Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cyberdrome Deleted Scenes, Part 1 of 7

Cyberdrome Deleted Scenes
Part #1 - Original Prologue from 2004

Background

This is my original Prologue for the Cyberdrome Novel, and it was titled "Dead City" for reasons you will soon discover. The scene was fully illustrated by David because we were hoping to make a digitally-illustrated ebook.

Deleted Prologue

Acid rain fell from a starless night sky, pooling in shallow ditches and covering the barren asphalt streets. It melted the plastic signs that once welcomed visitors to city center, and turned long-abandoned plastic-skinned commuter-cars into forgotten skeletons. It also dissolved the outer casing of the city's underground wiring, shorting out all electrical systems, and leaving the city in total darkness. 

The man-made rain was the Government's latest attempt to stop the spread of a man-made plague; a bio-engineered version of the influenza-A virus. With surface proteins changing spontaneously every 42 hours, the human immune system was unable to build antibodies fast enough to resist the virus. Infection and mortality rates were essentially 100%, which meant that everyone exposed to the virus became infected, and everyone infected, died within a few days. 

What made this plague even more deadly was that the virus was carried by a growing colony of nanotech-engineered robotic bugs. One-half the size of a flea's head, these nanobugs were originally designed to spread antibodies and serum throughout the human population as a defense against bio-terrorism. Now they carried the virus cells inside their machine stomachs, protecting and nurturing them until their release inside a human host. In addition, since the nanobugs could travel across land and water, and were small enough to be carried by the wind for short distances, they could spread the virus more efficiently than other, more natural methods.

Since every attempt to kill the virus during the past year had failed, the current strategy was to destroy or cripple the machines that spread it. The acid rain was actually a chemical solvent, specifically formulated to dissolve the monolayer film surrounding the metallic atoms that made up the body of the nanotech bugs. Without the plastic layers to separate them, the individual atoms of the machines would fuse together and become inoperable, thus ending the spread of the plague. At least, that was the plan. 

To the onboard intelligence routines of the Telebot Series R-1, this plan was a total failure. Since being parachuted in to the quarantined section of Northern Utah by the news media the previous day, the human-sized robot had already surveyed half of what was now called the "Dead City," and found no sign of weakness in the metallic bugs. High-resolution scanners showed that the nanobugs had, in fact, adapted to the acid rain. 

Analysis of the scans showed that the nanobugs had recoded their regeneration routines so that the bodies of their offspring would include an additional outer layer of fused metal, protecting them from the solvent. Like all life forms on Earth, the nanobugs had evolved into something stronger, something better. Unlike their biological cousins, this species-wide evolutionary adaptation had occurred in less than 24 hours. 

Following the road map stored inside its digital brain, the Telebot continued its search pattern by turning a corner and heading down the center of the next street. A full three years old now, the Telebot went online just months before the emergence of true artificial machine intelligence in 2026. While all of the other Telebots in the R-series were now a collection of spare parts in some storage bin, Channel 9 had purchased the R-1 for this singular purpose. It was a one-way mission, but the Telebot was not smart enough to object. 

The data and imagery it was collecting were being broadcast live around the world, against government orders, thanks in part to a hijacked Canadian Holo-TV satellite. To the humans around the world watching the images being transmitted by its holographic camera, the dark, empty streets might look like something out of a science fiction movie, the Telebot concluded. It might look like the end of the world. 

Sensors detected movement in the distance and the Telebot focused its camera on the location. Something faintly human-sized stood in the middle of the street, but the rain and the darkness made it difficult to see. A subset of the image display then zoomed in on the object and changed green as infrared spectrum filters kicked in. 

The Telebot passed the image through its pattern recognition software. The creature was human-shaped, but just barely, and its body temperature was ten degrees lower than expected. Perhaps it was human, the software concluded, but wearing some sort of bulky covering. Logically, nothing human could still be alive after a full year of exposure to the plague, but there it was. 

The creature lunged sideways and disappeared from the camera's field of view. The Telebot switched its camera back to the visible spectrum and returned to normal magnification. In the distance, the creature was running directly towards the Telebot, splashing through the water-filled street. 

The rapid approach of the creature suggested a greater than 50% chance of aggressive behavior, and triggered the Telebot's self-preservation routines. It began a slow retreat, moving backwards up the street; its speed cut in half by the degradation of its own systems by the chemical solvent in the rain. Navigational sensors quickly scanned the street behind it, trying to find a place to hide, but could find no solution. The creature was just too fast. 

Turning its sensors back towards the creature, the Telebot's camera caught a large misshapen hand reaching out for the lens. Then suddenly, the image froze, and a message appeared at the bottom of the broadcast display. "Transmission from Telebot Series R-1 terminated at source. End of live broadcast."

###

Alek Grey opened his eyes, but the latent image of the strangely deformed hand continued to reach out for him. He blinked three times quickly, switching his contact displays back to transparent mode. He glanced around the coffee shop, and realized that no one else looked bothered at all. Was he the only one who had tuned in to the broadcast? Was he the only one worried about the plague?

He took a drink from his triple-shot iced mocha, and glanced out of the window to his right. Sunrise was still two hours away, but a holographic version of it shown brightly over a stand of swamp oak trees on the other side of the parking lot. The simulation was so accurate; it even fooled his contacts, which darkened automatically to protect his eyes.

He turned away from the window and surveyed the interior of the "All Day" coffee shop; one of his favorite early-morning hangouts since moving to the Washington, DC area the previous year. The mochas were always perfect, that is, with extra chocolate, and Cheryl, the waitress, always saved the back corner table for him. 

The projection TV up near the ceiling in the far corner of the room was showing maps of the quarantined section of Utah...