A small change in typographics - Yvonne is now plain text, Zara is in italics and the Wisdom remains monotype. Sorry :-)
I knew this was going to be shit when Zara had to refer to the AI, explanation wise, even before she'd finished describing the assignment. Up to that point, it had been about as routine as my jobs ever get: Go in, remove target #1 — in the presence of targets #2, #3 and #4, thereby giving them a chance to rethink some of their life choices — and then get the hell out. Hardly difficult, given some of the stuff that the Wisdom could pull, intervention wise.
Except, it appeared, that in this case he/she/it couldn't ... or wouldn't. Why, I was given to wonder, did they have to put the world's fourth murkiest financial marketplace quite so close to its single biggest physics lab ... or the biggest collection of sensitive measuring equipment on the planet, in other words ... or was it the other way round?
Well, whatever. The AI was firm: This job, I would, more or less, have to walk. Actually, what it said was that as good as it handling of the relevant forces might be, there was simply no way to shift 70kg of living organism across n dimensions of space/time without causing some sort of local effects at the target zone. Which, given the aforementioned sensitive equipment, could be a problem. Not that there was any chance that my arrival would be detected as such ... but it might disrupt some of the experiments. Yeah, right ... like a gave a flying fuck about that.
As a result, anyway, I ended up arriving on the planet — you know, Earth, home, as I used to call it — about 100km away from the objective. Which wasn't a major problem given that I was now fluent in German, French and Italian ... you name it. Oh, and I had unimpeachable ID and credits cards, etc., etc ... even if it was all fake. But, when you came down to it, you get used to a certain level of service and this wasn't it. For one thing, I had a lot less gear with me than I would have been carrying on a normal job, not that that was too worrying. Much more of a hassle, just at the moment, was that I even had to wait for a bloody train...
I'd grown fond of Yvonne and wasn't totally happy with her involvement in such an ... unusual ... operation. The AI was 'fairly sure' that it would be OK — which was quite unnerving, in context — and completely sanguine about sending her into deeply hostile environment with nothing but the clothes she stood up in. It didn't appear to have an actual, analysed to the nth degree extraction plan, either. I didn't like it — couldn't do anything about it, but somehow I still felt responsible. So I turned my mind back to the matter in hand ... recruiting new "guests". We had a lot of work to do in the near future and no way could we do it with just the three of us.
So Xav and I were methodically going through the Prospects list, the individuals that the AI previously identified and had been monitoring for a while. Being logical people, we started at the top, a woman Xav thought would be an ideal candidate.
Which I had to agree with — that's why she was #1 in the first place. "However," I pointed out, "she would be virtually impossible to extract discretely ... far too high a profile."
"Unlike me, you mean," he said, slightly grumpily.
"Xav, you were all of fourteenth on the list — we only dragged you out because you got drunk and a bunch of local lumpen decided to have a go at killing you." I paused, enjoying the discomfiture I could see in his eyes. "Anyway, no one caused a fuss when you disappeared — the AI thought your University was actually relieved, by the way — and this one has a husband, kids. Totally different scenario, believe me..."
You could see him bristling but he let it drop. He was reliable, that way, avoiding conflict whenever possible. Still, I thought I'd better be nice for a while, reminding how much difference his presence had made to the Operation ... to me ... and, for all I knew, to the bloody AI. And then we moved on to #2, another talented high flier...
Damn, I thought, as the conversation moved on ... why was I so worried about Yvonne?
Getting a train from Lyon to Geneva is, not, when you come down to it, one of life's more stressful activities and this one lived up to its reputation by arriving exactly on time. They didn't even pull the UK trick of leaving it standing outside the station for ten minutes just to make it so...
So, Teutonic efficiency and all that ... even if I was in the French speaking bit of the country ... I mean, they probably made cuckoo clocks somewhere around here, didn't they? Anyway, the neural feed told me that I had about half an hour to wait for my local connecting train — actually, it told me that I had thirty three minutes and 14.1 seconds, but you got used to that — so I went and got a coffee.
One brief review of the Le Courrier later, I'd learnt not a lot. Well, not from the paper — the guys I was here to drop in on would hardly be seeking publicity for their meeting — but the neural feed kept me constantly updated on activities locally (nothing remotely untoward) and at the target site. Admittedly, the latter carried a constant superliminal note that the 'feed was degraded for operational reasons' which was beginning to piss me off a bit.
But I went and got the train, anyway.
We weren't getting very far.
Xav was becoming increasingly frustrated by the emerging realisation that the Wisdom had focused in on highly capable people — for obvious reasons — but that this left us with a significant issue that the vast majority of them had used their undoubted talents to make a significant contribution to their societies ... and were therefore unavailable to us at the moment. Frankly, there just weren't too many people who were both brilliant and social disaster areas ... excepting Xav himself ... and, I supposed, me. And possibly even Yvonne.
After a while I began to sympathise with Xav's position that we should just grab the people on the list anyway and deal with the consequences later. Unfortunately, the AI was having none of it — the time was not yet right for the 'gloves to come off', it intoned, ponderously, and the possible consequences might be severe. Personally, I wasn't convinced that removing any twenty odd people, however notable and however badly we handled the pick-up, would actually cause the collapse of human civilisation as we know it but then ... the AI had done this before, it reminded us ... and that was the end of that.
Consequently, we'd resorted to going back to basics and — as Xav put it — begun to unpick the technology's basic assumptions. Which felt a bit heretical to me, but, as Xav had again pointed out, all we were basically looking for were people who were both fundamentally honest and capable of making 'correct' decisions in challenging and urgent situations. And given that we had six billion people to choose from, it surely couldn't be too difficult to find a few that fitted the criteria...
An hour later I'd changed trains again in Nyon and finally arrived in the mountains. Not that I could see them — it was fully dark by now, of course — but the town was busy with skiers and similar eccentrics so the scenery could be infered. And I could go about my business without drawing too much attention to myself, at least in the town centre. In fact, even as I walked about a kilometre out into the further suburbs I kept pretty inconspicuous, the AI helpfully indicating the presence of hidden CCTV cameras and disabling them as I approached. Which was great, except that the increasingly degraded — and dubious — data from up ahead made me wonder whether there were any it might have missed. Which was... uncomfortable. Still, I thought, this was an opportunity that would not be repeated for months, I had a job to do, so — what the fuck — get on with it.
I began to wonder about this determination when I got to the villa in question, not having attracted any obvious attention but distinctly unhappy to find that the laser detector system along the top of the surrounding wall was still very much operational ... and all too visible in the high infra red. OK, so I had every aspect of the targets security systems etched into my memory, but this was — according to the mission profile — supposed to have developed an undetectable, if temporary, fault at exactly the time I arrived at the foot of the thing.
I thought about this for a microsecond or two, only too aware that I was extremely exposed to any casual passers by, decided to go for it anyway. Scaled the wall easily enough — 2.7 metres of stone, footholds and handholds pre-identified, no worries. Vaulted cleanly over the relevant beams — should have been a greater spread to them, really, except that presumably no-one expected an intruder to be able to see the bloody things — and landed with virtually no noise in a formal garden. OK, so things were not going entirely to plan, but it was a quick, clean entrance. I dusted myself down, quickly reviewed the next steps.
And all hell let lose.
.... There is more of this story ...