We’ve been watching a few of the new season’s US tv shows here at Casa Spinneyhead, specifically Chuck and Reaper. I’m two episodes into The Bionic Woman as well, not far enough to get a good impression yet.
Chuck and Reaper are similar in several details- the hero is a dropout with a slacker best friend working in a big box retailer with no real future until something extraordinary- the Devil or the CIA- comes along to shake their lives up. They’re both entertaining diversions if not groundbreaking television.
All of which is to say that The Chip, whatever I end up calling it, is similar to these series in some respects. It falls somewhere between the light touch of Chuck and the darker spy tales of Spooks. The premise may feel a little like Chuck, but it’s the latest iteration of an idea I’ve been working on for a few years. The exact nature of what’s in Jack’s head, and how it got there, will be revealed if I write more.
“Jack, where are you?”
“I…… Don’t know.”
Jack studied the street from his pavement table. A shopping street, though not a major one. As well as the cafe he was patronising he could see bars, restaurants and art shops. A nice neighbourhood, even if he didn’t recognise it. He fought down the panic, but still felt the chill crawl down from his stomach and drag his balls up into his body.
“Ted. I haven’t a clue where I am. I don’t recognise the street. I’m having a….. latte, I think, at a pavement cafe.”
“How did you get there?”
“That’s rhetorical, right? You can’t tap into me and tell me can you?”
“You’re on low power and advanced tracking is off. All I can tell you is you’re out of range.”
“Great. So should I do cheesy sci-fi cliché fifty four and stumble up to the most attractive local demanding she tell me where I am, what year it is and who’s Prime Minister.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Okay. I have a solution. Is bluetooth on on your phone?”
“I don’t know.”
“When I hang up turn it on and wait for a message.”
Jack laid the phone on the table, glancing at it occasionally, waiting for something to happen. In the mean time he opened his wallet and checked its contents. Shrapnel, notes, receipts, cards. And a railway ticket. Jack thought he knew where he was now.
The phone’s message tone went off. Jack cut off Dixie before the Duke boys broke in with a “Yeehaa!” and read the text.
‘Run the attachment.’ it said, ‘You may lose a little time.’ it added in warning. That didn’t make much sense. Jack pressed the button.
* * * * *
She snapped into focus in front of Jack, where there had been nothing before he had pressed the button. Short black hair, square face, small nose and brown eyes Big brown eyes that were studying him, looking for clues to his state.
“Uhhh.” he looked around. Other things had moved, there was a group two tables over that hadn’t been there before. The three women looked at Jack and his new companion, concern and possibly amusement on their faces. “Yeah. I think so.”
“You weren’t moving. We thought you were having a petit mal or something.” She nodded to the three women.
“No. No. I just…… space out sometimes.” It was the best he could think of. He pointed at a big black Mercedes across the road. “How long’s that car been there.” Some part of his brain, he could guess which, was spinning together connections, forming a pattern he couldn’t yet discern. It had happened a few times in the weeks since the operation. Sooner or later it might make sense. Sooner if he teased at it.
The woman was confused. She glanced at the Mercedes, thought about it. “A couple of minutes. You’re waiting for him? He went in the restaurant.”
“No. I don’t think I’m waiting for him.” On cue a big black BMW SUV came along the opposite side of the road. It pulled across and stopped with a screech directly across from the Mercedes. Three men got out, leaving the driver waiting with the engine running. “I think I’m waiting for them.” The phone rang, Jack snapped it up and answered it. “Ted I’m in Manchester. I’m sure you know where by now. I think there’s about to be a red on red situation.” He lowered the phone, missing Ted’s reply, and said to the woman, “I don’t even know what a red on red situation is.”
Jack stood slowly. The woman was trying to work out her escape route from this madman. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“Okay Susanne. Tell your friends to get up and walk away really quickly. Those guys had guns and I think they mean to use them.” Jack raised the phone to his ear again, “Sorry, I missed all of that.”
“How do you know about red on red?” Ted had been cut off in mid info dump and tossed back to the start of his reply.
“How do you? And what is it?”
“Criminal on criminal violence. It would have been black on black, but y’know.”
“There are some things you need to tell me when I get back.” The SUV driver rolled down his window and looked around. The mirrored shades didn’t give much away, but he didn’t seem bothered by anything he saw. “Right now I’ve a problem to solve.” Jack didn’t turn the phone off, but dropped it into his shirt pocket. “Susanne. Your friends.”
But Jack was already off, strolling toward the BMW. The driver didn’t pay him much attention. Anyone leaving the cafe would have to walk past the car on the way, so Jack was able to get within arm’s length to make his move. His flat hand jabbed out, catching the driver just below the ear. The driver’s head slumped forward. Jack opened the door and checked for a pulse. “Did you just kill him?” a voice squeaked behind him.
“No, he’s fine. Susanne, your friends.”
“Are probably calling the Police.”
Jack reached inside the driver’s jacket and pulled out a pistol. He didn’t flash it around, but Susanne saw it. “Good. Now get them to somewhere safe. And anyone else in the cafe.” He checked there was a bullet in the chamber, flicked the safety on and stuck the gun into the waistband of his trousers.
“What are you going to do?”
“Save some lives, I hope.”
“Probably because of the bloody chip in my head.”
* * * * *
“Ted. You are going to have to explain to us how this came to happen.”
“I would if I could. But I think this is beyond the scope of my programme. You may have to provide me with more information.”
They were in what Theodore Rosinski called the ‘X Files meeting room’. Buried under some nondescript London building it boasted sound and electromagnetic shielding and any number of other security measures. It was dark, apart from thin shafts of light cast down onto the seats at the large oval table and the grey ambience of three large video screens awaiting signal. There were four others in the room with him, across the big table at its narrowest point. All were in partial or complete shadow- even though he’d had plenty of time to study their faces on the walk down the twisting fluorescent lit corridors earlier.
“The subject was not ready to go out in public.”
“That’s true. Jack has only been able to walk again for three weeks. He shouldn’t be able to make it as far as the gift shop, let alone make it all the way to another city and do what he did.”
* * * * *
Jack didn’t go straight across the road. He walked a short distance along before crossing then headed back. There was a shadow in the restaurant’s doorway. Someone to stop random members
of the public walking in and asking, “Hey, is this the place with the Elvis impersonator?”
The large man blocking the door turned and stared down at the smiling stranger who had just swung the door open. “No. Private party.”
“Of course it is. I’m on the guest list.” Beyond the big man there were seven people in the restaurant- the other two from the BMW, one of them guarding three staff, the other sat at a table with a fat man in an expensive suit. Apart from the fat man they had all turned to look at Jack. The fat man was studying the bottle of wine in the centre of his table.
The doorman was going for a gun. Jack struck the back of his hand, lightly, almost a tap, and it clenched. A second blow to the neck and the doorman collapsed. Jack drew his gun but couldn’t decide which of the two remaining thugs to target.
The fat man snatched the wine bottle and felled the man across the table from him. Satisfied he had done enough, he topped his glass up from the bottle and returned to eating his meal. Jack shifted his aim to the remaining gunman, who had grabbed one of the staff and forced her in front of him. He was saying something Jack couldn’t understand. But with his pistol pointing at the sobbing waitress’s head the intent was obvious. They had a stand off.
Jack fired a single shot.
* * * * *
The screens came to life, and lit all the people around the table a sickly gunmetal grey. They were looking at the firing mechanism of a semi-automatic pistol. A bullet had hit it, bent the hammer out of shape and locked the slide on its rails so the gun could neither fire nor reload. “That was a lucky shot.” the man to Ted’s left said.
“That was deliberate.” the man on his right replied. “I’ve heard it discussed, but I never thought it could be done.”
“Jack has never fired a gun in his life.” Ted protested.
“No, but maybe the chip has.” The speaker was the fifth man in the room. Ted had never seen him before today and this was his first contribution to the discussion. He had a distracted air that Ted recognised from himself, but was far better turned out. It wasn’t the expensive wardrobe of a minted new media success, just someone who knew, or had been taught, how to turn himself out neatly. Ted guessed a geek with military background. “The chip’s have the ability to evolve sections of their code, correct?” the stranger asked.
“Yes. They learnt how to mimic the sections of the brain they were replacing. It was faster than coding and recoding ourselves, and a lot more efficient.”
“You planned for a lot of redundancy? There’s plenty of empty space to write to.”
“A lot more than we thought. The brain codes shit with some major efficiency.”
“Yes. I think Jack’s brain is processing an expert system AI that’s gone missing from an Army server.”
* * * * *
The fat man sipped at his wine. “You should kill him, you know.”
“No dead bodies. The Police would be more interested in that.”
The gunman looked at his wrecked gun, then at Jack, then the fat man. Jack couldn’t tell whether he understood what had just been said, but he dropped the gun and let go of the waitress. She staggered a few steps then turned and slapped the gun man. When he didn’t react she kicked him solidly in the groin. As he collapsed she carried on kicking and punching him, sobbing all the time. Eventually a waiter pulled her away.
“Yes. Perhaps you’re right.” Jack glanced at the fat man, who was polishing off his meal and showed no sign of having spoken. “You know that he’s an agent don’t you?” the voice said. Jack turned to look back through the door. He could see through the man standing at the threshold. “I’d have been here earlier, but I didn’t want to distract you while you were busy.”
The fat man wiped his mouth on a serviette and pulled a large roll of cash from his jacket. He counted off a few bills and laid them on the table. Then he looked around the room and counted off several more. “Come on then. We should be on our way.” He squeezed out of his seat and walked past Jack, and through the silhouette at the door.
“You should go with Charlie. I’m sure he’ll explain it all on the way.” the ghost advised. “Oh, and put the gun away. Don’t want to arouse suspicion, do you.”
Jack checked the safety on his gun, then pushed it into the waistband of his trousers and followed the fat man. The ghost disappeared before Jack could walk through him. The fat man opened the Mercedes’ rear door for Jack. “Get in, get in. We need to be a long way away before the Police arrive.”
“Okay, let’s get out of here.” the fat man said as he sat down. Jack checked the rear view mirror. The ghost was sitting on the back seat, staring out at the street. As they pulled off Jack glanced back at the table he had left only a few minutes earlier. Standing in front of it was Susanne, watching them speed away.
* * * * *
“It’s been learning by running scenarios dreamt up by the best minds we could gather, but at its heart it’s based upon one of our finest operatives. We seeded the AI with everything we could find by and about Marty Roberts.”
“No rank?” the man to Ted’s left asked.
“Marty Roberts sort of transcended rank structure. The instructors just wanted to create the ultimate tutor for recruits.”
“What happened?” Ted asked.
“Marty escaped. The AI treated network security as another challenge and sneaked a copy of itself out. We spent a long time checking network traffic, but a lot of it ended up trickling into your servers. We reckon it’s all in Jack’s head now after saving itself to the redundant space on his chip and in his grey matter.”
“What’s it going to do?”
“Tell him how to react to dangerous situations, such as the one in Manchester. Try to re-establish bonds with Marty’s contacts. The fat man in the restaurant worked with Roberts in the ’70s, just before he retired. I don’t know how the AI knew he’d be there when he was, but it got Jack there in time to rescue Charlie.”
“So just call in this Charlie then.” a voice from across the table recommended.
“Not so easy. Charlie’s….. Well, he’s not exactly rogue, but he’s definitely loose at the moment. He has plans for what to do if his life is threatened, and no part of those plans involve getting in touch with Army intelligence.”
“So my patient is at large with one of the greatest medical advances for years in his head, getting advice from a computer that thinks it’s James Bond and in the company of a fat spy who is being hunted by mafiosi?”
“That about covers it.”
“Well this is going to be an interesting weekend.”