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Private residence--08/01/10--3:30 AM--2150 110th Street--Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Dieter Hoffman sat before his computer, shoulders, lids, and chin drooping. It was early, even for someone whose devotion to a favorite pastime usually found him at it late, early, and anytime his spouse might be absent, or otherwise indisposed. Besides, his brother-in-law, the Twerp, was supposed to be logging on soon. "Twerp," he muttered disdainfully while slipping several inches further into a more pronounced slouch.
Despite his inability to achieve a more attentive posture, he did manage to register the coffee maker's familiar sputtering, and in response, his body seemed to commence its own assertions. The muscles in his legs tensed while his hands grasped the armrests in preparation for, or perhaps hopeful anticipation of, some further correspondence. The remainder took several moments, though the continued collective insistence of his appendages did finally prompt a semi-coherent rejoinder from their more academic partner.
After dragging himself to the kitchen, he emptied the entire pot into a very large mug, and then returned to put on his headset. This last part of the ritual was to avoid waking his wife at such an early hour. Much like his ability to detect coffee, an aversion to disturbing Sarah before daybreak had invariably made its way to the top of Dieter's priority list. Finally, he clicked the enter button.
The first thing he heard was the sound of muffled footsteps, followed quickly by a low and throaty growling as he whirled about to confront the Candlis goblin of The Talisman Quest, just as it pounced.
Orval reached for the door handle, and then paused to regain his composure. He hated unscheduled inspections. Ironically, these were the very types of interruptions that had always brought about the majority of delays for which the inspectors were so concerned, not that he could ever include such information in any report. For that matter, he had not actually submitted a written report in quite a few years. Apparently, when mixed with matters of national security, bureaucracy becomes an excellent medium for those who prefer a minimum of communication.
Understandably, this had generated a certain deficit of viable rationale, and without implicating the true source of the aforementioned delays, he was unavoidably forced to become somewhat inventive. However, in the due course of time, plausible excuses became less and less abundant. Eventually, he had been forced to fall back on a number of somewhat less than plausible excuses, and thereby prompted an even greater interest by his superiors. At first, this had been handled easily enough through a few pre-recorded messages. This is Doctor Kwibee. I'm not in the office right now. Please leave your message at the beep. Of course, since he actually never replied to any given request, grievance, demand, and or any incoherent hysteria that may have been logged over a period of eighteen months, he found that the bureaucrats' concerns were yet again elevated to that rare point wherein the system of government actually takes action.
The wheels of bureaucracy do in fact turn. This usually occurs when bureaucrats become the victims of their own rust. Thus did Colonel Terrance Hereford arrive. Hereford was an obnoxious little man with no technical background whatsoever. What he did have going for him was an overbearing personality, a complete lack of tact, and a rather acute case of halitosis. In short, the perfect prerequisite for a bureaucratic, bean-counting squeaky wheel.
Even so, Orval found this latest of the Colonel's visits to be quite disturbing. Why would they pull an inspection at this time of day unless something was up? Something like the replacement of hard-working civilian contractors, with no talent, backstabbing military hacks! Don't jump the gun, Orval, he cautioned himself, taking a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and then closing his eyes while quickly reviewing the periodic table.
Several therapeutic breaths later, he opened the door. "Good morning, Colonel," he offered with a smile and what he hoped was a casual tone.
Hereford remained seated, but did swivel about to face him. "Have a seat, Doctor Kwibee," he offered in a dry, professional voice while gesturing to the chair opposite him, at the other end of the long conference table.
"Well, I'm sure you're anxious to get down to business," he offered pleasantly, determined to conceal his irritation. He had just been invited to sit down in his own conference room while the chair offered was at the opposite end of the table in relation to his own chair, now occupied by the good Colonel.
He took the seat offered, and then opened his satchel, withdrawing the same documentation of support that he had used on all of Hereford's previous visits. Several pages were actually becoming somewhat dog-eared, thereby denoting subject matter found to be particularly puzzling by the Colonel.
"Let me begin by saying we're all very excited by recent breakthroughs. We have assembled the finest team of researchers and programmers in the country, and all things considered, the accumulative progress has been phenomenal, to say the least."
"Excellent. Then may I assume we can begin with..."
"Nevertheless, it behooves me to remind the Colonel that we are far from ready to release anything for testing, much less for any military application."
At this, Hereford stared back at him with an expression as unreadable as stone.
Orval was no fool. Hereford's reputation for results through intimidation was the cornerstone to the man's entire career. Still, in the long and awkward moment to follow, he found himself glowering right back at the portly Colonel in spite of himself. Time, and relentless Governmental badgering, had long since chipped away any true sense of diplomatic charity.
Hereford broke the silence. "Doctor, I'm sure you have the best interests of the pilots at heart. The problem is that this project is both over budget, and overdue. In fact, you've been behind schedule for the last five years. The truth is that I've stalled the Committee for just about as long as I can."
Oh, sure you did, Orval thought incredulously.
"If you expect to continue as Project leader, I'm going to need more to go on."
"Okay," began Orval with as much resolve as he could muster. "It just isn't possible to make you fully aware of the depth of technical details surrounding this project within the time frame allotted. No offense, Colonel, but you're essentially a layman here, and since your superiors have necessitated that I become answerable to someone lacking the required technical background, then I cannot help but find myself handicapped in my ability to communicate. That being the case, the best I can offer is a summary of fundamental applications and basic theory."
"Oh, that," intoned Colonel Hereford warily. "Yes, that. That's fine, Doctor, but this time I'll expect a complete hard copy of all raw data to be placed in my hand before I return to Washington."
"You remember Washington, don't you? It's the place with all those nice people in the oddly shaped building who keep sending you truckloads of money."
The remainder of Orval's congenial expression faltered. He had always been reluctant to deliver written reports, which had been verbally requested. If they actually were contemplating the replacement of his team, then he would be unable to appeal such an action. In fact, without the evidence of a written request, they could use his report literally to appropriate the entire project. He half suspected this had been their ultimate goal for some time.
"So, that said," continued the Colonel after what seemed like an eternity, "if you're still interested in providing me with another of your little presentations, then I would be only too happy to cooperate."
Orval collected his thoughts, and then took another deep breath before commencing his oration of the project's definition in the most predigested and generic descriptions feasible. Hereford had already heard a great deal of this before. Still, it had been Orval's experience that the Colonel's powers of observation were somewhat less than razor sharp. This would be Orval's fourth session to define the project for the man, including individual component layout, and a good deal of its history as well.
Dieter quickly sidestepped, thereby avoiding the full brunt of the creature's attack. Still, his life meter had dropped by an increment of one point, denoting his opponent's first strike before he was able to place it under the target cursor. Mildly frustrated, he quickly tapped the W button, thus drawing his sword, and then clicked on his attacker in a well-practiced motion. His character then drove the weapon in a forward thrust and right through the goblin's chest.
As it fell to its knees, the creature dropped to the ground the prize it carried, while shrieking a curse of revenge with its last vile breath. "May it serve thee well!"
--Borin Krue has emerged victorious in his Quest for the Candlis Mountain Talisman. Please return to your point of origin for character advancement.--
"The Infrasubliminal Bio-Optic Translator, or IBOT, utilizes a number of established technologies, and a number of newer technologies in unison, to accomplish all of its parameter directives. Our current success in these areas has been astonishing, but by in large untested. I'll elaborate on this as I define each function." Yet again, he added silently.
"Of course, there's no need for me to brief you on the established technologies, other than to say that they are no more than industry standard materials. I'm sure you're already aware of what this involves, since it was the government who provided all pre-existing software formats."
In fact, Colonel Hereford had never been briefed on this matter, but he wasn't about to let Kwibee know it.
"So," Orval continued. "I'll just cut right to the culmination of newer technologies developed, and how it all works together."
"The first package is essentially a ping-based form of stealth infiltration software, designed to locate, analyze, and then emulate any given type of existing virtual environment. Once that contact is secured, another of our newer technologies, Digital Impulse Transference, or DIT, is then implemented upon connection with the human target and or targets within the virtual setting."
"I know, I know. It's like putting their brains somewhere else. Please, just skip..."
"Of course, it is not actually possible physically to transfer someone's mind, but IBOT does the next best thing by utilizing a stream of rapid signal bursts through a common svga monitor to broadcast a subliminal infiltration, and thus tapping directly into the target's subconscious."
The Colonel sighed heavily, his acquiescent, though downcast expression perhaps comparable to an adolescent version of himself after receiving a dosage of castor oil while pretending to be too sick to go to school.
Kwibee paused, momentarily glancing over his glasses to deliver an expectant expression to the Colonel, who then promptly cleared his throat while returning his attention to his own dog-eared copy of Kwibee's documentation.
"Once the link is established, the program excludes any other ambient personnel who may be within imaging range of that particular connection. This is a security feature we implemented after several mishaps in our initial testing. This is not to imply that multiple targets cannot be acquired. It would simply necessitate the incorporation of multiple connections to the simulator."
The Colonel appeared as if he were about to say something, but reconsidered when he realized that Kwibee had already paused to gaze at him expectantly once again from over the top of his bifocals.
"At this point, the monitor literally becomes an information inlet, allowing IBOT to deliver its data stream to the target, thus facilitating the re-allocation of certain unemployed sectors of the frontal lobe to safely bypass and store information, thereby allowing the program to move on to the next stage."
This is where we came upon a bit of a snag, moaned the Colonel inwardly.
"This is where we came upon a bit of a snag," Orval continued. "With the inlet established, we still lacked an outlet. The information inside the subject could not return to IBOT for processing without the use of Electroencephalography, which would require electrodes maintain physical contact with the subject's skull. So we developed a sequence of reactionary batch commands in the DIT that serve to assimilate subject specific data, then returns through electric impulses found within the same spectrum as emitted by the human brain. This information is then recorded, and finally translated into any computer related language needed."
This isn't my new uniform, thought the Colonel ruefully. They must still have it at the cleaners. Did I remind them about the starch?
"The next problem was data retrieval. Specifically, the translated information in the target's mind had nowhere to go. We needed a hardware component on the target's end of the line to serve as a catalyst. Regrettably, the closest electronic device resembling what we required were the types of microphones used in the early voice recognition packages. This lacked the requisite spectrum sensitivity for DIT. Well, we were suffering a number of cutbacks at the time. At the risk of sounding blunt, we simply lacked the resources to develop this technology on our own." This last statement was punctuated by a brief accusatory glance in the Colonel's direction.
"So, in the fall of 1996, we initiated a carefully orchestrated infiltration of a number of the top hardware manufacturers by our own people. We figured, 'Why not let the private sector do the work for us?' This wasn't exactly a new tactic, and since the overhead of that operation was so low, the commission was quick to approve our expenses."
"Jesse?" Dieter queried quietly, moving closer to the microphone while glancing nervously in the direction of the bedroom, where his dear wife yet hopefully continued to sleep. "Dammit, Twerp!" he whispered as loudly as he dared. "I'm stuck in the gol-darned Candlis Mountains! Jes? You there, Bubba?"
"After a brief period, wherein we allowed our people to establish key positions within each company, they were sent out as moles, approaching each other's companies for the purpose of selling industrial secrets. The technology we needed to incorporate was then sold in the guise of new developments, which had supposedly been earmarked for future product release, yet still required extensive research. Incidentally, the revenue from those proceeds managed to fund the project for two more consecutive years."
"Really?" intoned the Colonel. "I don't remember you mentioning that before..."
"The resulting reverse engineering afforded the perfect medium for a wildfire of stolen DIT technology. In a matter of weeks we had several corporations working on the very improvements we needed. Best of all, there was no way of determining any other purpose for the included specifications since DIT doesn't register until activated through a series of IBOT-encoded instructions. Besides, it's not as if the public hasn't profited. The level of sensitivity in the latest generation of market-side digital microphones is far better than it would have been without our intervention."
08/01/10--3:52 AM--[Location unknown}
After his briefing, the Colonel was escorted through several sets of security doors, and then to a lab where the majority of development and testing took place, and where the Doctor's demonstration had been set up just prior to his arrival. Unfortunately, there hadn't been a great deal of notice, so Orval was only able to throw together a basic presentation. Still, he hoped this idea would at last serve to illustrate the massive advances made without further need of a written report.
Hereford was seated at the terminal and given a headset with built-in microphone. He listened as Doctor Kwibee droned on, absorbing what information he felt was relevant. The rest was mostly bells and whistles meant to impress, but had very little to do with any possible flight simulator application.
He understood the virtual upgrades were of an internal nature, and that a great deal of effort had been devoted to the augmentation of simulators in ways involving the employment of the pilot's own mental resources. What he didn't understand was why the Doctor felt so obsessed with conveying every detail to him. After all, his only official participation in the operation was to secure and deliver data the Doctor had been so reluctant to provide in the first place. These little presentations didn't really serve anyone's purpose.
Next to the Colonel's computer was yet another computer, in front of which the Doctor himself took a seat. Pinched for time as they were, they paid no great deal of attention to whose computer was to be used for the Colonel's demonstration. Orval had grabbed up one of the spares belonging to some Junior Assistant.
As per the Doctor's instruction, the Colonel entered the prescribed program. This was an outdated trainer for first generation F-16 jets. He was acquainted with this program, but hadn't seen it in years. He was amazed that it actually functioned on the current operating system, considering that it was based on an old 3D wire-frame graphics engine. Of course, back when it had first been implemented, it was considered the fastest and safest technique available, not to mention the cheapest. It probably had saved a couple hundred billion in cracked-up planes alone. However, by today's standards and today's planes, this was not very impressive.
Now it was the Doctor's turn. The Colonel didn't actually witness the power's being turned on. The brief, yet lengthy flicker of numerals denoting the registration of processor speed was his only indication. Otherwise, from the point at which Kwibee sat down, to the point when IBOT's desktop actually came on line, the expanse of time was, for all intent and purpose, undetectable. If he hadn't known better, Terrance would have sworn that Kwibee had only switched on the monitor.
As he completed the link, Orval noticed his expression. "Research and Development, Colonel," he answered the question yet to be asked. "It's all part of the same package," he continued before Hereford could interrupt. "IBOT had to be based on hardware capable of providing sufficient latitude. In order to accomplish that, we had to develop our own hardware."
"Storage and containment was the original problem. Development had fits over it for years. Then we came up with the Sphere drive."
"Hardware development is fine for research, Doctor, but you're never going to get approval for mass production when your funding is based on upgrades to programming."
"You'll only need the one unit, Colonel, unless you intend to train more than fifty thousand pilots at a time."
"Hard drives as you know them function on disks. Our drive is still based on skuzzy technology, but the design is spherical. Disk drives are limited, in that they can only function in two dimensions of operation. The Sphere drive functions in all three dimensions, and it does so at a velocity approaching that of light. This dynamism allows for the mapping of such complex structures as the marriage between human and virtual memory, or storage and containment, if you prefer."
Prefer what? thought Terrance irritably while still wondering how to pronounce the SCSI label beneath the hard drive's indicator light.
"Unfortunately, this result prompted yet another problem. The heat build-up appeared to be insurmountable. Fortunately, the final solution turned out to be rather simple. The sphere was given an internal power source, which in turn enabled us to incorporate the processor into the same unit, thus providing remote operation through the drive's chassis, which remains hard-wired. The drive was then suspended in a vacuum through opposing magnetic fields, which also serve as data conduits. Once the overall package was submerged in liquid hydrogen, the majority of problems one might expect with heat build up were eliminated. Then, thanks to yet another of the government's included supplements, we were able to base the entire substructure on Nanotube technology. This reduced the remainder of our heat levels to an acceptable and indefinite range. Other than that, the entire package is no more than the most basic of components needed to allow the DIT to function externally."
At this, the Colonel casually folded his arms together, and then slowly relaxed against the chair's backrest while raising one eyebrow. This was one of his more successful poses. It offered an unconcerned bearing while still projecting an expression of both interest and authority. Most important of all, it concealed his unavoidable ignorance.
"Now, for the purpose of this demonstration," Orval continued, "we will suspend the standard adjustment of settings usually made by the program. After all, the only purpose here is to allow you to get an idea of IBOT's abilities."
"Uhh ... okay."
"As you can see, I've selected a relatively primitive trainer. I'm sure you've no doubt seen this one before. As a matter of fact, this program wasn't actually capable of functioning on this system. I had a few adjustments made in order to allow it to operate, but I assure you it's still the same program you remember."
"I hope you aren't about to tell me you've spent the last twenty-five years and forty billion dollars on refurbished software, Doctor."
"However," continued Orval, ignoring the Colonel's continuous display of bombastic ignorance, "when IBOT detects the virtual target, it will initiate enhancements designed to elevate the same detected program to a level of realism rivaling that of our own reality. To do this, IBOT literally consumes the program by transferring both it and the user's connection to the sphere drive, thereby allowing its enhancements to take place and insuring a maximum integrity of all security lockouts."
"Whether or not the subject or subjects are to maintain their original identity structure is a matter of direct transfer, or re-allocation of the subject's identity by either manual instruction, or by initializing IBOT's deductive computations to determine the proper structure in relation to the situation."
"One point to remember: once these parameters are set into motion, they cannot be altered without compromising the integrity of the program. What's more, if IBOT's security interprets any such compromise as a threat, it won't allow the alteration without the utilization of a specialized filtration program that I developed as a diagnostic."
"What has any of this to do with flight...?"
"Pilot reactions in training cannot be properly evaluated if they're aware that there is no actual danger. IBOT removes this element, thereby securing the integrity of the test. It can be utilized with any of your simulators, and the pilots wouldn't even be aware. Even the most experienced of pilots won't expect a test initiated by remote. The subjects being tested can be placed in any situation required, programmed to believe the situation is as real as required, and then have the entire experience erased, if required."
"That doesn't sound like anything I was ever briefed on!" exclaimed the Colonel.
"My research has been funded for the sole purpose of maximizing pilot performance. Nothing was ever stipulated about any sort of restrictions, so long as I provide results!" It was the first time he had ever raised his voice to Hereford. It was also the first time the Colonel had ever balked. Damn, that felt good!
"Furthermore," he continued, hoping to avoid any further discussion on the topic of appropriation, "if these new developments test out successfully, the entire concept of education, medicine, and many other applications in general could change the way in which our entire society functions."
"Why psychoanalyze when the problem can be seen directly? Why hold a trial when you can just display the facts? Why spend two or more decades of your life in school when all you need do is download?"
At this, the Colonel raised an eyebrow as the implications began to set in. Orval could tell the man was caught off balance. It was time.
08/01/10--4:00 AM--[Location unknown}
"In this demonstration, you will be maintaining your identity structure in order to maintain an objective evaluation."
"I appreciate that," the Colonel intoned. He was becoming a bit irritated with this flamboyant display. "Let's just get this over with."
08/01/10--4:01 AM--[Location unknown}
Colonel Hereford sat drenched in sweat, his heart beating so hard that he could hear the blood rushing through his ears. Momentarily, he came to realize not all the moisture he felt was from sweat alone. "I had no idea!" he finally managed, and then made as if to stand, knocking the mouse over in an attempt to brace himself as he discovered that his legs had not quite recovered the process. He quickly dropped back to the chair, allowing himself to take full advantage of the backrest.
"Are you all right, Colonel?" Orval asked, exhibiting genuine concern.
"Hell no, I'm not all right!" he exclaimed, not quite managing a shout. "You just placed me smack dab in the middle of World War Three! I was just about to get a MiG enema if you hadn't pulled me out when you did!"
"I assure you, Colonel, you were perfectly safe..."
"Why in God's name did you leave me in there so long?"
"How long did it feel like?"
"Well ... I don't suppose it could have been more than eight or maybe ten minutes, but I assure you, ten minutes is an eternity when you're in a dogfight, not to mention that I was outgunned!"
At this, Kwibee's grin broadened as he relaxed within his own chair, adopting a pose of satisfaction not entirely dissimilar to the Colonel's own recently lost composure.
"Was that your idea of a joke, Doctor? Because if it was, then you're one sick son of a..."
"No, sir. I meant no disrespect, though I did feel it was necessary to illustrate the program in such a way as would have an impact."
The Colonel's expression had long since lost its quality of polished authority, but at the mention of the word "impact," he involuntarily shuddered, as the lingering memory of his impending conclusion when the MiG's last missile fired came rushing momentarily to the forefront of his attention.
"As a matter of fact," offered the Doctor in hopes of distracting the man from his obvious state of outrage, "the entire experience was not eight or ten minutes. Your consciousness was disrupted for..." Orval double-checked the readout. "For just under nine seconds. Of course, the sequential ratios will fluctuate according to the program's taxations and allowed resources, but we're working on several developments we hope will eventually allow better control over this aspect."
The Colonel looked up from the growing wet spot on his trousers. "Are you telling me that this program of yours altered my perception of time?"
Orval smiled. Perhaps the situation was still salvageable after all. "It's not very complicated. Our subconscious is much more"--he searched for the right word--"pliable. It accepts a much larger spectrum of information."
"Perceptions made by our conscious are riddled with preconceptions that don't exist in our subconscious."
"It didn't feel as if I were unconscious, Doctor," the Colonel returned dubiously.
"No," corrected Orval. "Subconscious is not a prerequisite for unconscious. Our subconscious is active from the moment we're born to the moment we die. It governs a great deal of our perceptions, so much so, that once it becomes the primary medium of input, then it is a very simple matter to create as real a situation as can be conceived, or perhaps even greater than can be conceived if left up to the program itself."
The Colonel was still confused. He needed time to think. For the most part, the Doctor's descriptions were lost on him. He began to stand up, but was still somewhat shaken from the demonstration. He had meant to use the desk as a brace, but his hand came down on the mouse, yet again.
The first time, he had turned it over, thus causing the cursor to position itself over the games directory, which then automatically opened. The second time his hand came down on the now upturned mouse, the cursor shot across the games folder.
As Colonel Hereford regained his balance, he caught the mouse just as it was about to fall off the edge of the desk, but as he grasped it, he inadvertently clicked the primary selection button, thereby initiating the executable for an online game one of the programmers had only recently installed after seeing it advertised. The assistant had wanted to get a better look at it as a possible candidate for future research in virtual enhancements.
As Wayward Fates began to patch into its online server, Orval jumped to intercede, but was too late. IBOT had never been deactivated. It had simply been idle, waiting patiently for the next assignment.
"Colonel?" someone asked in a concerned tone.
Terrance glanced up at the evocation of his title. The strange fellow now poking his head just inside an even stranger set of doors was disregarded, as Terrance focused on the door's unexpected appearance: three-inch iron-oak, carved in elaborate symbols of what appeared to be some gaudy type of royal crest.
Although usually slow to engage, the Colonel's sense of alarm was now, as he might have termed it, at Def-con One.
"Colonel?" repeated the Orderly. "Are you all right?"
Colonel Hereford slowly scanned the room he now occupied, his initial impression being that the decorator had attempted a cross between an Elizabethan sitting room and perhaps a Flintstones version of something like a military command center.
Orderly? he thought, suddenly wondering why he should know anything about the fellow at the door.
Before he could answer his own question, other alien thoughts began to infiltrate the edges of his peripheral consciousness. I really should invite the Magistrate to Tea, and I wonder if that blasted Tailor is finished with my corset yet.
--Subgenus One: Strophe One.--In his deception of indignant disdain, did Lord Abhoron enliven the archetypal Dyadic Dryad to relinquish the Light for his seductive promise of false fortune. Once lost within that twisted influence, their fates entwined in spiraled paths of crafted damnation. Thus began the most accursed and lugubrious of all winters.
In the end, when the last embers of their true heart's light faded, what remained of their foredooming souls were then set upon a new propagation of dark and abhorrent rendering, and forged in the dark and perfidiously cobalt portraiture of Malignancy itself. Therein lies what all would come to grieve as the birth of The Dark-elf, and The Dark Empire!