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Kim Kio's stiletto heels made a hard tapping sound as she stalked down the corridor and straight-armed the door marked "CHIEF ENGINEER."
She had long, slim legs and they carried her from the doorway to the center of the room in three quick steps.
The door hit a large fish tank, which disturbed Mel Ryback's genetically engineered green goldfish and pissed him off. "How many times have I told you people? Do not, I repeat do not, bang the door into the fornicating greenfish."
Kim threw a printout down in front of him and leaned over his desk. "And how many times have I told you that I don't work with prima donnas, crazies, or freaks? So what do you do? You assign me Cyclops. The one reop who qualifies as all three."
Ryback leaned back in his chair, partly to put a little more distance between them, and partly to reduce her view of his bald head. Ever since Johnson & Johnson had marketed H-15, their new hair-restorative ointment, the total number of bald men had dropped precipitously. Unfortunately, the ointment had proved ineffective on approximately two percent of the bald population and Ryback was one of these. Never a happy man to begin with, the situation had soured him even more.
"So who the hell are you?" Ryback demanded testily. "God's gift to television? Someone's got to ride herd on Corvan and I picked you."
"Well, pick someone else," Kim said angrily. "I've paid my dues."
Ryback smiled and clasped his hands over a growing paunch. "Oh really? Well, I've got a personal services contract with your name on it, and if I remember correctly, it says you're mine for another three months, two weeks, and three days."
"Two days," Kim corrected him, "and then I'm out of here."
"Fine," Ryback said agreeably. "But today you ride herd on Corvan."
For a moment she just stood there, hands on hips, her brown eyes filled with anger. Then she turned around and headed for the door.
Ryback was just reaching for the June printout of Broadcasting magazine when she stopped and looked back. "Hey, Ryback."
"Maybe they could transplant some hair from your earlobes to the top of your head." As the door swung closed, it hit the fish tank, causing Ryback to swear.
Kim's normally full lips were a hard, thin line as she marched down the gleaming corridor, her straight black hair swinging from side to side with each step.
Corvan, also known as Cyclops because of his single eye, was a well-known pain in the ass. He was a free lancer. One of the rare breed who wouldn't work full-time for one of the world's 163 television networks and chose to maintain his independence instead.
Corvan could afford to be picky because everyone wanted his services. Partly because he had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, partly because he was a damned good journalist, and partly because radical bod mods were still fairly new. And since new was "good," a man cam provided a competitive edge.
As of 0100 that morning, thousands of electronic billboards all over the world had dumped the previous day's message for a new one. It was a shot of Rex Corvan, light glinting off the lens which had replaced his right eye, and the slogan, "News Network 56. The man cam can."
As a result of his celebrity status Corvan considered himself exempt from corporate bullshit and made that clear to the suits. Kim didn't like suits either, but knew they always win in the end.
Kim opened the door to her editing suite and allowed it to slam closed behind her. The room was small and lit only by rows and rows of red, green, and amber indicator lights. The holo monitors were off and would remain so until she activated the system.
"Hello, Kim." The computer's voice flooded the room like soft music.
"Hello, yourself," Kim answered as she dropped into a high-backed chair and fumbled for a black-market fag. She found one in the very bottom of her purse. The price kept going up as country after country made them illegal. They couldn't stop people from running dope, so they made cigarettes illegal too. Who could figure the suits?
Kim lit the cigarette and took a deep drag.
"Cigarette smoking is illegal and hazardous to your health."
"Shut up or I'll send your speech synthesizer back to the factory for repairs."
Having spent a good deal of time with Kim, the computer took her threat seriously and shut up.
Kim glanced at her wristwatch: 0545. Fifteen minutes in which to power up and meet the net.
She sighed, stubbed the cigarette butt out on a styro plate still smeared with last night's dinner, and flicked the master power switch to the on position. By almost living in the small room, Kim racked up lots of overtime and saved money too. She'd given up her one-room apartment in favor of a locker in a nearby store-it-yourself facility a few weeks before. That allowed her to apply the rent money to her various loans. She'd made lots of sacrifices to get the implant, but it was worth it.
Reaching up, she grabbed one of two available cords, pulled it down until she had the right amount of slack, and gave a little tug. A brake locked the cord in place as she inserted the jack into the side of her head.
She loved the rush. The sudden expansion of consciousness as the computer's artificial intelligence was added to her own, the feeling of power as a small army of machines prepared to obey her every command, and yes, a sense of comradeship that she didn't find anywhere else.
Each piece of equipment had its own identity, its own individual purpose within the overall system. A system which depended on her for control and guidance.
Kim smiled and allowed herself to fall into the darkness between mind and machine. But it wasn't dark for long. Three-dimensional graphics popped into existence and rotated in front of her mind's eye. Some remained static, while others moved and pulsated in harmony with the equipment they symbolized. And as Kim checked each display, she was met with a characteristic greeting.
The slower, less intelligent components provided a predictable "A-okay," or "all-subsystems green," while the more intelligent modules responded with greetings like, "Good morning, Kim. Five out of six video storage banks are running normally. Number six, however, has experienced intermittent drive problems, and will remain off-line for the rest of your shift. Have a nice day."
But regardless of these lesser personalities, Kim was always aware of the editing computer, a Grass Valley Ultima better known as Val.
Val sat at the very top of the electronic hierarchy, and supervised everything from Kim's smoking to the number of video dropouts during a four-second length of video. Val was by far the most powerful of the many computers which made up the system and, outside of Kim, the most important. It was Val who brought the many subsystems together and welded them into a single unit.
"How's the bird?" Kim thought as she ran down a mental checklist.
"Comsat DN476 is in geosynchronous orbit over North America and reports all systems in the green," Val replied softly. "Correspondent Corvan is feeding bars and tone."
"Good. Let's see 'em."
A row of vertical color bars suddenly appeared on the holo screens above her head. By comparing Corvan's color bars with a similar set generated by her own equipment, Kim could assure a perfect alignment between the two sets of gear.
The fact that Corvan had two cameras at his disposal—the eye cam and a robo cam—which looked like a cross between a bat and a TV camera—made her task more difficult.
The robo cam was useful, but incorporated a lot of low-quality components. That made it hard to match the robot's video output with Corvan's top-of-the-line eye cam. Since Kim couldn't increase the quality of the robo cam's output, she had to pull Corvan's down and that went against her grain. Still, a match was better than switching back and forth between two disparate video sources, so Kim was forced to accept it.
The steady tone signified that the audio was A-okay, starting with Corvan's implants and running through the uplink, the downlink, and her own equipment. It reminded her of the slogan over the door at T-school. "This TV is some complicated shit."
It was time to get things rolling. "Val, tell DN476 that we're going live at 0600 straight up. That's five minutes from now and counting."
"Roger," Val said smoothly. "Four fifty-nine and counting."
Kim sighed. "All right, give me Corvan."
As Val opened the two-way intercom, Kim heard a soft tone inside her head and knew that Corvan heard it too. His reply was bored. "Yeah?"
"Seattle here. We have systems lockup and we're four-thirty from air."
"Roger that," Corvan replied. "Lockup with four-thirty to go."
The conversation was so normal. Where was the dreaded Cyclops? Kim felt disappointed somehow. She directed her thoughts to Val. "Okay, give me the studio."
Two seconds later a shot of the News Network 56 studio in New York popped onto the center program monitor. These were the lucrative morning hours when the news junkies got their first fix of the day. And news junkies were an important factor in network profitability. VCRs had driven the nets out of the entertainment business some twenty years before and forced them to concentrate on news, sports, and cultural events.
As usual, Ken Whitworth and Barbara Lansing were at their well-groomed best. Whitworth had prematurely gray hair and the finest features money could buy. Lansing was younger, thin almost to the point of emaciation, and beautifully dressed. Television critics referred to them as Ken and Barbie.
A rather laconic male voice came on the intercom. "Yeah?"
"Seattle bureau," Kim answered. "We have Comsat lockup for the 0600 special. Bars and tone on the way."
Val could've transmitted bars and tone to New York in a number of different ways, but chose a fiber-optic cable as the least expensive.
"I have your bars and tone, Seattle," the male voice said.
"Stand by. Give me program audio," Kim thought, and Val turned it up.
Ken Whitworth had decided to deliver the lead with what his staff referred to as "expression number three," a straight face with overtones of profound concern.
A 3-D Mercator projection appeared behind him and began to rotate. Pirate radio stations were represented by red dots and a series of radiating lines. There were quite a few of them.
"For some time now authorities have been increasingly concerned about the number of pirate radio and TV stations cropping up all over the world. Over the last hundred years there have been a number of pirate stations, but due to the bulk of the equipment required to run them, they were easy to find. Now the necessary equipment fits into a suitcase or backpack, making the task a good deal harder."
At this point Whitworth frowned to emphasize the severity of the problem.
"Some of these stations are run by harmless eccentrics, while others are used to make money or promote a particular point of view. Whatever the reason, their unlicensed transmitters often interfere with the signals broadcast by legitimate stations."
At this point the relevant section of the Mercator projection zoomed out to fill the screen and transformed itself into a 3-D topographical map of western Canada.
"In this case both the United States and Canada allege that an organization calling itself the Exodus Underground has been operating a pirate radio station from the Canadian wilderness.
"In a joint statement released last night, the two governments claimed, 'The station airs nationalistic propaganda and interferes with signals from licensed broadcasters.'
"Government spokespeople also allege that a man calling himself Captain Video has used these broadcasts to make 'false and misleading statements impugning the WPO and other properly constituted public authorities.'"
Whitworth allowed himself the barest hint of a cynical smile. "Just moments ago you heard Exodus Society officials in Washington, D.C., deny any connection between their group and the pirate radio station. In spite of their statements to the contrary there is considerable similarity between the rhetoric employed by the Exodus Society and the Exodus Underground. Both are pro-space, fervently nationalistic, and often critical of the WPO."
The director cut to a two-shot just as Whitworth let expression number three slip in favor of a modified five. A five conveyed patient exasperation with just a touch of cynical disbelief.
"Meanwhile, our News Network 56 special correspondent Rex Corvan has joined members of the World Peace Organization as they try to learn the truth of the matter. Barbara?"
Barbara Lansing flashed a set of perfect teeth and turned to camera three. "That's right, Ken. We've purposely delayed mention of this mission until the very last possible moment so that our broadcast won't compromise the WPO mission.
"So, with that in mind, let's join special correspondent Rex Corvan somewhere above the Canadian wilderness. Rex is one of the few reops equipped with a so called bod-mod, a tiny camera which replaces his right eye and makes it possible for us to see what he sees and to hear what he hears.
"He's also equipped with a flying robo cam, which will allow us to see Rex in action. Remember, when you watch News Network 56, you get the news from the inside out."
"Bullshit," Kim thought to herself as the man in New York finished his five-second countdown and said, "Take the feed."
Kim opened the intercom channel and said, "You're on, Corvan." Then she pushed a mental button, and millions of people suddenly found themselves inside a Boeing V-73 altrotor aircraft sharing a Corvan-eye view of a spectacular sunrise.
Corvan stood just inside the open hatch and looked out. The sun had just poked its orange-red head up over the eastern horizon and the foreground was black. It was one of the rare moments when he missed his right eye and wished it was still there. Yes, he could see through the camera, but it wasn't the same somehow. At moments like this, it felt as though the plastic and metal separated him from the real world.
As Kim's voice intruded on his thoughts, Corvan directed his mind to the task at hand and ordered the robo cam into the air. It left his shoulder and flew halfway down the length of the aircraft. Normally the robo cam was quite loud, but the sound of the aircraft's twin engines drowned it out.
Kim took control and cut to the robo cam just as Corvan began to speak. The audience saw a big man with a lens protruding from his right eye socket. He had brown hair, one blue eye, and a metal guard which fit over his left shoulder. It had a six-inch antenna, a flat place for the robo cam to land, and two battery packs front and back, which helped hold the guard in place and balanced each other out. His military flight suit was black and equipped with a lot of zippers. When Corvan spoke, his voice was calm and slightly gravelly.
"At the moment we're flying along the edge of the Banff National Park. Unlike other Canadian parks that have been released for residential development, this one has been kept as a wilderness."
Kim cut to Corvan's eye cam as he turned away from the hatch. There was a momentary shift in video level as his auto-iris struggled to make the change from bright sun to dark interior.
The shot showed a utilitarian aircraft interior with two opposing rows of heavily armed troops. Their uniforms fluttered slightly in the breeze from the open hatch. The scene was lit by a number of evenly spaced red lights and gave the impression of crowded efficiency.
"This is what it looks like inside an assault craft going into action. The World Peace Troopers don't know whether they'll run into armed resistance or not, but as you can see, they're ready for anything."
Corvan turned his head to the left and zoomed in on a youngish man dressed in a set of carefully tailored cammies. He wore a command helmet with the visor tilted back. A black wire connected the helmet to an olive drab plug in his right temple. The audience got a glimpse of blue eyes, a slightly flattened nose, and a boyish grin. The man's white teeth made a stark contrast to his deeply tanned face.
"This is Captain Hans Dietrich. He's a graduate of N.Y.U., a commissioned officer in the reunified German army, and I'm told that he plays a mean saxophone."
Excerpted from Matrix Man by William C. Dietz. Copyright © 1990 William C. Dietz. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted June 8, 2014
Age: 17 <br>
Appearance: white, dirty blonde hair, green eyes, medium height, average weight, muscular <br>
Clothes: black combat boots, black jeans, grey tank top, gothic dogtags, black leather trenchcoat <br>
Personality: Responsible, a good leader, smart, funny <br>
Skills: Good fighter, very accurate shooter, very agile