Monday, August 2, 2010

Common Words: Pattern Recognition

PRESCRIPT: Yes, I am aware that William Gibson also wrote a novel with the same title. I wasn't aware of that when I independently arrived at "Pattern Recognition" as the working title of this story-in-progress. Had it been finished, it would have been re-titled; as it is, I'd prefer not to retroactively edit it and give it a title that would have better application to something complete, and I don't think "Incomplete Work 01" is a particularly attractive alternative.

Although I try to follow Heinlein's rules for writing, I can't always be successful at it. There's a reason that one of the most common stereotypes for depicting a writer is of a frustrated person moping at a desk next to a wastebasket filled with crumpled-up pieces of paper, stories abandoned before they had a chance to unfold. I've had my share of that, but they continue to live on my hard drive - and I'm arrogant enough to believe that if I went to the trouble of even starting them, they don't suck that much.

"Pattern Recognition" is a short that I wrote two and a half years ago, back in March 2008, when most of the details of my universal setting were still coming together. It was to have been about personality uploading, but I can't remember if the plot was ever any more detailed; that's one reason why I never did finish it. Taryn Liang is a character I've mentioned before and who continues to have a part in stories I'm writing now, but most of the details have shifted since then. Per was to have been an implanted microcomputer running an artificial intelligence, but I have since ditched that aspect of the setting because I really didn't want to have to deal with the implications of AI in addition to everything else. The future is going to be complicated enough when we only have human brains to worry about.

I believe CTIE was meant to stand for "Canadian Technological Intelligence Establishment."

"Pattern Recognition"
by Andrew Barton

On the other side of the knobless door, a man was busy killing himself so that he could live forever. Taryn Liang shivered in her gear as she crouched alone in the concrete stairway, waiting for the two-minute warning. Dr. Minami's erstwhile customers would no doubt be upset once she bolted their door to heaven.

"Don't worry, it's almost time." Per's silky, synthetic baritone came like a spring breeze through a grassy park when the birds had just started to sing. "Just close your eyes, listen to some music and relax. I'm well-versed with how you must be feeling."

He couldn't know. All the study in the world couldn't get across the feeling of her creaking bones and aching muscles, or the cold and stern weight of a gun. When it came to men willingly peeling their brains like onions for hollow immortality, she felt the same way.

"No, no music tonight," she said. The unlicensed upload clinic's back stairwell was cramped enough already without the entire Bratislava Symphony Orchestra squeezed in with her. The shrieking Kosovar buzzgrind tracks her friends at the front door were pumping in to rattle the doctor and his keepers would only have made it bitter, anyway. She only wished they could've pumped in tear gas instead. "Your code's on the line here just as much as I am."

"I have every faith in the plan if it succeeds, and in your flexibility if it does not," Per said. "Worrying about anything else would be counterproductive. I cannot materially affect the outcome, after all."

"Maybe not, but I feel a lot better just having you in my ear." She smiled and rubbed the tactical vest she wore. If not for its diamond weave, the firm contours of Per's hardened housing would have guided her fingers. "Butterfly in my belly."

Her thoughts were interrupted by the cutting whistle of the two-minute warning. She held tight to the pistol in her right hand while her left found a standard-issue dazzler. Once blinded by it, if only for a few minutes, a person wouldn't get far.

There were six rounds in her gun's magazine and a seventh in the chamber, just in case someone did. It would take at least an hour and a half of paperwork to account for the use of just one.

She touched a finger to her ear. "This is Agent Liang, reporting ready." Then she waited.

The three tinny squeals of the attack code whined in her ears. One small window in her helmet hudscreen relayed a view from a swatbot's camera, with just enough detail to resolve the layout of the doctor's once-sealed sanctum as the front door ground open. It was dark and cluttered, with only three human-sized heat sources showing up on the infrared overlay.

The command post was analyzing the feeds with a stamp collector's eye. That was just as well, for Taryn couldn't glean anything more out of it before the view dissolved in flame. The fiery belches and roars from the room were unmistakeable, but they didn't matter. Her seven seconds were up. Per made sure the door was open, and she threw herself into Hell.

She emerged into a narrow corridor, lined with shelves and filed with boxes stacked nearly to the roof. The tight squeeze was more than enough to shield her from prying eyes while she stole toward the main open area of the sanctum. With the swatbots and possibly even her fellow agents at the breaching point dead or dying, those seven rounds would wear heavy crowns.

There were three bodies in her infrared scope, one close to the main door. Two others, close together in the room's center, were probably Doctor Minami and one of his keepers. A smooth underhanded toss put a blinding, deafening flashbang grenade squarely between all of them. She knew it couldn't be as loud as her jackhammering heart.

"CTIE! SURRENDER! NOW!" It was her voice, but slowed to an earthquake's rumble. The room fell away, drowned in shadow, all but for the man closest to her. One of the hostage-takers. He wore a helmet that would have fit better on a robot. She couldn't even see his eyes. He could see hers. She had no problem seeing the rifle as he swung it toward her.

Big. Black. Enough to give a girl in diamondweave tactical armor a very bad day. Her vision went red, then black, and her legs buckled. She couldn't see anything but his faceplate, inhuman in its polished smoothness. A few more seconds and she'd faint.

One, two, three.

A devil with fist aflame hammered her midsection. She didn't burn, yet. The first man crumpled. Another charged. Her dinner turned into a lump of cold steel. How many of her friends were dying out there, while she danced...?

Four, five, six.

The heat was unbearable. Like the worst greenhouse duty she'd ever pulled, drowning in her own boiling sweat. A voice whispered her name. It couldn't be her father, Hell was too good for him--


The man slumped. Her weapon clicked empty. She stood, blinded by the fog and the smoke and the shadows drowning her eyes. Alone. Surrounded. She fumbled for a new magazine, ejected the old, and slammed it in. The shadows lifted enough to tell her there were no more men standing.

"Agent Liang!" Lieutenant Grimmell in the command post. She could hear his frantic terror, as if he'd done anything to warrant it. "Agent Liang, report your status immediately!"

"Liang... I'm here." She looked around the room with dusty eyes. One hand explored her midsection. "I'm alive. I don't know about the rest of the team, I... the targets were heavily equipped. Anti-personnel rifles. They're down, they--"

The remainder was lost, drowned in her burning bile. She fell to her knees and vomited, carrying up everything. Every time was a little bit easier than the one before, but it still wasn't enough.

"Taryn." Per was calm, cool, and rational as he always was, as she'd come to think he could never not be. "You're extremely agitated. I cannot help but be concerned for your well-being."

"I'm fine, Per." The tunnel her eyes saw through had been lit up again. "Do you... have anything for me?"

"You were a spendthrift with your bullets. I have already summoned medical personnel. Dr. Minami seems to have intercepted one of your shots. As has the brain resolution apparatus, I'm sorry to say."

She staggered toward the machine. The doctor was curled over one side, moaning in impenetrable Japanese. The half-sphere that had housed the brain, keeping it static and stable while the keen-bladed waldoes sliced it into hairline chunks for thorough scanning, was a leaking ruin. There was no telling how much of the patient's brain had been cut through before she'd arrived, but the dripping chunks left over wouldn't be worth the price of meat.

Meat was expensive, these days.


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