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Cloud Computing

"You ready?"
"Yeah, Dobe," I replied. "Start it up."
The portable generator chugged hollowly for a moment before finally rumbling into life, a brief green flicker from the computer bank announcing its success. A curl of exhaust issued forth, and to my nose seemed to fill the whole office block with its petroleum stench. Even this, however, was nothing compared to the sensation that accompanied it; subtle, but far more potent.

The computer had not been switched on for some time, and a number of scheduled tasks had accumulated. In my mind's eye, I perceived them, though the screen lay cracked and broken on the floor: toppled, no doubt, during the evacuation all those years ago. Nevertheless, though mute, though silent, the computer spoke, and I listened. Almost imperceptible beneath the heady drone of data streaming through the air, I could feel a faint whirr from within my ribcage and a dull warmth from the cable running up through my neck. The machine had begun its work even before I had.

"Anything?" Dobe asked.
"Not yet. It's just running maintenance at the moment. It'd take me twice as long to force a skip."
Dobe wandered over to the window, peering out into the street below. The generator was awfully loud, and would be sure to attract the attention of anybody nearby. It must have been calm outside, because Dobe spoke again.
"Grey?" she asked. "What's it like to be custom-made?"

It was not the first time she'd asked that question. It wasn't even the first time since the incident in the warehouse: she had been repeating herself a lot. Kevin and I hoped that it would pass when the neural packing finished knitting itself into place. Then again, for someone who'd been technically dead only a month ago, she was hardly doing badly. "Honestly?" I said, dragging my attention away from the computer's chatter for a moment. "It's not that great. Sure, I skipped all the controls and conditioning the company put you through, but because of that they'll never let me into their buildings. And look at me!" I lifted a scrawny arm, a quartet of thumbs where my fingers should have been. "Kevin's an alright guy, but he's..." just some punk with a gene lab? I looked up at Dobe, the thick clawed hands, the reinforced skull and its mouthful of teeth. Would a gentle insult be taken as a threat? It was not a risk I wanted to take. "Kevin's specialism is cybernetics," I finished, meekly. "The people who made you, they were experts."

Neither of us said anything for a while, but the noise of the generator persisted. The computer having finished its start-up routine, I began to sift through files. There were a few financial reports that might help us recover useful stock, but beyond that, nothing. Five-hundred exabytes of information and none of it relevant to the company's research. Most was just security footage.
"Alright," I said. "Let's double-check there isn't anything on paper and..." I felt the satellite connection in my chest before the signal was fed to my brain. This had never happened before, and yet, thanks to Kevin's forethought, I had no doubt as to what was happening.
"Kill the generator!" I hissed, though there was nobody but Dobe to hear it. In an instant, she had crossed the room and flicked the switch. The void left by the engine noise was intense: the void left by the sudden loss of power to the computer even more so.
"What is it?"
"There is a company employee within a hundred metres of us."
"How can you tell?"
"GPS implant. You've got one too." The satellite had begun to relay information from the company database, and its memory began to infiltrate my own. "Her name is Emma Chilcott. Her assignment began six years ago, but she hasn't uploaded any work for a few months. The last update reported that her bodyguard was..." though it had slipped into my mind quite calmly, I could not pass on the information with the same indifference. "Her bodyguard was decommissioned: the result of a deadfall trap. No replacement was sent. She..." what came next, I knew I could not tell Dobe, so I picked something from her profile. "She was originally stationed thirty miles West of our designated zone." I looked up at Dobe, not sure what she would make of even this much information.

"We were supposed to spread out," she said, after a pause.
"Keep your voice down," I pleaded, "please!" Though the GPS data was still leaching into my brain, though it told me that Emma was still seventy-two metres away, that very connection made it feel as though she was with us in that room. Wetware had never been meant to deal with sights out of sight or sounds out of earshot.
"Nobody is supposed to leave their area!" Dobe whispered, striding over to the window. "She must have had a good reason to come this far. Something must be wrong."
"Let's not assume things that we..."
"She would hardly have come all this way if things were going well."
"Please let's just go!" The numbers in my head were counting down. I could guess from the satellite that Emma would soon be on the road beneath the window. There was no telling what Dobe would do then.
"Are you thinking straight? We have to help her! Where is she now?"
"Sixty metres."

I sat and waited. Dobe stood by the window, a hand resting on the pistol in her belt. Emma was close, now. Close enough to be seen, depending on the layout of the streets outside, though Dobe's inaction suggested that I still had a minute.
"Dobe?" I asked, gently. "Do you really think she could have made it all this way alone?"
"I sure hope so. The alternatives aren't...quiet!" She shrank back behind the window frame and drew the pistol.
I approached as quietly as I could.
"There are Purists out there," Dobe whispered. "She's been captured."
"She hasn't, Dobe." Though I would never be able to stop her from using the pistol, I closed a hand over her wrist just in case. "She defected. She's joined them."

For a moment, Dobe simply stared at me, her eyes bright and hollow in the dim window's light. "That's impossible," she muttered, finally. "They'd never take one of us."
"Not us, no. But Emma—and Kevin, for that matter—they aren't like us. They're legally human. One extra gene tagged onto a chromosome? Even if the Purists know, they probably don't care. 'Hate the sin, love the sinner.' We're monsters to them, Dobe, but she's just a convert."

I heard a ripple of laughter from a way down the street outside, and a few scraps of the Purists' chatter. There was a voice amongst them that might have been Emma's.
"What are you going to do?" I asked.
"What the situation demands." Dobe tugged my hand away effortlessly. "She knows too much."
I didn't bother trying to fight back. I wouldn't have been able to, and the noise would have done us no favours. Between the signal from the GPS and the noise from outside, I could guess even Emma's position within the group. Soon, she would pass just beneath the window.
"Dobe," I said, quickly. "Kevin's on his own now. We left him back at the lab, remember?"
"He's safe."
"For now, yes. But look how many there are out there. If you shoot, there's a good chance they'll kill you."
"It'll be worthwhile."
"And me."
"I'm sorry."
"And Kevin will be stuck out here alone just like she was. How long do you think it would be before he joined them too?"

I was half relieved to see Dobe turn away from the window, half terrified to see her advance on me. Wordlessly, she grabbed the sleeve of my shirt and lifted me through the doorway, further into the office block. Once out into the corridor, she lowered me to the ground—crouching herself—but did not let go.
"Do you really think he would do that?" she asked, quietly.
I hesitated for a moment. To question Kevin's loyalty would bring into question my own. As an employee, I would not have had to worry about this, but as a mere asset the consequences could be fatal. "If he were left without support," I said, carefully, "I think he might."
Immediately, Dobe stood. Involuntarily, I raised a hand to protect my face: with the group on the road outside, she would not risk the noise of the gun. It would not be that quick.

But to my surprise and horror, Dobe merely returned to the room.
"Wait!" I hissed, as loudly as I dared. "What are you doing?" Scrambling to my feet, I darted after her. As I passed through the doorway, the portable generator nearly knocked me to the ground.
"Picking up our stuff," Dobe replied, slipping the straps over her shoulders. "We're heading back."
As we hurried down the stairwell, I said nothing, afraid that it would give Dobe some reason to change her mind, but she spoke first.
"I still feel like I should do it," she said, "but there's no good reason besides company orders. She's had long enough to tell them what they want to know. Killing her now would be a pointless risk."
"Right. Let's just focus on getting back in one piece this time." I smiled, but Dobe was clearly not in the mood for humour. She stopped between staircases.
"I know you tried to protect that employee," she said. "Don't. If I can retire her without endangering Kevin or company property, I will."

That was the other problem with being custom-made, I considered. I did not belong to the company: I belonged to Kevin.
Chapter 2, Corkboards: [link]

This is the first chapter of what I'm hoping will become my first self-published novel, or perhaps just novella. Set in a near-future Britain devastated by a man-made apocalypse, it describes a landscape changed not by deliberate nuclear war, but by the accidental release of a weaponised pathogen; sophisticated biological weapons having rendered their brutish atomic predecessors obsolete.
The scale of the disaster terrifies the outside world into banning all but the most innocuous ventures into genetic modification. Within the nation's borders, however, genetic engineering has become the only chance to reclaim the country.

If anybody would care to offer feedback on this, I would be most grateful. If anybody would be so kind as to proofread (or "beta-read" as the kids say these days) the entire book, I would be easily grateful enough to give you a mention, and a free copy if I'm not already giving it away.
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Daily Deviation

Given 2012-07-03
Inhuman Resources: Chapter 1 by ~DamonWakes The suggester writes, "Great opening, good characterization! Shows that you don't need a ton of background info to tell an engaging story." ( Suggested by neurotype and Featured by thorns )
:iconshadowrunner2323:
shadowrunner2323 Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
it's rather confusing, but it has a good base, and the idea is interesting. i'd have put in more description about "grey", but you'll probably do that later, and it's secondary. all in all, i like it, and would buy a book.
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014   Writer
Thanks. :-) I definitely have to include more description of Grey--it's a challenge to do that in first person, and wasn't something I was desperate to tackle in the first draft--so that'll be something I go over when I rewrite this. A lot of people have mentioned wanting more information in general, but I feel like the only way to introduce this setting is either by dropping the reader in at the deep end or slapping in a prologue that just tells them how it all started. Given that choice, I'll always pick the first option. ;-)
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:iconshadowrunner2323:
shadowrunner2323 Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
i do the same ^^ maybe have grey look in a mirror?
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014   Writer
I'm pretty much determined not to do that just because it's a very common trope. If it was genuinely the best/most natural way to work those details in, I'd go ahead and do it, but it definitely wouldn't be my first choice. writeworld.tumblr.com/post/306… suggests some great alternatives, as well as why the mirror thing isn't actually the end of the world.

Personally, I think my best opportunity to describe Grey's appearance is to have her consider just how much it differs from the humans around her (as initial description) and, later on in the novel, from other AIs like her (to get into detail). A good chunk of the reason why I didn't work harder to get that kind of visual detail in the first time around is that, as an entirely man-made organism, Grey's appearance will have been dictated by her job/function (which wasn't set in stone when I started writing). I've since decided that she's small--grown quickly and with minimal nutrition, as the company considers her series fairly expendable--and that she can see well in the dark, since she'd be expected to search for supplies in areas with no windows or electricity. But those aren't things I'd decided on before I got to them.
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:iconshadowrunner2323:
shadowrunner2323 Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
okay. makes sense. i personally write in third person, so i''m no expert. and you did an excellent job on the personalities of your characters. ^^
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2014   Writer
Third person is definitely more versatile. Personally I tend to only move to first when I'm going to be spending more time in that character's head than out of it, or when I need a more limited perspective in general. It's a nice option for a whodunnit, for example, because then clues are only revealed to the reader when the main character finds them. When I very first started writing this story, and it was pretty much just a handful of little scenes to get an idea of the characters and setting, each one was from a different first person perspective--it took a while to work out who to stick with for the actual novel. In the end I picked Grey largely because her one-off scene immediately felt like part of the main story: in fact, it's this first chapter. :XD:
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:iconshadowrunner2323:
shadowrunner2323 Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
yeah, my first story (that awful monster of a plot...) actually randomly switched between first and third. though i confess, i thought grey was a guy initially. XD
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2014   Writer
I find there are situations where you can switch perspectives without it feeling awkward, though it's very much a case of having to justify it rather than it being a standard choice. If you're doing it for a good reason, it probably won't even be that noticeable. If you're just unsure or are trying to work in a gimmick, it's probably not the best way to go. But at the same time, you can expect to revise a story a lot before it's done, so maybe that was just part of the process you needed to go through to work it out? From your "awful monster of a plot" comment I get the impression it's one of those first stories you don't really intend to continue with, but if it's not (or you ever end up going back to it), then maybe you'll find that the switching perspectives have helped you figure out what you really want to do.

Being more of an organic machine than a person, Grey actually has no gender. I settled on "she" as a pronoun for the AIs almost arbitrarily: in-universe it's justified because it's grammatically troublesome to try and refer to them as "it" all the time, and "she" gets used specifically because that's already a convention for, say, ships. Also the absence of a "Y" chromosome (though not all species have the same system of sex chromosomes to begin with).
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:iconzwartezwaluw:
ZwarteZwaluw Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2013
I would love to read the whole thing :) It's amazing :)
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2013   Writer
Thank you! :-) I'm glad you like it.

If you're offering to give feedback on the whole thing, however, I'm afraid I'm not really in a position to use the help just now. ^^; Since I started this story, it's steadily grown bigger and bigger, and I think the first draft is liable to need serious work before it's ready for finer, small-scale editing. There's already a lot I know I'll change.
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