Issue #49 – George

This entry is part 1 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 3

George was confined to the kitchen with Kareem standing mental guard, monitoring his thoughts for subterfuge while they moved to the upstairs commons to hash out who would travel to Baltimore in hopes of getting some concrete answers and who would guard the home front in case this was a ploy to get them out of the house.

In the end, Juniper and Ian remained behind, having enough power between them to defend the house or mount a rescue mission depending on how things shook out.

Laurel stayed behind too, but passed out pinhole cameras for everyone leaving to wear on their costume and a spare com to give to George. She would be monitoring them from the workshop with Tink’s help. No one had even considered that Tink would ask to go until she started to protest, only to be silenced by a look from the resident genius.

The other protest had come from Melissa, who had instantly volunteered to stay back, only for Alexis to point out that if they needed a healer to come to their rescue, that healer would be more help in the field. To everyone’s surprise, Melissa agreed without any further resistance.

And so, the ‘away’ team, as Warrick insisted on calling them, left with George in Cyn’s Humvee, following his directions to a private airstrip somewhere outside of Warrenton, Virginia and boarded an ultra modern VTOL jet.

The flight to Maryland took the short end of a half hour and ended on the rooftop helipad of Quintillion’s HQ. George did all the flying himself and no one was there to meet them on landing. “Welcome to my little side project.” He said proudly as he opened the doors of the plane and let down the boarding stairs.

“I get it. All that stuff you know about us? You found it out from all that data Quintillion keeps on everyone.” Facsimile was first out, stretching her wings in the sun and daring any available snipers to make themselves known. None did. She made a stunned noise. “Oh my god, crazy conspiracy theorists are right!”

George tried to wave Darkness out, but she indicated that he should go next. He took the opportunity to shake his head at Facsimile. “They rarely know the whole story. Unless you opt into the Quintessence system, no user’s data is stored on the Quintillion servers for more than forty-eight hours as per the Data Rights Act.”

He looked a bit guilty as he then added, “As a search engine, however, we have an extensive catalog of essentially every non-secure web site or service that has existed since Quintillion first came online.”

“So?” Hope asked, “That’s existed for years.”

There wasn’t any protest from George, who led the way toward the roof access, leaning on his cane. “True, but there’s never been anything like Insight before.” Anticipating their question, he answered it before a word was spoken, “Insight is the descendant of an artificial intelligence created for the government in the 40’s called Hindsight.

“Hindsight was designed to gather masses of information on an event; a riot, a shooting, even foreign elections; and step back through the timeline of events, action by action to determine the factors that led to them. Given enough information, it could guess at the identities of instigators as well as social, political and other factors.”

A scan of his iris and palm opened the door onto a short, concrete stairwell that looked out of place inside the very modern skyscraper. With some difficulty with his cane, George led the way down two floors. The effort of doing so made him cut his story off for the duration.

He was faced with another biometric scanner, this one backed by a card reader at the bottom of the second flight. Instead of swiping the card, he inserted it into the center and turned it.

There was a pop sound and from behind, the bare floor beneath the stairs seemed to float backward into the wall on whisper bearings, revealing a set of steel stairs that swung downward on silent servos into a new hallway below.

George offered only an apologetic smile at Darkness’s reaction to this bit of legerdemain. Understandably, none of the Descendants was in an overly generous mood when it came to tricks and sudden movements. But that suited him just fine; he didn’t want them to lose that edge.; it was a necessary survival trait for people like them as far as he was concerned.

This time, he didn’t wait for her direction to go down the steps.

Tau Corridor was spotless as usual. The researchers were rewarded for the kind of fastidiousness that ensured no need for a janitorial staff in this area of the building. There was also no ornamentation; the lighting was provided by low key LED rails lining the ceiling and the floor was the same kind of white-gray mottle found in any school of hospital. None of that distracted from the fact that every door leading off it was a heavy security door.

Ephemeral was the last off the folding stair. The moment he stepped off, it folded back into the ceiling. He glanced back at it and folded his hands in front of himself as if escape routes sealed themselves behind him every day.

“You were saying, Mr. Chea?” He asked politely, “About Hindsight? I suppose that you’ve found a way to allow it to predict future events as well?”

“Not exactly.” George headed up the corridor toward the observation room. “Insight still works in the same way Hindsight does: you give it an event and then step it backward to its impetus. The difference is that Insight works with future events as input.”

“Wait.” Facsimile said on everyone’s behalf. “How the hell…”

“His dreams.” Laurel supplied over the comm. “He told us that he sees versions of the future in his dreams. But we studied Hindsight in Intelligent Computing back in college. It needed a massive amount of data from the event it was analyzing. Even with lucid dreaming, a single eyewitness account won’t cut it.”

“You are, of course, correct.” George submitted to a third biometric scan at the door. “And that’s where Insight differs from Hindsight.”

The door swung open to reveal the currently unoccupied observation room. The main console was active with the holographic display already navigated to the files he’d asked the research team to compile for this meeting.

All of the Descendants present, plus Laurel and Tink saw it. Alloy gave voice to the most disturbing revelation of the room.

“Guys?” His voice echoed slightly in his helmet. “Are you seeing three workstations too?”

“Three of them, one of him.” Facsimile agreed, fixing George with a glare.

“You have a staff helping you.” Darkness observed flatly.

“Of course.” George said carefully. “I’m trained in business; not sleep science or computer programming, or any of the other fields necessary to upgrade the Hindsight AI, create a dream recording system, and integrate the two. Rest assured, every precaution has been taken to make certain that none of the staff will divulge your secrets.”

There was something about how he said ‘will’ that put them off their step. He took the spare moment to straighten himself up and move into the seat at the main console. His old bones creaked with relief at being off his feet.

Darkness’s voice came out stony and cold, like the bottom of a cliff after a fall. “How many people know?”

“Believe me: if I could have managed any of this without them, they wouldn’t be involved. And in my defense, we came first. There were no Descendants when I brought them together. The secrecy was to avoid Heisenberg issues. You came after. Something I didn’t expect… but something I had hoped for.”

“How. Many?”

“Wait.” Laurel said, her excitement evident in her voice. “Did you just say you had a functional dream recording system? As in more than just still image captures? I haven’t heard anything about the technology advancing that far.”

George’s face became completely serious for the first time. “And for good reason. Under my direction, Quintillion brought every possible patent and locked every other company out of the business.”

“We’ve got something a little more dire going on right now.” Darkness pointed out.

“Not really.” Came the reply. “Look, let’s be honest, our identities aren’t the best kept secrets in the world. Can you imagine how many people at the ROCIC know? And let’s not forget that Tome itself knows who we are.”

“That doesn’t mean we want to add to that number.” argued Darkness.

“Except you aren’t adding any, as we knew your secret identities before you created them.” George interrupted.

“Is anyone else more than a little creeped out by the whole precog thing?” Facsimile asked.

“No, it’s got my eyes crossed a little bit.” Alloy wished that he could rub his temples through his helmet.

Turning back to the console, George opened one of the files and paused it immediately “Sorry to say, but I’m going to have to provide you at least one more instance of that kind of ‘creep’.” He turned and gave Darkness a meaningful look. “For example, what would have happened if I hadn’t placed that faithful call.”

He didn’t give her a chance to protest, starting the video replay as soon as he finished talking.

The holographic screen showed a first person view of someone looking briefly around a crowded city street. It could have been any large city from the look of it, and as their view swept up and down the street, myriad brief flashes appeared over various signs and other objects.

George paused the playback. “What you’re seeing here is the completed file produced by Insight once it’s done four passes of tagging, researching, and extrapolating the visual data from one of my dreams. Every flash you see is an object that Insight flagged and tagged with information.”

Flicking a finger in the air, he selected a movie poster down the street. An information box opened with an enhanced image of the poster and below that, a report on the information on it circa the date the image was captured: January 2074. At the time, the movie was in pre-production without even a release date.

The poster was dismissed as easily as it was called up and the scene resumed. The view went down to a palmtop computer strapped to the wrist of whoever’s viewpoint the recording was being made from. First, they checked the date and time: October 5, 2075. And then they checked a news site.

‘Chimera Corps Crisis Continues’ read the headline on the homepage. In a slightly smaller font, the secondary headline proclaimed ‘Twenty-four slain in super soldier takeover of Langley’. Again, the footage was paused as the entire text flashed.

“Who are the Chimera Corps?” Facsimile wondered aloud. “I think we’d remember that kind of terrible wordplay.”

“Alliteration is terrible, but it’s not wordplay.” Hope said.

“It’s a kind of wordplay.” Facsimile defended.

“Focus, please.” Ephemeral interrupted. Hope and Facsimile glared at him for butting in, but they didn’t pursue the argument because they knew he was right. Taken aback by the fact that either of those two had listened to him, he cleared his throat nervously. “Please explain, Mr. Chea.”

“I already see.” Darkness said, her voice far away. She pointed to the flash-highlighted text. “’Led by former PTAA Enforcer, Marcus Dumoulin.”

“”Who’s that?” Tink asked using Laurel’s com.

“War-torn.” Darkness’s voice was still not at her normal level. “One of the Redeemers.”

“Except in this future he goes by Adjudicator.” George selected the name and brought up a two paned window, one tinted red, one blue. “I looked him up later in the dream. By Fall of ’75 in that timeline, he isn’t just incredibly durable. According to news sources, he has white wings, accelerated healing, the power to manipulate both cold and metal.”

The mood in the room shifted abruptly.

Darkness’s throat tightened at the revelation. “Oh god…They got the bio-mapping working. Not just Zero and Alloy; the wings and regeneration came from one of the students at the Institute right now.”

“Now you begin to see.” George said. “This is only one of a dozen dreams we’ve connected to this timeline and Insight stepped back those to link the Chimera Corps to the Academy and a number of questionable shipments going into and out of it.

“I only intended to stop the formation of the Chimera Corps. To do that, I tipped off an ideal whistle-blower; a young woman, new to the Academy, not likely to be ensconced in the place’s dirty business. Ideally, a psionic… excuse me, descendant who wouldn’t appreciate what was being done to people like her.”

This time, he locked eyes with Alexis. “But in doing so, I set in motion something much bigger. You, Miss Keyes set that in motion: something revolutionary.” The old man paused for breath. “From the day I made that call, all the dreams I had changed. Not just a small bit; the world’s entire fate changed overnight.”

“Okay, hold on.” Facsimile said. “This whole thing; the future sight, us being saved from stasis and becoming heroes because of some guy we’ve never even heard of… it’s too heavy. And that’s saying something given the crap we put up with all the time.”

“I agree, this is very difficult to take.” Kareem said, “But he is telling the truth. However, what I’d like to know is how often Mr. Chea has interfered in our lives. I would hate to think that his hand has been guiding us the entire time; it brings all of our free will into question.”

At the console, George shook his head. “You don’t have to worry; I’ve only done some… corrective maintenance, when things hit a rough spot and the possibility of you all disbanding reared itself.” Again, he made eye contact with Darkness and this time, he noticed that her gaze wasn’t quite as furious. “For example, the Ladies of Armageddon tickets that served the dual purpose of saving lives at Capashen Arena and proving to you the need for people like yourselves.”

“Wait. What about selling me that flower?” Alloy’s eyes narrowed with concern behind the eye slits in his visor.

George spread his fingers in a kind of alternative shrug. “Well…”

He was interrupted by an alarm that started elsewhere in the building and was echoed a fraction of a second later on the screen.

“They’re here.” He said grimly and brought up a building and alarm schematic.

“Who’s here?” Hope asked.

“I believe you already know them.” George called up the cameras from the roof. They showed a light military landing craft settling onto the roof. Before it even landed, a side door opened and a female figure; all white with clawed hands and a thick tail leapt out.

“Oh goddamn.” Facsimile’s voice was a growl. “Shine. If she’s here, her cut-rate band of baddies is here too.”

“He knew they would be coming.” Ephemeral observed without taking his eyes off the screen. The landing craft had set down and Legion of One, casually twirling his collapsible baton in one hand stepped out. Behind him came a man in an all white bodysuit with a long, black coat with a white lining, and another who made no attempt at a costume with his head uncovered and a tactical harness.

“The guy dressed like a fed is the robot… cyborg guy from when they led me to that Tome hideout.” said Facsimile seconds before Ephemeral’s words sank in. “Wait. What?”

George called continued to watch the monitor, refusing to acknowledge the accusatory looks directed at him. “They’re here for Insight.” He explains calmly. “And if they get it, within two years, the boy in white there will be able to use it at ranges greater than even the most powerful telepath. And with that would come almost unlimited influence over corporate heads, world leaders… I can’t let that happen.”

“It would appear that we’re being used.” Ephemeral said with less severity than Darkness at least would have liked. “He wished to tell us all this, but it was only tangential to his true purpose.”

“I would have tried to put a more positive spin in it, but he’s right.” George said. “Are you simply going to allow them to find and take Insight?”

“Of course not.” Darkness’s hands were balled up into fists. She trusted Ephemeral’s ability to read people and by extension, accepted that George had the greater good in mind, but that did nothing to mitigate her growing frustration with his cryptic answers and obfuscation. “But when we’re done, you’re telling us everything.”

“Can’t do that, Miss.” He replied instantly. “Heisenberg and all. Telling you would make the information worthless anyway.”

She fixed him with a glare, then to the others said, “Let’s go.”

“Wait.” George said as the started to move. “I need someone here. To destroy Insight if they somehow figure out that the reception area behind that keypad upstairs is a dummy and makes it here.”

“I’ll stay.” Alloy raised his hand. He had questions for the precognitive mogul involving lilacs and alternate futures.

Series NavigationIssue #50 – Operation: All In >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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