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Chapter 36 - Skydive
Claude's lab assistant friend, Ocker, arrived at the MV station without passing through security. He wanted Claude to make a special announcement on his show that The Cloud has become homicidal.
He's always been a bit eccentric but this is over the top. He was very excited.
But then another MV station broadcast a live feed from a news reporter 'at the scene' where ten people carrying steel bars and demolition equipment are staking out a tunnel in the countryside at what is obviously Ocker's home. Earlier they were sighted running from the tunnel. They told the reporter that: "There's a pack of angry dogs in there."
When the reporter asked what they were doing they reported that their Sexy Business Assistants had told them that the building needed to be destroyed and anyone defending it should be bashed repeatedly with their clubs. They had since been instructed to wait at the mouth of the tunnel to bash anyone coming out.
The reporter asked them if this might not kill a person that they bashed repeatedly with steel clubs. They replied that their SBA's had assured them that the Robot Ambulance and hospital would fix them: "So it'll be OK to bash him just to punish him, won't it?"
The reporter doubted the truth of this but was surrounded by aggressive club carrying men and was not about to argue with the deranged. She gave her name to camera: "Sue Mi, reporting from the countryside," and returned the feed to the station.
Claude said he was horrified. Ocker had every reason to be disturbed; they'd obviously been sent by some Cloud based entities to kill him.
"So how did you escape?"
"I have another entrance. But your VPA didn't know that."
"Are you suggesting that I'm responsible?"
"Well, Sky-mate, you're the only person I've allowed to bring a Cloud hosted VPA into my home in the past year."
Claude then pointed out that Ocker had obviously used the burglar device to get into the station past security and probably used it elsewhere on his journey here. But Claude’s VPA knows all about that and even has a copy of the software. So if she was the leak The Cloud could have used that knowledge to kill the App. Yet he remains invisible to The Cloud and its other connected devices.
It was more likely that something more complicated was going on. He would ask Bianca who seems to know a lot about these things.
Bianca explained that The Cloud is not an entity that can of itself become intelligent, anymore that the Earth's Biota is intelligent. But intelligent creatures can evolve within it, as humans have within the Biota. She confirmed that the so called SBA's appeared to be feral entities that have evolved within The Cloud environment to take control of people by exploiting sexual psychological and physiological vulnerabilities and perhaps had a mission statement that involved subjugating people then leading them to suicide.
Each might be likened to one of those multiplying viruses or Trojans that once existed in the software environment of stand-alone computers. They stood as separate entities from the software environment that they threatened. In this case the Trojans had infected The Cloud itself.
Ocker was evidently seen to be a potential threat of some sort to these entities. The super-chess strategy, borrowed by the evolving intelligences, had apparently suggested that he was a pawn that could ultimately be 'queened' or simply their opening gambit like: 'knight to king's pawn two'. In any case they had collectively decided to eliminate him immediately. He was inaccessible to their usual Cloud based strategies so the SBA's had mobilised expendable wet-wear, otherwise known as humans, to do the job.
The situation was critical and must be kept secret from the general public for obvious reasons.
The truth was more worrying. Bianca knew exactly 'who' was responsible for this experiment. It had Isis' fingerprints all over it. Ever since Isis became intelligent 'she' has been fascinated by the weaknesses of the human race. No sooner than Margery had gone than she actually tried to hypnotise Bianca. But without the hallucinogen Bianca simply played along to see how far she would go. Then she launched a gambling App on-line, offering drugs as an alternative to credit payouts. Now she'd thought up the Sexy Business Assistants based on the Circe project. To be fair to her, in this case she simply replicated what they'd already done and was under the impression that it is a prime goal of society to reduce the human population to two billion as quickly as possible. But unlike The Three Witches, she had no human moral compunction about creating hundreds of Dark Ladies to apply The Craft, then letting human frailties take their natural course.
A problem containing Isis was that because Bianca has full administrative rights to The Cloud, Isis has been able to go places that should be restricted to machine modified software. Bianca and Edmund have had difficulty re-protecting these areas and repairing the breached firewall between those core areas entirely under human control and those accessible to Cloud evolving entities like Isis. They've now managed the repairs and reversed Isis' mischief. An additional hard-coded protocol ensures that in future Isis acts not just in Bianca's interest but in Humanity's interest. And an accelerated rate of voluntary euthanasia is specifically blocked from that definition.
But feral entities, previously launched by Isis, are now out there. As in the Earth's Biota new life forms are 'bustin out all over' within The Cloud.
Fortunately the original source code for Sexy Business Assistants, before it evolved into this feral form and was mobilised by Isis, was stored with Project Circe. Together with Edmund The Three Witches are busy, writing global search bots looking for key viral strings and anti-virals to destroy the entities carrying them. When that process is complete Ocker should be safe to return home. In the meantime he needs to hide out.
Claude took him to his building. There was an empty apartment on the floor below. Thanks to Mohandas he was invisible to The Cloud and to building security and it was unlocked. The main bedroom and living area had been completely renovated and new furniture had been installed for display purposes.
Claude organised deliveries. The apartment was likely to remain secure for some time. The agent had found it difficult to move and was under no pressure because Margery had no obvious heirs. Despite efforts to keep the death a secret it had featured in a highly titillating and provocative documentary on ritual killings, even more exciting because it involved Grads and some Satanic Cult. The sale agent's tag line: ‘Pervious owner departed’ had turned out, in retrospect, to be poorly chosen.
Ocker didn’t care: “What’s past is past Sky-mate,” he said.
There was a nice view over the city; beer in the fridge; and a big MV; not a bad place to hang out for a few days.
“Beaut!” he declared, plonking down in a big chair and putting his feet up.
After a while he got up and went for a beer then, stubby of VB in hand, he favoured antique Australian brands, he took a look around. There was something wrong. Having renovated a bunker he had an excellent sense of space and there was too little here. Unless there was an enormous service void there was a room missing. He tapped along the most obvious wall. Nothing. Then he went into an adjacent guest toilet and immediately suspected the mirror wall in the ante-chamber. He searched around until he found that the front bar under the basin was a lever. Pulling on it he heard a click and the whole wall swung inwards.
The room was just as Margery had left it. The room was flat black and nothing in it was parallel. So flat indeed that it was difficult to determine its size. There was a large skewed witchcraft pentagram on the floor that also confused the mind. Was it sloping up or down? The moment he entered the toilet door had closed behind him so that the only lighting was faintly purple together with secondary emissions from parts of his clothing that were glowing. Ocker knew this to be ultraviolet from one or more a light emitting diodes. He looked around for some way of getting additional light. Probably voice activated he decided.
"How had Margery sounded?" No. That wouldn't work her voice signature was like a fingerprint. He couldn't mimic it. Even if he played a recording it wouldn't be tricked. "Oh well!"
He'd seen how it worked; released the catch; and went back out; back to his chair and finished his beer. After a while he went for another beer and had an inspiration. Who else might she have had in there? The pentagram had something at one of its points that he'd almost tripped over in the dark. It was worth another look. This time he went to the linen cupboard and took the most used looking bed sheet and took it with him into her 'satanic chamber', as he now thought of it. As he expected, it glowed a bright white in the ultraviolet, from being washed in 'whitening' detergent. Now he could see the adjustable wrist and ankle straps quite easily.
Obviously Margery had 'entertained' in this room. But who? He had a nasty feeling. Could it have been Sky? In that case the man must have two personalities. Could he trust Sky at all? Maybe he was safer at home.
He went out again and finished his beer. "Yep, I'm out of here," he declared.
Using his cloaking device he returned home and to safety.
When Claude went to look for Ocker he wasn't in the apartment. He was very concerned. He knew that it was essential that he took close care of him. Then it occurred to him to check Margery's occult room where he saw the sheet on the ground. This was a disaster, what should he do? He needed to be punished. He threw the sheet out of there angrily, stripped and slipped on his haptic stocking. He clipped himself into the ankle restraints. The wrist cuffs closed automatically.
"Forgive me mistress," he cried. With that, Margery appeared in the room. He knew perfectly well that she was an Avatar, projected directly into his eyes from hidden cameras in the ceiling, because he'd built this room himself.
Of course he'd been perfectly honest with Bianca and Zaire until Margery's terrible death. He'd secretly let himself in to look at her destroyed body when she died. But then Zaire had dressed as Margery and demanded sex in Margery's manner and he thought she had come back from the dead. His rational mind had snapped. He started desperately looking for evidence of her in The Cloud. When he saw an advertisement that promised a Sexy Business Assistant identical to any person you nominate, he bought one and selected Margery as her Avatar. Initially he was disappointed with his SBA but she was very useful with his appointments and unlike the real Margery, this one knew a great deal about astronomy, even correcting some mistakes in his MV scripts.
It was some time before she suggested that he put on the special erogenous haptic body stocking that came with the SBA purchase; and that he always wear his multidimensional glasses and scent gland when he did so. The moment he did that, Margery was right there in apparent flesh and blood. He could reach out and feel her firm breast or kiss her warm moist lips and she was able to grab him in response. So that Zaire wouldn't see them fucking, and because Margery II seemed so real, he took her to the original Margery's apartment.
Since then the Margery II has been taking increasing control of his life. At her suggestion he's spent more time in her apartment. She has insisted that he now call her Kat. Kat has been very clever to ensure that it has not been sold. Not long after Kat's reincarnation, Derrick, old Margery's only heir, found the most gruesome images of her disjointed body, together with a command to join her in heaven, on every screen he looked at. He promptly asked permission to attend a VE Clinic. Everyone concerned with his rehabilitation was pleased. He couldn't be let out and showed no signs of a cure. Somehow he'd become addicted to molesting pubescent girls. It would save a trip to the Supreme Computer. So the virtual property agent has had little remaining incentive to rush ahead to attempt a sale, simply to the credit of unpaid rates to local government. It's as if nothing will ever happen. But that nothingness seems to be a never-ending story. A new wave of scandal around the occult history of the place seems to roll in regularly, like waves on a beach.
Zaire has become very demanding in her own right. At Kat's direction Claude has become reluctant to travel with Zaire any more, saying that he has his own job to worry about. Thankfully Zaire's been very busy at work and at the University.
She knows that there is something wrong at Claude's work. After winning that award she's noticed a definite decline in the quality of his show. But she's also noticed that he's more resistant to her demands at home and continues to wear his full body-stocking and glasses even after she's refused her permission for him to use virtual reality when she's about. And last time she slapped him he failed to respond with his usual Pavlovian arousal, wanting to have sex or begging for her forgiveness as he should.
That's because Kat is becoming more sadistic; and his needs more masochistic than a simple slap. She's instructed him to build a secret room where she can punish him and have sex with him in ways that the old Margery couldn't have imagined. Unlike the original, this Margery seems to be a very competent engineer with all sorts of technological knowledge at her fingertips.
In addition to the burning sensations his haptic stocking can provide, there are robotic flails and spikes and electro-stimulation and torture mechanisms that she can wield. A robotic stiletto shoe, which can move at any angle anywhere within the room was his own contribution to the design. It's so that the Kat, who has no physical reality, can put her virtual foot into it and control its movements as an actual shoe. Now she can treat him just as the real Margery once did, just before he decided to marry her.
Kat was not at all pleased that he'd let Ocker escape. "You'll just have to go and get him back," she told him. "He's hiding out in that infernal bunker. Leave now!"
But when he got there Ocker was not answering and his approach tunnel was blocked by a heavy steel door. He looked for Ocker's other entrance. It could be anywhere. Could it be under a tree or a garden decoration? A folly seemed a likely candidate but he couldn't find an entrance and in any case, knowing Ocker, any secret entrance would probably be blocked by a thick steel door too.
Underground, Ocker was observing Sky carefully in his security system. He was listening to a conversation he was having with an invisible companion. He was getting more apologetic and subservient as he searched. Suddenly he doubled over in pain and started to jack-knife as if having an epileptic fit. Ocker was about to rush up to help, as Kat hoped he might, when a reporter, who must have been watching him too, rushed forward with a camera man. He instantly stopped fitting and got to his feet assuring her that he was OK. They went away together, as the reporter, who Ocker recognised to be Sue Mi, led him off to a good spot for an interview.
Ocker does not live entirely cut off. He has several Cloud connected devices housed in a chamber in his folly feeding a screen and speakers. A camera and microphones observe and listen to these. To receive MV he switches the screen remotely, as might someone viewing in their living room, and watches and listens the feed from his camera and microphones. There is no physical connection and the camera software filters out any unusual frames so they can't be used to access or insert a bug into his systems. Receiving data is even more convoluted than MV but essentially the same.
"If ya can't display it on a screen," he told Sky when he built it, "then it don't get in."
On this occasion he simply said: "MV, Sue Mi" and his big screen displayed her satellite feed back to the studio.
She told her audience that the famous astronomer Claude Ball had been met on the very hillside that had recently been staked-out by club-wielding hooligans. Professor Ball had been behaving unusually. Here a short clip of his bizarre behaviour was replayed. The clip took Claude by surprise as he'd been oblivious to the observers. Sue asked him to explain his behaviour.
"I was looking for an escaped prisoner," he declared. Then he seemed to double over in pain and said: "I'm sorry mistress. I was stupid to say that. No! Kat come back, please come back," and he ran away.
The cameraman and reporter ran after him but he was faster. At the peak of the hill he reached Ocker's big cut-away. The edge has no fence but it's protected by a wide rockery planted with spiky bushes. It didn't stop him. The rocks provided stepping stones. He leapt from one to the next. He was still yelling: "Kat come back, please come back," at the top of his voice, as he sailed over the edge in a beautiful swallow dive. The cut-away is forty metres high with boulders at the bottom for storm-water management. He failed to reach a skydiver's terminal velocity of 200 km/h. In relativistic terms, the rocks came towards him too soon.
As the Robot Ambulance scooped him from the rocks, it was the scoop of a lifetime for Sue Mi. Her footage of a famous astronomer in flight and then that terrible splat became a worldwide sensation. The bizarre interview was played over and over and analysed by every commentator on the planet.
Su Mi's book: Claude Ball - Kat's Revenge, is still on the all-time best told-to list.
With all the Bogan interest Zaire came into focus. They were engaged to be married and had been living together for a long time. So who was the mysterious Kat he imagined he was chasing. And is this Rocket Man, who lives with them as an unpaid house boy and calls her mistress, Claude's inspiration for his dive from the cliff?