“Fill me in,” Colonel van Heusen said in his gravely commanding voice. “Where did he come from?” The large man looked at the pale patient in the blue gown on the other side of the one-way mirror.
“That’s the mystery, isn’t it?” Freedman said. “If we knew, this would all be so much easier.”
Van Heusen knew that “Freedman” wasn’t the spy’s real name. He also knew better than to ask. While the colonel was pressed perfectly in a uniform decorated with numerous ribbons, the CIA agent, if that’s what he really was, wore plain jeans, and a completely forgettable grey t-shirt. Where the colonel had broad shoulders and a stern, chiseled appearance, the spy was of average build and unremarkable face.
“Why is he so pale?” Colonel van Heusen asked.
“He’s an albino,” the spook answered. “Without the hair it’s harder to tell.”
“But albinism isn’t supposed to happen any more.”
Freedman nodded in response. The Treatment was supposed to make all common illnesses a thing of the past. With nanites, or atomic-sized machines, in everyone’s bloodstreams, and artificial intelligence chips in everybody’s head, people could live perfect, healthy lives forever.
The nanites could fix DNA, kill viruses, and even mend broken bones. There seemed no reason for a person to lack pigment in their skin. Why someone would allow themselves to look so different didn’t fit into the colonel’s rigid view on life.
The artificial intelligence chips, or AI’s, could provide endless entertainment and make the worst pit-hole of a dump look, feel, and even smell like a palace. The AI could stream videos, simulations, and games to entertain people endlessly. It amazed him that even with this incredible technology that people like him were still needed in the world.
“We think he still has the first generation Treatment,” Freedman said, referring to the original version of what everyone now had. That version was known to be a bit glitchy, but it didn’t quite explain the patient on the other side of the mirror.
“Why wasn’t he upgraded then?” van Heusen asked.
“Again, we don’t have an answer yet,” Freedman shrugged. “He’s been sedated with heavy tranquilizers since we captured him in Nairobi.”
“And you think it’s safe to question him?” the colonel raised an eyebrow.
“Probably not,” Freedman said casually. “But if we don’t take the risk, we won’t learn anything from him. We made it as safe as we could. This window is four inches thick. There is nothing in that room except the cot, the restraints, and filtered air.”
“Filtered air?” the colonel asked.
“We removed every nanite from the room, which should limit his abilities,” Freedman responded casually. “We think he uses free nanites in the air to accomplish the unnatural things he can do.” The colonel knew there were nanites everywhere, repairing busses, streets, electrical lines, and everything else on Earth. But people weren’t supposed to be able to interact directly with the nanites outside their bodies. In fact, people were only supposed to have partial control over the nanites in their own bodies.
After a pensive moment, Colonel van Heusen said, “Tell me about his nanite-abilities.” The word “abilities” tumbled awkwardly off his tongue.
“He has the ability to control other people’s thoughts, feelings, and bodies,” the spy said as calmly as if he were discussing the weather, which was almost always perfect now that the weather engines had stabilized the atmosphere.
“Have you seen him in action?”
“Not directly,” Freedman answered. “But, if you’ll allow me…”
The colonel received a data transfer request from “Anonymous A1Q.” Of course “Freedman” wouldn’t reveal his name when sending data, thought the life-long military man. In the military things were done differently. Everyone broadcast who they were and what their rank was with their artificial intelligence chips. That way everything was efficient and everyone was accountable.
Van Heusen accepted the data request, but had his AI test it rigorously for viruses. The last thing he needed was an intelligence leak to a spy.
All clear, his AI told him. It’s a virtual reality simulation.
Play it, the colonel ordered.
* * *
Van Heusen instantly appeared in the body of an armored man with an air gun loaded with tranquilizer darts. He looked around and saw five other men dressed in black, which would have made them all but invisible in the dark night. If not for the enhanced vision so common among elite armed forces, he might not have seen them at all.
He stood on a long outdoor walkway, with a metal wall with endless doors on one side and a railing overlooking a chasm extending over a hundred feet down on the other side. Van Heusen recognized this as one of the container districts. These run-down cities were constructed during the great floods. Large shipping containers were stacked dozens high, and side to side for miles in every direction. Each shipping container housed a family or sometimes two.
The display in the corner of his perception said “Nairobi, Kenya.” he had never been to this district before, but in his younger days he’d spent more time than he ever wanted to in ones just like it.
“Breach in three, two, one,” he heard someone say into his securely linked AI - or more accurately, the AI of the person who’s memory van Heusen was now occupying. The armored woman in front of him pressed a button and a blinding flash illuminated the doorway for an instant. A loud thud and clang accompanied the explosion. A second later, once his eyes adjusted, he could see that the door was gone and the woman in front of him had ducked into the shipping container home.
He felt himself gracefully step forward with expertise learned from years of rigorous training. The inside was just as rundown and dingy as any other container home he’d ever seen. He nearly ran into the soldier in front when the warrior turned quickly on her heels. Looking for a threat, he didn’t see the blow coming. His sister in arms struck him under the jaw with an uppercut. The blow knocked him back and to the side.
A second later, the elite fighter was back on his feet, but now he had a new directive. It wasn’t one he heard, but one he felt and knew to be true. The colonel could feel the need within the soldier to attack the other soldiers in black armor. He entered into an every man and woman for themselves brawl. The soldier that the colonel occupied was the last man standing.
Bruised and battered, he felt another urge. The fair-skinned man that van Heusen recognized as the man from the other side of the one-way mirror stood barefoot and clothed in loose-fitting beige canvas pants and shirt. Only now, ethereal wings that looked like blue flames spread wide from behind the bald man. The colonel led the man out from the container and escorted him along the outside walkway. He shielded the bald man as they jogged down a set of rickety stairs to another long walkway.
They’re watching us, the colonel heard the soldier think. We need to escape.
Go down this corridor another ten containers and then down another two flights of stairs, he heard his new master say into his brain. It wasn’t a typical communication that people used from AI to AI. Intention and purpose flooded their way through his consciousness. He felt a fervent need to protect this pale man.
Moments later they reached their destination, and a huge sense of relief flowed through his body. The unnamed man opened and walked through another container door. Van Heusen’s soldier turned and stood guard outside the door, preparing to throw down his life for his new friend. Or is he more than that? Yes. He’s family.
The sounds of a skirmish erupted from inside. Then something within van Heusen vanished. It felt like an inner light shattered into a billion empty shards. He turned and ran in into the shipping container, where he saw the pale man lying on the floor, a dart sticking out of his arm. Looking up, he saw more commandos in black. He raised his tranquilizer gun and fired at them.
I have to save him.
Thud, thud, thud. Several darts hit his armor. He continued firing at the warriors in black and they fired back. Thud. Thwack, Thud. darts bounced off his armor. Pinch. Owe! Thwack. The light around the edges of his eyes faded into a tunnel, then everything went black.
* * *
The simulation ended and Colonel van Heusan stood in the stale room, looking in on the pale man strapped to the bed. He felt an urge to rush in and help the unconscious man. But then he got ahold of himself, and realized with terror how dangerous this man truly was. While one side of him knew that saving the bald man wasn’t right, another part of him still felt the urge to throw down his life for the stranger.
“It’s a compelling feeling, isn’t it?” Freedman said.
“Terrifying.” There was no way they could let him return to the outside world. He was far too powerful to release. With that sort of influence over other people, even after he was tranquilized, was hard to conceive.
“That soldier is held down the hall because his every waking minute is still devoted to baldy over there. He rages against his restraints in effort to get to his One.”
“I understand now,” van Heusan said. “We have to study him and determine how he gains influence over people. From him, we can guarantee that nobody else ever gets abilities like his again.”
“And think what we could do if we could recreate this power for ourselves.”