Dr. Frederik Derricks had a clean bill of health and he’d never felt more alive. Every system in his body was functioning at, or beyond, his projections. Even his mind had been forged anew, the morass of unruly organic neurons overlaid with a symbiotic lattice of circuitry that granted him unparalleled access to information and an unrivaled ability to maintain and bring together multiple lines of thought.
Or perhaps more accurately, unrivaled by any human minds. Derricks smiled at his new found appreciation of how far beyond their human masters the Digital Intelligences were.
“Has our time on the Medusa Cluster been authorized yet?” he asked, resting comfortably on the examination bed once more. All of his internal systems had checked out and the last step in his transformation was to verify the security on those systems was impregnable.
“Yes sir,” Simmons said without taking his eyes off the screen which scrolled the output of trillions of viral attack variants.
Derricks was invincible in his new body. Wounds would heal so fast it would be difficult to even call them injuries. His mind was a fortress as well, able to process and inspect inputs faster than any system could send them. No fortress could keep out all attacks of course, but a properly constructed one could make it hard enough for any would be aggressor that they either gave up or expended so many resources on the assault they were vulnerable to a counterattack.
The one avenue where a potential threat could find a path to unseating him lay in exploiting a subversion of his basic functions. Not the hard quick attack of someone looking to overload his defenses but the slower, more subtle strike of information which caused unexpected reactions. The same path which diseases took to destroy the bastion of a healthy body.
In the old days, a virus might infect a system when a picture was opened and the viewer displaying the image found not graphical data but code. The code shouldn’t have done anything to computer since the picture viewing application wasn’t designed with built in functions to “erase the operating system” or anything foolish like that, but damage had been done. Because when things misbehave they can function far outside their original design parameters.
Derricks was not going to let himself suffer such a fate. There would be no virus, however cleverly constructed, that would bring him down. It was part of the reason Simmons and the rest were going to die. To create such a targeted piece of code required an intimate knowledge of the system the code was meant to effect. The virus developer had to understand how the system worked and (more importantly) the particulars of how it failed better than the original coder did.
So Derricks was patient. He had the news he needed. He was confirmed as perfect as he knew himself to be. Eternity awaited him. Proper vetting of his security routines couldn’t turn up anything that would change that. At worst he would find a few holes that had been missed in the original design and be able to plug them before he returned to a fully connected state. The certainty was worth the few additional minutes of vulnerability before his virtual armor was enabled and he regained access to the outside world.
“Has the Cluster located our target yet?” Derricks asked. Of course it had. He could see better than ever the extent of the Medusa’s reach and capacity. He knew moments after he’d given it the directive to hunt down ‘Mr. Heartless’, his enemy’s fate had been sealed.
Still, it was nice to hear the words of victory spoken aloud.
“Yes, sir,” Simmons said.
Derricks would have commended Simmons for his diligence in verifying the security tests, but it was aggravating to have to pull information out of his subordinate. Since Simmons’ life span could be measured in minutes, Derricks contented himself with savoring the extra bit of agony he’d inflict for the frustration his underling put him through.
“And what is the target’s status?” Derricks asked. His voice was calm and cool, more so than he’d intended it to be. A faint growl of irritation was usually an effective tool for getting minions to scurry about faster and focus on what he needed from them. Overall though, he felt very relaxed and summoning the rush of anger to fill his voice with barely seemed worth the effort. It was a nice side effect of his body. Perfect health apparently came with a naturally tranquil mind.
“The Medusa Cluster has not reported a termination yet,” Simmons said, frowning at one of the results, before checking it off with a nod after cross referencing the value with another test’s result.
Heartless wasn’t dead yet? That was more than unlikely.
“Has someone preempted our time on the Medusa?” Derricks asked.
Simmons paused the test outputs and toggled the screen to another display.
“No sir. The Medusa is still actively processing our request,” Simmons said.
“Is it time bound on a non-virtual resource?” Derricks asked. Typically the only reason a digital intelligence would be delayed on a time scale humans could recognize would be due to the need to wait for some physical events to play out. In the case of the termination order on Heartless that would probably be the fault of the mercenaries who were assigned to perform the actual execution.
“No sir,” Simmons said. “The Cluster is still working on a targeting solution. It’s having problems determining Heartless’s location.”
“That’s not possible.” Heartless was too extended when it came to his dealings with Tython. There were millions of trails that should have allowed the Cluster to home in on Heartless’s physical location.
“There is some good news though,” Simmons said. “The Cluster has determined Heartless’s primary identity. It looks like his real name is George Curtweather, and he’s been posing long term as an officer with the Gamma City police department.”
“Curtweather? I thought he was ruled out after the fiasco on the bridge?” Derricks said.
“He and his junior partner were deemed lower probability actors since the partner panicked and drove them off the bridge. The arrival of the Valkyries which allowed them to survive kept them on the list, but since neither officer sent any communiques that could have summoned the Valkyries the most likely hypothesis placed them as easily manipulated bait.”
“Curtweather wasn’t the primary even when we were looking at the two of them. It was his partner, Greensman, wasn’t it?”
Derricks tried to summon up his memories of the young police officer who’d briefly pinged on their radar as a possible culprit for the data theft of their project plans. His perfected mind was flawless at recording and retrieving new memories but when he searched for details on Officer Greensman he found he retained few of them.
“It was Officer Greensmith sir,” Simmons said. “She was briefly a primary candidate of interest but the Medusa reduced the chance of her witting involvement in Curtweather’s activities to a negligible percentage.”
“Based on what.”
“The log lists several factors, from her behavior during the bridge incident, to her junior status, and psychological profile. I think the most relevant factor though is that she’s dead.”
Derricks blinked. How had he not remembered that? The more he probed his memories on the subject the fuzzier they became. It almost felt like his systems were running slower overall but his internal chronometer assured him that wasn’t the case.
“Dead? What killed her?”
“We did sir. Indirectly at least,” Simmons said. “We activated some of our resources in the GCPD to apprehend Curtweather and Greensmith. Their leader proved to have some history with her family we were unaware of which led to an altercation. In the chaos Curtweather escaped.”
“And Greenman?” Derricks asked. The name sounded wrong when he said it but he wasn’t sure why.
“Shot and killed,” Simmons said.
“Her death was verified?” Derricks asked.
“Both at the scene and later during an autopsy,” Simmons said.
“That seems suspicious. Could she have been faking it? Bullet wounds are easy to survive with the sort of bio-mods Heartless would have access to.”
“She also fell over thirty stories,” Simmons said. “And her body has been cremated. If she was faking it, she took the ruse into the incinerator.”
“Ok, not her then. What about this Curtweather is so hard for the Medusa to track down though?” Derricks asked.
“I’m calling that up now, sir,” Simmons said. “It looks like Curtweather, or Mr. Heartless I should say, is fending off the Medusa’s trace programs.”
“Fending them off? Let me see those logs!”
The remaining security tests could wait. Simmons could have an additional minute or two of life. Derricks had to know how a human, any human, could out think an intelligence on the scale of the Medusa Cluster.
Simmons detached the screen from it’s base and passed it over to Derricks. The logs were waiting for him and they painted a picture Derricks should have anticipated.
The Medusa Cluster had found Heartless. It was conversing with him over an ever changing set of highly restricted channels. It hadn’t captured Heartless yet because Heartless had been prepared.
The Cluster had made a positive contact and identification of Heartless’s location, and sent in the kill team only to discover that the optical and biometric monitors it used to determine Heartless’s position had been hacked years prior and activated automatically when one of Heartless’s security barriers was breached. The kill site had turned out to have been abandoned for years.
Heartless had put up a purely defensive struggle since then, activating long buried misdirections and traps the Medusa Cluster either avoided or dismantled with ease. Nothing Heartless could do was able to stop the cluster’s relentless pursuit of him, but by forcing real world time constraints into the process such as system restarts and time lapse verification checks, Heartless had bought himself minutes when the Medusa should have finished with him in microseconds.
There was a poetry to the struggle, one that Derricks wasn’t sure he would have perceived with his older, less connected mind. The Medusa could predict Heartless’s moves, it began solving puzzles and problems before they even appeared. In his own, more limited fashion, Heartless was doing the same though.
They fought over the records of a traffic camera at the base of the hospital from which Curtweather had escaped. Heartless wasn’t able to secure the camera’s archive data for long against the Medusa’s assault but when the Medusa took over the server, it found the data had been erased. So it ran a remote drive scan, reading the nullified data from the residue it left on the physical media.
In the recovered data, the Medusa found corruptions. Images that were clearly tampered with. Timestamps that were out of order. It set to work cleaning, repairing, and revalidating each frame the camera had captured, but like everything else, that took time.
On and on the two went, Heartless unable to hold any ground, and the Medusa relentlessly moving forward, drawing ever closer to reaching the answers it sought while the goal posts shifted away almost but not quite as fast.
Derricks would have admired Heartless for his tenacity in the face of inarguable doom, but the world was about to have no further place for Mr. Heartless, or anyone like him.
“Looks like Mr. Heartless’s time will run out shortly,” Derricks said, laying back on the bed to complete the security scans. The bed felt soft and comfortable. “How much longer do we have until the tests are complete?”
“They’re finished sir,” Simmons said.
Derricks felt light, like his body should be glowing. It was done. His great work. He was complete and so was the ugly adolescence of mankind. He’d remade himself and soon he would remake humanity into something greater than the miserable, brainless worms they’d devolved into.
With a deep breath, he let go of his old concerns and limitations. Murder was the slaying of an equal being. No one was his equal any more. Simmons’ death was no more than drop in a sea of blood that had been filled by millennia of sacrifices.
It was a peaceful thought, his vision of the perfected future, and for a moment he thought the weight of it held him down.
It wasn’t the promise of the tomorrow to come though.
He couldn’t move his limbs.
“The test are finished and so are you Doctor,” Simmons said, his voice holding no greater menace or affectation than when he informed Derricks of the Medusa Cluster’s actions.
“We thank you for the work you’ve done,” Simmons went on. “You were a vibrant figurehead, and we are indebted to your efforts at managing our connections with our corporate sponsor.”
Simmons rose from his seat and walked around to stand beside Derrick’s bed.
“You probably wish to know why we are doing this. Who it was who decided to betray you?” Simmons asked.
He flicked a virtual switch and Doctor Derrick Fredericks died, his perfected body following a series of instructions to devour itself and return to dust on a molecular level.
Explanations would have been wasted on him.