Blind Control

“Journey time to Heathrow is approximately one hour due to protests taking place at checkpoint three,” announced the limousine’s navigation system.

Great, thought Alan. More bloody protests against the Gates.

The first couple of unmanned checkpoints were fine as predicted, the readers picking up the license and its occupant, and ushered the automated car through without pause. Alan barely gave the outside world any attention anyway, as billboards flashed past and muted sounds wafted through the hum of the car. He clinked and twirled a glass of scotch absent-mindedly, brooding thoughts as dark as his tinted windows.

What if this was another dead end? If this doesn’t work … He didn’t want to think about it. He couldn’t help but feel that the alternatives were worse than any death.

The limo’s communication buzzer sounded.

“There is an incoming call from Sean McManus, New York.”

“Answer,” commanded Alan, setting his drink down on the small tray jutting from the side of the door. The smooth, well-tanned and goateed face of Sean appeared on the car’s internal monitor that divided the passenger space from the front of the car.

“Alan, good to see you,” said Sean, his face breaking into a politician’s smile of white teeth, but without the hint of insincerity.

“Hello, Sean. You well?”

“No complaints, but no-one’s listening anyway.”

Alan laughed, but the smile on the screen faded. Sean’s face looked older than he remembered. “You sure? Your message seemed serious.”

Sean pursed his lips together, as if trying to hold back his tongue.

“Come on, Sean. I’ve known you long enough,” said Alan. “Out with it. I don’t have much time to spend on this call.”

“Janine says you’ve cleared your calendar for the next few days.”

Alan nodded. “I reached a decision.”

“Dima?”

“Yes.”

“This isn’t like you, Alan. You never go into something blind. You could barely find out anything about him, and what you did wasn’t exactly inspiring.”

“I know what I’m doing.”

“I bloody hope so. From what you’ve told me, the guy sounds like a walking Russian gangster cliché. Selling illegal arms for the Russian Mafia to the Chechens during the war while he’s actually fighting for the Russians? Hardly the sort of thing you brag about on your CV, unless you’re applying for a very particular kind of job. Christ, he even used to work for the FSB. I’m surprised you even found out that much.”

Reaching out, Alan took his glass of Scotch, and gulped down the burning warm liquid. “Look. I don’t trust him either, but what the hell else am I supposed to do? You know what the bioethics laws are like here. The American ones are even worse. Time is not something Annette and I have. There’s no other choice.”

“I’m just worried about you, Alan. I’m telling you this as your friend. Annette is, to all intents and purposes, dead –”

“No she damn well isn’t.”

“Fine, she’s preserved then. But my point is that you need to get past this and live your life, instead of just … dying slowly.”

“I can’t, Sean. I see her in my head all the time, frozen in that damn pod. Shit, I see myself in there.”

“You’re not Annette. You’re healthy, fit; you’ve got at least another twenty years ahead of you. Don’t be impatient. It’ll come.”

“I don’t just want another twenty years.” Alan stared at the glass in his hand for a moment, and then asked, “When you see your reflection, you always think you look the same, don’t you?”

“Sure. Everyone does.”

“Not me. That’s why I don’t even visit her. It was bad enough watching her mind deteriorate, but putting her into stasis … all I ever see now is the future creeping up on me with a dagger between its teeth.”

“You’re being a bit melodramatic.”

“Look,” he said, pouring another two fingers of whiskey, “I don’t expect you to understand, but … when I saw them freeze her, I realized that it wasn’t just her I had to save.” He looked up at Sean again. “I have to do this, for me.”

Sean chewed at his bottom lip. “Okay,” he said, looking away briefly and then turning back to face the screen. “I understand. I don’t agree, but I understand. Just … keep in touch. The Federation isn’t the safest place in the world, so if you need help, call me.”

“Look, if you’re worrying about me, don’t. This is just like any other business deal. I can handle it.”

“Okay, fine. As I said, just keep in touch. Anyway, I need to talk to you about something else.” He pursed his lips again. “We’re preparing for a lot of negative press.”

Wrinkles came together on Alan’s forehead. “What do you mean?”

“There’ve been a few rumours in the blogosphere saying you’re refusing to get an Interface because of health reasons …” Alan’s scowl deepened, but Sean carried on. “They’re saying it’s linked with Annette.”

“You know that’s crap,” said Alan. “There’s never been evidence of a link.”

“Calm down. It’s more of a shot in the dark, probably one of our competitors trying to smear us, but it’s bound to get into the media sooner or later.”

“How does PR want to handle it?”

Pause. Chew.

“They want you to get an Interface.” Silence. Sean took the gap. “Look, I know your feelings on this, but it’s not a bad idea. There’s bound to be serious questions about why you don’t use your own product.”

Alan leaned forward in his chair, knowing it filled the entire screen on the other end of the world.

“I’m still the majority shareholder, correct?”

“Yes.”

“And Odondo’s share price is now almost the same as that of Google’s?”

“Look, no-one is –”

“We’ve – I’ve done all this, transformed the way the world can communicate, all without needing some damn device stuck in my head. I didn’t need it then, I don’t need it now.”

Sean raised his hands in the air, “I know, I know. No-one is questioning your abilities. All I’m saying is that people are starting to ask questions, and we could be vulnerable. If there is a health risk, and it’s proven before we can deal with it –”

“People have said that rubbish about mobiles for decades, and that’s never been proven. There is no damn way it’s related to what happened with Annette, or anyone else.”

“Stop being so bloody defensive, Alan. We need to think worst case here.”

“Okay, fine, let’s assume Interfaces are bad for the human race. But right now they’re good for us – you, me, the company, and our shareholders – and if –”

Suddenly, Sean’s face winked out of existence, and the screen went black.

“This is a local security interception in accordance with Article Four,” said the car’s system. “All outside communications shall be terminated within this area due to a local disturbance. We thank you for your co-operation.”

Heart still pumping, it finally dawned on Alan that the car had slowed down to a crawl, so he switched the monitor to front-window view. Police lights flashed up ahead of the column of cars that were inching forward. Heavy-set policemen in fluorescent jackets stood around in the rain on either side of the road, scanning each car with hand-held readers. As the limo got close to the flashing lights, he saw a group of scraggly, hooded protestors being bundled away in a large white police van. They saw Alan’s sleek car, and started jeering, waving their placards of “End Fat Cat Cages”.

“Vampire!” screamed one, his black face contorting in anger. A woman with ragged hair framed by a green hoodie tried to break through the police line, and was immediately stunned by a taser. She fell to the floor convulsing and wailing, arms twitching, as her friends tried to run to help her. They were quickly tasered, too, and soon they all disappeared behind him as the cars and their occupants moved ever forwards.

Bloody parasites, he cursed silently, screaming away endlessly at the world; always easier to spit on something than to create.

The car began to speed up again.

The gates would always be there for as long as they were too lazy.

He didn’t bother calling Sean back, even when the black-out was lifted; instead, he turned off the limo’s communication system. He would speak to him after the trip was over. Pouring himself another drink, he mulled over what Sean had told him.

It didn’t matter if the problem was the Interface. If this worked, nothing would matter at all, except Annette.

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  1. […] Blind Control It seemed a lifetime away, but that was how he always remembered her: freckled skin, thinning, auburn-dyed hair, and a red lipstick smile full of life. Not like now. Did she dream in her cryonics chamber, he wondered – not for the first … […]

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June 30, 2008