"To repeat: Noted billionaire and financier, Jane Fields, rejected her United States citizenship in a personal address to the United Nations, where she called for an end to what she referred to as petty nationalism, blocking the equitable economic progress of the world."
–Tom Skerrit, World Network News
Jane Fields looked down through the window of her plane and her heart fluttered. She had broken the unspoken rule of secrecy by daring to build this off shore complex. The Six had always ruled their vast corporate networks anonymously. Technology had been shrinking the world with an almost geometric acceleration. The nations held to their outmoded ideals of patriotism and land boundaries while each of the Six used corporations, tied together in an invisible network of money and international law, that moved silently and fluidly to wherever profit and power existed.
But none of the Six had ever spoken openly of their world spanning power–until now.
As her plane descended, Jane Fields watched her employees scuttle across her brazen complex. Her engineers had finished the project on schedule. No longer were the outlines of twenty off coast oil derricks visible; it was more of an island, a slim rectangular island with domes and fields and, most importantly, superguns that were much more credible than the earlier prototypes used by eccentric dictators. Sticking out like porcupine quills across the perimeter of her complex, the huge gun barrels served as a show of obvious force to aggressive third world powers. Her primary munitions company, SouthAm Dynamics, had manufactured these superguns; everyone knew they were flawless, accurate, precise.
Of course, the superguns were not a deterrent against the United States or the European Defense Confederation. But her complex was situated far off the coast of Argentina, distant from the touchy Europeans, who had never really forgiven her for stealing their trade in inexpensive unmanned rocket launchings; and against the American threat, she had a more effective defense: minds, front line bio-techs as well as practical theorists in all the profit bearing defense industries, whom the hawks in America wanted on a safe and isolated place, away from the Chinese hardliners and the unofficial Russian-Ukrainian-Georgian triumvirate. It was a passive, invisible defense, the leverage Jane Fields needed to preserve her independence.
Her plane put down smoothly on the strip; the precautionary net flipped up, but it was not necessary. She had chosen the pilot from Air Britain’s Concord elite; he had the light touch, an artist’s touch, applied to a craftsmen’s trade. She always looked for that in potential independent citizens.
The ground tremored. The rose bushes in front of her offices swayed, throwing their scent to the tempo of the deafening roar. Her Casio wristwatch beeped. Jane nodded and touched the stem of a flower, fondled a sharp thorn, and smiled. Her rocket was launching on time with her spy satellite and telecommunication satellite; their auto defense mechanisms were well ahead of her patriotic competition. Everything was moving along pleasantly.
But that, she knew, was only because her competitors were still planning their response.
Said response was waiting for her on the complex’s one outline computer. The Europeans and the Americans had frozen her assets. She had maneuvered for that loss, leaving two point three billion to allow her competitors to believe they had succeeded in a punitive action. At this point she had no desire to see them lose face. Angering Jackson too much might prompt an American air strike. This complex could never withstand such a confrontation.
Her oak desk was covered under a pile of scientific proposals, think tank strategies, and tertiary construction plans, all of which needed her attention, all had to be tabled.
The modem pinged its S.O.S., mindlessly crying for her attention. One of the Six was calling her. Of course, some of the red lines dedicated to heads of states were busy. This was different–an immediate predator, the Cerberus of Military Intelligence Central.
M.I. Central was the illegitimate granddaughter of the K.G.B., the C.I.A., and M.I. 5, rolled into one monstrous arm of the United Nations. The ghoulish title of their leader was still unknown to most, but it was probably apt. Whether Cerberus was a human genius gifted in computer technology or a cyborg linked to a massive computer or a rogue artificial intelligence, Jane did not know. These and other myths surrounded Cerberus, impenetrable, outlandish myths that even her informational network could not pierce. His operatives, Individual Retrieving Information Sector agents, were supposedly linked to him through some sort of neural surgery. One thing was certain from her field reports: Cerberus had surreptitious control over all telecommunications. Jane hoped her new satellite would fix that.
She flipped on the computer screen:
C: Hello Jane.
J: Hello Cerberus.
C: This was unlike you, Jane. Very showy, very sloppy. But I must congratulate you on the launch of your leading edge tc satellite. Good luck with its deployment.
Damn. One of his operatives is in my complex.
J: Your network, as ever, is efficient.
C: Thank you, Jane. But you must know that your unprecedented action cannot be tolerated.
J: I thought you’d like a trend that went toward global unification in which the U.N. would be the only governmental adjudication agency for a world where nationalism is dying.
There’s a sop for your ambition, you bastard.
C: An alliance? I’m afraid not. You are just a tad ahead of your time, Jane. My current predictions make your move unfeasible for at least forty years. You are only creating a backlash that will reinforce the nationalism you oppose so vehemently. If you could wait . . .
J: For forty years! I’ve already crossed my Rubicon, Cerberus. You’ll just have to hasten your plans. Toss a new current into pop culture?
C: You ARE becoming showy. Such wave making requires meticulous research, and high risk is the poisonous companion of high profile. You know me better than that. I suggest that you retract today’s statement. Claim temporary insanity. Blame it on that svengali you have running around the American campuses.
J: So you can grab my organization? Declare me unfit through some sham U.N. court? I’d prefer an econ war.
C: Jane, I don’t have the time to isolate you from your off complex network. Construction was always your forte. Your brash move forces me into an odious military position.
J: The Pentagon?
C: Good. You understand my serious intent. I’m sure your politicos can come up with a face saving retraction. Pay some penalty. Donate your frozen assets to some American charity. It would only be a small setback for you. An immediate statement on your part is necessary, for if your retraction does not come within twenty-four hours, you will force me to sanction you in order to prevent a nationalistic backlash. Your venture must appear to be a fluke, NOT an incident. It grieves me that our interests, so nearly mutual, have crossed paths. If it’s any consolation, forty years from now you will be remembered as a pioneer.
Jane turned off her computer.
She could feel an anxiety attack coming on. Of all the damnable, bad luck–stumbling right onto the power wave of another network, only forty years too soon. Forty years. Her hair was already grey and brittle. It would almost be worth losing the complex if she could take down Cerberus. His network’s ties with governments were too dangerous, too closely resembled a shadow fascist. She only had twenty-four hours before he moved. That leeway had been a foolish gift. It would have to be quick and quiet–an assassination?
She needed a powerful ally, allies preferably. Too much of her network had been sunk into this complex. She began to make calls to the remaining Six:
Demian laughed and hung up upon hearing her voice.
Pietr claimed ignorance of any current Cerberus manuevers, which signalled he had already clashed with M.I. Central and had lost. Jane cursed under her breath. Pietr’s ninjutsu were supposed to be the best; they were probably a wing of Cerberus’ I.R.I.S. agents now. Jane nodded slowly. When networks warred, mercy and treaty had no meaning. Only the appearance of power was left. That prevented interference from other networks while the victor assimilated his opponent’s network.
Mariko didn’t even take her call: the implication being she considered Jane already dead. Jane slapped the phone on the cradle.
She fingered the roto-dial, an antique from simpler days. She had expected those dismal responses. Each knew that Cerberus was tracking their transmissions and deciphering the encrypted communiques. In five days those conversations would be a part of Cerb’s datanet. In five days it wouldn’t matter to her.
One other she could call. She hesitated. Like Cerberus he used a mythological pseudonym: Cuchulain. Unlike Cerberus he played the low percentages, risking chunks of his network in surprise maneuvers. The Chilean uprising and the Hong Kong rebellion were just two of his fiascos. Still, he had economically empowered the Manchurian province when no other of the Six had dreamed of crossing the eternal bamboo curtain. Jane reached out a finger and pushed the dial.
The computer screen automatically turned on and pulsed with life. Cuchulain had accepted her call:
Cu: Congratulations! Been watching you and Cerb closely after that independent move. Wonderful! Go get that overblown hacker. He took Pietr without warning after a treaty. Cerb’s utterly a rogue network. It’s high time someone with your expertise put him in his place. My god, Jane, I do believe that you are my sister in all but flesh. What a feat!
J: High praise from you, Cuchulain. You are as over exuberant as ever.
Cu: Oh, damn it all, Jane. Don’t try to remake my words. I meant everything I typed. Your independent citizen move set you against him; Cerbereus is too closely tied with the Americans. It’s a piece of good luck for me that you are–were an American. I’ve been waiting for this for two years. Pietr capitulated for his life and some shadow power in I.R.I.S., but I know you, Jane. You’re too proud. You’ll give Cerberus the good fight.
J: Cuchulain, there won’t be an econ war in this one. He wants me to retract or face military action.
Cu: That rat bastard! I knew his ties were good in that area, but–Well, we’ll just have to take the little Mengele out.
J: Little Mengele?
Cu: Didn’t you know? He pinched several files from the Chinese five years ago. All their data on eugenics is his data as well. I warned them to isolate their computers. Cerberus wants to manufacture agents from the fetus up. Cyborgs and open ended androids have proved too obvious or unreliable. He makes my skin crawl, Jane. And that’s no easy feat!
J: Then, you’re with me?
Cu: I’ll take a personal hand. I’ve been in the New York area for some time.
J: You didn’t have to say that.
Cu: There’s a time for caution, Jane. This isn’t it. It’s war, network war.
J: We’ll have to pool our New York operatives.
Cu: How many levels do you want to mobilize?
J: All of them. Right down to gang war.
Cu: That’s the spirit, Jane.
Turn precisely through traffic. Shielded windows prevent humans from recognizing you for what you are: substandard, untrustworthy, emotionless, synthetic! Filthy, little Omega series 364. Pathetic: A greek letter is your name. Turn up the juice–getting closer to the mark. Hate, hate, hate. They wouldn’t trust you with the nukes; tactical nukes aren’t for androids–synthetic man!
Not like Andrew Mathias Cambpell. He has three names. Three! And he still wasn’t satisfied! Cuchulain, what a stupid name. He took a fourth and didn’t even give one to someone who needed one. Oh, yes, it’ll be good to sanction thisthisthis man.
No, no, that would be an improper mission priority. That would be a directive violation.
ShutupshutupSHUTUP! It’s a stupid synthetic voice. Turn up the juice. That’s a mission priority, all right. Hate, hate, hate. Tulip Lane: Even streets get names. This is his street. Children on bikes. No. He’s a man, this man. He lives in this house. So, no nukes. Maybe, ram this van through his pristine, manicured, pompous house.
No, no, that is not within mission parameters. That would be a methodology violation.
Good. That decides it. More juice. Hate, hate, hate. Ram the van. Push the pedal.
This body’s been damaged. What to do? What to do? Searchsearchsearch. Check the damage, you stupid Omega series. The left optical sensor’s shutdown. Right leg’s immobilized. There’s a high temperature variance. What to do?
Find an open ended directive. Ah, found one: Check for fire. Good idea!
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Of course, there’s fire. Van’s skragged. High impact explosive shot through engine and detonated. Rip out the door. No more juice. Men? Foam! Humans! Hate—-
The Mack tractor trailer roared down Tulip Lane. Inside the trailer was a plush computer installation, complete with jacuzzi. A blonde lady quietly typed into a computer with an open mainframe. Fiber optics spilled out the mainframe like cobwebs clinging to the torn metal body on the floor.
The red haired man asked, "Can you get anything, Lisa?"
"I’m trying. You were right, Andy. Cerberus is gunning for you. This android’s definitely I.R.I.S. make. Are you sure that thing is shut down? I don’t want my ‘frame wrecked, or my body for that matter."