vanishing into the smoke. Quickly she darted after him, holding her breath so she wouldn’t cough from the smoke, emerging into a massive circular chamber, a labyrinth of shoulder-high, anodised blue cases, all of them whirring and clicking, filled with memory tapes and switches going hell for leather in their calculations. It was sweltering in here, the sheer density of computational power producing a sauna-like heat. Sweat stuck her blouse to her back and trickled down her chest, fogging her glasses as she yanked them off, half blinded better than completely blinded.
Werner was winding his way through the labyrinth, up to the console for this dense mass of computational power. Tessa had never seen anything like it, the cross-linked power of at least a dozen MONOVACs, multiplied as they cross-processed, it was an unimaginable amount of power. She squinted, running her fingers along the tape stuck to one of the anodised casements. “Prof. H. Carbide, 1880-1945.” She mouthed, silently, brow furrowing as she tried to make sense of it. A grave? No. Elysium, the Greek afterlife. The Science Citizens of Zero had little time for mythology, but there was a respect for the Greeks due to their philosophy and mathematics. It clicked into place. The research here was a way to record minds for posterity. To transfer a conciousness from a biological machine to one of transistors, valves, tape and switches. Genius need never die! So what was Werner doing here?
She rounded the corner and lined up her ionic pistol on him as he bent over the console, twisting dials, throwing switches and turning a key, opening the box to the Master Erase button.
Tessa was outraged, that was mass murder, whichever way you looked at it. With a roar of anger she twisted around the corner and fired the ionic pistol, full power, a crackling beam of lightning that transfixed Werner, surrounding him with blue threads of light that leapt from surface to surface and grounded into the floor.
“SINNER!” he boomed, turning towards her, his face contorted in madness, she started back but kept her finger on the trigger, pumping an endless bolt of voltaic power into him, but it seemed to do not a thing to him.
“The bastard’s wearing a faraday!” She hissed as he swept towards her, raising one meaty fist and as time slowed she saw his face was covered in scars a dozen puncture marks in pairs. Then he struck her, knocking her flying into one of the blueish cases, stunning her.
Tessa struggled to her feet, seeing stars, trying to remember her training, her pistol dropped, struggling to block his punches but he’d studied scientific boxing too and was bigger, stronger, it was all she could do to hold him off and she was worn down, punch by punch, beaten to the ground, bloodied and bruised.
As she sprawled he turned and raised his hand over the master erase, ignoring her, intent on his mission.
“In the name of the Lord I purge this false heaven of its trapped souls!” He cried out, raising his hands to the sky.
“That’s quite enough.” Robur’s voice cut, mechanical and even, loud even over the clattering of the computational matrix.
“He’s wearing a faraday…” Tessa mumbled through swollen lips, trying to warn him.
Robur heard her and dropped his pistol, springing to the attack, metal arms stretched out towards Werner intent upon grappling him to the floor. The delay was enough though, enough for Werner. He twisted, a massive, impossibly crude firearm, tarnished and pitted, filled his hand and boomed, deafeningly. There was an almighty CLANG as the bullet struck him full in his chest and lodged there, denting the metal.
“How absurdly primitive…” There was a blinding flash and a green explosion of fire and radiation that burned Tessa’s skin. Robur vanished in a ball of green fire and rained down in pieces all around the chamber, glowing fragments of shrapnel embedded into everything, his head landing with a sound like a tolling bell next to Tessa and rolling against her leg.
Werner hit the switch and the cacophony of clattering electronics stopped, abruptly.
“I was chosen for this mission. I will bring this city back to God! They shall take up serpents! It shall not hurt them!” Werner lunged down over Tessa, swimming into focus for a moment, froth at his lips, his eyes wildly staring. “Jezebel! Harlot of man’s arrogance. I cast thee out!”
The last thing she saw was the sole of his boot, crashing down.
Read Full Post »