Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cyberdrome Deleted Scenes, Part 6 of 7

Cyberdrome Deleted Scenes
Part #6 - Alek's original encounter with Stacy

Background

The middle scene in Chapter One of Cyberdrome involves Alek sitting in a coffee shop and having a brief encounter with a woman named Stacy, who was pretending to be a waitress to get close to Alek. The original version of this scene was quite long and involved Stacy playing a much more challenging roll.

Deleted Scene

When his vision cleared, Alek saw a blonde woman standing right in front of his table. Although she was beautiful, she looked like she tried to hide that fact by wearing the funky purple glasses and putting her hair up in a ponytail. Then he saw that she was wearing a metallic blue miniskirt and a thin, almost transparent tank top with nothing on underneath, and realized that she was hiding nothing.

"Can I help you?" he asked, somewhat befuddled.

"I'm sorry," she said, looking suddenly embarrassed. "It's just crowded in here and I thought maybe I could sit at your table, but I..." She started to turn away.

"No, don't go," he said, reaching out to her. She was wearing some sort of vanilla perfume and it seemed to overpower his senses. He stumbled for words, but couldn't get his mouth to say them. Instead, he pointed at the empty chair next to his table.

With a look of relief, she put her coffee cup on his table and quickly slid into the chair. "Thank you so much," she said, then leaned towards him and lowered her voice. "You can't imagine the number of creeps who have been hitting on me this morning."

He glanced briefly at her see-thru top and shook his head. "I can't imagine why," he said.

She smiled and reached out her hand. "I'm Stacy, by the way."

Her eyes were light green and they seemed to skip back and forth behind her glasses, almost as if she was having difficulty looking directly at him. "I'm Alek," he managed to say as he shook her hand.

"I know," she said with a nervous smile.

He was startled, but then guessed that she was probably just making nervous conversation. "What are you, a mind-reader?"

"Actually, I'm studying parapsychology, so you're close," she said, her eyes still bouncing strangely. "However, to be honest, the waitress told me your name."

He wasn't sure how to respond to that. He was not the kind of guy that beautiful women hit on--at least not in the last couple of years--so he didn't have any snappy comebacks. Hoping to fill up the awkward silence that was already several seconds too long, he concentrated on what she was studying. "Parapsychology, huh?" he managed to get out.

She seemed to relax. "Actually, I'm hoping to become a licensed clairvoyant when I graduate."

"A clairvoyant? You mean like those people who talk to the dead?"

"Those are mediums," she corrected him; "I am talking about palm reading, tarot cards--things like that."

"Do you actually believe in all that metaphysical stuff?" he asked without thinking, and then immediately regretted it.

"You were going to say, 'crap,' and I understand, since most people have that reaction. However, a lot of what it takes to be a clairvoyant is actually just being good at asking the right questions and reading people's facial movements and body language in response to those questions. Do you want me to show you?"

"I guess," he said, relieved that she didn't take offence to his stupid comment. "So, what do I have to do?"

"Nothing," she said as she pulled a small yellow box from her waistband and placed it on the table between them.

"Are you any good?" he asked.

"Well, like I said, I'm still a student, but I think I'm pretty good."

"No, I mean good at games," he said, glancing down at the yellow box.

"I don't play games," she said, looking confused.

Suddenly, it dawned on him what the box really was. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were blind."

"Don't apologize," she said. "I've been this way since birth." She managed a half-smile. "Like they say, you can't miss what you've never had."

"So, that's some sort of scanner," he said, wondering how else he could screw up the conversation. He looked down at the box. "Looks like a nice system. Is it Korean?"

She reached out and pulled the box closer to her side of the table. "I don't know," she said. "The salesman said it was state-of-the-art."

He glanced again at her clothing and realized that she probably had no idea how revealing her shirt was. Some lecherous hump at a clothing store had most likely told her it was the latest fashion, and she believed him.

"All right," she said with a quick smile. "Let's start the reading." She reached out with both hands and gently caressed the contours of his face. "Based on a combination of what my scanner sees and physical contact, I would say you are about thirty. The combination of your blue eyes and dark brown hair with a slight widow's peak tells me that your family originated in Northern Europe, but your somewhat wide nose and full lips tell me that you have some Northern African, or perhaps Middle Eastern blood."

"That's pretty good," he said. "I didn't realize that you could get color scans from that thing."

Without responding, she slid her hands down his neck to his shoulders, then down his arms to his forearms. Her hands were soft, and her gentle touch sent a shiver down his back. "Highly developed upper body," she said with a slight grin, "but no calluses. I would say you make a living using your brain, but work out to impress the girls."

He felt his face turning red and a part of him wanted to run away. "I do work out a lot," he said, "but not to impress anyone."

"Don't worry. I believe you," she said with a slight grin as she turned his left hand, palm-side up. She began sliding her fingertips gently back and forth over his palm. "I see that you had a serious relationship a while back. It was someone you almost married, perhaps." She pointed a part of his hand where a thin line that split off from one of the others. "It looks like you were the one who broke it off."

"Her name was Maya," he said without hesitation. "We dated back in college, but I haven't seen her in almost three years."

She tapped another part of his palm repeatedly. "Well, this is bad," she said. He looked to where she pointed. The thin line signifying Maya rejoined the main fold a short distance away. "It's bad news for me anyway. It looks like this Maya-person will be coming back into your life very soon, and I don't see her leaving."

She suddenly dropped his hand and looked down at his table. "So, is that octopus-thing on your table part of a game?"

His mind skipped a gear as he tried to adjust to the sudden change of topics. He looked at his hand again. Should he tell her that he had lost all contact with Maya, and that she was definitely not coming back into his life?

"Alek?"

"Sorry." He looked down at the small, robotic creature with multi-jointed legs attempting to drill its way into the white plastic surface of his table and wondered for a moment how she was able to see his creation. Could she be a fellow Plumber? Then he realized that he had simply forgotten to encrypt the visual telemetry. He was broadcasting the holographic image to anyone with a desire to eavesdrop. Stacy's little yellow box must have picked up the signal. "It's called a Cyberphage," he finally said. "It is modeled after a Bacteriophage virus, which some people call nature's first true nanobot."

"Why does it look like a mechanical octopus?" she asked. She was leaning so close to him that her vanilla perfume was almost too much. He wondered briefly if she was lacking a sense of smell as well.

"That's just how I chose to render it," he said, leaning back slightly to get a little more breathing room. "All modern programs have rendering parameters built into them, just in case someone wants to look at them in virtual space." He smiled. "I make all of my programs look like robots. I think it makes them more intimidating."

"If I remember my high school biology correctly, bacteriophages inject DNA into other cells. So, what does your program do?"

"Something similar," he replied. "I use it to transport potentially dangerous programs past system security. Right now, it's drilling through the main firewall of the World Data Bank."

She grabbed his arm, a look of shock on her beautiful face. "Oh my God, you're a hacker?"

Definitely not a fellow programmer, he realized. No one on the inside used the old "hacker" and "cracker" labels anymore. Now that computers had taken over writing all commercial software, having the skill to create programs from scratch was quickly becoming a lost art, even in the underground world he used to frequent.

"Actually, I'm a Plumber," he corrected her. "I get paid to locate and fix problems in big corporate databases--problems that the A.I. systems either can't fix or maybe even created."

"Plumber," she repeated. "Where does that term come from?"

"If you ever spent a hundred straight hours trying to debug a multi-terabyte database, you would see the analogy to being a Plumber trying to find a leaky pipe inside a mountain-sized hotel.

She looked back down at the table. "So what do you need that Cyber-thingy for?"

"Sometimes, the only way to find the problem is by going in from the outside."

A thin smile crossed her mouth. "You mean by breaking in."

"Right," he said, unable to cover his own smile. "My Cyberphage is one of several remote ways that I do that."

"Remote," she repeated, then cocked her head to one side. "You mean you don't go in yourself? I thought all you software jockeys-"

"No," he said with more force than he meant to. He searched for the right words. "I had an accident during neural interface a few years ago," he finally managed to get out. "Now I have these blackouts. Total loss of sensory input."

After a few moments of awkward silence, she patted him on the shoulder. "So, now they won't let you play with the cool toys, right?" When he nodded his head, she added, "Well, I've had to live with people underestimating what I can do, all of my life. It's their loss, right?"

He felt his shoulders relax. "You're probably right," he said.

She glanced back down at his table. "Hey, your program just disappeared. Did you just change the frequency?"

He looked at the table. A yellow message was flashing in the space above the Cyberphage. "Proximity Alert. Unidentified program in local memory."

"No. My wrist computer just began encrypting the transmission. It's telling me that something is wrong."

She picked up her yellow box from the table. "I'm sorry. Maybe it's my scanner. I dropped it on the sidewalk a couple of days ago. Maybe it's transmitting some sort of interference."

"I don't think that's the problem," he said as he quickly drew a series of command shapes on his watch's touch plate, requesting a local memory scan. The Cyberphage begin to spin in a circle. Half way around, the yellow-alert message turned red. He grabbed his backpack from the floor and pulled out a thin wire headset.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

He adjusted the headset's transducers to press on his temples. "I'm sorry, Stacy. I don't usually do this in public, but something is happening to my program. I need to jump inside to see what's going on."

She slid her hand under the table and grabbed his thigh. "What's the frequency? I want to watch."

He tried to concentrate on what he was doing, but her hand on his leg made that difficult. "Your display glasses won't work with this technology. It's neural-based."

"Wait a minute. I thought you just said that you don't interface any more."

"I don't," he replied as he entered coordinates on his wrist computer. "This is a level-2 neural override headset. It transmits audio and visual signals only."

"You mean like an old-fashioned virtual reality set?"

"Right," he said as he glanced at her. "It overrides my senses--it doesn't replace them. There's a big difference. Anyway, I still won't be able to see or hear you while I'm logged in, so please just wait here. This should only take a minute."

He griped the table with one hand, and with the other, pressed the headset's connect button...


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cyberdrome Deleted Scenes, Part 5 of 7

Cyberdrome Deleted Scenes
Part #5 - Maya returning to the real world 

Background

In the original version of Cyberdrome, following Maya's conversation with Dr. Grey on board the Snohomish, she returns to the real world. Below is how she did it.

Deleted Scene

Maya was tempted to run after him and demand to know what he was planning, but didn't. That would be ridiculous. Mathew was her boss and owed her no explanations. Whatever he was up to, at least it did not involve additional interfacing, and that should be all that mattered.

She stepped through the doorway, took a deep breath, and headed down the hall back towards the main elevator. As usual, within five minutes, she was lost. 

She passed a group of people in one hall and considered stopping to ask directions, but didn't. The Survey Vessel was filled with more than 500 people, but the fact that none of them were real made her feel alone most of the time. She wondered around on her own for a while and eventually found the elevators.

She felt light as her elevator shot straight down the glass tube, passing several open levels, then slowing to a stop in a circular room. As she stepped out of the tube, she faced six equally spaced doors along the outer wall. 

She passed through the first door she came to and entered a room with a raised circular platform in the middle and seven egg-shaped chambers embedded in recessed coves along the outer wall. Judging from the bio-displays above each chamber, the room was full. Apparently, a new shift was about to wake up, which meant that she had to search through all six interface rooms until she found an empty pod.

As she stood next to the chamber, she pulled the datapad out of her pocket and slid her index finger into the reader port. She felt a slight tingling sensation as the pad transferred the contents of its memory into her body. 

The idea was simple; electrical impulses from a data stream conducted through her body would be converted into sequenced DNA strands by the device, essentially storing digital data in a biological form. 

The rule was; what goes out with an Avatar must come in with it; a simple conservation of mass and energy. Since part of every researcher's job was to bring back data from the simulations, all online bodies, or Avatars, had one kidney replaced with a biochemical storage device. 

This was important because the bio-transmitters that moved people in and out of the simulations only worked with living material. When she woke up from the interface, the DNA patterns stored in her Avatar would be automatically converted back into readable data. In a system as complex as Cyberdrome, this method was simply the easiest way to get information in and out of the simulations.

When the upload was complete, she stored the pad away and typed her destination coordinates into the panel beside her chamber, then double-checked it to make sure she had it right. She didn't want to accidentally transfer to one of the other Survey Vessels, or even worse, wake up inside Earth-Zero, the home of nearly everyone else onboard the ship.

She had never been there, of course, but they said that Earth-Zero was a close copy of the real Earth, updated constantly with data from the real world. None of the crew of the Yakama, or the other researchers for that mater, realized the truth of their existence. They believed that they were humans like her, studying recreations of Earth. They had no idea that they were simulations themselves, designed to study other simulations.

Then she had a weird thought. What if she entered the wrong address and woke up in Earth-Zero, inside a copy of the real Cyberdrome facility. Would she know it wasn't real?

The thought sent a shiver up her spine, so she took a deep breath and pressed the "off" tab on her armband. The remnants of her outfit slide like liquid across her body and down both arms. Within seconds, her armbands had retrieved all of the nano-particles making up her clothing and she was left standing naked. 

She unsnapped the bands and slid them into charging sockets in the wall, then climbed into the oval-shaped interface chamber. As soon as she was lying comfortably on her back, the top half of the chamber quietly slid down its track, sealing her in total darkness. Seconds later, she was fast asleep.

###

Her eyesight was blurry when the pod opened again. The room was much brighter than before and a dark-skinned woman wearing a white uniform was looking down at her...

Cyberdrome Deleted Scenes, Part 4 of 7

Cyberdrome Deleted Scenes
Part #4 - Maya returning to the Snohomish 

Background

The first scene in Chapter One of Cyberdrome ends with Maya on her way back up to the Survey Vessel "Snohomish" after having a conversation with Dr. Mathew Grey on the Planet. Originally this was a lengthy chapter and followed Maya up to the Snohomish where her conversation with Dr. Grey took place in her office. To get the readers into the heart of the story more quickly, a great deal was cut from this chapter. Below is part of what was removed.

Deleted Scene

As the aircraft quickly gained altitude, leaving both the child and the planet behind, Maya leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, and whispered under her breath, “Neither are you, pal. Neither are you.” 

The Dragon continued to rise until they were several thousand meters in the air. Then it began moving forward as the thrust from the twin engines transferred from the lifting vents to the rear exhaust ports. Soon, they were screaming along towards the Yakama, floating high in the atmosphere several hundred kilometers to the South.

An hour later, she felt the Dragon's engines change pitch as they switched back into vertical lift. She looked up from her datapad to the forward window image and saw the S.V. Yakama floating motionless like a large balloon, a few hundred meters ahead. 

The Yakama, like all the other Survey Vessels, served as a base of operations for the study of Cyberdrome's planetary simulations. It was saucer-shaped and housed nearly five hundred scientist and crew. Its topside hangar held several dozen Dragons and twice as many Rovers, yet, despite all of this capacity, the designers had only included a single landing pad. 

They explained that it was because of the downward thrust of air along the outer rim of the saucer, caused by the ship's fusion-powered electromagnetic drive, that made it impossible to maneuver an aircraft anywhere near it. Landings and takeoffs were thus limited to the top center of the saucer. 

There were times when she missed putting on interface headgear and simply blinking into existence inside a simulation. That, however, was impossible inside Cyberdrome, where time itself was passing much faster than normal. She knew that she was partly responsible for making this radical form of fast-interface possible, so who was she to complain? 

A few minutes later, the pilot announced that the Yakima had cleared them for landing. Maya felt the ship lunge forward as the Dragon headed for the pad. They climbed high over the saucer and then descend vertically to the landing pad.

They touched down rather softly, considering the combined weight of the Rover and Dragon. Rosa must be flying, she thought with a grin. That girl had finesse. As soon as the Dragon touched the surface, Maya felt the floor tilt backwards as the lower fuselage dropped down. The Rover's driver quickly powered up the motors of the four independent wheels and backed out of the aircraft. As soon as they were clear, he turned and drove into one of the two nearby hangars.

They parked in one of the open slots along the outer wall. Maya heard the hiss of air as a docking ring attached itself to the side door. She and the others then stepped through the door and into the busy Mission Preparation Room. 

Dozens of people were crisscrossing the room, carrying duffle bags and containers of various sizes. The synchronized bustle reminded her of a swarm of ants collecting food. Some of the people were loading equipment, while others, like her, were trying to unload theirs.

She grabbed her bag and plunged into the throng, somehow reaching one of the unloading stations without colliding with anyone. After dropping off her stuff and signing out, she headed for the exit.

The hallway was pleasantly quiet and devoid of people. As Maya headed in the direction of the elevators, she felt a strange tingling sensation all over her body. She looked at her arm and saw a series of holes beginning to appear on her sleeve. She looked down and realized that her entire uniform was dissolving off her body.

For one panicked second she thought she'd been exposed to some sort of acid, but then sheepishly realized that her Omnisuit was merely running low on power. Like many of the high-tech items developed in Cyberdrome, Omnisuits were far too expensive to produce commercially in the real world; therefore, no one outside the company even knew the technology existed. They also used a lot of power, and had to be recharged every 24 hours or so. She pressed the backup power tab on her armband, which restored her clothing, and headed back down the hall.

After a minute, she realized that she was going in the wrong direction and cursed to herself for getting lost again. Even though the inside of the Yakama was almost an exact copy of the Nevada-based Cyberdrome Research Facility she had been working in for the past six months, it never ceased to confuse her. A few turns later, she found the correct hallway and headed towards her office.

Ten minutes later, Maya sat alone at her desk. With her Omnisuit fully recharged, she was now able to change it into something more suitable for a meeting with her boss. What is he doing in here?

"Maya?"

She glanced up and saw her boss standing in her office doorway. "Come in, Dr. Grey," she said. "What's up? I thought you were on the Snohomish this week...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Cyberdrome Deleted Scenes, Part 3 of 7

Cyberdrome Deleted Scenes
Part #3 - Final Prologue from 2006

Background

Since the previous two Prologues made many test readers think that the story was about fighting the plague in Utah (which it isn't), I decided to write a new version. I had an idea that Alek suffered from seizures caused by a previous deep-interface accident, and decided to make that my new Prologue. In the final version of Cyberdrome, published in 2008, I decided to give up on Prologues altogether and just jump right into the action of the story. If you have already read the book, I hope you will agree with my decision. Here now is my final attempt at a Prologue for Cyberdrome.

Deleted Prologue

"Is this where I belong?" Alek Grey asked the empty room as he stared at the white padded walls surrounding him. The sleeves of the matching white straightjacket hung carelessly down to his sides.

"You tell me," the psychiatrist's disembodied voice said. Her tone was at once soft and caring, like his mother's, yet dispassionate and professional, much like his father's. "You have felt a sense of displacement ever since the accident."

"Do you do that on purpose?" he asked, now lying on his back on a leather sofa inside an archetypical psychiatrist's office. "I mean, the whole mother/father, good cop/bad cop role-playing game. Do they teach you that in shrink school, or is that something you thought up yourself?"

"You tell me," she said from behind the oak desk. He was facing the white featureless ceiling of the office but he knew where she was sitting. It was where she always sat; behind the big desk, behind the wall she put up every session so that she didn't have to feel his pain. So that she didn't have to deal with what he was going thought.

"What do you mean?" he asked. He knew what she meant, of course, but he liked playing the game as much as she did.

"I mean simply that this is your dream; you define what is real and what is not real."

That threw him. "Dream? You're telling me that this is all just an effing dream?"

"You have difficulty swearing, don't you? Even in dreams." she asked, changing the subject as she always did. Asking questions when she should be answering them. 

"You're effing right I do," she said, looking around the room. "This place could be monitored. I could-" He froze when he saw the small static cloud sitting quietly on another leather sofa on the other side of the room. "What the eff is that thing doing here?"

"As I said, this is your dream. You tell me."

"Oh, I get it," he said when he realized that he was looking at a mirrored wall. The couch on the other side of the room was his couch. "Oh, I get it perfectly well. That is me, right? The cloud is me."

"Is it?"

"Of course," he said. "Isn't it obvious? I was locked in a neural interface for umpteen hours, no sensory contact, no brain activity whatsoever, and so I invented that thing to keep me company. I invented that cloud to keep me sane." He looked at the thing sitting on the couch. His nemesis, his ally. "Isn't that what you want me to say? If I admit to that, if I admit that it is all in my head, you will let me go? You will let me out of this prison?"

"What makes you think you are in prison, Alek?" she asked in her best impression of his mother's voice. 

"Because I can't get out," he screamed, suddenly angry. "No matter how hard I try." He took a deep breath and lowered his voice. "It follows me everywhere. Every time I close my eyes, it is there, waiting for me like a faithful dog, or a hungry wolf."

"Which is it?" she asked, knowing full well what his answer would be. "Faithful dog or hungry wolf?"

"Both," he said for the umpteenth time.

"You have said that it helps you." 

"Of course it helps me," he said, already tired of the repetition. "I've told you so many times."

"Tell me just once more."

Alek threw up his hands. "Didn't you tell me this was a dream?" he asked.

There was a slight but perceptible pause before she answered. This was something knew he realized; something she was unprepared for. "Yes, Alek. I did say that."

"Which means that I can end it, right?"

Another pause, this once longer and more obvious. "You are a lucid dreamer, Alek, which means that you have some degree of control of your dreams. It is possible-"

"Then shut up," he yelled, and the dream ended. 

###

Alek opened his eyes, but the latent image of the psychiatrist's virtual office continued to display across his field of vision. He blinked three times quickly, switching his contact lens displays back to transparent mode. 

He took a drink from his somewhat diluted triple-shot iced mocha, and wiped a bead of sweat off his forehead. Another seizure, he thought to himself. Third one this month. The automated psychiatrist program and was supposed to help him work though the episodes, but from what he remembered of them, they weren't working.

He glanced around the interior of the "All Day" coffee shop and breathed a sigh of relief that no one seemed to be looking at him strangely. The coffee shop had become one of his favorite early morning hangouts since moving to Washington, DC from Seattle the previous year. The iced mochas were always perfect, that is, with extra chocolate, and Cheryl, the server, always saved the back corner table for him. He would hate to have to give it up because his seizures were scaring people away.

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