POWER SOURCE – Chapter 1 – Mute
When I woke up this morning, he was gone. That’s not so unusual, so I wasn’t worried yet. I turned on the dogbot and the coffee machine and walked down to the beach with K9-5. All our dogbots have been named K9. It’s not very original, but we still have a soft part in our hearts for that old Dr Who relic of the 20th century.
Actually, for scientists, we keep a lot of old relics around. That’s one thing we’ve always had in common. The love of antiquities, old music, old books, old robots.
We lived in an old house, too, made of wood, still standing after the great earthquake and tsunami of ’34. It’s in Stinson Beach, just outside of what was left of San Francisco.
The house was built on a hill on solid bedrock overlooking the bay and the earthquake only shook it up a little bit and the flood waters just ran right through it, so in ’59, when Max and I relocated to the University of San Francisco, it was selling cheap. No one wanted an old fashioned wooden house anymore, just Max and me.
It was low tide and the beach was deserted as usual. I threw some pieces of drift wood for K9 like I always do. Its hilarious to watch him navigate through the sand dunes. Sand may not be the best thing for a machine, but he has special fans that blow the sand right out of his joints and it hasn’t hurt him yet.
He usually springs up and catches the wood before it even begins to descend. He always catches it, no matter how hard I try to trick him. He has sensors that predict the exact arc the stick will take, and sensors that pinpoint the spot he will grab it out of the air.
He’s sensitive all right, so its my fault that I did not realise something was wrong when we got back to the house. First of all, I forgot that I had him on mute, so while I was making myself a bowl of cereal, he kept annoying me by clattering back and forth between Max’s study and the kitchen and bumping into the back of my thigh with his cold metallic nose. I finally realised he was trying to tell me something, and strolled into the sitting room to pick up the remote control I had left next to the X-stream Machine. I took him off mute.
“Problem detected. Room 3, Max’s study. Suspected theft.” He announced immediately, and pranced off down the hall.
K9’s are always pretty terse, but his message was clear and I fairly flew to Max’s study. The door was unlocked. Max’s PC was gone. He never takes it with him. I began to feel sick to my stomach.
POWER SOURCE – Chapter 2 – Extraction
We got him. It was easy. A perfectly discreet extraction. He made it easy for us, living in that ridiculous house. We’d been watching him for the past year. Ever since he applied for the grant. We followed him on his move down to San Francisco and it was easy to set up surveillance in that house of his.
All the new builds are plastiment – and they usually come with an option for debugging. We would have gotten in just the same, only not quite so easy. But this was, as they say, a piece of cake. We could have picked him up on the road, but we needed those last pieces of intel he kept locked away at home. So we waited until he was ready.
Then they always foolishly turn off their dogbot at night. We had overheard them debating this issue. He wanted to save the batteries and she didn’t like being woken up by the dog barking every time a pinecone fell on the roof. So smart and yet so stupid.
He works late often, had to, he was close to finishing his designs, but he always came home to check his data. He kept his intel at home; he didn’t want anyone in the University knowing what he knew, so he kept it in a secure PC in the house.
His wife is usually asleep when he comes home late, but she always wakes up and they chat a bit and watch some streams before going to bed. Then he gets up before she does, takes a look through his files, checks that its all there, and heads back to campus with the sunrise. We picked him up last night when he had just sat down at his work station. All we had to do was drop by with our Steletto.
We had already reprogrammed his window locks, so getting in was not a problem, and used our “Silence is Golden” femmebot to make the extraction. Not even the dogbot detected her. A tranquilliser dart and sturdy net and out the window and into the Steletto – and now we have him all to ourselves. Max and his data and designs, and no one is the wiser.
POWER SOURCE – Chapter 3 – Danger (Carlos Repuesto de la Tabla)
There was an empty space on the desk where Max’s PC always was. Always. He never moved it, never brought it to work, and I know how important it is to him. He doesn’t trust the communal storage at work and he would never, god forbid, use the Cloud, so he routes all his data here, to his PC.
Oh, God, we should have been so much more careful with our security here!
K9 was trotting around the desk, sniffing the air, his ears pricked up and turning on their gyros, trying to collate the information and figure out what went wrong. He finally stopped, cocked his head to one side and turned his glittering eyes on me. “Phone Max.” was all he said.
But there was no answer when I called Max on his cell. Even if he was in his lab, he would always answer his cell phone. He always takes my calls, even if only to let me know he can’t talk right now. Maybe the server was down, I thought hopefully. I would have try to call him through the University switchboard. My mind went blank, and I had to turn to K9, who was sitting motionless beside me now, “Max’s University line?” I asked.
His eyes darkened for less than a second, then ” 415 328 7999″
I rang the number and someone at the reception picked up, “SF University Science Lab, Emma speaking.”
“Hi, Emma, please, can you connect me with Max Green”
After several long minutes, during which I paced the room about a thousand times with K9 watching me curiously, the voice came back: “I’m sorry Mr Green is not in right now.”
“What do you mean, he’s not in? Has he been in? Have you seen him this morning?”
“Mr Green has not reported in at all today”
Oh, my god, now I was really getting worried.
“Please, Emma, will you have him call his wife as soon as does get in? Thank you.” and I hung up and stared down at K9.
“Max isn’t at the University” I reported, and K9 began to go through his collating mode again, his ears twirling and his eyes dark. Then he stopped and trotted around the Max’s desk again, and looked up at me, his eyes glittering,
“Probable incident. Data Compromised. Max in Danger. Roxie in Danger. Shift to level 5, evacuation protocol, at once.”
He was right. This wasn’t good. Max should have been at the University at least an hour ago. I wondered, just for a moment if I had forgotten something. If Max could have taken his computer himself and just gone off to meet someone? No, impossible. Not without telling me -and not without informing K9, who was programmed to detect changes in routine.
But “Level 5” was pretty extreme. Still, I knew what K9 meant. There might be real danger here. The project Max was working on was worth a lot of money. But was it really “compromised?” Was the danger real? I wondered if I should call the police… but, no, that wasn’t part of the protocol, you never know exactly who they are working for, but in a case like this, you can be damn sure it’s not you.
If only we had taken more precautions. If only… Oh we were stupid, so stupid…Why had I turned the bot off before going to bed? And Max…
Where, oh where was Max? I suddenly felt scared and alone. I sat down in Max’s office chair and tried to think. I had to collect my thoughts. K9 looked at me with his head cocked to one side. “Level 5” he repeated, but he could see that I was shivering, and he changed his mode, and trotted over and sat down beside me, leaning his small metal body against my legs. He turned his heating element up a notch. For a few moments, I felt safe and warm. It would be a long time until I felt that way again.
POWER SOURCE – Chapter 4 – Wake Up!
Max was gently awakened by vague muffled sounds, coming to him like the soft cries of the seagulls calling from faraway over the ocean. He hadn’t opened his eyes yet and he just lay where he was in a dreamy state. He felt sleepy still and thought perhaps he should allow himself to fall back to sleep.
He decided to turn over and that was when he realised that something wasn’t quite right. The sheets must be twisted around him, he thought, because he seemed to be caught in them and actually, he could not move at all. “Maddy!” he called out for his wife, and his voice echoed back to him, all muffled and weird, and he opened his eyes for the first time.
He was laying flat on his back in a bedroom, but not his bedroom. The light was dim, but he could see the low ceiling and inset LED lights and recognised the design of one of those new Plastiment Homes. The rounded corners of the room gave it away. And it wasn’t a sheet that was wrapped tightly around him, although he was covered by a sheet and quilt, he was strapped with his arms at his side to an otherwise relatively comfortable bed.
He still felt groggy and his eyes were crusty and he wanted to reach up and rub them, but he couldn’t and that was when he started yelling.
“Hey! Is anybody there? Hey!” he yelled louder, with his voice reverberating in his head, causing an uncomfortable pain to begin to throb in his forehead.
“Hey, what’s going on? Will somebody come in here please?”
He wasn’t so groggy that he hadn’t already conjectured what was happening to him. He had always known, ever since his father had revealed what he knew that awful night on the Island, just before he died, that he would also be watched and if he wasn’t careful, he too would be in danger of being too useful an asset to be allowed to live his own life and make his own choices. There were lots of greedy servants of unscrupulous and obscenely wealthy organizations who would not hesitate to take what they wanted if they couldn’t buy it – and he had made it clear that he wasn’t selling.
No one came into the room when he called and he wondered if anyone was in the house at all. But he had heard voices, he was almost certain he had heard voices. He could turn his head and he did so, surveying the room, looking for a window or one of those one-way glass devices that looked like a mirror.
It was a nicely decorated room, if you liked the modern minimalist style. It looked like it could be someone’s real bedroom, but somehow he doubted it. It was just a clever duplicate, made to resemble a comfortable home and to put who ever they usually kept in here at ease. They were probably watching him through one of their one-way mirrors right now.
He suddenly remembered Maddy again, and felt a pang of fear. He wondered if she had been taken, too. He wondered if she was safe. And he began to fret and worry and he had to bite his lip to keep himself from crying.
POWER SOURCE – CHAPTER 5 – The Mistake
The next time Max opened his eyes, he was looking straight up into the eyes of a hypno-technician. He recognised it at once, because the eyes locked onto his in an instant and, never blinking, they began to implore him silently with their gorgeously soothing depths of limitless love. But he wan’t lulled and he wan’t fooled. He was prepared for this and almost anything else they wanted to throw at him.
Tom Elliot watched through the one way window and shook his head grimly. A few minutes later, when the technician reported its lack of success, Tom sent it away and made the call to headquarters.
“Jack,” he said, connecting at once through his direct line, “I hate to say this, but we blew it. We should have taken the wife, too. It’s only been 8 hours, but I can see that there isn’t a chance in hell that we can get Max to willingly give us what we want. He’ll never willingly join the Company. There is no way we are going to get those plans out of him without more leverage.”
“No, don’t you think we tried that already? We should have known he’d already be vaccinated against our truth drugs. And, no, he’s way ahead of us there, too. He’s got some software block installed in him so our hypno-technicians can’t get anything out of him either. You have to believe me, Jack. We’re lost unless the Director relents and lets us use something more effective, like out and out torture.” Tom paced the cubicle.
“That is, unless it’s not too late to pick up the wife. Listen, jack, it may not be too late. If she’s still at home, I can get Dr Lerner to pick her up. I’ll have him tell her that Max is staying with him and wants her to join him. I’ll think of something – and I’ll put together a back up plan, too. We’re going to need her for leverage, I realise that now. Yes. it was a mistake. Right. I’m on it now.” And he hung up and stopped pacing to watch Max, who was still lying prone on the bed in the next room. But Max was struggling with his straps now and looking pretty pissed off.
Might as well send one of the aides in there to let him loose, Tom thought. Get him to relax a bit. Wait for him to put his guard down. Then he checked the contact list on his cell for Dr Lerner’s name. Yes, there it was. Good. Max trusted him, so there was no reason why his wife should be suspicious. He rang the number. “Lerner? Yes, it’s me. Look, we have a bit of a problem with Max. No, he’s fine. None the worse for wear, believe me. Just misses his wife. Yes, I’ll admit we made a mistake. We should have brought the two of them in together. No, that’s just the problem. He won’t give it up and he is insisting that we bring him his wife. We think we can get him to be more forthcoming if he is certain his wife is all right.”
“I need you to drive over to their house and pick her up,” he continued. “No, I have no idea if she’s still at home or if she’s noticed that Max is missing. I’m hoping that she thinks he’s with you at the University.” Tom watched Max through the glass again. He’d better get an aide in there quickly before he hurt himself. Then he turned away and sat down in the plastic chair near the small table by the door.
“Listen carefully, Lerner. This is what I need you to do. First, I want you to telephone her. Tell her that Max came to your house early this morning. Tell her that he thought his data was being compromised, so he brought his PC with him and came directly to your home. Tell her he is with you and that he’s safe, but that he is worried about her and wants you to bring her to him.”
“No, just make something up if she questions you further, or wavers. But tell her you are on your way and for god’s sake, get over there as fast as you can. Yes, and bring her here.”
He rang off and stood up, pressed the buzzer by the door to call an aide. A young man, dark skinned and fine boned, neatly dressed in white lab coat and carrying a small chrome tray with various glass tubes in it, answered the bell. “Dil,” Tom addressed him, reading the name tag over his pocket, “I need you to sedate out guest again. You had better do it while he’s still restrained.”
“Yes, sir,” Dil answered, waiting expectantly for further instructions.
“Then, when he’s out, I want you to take off the straps and remove them from the room, so that when our guest wakes up he can move around freely in our guest room and use the facilities. Understood?”
“Perfectly,” Dill answered, turning on his heel, and he walked back out into the hall.
Tom let the door shut behind the aide before sitting back down in the plastic chair and with his elbows on the table, cradled his head in his hands and began to work out his back up plan.
POWER SOURCE – Chapter 6 – Safe Haven (Carlos Repuesto de la Tabla)
I began packing furiously, getting myself ready to leave. K9-5 kept nagging me to hurry, whining his metallic whine, standing by the back door, repeating the word “Danger!” over and over. All right, all right, all ready! I thought, because I already knew I was in real danger, but I had no idea where we were going to go or what I could do to insure our safety, but still I knew it was wise, as always, to pay attention to the dog.
I put on my antique real leather jacket and packed a small duffel bag with clothes good for any weather conditions. I checked and made sure my personal computer and its hard drive were secure in my camouflaged hardshell case, which looked exactly like a makeup bag. I knew I might need plenty of back up, because I sure as hell was not going to be connecting to the Cloud.
I packed K-9’s Auxiliary Kit and stowed it in one of his compartments, and threw in plenty of extra ammo in case he needed to be armed, then we headed out to the garage.
There was the first surprise: Max’s transport was still there. What an idiot. I hadn’t even thought to look. Now I was truly scared; I was sure he had been abducted. There was no way he could leave Stinson Beach without transportation.
K9 stood still beside me, except for his twirling ears and his glowing eyes, repeating “Danger” again, as if he was telling me, “Look! I told you so!”
I glanced quickly around, looking for something, anything or anyone, out of the ordinary, but all seemed normal, almost peaceful, just a slight breeze moving among the dead tree tops.
It was then that my phone bleated its incoming call signal, my ancient synth version of Holst’s Venus. I hurriedly fished the phone out of my jacket pocket — maybe it was Max! But it wasn’t, it was Dr Lerner, Max’s boss and mentor at the University.
“Hello, Madeleine? This is Ernest. I just wanted to let you know that Max is here with me. He is worried about you. He wants you to come over here as soon as you can.”
“Oh, that’s great. Is he all right? Why didn’t he call me himself? ”
“Oh, no, no, he’s fine, he didn’t want to use his own phone, that’s all. He thought it might be traced. You see…”
My mind was spinning, but I was cautious, and interrupted “Why didn’t he call me with your phone; Please, let me speak to him now!”
“Oh no, no. He won’t dare to speak on the phone. He is afraid of voice imprint identification, but I assure you he is fine my dear.”
“But, I don’t understand — why is this happening? Where is his computer?”
“I can explain it all to you on the way here, Maddy. Max became suspicious last night. He thinks that someone is trying to access his files. He brought his things over here to be safe. But now he is afraid they might try to get to you, so he wants you to come here as well.”
“But why is he afraid to talk to me on the phone?”
“He is afraid they will find out where he is, my dear. Please, you can talk to him when you get here. I’m leaving now to pick you up.”
I paused, thinking quickly. “No, No, don’t do that. I’ll come to you. I’ll come right away. See you in half an hour. Give Max a kiss for me!”
“Well, I’m not so sure about that last request — you can do it yourself when you get here.”
I ended the call and stared at Max’s transport. So, if he was at Dr Lerner’s, how did he get there? And why didn’t he tell me? He always told me everything, even if he was afraid of being overheard by bugging devices, he would always write me a note, or leave a command with K9.
And why Dr Lerner’s of all places? I knew Max respected him and Lerner had been a friend of his father’s, but Max had always been afraid to store his data at the University. If he thought he was under threat, would Max really go closer to the threat to hide?
No, if Max had gone anywhere, he would have gone to Boone’s. Boone’s was his old drug den and a recognised safe haven. Drug Dens still kept up the age-old tradition of privacy, a tradition that had thrived ever since drugs had been made legal decades ago. They were “safe havens” the way churches had once been, and many people used them, whether they took drugs or not.
Boone’s offered the safest place to hide away from the world for the building was blanketed with ‘state of the art’ anti-bugging shields and boasted an incredibly clever screening system, called “the Soul Search” that kept the wrong individuals out.
This was where Max went when we had one of our stupid fights or when he simply needed respite from the stress of his father’s legacy. Not that he didn’t use the drugs. They could be quite helpful in winding down his overworked brain.
I knew I had to get out of here fast. They would know from the phone call that I was still here and they could be on their way to get me now.
I relayed the gist of Lerner’s side of the phonecall to K9 and I was about to toss my bag into my speedy little transport that was parked next to Max’s, when I thought better of it.
“What do you think, K9, which vehicle should we take?” I asked.
“Unusual circumstances,” replied the dogbot, “Require unusual decisions.” He looked over at our utility vehicle parked in the space at the side of the garage.
“Recommend Humbercraft. 3 reasons:
1. It will not be recognized as Maddy’s transport.
2. It has greater free transit utility and off-grid programming
3. It has more effective shielding.”
He was right as usual, so I threw our belongings into the back compartment of our bulky off-road vehicle. We only used it to drive up to where our friends were hiding out in the mountains up North. Friends I wouldn’t dare endanger now. The craft was more cumbersome than my speedy little transport, but was built like one of those 20th century tanks and could actually navigate better when detached from the Universal Transport Grid.
K9 hopped into the front passenger seat, tail wagging expectantly, eyes glowing.
“Now, where to K9? Should we try to locate Max or do you think we should just find a quick hideout and go on the run?” and I began the craft’s startup process, carefully electing to override the grid.
“Escape is paramount.” K9 began, “Dr Learner’s scenario faulty. Motives suspicious.” K9 paused, “Exploring alternatives” and K9’s ears did their thing and his eyes glowed a bright green, then he continued.
“Recommend escape to Boone’s. 99% certainty Max abducted. Must keep Maddy safe now.” His eyes glowed some more as he continued to process. “K9 deems Boone’s as safest haven for Maddy. Strong likelihood of further intel available there.”
His eyes glowed a deep red now, “From Boone’s, we can connect to the Underground.”
“I agree.” I sighed, resigned to flight. I made certain that K9 was securely attached to his seat, “I guess that’s our only alternative. We have to find safety and we will need to contact the Underground again. Then we can look for Max.” I plugged in the co-ordinates for an alternate route to Boone’s, and we headed smoothly out across the water toward San Francisco.
POWER SOURCE – Chapter 7 — by Linda Palund
I have to admit that the K9-5 model is a great piece of kit. Almost as soon as I put in the coordinates for Boone’s and settled back for the ride, he announced that he was changing his protocol.
“K9 switching to Commando profile.” And then he immediately started scanning the Humbercraft for bugs.
“No time to scan before departure.”
A few seconds later he reported, “All clear in craft. Checking personal belongings now.” And he buzzed for a few more seconds and called out, “All clear inside Maddy’s gear. All Clear inside K9-5’s casing.”
“Thanks, K9,” I told him. Can you tell me now what we should expect at Boone’s? How much should we tell them, or should we tell them anything?”
K9’s eyes glittered a bright yellow for a few moments, and then he turned his metal head to face me, cocking it to one side in that fetching dogbot way he had, and said something that surprised me. “Max has embedded escape protocol in K9’s Commando profile.”
He turned his head so that it was level again and his ears twirled for a second before he went on, “K9’s mission to gather intel inside Boone’s. Maddy must follow Max’s scenario as follows:
“Maddy to tell everyone of personal emergency. Maddy must recite the following phrase to person named George and only to George.
“Our seawall has broken and our house is flooded.” Maddy will memorise this line. Only recite to man named George. He will be working at Boone’s. He will understand.”
This was a lot of information to come out of K9, but somehow, as questionable as it was, I found it comforting. Max had foreseen this happening. He was prepared for us to go on the run, me and K9. I wondered what other surprises he had for me. But we were practically there now and I headed low over the beach and hit the streets.
Boone’s was located in a funny building not too far from Ocean Beach. It was a relic that had somehow survived the earthquakes and tidal waves. It had been completely swallowed by the sand, covered over for decades, but somehow remained intact. The first of its Safe Haven owners had dug it out from the sand, cleaned all the sand out from the inside and then covering the entire building with a shell made of a special fortified compound of plexi-glass and titanium. Then they covered it back over with a new kind of sand, so it was pretty well camouflaged, blending into the sand dunes around it, although if you had heard about it, you would know where to find it.
The sand covering it wasn’t really sand any more, but a hard plastiment compound that looked just like sand, but didn’t fill up your pockets and wreck your electronic equipment, of which there was quite a bit at Boone’s. Then the whole building had a defence system that radiated a special anti-bugging shield that was kept state-of-the-art, because it was supported by funds provided by The Underground.
The Company had tried to shut down places like Boone’s, but thankfully, there were still some wealthy supporters in San Francisco who were able to keep the “Safe Haven” tradition alive.
They had developed an entry system that was so state-of-the-art it was chilling. A filtering program devised by the folks in Palo Alto, amusingly nicknamed the “Soul Search”, which could read not only your bio-rhythms, and your moods, but could read your intentions, your desires, and your concealed weaponry.
It was pretty near fool proof and had a self-evolving interface that allowed it to absorb new data and respond and create whatever it needed to bypass any interference from the outside.
I took the Humbercraft out of autopilot and manoeuvred it toward the camouflaged underground parking garage. A Stasis Beam settled over the craft and a sweet feminine voice emerged from our radio.
“You are about to enter the Safe Haven known as Boone’s. Prepare to be searched and scanned. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I answered. “Go right ahead”
K9 looked worried. His eyes glowed red for a few seconds, but then he just waited with me while the scan took place. The voice returned in about 30 seconds.
“You have on board a K9-5 Commando fully armed. What are your intentions?”
“Sorry, mam” I said quickly. “I have a personal emergency and I need to speak to George. He will approve our visit, I’m sure.” I added hastily.
“George is in residence. Please allow access to your vid-screen.”
I breathed a sigh of relief and K9’s eyes switched back to a dull green. Only his ears were rotating, showing me he was scanning the car park already.
“I’ve turned on the screen.” I said, flicking the switch and hitting the icon that would allow them to see me and K9.
Suddenly the screen lit up in a kaleidoscope of lights and colours. They were obviously having a good time at Boone’s today. And then a most peculiar face came on the screen. Whoever it was, and I hoped it was George, had a very large head, with a formidable forehead, very serious brown eyes, an aquiline nose, bordering on hawk-like, and a large and rather sensuous mouth. This imposing visage was mitigated by kindly lines around his eyes and his mouth that showed he actually smiled quite a lot. However, he was not smiling now.
“You have an armed K9-5 on board your craft. Can you tell me why?”
Before I could answer K9 interrupted and actually asked this formidable head a question. This was very unusual for a K9 and I wondered if it was part of his commando profile.
“Excuse me, please confirm you are person named George first.” He said, being unusually polite, considering his commando profile.
“Yes.” Said the face. “I am George. May I ask who you are?”
“George!” I interrupted, “I am Maddy. Maddy Green. Our seawall has broken and our house is flooded!” I nearly shouted this out. I suddenly felt that those words exactly described our situation. For some reason just saying this made me feel overwhelmingly emotional. I just wanted to cry now.
George looked searchingly at me for a second and I could see genuine concern in his eyes. “Maddy! You are granted entrance. Please come into our Haven’s Garage. We will have the door open and I will be there to greet you personally. I am very pleased to meet you both.”
And the screen went dark and I breathed a long sign of relief. K9 stopped twitching and began to wag his tail again.