Location: Vontgeist Holdings.
Protocol: The Insider
Viper was slouched in a chair in the waiting area of Vontgeist holdings. He was dressed like a young broker, clean-shaven (it had hurt him to lose the beard) and carrying a rather expensive briefcase. His tie was cheaper; he hadn’t been willing to carry more than one expensive accessory. He wore no wrist-watch, despite the pleadings from the Adder that a Rolex would ‘sell the character.’
‘Look sharp,’ Adder’s electronic voice hissed via the nanospeaker planted just inside his right earlobe. ‘Keep your spine erect.’
‘Heh,’ he chuckled softly. ‘You said “erect.”’
Another voice broke through the intercom. ‘You idiots can do this later. Focus. We have 82 seconds until extraction.’
‘Copy that, Python,’ Viper breathed. ‘Sorry about that.’
Viper suddenly wished he had a wrist-watch. He would have liked to look idly at his wrist, pretending to be waiting for someone. He wasn’t comfortable with the look the security guard at the left wing was giving him. His cheap necktie suddenly felt suffocating. As it was, he could only stare at his smartphone, pretending to be reading up on stock prices or whatever it was brokers did when they fiddled with their phones.
‘Look sharp,’ Adder’s voice broke through Viper’s uneasy tedium. ‘Target is coming through West elevator.’
‘Copy,’ Viper said, standing up, then added, ‘this is more like it.’
Glancing behind him to verify that his target was indeed walking towards him, he turned to face the first random face he could find.
‘Hey, Jake,’ he said, reading the man’s name off his nametag. ‘Nice haircut.’
The flustered man mumbled his thanks, but Viper was still speaking. ‘So, what are you doing Friday?’
‘Well – I don’t know – ‘
‘Let’s grab a beer and see if the rookies trash the Reds this time, ey? On me.’ His peripheral vision told him the target was now sideways to him, at arms’ length, and this was his shot.
Spreading his arms with enough force to knock down a small horse, he said to Jake ‘Don’t stand me up, man!’
His arm knocked into the target, who went down in a confused mix of open briefcases and strewn papers.
‘Oh, Jesus, I’m sorry Dr. Kurt!’ Viper whispered, crouching quickly next to the old man. He saw the left-wing security man already walking towards him.
Dr. Kurt Vontgeist tried to stand up, but Viper surreptitiously pushed him down.
‘Are you okay, sir?’
‘Yes – get your hands off of me!’
‘The password to your Deep Web vault – can you remember it?’
Dr. Kurt stared at him suspiciously. ‘What is this?’
Viper glanced sideways and away from him, muttering, ‘Did you get it?’
Adder’s voice was speaking through the speaker again. ‘Negative. Try query two.’
‘What’s the password to your Deep Web vault, Dr. Kurt?’ Sweat gathered at Viper’s brow. The security guard was almost upon him.
Dr. Kurt grabbed his tie. ‘Who the hell are you?’
‘Did you get it now?’ Viper asked urgently.
‘Gimme a minute,’ came Adder’s voice.
‘What’s all this, Jackie?’ cried Viper.
‘Calm your horses. We’ve got it. Initiate escape protocol.’
‘Security!’ yelled Dr. Kurt, prompting the security guard’s brisk walk to morph into a run, and other guards joined him.
‘Let go of my tie,’ Viper said urgently to Dr. Kurt. ‘My momma gave it to me.’
Deciding that Dr. Kurt wasn’t the sentimental type, he smacked the man cleanly on the jaw and broke into a run.
‘I’ve been made!’ he cried as he ran. ‘Come get me!’
‘Jesus,’ this time, it was Python speaking. ‘You just couldn’t do a neat job, could you?’
‘Come get me for Christ’s sake!’
He dodged one of the security guards at the exit door. The burst of sunlight – in contrast to the controlled lighting of the waiting area – made him squint, but he ran, four or five guards at his heels. A brown SUV was backing up ahead of him. He chased it.
Suddenly the door swung open and two pairs of hands grabbed at him, pulling him in before peeling off in a tight arc, headed to the highway.
The gasping, breathing security men clutched at their constricted chests. They would return to the building to check the briefcase Viper left behind, and would be bemused and disappointed to find it filled with nothing but newspaper clippings.
Meanwhile, inside the brown bus, Viper was being chastised.
‘You know Marie, my cousin? She’s five,’ said the voice of Python.
‘Yeah, she came over last December for the Cinnamon – ‘
‘She would have done a better job out there than you. What the hell, man?’
Adder was quiet. She was driving.
‘I’m sorry, Nick,’ Viper, whose real name was Matthew, said.
Nick – Python – sighed. ‘Even Priest would have done a better job. And he’s a bumbling idiot.’
‘Okay, I get it. I get it. Lay off Priest, though.’
Priest was sitting there, watching the guys say those things about him. He was Matthew’s younger brother, and when Matthew ran away from home, he had taken him along because he feared his step-father would abuse the boy as he had him.
Matthew was part of the team known in cyberspace as the Venom. They were dedicated cyber-activists (tagged ‘cyber-terrorists’) whose simple job it was to expose the government’s conspiracy. They believed that there were two warring factions, brandishing science as weapons, seeking to accelerate evolution for personal gains. While the rest of the world was largely unaware of their good work, they were slowly gaining recognition, and their followership had spiked considerably when they had the ‘terrorist’ tag slammed on them.
Nicholas Finch was the head of the organization. Jemimah – code-named ‘Adder’ – was the real tech head, and Matthew was the muscle. Priest was a tag-along, and lately Nicholas’ grumbling about the boy was getting louder by the day.
‘Every team member has to earn his keep, Matt. Your brother hasn’t earned squat.’
‘He’ll learn,’ Matthew said, wearily. ‘I was clueless myself when I started. Look at me now.’
‘We don’t have time to admire his growth curve, son,’ said Nick, even though he was only three years older than 22-year-old Matthew.
Seeking a change of topic, Matt asked: ‘how did it go? Did we crack Dr. Kurt’s Deep Web?’
‘Yes,’ growled Nick. ‘See for yourself.’
He tapped a few buttons on his tablet, and a virtual screen appeared on the cramped space in the bus.
‘What am I looking at, chief?’
‘Okay. That’s good. Schematics for what exactly?’
From the drivers’ seat, Jemimah said, ‘to a secret laboratory.’
‘We believe it is the same lab that created The Insider.’
‘Whoa,’ said Priest. ‘It really exists.’
‘Yes, it does, dumbo.’
‘Chill,’ said Matthew. ‘Cut him some slack.’
‘Sorry,’ said Nick, but his face was not sorry at all.
‘Do we know where this laboratory is?’
‘Somewhere off the North Coast.’ It was Jemimah speaking again. ‘I’ve only done a prelim sweep of his Deep Web, and believe me, it is deep. I’ll need to get off the steering wheels to pick at the juicy bits.’
Nick turned to Priest. ‘Make yourself useful, kid. Go shut down The Insider. Her brain must be exhausted from all that work.’
Priest nodded, then left.
Priest reverently opened the door that led to what he privately called the Keeping Place of The Insider. He pushed it open, went in, and closed the door gently behind him.
Three weeks ago, they had gotten a call from one of their contacts who said a ‘special package’ had been picked up. They had visited the contact, expecting fresh intel, but what they had found was even better.
They had found The Insider. It had taken a bit of work, but Jemimah and Nick – the geniuses – had ‘fixed’ the ‘broken’ Insider and rigged equipment for harnessing the power.
They liked to call The Insider a ‘program,’ and Priest believed they did this because they were trying to subconsciously justify their inhumane handling of her.
Priest stood in awe, staring in adoration at the beautifully scarred girl that lay on the examining table, with several wires relaying input from her brain to a monitor just behind her.
Her eyes were shut, and she lay still.
She had been that way since they brought her with them from the hospital.
‘As much as I hate to say it, guys, The Insider has been damned useful for us,’ Nick was saying.
The three were sharing a beer, and Jemimah was still driving.
‘True,’ Jemimah said. ‘In less than 20 days, we’ve unraveled more secrets than we have in the last two years.’
‘I know you’ve explained this to me before, but how exactly does The Insider work? I get confused. The program can read human thought patterns at a 100m radius, yes? But what if there’s a wall between us? Can she – it – read my thoughts through a wall?’
‘Well, duh,’ Nick said with his bottle still in his mouth. ‘We just used The Insider to read Kurt’s password right out of his head. Through his thick-walled edifice. Jeez, sometimes I think, maybe Priest might be brighter than you.’
‘Another thing. If walls aren’t blocking out thoughts, do thoughts carry on the same wavelength as WiFi?’
Nick fell silent. ‘Now that, I don’t know.’
Jemimah drove on in silence for a bit. ‘We do not know much – or anything at all – about The Insider, only that it works. When we picked her up from the hospital, Morraine said she was a failed experiment, or something, but it looks that while the experiment might have damaged her conscious thought processes, with a little relay mechanism, we can read thoughts directly off her brain.’
Morraine was one of Venom’s contacts all over the city.
‘You’re a genius,’ said Matt. ‘You rigged up the relay system.’
She chuckled deliciously, that singular sound that made Matt’s blood pump a little faster. ‘I had help. Lots of it. Nick is such a tech head.’
‘We’re the only two smart people here, Jem,’ Nick said, eyeing Matt in mock-disgust. ‘This guy can’t even hold a screwdriver right.’
‘It’s the thin metal end, right? That’s the right way to hold it, yeah?’
‘Just don’t spill the bloody beer. We’re running low on the Angel’s Piss.’
A 100m thought-reading range. 29m.57s per session. Allowing for brain cells recharge, The Insider could be used to extract thoughts from even the most tight-lipped people secret agent. Valuable tool to the team.
Valuable friend to Priest.
Even though Matt had never joined in taking jabs at Priest, he hadn’t exactly heroically attacked Nick for constantly verbally assaulting him, either. Jemimah…well, Jemimah mostly acted like he didn’t exist. Also, it was quite disgusting the way Matt looked like her.
It was quite painful, but Matt cared more for Jemimah than he did for his brother, and Priest had no place in Nick’s little gang.
As a matter of fact, he felt more at home with The Insider. But that’s not what he called her. ‘The Insider’ was what the team called her. The name he had for her, well, it was a bit more…fitting.
He called her High Priestess.
The team gave him less credit than he deserved. Jemimah has programmed a one-way relay mechanism, finding no need for sending commands to The Insider’s brain, content with simply retrieving data from it. She had simply worked on pinpointing – with expert precision – The Insider’s thought-reading abilities at anyone the team intended to harvest precious intelligence from, and reaping bountifully.
Priest had modified her initial design without her knowledge, creating a two-way relay, and he had slowly taught the High Priestess to know, to become self-aware.
He sat, every day, speaking to her, knowing she could read his thoughts, but still delighting in speaking, and he waited for days, waiting for her to reply.
He had persisted, speaking about his frustrations and muzzled anger, full of faith that one day, the High Priestess would ‘speak’ to him.
And she had. Yesterday. The thought had pinged off the screens while the team was huddled in a corner discussing the mission on Dr. Kurt.
It had been a simple question: Who am I?
Priest had spent the entire night answering that question.
He told her who he wanted her to be.
‘You guys nearly ruined me out there. Why did I need to use query two on Dr. Kurt? We never used query two with The Insider.’
Jemimah was quiet, but she was aware that Nick and Matt were looking to her for answers.
‘I’m not sure,’ she said, finally. ‘When you asked the first question, The Insider was unable to process it. Her neurons were engaged.’
‘Engaged? Weren’t her psionic trails focused on Kurt and Viper?’ Nick asked.
‘They were,’ she smiled, remembering Matt’s hormonal thoughts about her when he had said ‘heh, you said erect.’ ‘I don’t know how to explain it, but it looked like The Insider was…thinking.’
‘Thinking? I thought she couldn’t do that? They abandoned the Yellow Pill project because of the cerebral overload.’
The Yellow Pill project, along with the Red Pill Project, were some of the secrets Venom had unraveled in the past two weeks.
‘Exactly,’ said Jemimah. ‘It was probably nothing. Maybe a glitch. We’ve been using The Insider a lot lately. Maybe the strain’s beginning to tell on the program.’
The team fell silent. The hum of the engine filled the air about them with white noise.
‘The Insider better not give out before we expose these bastards,’ Nick spat.
‘We’re here!’ Jemimah said, parking the SUV. ‘North Coast.’
‘Great,’ said Matthew. ‘I’ll get us checked into rooms. I’m tired of this old iron box.’
‘Check that they have a strong WiFi,’ Jemimah called.
‘And please go with your brother. I’m not sure I won’t kill him before you return,’ Nick growled.
‘That won’t be necessary,’ Priest’s voice said behind them.
‘Stupid,’ said Nick. ‘Go help your brother.’
Priest’s sallow face stretched into a remarkably morbid smile. ‘Have you seen the movie, LUCY?’
‘Yeah. ‘Ugh’ is right. It’s an old movie anyway, so their accuracy is understandably off-target.’
‘When did you start talking smart, Priest?’
‘I always did. Just not to you. Or to the rest of you,’ and with that he giggled. ‘As I was saying. LUCY. I’ve been talking with the High Priestess, who has awoken from a deep sleep. She had a lot of enlightening things to tell me about herself.’
‘Look at the amount of foolishness I have to put up with,’ Nick grumbled.
‘Priest, who’s the High Priestess?’ asked Matthew calmly.
‘Please. Let me finish. The High Priestess has told me her powers have gone even beyond the standard of expectations. Haha,’ cackled. ‘You people were too weak to understand her, anyway. Too weak, and too stupid.’
‘That’s it,’ spluttered Nick. ‘Get him off my SUV and don’t bring him back.’
The girl known as The Insider – whom Priest affectionately referred to as The High Priestess, and whom her creators referred to as the Yellow Pill project – shuffled into the room.
‘She’s awake!’ gasped Jemimah, eyes round with surprise.
‘Quite perspicacious of you, Jemmy,’ Priest laughed again. ‘Aren’t you a bit curious as to what the High Priestess can do? Hold that thought. I’ll show you instead.’
Right before Matt’s horrified eyes, Jemimah and Nick began to shriek and cry and curse.
‘No, mummy!’ screamed Jemimah.
‘Make it stop! No make it stop! NOOO!” sobbed Nick.
‘What are you doing to them?’ Matt asked his brother. But Jemimah was clawing at her body, tearing out her flesh with her sharp nails. Nick broke his bottle of beer and used the jagged pieces to gouge out his eyes.
‘STOP IT, PRIEST! PLEASE! PLEASE!’ Matt was crying now in terror.
Suddenly it stopped. Jemimah and Nick were huddled in a corner, rocking back and forth, semi-conscious and bleeding profusely.
‘Yes, brother. Isn’t it beautiful? She is more than just a thought-reader. The High Priestess can also feed you thoughts.’
Matthew shrunk away from his brother’s soulless gaze. ‘What have you become, Priest?’
‘I am more than Priest now, brother. I am now, and forever, greater than anything you will ever know. Greater than everything you have ever been a part of.
‘I am the High Priest.’