- Issue #73 – Give Thanks
- Issue #74 – Bit Part Bad Guys
- Issue #75 – Kaiju for Christmas
- Issue #76 – Silicon Soul, Adamantine Will
- Issue #77 – Date Night
- Issue #78 – Delved Too Deep (Une Mascarade Brisée Part 1)
- Issue #79 – Tome of Secrets (Une Mascarade Brisée Part 2)
- Descendants Special #7 – The Curtain Rises
- Issue #80 – Bitter Work
- Issue #81 – Kin, Speed and Ducks
- Issue #82 – What To Do With Your Downtime
- Issue #83 – Avalon Rises
- Issue #84 – Darkness Falling
- Descendants Annual #7 – First Frost
Issue #76 – Silicon Soul, Adamantine Will
The complex internal mechanism of the outer door of Lab 2700 made several chunk sounds as four inch diameter steel bolts were disengaged from the door frame, followed by a series of beeps as security protocols went green.
Shortly, it slowly swung open on whisper bearings to reveal Her Honor, Sarah Raymond, mayor of New York City and one of her bodyguards. Rosy cheeked from the city’s cold December, the mayor’s bearing and expression were anything but rosy. They never were, especially not when she was dealing with people she considered beneath her. For the record, she was yet to meet someone who didn’t fit that description.
Least of all, the tall, ash blonde assistant to Robin Atan who answered the door. Mayor Raymond didn’t know if she’d seen the woman before or not and blamed herself less than she normally did for it. The other woman, aside from being more than a head taller than the mayor, was wholly unremarkable: gangly, plain and with a face that wasn’t so much sprayed with freckles as deluged by them.
The mayor herself did everything in her power to stand out. At the first sign of gray hair, she’d died her hair white and grew it out as long as possible, and her suit, like her entire wardrobe as more expensive than most of her staff’s yearly salaries and in shocking colors—in this case, electric blue.
“Mayor Raymond.” said the nameless assistant. Her even, unconcerned tone of voice set the mayor’s teeth on edge—in her mind no one should be neutral toward her. “To what do we owe your presence?”
“Two days before the rollout of my greatest legacy and you have to ask that?” she snarled. “I’m here to make sure there aren’t any foul-ups.” Mayor Raymond bulled her way past the other woman, only to find that another security door on the other end of the small atrium, this one made of some kind of composite material.
When the obstacle failed to disintegrate at her glare, Mayor Raymond scowled and pointed at it without so much as making eye contact with the assistant. “Open it. Seventeen million dollars of city money means I should own this place.”
The assistant could have rattled off the facts about how the city’s contract was only about twenty percent of Lab 2700’s annual revenue, or how the city’s money wasn’t the property of the mayor, but she was quickly coming to understand that it was fruitless. Instead, she stood aside and motioned for the bodyguard to come in so she could close the outer door.
Once the bolts were in place and security system rearmed, she went to open the inner door.
Lab 2700 constituted the entire basement level of its building and was sectioned off into miniature labs with partitions. The inner door opened up two stories above the ground floor with stairs leading down to the large main lab area where Dr. Robin Atan’s current projects were developed.
The doctor was sitting at a holographic console, fingers sliding across the interface as she assembled and disassembled the mage of what looked like a dog sized mechanical spider. Parts of the same were strewn across a light table behind her.
“That doesn’t look like my robo-cop to me.” Mayor Raymond snapped, storming down the stairs.
Dr. Atan stood up from the console and calmly turned to face the oncoming tsunami that was the so-called Wicked Witch of the Bronx. “That’s because it isn’t, You Honor. M7-Adamantine has been out of the construction phase for months. I’ve moved on to other projects.” She gestured to the spider-bot on the holographic display. “For example, this is the Caballero: an autonomous sentinel commissioned by a ranch in Mexico. A small group of these can continually monitor the herd, send alerts about sick or injured animals, track strays, and, if need be, repel predators.”
“What do I care about what goes on in Mexico?” Mayor Raymond snapped.
“If you enjoy steak dinners, it is of some importance considering they’ll be the second largest supplier of beef to the US in a few years.” Dr. Atan’s voice betrayed no hint of sarcasm or scorn, just clear, formally stated facts in a mild Russian accent that Her Honor didn’t think fit her more Arabic features.
“Adamantine.” Mayor Raymond spoke loudly and slowly as if to a child or an elderly relative. “What about my robot officer?”
Unaffected by the implied insult, Dr. Atan merely took a moment to adjust the collar of her lab coat. “I can assure you that M7-Adamantine is progressing nicely.”
That was all Mayor Raymond needed to hear to set her off. “’Progressing?! Do you have any idea what day it is today? I did not throw seventeen million dollars at you for ‘progressing’. I want the best damn champion of law and order any city’s ever seen, the kind of thing that makes people wonder why we have those pathetic bush league prelates around when we have the likes of it and Infinity. It has to be finished by yesterday.”
Reaching into a pocket of her coat, Dr. Atan produced a palmtop, which she used to take remote control of the holographic display. With a handful of commands, the image was replaced with scrolling lines of code superimposed over a diagram of the human brain, parts of which lit up in red depending on what line of code was in focus.
“You Honor, M7-Adamantine’s proprietary logic processor is a learning, adaptive machine. Every moment of observation, every scrap of information, and every person encountered adds to a pool of data that increases the unit’s overall efficacy. At the moment, Adamantine is physically the best beat officer your force can field. Within a year or two, she will be one of the best all-around police officers the NYPD has ever seen.”
“She.” Mayor Raymond said, incredulous.
Dr. Atan raised an eyebrow. “You’ve seen the design specs. In fact, it was by request of your office that I redesigned her to be female—something about your studies saying that the public would be less put off by a ‘girl robot’?” Without actually making the motion, the head of Lab 2700 managed to put air quotes around the last two words.”
Mayor Raymond rolled her eyes. “No matter what it’s shaped like, it’s still a robot.”
“I assure you that it does matter.” said Dr. Atan. “You forget just how sophisticated M7-Adamantine is and how she learns. In observation mode, it is better that she not be identified as a machine—it contaminates the data she gathers on human behavior.”
“Are you telling me that this damn thing has a secret identity?” Mayor Raymond squeezed her eyes closed. “I want to replace prelates, not make new and better ones.”
Dr. Atan remained unmoved. “Observation mode is not a secret identity– it’s a research tool and a learning aide. Allowing Adamantine to observe undetected and gain but sociological understanding and empathy for the people around her will make her more just than if she simply enforcer the law blindly or failed to act when faced with a situation outside of her parameters.”
“I don’t recall asking for any of that.”
“You commissioned the best police officer money could build. When it comes to law enforcement, ‘best’ has several parameters—all of which Adamantine will meet.”
The conversation was rapidly slipping out of the mayor’s control and so was her robot. “Fine. Whatever. Let’s see it then.”
Dr. Atan nodded, but not at Mayor Raymond. “Molly, if you will.”
“Of course, Dr. Atan.” The nameless assistant (who was, just possibly, ‘Molly’) sidled past the mayor’s bodyguard from the spot she’d been standing silently the whole time and positioned herself in the middle of the room. Once in place, she held her arms out to the side and her skin fell off.
At least that’s what it looked like at first. The woman’s skin seemed to unravel like a cheap Christmas sweater, revealing matte composite structures underneath. The ‘skin’ filaments were drawn into concealed reservoirs hidden between muscles of carbon fiber and anchored to bones of some odd, golden metal.
The ‘assistant’s’ clothes obscured most of her body, but her exposed arms looked like a normal human’s had been flensed and then all the muscles and tendons beneath replaced by artifice and hung on the dull gold bone. Holographic camouflage over the eyes flickered off to reveal segmented sensor arrays and her ashen hair lost all of its color, becoming completely white.
“Christ.” Mayor Raymond took a step back, hissing the word as she watched the transformation. She’d seen the robot’s schematics and in various states of construction, but none of that he prepared her to watch another human being essentially transforming into a machine. “That had better never happen in public. People panic at seeing sausage being made; they’d riot if they saw that.”
“They’re not intended to see that.” pointed out Dr. Atan. “If people knew what Adamantine’s observation mode looked like, it would contaminate her data collection.”
Mayor Raymond couldn’t take her eyes off the robot. Those weird segmented ‘eyes’ watched her intently and she could just sense intelligence there. “Right. That’s the part we should be worried about.” She shook her head and made an effort to turn back toward Dr. Atan. “Whatever. Is it ready?”
“We can ask her directly.” said Dr. Atan, never losing her professional demeanor. “Adamantine, are you prepared to carry out your assignment.”
The robot nodded, and when it spoke, there wasn’t any sign of digitization of buzzing—she sounded like any other twenty-to-thirty-something from Brooklyn would; exactly as she had when the mayor thought she was just a random assistant.
“I’m know what you expect from me, Mayor Raymond, and you don’t have to worry about any PR disasters from me. Just stand back and let me do my job. Unless there’s something unexpected in the works, everything ought to go off without a hitch.”
“It’s all about the Van der Waals force.” Tink said. She and Warrick were standing at a railing at Rockefeller Center, watching the skaters on the rink below with a carton of lo mein between them. Absently, she fished around in the noodles with her chopsticks until she found a shrimp and ate it. “The same effect that standing field generators manipulate is what Dr. Kaufman’s work is suggesting will be able to selectively screen out any kind of radiation.”
Warrick leaned on the railing, mulling over the idea. “I saw that show too, but don’t SFG’s take a ton of power? It’s kind of a waste to have a radiation shield if you need another power plant to run the shield.”
“It would be pretty useless for that.” she admitted, “But think of other kinds of radiation. You could project a screen over a beach to block out only the harmful UV radiation. Or completely take a site off the grid by blocking communication on all levels. Tuneable radiation shielding would be our generation’s nanotech or ceramics catalyzing formula.”
Helping himself to a long trail of noodles, Warrick tilted his head. “So… like the waveform modulator from Imago? The Godbox?”
Tink ducked her head. “Actually, exactly like that. Once you can program a field to block radiation, deflecting it, then bending it wouldn’t be far behind. And since t’s manipulating the Van der Waals force, it could do all the same hardlight tricks.”
A derisive snort escaped Warrick. “Can you send a link to your prof’s paper on that? There’s this jackass on the Paradise System message boards that says the Godbox is what makes the series ‘fantasy’ instead of sci-fi.”
Tink rolled her eyes and grinned at him. “Gladly.” A small smirk crossed her lips. “Ever wish you could tell people like that just how close to ‘fantasy’ we really are?”
“Used to… not so much anymore.” Warrick shrugged. “Between the Yellow World ‘let’s rip reality apart into crazy’ rocks, the mind controlling elf guy in LA, and—ya know—the actual, factual demons, I figure anyone I tell would be too busy looking for a change of shorts to be impressed.”
“That’s true.” Tink laughed lightly. “Speaking of which, did you end up watching Live Metal‘s Christmas special?”
“Oh yeah. Too bad Rex is going to be in the shop for at least a month, but I’m glad they subbed it out for Drillmole. It would have been creepy seeing Rex on there so soon after it almost ate Jun.”
Tink nodded her agreement. “Speaking of, I need to thank her for—” She was cut off by a ringtone coming from Warrick’s palmtop; one they both recognized as being from the secure line that had once resided in Freeland House, but now came from LSI’s headquarters.
“Call from Mayfield?” Warrick wondered aloud, pulling out the device to answer. “I’m here. What’s going on.”
Laurel’s voice answered on the other end of the line. “It’s not an emergency, thank goodness.” There was a playfulness in her tone. “But you do have a call I think you might want to take.”
“I’ve got a… from who?”
There was a barely contained chortle and then, “I’ll patch him through. Line is secure.”
Warrick looked up to find Tink giving him a questioning look and could only meet her confusion with his own. ‘I have no idea’, he started to mouth before the third party came on the line.
“Hey kid, hope I’m not interrupting Christmas break.”
The young hero almost choked. “’Coat? I mean, sir? I… you wanted to talk to me?” Tink’s eyebrows shot up at Warrick’s mention of his mentor’s name.
“Not just talk.” the Whitecoat said, careful not to say codenames even over the secure line. “Call it an unofficial mission.”
“A-a mission?” Warrick stammered. He tried to get a hold of himself, he really did. After all, he’d worked with the Whitecoat before and earned the man’s respect. Clearing his throat, he tried again. “A mission? What kind… and why does it have to be unofficial?”
The Whitecoat let out a sardonic laugh. “You familiar with politics up here? The Witched Witch?”
Of course Warrick knew about Sarah Raymond, New York’s notorious mayor, who was good at city management, but better at cronyism and being a control freak. More important in context, however, was her famed disdain for ‘independent’ prelates.
“Yeah, I’ve heard of her. What’s she doing?”
“No one’s sure. She’s unveiling some sort of robotic super-cop in a couple of days and there’s some rumbling that she’ll revoke Mayor Fincham’s executive order for the police to give us leeway and not come after us for vigilantism—maybe in an ‘unofficial’ manner.”
Warrick frowned. “There’s dozens of prelates in New York. Why me?” He gave Tink an uncertain look that just served to make her more confused.
Whitecoat chuckled again. “Well one: it’s a robot. Likely made of metal. In case the new flying monkey gets violent… well you do the math. For another thing, thanks in part of Her Honor, none of us hold a PR candle to Infinity. Barn Owl in particular said it might be good to have some star power. If our super-powered meter-maid attacks us, it’d look pretty bad if she went after a public darling.”
“Oh.” Warrick said. He couldn’t help but feel a little crestfallen at the pragmatism involved in Whitecoat choosing him.
“And,” Whitecoat continued, having missed Warrick’s reply. “I know we can count on you not to screw us. Mayfield or not, you’re still a hometown guy—We can trust you.”
“You… trust me?” Warrick and Tink’s eyes met and both of them grinned.
“I’m pretty sure we’ve been other this. You made good.” on Whitecoat’s end of the line, someone spoke to him from across the room, their words lost to Warrick’s ears. “Coming! Er… sorry. I’ve got to go. What do you say? Think you can make it up here to New York by the fourth?”
Warrick looked around. He was already going to be in the city until the end of winter break. “Um… yeah, I think so, ‘Coat.” He flashed Tink a smile. “Mind if I bring some help along?”
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