Virtual Reality - Chapter 5Apr 16, 2005 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line Chapter 5 of my novella...
Please read the Prelude before you read this!
The normal bustle that characterised the great mansion in Southampton these days covered over an enormous number of events from the inhabitant's and workers therein. Right now was no exception.
Kershaw had finally slipped up too far. In a seemingly innocent discussion, he had let it slip that he recognised someone's emotions before they had told him about it. And, as everyone knew, as he had made quite certain that they would know for some years now, that was not how Brad Kershaw was. His deception had worked perfectly until now, but the pressure on him was just too great now to hold in.
Hansen had Kershaw brought to his office. No one else was there in the somewhat sparse surroundings where the secret service boss did his most elusive dealings. Kershaw knew exactly what was coming, and, even though he had been prepared for it and trained for it, wasn't quite sure how he would react, or what he would say.
"So, Mr. Kershaw, what exactly are you?"
It would have seemed a very strange question under normal circumstances. But these weren't normal circumstances, in any way.
"And this briefcase... I don't suppose you'd care to open it for me, would you? I mean, it would be better than us having to open it with plastic explosives."
Kershaw let out a deep breath that he seemed to have been holding in for decades. "Look, I'll tell you everything. Just give me a minute." He struggled to find the words for a moment, then made up his mind and continued. "I'm a secret service man too... only for my own country."
Hansen nodded. He had suspected it for some time now, and both men knew that the situation was too far gone to lie about it now.
"My father was also a secret service man, only he was so good at it that only three people in the world ever knew about it, and they where his immediate superiors. He was the fourth highest ranking agent in the Australian military intelligence squad. Like yours, it wasn't strictly speaking a government agency, as most of its operations where not known to anyone in the government. When I was only fourteen, I swore the official secrets act of my country, and at eighteen became a fully commissioned agent. Since then, I've specialized in psychology, and worked, seemingly, as almost a government outcast. Whenever I express myself publicly, it is against the governments policies and actions. My personality was carefully modelled too, making me seem like someone more interested in machines than humans, and completely unable to understand other people."
Hansen took careful notice of everything said. Although, of course, everything was being taped and could be played back at his leisure, he couldn't afford to waste any time.
"The things you can notice when nobody knows you're capable of seeing them! I hope I don't seem like I'm boasting, but I believe I'm the most successful agent in all history, although of course that's because of my 'personality', which wasn't exactly my idea. Still, it's fooled everyone so far, even Alan, and he's my best friend. However, once you realized that something was up, I have no choice but to tell you everything. I still want to be on the team though", he added, looking Hansen directly in the eye, "this makes no difference."
'No, it doesn't really make any difference at all', thought Hansen, 'except that I might have to kill you'.
"No, it's fine as long as you open this briefcase and leave it in my custody until the project is finished", he said breezily, with not even a hint of what had just gone through his mind. But both men fully realized the implications of the discovery.
Kershaw carefully put his thumb in the right position for it to be read both chemically and electronically by the equipment built into the side of the briefcase. This equipment was only about the size of a normal credit card, and it really was a marvel of technology. Then he rolled all of the counters to the right position, which when they where all set read "DOPPLE12abxz".
'Ingenious', thought Hansen, and thinking also that it would be a shame if he had to kill this man.
Inside the case was nothing more than a small black book. Hansen leafed through the contents briefly, raising his eyebrows at a couple of things, and then placing it on the desk in front of him.
"Now the secret compartment", said Hansen.
"The what?", asked Kershaw in what appeared to be a mixture of genuine confusion and innocence.
"Come on, every spy has a secret compartment in his briefcase!", laughed Hansen in mock confidentiality.
"Yeah, right". Brad laughed too, but his eyes were dark, not smiling. He pushed an almost invisibly small lever in the top left corner of the case, and a small panel slid back smoothly, revealing a standard revolver, and a high- pressure tranquillizer darts gun.
Hansen picked up both guns in turn, pointing them quizzically at Kershaw, making him flinch in apprehension. Hansen toyed briefly with the idea of disposing of the Australian now, but resisted the idea.
He looked squarely at Kershaw. "And the other one."
"The other what?", queried Kershaw, feigning ignorance although he knew precisely what Hansen meant.
"The other secret compartment, of course", explained Hansen patiently, almost benevolently.
Reluctantly, Kershaw activated another nearly invisible lever, this time situated near the bottom right of the briefcase, and a panel at the top slid away. The compartment revealed contained a microcassette recorder, various types of poison and acids, and a set of false fingerprints that fitted over the tip of the index finger, and another set which where designed to fit over the thumb.
"Interesting, very interesting", said Hansen thoughtfully.
Kershaw looked away despondently.
"So what were you, a sort of dopplegnger?", asked Canning. Browning said nothing; he was still in too much of a state of shock.
"Well, I suppose so... a sort of double of myself. Only, an exact opposite physically, and an exact reverse of myself in every other way."
He looked at Canning with a detached interest. He was thinking how fortunate he was that Hansen hadn't realised there was a third secret compartment....
"Well", said Hansen to Canning, "have you had any more ideas yet? We're running out of time."
"I've had a few thoughts about it. I think we may be approaching the problem from the wrong angle - sort of like trying to climb up a sheer rock face with your bear hands, when there's a path there all the time but you don't see it. But I'll have to think about it a bit more."
"Don't think about it too long. Like I said, time is running out - fast."
"Have you decided yet?", asked Foster. He was getting very jumpy these days. They had only about 34 hours left. And that was being quite optimistic.
"Give me more time to think about it. I've nearly reached a decision, but I can't rush such an important decision. I mean, I know I've had time, but, well... Just give me a little more time."
"We haven't got time!", he shouted at the Russian physicist in frustration, but it was no good. He would have to wait until Kalashni decided.
Or get blown up first.
Fitzgerald was throwing an absolute tantrum in her office, Webber soothing her as best he could.
"Dillon? How the hell did he get into office?!", screeched Fitzgerald, still in an uncontrollable rage. Dillon was one of her worst enemies, made all the worse because he had friends and influence beyond her means of controlling.
"I think you might find the answer here, Mel", responded Webber, handing her a photocopy of something.
She stared at it angrily for a few moments, then set it down. It did nothing to improve her mood.
"You see, Mel, Mendleson and MINE got there first. I tried to change the Tunisian's minds, of course, but we haven't got that kind of power. I mean, look at that deal, worth over 500 million to Tunisia over three years! And Mendleson could muster more, um, persuasion if he wanted to. We can't possibly match that, and our Tunisian friends know it."
"So, Andrew, what became of your promise of 'leave it to me'?" Fitzgerald turned on him, her eyes sharp and cold, although not hostile, and he flinched despite himself.
"Well, I hadn't thought of MINE having a hand in it when I said that. This new development makes things difficult, well almost impossible really. MINE have too many connections for us to disrupt their schemes, and we certainly can't take on the entire nation of Tunisia by ourselves."
"Do we have to take them on by ourselves, Andrew? Can't we call in some of our 'special' favours?"
"Not in this. Not yet, anyway. I mean, why would MINE be interested in our actions? We're not big enough to make any waves that would affect them, surely?"
"Not yet. But we will be, if this deal goes through. Maybe Mendleson knows that, he's certainly cunning enough. He thinks ahead, maybe he wants to obliterate us before we do get big enough to hurt him."
"Whatever, I think we need to see this deal through, it's too important not to."
"Well, ok if you really think so. I'll contact some of our 'special' friends, and see what we can come up with, Mel. But maybe we could do something if we went to Tunisia in person."
"Hmm. We could certainly try. Soon."
"I will accept no arguments on this matter! Are you trying to undermine my command position? Insubordination is a very serious offence, General Antreb!"
Donaldson had taken a very big risk, he knew it, but he could see no other course of action presenting itself as a viable alternative. He had ordered the complete re- fitting of all of Libya's military equipment, in stages. He knew that now, even if he were found out, realistically whoever was in control of the army afterwards would have to at least wait until one stage was complete before the invasion began. 'I've bought you some time, Mike', he thought, 'now just do the blasted job and my death won't be futile.'
Antreb, Kuldashi and a number of other Generals were acting covertly, or some even openly, suspicious. Donaldson's time in Libya was almost up.
"But Commander", said Antreb, controlling his anger at this imposter, but who couldn't yet be proved as such, "surely most of the equipment we have is in perfect order? Some of it is even new, how can we need to check it?" What he wanted to do was scream, "You traitor, you will hang for this, a firing squad's far too good for you, and I shall personally make sure that your death is as painful as possible!" But he still controlled himself, although he didn't attempt to disguise his suspicion.
"No buts. My decision is final."
And Antreb knew that he'd lost this round. 'But the match will be mine, and you will regret that you ever set foot in this country", he thought vindictively, looking at Donaldson.
"Quick, come here Dave!", shouted Browning across the control room.
Dave Marshall came running, as did Kershaw, and Foster, who happened to be in the room as well. Browning was staring at the screen which showed what the Libyan was seeing. At first, none of the others could see what he was looking at.
"What's up?", asked Marshall, puzzled.
"Look up there. In the top right hand corner of the screen."
They looked, and could finally see what he meant. In the corner, almost imperceptible if you hadn't already seen it or had it pointed out to you, was a tiny black dot.
Foster frowned. "Could it just be the screen itself, rather than the actual output?"
Browning shook his head. "Impossible", he said, "I've already checked it. That's exactly what the Libyan is seeing."
Marshall shuddered. This was potentially disastrous, it could endanger the whole mission. "Has he noticed it yet?", he asked, jerking his head towards the Libyan Commander-in-Chief.
"Not yet. But it's only a matter of time."
"Maybe we can get a character to suggest he sees the doctor, innocently of course. Just say he's not looking himself today or something. After all, anyone in such a precarious is likely to be at least a bit paranoid about their health." It was Kershaw, who now could flaunt his knowledge of psychology with absolute impunity. Browning gave him a sidelong look, but said nothing. It was Marshall who spoke.
"Well, I suppose we'll have to in the end. I'll try to fix it first, before he notices. The trouble is, this morning our AVO who was to play the part of the doctor if required became seriously ill. We have a double for each and every character, of course, but the stand-by for our doctor is also ill, and there might well be no time now to train someone else. Someone is in fact training now, but AVO's don't just happen overnight. It's quite possibly the most demanding job in the world."
"Well, let's get to work on the system quickly! We've got no time to waste talking about it!", said Kershaw, and promptly started examining the equipment without waiting for anyone else to comment.
Steve Foster was immediately suspicious of the Australian computer experts sudden rush of enthusiasm, but could find no fault in either the words or the logic behind them, so he let it pass. Browning and Marshall didn't waste any time in getting to work either.
"Do you think the fault's in the hardware or the software?"
"I don't know, we'll have to check everything. Check the hardware first. Let's hope it is the hardware, if it's the programming we may never find it in amongst the thousands of lines of code controlling the visual inputs."
Meanwhile, Canning had finally decided he was definitely right. He put his theory to Hansen.
"I think we've been going about this the wrong way, Mike. I've been constantly trying to think of an outside influence to affect his thinking. What I think we need to do is to think of an inside influence."
"Hmm... I think you may be onto something there. I wish you'd thought of it earlier, though. Our guy in Libya says he can't keep up the pretence for more than a couple more days now. If they find him out before we have the solution, and the C-in-C ready to ship back to Libya, then we're sunk. You realise that, if this theory is right, then you'll have to begin the whole thinking process again."
"Well, I just need to find something to get him thinking. Now, just what does drive the military mind?"
Mikhail Kalashni had decided. What good could it possibly do to hold back his country's secret? When he compared it to the good that could be accomplished if he helped these people to convince Libya not to attack Tunisia, nothing at all.
And when he thought about the evil he could bring about by continuing to hold the vital information back, it strengthened his decision. There could be no doubt about it now. It was the right thing to do in this time, this place, this situation.
He rushed off to tell Foster.
Foster had been called in to look at the reactor. One of the women who had been keeping an eye on it at that time had called him up on his ultra-tight band radio, which was absolutely impossible to pick up unless you knew the frequency to within 20 Hertz. He studied the displays critically.
"Well, this is it folks. If we don't get that blasted Russian to tell us within the next ten minutes, we'll have to evacuate the building. In fact, we'll have to evacuate the whole county, if possible."
The pressure gauge had been fluctuating between fifteen and forty percent of critical for two days now, but it was presently at only six and a half percent from the top of the gauge. And it was still rising steadily, although too slowly to see without the aid of extremely sensitive equipment.
It was at this point that Kalashni sauntered into the room. "Well, I've finally decided to agree. I'm ready to tell you, whenever you're ready."
"About bloody time!", exploded Foster, grabbing the physicist by his collar and dragging him next to the reactor. "We have got exactly", (he looked at his watch), "fifty minutes to install whatever it is you're talking about."
"But... but it normally takes eight hours!"
"Well", said Foster grimly, "we'll break the record then. But I'll be damned if everything goes up in smoke now, and especially this reactor. Get moving!"
Marshall, Kershaw and Browning where working furiously. They had already checked all of the hardware they could think of three times, and were now poring though the hundreds of thousands of lines of code, trying to find out where the bug was. Each was sitting at a different computer terminal, going through the code at various speeds.
"He's spotted it!", came a cry from someone at the control terminal in the middle of the room. A great moan came up from nearly everyone. That meant that, for the moment, they had only one option left. Get him to go to the doctor. It was a credit to the professionalism of everyone that no-one succumbed to panic.
"Are you OK? You don't look well, you know. Maybe you should see the doctor, you know", said one of the AVO's in a concerned voice. The Libyan agreed, somewhat puzzled. As he walked up the corridors to see the doctor, the newly trained (although not sufficiently trained) AVO rushed into the seat and put on his headphones.
Everyone held their breath. No-one knew if they could pull it off, and the AVO was as nervous as anything. In fact, the whole room seemed apprehensive, as if it could sense the apprehension of the people within it. No-one knew if the new AVO was up to the job. But it was now or never.
"It's nothing to worry about too much, sir, since we've spotted the problem straight away. I recommend that we perform a small operation on your eye, it shouldn't take more than half an hour."
"But it came on so suddenly... And yet I could swear that, in the back of my mind, it had been there for days and I just hadn't noticed it before... It was only when General Kuldashi expressed some concern, and asked me if I was seeing OK, that I noticed. How could I get a disease that's only just been discovered? I want a full investigation! Have everyone lower than a Captain searched thoroughly, and kill anyone found to have any strange substances on them that may have been the cause of this!"
"Sir, with all due respect, isn't that a little drastic?"
"Why, do you want to volunteer for experimental surgery without anaesthetic?"
"Um, OK sir, I see your point. I still recommend that you undergo corrective surgery now. Sir."
"I'm not questioning your professional judgement, I was just making sure you don't get ideas about trying to change my mind. I am not a person who likes having his mind changed. Do you understand?"
At this last statement, Canning could not help himself from smiling, even though everyone in the room was on a knife-edge. The AVO who was playing the doctor had sweat running from his forehead as if he was just a pump trying to shed itself of as much moisture as possible. Mike Hansen was trying to retain his composure, but it was a tough job, even for someone with his training and experience. Everyone else was openly nervous.
The AVO, whose name was Colin Anderton, struggled to force the words out. He knew that just one mistake could signal disaster for everyone. The pressure of knowing this was, in itself, nearly enough to make him stumbled over every single word. Although the role and each word of each AVO was absolutely crucial, this was the single biggest moment in the program so far.
"Yes, sir. Of course. OK, could you fit it into your busy schedule to have this operation in, say, fifteen minutes?"
"No, I'll have the operation now."
This was quite unexpected. Colin gulped, and it looked as if he was going to swallow his Adam's apple, tongue and everything, it was such a violent convulsion which swept his body involuntarily. Part of the motion conveyed itself onto the screen and into the mind of the Libyan commander before anyone could stop it. The Libyan looked puzzled, then concerned.
"Are you OK, boy? Are you sure you're fit enough to carry out my operation? You know, you really seem like you need to see a doctor!" The Commander evidently thought that he'd just made a startlingly good joke, and Anderton picked up on it.
"Ha ha, very droll sir. No-one told me you where a world class comedian as well as the world's best military leader!"
"That's what I like to see in my inferiors! Bum licking at its best! Keep it up and you may be drafted into the elite medical corps! So, are you ready or not? I think I'll only have a local anaesthetic, if it's all the same to you."
Anderton panicked. "Um, no! I mean, sir, that I'm afraid that you'll need to have a general anaesthetic, because, um, because if we only give you a local then, um, I won't be able to concentrate enough. Because, er, your body will still be moving, if only imperceptibly to the human eye. And you see, sir, this operation requires such delicacy of movement that, well, do you see sir?"
Anderton didn't look like he was going to last much longer. They needed to get the operation started very soon, or the C-in-C would be far too suspicious for anything to work.
"Well, I'm not sure that you're in a state to do this operation then! Look at the way you're shaking, man! Get a grip on yourself!"
Hansen slid quietly over to Colin, and whispered something softly into his ear.
"I'm sorry, sir. It's just... well, I'm not used to talking with such important personages as yourself. When I get a scalpel in my hand, though, they're the safest hands in the universe, I assure you."
The Libyan didn't seem altogether convinced, but appeared to be relatively satisfied with the explanation, enough so to allow the operation to go ahead, anyway.
The operation itself was quite easy. They just put the Libyan under for a while (in reality, not just the virtual reality that he was living), and then worked blisteringly fast to mend the code. Kershaw had managed to find the offending code, though no-one knew how he managed to notice it. In just one line, there was a "," instead of a "\". They still had to work hard at it though, because that code also affected many other lines of code throughout the program, which also had to be amended.
Colin Anderton spent most of the twenty-two minutes of the 'operation' drinking water, as he had lost so much body fluid through perspiration.
The operation had been successful. Everyone was relieved, but no-one relaxed even slightly. There was still much to do.
"So, any more bright ideas?", enquired Hansen of Canning. His agent in Libya had informed him that the E.T.I.D. (Estimated Time of Infiltration Discovery) was now down to thirty-six hours. If ever he needed a bright idea, it was now.
"Well, yes, actually. I've been trying to work out exactly what makes the military mind tick. And I was reminded of a film I saw once. It was a comedy, but on of the basic ideas was that some military leaders feel it's a waste to have nuclear weapons at their disposal, and not to use them. So they did use them, while they where safely tucked away. Now, I thought that the same principle might be used in real life; get the Libyan thinking that certain of the generals in the West were so determined to actually use their weapons that they would go beyond bureaucratic procedure to do it."
"You know, that might work. Yes, that might just work! Now, if we use, say, General Carson of the American army as an example... Not only has he got a bit of a reputation for, as you say, going beyond bureaucratic procedure slightly, but also he hates Libya, and doesn't even attempt to disguise the fact. In fact, when he was interviewed on American television some time ago, he talked about the Libyan Commander-in-Chief with open disdain and contempt! You know, a certain Greek word springs to mind now!"
"What's that?", asked Canning, although he'd already guessed what it was.
They had planned it all down to the last detail. It had taken just over an hour, but it had been time well spent. And they were convinced that it would work. Hansen and Canning where just about to leave Hansen's office, and stride jubilantly into the control room, when they heard Foster's voice on Hansen's radio.
"Hi, Mike. Steve here. Do you want the good news or the bad news?"
'This sounds like trouble', thought Hansen. "I'll take the good news first, I think."
"Well, about an hour ago, I was pretty sure we'd have to call the whole thing off, evacuate everywhere for approximately twenty miles all around, and probably die of radiation poisoning."
"Oh, great. That is good news. I'm so glad you told me. If that's the good news, then I don't think I want to hear the other."
"No, wait! I haven't finished yet. The good news is, that was what I thought, but now we don't. Mikhail finally decided to give his secrets to us, and he and yours truly have set the new world record for installing it, twenty-seven minutes instead of eight hours. I hope it will be duly noted."
"Well done! Although in future, I would appreciate you keeping me informed of our imminent destruction. So, how bad is the bad news then?"
"Very bad, I'm afraid. You'd better come to the control room, although what you can do is beyond my powers of comprehension. One of the AVO's has broken down."
"But I thought that the doctor had been played out of the scene?"
"Oh, he has. But it's not him. Name of Peter Harvey, who plays Colonel Omh l, a close confidant of the C- in-C's."
"What about the stand-by?"
"We couldn't get him in place quick enough. We've had to use the simulated death. It looks really effective actually. But now we've killed off the character, we've got to have an inquest, and that sort of thing. I'm sorry, Mike, but there was nothing else we could do." Foster sounded like he was talking about a character in a play who had just died, or someone leaving a series who wanted to be played out by getting sucked out into deep space or something. But the difference was, of course, that in this case, someone really believed that a person had died.
"So why couldn't you have made out that he was just sick?"
"Because of the real-time video digitising. You see, Harvey didn't just break down. He's died. The stress was too much for him."
Foster let this sink in before he continued. "The stress is getting to everyone. Big time. If we don't have this thing sown up before another twenty-four hours is up, I think we may well have more casualties on our hands, if not more deaths. Over. And out."
"What do you mean, have the doctor implicate him? Are you mad? Haven't we got enough to deal with already?" Hansen could not believe his ears. Canning wanted the doctor, who had to be used now again after this turn of events, to put himself under even more strain by implicating the Commander-in-Chief, accusing him, no less, or murdering the Colonel!
"Well, we haven't much time. Mike, as you know. And this may well be our last chance to get him."
"OK. I'll trust you now. But no. You can't play the part of the leader of the inquest. To be an AVO needs training, and we simply haven't got time to train you. And that's final."
"But...", began Canning in despair. He had to be "there", with the Commander, to action his plan. Hansen knew nothing of this plan, and almost seemed resigned to defeat.
No other AVO's had been trained for the parts required by the event of the inquest, either. It hadn't been foreseen by anyone. Hansen was beginning to feel a little guilty about this, as he felt that maybe he should have foreseen every possibility, and prepared for it. That was his job, after all. Or, more likely, his ex-job. His superiors, the ones that actually funded all of the organisation's activities, did not accept any excuses for failure.
The AVO's for the parts on the inquest stood, ready to take their seats as soon as they were needed. Canning started to edge, unnoticed by everyone, towards the chairs where the present AVO's where still working. Unnoticed by almost everyone, that is, as Kershaw saw him out of the corner of his eye. He also started to edge across, to go just in front of Hansen and Foster. No-one noticed his movements; they were too absorbed in the goings on in 'Libya'.
When the change over of the AVO's took place, several things happened at once; Canning shoved in front of the AVO intended to be the leader of the inquest, and Hansen and Foster saw what he was trying to do, and tried to stop him. Kershaw, who had guessed what was going to happen, tried to block both of them, and nearly succeeded from his position, which he had carefully moved to. He managed to stop Hansen, but Foster, although slowed down a bit, went on and seemed to have Canning covered. Browning, although not fully understanding what was going on, trusted Canning's instincts, and still trusted those of his friend Brad as well, despite his revelations about himself, and slide- tackled Foster. Canning reached the seat he was aiming for and put on the headphones. The other AVO's had been far too focused on their own tasks to worry about what was happening around them, and so just sat down and put their own headphones on. All bar the one Canning had replaced, that is. But now the inquest had begun; it was too late to change people over now.
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