Sunday, June 29, 2008

Another chunk ...

If you haven't been to the blog in awhile, this follows a piece I posted earlier today -- you should read that first.

*

Jason Alexi Lucas had led an interesting life even before Mohammed Vance had entered it.

He stood 188 centimeters tall. At the age of twenty-eight, he was in exquisite physical condition—with the aid of PKF trainers, and the finest medical technology available to the PKF. Aside from his right knee, which occasionally and unpredictably pained him, he was the image of a professional athlete.

He was, this year, a white man with brown hair and brown eyes. Over the years he had been biosculpted to a wide variety of appearances.

His inskin was a Vandemar Tap. A calculated guess; Trent certainly wore a radio packet inskin, and had since some time in late 2069. The Vandemar Tap was one of the six radio packet inskins coming into use at the time, excepting the Tytan NN-II, an experimental inskin that was subsequently outlawed. All but half a dozen of the NN-II's ever produced had finally been accounted for. Jason himself considered it unlikely that the Uncatchable—the name by which Trent thought of himself, Jason was sure, and never use that name in front of Vance—unlikely that the Uncatchable had been fool enough to implant himself with an experimental nerve net.

Jason Lucas was from New York—from the Long Island Fringe. In 2062, at the age of ten, he had been trapped inside the Fringe when the Troubles began. His parents had died, both of his brothers, and his sister. For nearly seven years he had lived among the Gypsy Macoute, had become a soldier for the Macoute, had fought in Macoute battles and seen his fellow troopers die in combat with the Temple Dragons.

At a treaty negotiation in the summer of '68 he'd met two Temple Dragons who had, in later years, became famous: a boy named Trent, a little older than him, and another boy, three years older than him, named Jimmy Ramirez. They were not unknown even then, not in the Fringe; Trent, at seventeen, was widely regarded as one of the Fringe's best contract thiefs. Jimmy Ramirez was a light heavyweight, boxing semi-pro, and considered a likely candidate to go pro within the next year.

It had not happened, of course. Trent and Ramirez had vanished out of the Fringe in January of '69.

And Jason Alexi Lucas, webdancer for the Gypsy Macoute, had been plucked out of the Fringe the following year, by Elite Commissioner Mohammed Vance. For the next decade he had lived in a large suite of apartments in Capitol City. During that decade he had only been outdoors half a dozen times, to walk through the American southwest while wearing a Martian rebreather. He had been upside, at Halfway, several times, for stretches of months at a time, learning to use a pressure suit, learning to deal with free fall and halfers and SpaceFarers.

And he studied—hard: Vance had not had to explain the potential downside to their arrangement. Jason studied coding until he was able to write an Image from scratch—something it was known that Trent had done by the age of ten. Jason wrote himself an Image, used it for a year, then retired it and wrote a second Image. He took the Image of Big Mac, took it across the Interface, and danced. He studied the Players, studied DataWatch, studied the PKF itself virtually every waking moment.

For several months, early in 2071, he maintained a relationship with a young actress, a woman biosculpted with green eyes, pale skin, and black hair. Vance terminated it abruptly, after three months. Seven years later, another relationship was arranged for him; a young singer, sculpted quite plainly to resemble Mahliya Kutura. It ended almost as abruptly as the first relationship.
In between he was allowed as many women as he wanted, but nothing serious, nothing that was allowed to become serious.

*

On a cold morning in March of 2080, Elite Commander Mohammed Vance came to visit him.

Vance had not given him much warning; he never did. Jason sat at his workstation, in his quarters two hundred meters beneath the ground, inskin live, wired and ready to go through the Interface at any moment.

The impression Jason always had of Mohammed Vance, entering a room, was that of a soldier entering combat. A tall man, taller than Jason, near two full meters, about as large as Elite got. Fifty or so, with dark features made darker by the black Elite eyes. His skin had the roughness and stiffness of an early model Elite, made him look less human than some robots. The glossy black hair had no gray in it, and never would; it was not real. In another man Jason might have considered Vance's dress an affectation, but not in Vance: he wore, except when required to dress formally, the gray combat fatigues worn into battle by Unification troops during times of war—he had about him the aura of a man at war.

It did not surprise Jason. Vance was at war, on behalf of the Unification. At war with the rebels and the SpaceFarers; with the deadly replicant AIs, with the Players. Not many years ago he had even been at war with the Ministry of Population Control, and Space Force, within his own government. That was no longer true: after the '76 rebellion Vance had nearly broken Space Force, had gutted the Ministry of any intelligence gathering functions that he wanted for the PKF. Today it was an open question who the most powerful man on Earth was—Vance or the Secretary General, Charles Eddore.

All of those wars were important; all of them absorbed Vance's time. But Jason knew for a fact that they were not Vance's chief war, not the one that had brought Vance to call him with questions, at all hours of the day and night, for close to a decade now.

Vance seated himself in Jason's office, only a meter separating them. He seated himself a touch awkwardly; his right leg was artificial from the knee down.

A young Elite took up guard just outside the door.

"Good morning, Commissioner."

Vance wore grimness like a shroud. He had a voice, amazingly deep, rough as stone, that had been known to cause people nightmares; it had featured in some of Jason's. "A good morning, Trent? So it appears to be. Work has begun on Monitor."

"I am aware myself of the progress being made with Monitor. I'm not worried about it, though."

"Why not?"

Jason shrugged. "I'm at Halfway. I'm prepared to take action."

"Yes, we suspect you are. And you know that we suspect it."

"Damn SpaceFarers can't keep their mouths shut. The Board of Directors asks me to go take care of the Unity, and I agree. And then I vanish, knowing perfectly well that news of my agreement will reach that son of a bitch Vance, soon or late. There they are, with their attention focused on the Unity. It would be a good time to sneak around behind them and push them off-balance." Jason sighed. "And I know that you know it. Possibly I've even learned of the existence of your modeling tools, that silly bastard who's wasted the last decade of his life trying to learn to think like me. Not a chance, of course. There's nobody out there as good as I am."

"Spare me the boasts."

"It would be amusing if I were to impersonate a Peaceforcer," Jason offered. "I've done it before, and you're on guard for it now—which makes it that much better if I get away with it. It would be a ... clever thing to do. A Space Force officer would be nearly as good. A civilian is my third choice, ideally a computerist working on the Unity itself."

Vance shook his head. "You would not get away with impersonating a PKF officer for any length of time. Nor Space Force."

"Perhaps I don't need a great length of time. Perhaps I only need to pull it off for a short while, long enough to get on board the Unity."

"You must stop the ship," Vance said quietly. "You know that, too. Without the ship the situation stays as is. If the ship is gone I can't beat you, not any time soon. With the ship I can't fail to beat you."

Jason stared into the glassy black eyes, taking note of Vance's use of first person—the man was angry, which was dangerous; but unfortunately nothing would anger Vance worse than Jason slipping out of character. He forged ahead with something that would not please Vance: "I'm smarter than you are, Mohammed. I've out-thought you. I took one look at Melissa du Bois and I said to myself, Vance planted her. An early warning system. She knows I'm coming, and she's on the lookout. Does this deter me or does it entice me? I think it entices me. It's a challenge to me, something personal, from you. Du Bois is conflicted about the Unification. She's a decent individual, by both my standards and yours, Mohammed, who is troubled by the loss of personal freedoms on Earth following the '76 uprising, by the mass executions, by the millions of children orphaned into Public Labor across Occupied America."

"Who are you?"

"I would love to be Gene Yovia. Even with that face, silly as it would make me feel. People would look at Adam Selstrom and wouldn't see beneath it."

"Virtually impossible," said Vance. "Yovia's got his own conflicts; many do, these days. But the man who left Earth was Eugene James Yovia. A loyal PKF Elite escorted him to Halfway, and directly into the presence of Melissa du Bois. You've seen his psychometric from that session. No human being could have faked his responses during that session. That was Yovia then; it was Yovia who was escorted to his hotel."

"Yes, but Yovia's been out at Halfway since then. If—"

Vance abruptly shook his head no. "Perhaps. But by this measure there are nearly fifty Space Force officers, and several dozen civilians, who you might be impersonating. Yovia is less likely than most, despite his position among the computerists. He is working with three individuals who knew him during his last tour of duty; the only way you could have assumed his role is with Yovia's direct aid, with extensive debriefing. The debriefing would have had to occur . . ." Vance considered. "Yovia went to Luna in June of last year, and again in October. At that time, of course, we did not know that Chief Yohannsen would need to be replaced. Are you prescient, Trent? Did you corrupt the officer who interrogated Yovia before sending him upside?"

Jason sighed. "No. I'm not prescient. And I don't have anybody inside the PKF, though I'd sure love to."

"Did you plant the bomb?"

Jason stiffened with anger, anger that felt real, and might have been, to the man who had spent the last decade learning to be Trent. "No. No, damn you, I did not plant any fucking bomb. I don't take lives. This is one of the many things that makes me so very much better than you."

"So you could not have known that Eugene Yovia's services would be needed by the Unification."

"Perhaps," said Jason slowly, "I had something else planned, some other way to get Yovia aboard the Unity—to remove Chief Johannsen. Yovia and I are nearly the same height, close enough to the same age, with many of the same skills—it's a close enough match that I know you've thought about it, taken measures. You're nowhere to be found, I know you're downside rather than here with me at Halfway, and yet you're all around me, Mohammed. Everywhere I turn, there you are, waiting and watching."

"What about Elite Sergeant du Bois?"

Jason stared into the black eyes. "I think I approach her."

16 comments:

Sean Fagan said...

Well, um, wow. I no longer have any doubt that Vance is still evil. Darn it.

I figured out what Lucas was for, long before the text mentioned it. Trent has it easier with his AI modeling, I think. And I also find it interesting that Vance / the Unification would do this instead of using an illicit AI.

Ross said...

Excellent! The tension just keeps on rising. Are you planning to piece out all of AI War on the blog? (I really don't want to wait that long.) And there was a typo in the fourth paragraph: Uncarchable.

Kurt said...

Awesome. I gotta tell you, I can see you dribbling bits of the novel into a cauldron, cackling a little bit as you stir. When the potion's ready, I'll drink it in one quaff. Until then I just keep sniffing. Thanks for the work.

David DeLaney said...

And another typo further down: "with Yovia_'s_ direct aid". Keep it coming! (o plz o plz)

--Dave

Bruce said...

Another thanks mate.

mkr said...

while i appreciate what you're doing more than i can possibly express in a blog comment, i really think you're doing yourself a disservice. why not self publish the entire book on amazon? the quality is very high(at least for the trade size paperbacks that i've seen), and you can get some well-deserved bucks for the story!
anyway, thanks again!!!!

mike

Shawn said...

Loving it so far. Really would love the whole thing, but I appreciate the snippets too.

Now the question becomes, "Has Trent understood who Vance is well enough to know that a Lucas exists?"

I'm also picturing the potential physical meeting between Trent and Lucas being fun, similar to the meeting between Trent and Yovia. I wonder how willing and "patriotic" a servant Lucas has been over the years, and what effects that's going to have on his job performance soon.

Telpereon C. Arbor said...

Thanks very much and I hope everyone at home is feeling better that was not.

Dan Moran said...

Yes, Trent and Jason Lucas do meet each other.

mkr, yes, I'm going to produce an actual purchasable book at some point -- I may end up doing it with the entire backlist, though that's not a given. Mostly I'm trying to keep people's heads from exploding while I try to nail things down.

Deadford said...

I'm like a strung-out junkie, getting just enough of a Trent fix to keep my head from...

*head explodes*

Doh. Nevermind.

Anonymous said...

what a wonderful set of posts to come home to, after a week away from my laptop!
thank you!

Rob said...

I don't buy the "Vance is evil" statement for a simple reason: it doesn't fly with what we know of Vance. He has a strong sense of ethics. He understands (c.f. his conversation with Christine Mirabeau at the end of The Last Dancer) that means cannot be justified by ends alone. Throw all that together and what I come up with is that Vance is a rigorously ethical cop. It's just that his ethics are not what we would like for them to be. He's the antagonist, but he's not the villain. If an antihero is a figure cast in a heroic role who performs heroic actions but holds villainous traits, then Vance is an antivillain; a figure cast in a villain's role who performs villainous actions but holds heroic traits.

With respect to how dangerous Vance is... Vance is highly adaptive. In fact, he doesn't stop adapting. The introduction of the not-a-Trent is an example. It's the sort of thing that's only possible once you have access to millions of Credits. Most people, given access to the power and authority of an Elite Commander, would do the same things they'd done before but just on a larger scale. They would become tools of the office, rather than the office becoming their tool.

I've said before and I'll say again: I think Vance is the real hero of the Continuing Time.

I am very interested to see what happens to Eddore. I have not forgotten what Vance said to Mirabeau -- that he would rather lose to Trent than win with Eddore -- which makes me think that in Vance's mind Eddore is a bigger threat to the ideals of the Unification than Trent is.

If Vance is going this balls-to-the-wall for Trent...

... then Eddore is definitely not carrying enough insurance.

I really want to see what happens there. :)

Anonymous said...

Um . two questions (plz don't lynch me for this :P )
1th :do you have the whole story finished on your PC...

Is anybody apart from Biotech able to create telepaths as of the current state of the story .. at least theoretically ?
thanks

John said...

I just finished reading the new AI War fragments.

Man, I cannot believe how much I missed this universe. It's good to have you (and Trent!) back.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Sean: Well, um, wow. I no longer have any doubt that Vance is still evil. Darn it.

Rob: I don't buy the "Vance is evil" statement...

Rob, the difference is that Vance believes he is a necessary evil, which means he can be reasoned with. Unlike Eddore, who simply wants power for its own sake. Talking to Eddore only gives him power over you; talking to Vance has rewards as well as risks.

I can imagine Trent's response to meeting Lucas, but not Lucas' response to meeting Trent. It won't bother Trent that Lucas' emulation is imperfect, but boy will it bother Lucas.

-----

There are, by my count, nine players (Players?) on the stage:

1) Trent the Uncatchable: who has his entourage.
2) Ring: who has its.
3) Vance: currently controlling Lucas, Melissa, and the military assets of the Unification.
4) The Rebellion: consisting of the Claw, the Reb, Chandler, the SpaceFarers', the CityStates, and minor actors.
5) Eddore: and whatever he controls of the non-military assets of the Unification.
6) Denise: who is allied with Ripper, D'van, and with:
7) Ralf the Wise and Powerful, d/b/a Darkrider.

This accounts for everyone in the normal flow of history; the last two are the two we have seen throughout the Continuing Time, whose actions cannot be discounted:

8) Cha'iel November, Named Storyteller.
9) Camber Tremodian, The Nameless One.

---

The question arises: why has Vance not moved against Eddore? Vance is loyal to the Unification, but not to Eddore; and Vance is perfectly willing to go up against other Unification elements. Is he just waiting for the proper time? Or does Trent take priority?

Finally, I notice that Big Mac is #4 on Ring's list of Players That Worry Me. (#1 is of course Original Recipe Trent.) Lucas should be proud! I wonder if that means we'll meet Turtle Man and/or Gorgeous George at some point.

Anonymous said...

I just re-read the AI War excepts. They are a delicious tease. Amazingly good, but hinting at something much better. What do we have to do to get the whole thing???