Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Know Circuit - Interlude - Part 3.0

Interlude Part 2.0

Once the first prototype was up and running, the ideas came in a fevered torrent. Mundane applications tumbled from their collective thoughts like candy from a burst piƱata, and plans were drawn up for all sorts of commercial applications. Janicki seemed particularly interested in the commercial aspects, continually asking when they’d publish their findings. He seemed especially interested in the idea of a transitional device he called a glowbug, which would amplify existing power supplies indefinitely. Such a device would fractionalize the cost of electrical generation using current technology, making the obscenely profitable LGL utility companies even more profitable. Lydia and Wong fought tooth and nail against such mercantile ambitions, wishing to release the information to the GlobalNet like open source software. Carl had no real opinion. He buried himself in increasingly bizarre concepts in the field of wireless energy transfer and holographic projections. Rolfsberg’s only concern before taking the engine public, whether open source or commercial, was in getting credit for his part. Balfour had the final say as the author of the original formulas, and he ultimately decided they should push themselves to apply the technology in multiple places before revealing the research.

Balfour’s first thought was a selfish one. He wanted to replace the power source on his own cybernetic replacements. Shortly after getting his doctorate, he’d been involved in a horrendous wreck, a three car pile up that had taken the life of his two best friends and left him with both arms amputated and partial paralysis. A nanotech-regenerated spinal cord surrounded by replacement cybernetic vertebrae supported two prosthetic arms and allowed him full use of his legs again. Despite the insane risks, he decided to replace his current cybernetic power supply with the mana engine, secretly enlisting Janicki’s aid.

“You realize this is both highly unethical and quite possibly illegal,” Janicki said with a wry smile as he worked carefully at the interface port on Balfour’s back. Numbed by a local anesthetic, Balfour just giggled.

“Of course. Why do you think I asked you and not Lydia?”

Janicki feigned insult. “Are you saying I’m not ethical? I’m almost insulted. Of course, if I was really unethical, I’d have stolen this thing and claimed it as my own. Don’t think I haven’t thought about it.”

“The math’s all wrong,” Balfour replied. “You and I both know it. You don’t think the five of us would all contradict your claim of ownership? Five is greater than one.” Janicki didn’t comment. Balfour was sure he’d thoroughly examined that equation and come to the same conclusion.

“Hop up, you’re done,” Janicki said, snapping closed the flesh-colored access port on Balfour’s back. Balfour felt the power return to his leaden limbs, to his paralyzed back. Rather than the routine feeling of restored mobility, Balfour instead felt a rush of fire, as if his limbs were suddenly suffused with an energy that practically burst from every pore and follicle. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead, followed by a flash of heat. He raised himself on his arms and swung off the table.

Janicki noticed the wild look in Balfour’s eyes. “Whoa, you ok? You look a bit flushed.”

Balfour flexed his metallic fingers, staring down at his hands as if seeing them for the first time. “I’m better than ok,” he began, grasping for words to describe the feeling. “I feel like I’ve got a supernova under the skin. Let’s check the readouts.” He reached for the console next to the workbench he’d laid on but stopped halfway there. The readouts he’d been thinking of were already being displayed on the console. “Did you set up those readouts before starting?”

Janicki stared at him wide-eyed. “Not unless I blacked out. I haven’t touched it.”

Balfour thought of another screen of reports. The console switched to the reports just as if he’d been working at the keyboard or jacked in. He began to run through a series of menu commands. Despite not being configured for wireless access, the console executed all the commands as if he’d been operating the system remotely.

“Now you’re really freaking me out,” Janicki stammered. “This isn’t a prank, is it? You didn’t set this up beforehand?” Balfour shook his head. “Try a different console. Try the constructor arms."

Balfour gestured at the console that controlled the constructor arms, unable to even see the screen. The arm mimicked his every thought. “I think of the commands and it executes. What a thoroughly unexpected side effect.”

“We should get this on video,” Janicki chattered excitedly. He ran to the video console on the outer ring. He let out a loud guffaw when he reached the console. Balfour had already activated the video feed. “Ok, fine, do it yourself. Can you focus it on your area?”

“It is.”

“I don’t see you,” Janicki said. “Hold on, I’ll do it.” He worked the console’s controls momentarily, looking back and forth from the screen to Balfour with a confused expression. “No, that’s the right angle. I’m looking directly at you. Mark… you’re just not there.”

“What?” Balfour’s voice shook in spite of himself. “What are you talking about?”

“Come see.”

Rather than moving towards the console, Balfour focused his mind on opening a video window. His vision flipped from his normal flesh and blood view of the world to a video of the lab. He was jacked into the video console now, jacked in just as if he had logged into the GlobalNet, only he’d never experienced that rush of cyberspace entry. He was just there. What he saw in the video froze his blood. He could tell that the camera was pointed directly at his position. He could see the robotic arms behind him, the consoles on the other side of the room, the white board to his left, even the workbench he’d just been laid out on. But his body was not there. The only indication of anything between himself and the environment around him was a sort of electronic distortion, a series of film-scratch artifacts and thin static slightly distorting the picture. He tried to speak, but the video playback only spouted a burst of static.

He was invisible.

Go to Interlude Part 4.0

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