"So, you know how this works. We're interested in your professional life, but we want to get to know you as a person. Four-dimensional, as we say. First off, it works best if we can get a little skin in the bits. Let's show the audience a little something. You're a very pretty woman. Blonde over blue is playing very well in the south and Asia. You carry yourself assertively so we presume you're comfortable with your body. Maybe we could get you walking in the nude between the shower and the bedroom? Or, could we be a little more daring and put the camera in the shower? Do you masturbate? Surely you have some personal bedroom electronics. Would you mind letting the viewers in on a bit of the action--just to frame you as a living, breathing person?"
The way she dealt with being annoyed was to pretend it wasn't happening. Failing that, she'd politely decline annoying suggestions. If it didn't stop, she'd let herself drip out a little. A bit of the city girl she kept bottled up. Maybe the producer wanted to see that?
The long-haired tech brought Casey's headset into the living room. Casey yawned and put down her cup of coffee. She tried signaling her intent by tying the ends of her bathrobe more snugly around her waist but they weren't the type of people who had evolved even infantile non-verbal perception.
"It's a ride along. There's not going to be any recording in my house. We're not going to do any of your thinly veiled family porn. It starts when we get in the car."
The tech looked confused. He squinted at the producer who scanned the schedule, then flashed the databoard toward Casey.
"Doctor Roberts, it says here, 'FULL ACCESS'. We have civil authorization. That means we can record every heartbeat if we want. Are we straight?"
Casey smiled. She said, "Where were you hatched?" as she went to the hallway closet and pulled her issue PPD from her ready belt.
Before the producer could answer, Casey turned and in the single motion she'd learned in the academy, flipped off the safety and popped the room clean.
Both the tech and the producer started tapping the phones in their ears. Casey went back to her coffee.
"Aww, fuck," the tech said, tearing his phone from his ear and shaking it.
The producer stamped her foot. "Did you just--obstruction of civil works. I could have you arrested," and Casey smiled as the woman asked her tech for answers.
"It starts in the car. Are we straight?" Casey said.
The tech said, "Stuff's fried, Laney. I'm gonna have to go back to the office and refit."
"Did we get anything?" said the producer, stamping her foot harder. "Did we get her zapping us? That's what people want to see."
"She didn't have her headset on. We don't keep the record till she consents to wear the gear."
"We don't need her consent," the producer whined, but neither the tech nor Casey listened.
"It was only a couple million volts," Casey said as the tech walked to the door. "Your heavy electronics probably survived. Oh, and if you need a working phone, let me know. I have one if you want to tap the Proles."
The tech said thanks, and left Casey in the room with the television producer.
Casey finished her coffee and put the cup into the washer. She pulled the dead databoard out of the producer's hand and tossed it into the disposal.
"All I have to do is tap the station. One word and you're arrested. That was the public's equipment you fried. We successfully prosecuted Alderman Wickes. He thought he was above the law, too," the producer said.
Casey opened a mu-metal lined drawer and slapped a phone on the counter. "Enjoy yourself," she said. "There are no other personal electronics in this house and I'd like to keep it that way." She moved off toward the shower, talking to the producer without looking at her. "The books on that shelf are real. If you've never seen a paper book, you might find them interesting. Take a look while you're waiting, you might find something that helps you develop a working mind."
In the shower, she tried to convince herself this television spot wasn't a practical joke, or a way to give the rest of the crew cheap thrills at her expense. She expected that she'd find Rob and the crew sitting at Padnos' at the end of the day, sipping Tequila and laughing at how hard her heart pounds when she confronts a hacker.
She'd almost convinced herself it wasn't a setup, but by the time she was suited up and was heading to the car with the scatter brained television producer in tow, she was sure it was.
"Woah. She's already dressed," the tech said when he drove up. He got out and brought over the headset and harness. He handed the producer a new databoard. She began to pace and called her office. After a second she proclaimed, "We're late."
"We're doing above the shoulders, only," Casey said.
The producer put her hands on her hips and scolded. "Look. Doctor Roberts. The harness has to contact six qi nodes if we're going to get the kind of quality signal the audience is paying for. We have prenegotiated full access to your nervous system. It really isn't your choice."
"This one goes at the base of the neck, this at the bottom of the spine. We have to insert these into the pelvic erogenous zones," the tech said, flatly.
There was a familiar tone and then, "Enjoying yourself?" Rob's voice in Casey's ear. She tapped the phone and stepped back from the television people.
"They're not stuffing that thing in me. You guys must think this is a big joke."
Casey fingered her PPD. The tech flinched. Rob said, "We'll get this straightened out. Don't hit them anymore, ok? The Director is getting calls from the Mayor."
"Have them come shove this probe up the director's ass and see how she likes it," Casey said. She pulled the PPD from her belt. "I don't give a shit if some senior citizen in Fresno doesn't want to pay his media bill because he doesn't know what it feels like when I have to pee. You can just fucking fire me." She flicked off the safety.
"Ok--ok," Rob said. "I'm going to talk to them. Don't do anything."
She holstered the PPD as the tech and the producer tapped her ear. She rolled her eyes and complained while the tech went back to the car and brought over a smaller unit. Casey lifted her hair while he put the transducer at the base of her skull.
"You must have friends in high places," he said while he tested the unit. "Could you jump up and down a couple times?"
While Casey was running in place the producer tossed her databoard into the passenger's side of Casey's car.
Out of breath from Casey's jogging the tech managed to say, "We got audio, visual, heartrate and respiration. Not going to get anything from below the fourth vertibra though, but the signal's good enough to create a twenty's version of ultravision."
"Most women love to have people know what turns them on," the producer said, pleading. "When they find out we don't have your libido data the audience is going to drop by seventy percent. Don't you want people to feel what you feel? You have star potential. You're throwing away your chance at fame. This is television."
Casey went to the car. She was going to have to figure out how to pay back her colleagues for this. Maybe a fast acting nerve agent in Rob's coffee. Something penile enhancing with a networked radio function so college kids in China could give him painful erections by remote control during their lunch breaks.
The first call was a chemistry experiment in the basement of an abandoned apartment on the lower west side. The orbital detectors picked up the UVS and pipe linked the data to Casey's on board processor.
Casey interrupted the producer's questions to tell dispatch she would handle the call, then went back to the answer.
"I graduated from University of Chicago, class of fifty-nine. Did my internship and residency on the south hospital on the floating city. It was near the equator in the Indian Ocean then. We got a lot of experience with different trauma out there."
"Tell us about the GC. What made you want to become an officer?"
She sighed. Couldn't help looking in the rearview mirror at the sensor display on the tech's lap reflecting off his face. She imagined that by now he could practically read someone's mind off those.
"I love the way people interact with their technology. I couldn't stand to watch a couple of wacko hackers do so much damage we'd have to restrict our progress to prevent someone from playing God," Casey said.
"But you yourself said there are no modern day Frankensteins," the producer said. After two hours in the car with Casey, she was starting to repeat herself. "And any kid with a couple of chits can buy a splicer and put together a little microterrarrium in their basement."
"Yeah," Casey said. "But for a couple chits more, if you know what you're doing, a harmless little microterrarrium can be converted into a viral plume."
"What's the difference? Yuneimmune takes care of it."
"Yuneimmune is a nanoengineered viral machine. I don't want to cause anyone any alarm, but the truth is, no matter what you hear on the health ads, it's not one-hundred percent foolproof."
The producer straightened in the seat. "Are you saying there's a problem with Yuneimmune? Every one of us--"
The tech sung the jingle for the Merck monopoly they'd all been hearing since they were kids. "yuneimmune is everywhere, yuneimmune so I don't care, anything that makes me sick, yuneimmune will kill it quick."
"Thank you," Casey said. "But for your viewers--let me put this simply. Yuneimmune is a man-made micromachine made of proteins and bits of non-organic compounds. It's the single most contageous, invasive, virus ever released into the environment. We had never seen anything like this in nature. It latches on to the host's genetic structure, memorizes it, determines what nutrients the host needs to survive, and then attacks any protein invading the host that doesn't match it's internal map. It is certainly one-hundred percent effective against any naturally occurring virii or bacteria. But--"
Casey's monologue was having the desired effect. The producer yawned and she hoped the television audience was, too.
"That's a hundred-year old argument ressurrected by people who need something interesting to be upset about. You're going to try to make us worry that if--"
Casey said, "All it would take is for a couple yuneimmune nanomachines to mutate their programming, and the maps get copied erroneously, and then the single most pervasive virus on the planet turns on us and kills every multi-celled animal in creation."
"But that never happens," said the producer. "Don't you have a boyfriend or girlfriend we could visit? I'd still like to try a romance angle with you if you're not into the sex."
The car's on-board targeting brought the car to a stop in front of the dilapidated building. The producer became more animated. Casey knew people could get hurt around these parts. She asked for and received authorization from the station. Her sidearm began to charge at her hip
Casey said, "We're about to visit a site contaminated with an undentified viral signature. Some gene hacker left his works in the basement of an abandoned building. May or may not still be there. We're going to head down there and see if we can find the perpitrators." She touched the display on the car's processor console and brought up the genetic signature. From the structure it was obvious there weren't any hazardous enzymes associated with the molecule. But the producer didn't know that.
"In the history of the world, nobody's seen an RNA strand like this one. Nobody can tell you for sure what it does. If the perps are still in there, they may be dead. If this bad guy happens to be the one that can reprogram yuneimmune, we'll never make it out of the building. Everyone watching this show will be dead in the time it takes for the prevailing winds to spread the virus across the globe. You ready to go?"
The producer bit her lip. "You arrest the perps, just like the Proles? Can you guarantee violence?"
Casey tapped her sidearm, "I'm qualified at four distances and authorized to use deadly force."
"I love the television business," the producer said, and hopped out of the car. She nodded toward the tech who spliced her into the data stream, and tapped her headset as she walked ahead of them into the abandoned building. "This is Lane Granite for 'Through the Eyes' on location providing a through-the-eyes feed of Genetic Control officer, Doctor Casey Roberts somewhere on the west side, investigating a potentially deadly strain of yuneimmune that will kill the entire population of the earth in the next twenty-four hours if we don't stop it."
As he got out, the tech mumbled something and shook his head.
"What's that?" Casey said.
"I never got the 'so I don't care' part of the song," he said.
"It's only there because it rhymes," Casey said, and she followed them into the building.
"Just a bunch of kids trying to reproduce large-molecule hallucinogenics with a hacked chemistry set. The thing got away from them. They probably got scared and ran," Casey said to Rob over the phone as they headed toward the station. The tech was asleep in the back seat. The producer was sitting in the passenger's seat beside Casey, wearing a privacy piece so her conversation wouldn't interfere. Casey figured Lane was trying to convince the Mayor to reinstate their access to her reproductive system. The show was going nowhere.
"I'm punching you over to the morgue," Rob said. Casey felt the car change direction.
"Whatta you got there? Somebody get hit by a truck with faulty radar? Another zebra with a yuneimmune deficiency got a gangrenous leg? Or do you just want the TV audience to feel how nauseous I get going through the stomach contents of the deceased?"
"Nothing like that," Rob said over the phone. "Got you a pyg."
"No kidding? Where from?"
The car pulled up in front of the city medical offices. Casey got out, nearly forgetting the TV crew she had in tow.
"Tyrell will tell you. Have fun, kiddo."
In the lift heading toward the morgue in the sub-basement she tried to fill in Lane's audience without putting the woman to sleep in the process.
"This is probably the most interesting aspect of the job," Casey said. "There are no modern-day Frankensteins, but there are a lot of wannabees. It's like the armchair physicists who try to convince you they've finally discovered perpetual motion. Some of this stuff is subtle and if you don't understand it, you can gloss over the details and think you've discovered the secret of life, when actually, you're at a dead end someone with more background would realize immediately."
Lane yawned. The tech leaned against the corner of the lift, head against the wall, eyes closed.
"So what you're going to see is someone's attempt at producing a humanoid from constituent parts."
"Is it alive?"
The door to the lift opened. In front of them, a stark white body lay on a thin green sheet draped over an examining table. The coroner stood in front of it wearing blue scrubs and a helmet.
"You tell me," Casey said. She handed Lane and the tech biohelmets that hung from hooks on the wall, hit the switch on her uniform and activated her own. "Don't touch anything," she said to them.
The body on the table was so void of pigmentation it seemed to glow white. It seemed like an adult. About six feet tall. Completely hairless. The eyes were open and blue. Hands at the sides, palms up. No fingernails or toe nails. No fingerprints. Two titanium hose fittings were implanted in the pyg's right side. There was a multi-ported optical connector on its neck.
"Where'd it come from?" she asked the coroner.
"You wanna sit down for this one?" Tyrell said. There wasn't a chair in the room. Casey smiled.
"Home brew boat. Coast Guard plucked it out of the Atlantic off Hollywood Beach.
"Where was he going?" Lane pushed past Casey and confronted the coroner. Tyrell eyed Casey who shrugged.
"I don't think 'HE' was going anywhere," Tyrell said. "Looks like a disposal."
"If you're going to drown the kittens, you don't make them a boat," Casey said. "What do you have on the anatomy?"
"Very interesting. With the exception of the ports on the right side, there's no sign of mechanical splicing."
Casey raised an eyebrow. The tech noted her elevated heartrate, the first sign of excitement they'd got from her throughout what would most certainly be the worst show they'd ever produced.
"There's no reproductive system. No esophagus. The alimentary canal starts at the one of those ports on the side that's connected directly to the stomach. The other is attached to an organ that seems to consolidate products from the kidneys and intestines. The optical interface on the neck extends to an dendritically fluffy set of transducers that terminates in the brain. We gave up counting when we reached two hundred million synaptic connections. The base genome is absolutely human. Just those minor mods."
"And someone grew this?" Casey said, coming to the conclusion on her own inspection.
"Is he alive or not?" Lane said, reminding Casey she was there.
Tyrell touched a switch on the wall and an array of monitors sprang to light. Heart rate. Respiration. Oxygen transfer. Neural activity.
"Looks alive to me," said the tech, who watched a similar set of traces eminating from the monitors he'd attached to Casey.
"They all look that way," Casey said. "They're like complicated blobs of protein. The guys who make pygs like this can always figure out a way to get all the biological systems working. That's as easy as setting up a fish tank. But getting the pieces to organize--to become a sentient unified being--that's another issue all together. Right now this is a collection of different meat organs living nearly independently. The only reason it seems humanoid is because the parts are so close to each other. But you could take this pyg apart and find other ways to keep his pieces alive, and that would be no different from the way it is now."
"And can you tell the viewing audience: what does it take for this lump of protein, as you call it, to become alive?"
"The parts are alive," Tyrell said. "Think of it as a plant made of meat."
"No, I mean what do you have to do to get it to walk off the table?"
Casey pursed her lips. Then she said, "We don't know. None of us does and there are laws preventing us from playing God and trying to find out."
"Do you want me to feed it?" Tyrell said, as Casey turned off the bioshields on her uniform and backed away toward the lift.
She shook her head. "Not unless you want to empty it when it gets full," she said to Tyrell. Then, "Thanks for letting us see this. It's probably the most exciting thing we did all day."
"That's it? That's all?" Lane said. She balled her fists and held her arms stiffly at her sides.
"Oh. Let's remind the home viewers that making humanoids in their garages is illegal for good reasons. You can contaminate your food supply making it difficult to process. And if you're playing with big muscles around electric fields, you can get hurt if one twitches unexpectedly. So, please--find a safer hobby," Casey said.
"What's this?" The voice of the tech. He stood at the table, peering down onto the pyg's face. "It looks like it's crying."
"Who knows," Casey said. "Something leaking. It's not sentient, but it looks so human it's difficult not to anthropomorphize."
The producer started to say, "Why do you call them 'pygs'," but the last phoneme passed her lips when the lighting system failed over to bioluminescence and she stopped. Casey felt tingling on her skin. Sparks crackled between the strands of her hair. A blazing blue star jumped between the metal examining table leg and an outlet on the wall.
Casey reached for her sidearm. The indicator shone orange. The display read 'FAULT'. She tapped the phone in her ear. Dead. PPD wouldn't charge.
"What's with you people?" the tech said. He threw down his monitors in disgust.
"You're going to pay for this," the producer said. Then, with tears in her eyes, "This is the single worst show we've ever had to endure. We're going to drop in the ratings."
"How many ways out of here?" Casey ignored them. Focussed on Tyrell.
"What the hell is happening?" the producer demanded. She threw down her dead databoard.
Tyrell ripped off his helmet. " The lift. The stairs. Tell me that was an accidental discharge."
"I wish," Casey said. She grabbed a laser scalpel from a medical supply cart and fiddled with the switch. Dead. "Whatta ya got other than the stairs?"
"Conveyer. Goes to the crematorium."
"Safe bet it's not functional. Or..." Casey said.
"Who the hell would issue a preemptive mil-pulse on a morgue?" Tyrell said. He took a bag of medical gear out of a cabinet and slung it over his shoulder. "And then not be here in seconds?"
Casey grabbed the producer's arm. "We may be just be in the blast zone, but I don't want to stay and find out. Let's go." Lane wrenched her arm out of Casey's grasp.
Tyrell punched a code into a keypad on the wall. Nothing happened.
"I can't guarantee the crematorium safety's on. But the electronics are fried at least from here to the main control center. If they're coming this way, they're on the stairs and the lift is dead. The fact we're still alive says they may not know we're down here. It's screaming conveyor to me. "
"Me too," Casey said. Then to the TV crew. "Follow us."
"Not till you tell me what's happening," Lane said, crossing her arms like a spoiled child.
"The pulse that fried your electronics took out my particle gun and the rest of the electrics in this building. That's a military strength weapon, in case you don't watch your own TV show. Someone bad is doing something to someone very close to us. The good thing is, they're not after us because if they were we'd be dead by now. But, I don't feel like hanging out to find out what they have in mind when they discover we're here."
She saw Lane's face go blank and the tech's mouth drop open, and then felt something pressed against the small of her back. And then higher up, toward the base of her neck, the feeling of two gun barrels at once.
She brought her hands up to shoulder height in surrender.
"I'm unarmed. My weapon's fried," she said. The pressure remained. She could hear someone breathing behind her, and then the sound of lips smacking, like someone chewing.
She moved her eyes in microscopic increments. And when she couldn't go any further, she began to turn her head.
She heard the pyg before she saw it.
"He was..." came the voice. It was deep and halting, like a young man who was learning to speak for the first time.
There was no weapon. By instinct she wrapped herself around the pyg's arms, shoved her foot into the space on the ground between its legs, twisted its wrist backward and brought her hand up against its throat.
It didn't resist.
She could feel it breathing. She could feel the heartbeat accelerate. It wasn't until Tyrell dropped his bag of medical tools that she realized she was subduing a being that for all intent and purposes was man-made, and according to all the science she knew--had no right to be alive.
"Did you see it move?" Tyrell said. "I never saw it get off the table."
"I don't know about you guys, but this is way too weird for me," the tech said. He ran to the crematorium doors and began to pry them open.
"Oh my god. Dear Jesus Buddah," Casey said, her mind racing. The pyg's skin glowed in the dusky bioluminescent emergency lights. She could see arteries pulsing on the back of its neck. It exuded warmth. This was a living thing. Not a collection of parts.
The tech disappeared into the open crematorium doors. Tyrell and Lane stared at Casey and the pyg.
"What do I do?" Casey said.
The pyg began to murmur.
Lane crouched and moved toward it. There was pounding on the stairway door. Lights flashed to life on the lift controls on the far wall.
"They're coming Casey baby," Tyrell said, he moved toward the conveyor.
"Do I take it with us?" Casey said, afraid to loose her grip.
"It's Blake," Lane said, standing straight from her crouch. "It's reciting Blake."
"Holy mother." Casey let the pyg go. It regained its balance, stood straight and then stared at her, peering into her eyes.
"I'm only a waterhammer," it said. Then, "He was a king."
The pounding got louder. The indicator on the lift showed power had been restored. Someone was coming down.
Casey took the pyg by the wrist. It complied, following her obediently.
They followed Tyrell and Lane onto the conveyor and down the small tunnel to the crematorium. The tech had opened the rear door and had gone through the emergency exit. It was still open.
They laid the pyg in the car's cargo hatch. It made no attempt to resist them.
As the car left the curb they saw no sign of forced entry to the building. No sign there was a military-level action inside.
"Maybe one of the neutrino scanners imploded up in Public Neurosciences," Tyrell suggested, tapping at his ear.
"They can emit that kind of pulse?" Casey said. The pilot in the car was down. She had to drive manually.
"Dunno. Never had it happen before." Tyrell answered.
When they got to crusing speed, Casey phoned Rob, but wasn't able to get him. Nobody in the office answered, and she chalked it up to the powerful EMP ruining some of the car's electrics. She asked Tyrell--"Exactly what do we have in my trunk?"
He shrugged. "They told me they found it on floating in the ocean on some sort of home made boat." He tapped at his dead phone a few more times, then chucked it. He peeled a new one from an advertisement in a magazine that was laying on the floor of the car, and stuck it into his ear.
Lane said, "I thought you said these pygs couldn't come to life. This one is reciting poetry."
"And it answered you," Casey said. Electricity ran up and down her spine like wavelets bouncing between the walls of a swimming pool. "Pygmalion was a king."
Part I "Jordan's Waterhammer"
Part 3 is coming