Bzrk, p.27
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       Bzrk, p.27

         Part #1 of BZRK series by Michael Grant
 
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  Because we don’t need the quadrillion. Or even the billions. We don’t need to see all the detail. The brain itself will find what we need. It will show us synaptic networks.

  Memory is elusive because it is spread across so much of the brain. Go back to that sheet of tofu. Stab eight pins into it. Draw lines between them. There’s your memory of your mother’s face, each pin a piece.

  But as you look at the pattern you notice something. All those connections passed through the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the router. Tap the router and you can light up the networks of memory.

  It’s not much to look at, the hippocampus. They say it looks like a cross between a slug and a seahorse. Just a couple of inches long, one on each side of the brain.

  But for wiring the human brain? It’s the user interface. It’s the betrayer. The Judas of the brain.

  It is theoretically possible for nanotechnology to tap the hippocampus to in effect “light up” the locations of a specific memory. It might even be possible then for this theoretical nanotechnology to shut down areas of memory. Or even to augment them, or alter their import.

  One could imagine a world in which a nanotechnology robot could run an artificial neural fiber between two different memories, or between a memory and areas of the brain associated with specific emotions.

  Of course such a thing would be a criminal misuse of a promising technology, and I think it falls into the category of scare story rather than genuine threat.

  TWENTY-SIX

  Wilkes and Ophelia lay on the floor beneath billowing smoke drawn in from the gift store, where the fire had spread despite the sprinklers.

  They were down, but Ophelia’s biots were not out, not yet, they were rushing to find refuge down in the meat of one of the twitchers.

  Panic reigned in the room. The two twitchers—the young Asian boy and a pimply white kid with a lot of wavy brown hair—yanked off their helmets, TFDs kept screaming, “Stay down, stay down,” although neither of the bruised women were likely to get up.

  And now came the shouts of “Drop your weapons, now!” And those were not TFDs, those were UN security, and not the rent-a-cops, either, but serious hard guys in body-armor and helmets, armed with assault weapons.

  Some part of Ophelia’s mind saw what would happen next. The AFGC operation here was blown wide open. There was no way, none, to cover this up. The Armstrongs had made a terrible mistake, and now everything would be exposed.

  They couldn’t let that happen. Which meant …

  “They’re going to blow the room!” a man’s voice cried.

  “No!”

  The twitchers leapt from their seats; TFDs bolted, shoving them aside. The UN security, believing they were being charged, fired.

  Ophelia grabbed Wilkes’s collar and dragged her toward the door and the security guys yelled at her to freeze and in one second he was going to squeeze that trigger and—

  “They’re going to—” Ophelia yelled.

  And then the explosion.

  It was an incendiary placed in a suitcase. It was detonated remotely by Sugar Lebowski who had seen it all on-screen in her command post on the fifty-eighth floor.

  Jindal had come down from the fifty-ninth, feeling more comfortable with security than up on the empty twitcher floor. His face was the color of cigarette ash. He turned horrified eyes on her.

  “No alternative,” she whispered.

  The only way with the whole operation exposed. Close off avenues to exposure. Damage control.

  First she’d lost Nijinsky. Now this.

  Jesus.

  Disaster.

  On the monitor she had seen a flash of white followed by nothing. She stood there willing a picture to return, but of course, no, that wasn’t happening.

  Sugar knew that after the initial explosion there would be choking smoke and a fire that would burn so hot nothing would be left in the room. Not a wire, not a fingerprint, not even the metal in filled teeth. And definitely no nanobots.

  She was shaking. Her hands trembled.

  No choice. None at all. Not once the fire department and UN security got there, and coming right behind them, the SWAT teams and the FBI and the whole alphabet soup of investigatory agencies. They would have found everything.

  Now they would find a few bones and little else.

  Which might also be all anyone would find of Sugar Lebowski. Her mouth tasted like vomit. Her heart was hammering away so loud she almost couldn’t hear Jindal.

  “Are they all dead?” Jindal asked. He sounded like a little kid asking his mommy.

  “They’re fucking charcoal,” Sugar said harshly.

  There was a camera mounted openly on the wall of the AFGC control room. Of course she knew the Twins had other cameras as well. Up there, a hundred feet above her, they would be watching. She could feel it.

  It was clear to Sugar at that moment that she would be very lucky to live out the day. Letting Nijinsky escape would have been enough to infuriate the Twins. Yes, she’d been attacked, taken by surprise, and yes, Dietrich should share some of the blame, but they weren’t understanding, forgiving people, those two. But that paled to insignificance compared to this.

  Was she so valuable to the company, to Charles and Benjamin, that they would have to keep her alive? Would she ever make it home to see her daughter?

  Sugar turned to face the camera. “That’s just two twitchers,” she said. “We still have Bug Man, Burnofsky, One-Up, and Dietrich. One-Up is running late but she’s reliable. When she gets to the location with Dietrich, we can repurpose either Kim’s or Alfredo’s nanobots to him at the hotel location. If you choose, we can also shift One-Up from her current target.”

  There was of course no answer.

  Her insides twisted. She glanced at the link to the hotel location. It showed Dietrich already suiting up as the spare twitcher. She peered past him. The camera angle wasn’t good. One-Up’s chair was on the other side of a bed that had been pushed out of the way, and light was coming in through the window that blinded the camera a little.

  But peering hard she could see that the far chair was still empty. She’d just reassured Twofer that One-Up was reliable. She was a prima donna, but she always showed up. But this was no time for her bullshit.

  “Where the hell is One-Up?” Sugar yelled, losing her cool a bit as she considered her own likely demise.

  He jumped. Others in the room jumped as well. They were all staring at her with accusing eyes. She was the one who had ordered the bomb.

  “She …” Jindal began. “You know she always has to have a Starbucks. She went out and …” He shrugged and looked around helplessly. “It’s a thing with her. It’s a superstition. You know that! Half these twitchers have OCD. They’re all nuts.”

  Sugar’s phone rang. It made her jump. It had to be them. It had to be the Twins.

  Sick with dread she looked at the number. It was not a recognized number. She pushed the answer button and held it to her ear.

  “Who is this?” she asked.

  “It’s me, it’s me, I’ve been trying to get through!”

  One-Up.

  “Slow down,” Sugar said with all the authority she could manage. “Explain yourself.”

  Sugar listened. And she glanced at the camera and imagined those two freak faces, imagined those three awful eyes boring into her.

  She would never survive this day. Sugar saw her house. Her daughter. Her husband, whom she didn’t like very much, but he was good cover.

  The Twins were going to have her killed. By one of her own men. She glanced quickly at the angry faces around her. One of you, she thought. One of you.

  She wished she could cry. But if there was any way out of this, it was by dealing with this new threat.

  There was an opportunity here, a desperate opportunity.

  She turned away from the monitor to her deputy, a beefy but smart former cop named Paul Johntz.

  “Paul. We’ve been penetrated. There are at least two B
ZRK twitchers. They’ll have to stay within range of the building to run biots. Get every piece of muscle we have and follow me.”

  “I’m tapping optics,” Plath said. She’d been shown how to do it. But only once. She sank the probe. It was a rigid little spear on the end of a piece of nanowire. She had to use her mantis arm to do it, and it was awkward. Like throwing a harpoon with a lobster claw.

  The probe sank and … and nothing.

  She reeled it back in. Stabbed it deeper into the nerve. And suddenly, “Ahh!” she said.

  “Shh,” Keats said. “People.”

  There was movement near the Dumpster. Plath fell silent. A new visual had opened up. So strange. Like a window inside a window. Like picture in picture on a TV, except that this picture was black and white and grainy, as if the pixels were all an inch on each side.

  Then she remembered: the raw feed from the optic nerve was upside down. She reversed it mentally, as well as she could, anyway, but still it made no sense.

  She drew back the probe. Twice more she stabbed, and then she had it. Not clear, still grainy, but wider in scope, less like she was looking at the world through a straw.

  She was seeing an eye. The very eye she was looking through.

  She was looking in a mirror, that was it.

  Her stomach was tied in knots. Yeah, it was a mirror, or the high-tech equivalent of a mirror, and now the eye swept across the mirror, no longer looking at itself. Looking at a face.

  A face like no other.

  “It’s them,” she whispered voicelessly.

  Keats held her close.

  Bug Man and Burnofsky got the same message on their monitors at the same time.

  One-Up missing. Kim and Alfredo dead. UN locked down.

  You must take your targets.

  CBA

  CBA. Charles and Benjamin Armstrong.

  Bug Man and Burnofsky.

  Both had reached their targets.

  Two armies of nanobots were in place. One on the Chinese leader, one on the American.

  Kim’s nanobots were in place on the Indian, Chauksey. Alfredo’s little army was still two jumps away from Prime Minister Hayashi. Those forces were immobilized for now, until they could be repurposed to a new twitcher. That would take time.

  Dietrich wasn’t good enough to reach the Japanese in Bug Man’s estimation. But assuming One-Up was on track, they might still take the American, the Brit, and the Chinese.

  Bug Man took a gamble. Time to make it clear he was more than just a twitcher. His game could extend into the macro. He keyed a message to Twofer.

  Suggest: take Dietrich off Jap give him Indian.

  No reply. But that was okay.

  Victory was still within reach. The unknown was whether any of the targets were defended. In a fight One-Up could handle herself, and so could Burnofsky.

  Even if only Bug Man and Burnofsky prevailed, the world’s two greatest powers would be subtly but inexorably bent to serving the wills of Charles and Benjamin Armstrong. Whatever had happened or was still to happen to the others, it wouldn’t matter, not if he and Burnofsky succeeded.

  Of course in a perfect world, Bug Man thought, in a perfect world, Burnofsky and all the rest would fail and only Bug Man would triumph.

  But that was an ambitious dream.

  Time to begin the wiring of the president of the United States.

  He laughed out loud at the thought.

  The Twins would kiss his ass this time. They would bow down before him.

  Then, Bug Man saw.

  Two biots were rushing along in his wake, racing up behind him as his army pelted down along the optic chiasma.

  Oh, yes.

  Oh, hell yes.

  Is that you, Vincent? Please, God, let it be.

  No macro interference to mess anything up this time. The ultimate battle for the ultimate prize.

  “I hope you’re watching, Mr. Charles and Mr. Benjamin. Because this … will be epic.”

  The cops were beginning to move the crowd away from UN Plaza. There was a very serious mood in the air. Something very bad had happened, and New York’s finest were not in the mood to take backtalk from anyone.

  Helicopters were overhead. Sirens were still wailing as more and more security flooded the blocks around the UN.

  One thing was sure: Wilkes and Ophelia had provided one hell of a diversion.

  Then, Vincent saw. He was all the way down in the optic chiasma when he spotted the nanobot army racing away.

  “Bug Man,” Vincent said.

  “I’m on my way!” Nijinsky replied.

  Bug Man’s nanobots stopped moving away. Six platoons turned, one then the next, to face the biots. The exploding head logo was faint but unmistakable in the phosphorescent light.

  Vincent smiled at Nijinsky. A real smile.

  “It’ll be over by the time you get there, Jin.”

  The Twins were watching the windows open on their table.

  They saw the blank screen that had been focused on the UN station. It was an ominous rectangle of static now.

  They saw the scene outside the UN Building, a carnival of flashing lights as every fire or police vehicle in New York gathered.

  They saw Dietrich acquiring control of Kim’s nanobots, already in position, hidden for the moment in the Indian prime minister’s dark hair. That had been a good suggestion from Bug Man, although of course Benjamin had thought of it first.

  They puzzled at the sight of One-Up, looking battered and bloody, being hustled into the chair beyond Dietrich. They didn’t have the audio on, but they could see her rage. She kicked a trash can as she passed and punched the air. Furious.

  They also saw what Burnofsky saw inside the brain of the Chinese premier.

  And what Bug Man saw as he turned to face his nemesis.

  The rods and cones in their retinas fired tiny electrical signals down the optic nerve.

  At the very back of their brains their visual cortex translated those signals into images.

  But neither Charles’s eye, nor Benjamin’s eye, nor the eye that stared out from between them, could turn inward and see the two biots that had at last reached the hippocampus.

  Neither of them could know that Sadie McLure, who now called herself Plath, lay curled in a young man’s arms, contemplating their murder.

  The TFDs had a twelve-block area in which the BZRK twitchers might be hiding. Each block packed with tall buildings, with hundreds of offices each. And the fact was that even that cordon was an estimate, a best guess. No one knew the exact limits of a BZRK twitcher’s reach. But as a practical matter, if they extended the cordon any farther it would have to include Grand Central, not to mention the subway stations.

  At ground level there were something like a dozen coffee shops, twice that many restaurants, fast-food joints, pizza parlors, copy shops, dry cleaners, office-supply stores, shoe shops, tourist-junk shops, florists …

  It was an impossible search. Sugar Lebowski had eleven guys. But she had the advantage of knowing whom she was looking for: Sadie McLure. And some guy, but the smart play was to look for Sadie.

  Cars. Parking lots. Driving around in a cab. Inside about a thousand offices. They could be any of a million places, and she had to find them. With eleven guys.

  Two street people were arguing loudly over who had rights to the cans in a bin. Sugar went up to them and said, “Shut up, assholes.” She held up a hundred-dollar bill, and that got their attention even through the haze of booze and schizophrenia. “A hundred bucks if you find me this girl.” She had a picture on her phone and gave them a five-second look. “Find her in the next ten minutes and you can drink for a week. Go!”

  To her men she said, “One-Up said they were sitting in a coffee shop, so they are probably still at street level. If they had an office, they’d have been there to begin with. So get every hobo, bike messenger, street vendor, cabdriver, doorman, and building security guy. Offer them a hundred. If that doesn’t work, offer them a thousan
d. Get me that little bitch.”

  The explosion threw Wilkes clear into the shop. She slammed into a stand of T-shirts. She was burning, tights curling, hair crisping, blouse smoking. She slapped at the fire on her legs and yelled, “Ophelia! Ophelia!”

  There were bodies everywhere, some moving, some not. Choking, oily black smoke filled the shop, a thousand times deeper and more intense than what had resulted from her own little exercise in pyromania. The smoke was like a falling ceiling, pressing down, squeezing the air into eighteen inches near the floor.

 
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