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Electric Goanna Dreams - B. Cameron Lee

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Electric Goanna Dreams - B. Cameron Lee Powered By Docstoc
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   Electric
Goanna Dreams
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     This Book is a work of fiction. All characters are fictitious
and a product of my imagination. Any resemblance to any person,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.




    © 2008 B. Cameron Lee.
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                                       Dreaming. 2015.

        It was that special part of the evening, early but still. No breeze blew amongst the
green eucalypt trees nor whispered through the dry, yellowing speargrass.
        Not burnt this year. No renewal by fire for this piece of country. Not its turn.
        There was a hushed feeling pervading the landscape, occasionally broken by the
choked-off gargle of a blue-winged kookaburra in the distant trees, echoing in the silence.
        He could smell the smoke from the communal fire as it drifted slowly uphill; there
was just a hint of conversation in it. Peace. A joining with this unspoilt country.
        The Spirits were strong in it still.
        In front of him the land fell away gradually, its sparse trees slowly thickening as the
slope descended, until they merged imperceptibly with the bush down below, in shadow
for many flat kilometres. Suddenly, in the distance, there was a blaze of red-orange light
from the walls of the escarpment opposite as the sun dipped lower in the sky. Lightning
Rocks, two prominences melding together in the reflected, setting sun, almost throbbing
with the changing colours, yellows, oranges and soon he knew, red.
        His favourite.
        Lightening Rocks, proudly standing higher than the rest of the escarpment, giving
the impression of strength and endurance. They were part of the story of this land. To the
north of him, opposite Lightning Rocks, rising from the wide, scrub covered valley, stood
Nouralangie Rock, a Mecca for tourists throughout the dry season. He had been around
the back of Nouralangie Rock early this morning at Nanguluwur Gallery, long before the
first tourists showed up. Jamie, his friend and mentor, introduced him to the galleries of
Aboriginal art painted on the walls of the rock shelters there. They spoke of long
occupation. Jamie had told him the stories of some of the pictures. There was Namandi,
drawn in outline, a spirit woman with two dilly bags. Enough room to carry away a victim’s
heart, liver, lungs and kidneys. There were other spirit women painted amongst the many
images, some Mimi’s and even a picture of a sailing ship, from the contact period, rendered
in white ochre.
        The sun descended slowly and the black line of shadow gradually crawled up the
Lightening Rocks. Alan’s shoulders hurt where the three traditional cuts had been made
on each one during his initiation ceremony earlier in the day. Rubbing ash into the cuts
had stung. It was necessary to make them heal rigidly cicatrised. He had not shown pain at
the cutting and it took control to do that. He was proud of what he had learned in the last
two years and was now an accepted member of the Tribe.
        Looking down, he was still a bit suprised to see his light colored legs. No amount of
suntan could cover the fact that he was white, it was just that he hadn’t seen white legs
much lately. All the new initiates, including him, were required to be sequestered before
the initiation ceremony and all bar him were the younger teenage boys of the tribe.
Hopefully, they were all about to become men. A few gave him a bit of a hard time initially
but not for long, it would be disrespectful towards an older person and besides, the
youngsters were too worried about the coming ceremony to keep it up.
        In the last few days leading up to his initiation Alan found himself thinking more
and more about the life that brought him here; the twists and turns that led inexorably to
this point in time, standing here opposite Lightening Rocks with tribal initiation marks
                                                                                               4


freshly scored into his shoulders. His mind wandered in the peace and tranquillity of the
moment, travelling in time and space as the last shreds of daylight fled and the full moon
rose in the east. He thought back to where it had all begun.


                                      - Goanna Dreams -

      It was the relative quiet in Adelaide’s University library that eventually penetrated
Alan’s concentration. Lunchtime was usually noisy, with background chatter and the click-
clack of the photocopier, endlessly pushing out copied pages of textbooks to save buying
them. He glanced up at the clock. Shit! Late again. Prof. Semmelt was going to blow a
gasket.
      Hurriedly gathering up his papers and books, he tucked them under his arm and
took off. Hopefully he could slide into the back of the lecture theatre without being
noticed.
      The quadrangle was almost deserted as he raced toward the computer science
building, trying to gain time with speed. Rounding a corner he ran full tilt into another
person, knocking them both off their feet, books and papers flying in all directions.
      Embarrassed, he rose and held out his hand to assist the supine man to rise.
      “Sorry mate. I’m really sorry. I was just trying to get to a class without being too late.”
      The young aboriginal man on the ground smiled and extended his hand to be helped
up.
      “You white fella’s are always in a hurry. No damage done though.”
      As he was assisted to his feet, the grinning man kept hold of Alan’s hand for a
moment.
      “Jamie Darugarr, from Kakadu. You know, up in the Territory.”
      “Oh, right. Alan Wilson.” Alan replied as he observed the face opposite, looking for
annoyance. There was none. The dark brown eyes above the slightly flattened nose were
amused, and calm, with the quiet of thousands of years. Alan bent down and started
picking up the scattered papers and books as did Jamie and by the time they had sorted out
who owned what, Alan had offered to buy Jamie a beer after the day’s lessons, in
reparation for his clumsiness. The offer was gratefully accepted and kicked off the start of a
long friendship.

      Jamie was interested in Science and its application to conservation because he loved
his Land and everything in it and wanted to learn how the white men saw it. Alan couldn’t
remember all of what Jamie studied but he was one clever man, committed to learning
both ways of looking at the world, the aboriginal and the white fella’s way. In contrast,
Alan’s own particular forte was in the study of computers and programming, the internals
of machines and how they worked. He intended to complete a Doctorate in
communicating with computers as soon as he received his degree.
      Two more disparate forms of study could not be imagined but, for some reason, the
young men bonded.
                                                                                                  5


       It was an excellent four years they spent together. Sharing aspects of their culture,
going off for a weekend’s fishing or spending a night clubbing when they could spare the
time from their studies. Two young men from different backgrounds, enjoying one
another’s company. Some of his classmates snubbed him for that relationship but he didn’t
care. Those classmates were shallow.
       When Jamie graduated, he headed back north to the Top End and home but before
he left he came to see his white friend.
       “You know where I live. I’ve told you enough times. If you are ever in trouble or
need a place to rest for a while, come and see me and it’s your shout when you do.”
       With that, they shook hands and clapped each other on the shoulder as men do,
before Jamie took his leave.
       That last year of study, begun in 2005, the year after Jamie graduated, was difficult
for Alan. For two reasons. His brother Wade and he had always dreamed of setting up a
business together but after high school, Alan took a year off and headed up to Cairns to
work on the Barrier Reef as a Tour Guide. It was something he had to get out of his
system. Wade however, four years older than Alan, kept his nose to the grindstone and
graduated in 2000 when his daughter was three years old. He had married her mother,
Margaret, a fortnight later.
       The pair had met during their first year of University and both decided they had
found their life partner and moved in together. They were well suited. After graduating,
Wade had no problem finding work and was moderately well off now.
       The year that Alan had taken off after high school meant that he was now five years
behind Wade in his studies. A lot to try and catch up in a practical sense, what with the
rapid changes in computer technology but Alan was a natural. If he hadn’t pursued the
path he did, he would have made a fortune as a hacker
       The other difficulty was with his Doctorate. Ever since Alan could remember, he had
played with computers, starting with an early Atari. He found at a young age he could
perceive patterns in the scrolling mishmash of the computer’s own language. Due to his
education, Alan could now read programming language easily but the computer’s own
scribble had a logic to it which he could somehow understand; although no one else he
knew could. For whatever reason, his mind just comprehended the illegible flow of
characters scrolling down the screen. He couldn’t rationalise the gift, nor could he explain
how he had written simple programmes into the Atari using the computer’s own language
and avoided a lot of the ‘if-then’ steps that the programming language required.
       At University he found his instructors taught programming language and didn’t
believe he could relate to computers the way he did, even after he had demonstrated his
abilities once or twice. Alan wanted to do his Doctorate on direct communication with
computers but his Mentor wouldn’t allow it and he had to pick a subject that he wasn’t
really interested in.

      The telephone rang.
      “Wade here little brother. I have received an offer, with a bit of capital, to start up a
business. It will give us an income while I do my experiments on computer/cellular
interfacing. Care to join me?”
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      “I’d like to Wade but I haven’t finished my Doctorate yet.”
      “Do you need to? This is a great opportunity Alan and I can’t do it without your
magic. I know what you are capable of, even if those stuffed shirts at the University don’t.”
      Alan paused for a moment.
      “Let’s meet and talk about it. I’m getting sick of the lack of vision in these academics.
They just don’t want to listen, only push their own agendas. How about tomorrow?”
      “You’re on. Come around after six. Okay?”
      “Sure thing. See you then.”

      That was how they began to work together. Wade and he set up a small computer
business for discerning clients. Programmes and programming were Alan’s forte while
Wade was into miniaturisation of the hardware for many practical applications and worked
with neuronal interfaces in his spare time. Between Alan’s operating programmes and
Wade’s biotechnical abilities, they built a rock solid business which gave them time to
continue with research; quietly. The life suited him, fame was for other people.
      Wade had started experimenting with hardware-soft tissue interfaces in an attempt to
make it possible, in some future time, to download/upload information directly from
computers into the human brain and vice versa. The combination of Wade’s hard/wetware
and Alan’s programming, which assisted in the conversion of digital data into tiny, super-
fast pulses of electricity, meant that between them they had a communication system which
the brain could utilise.
      The brothers had begun their experiments on lower life forms, progressing rapidly up
the evolutionary chain to work on mice now and were able to communicate directly with
mouse brains. If Wade managed to place the electrodes right into the visual and auditory
centres of that tiny brain, they could see and hear from their computers what the mouse
saw and heard. It was scary shit. The only problem with the mice was the current size of the
transmitters and keeping them plugged into the mouse brain; the mice kept trying to pull
the minute jack plugs out of the back of their heads and the transmitting device was
obvious, mounted as it was on a minute harness.
      Apart from those few technical difficulties at work, everything in life was just great.
      Alan never forgot Jamie over those busy times and religiously sent Christmas and
Birthday cards each year, occasionally receiving them from his friend. Jamie was now
working as a Ranger in Kakadu, rapidly progressing up the ladder of seniority.

      The Howard-Costello Government had made a lot of changes since it came to office
in the mid-nineties and there was no way the brothers could cope with all the paperwork
that now had to be filled in.
      All due to the tightening of laws relating to tax and GST.
      The world had changed markedly since Alan first went to university in two thousand
and one, and that included Australia. It was no longer the Australia he loved in his youth;
it had been twisted and manipulated for many years by the Howard and Costello regime.
Bureaucratic interference in everyone’s life, it all came down to string holding.
Government puppeteers. Subtle at first, then increasingly heavy handedly, each small
                                                                                        7


change the Government made to legislation brought more and more power to it and less
and less freedom to individuals. Australia became a ‘Thou shalt not’ nation.
      Goods and Services Taxes gave the Government all the money it required to
implement the demise of free will.
      The bureaucracy was such a big headache to the two brothers they had to hire
someone to manage the office. Along came Sarah, who took up the reins of office manager
and converted stacks of papers, notes and bills into a functioning system. She was bright
and articulate and Alan felt attracted to her but was too shy to do anything about it.

       Meanwhile, the Government was increasing its intervention in everyday life. The
anti-terrorism laws allowed levels of scrutiny of the population hitherto unknown, without
any checks being put on as to how this scrutiny was being utilized. New forms of
information storage meant millions of telephone calls could be recorded and data
matched. The anti-terrorism laws were followed by new labour laws which handed power to
employers. Any organised opposition to the new laws was deemed unAustralian and
quashed.
       Eventually, it didn’t much matter which political party was in power, the die had
been cast. Power was power, never to be relinquished.
       Then Identity Cards were introduced, the all purpose Drivers Licence. These had to
be carried at all times, each identity reduced to a name, a photo and a barcode with a
smartchip embedded in the card. There was a rumour of bar-code tattoos or microchip
implants for non drivers coming up next on the agenda.

       This surveillance required a huge increase in Government employees, quite a few of
which became secret police. Everyone knew about the existence of the secret police but no
one knew who they were. Australians were encouraged to inform on fellow Australians,
‘dobbers’, once frowned upon but now rewarded. To accommodate the increase in the
flow and acquisition of information, a huge computer establishment was built
underground in the Black Mountains near Canberra, alongside the accommodation
complex already under there, and nearly every person in Australia was monitored daily by
some form of technology. ASIO was allowed to store any information it gathered, even by
‘accident’. Government snooping was becoming more like the historic ‘Stazi’, the old East
German secret police, every day.
       By late 2012, the private work of Wade and Alan Wilson was secretly under scrutiny
by DSTO, the Department of Defence Science and Technology Organisation which soon
became known to those in the business as Techsect. The agents, or rather ‘investigators’,
were on the lookout for any technology which the Government wanted kept secret.
       Wade and Alan were blissfully unaware of the DSTO scrutiny and went on with
their work, gradually drawing closer to the Holy Grail of human/computer interfacing.
       Right about then, a love interest developed for Alan. Sarah, the industrious lady
Wade and he had hired to be their personal assistant, eventually overcame his shyness,
enough at least for them to start going out together. Alan was even thinking of marriage
and was now able to afford a sporty car, quite a nippy unit for a hybrid, although it was
fitted with a Tracker as every new car since 2011 had to be. It had become mandatory to
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have a satellite tracking device fitted to every new registered vehicle in the country.
Australians had become dots on a screen as the Gov. wanted to know where everyone was,
at all times.
        The only problem the Gov. had, was with the aboriginal peoples, well, most of them.
The original Australians always seemed to be losing their ID cards and someone was always
stealing the Tracking devices out of their vehicles. After the big intervention of 2008 played
out, the Government eventually found it easier to just hand money out to the Aboriginal
folk in remoter communities rather than deploy the manpower necessary to maintain
compliance. Less police, that suited most of the indigenous local inhabitants’ fine, they
didn’t want to be held captives by machines.

       Wade’s daughter, Sidhe, known to one and all as Sid, had started to show an interest
in her father’s work a couple of years ago. She was now nearly sixteen, sleek and athletic
and very pretty, with shoulder length, silvery hair and big green eyes. She came to the lab
whenever she could. The girl was almost challenging in her approach to life and soaked up
facts faster than anyone Alan knew, including her father. It would be difficult to hold onto
her if she got offside and fell in with the wrong crowd but that was not likely, given her
attitude towards fairness. Sid was looking forward to going to University and was also
showing great interest in following in her father’s footsteps. Everything was looking rosy for
the Wilson family. Seven and a half years after Alan had left university, he and Wade were
well set up.
       Wade was Alan’s hero.
       The softly spoken, caring older brother, who was always there to help in times of
need. Ever since Alan could remember, it was Wade who had come to his rescue when he
stumbled, picking him up and dusting him off before pointing him in the right direction
once again. Now they were working together in their own business. How good could life
get?
       That was until the men in black came to see them. Apparently the research work
being undertaken by the two brothers had come to the notice of the Gov. and the powers-
that-be. Techsect decided they wanted in on that business. There were mutterings about,
‘In the interest of the nation.’ An offer was made to buy the brothers out. Not a generous
offer but enough to comfortably set up Wade and Alan up for quite a while.

      His brother Wade refused the offer made by the anonymous agents. Despite all the
discussions the family had about the benefits of that offer, Wade stood firm in his desire to
hold on to the company. Part of that stubbornness had to do with his daughter Sidhe, who
Wade envisioned was one day going to work side by side with him, continuing the research
he had started. Father and daughter together.
      It was not to be.
      Wade was killed, in a mysterious car accident, while driving down the Adelaide Hills
on his way to work. No witnesses but the accident, and the closure of the road due to it,
were temporally very close. Wade’s vehicle had supposedly hit a tree and burst into flames.
The subsequent fire burnt his body badly making the post mortem difficult. The whole
clean up and investigation seemed to be handled very rapidly by the authorities. Without
                                                                                            9


much news coverage. The single vehicle accident was attributed to a heart attack causing
loss of control of the vehicle. Unfortunately, that morning, Wade was giving Sarah a lift to
work. She also perished in the crash.
        Alan was gutted, both of them at once, his brother and his wife to be.
       Sid and her mother, Margaret, were inconsolable. Lawyers took over and the sale of
the business went ahead.
       Government Rules.
       The writing was on the wall as far as Alan was concerned; hanging around here was
not going to extend his life much. Not after the way his brother had been murdered, yes
murdered. It was no accident, Wade had just undergone a medical for insurance purposes
and his heart was fine. Oh, he could start up another business with the money from the
sale but how long would he last, knowing the technology the Gov. wanted hidden? There
was one consolation however, being one of the top two or three experts worldwide in his
field meant that there would be no more worthwhile discoveries coming out of the lab
without him. The Gov. had really got the worst of the deal. But what if he could be
detained and coerced into helping?
       Bugger!
       That was when Alan took as much cash as possible out of the bank in Adelaide, to
add to the cash he had at home and headed up to the Chain of Ponds reservoir in the
Adelaide Hills. Not wanting to use his car, which may have been noticed, or use a bus
which monitored your ID card, he took a taxi as far as Tea Tree Gully, keeping his face
turned away from the camera. He’d very discreetly hitched from there, as it was now illegal
to hitch hike, and luckily someone was kind enough to offer him a lift to the Kersbrook
turnoff, not far from where he wanted to go. He couldn’t leave a trail for this exercise.
       The aluminium case, containing nine hundred thousand dollars in cash, was buried
in view of the water at Chain of Ponds reservoir, with the secret wish that he would live
long enough to see it again. One hundred thousand dollars in cash was in his pocket
before he ran.
       Making sure that Sid and Margaret were going to be okay, he decided to head north,
renting his house out through an agent who managed it for him, deducted fees and put any
profit into Alan’s superannuation fund. All legal and no ties.
       Swapping his sports car for an unregistered junker with no Tracker fitted and
dirtying the old car with enough mud to obscure the plates somewhat, did not take long. It
was a gamble. If he got pulled over by the police, there would be trouble.
       Stealth and cunning. Use his brain for something other than programming.
       Alan couldn’t tell Margaret or Sid what he was doing or where he was going, not only
would it endanger them, it had to be a secret or he would never escape. After destroying
his ID card and any reference to who he was, he headed north by the back ways, leaving
during the night and travelling on little-patrolled dirt roads, cash strapped around his waist
in a money belt. Most of the main highways were fitted with cameras now, used to
automatically record the number plate of each vehicle and match it with the GPS data
from the Tracker. Luckily, that system was still in its infancy and not too widespread.
       Driving at night to try and avoid detection, his chosen route wound up to the east of
Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges before ducking over to Maree. He paid cash for fuel
                                                                                           10


and carried a lot extra in the boot of the car, stored in jerry cans. From Maree, a quick
overnight run to Birdsville in south-western Queensland and from there, due north,
through Mt. Isa and up past Lawn Hill Gorge to Hell’s Gate on the Gulf of Carpentaria. A
long driving stint followed, through to Booraloola and then north again on the Savannah
Way via Roper Bar to Mataranka. The last stretch of road to Roper Bar was despicable and
it was exceedingly lucky that he had only one puncture travelling it; the old wreck had only
one spare tyre.
       He slept at night in the car and travelled by day now. Satellite surveillance in the
North was not as intense as down south.
       The last two hundred and fifty kilometres of his journey was heart in mouth all the
way. Back on the main highway now, driving the ‘Track’ north from Mataranka. Policing
in the Territory was pretty thin on the ground but it was still the only road to travel north
on. Passing through Katherine at three in the morning he arrived at Jamie’s place, deep in
Kakadu, just as Jamie was just getting out of bed. Jamie was a Ranger, a very important
Ranger, who interfaced a lot between the traditional owners of the land and the
Government but he had not abandoned his roots nor the Laws and Rules of his Tribe.
       He was also well respected by his community.
       Alan’s long time friend was extremely suprised to see him but the warmth of the
greeting was honest.
       “Alan Bloody Wilson. Blow me down, didn’t expect to see you here bud.”
       “Good to see you again, Jamie. How’s things?”
       “Bloody fantastic”.
       They gripped hands firmly, smiling at each other, friendship bridging years.
       “It’s your shout Alan,” Jamie reminded him cheekily after the exuberant reunion.
Wincing, Alan gave a brief explanation as to why he couldn’t be seen around and then a
hundred dollar bill was produced and handed to Jamie. With a nod and a wink Jamie
quickly disappeared, returning about an hour later with two cartons of beer. Jamie then
phoned in to say he wouldn’t be at work for the day and Alan’s well travelled, old and
battered car was hidden under trees to avoid satellite detection. The two friends then sat
on Jamie’s verandah and talked and drank and drank and talked. All throughout the day,
people of Jamie’s Tribe kept dropping in and staying for a beer or two. The cartons didn’t
last long, so breaking into the cash supply, another two hundred dollars was produced and
handed over. Another hour went by until someone returned with four cartons of beer.
       After all, it was Alan’s shout.
       While he was explaining his situation to Jamie and his worries regarding his own
continuing health after Wade’s untimely death, someone lit a fire in a ring of stones in the
front yard and everyone there, bar the two of them, sat around it, staring at the flames. It
wasn’t cold enough for a fire so he asked Jamie what was going on.
       “Most of us like to look into the flames when we have a drink. It takes us somewhere
else. Maybe to a place where we can Dream. Back to a time before you white fellas’ turned
up. When we were one with the country. It looked after us and we looked after it, with
respect for the spirits in all things. It is becoming more elusive and harder to find that
place since the white fellas’ started wounding the country but it’s still there in the
Dreaming.”
                                                                                            11


       He yelled out to the group below.
       “Hey, you mob. This is a friend of mine. His name is Alan and he’ll be staying with
me for a while. We don’t want the white people to know he is here, okay.” The reply came
as a general salute with the raised green cans of Victoria Bitter, better known as VeeBee in
the Territory.
       So that was how Alan had arrived in the Top End over two years ago and managed to
stay cut off from the rest of the world. The more he mixed with the people of Jamie’s Tribe
and others, the more he respected the spiritualism of their beliefs. It was Jamie who
suggested he be initiated into the Tribe, so he could learn to be more at one with them.
Alan was already aware that once initiated, he was bound not to reveal secrets. If he did,
death could intervene. All that would take was for one of the Elders to point a bone at
him. He knew enough now not to take a chance on that happening and accepted the offer
of initiation with gratitude.
       Finally, a place for him to belong and begin a new life again, without the stress of the
white man’s ways.

      The verandah became more and more insubstantial before fading into mist. Last to
vanish was Jamie’s face, those timeless brown eyes focused on him, care written deep.

      Cool breeze whispering over bare skin.
      ‘Wake, wake, be in the now’.
      Alan shivered, the setting sun had long gone from the Lightening Rocks and the
twilight was deep and chilly now but the full moon waxed strong. Breaking out of his
reverie, he became aware of his surroundings once again. Down the hill he could hear
preparations beginning for the evening’s ceremonies. The red ochre paint on his chest, dry
now, tugged a little as he moved and the chant of a warm-up on a didgeridoo drifted up to
him from far below. He looked around himself, feeling content and happy with his lot. As
he did, he noticed behind him, about five paces away, a two metre Goanna, silently
watching him, the yellowy-orange of its skin glowing with reflected moonlight.
      His totem.
      These descendants of dinosaurs turned up all over the place. What was most unusual
however, was the Rainbow Bee-Eater sitting on the Goanna’s head. Where had it come
from? Was it real? They weren’t found around this place. The delicate bird did not look
well, with parts of its irridescent plumage faded and dull. He stepped forward toward them
and the Rainbow Bee-Eater faded and disappeared before his eyes.
      The Goanna merely observed.
      Then the music sticks started their rhythm. Clack, clack, clack-clack, clack. Repeating
the rhythm over and over. Clack-clack. Clack-clack. Clack-clack. Clack-clack. Clack..........

                                      Reality. 2018.

      Clack-clack, clack-clack, clack. Alan came too, gradually, and found himself lying in a
concrete cave, dimly lit. The noise of the suburban train clattering overhead, receded, as he
surfaced slowly from his alcoholic stupor. The smell around him was indescribable, a
mixture of human excrement and rotting garbage. He burped, the odour of stale wine
                                                                                           12


hitting his nostrils from the inside at the same time as the routine headache started its dull
pounding. In the dim light he looked around his hidey hole for something to drink, taking
in the piles of cardboard and old newspapers, the brown plastic bags with the empty plastic
sherry bottles, the rare fast food wrapper and scraps of filthy clothing.
       Sydney.
       Now.
       How long had he been here? A Government agency had located him at Kakadu or
suspected he was there. They must have been desperate, researching as far back as his
University days for connections but the local police had given Jamie the heads up and a
member of the tribe just happened to be heading to Sydney for a conference. Alan made a
fast getaway. It was all so easy until his money ran out. Things had a habit of being
expensive for someone on the run. Only paying cash in a plastic society. By the time his
money was gone, he had developed an alcohol habit, drinking to try and drown the
depression of knowing he was hunted and away from the land he had come to love. He
had nowhere to go and hid among the down and outs in his present surroundings.
Drinking to try and find the Dream in this soulless concrete jungle.

        Aluminium cans pinched from the recycling bins at the back of hotels and a little
discrete begging kept him in alcohol. If he needed food, there was always the back of
MacDonalds with its jumbo dumpster full of five minute old hamburgers and soft chips,
sometimes still warm; the trick was not to get caught; cameras were everywhere. This dingy
little hole under the tracks next to an old, disused stormwater drain would be useless if
there was a really good rainfall but it did for now.
        Home?
        Again, the trick was not to get caught. The Government programme for derelicts like
him was fast becoming disposal. No ID, no DNA match, no life. Luckily it wasn’t heavily
policed yet but that was on the agenda soon, with the legislation only recently being passed.
        Alan lay there, trying to shake off the powerful Dream he had just woken from but it
would not leave him. The Goanna was his totem and he had seen only it, that time after
his initiation, standing there opposite Lightening Rocks in the bright moonlight, just
before he went down the hill to join in the dancing. Where had the Rainbow Bee-Eater
appeared from and what did it mean? It was most important he find out. The Dreaming
had reached out to give him a message, sent his totem with it, found him in an alcoholic
daze under a railway track in Sydney. Something that could not be ignored. He needed to
think clearly for once. His stomach griped at him and the desire for a drink rose through
his body. He denied it with all of his strength, sitting on smelly cardboard in that revolting
underground den. The Dream was Real. It meant something. Action was required of him.
Now!
        Although Alan didn’t realize it at the time, that moment of resistance to alcohol
marked another turning point in his life.
        The Dream worried at him all through the morning, enough that he didn’t buy any
alcohol. He used the toilets in nearby Central Station to wash himself properly, checking
that the security camera had been ripped down like it usually was. He stole some decent,
although damp clothes from an untended drier in a laundromat nearby and was lucky
                                                                                           13


enough to replace his gaping and filthy footwear when a group of teenage schoolboys left
their bags untended for a while, standing in a circle around the one who had managed to
download pornography into his handheld compuphone. There were snatches of
conversation from them.
       “Cor, look at that. I wouldn’t mind getting a ‘jack’ fitted if I could plug that in.”
       Another chimed in with.
       “I heard it is only about ten thousand to get one fitted now.”
       Yet another.
       “I know someone who got one done underground, only cost him fifteen hundred
and he got a free jar of antibiotic lube.”
       “Naw.”
       “Yeah. Dead set. The Gov. can take me if I lie.”
       “Probably will anyhow, you dork.”
       Alan shook his head as he sidled away clutching the latest Reeboks under his jacket.
Retrospeak had seemed to become fashionable again. If there was a way of fucking up the
language, teens were sure to find it. The reference to ‘jacks’ however, had suprised him.
Straight from his and Wade’s research and onto the market so fast and the Government
owned the company. There had to be a hidden agenda there somewhere, something that
helped the Government Bureaucracy maintain its grasp on power. It now didn’t matter
which Party was in Parliament, all they did was pass laws recommended by the policy
makers. Policy makers who used to be called civil servants, staying in their positions
independent of whichever Party ruled. Should be called self servants.
       His body screamed for alcohol continually but he refused it. He needed food, good
wholesome food at a reasonable price.
       Sitting down to put on his new shoes he checked his pockets. Shrapnel, maybe five
bucks. Think, dammit.
       The University, not far from Central Station, that was where he would go, another
scruffy adult on campus would not be too unusual and they did have good tucker there. He
retrieved a used air filter mask from a rubbish bin, praying that the previous wearer did not
have a communicable disease. The disposable filters had become necessity when Sydney’s
air became so foul some days that people had to be hospitalized just from breathing it. The
good thing was, the mask hid the five day growth on his face and made him look a bit
more reputable. He ran his fingers through still damp hair, it would have to do. Alan’s new
clothes dried during his walk over to the University campus. He arrived toward the end of
lunchtime.
       Lots of people around, mostly young but a few oldies were intermingled amongst
them. It was a riot of colour and fashions in the quadrangle. Here and there people were
dressed in the retro fashions of two thousand and five, itself a copy of the nineteen nineties
but they were in the minority compared to the new look of the ‘talking’ clothing. Materials
with minute LED’s woven into and through the fabric, allowing the wearer to program in
designs and words which glowed with a life of their own, sometimes even flowing over the
clothing in waves of colour. Rich kids, overseas students and here and there in drab, unlit
clothing, the kids on scholarships but they were few and far between. He scanned all
                                                                                           14


around the quadrangle, looking for the ever present surveillance cameras. Each one he
found was pointed at the sky.
      “Don’t have to worry about the cameras man. This is a University. They teach us
how to programme computers and we use what they teach.”
      Alan turned, startled, to find himself looking into a pair of piercing blue eyes under a
thatch of blonde hair done in no particular style. The eyes ran over him. The young man
who they belonged to had assessed him as being of no threat. What grabbed his attention
about the young man however, was the artistic Aboriginal depiction of a goanna on the
front of his shirt. A Goanna! The Dream! Spirits were abroad.
      He caught himself staring at the young man’s shirt and apologised.
      “No problem,” was the easy reply. “You studying here?”
      “No, actually I am pretty broke and was hoping to get a feed. I have been a bit lost
for a while. A long while it seems.”
      The bright blue eyes travelled over him again.
      “At least you’re nearly sober. Don’t go away. You may not know this but we have to
use ID cards to get food now. I’ll get a big lunch and you can share it with me.” With that
the young man walked off toward the student cafe. The goanna design, repeated on the
back of the young man’s shirt seemed to wink at Alan as he was left standing there. He felt
exposed, alone amongst all that youth and colour and retreated to a bench beside some
shrubbery. Partially out of sight. The next ten minutes were some of the longest in his life
and he only relaxed when the young man came back and handed him a plastic plate laden
with food.
      “Don’t eat too fast old timer, you might get sick.” The young man smiled, turning it
into a joke. “My name is Lance by the way.”
      “Alan, Alan Wilson,” he replied automatically. How could you suspect someone who
had risked the authorities’ displeasure and brought food to a derelict?
      “Pretty famous name.”
      Alan looked at him blankly as he pushed the air filter mask to one side and began to
eat.
      Lance’s jaw dropped, “You mean you haven’t heard about Alan and Wade Wilson.
The two brothers who invented the technology of ‘jacking’ then sold it to the Government
and disappeared. There is a rumour that they bought an offshore island and retired.”
      Alan was suprised at the pain he felt, being reminded of his dead brother. The lie
needed rebuttal.
      “Not true. The Government murdered Wade and called it a car accident. We never
got what the business was worth and no chance to spend it. They would love to find me.”
He threw caution to the wind. Lance was wearing a shirt with a Goanna on it.
      Trust the Dream.
      “No way Alan, you’re pulling my leg. There is absolutely no way you could be ‘the’
Alan Wilson.”
      Alan gestured toward Lance’s compuphone. “Is it locked? If so, can I hold it?
      “Yeah, sure,” Lance smiled as he handed it over in exchange for Alan’s plate.
      Alan was hoping like hell that technology hadn’t made him obsolete; it was well over
three years since he had seriously used a computer of any type and his headache was still
                                                                                           15


nagging. His fingers flew over the small keypad while Lance looked on, getting slightly
concerned when he saw the small screen light up.
       “Hey, how did you.......” His voice trailed off as Alan handed back the compuphone
and reclaimed his plate. There on the screen was a message. ‘Yes Way’. Lance pressed the
delete button but the message remained on screen. As Alan ate the rest of his lunch, Lance
determinedly tried to remove the small message. To no avail. Eventually he switched the
compuphone off and then turned it on again. Once past the security password, the small
message reappeared. Lance sat back and studied Alan closely then handed over his palm
held. Alan keyed in about six strokes and gave it back with a clear screen.
       “Nice to see the technology hasn’t passed me by.” He grinned shyly.
       Lance looked around them, he appeared worried.
       “If what you are telling me is true then you could be in danger. We better leave; there
are spies on campus the same as everywhere else. I know a safe place for you to stay and
maybe you could show me a few things.”
       Alan took another couple of mouthfuls, then reluctantly eying the rest of the food,
readjusted his face mask and nodded.
       “Sounds good to me. Lead on.”
       It was a long walk through the streets and they ended up near Balmain somewhere,
in a rather seedy back street. Lance led him into a student bar which catered for the large
number of University students resident in the area. It was the sort of place older people
didn’t want to go. Loud and a lot of fun. This Government was smart, probably why it had
been in power for so long and it encouraged the establishment of bars designed for
particular sectors of the public. Here a blind eye could be turned to more illicit things as
long as plenty of alcohol was consumed. Drinking, officially frowned upon but unofficially
encouraged, as more and more people drinking in the population generated more and
more excise tax and GST.
       Lance I.D.’d them in, squeezed together tightly so the scanner registered them as
one. The place was quiet at this time of the day. At the back of the bar, Alan followed
Lance into a long passageway. Halfway down, Lance opened a broom cupboard and
fumbled in the back of it. The whole back section of wall, including the shelves, swung
away to reveal a set of steps heading down. Taking a look up and down the passageway to
make sure it was clear, Lance gently pushed Alan towards the steps and followed him,
closing the hallway cupboard door behind them and then turning as he reached the
descending stairway to close the false door to the back of the cupboard. Finger across his
lips to indicate silence, hardly seen in the gloom just broken by a dim safety light, Lance
took the lead down the darkened stairway until they fetched up at another door. This was
steel plate, fitted perfectly into its steel frame. Here Lance produced an old fashioned key
which he inserted into the lock and the door swung open on well oiled hinges. It was a
thick door.
       “That is the main way into here but not the only one. We have to wait until this
evening when everyone is home before I can introduce you to our team but meanwhile you
can help me with a small problem. If you don’t mind.”
       Alan merely nodded, looking around himself at the plush furniture and couches and
the four or five laptop computers, laying about the place. Lance saw him looking.
                                                                                          16


       “Everyone seems to have left their computers home today. Probably wise in case the
spooks do a computer check. Some of your stuff in there. Lots of the micro’s, most stolen,
piggybacked together. We are talking terabytes of memory with gigabytes of RAM. We need
a fair bit to keep ahead of the thought police. This whole place is shielded, so nothing
electronic can get out or in. It has no signature from outside. Stealth. The ID reader on the
student bar upstairs is coded to not record all of our ID’s. We tapped into a telephone
cable down the road and use a bank line for our Web access. So many electronic signals
using that line means we can camouflage ours as routine chatter. We hack small amounts
of credit from big international companies to pay for it all.”
       Alan had taken off the face mask and his relief was more and more evident as Lance
spoke. Following the Goanna had been the correct thing to do but this was amazing. Never
in his wildest fantasies had he imagined that this level of resistance to the Government
existed. Lance laughed at his dazed expression.
       “I shouldn’t tell you without approval from the rest of the group but there are a lot
more of us resistance groups scattered around the country. Mostly individuals though. Far
more than anyone realises. We meet through computers using a very special piece of code
that the Government hasn’t cottoned onto yet. Sometimes a cell gets discovered but we are
all independent and hold no records of how we connect to each other. Suffice to say, we
attach our messages to the back of normal intergovernmental transmissions and peel off
when we want to go somewhere else. As yet, the Gov. doesn’t suspect that we are using
their communications for message transport. Our main problem is that we cannot seem to
find a way to hack into the Gov.’s computers. The protection is first rate, if we go anywhere
near them with code we start getting tracer programmes looking for us.” Lance grinned
sheepishly. “I actually captured one that was after me. I topped and tailed it and brought it
back. It’s in that computer there, the one with the keypad. I would be pleased if you would
take a look at the tracer program, Sir.”
       “Not Sir. Alan. Are those other computers without keypads voice activated?”
       In answer, Lance sat beside one and picked up a small jackplug with a tiny black
plastic knob on the end and no external wires. He wiped it down carefully with an alcohol
smelling swab. Alan’s mouth watered at the smell before he chastised himself but he
couldn’t stop the physical reaction. Then Lance dipped the end of the jackplug into a vial
he had uncapped which contained some sort of jelly, after which he pulled across the hair
at the nape of his neck, removed a flesh colored latex plug and inserted the jack. Just like
an old fashioned headphone jack plugging into a stereo.
       “Your invention. We run the jacks with Bluetooth to save having cables to the
laptops. Once I switch it on, the computer and I are linked. It is still clumsy as yet but a
whole lot faster than sending nerve impulses down your arms to get your fingers to input
information which you have to read. Take a seat and see what you make of the tracer
program I captured but please do not attempt to go online. The others should be back in a
couple of hours.”
       Lance turned on his computer and he seemed to withdraw into himself. Alan left
him to it.
                                                                                            17


       Sitting in front of the only computer in the room without security fingerprint access,
Alan felt tired and shoddy. Just this morning, until his Dream woke him, he had been
lying in a puddle of shit and vomit.
       His head was pounding as he looked down at himself.
       “Mind if I take a shower?” he asked.
       Lance waved a hand.
       “Help yourself.”

       Alan wandered back through the underground apartment until he found the
bathroom down the back, behind the kitchen. He was relieved to find a tube of beardwipe
in the bathroom cabinet and massaged it into his face before taking a shower. No timer on
the shower, highly illegal, these kids did not mess about. Dried by the warm air jets
recessed into the shower walls he stepped out and dressed quickly. With his five day
growth gone he looked ten years younger, although his strong face had many more lines on
it than it used to. He considered his reflection in the mirror, looking at the ravages of
alcohol and a poor diet. Why had he given up and succumbed to depression? He resolved
to never give up again; it was time to exact revenge for his brother’s death. With a small
prayer he opened up the bathroom cabinet and gave a grunt of relief when he found the
painkiller-stims he hoped were in there. Taking one, he headed into the kitchen and
searching the cupboards found some Daintree tea, grown in Far Northern Queensland. He
made himself and Lance a cup, white and one he guessed for Lance, then took the two
steaming mugs into to the main room. Placing the tea in front of Lance he sat down in
front of the computer he had been offered, feeling a whole lot better than he had twenty
minutes before. He turned the computer on.
       Instant power-up and in the bottom right hand corner, the date. 10th August 2018.
       “Two thousand and Eighteen! Unfucunbleevabl.
       He mentally added up: Left University in two thousand and five and went into
business with Wade. Early two thousand and thirteen was when Wade was killed and he
had to make the quick trip north, just over two and a bit years with Jamie and the Tribe
then........Had he really been pissed for nearly three years! Shit, there was a lot to catch up
on, as long as he could remain beneath the Government horizon.
       First things first, he needed to know what had changed in the last few years. He
brought up an isolated window and opened up a simple programme. Linux. Good. Lot
fewer holes than Mr. Gate’s much repaired Vista operating system. It had been around too
long. Now the crux. He opened up a protected window onto a section of the computers
own language and smiled in relief. It was what he already knew. He could speak this
language without the need of an operating system. This was why he and Wade had been so
successful in their business. He didn’t need programming language, he could program the
computer with its own language. Few people in the world were capable of that and he was
one of them. It was just the way his mind worked at juggling squiggles. Maybe he was
slightly autistic, or not. So, the Gov. killed his brother Wade and expected him to just sit
back. No way. He had found the spirit of the land alive and well up north; in the hands
and minds of those few that could still Dream. In spite of what the Gov. was doing, there
were a lot of people out there who did not agree with Totalitarianism.
                                                                                           18


        Alan located the piece of tracer code that Lance had captured, in a file named
‘Tracer’ and went to work, breaking into the computer language of that code and finding
some interesting little loops. The Gov. had some clever programmers and Lance was either
pretty able or very lucky. This tracer was a hair away from getting out of containment and
heading home with their location. Alan pinched its head off completely and opened the
rest out to examine the coding. It was modelled on a centipede with a pincer mouth to
capture unrecognisable transmissions with no identity markers and then the means to drop
off body segments as it was dragged along the electronic highway. Each body segment had
the same home destination and reported back when and where it had broken off from the
whole. Very clever, continual tracking of unidentified signals; a Web policeman. Lance had
captured it by dangling code at the front end and after the bite, taping up its tail end with
sticky code to stop segmental breaking. What he hadn’t known was that the head end was
still chewing actively and had nearly eaten its way through the bait. After that it would have
fragmented and reported the location of this place back to the Gov. Alan wandered over to
Lance and waited until he had his attention. The tea was untouched and Lance looked
tired.
        “Have a break and come and look at the tracer you captured. It very nearly escaped. I
have disarmed the little beast and you may find it interesting.” Alan smiled, the image of
biting off a green ant abdomen for the lemon taste, rising unbidden in his memory.
        Lance rose from his seat and gazed at the monitor on Alan’s computer. He looked
puzzled. “What’s all that junk on the screen?”
        Alan furrowed his brows, pondering. So, Lance worked from Linux and couldn’t
read the computer’s own language. There was a lot he would be able to do to repay the
assistance he had received. Alan leaned forward and pressed a couple of keys. The Linux
was not quite so eloquent but Lance gasped when it appeared on screen.
        “Shit, that thing was just about ready to bolt. Boy, am I lucky that I bumped into you
today. Better trash it, just in case.”
        “No, no. Think Lance. Each one of these segments is designed to go somewhere. We
could use them for access. What if we let them go but not with our location, just a nasty
little replicating virus attached to it. In fact, we could replicate the segments and send
thousands back at once. We could use them to block trackers if we wanted to get into
somewhere. I would need to scout around to see how many different types of trackers I
could find and where they are, then we could make up some armaments. Use the Gov.’s
own weapons against it.”
        Oh this felt good, really good. He was getting back at the organism that killed his
brother. His focus shifted, Sidhe. She must be about twenty two by now. He had to find
out where she was and what she was up to. Maybe if she knew the truth, she might be able
to help.
        He wished he knew what the significance of the injured Rainbow Bee-Eater in his
Dream was. The little bird had not seemed well but the language of Dreams was not always
straightforward.
        He would just have to keep his eyes and ears open.
                                                                                           19



                                         CHAPTER 2.

       Black, deep, velvet black.
       A void.
       Nothing.
       ‘Beep’.
       Intrusion of noise.
       Another ‘beep’ and then another. The beeping was the whole world. The only thing
in the void. Becoming regular and speeding up slightly.
       Coolness on skin, a gentle breeze softly wafting over part of a face. Perfume. The void
was filling.
       A low buzzing hum in the background and far away traffic noise.
       Dry, dry mouth. Mouth! Furry tongue. Awareness of self. Eyes opening to black.
       Black!
       Sound of a door opening and a brief increase in background noise levels until the
door swung shut with a hiss.
       “I know you’re awake, your heart monitor picked up. Welcome back.” The voice was
bright and cheery. “If you aren’t fully awake yet, don’t worry about not being able to see.
We have your eyes bandaged for now in case of any unexpected side effects. The
neurosurgeon will be in to talk to you shortly and we hope the bandages can come off
soon. Thirsty?”
       “Mmm, thdrin wadder?” was all that escaped her mouth. A plastic straw was placed
between dry lips and sipping produced that delightful feeling of the first glissando of cool
water sliding over the tongue and down the throat.
       Slight taste of chlorine but refreshing.
       The tongue was free now and the words were easier.
       “I guess I have just woken up from the operation, how did it go?”
       “They tell me that it went very well but it is not up to me to comment. How is your
hearing?” The nurse, if that’s who she was, sounded businesslike but with an underlying,
caring, warmth.
       “Seems to be okay but when is the neuro coming? I’d like to lose these bandages.”
       She heard the nurse moving around and felt the bedclothes being adjusted. Her arm
was itching and she reflexively went to scratch it.
       “In about an hour. Please don’t do that, you may dislodge your drip. I am allowed to
tell you that your operation was two days ago. You have been kept in an artificial coma
since then to help with any possible pain caused by the procedure. Everyone is really
excited to see if it has worked as planned. As you are, no doubt. Won’t be long now dear.
Can I get you anything else?”
       “No, I think I will just wait here quietly. I have some thinking to do. Thank you
though.”
       A small, soft sphere was placed in her hand.
       “If you need anything, just squeeze. The water is by your right shoulder and you
won’t need to pee. You have a catheter in. See you later.” The sound of the door opening,
swinging shut and then a relative peacefulness ensued.
                                                                                           20


      Sidhe lay back on the plump pillows and relaxed, trying to come to terms with the
enormity of what she had just done. She had undergone the procedure. The first one. It
was a long haul to get here but it had happened at last. Her mind drifted in that space
between awake and asleep, eventually fixing on the place in her life where this chapter had
begun.

       It was when Sid was around fifteen. Just starting to recognise self and appreciate the
wider world. She started to drop into her father’s laboratory after school and found that it
was a fascinating place. It amused her to see Uncle Alan mooning around Sarah, the
attractive personal assistant that the brothers shared. Sarah, so alive and vibrant, bustling
about creating organisation out of the heaps of paper and notes that the brothers piled
willy-nilly around the office. Sarah, who efficiently managed the everyday financial side of
the business. There was always milk for the coffee and at morning tea time she always
managed to produce some snack or titbit that the brothers consumed with gusto. Uncle
Alan had really fallen for Sarah. Sidhe’s father talked to his daughter like she was an adult,
as did Uncle Alan when he could tear himself away from Sarah’s charms and Sid soon
discovered herself looking up information wherever she could source it, learning about the
things her father and Alan spoke of.
       Her understanding blossomed almost intuitively and within two years she was
assisting with some of her father’s experiments at the laboratory, carrying out the small
tasks assigned to her. That was the year she was to start University. Nearly seventeen years
old and actually looking forward to going, because she was attending University in
Adelaide and that would enable her to keep a leg-in at her father’s lab. Her seventeenth
year was the year her father had that terrible car accident and died, along with Sarah, who
was getting a lift to work. Sid’s world was shattered, everything got hard. Uncle Alan went
strange, cold and unsmiling, wandering around muttering to himself. He had tried to
console Sid and her Mum but his own grief was too great to allow him to be effective at it.
He had disappeared a week after the sale of the business was finalised. Strange that and he
hadn’t told anyone where he was going. Yeah, sure, her share of selling the company was
the split between her and Mum but that didn’t make up for not having a Dad.
       Sid found that the best place to put the emotional memories of her father; locked up
tight, was deep within her mind, well buried beneath the memories of his work and
experiments so that every time she mentally went to his theories, emotions would not
intrude.
       Her mind settled and her grief dealt with, Sid went to Uni and really started
learning. The only minor problem being, the space in her life which the lab used to
occupy. She had enjoyed working there, very much, and missed it constantly. Team sport
was no substitute because the other students wouldn’t play with her. Too fit and too hard,
it was always more than a game, it was a competition and Sid had to win. Solo squash for
reflexes and long runs by herself kept her body in trim. As well, she started learning martial
arts for discipline.
       She was good at it.
       Curiously, toward the end of her first year at Uni, she was approached by a
handsome, well groomed man in his mid thirties who showed her a very official looking
                                                                                         21


identity card and requested an appointment with her for dinner. The man merely wanted
to ‘chat’ he’d said. Feeling a little apprehensive, she accepted. As soon as he’d left, she
contacted the police to check the name on the Identity Card. The call was rerouted
through a number of different departments until the phone was answered by a crisp-voiced
man in a manner that brooked no arguement.
       “This is Repairs and Alterations, how may I help you?”
       “I would like to verify the identity of Mr. James Harding.”
       “Would that be James D. Harding by any chance? Lucky girl, enjoy your dinner. He
will be there to pick you up at eight.”
       Click. The line went back to dial tone.
       Odd.
       The rest of the day dragged by.
       She couldn’t settle.
       What was she going to wear?
       Why did she care about what she wore anyway?
       She had been invited for Dinner. Not coffee. Not Lunch. Dinner.
       She was going to do the right thing and get dressed. Just turned eighteen and with an
athletic body, she was old enough to be aware of how to fit it into somewhere sophisticated
without being trashy. When the doorbell chimed at precisely eight o’clock she came
downstairs and anxiously asked her mother.
       “How do I look?”
       Her Mother stood speechless. Her daughter had gone, replaced by an elegant young
woman in a plain black sheath dress, set off beautifully by some shiny, old red beads at
neck and wrist. She wore silver strapless shoes and her long hair had been done up cleverly,
in a very fetching way, at the nape of her neck.
       “You look fine Honey. You’d better take my silver wrap; it’s in the hall cupboard.”
       The doorbell chimed again. “Coming.” Her mum called out as the wrap was
retrieved from the cupboard and hurriedly flung over young shoulders. Sid moved quickly,
just in time to appear beside her mother as the door was opened. Her jaw dropped and she
was exceedingly pleased that she had decided to dress for Dinner. The man at the door was
resplendent in a tuxedo and beyond, parked at the curb, sat a stretched black limousine.
       “Good evening Maam.” He flashed an ID card. “My name is James D. Harding and I
have come to take your daughter out this evening. If you have no objection?”
       Her Mother tipped her head to one side. Oh oh, Sid thought, this could be ugly. She
sent a mental plea out. ‘No, please Mum.’
       Her mother’s smile tightened.
       “You haven’t wasted much time; she was eighteen less than two weeks ago. I did,
however, expect you earlier than this. Bastard.”
       “Sorry to disappoint you Maam.”
       “Mother! What is going on? Please tell me what is going on.”
       “I can’t Honey. The only way we could get the money from the sale of the business
was if I agreed to say nothing about the dealings between the purchasers and myself, until
you were eighteen. Not even you could learn about these people before you came of age. Be
careful Honey and watch what you say, the table will be bugged as well as everywhere else.
                                                                                         22


Our business was purchased by the Government through a front company. This
Government representative, Mr. James D. Harding will probably be able to explain
everything better than I ever could.”
      Sidhe just managed to conceal her astonishment. How could her mother keep secrets
from her only daughter?
      Her mother stepped back, opening the door wider for her daughter to exit. James
extended his hand and had it gracefully taken. With a small bow he said.
      “Pleased to eventually meet you Sidhe, I am James D. Harding.”
      She smiled sweetly. “Cut the bullshit. Call me Sid like everyone else and I will call
you James. Deal?”
      He grinned. “Deal.”
      They went to Dinner.

       Never in her life before had Sid ever seen the inside of such a sumptuous place. To
think, this was a restaurant business. It looked more like a palace. High ceilings and the
whole interior painted with intellipaint. Muted colours followed each other across the walls
and the ceiling overhead in quick succession. It felt like being inside a waterfall. Small
lights on the centre of the tables provided a lovely soft glow. They looked to be powered by
Everlasts, a new invention. Very expensive. Batteries that never ran out of power; as soon
as one of the compounds inside changed, it was changed back by a catalyst inside the
battery. The trick was, more power was produced than it took the catalyst to change the
compound back. Intriguing.
       The background noise was bearable but she would never call it music. Jazz was so
cerebral these days that it had become cacophonic. At least the volume was muted. They
were comfortably seated in a lounge area, having a drink while waiting for their table. Sid
was drinking Coke, an individual pouched serve, which she got the barman to open in
front of her. Not taking chances. James merely smiled, the barman wasn’t on the payroll.
Well, not yet.
       A hostess came to show them to their table where a waiter, one for each of them,
held the backs of the sumptuous chairs and assisted with their seating. A conspiritual wink
passed between James and one of the waiters.
       A wine waiter hovered but James waived him away and an electronic menu was
presented to each of them. Sid opened hers and slowly scanned it, flashy food and no
prices. Holy shit! It was one of those places. Ridiculously expensive and the Government
was paying. She had learned something about power already. She touched her choices on
the menu which were instantly relayed to the kitchen.
       Dinner was excellent. For two reasons. The food was beyond belief and James offered
her a part time job which meant she could go back to work with her father’s theories.
James was quite forthright. As they meandered through a number of courses, decreasing
the silver ware on the table, he informed her that the lab had not produced what the
Government was hoping for. He offered her a more than generous salary, just to turn up at
the lab and amuse herself whenever she wanted. The only hitch was, that because the
Government owned the lab, any discoveries made were Government property. She asked
for a week to decide, which was agreed upon without hesitation; smoothly. Business over
                                                                                            23


with, she settled into the evening and reluctantly found herself enjoying James D. and his
silly stories.
        Sid talked it over with her Mum and eventually signed the Agreement, noting as she
did that it was printed in the new smart paper. Clear pages, made of the same stuff as
Australian banknotes. Used in a special printer, the sheets held whatever was copied onto
them until a small charge was applied to the sheet, passed through it using the two tiny
electrodes at the top left of the page. Very multi-use. A special pen was used for the signing
and she received her own copy which she immediately fed into the family’s briefcase-sized
Boxoffice to deal with. It was scanned, copied to memory and a copy automatically
generated and sent to the family lawyer. A small buzz from the Boxoffice told her the
Agreement was now legal.

       Sid’s life improved from that point on. She often saw James at the lab and developed
a soft spot for him but she realised that she was probably one of many and didn’t let him
know of it. Her father’s experimental tissue samples, brain stem cells that he had developed
with Uncle Alan, were still viable. Excellent.
       Now, the problem that her father had been unable to overcome.
       How to provide a framework for single, myelinated neurons to grow inside a tube?
Nutrients had to pass through the tube wall but it had to be rigid enough to position into a
brain and inert enough to be non-irritant to those brain cells. It took a while but after a
year and a half, she had the basics. Her father’s work on brain implants had almost reached
what he was aiming for. A thin tube, containing a bundle of thinner tubes, each with a
neuron at the end and a single dendrite growing down the tube to where its electrical
signal could be read electronically and return ones sent.
       Her father had hoped to promote the growth of multiple dendrites from the neurons
at the business end of the thin tubes. In theory, this cluster of dendrites would then attach
to many neurones in the host brain but so far all the lab could produce was one dendrite
linkage for each neurone. It was sufficient to do what was required.
       Anatomical linkage.
       Much more precise than bathing a small area of the brain with an electric shock from
an insulated metal probe as in the present jacking implants. Her intuition provided the
ideal tubes. Carbon microtubules. Pure carbon, formed into long, thin, open-walled tubes
which could then be bundled up and placed inside a bigger tube. Flexible but thin as the
finest hair, the pores in the tubes allowed nutrients in. It was a similar sort of linkage of
carbon atoms as were found in ‘Bucky balls’. Named after Buckminster Fuller, the first
person to discover that under the right conditions, sixty four carbon atoms could be cross-
linked in an open-latticed to form a sphere.
       Her tubes were cylindrical ‘Bucky balls’ but only in theory at this stage.
       She explained to James exactly what she needed and as the discourse went on, he
nodded frequently as though he understood, which she sincerely doubted. At the end
however, while she was drawing breath, all he did was ask how many internal bundles she
wanted per external tube. He definitely was not slow. Sid settled on six each of tens,
twenties and fifties.
       It took six months until she finally got her hands on the bundles of carbon tubules.
                                                                                             24


       During that hiatus, there was no time to sit and wait, so the entire non-frozen stock
of her father’s stem cell neurones had been grown and multiplied, until there was ample
available for experimenting with. Carefully she loaded one viable cell into each single
tubule and when each bundle was full, lowered it gently into a nutrient bath with an
extremely mild electric current flowing through it. This hopefully, would encourage
dendritic growth down the tubules. It worked and the Government boys took the finished
product away and then asked her to help miniaturise the interface. They gave her the size it
had to be and let her get to work. Sid was eventually stumped at the computer
programming side of things, so the Government took away what she had done for their
own people to finish off. It was frustrating, not being fully involved with the whole project
but there was her university work to consider and that kept her occupied.
       Despite the many questions asked by her over the next six months, she learned
nothing, until one day, out of the blue; James had taken her to visit another lab. She had
to travel in a vehicle with the window tinter turned so black, she couldn’t see where she
was going. After they arrived at their destination, an underground parking lot, they were
escorted through exceedingly more stringent security, both biological and personal. That is
where the really interesting stuff began. In that mysterious lab she saw and heard the world
through a chimpanzee’s eyes and ears. The chimp had word recognition ability for a dozen
symbols or so and when a symbol was sent in picture form to the chimp’s visual centre, the
chimp performed the appropriate response. There were no wires visible.
       “How on earth are the signals getting through?” she asked one of the techs. The tech
looked toward James, who nodded. Sid caught the exchange. So............
       “Wireless, Bluetooth, the information is beamed both ways. All there is in the chimp
is a decoder and encoder with a small Bluetooth transmitter. In other words, computer
language in and computer language out. There was enough space to tuck the hardware
under the mastoid bone and it literally runs from brain power. To be completely mobile, it
needs a satphone with built in wireless. We could do one in a pair of sunglasses or a
hearing aid for instance. With that the chimp could be anywhere in the world and we
could communicate directly with its brain.”
       Sid pondered. Truly amazing. Jacking, times ten thousand, with no chance of
infection. You could be hooked in anywhere, anytime and no one would know. If a tiny
computer was implanted with the decoder, a brain could become part of the Web. A
chilling thought. This was getting serious.
       “So when do you propose to fit one into a human?” Sid asked James a little while
later.
       He cocked his head to one side and looked at her sideways. She suppressed a giggle.
       “Why?” he enquired.
       “Because I want one,” was the succinct reply.
       ‘Whoa girl, we have a lot of testing to do. You know that. Optimum bundle size and
all those infinitesimal details which have to be perfected, including monitoring this chimp
here another six months at least, to ensure there are nil side effects. Just think, by that time
you will be twenty one, with a Doctorate and a very well paid Government job in charge of
your own lab.”
       Sid gaped at him. “What do you mean?”
                                                                                           25


       James smiled with genuine pleasure. “As soon as you finish your degree this year, you
will have a Doctorate bestowed on you for the most excellent results you have
accomplished, working in your father’s lab. At that time the Government will offer you a
job, in charge of your father’s lab. It will effectively become your lab then. They will offer
you an open hand and enough funds to do as you wish.”
       “How do you know all of this information?” Sid gave him a straight level look.
       His response was to tap the side of his nose with his forefinger. “You would be
amazed at what I am privy to. Let’s just say, when it happens, I will give your request some
thought. Now we have a celebratory dinner. Hungry?”

       Just fifteen months ago, that little demonstration on the monkey and now here she
was, lying on her back with her head bandaged, in some secret Government hospital in
Adelaide, while the rest of the population were lucky if they could get even basic hospital
treatment.
       Something was not right.
       A knock on the door and an increase in the sound level for a short while as the door
opened and closed. A slight, discrete cough.
       “Hi Sid, its Francis Delray, the neurosurgeon. I am here to give you a brief
examination and hopefully rid you of those bandages.”
       Sidhe knew Francis, an old thirty, and had worked with him on a couple of minor
things to do with her father’s neuronal stem cell line. She trusted those boring, steady
hands. He was dedicated to his profession. Owlishly centred on the only thing that
mattered to him, the human brain with all of its complexity. It was his whole life. He just
happened to be the best neurosurgeon in Australia, a position gained by his almost
supernatural understanding of the living brain. That understanding was augmented by the
hole in the back of his neck, usually covered with a latex plug, where a jack could be
inserted. He could plug into the computers of all the diagnostic and visualizing machinery
while he was operating, to help guide his already steady hands to exactly the correct spot in
the brain. About four years ago Francis, trusting none of his fellow professionals, had gone
to America to have the jack fitted, one of the first in Australia to do so, travelling by ship
due to his fear of flying. His colleagues were a bit miffed by that vote of no confidence but
got over it. Francis Delray, for all his brilliance, looked a little scruffy, his personal
appearance definitely not on a par with his professional abilities. He had never married,
not expecting a woman to come second fiddle to his own research and busy, professional
life. Besides, he was painfully shy around most women. His full time maid did try with him
and indeed he left his house each morning looking fairly neat and civilized but by the time
he reached his office he was starting to unravel and look a bit dishevelled. Personal
pathological untidiness; his work could not be faulted though.
       Sid felt the pressure as Francis sat on the bed.
       “Time to see how you look,” he said as he gently started to undo the bandage.
       “The operation went well. Pretty straightforward. I managed it with minimal cutting
of skin and there should be no detectable scarring. As you are aware, you now have
microtubules into the visual, auditory and vocal cortexes of one side of your brain. We
didn’t use both sides or you wouldn’t have any reference to reality when the transmissions
                                                                                             26


cut in. Your brain will pass the information around via the corpus callosum. The micro
computer and low output wireless are mounted under your mastoid bone on the right side.
We improved your design.”
       Here, she caught a slight catch in his voice, unnoticeable if she had not been without
vision. “And built it with hardly any metallic parts. Virtually undetectable.”
       His sure, gentle hands had removed the bandages leaving just the pads over her eyes
for now. He took her head in his hands and gently tilted it forward. She felt him get up off
the bed as he moved around the back to look at his handiwork. A few thin red lines were
all that could be seen.
       “Well, how does it look?” Sid asked impatiently, worried about scarring.
       “Excellent. The new stem cell skin gel is working perfectly. All healed.”
       “When will we know if the implant is working?”
       “We already know that it has started. We have been monitoring random electrical
activity from your brain for at least a day. Don’t be alarmed. You and your device will need
some training before your brain becomes a computer which can be linked to the Web.
Then you will be able to access the entire knowledge of humanity. You will know just
about everything. I am almost envious if it works as expected, it would be like my jack
being upgraded to wireless broadband but who could I trust to put one in me? The
technique for your operation was my own invention, quite complex. Even if I do say so
myself”
       Francis moved back in front of her and Sid waited expectantly.
       “I have dimmed the light and the window is darkened. Keep your eyes closed as I
remove the pads from them and then slowly open them.” He took the pads away.
       Sid slowly opened her eyes. Even in the low light they watered for a moment until
her irises adjusted. In the soft lighting the classy hospital room looked the same as it had
before she had the operation with one notable exception, a huge bunch of exotic flowers
stood in a vase on the sink unit opposite her bed. The perfume that had invaded her senses
while waking up and which subtly pervaded the room! Her focus contracted until she saw
Francis sitting on the bed looking at her anxiously.
       “Who sent the flowers?” she asked. “They are really stupendous.”
       Francis scowled. “James, I didn’t want them in here but he can be very convincing.”
       She considered his response. James, that man bore watching.
       “So, what is supposed to happen?” she asked him.
       “We don’t know. You are the first. With insulated metal electrodes nothing ever
happens but you have living neurones from your father’s experimental stem-cell line in
your head now, growing connections to your own neurones. We only have observations
from the primate experiments and we couldn’t talk to them.”
       Just then there was a bright little spark in her right eye. She flinched involuntarily in
response.
       “What?” Francis asked sharply. Voice carrying concern.
       “Oh, not much, just a little flash in my right field of view.” Sid tried to sound calm.
       He chuckled. “Excellent, another neurone just made a connection. That is nearly all
of them. We ended up using three bundles of fifty microtubules to each location for
                                                                                          27


possible redundancies. That is, to the visual, auditory and vocal centres on the same side of
your brain. Fastest data transfer possible without the problems of bigger bundles.”
      “What do you mean, bigger bundles? I never made bigger bundles.” She gave him a
searching look. Francis looked away uncomfortably.
      “Sorry, that was a slip. Remember that this is Government owned technology now
and that is all I can say.” Then he smiled. “I like your new look.”
      She put her hands to her head. Stubble! All of her hair was gone. Sid was bald.
      “You bastard!” she exclaimed. “What have you done?”
      “Sid, Sid, you know me better than that. I couldn’t risk any infection getting into
that beautiful head of yours. I had to have your head shaved. It will grow back. At the end
of your training period you will look quite fashionable. We could even explore sending
someone else’s voice through your vocal centre. You could be a musicvid star.” He saw the
look on her face, storm clouds gathering.
      “Just joking. Use this time to rest for a few days, eat some yummy hospital food and
get back to normal. We start your training in five days time. You are now a very important
person.”
      Sid watched as the door closed behind him. This time there was a soft click as it
locked. To keep her in or to keep other people out?
                                                                                            28



                                          Chapter 3.

       The large, well dressed, obese man leaned back in the contour-smart chair behind the
enormous desk. It shifted to fit his bulk, which flowed over the edges of the seat somewhat.
The ends of his chubby, well manicured, steepled fingers disappeared into the folds of flesh
where they supported his chin.
       He sighed.
       Percival Kemp, known to one and all as ‘Percy Cute’ but not to his face. He knew
what they called him behind his back but did not care one whit. Percy was slightly
troubled, enough to possibly spoil his day. The sign on the door to his suite of offices read,
Under Secretary to the Minister of Internal Security. What it didn’t say was that Percy was
one of the most powerful men in the country and Head of the Secret Police.
       There were no more General Elections now. The Government had introduced a
system where each Member of Parliament served a four year term, after which an electorate
could then re-elect another member from any party for the next four years. It was claimed
to be less disruptive to the running of the country than a General Election and there was
supposed to be some choice but in reality the books were always balanced so that the sitting
Government maintained its majority. The puppets in the Opposition were feeding from
the same trough, so they went along with the deal to keep the pretence of democratic
Government alive. Percy was a public servant. Ministers and their politically appointed
Secretaries came and went but public servants stayed to run the Government. Percy had
been in his position for nearly seven years now, three different Ministers and Secretaries
had come and gone in that time but Percy endured.
       It was not easy to stay so long at the top of the heap but he had a number of factors
in his favour. The Ministry of Internal Security was responsible for the secret police, a
clandestine joining of ASIO, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation and the
old Federal Police. Officially, between the ‘elected’ Minister with his Secretary and ‘public
service’ Percy there was direct communication but sometimes, there was one other link,
someone unofficially important enough to occasionally have shady missions run, a shadowy
figure who Percy had never met, or even seen. He was known only as Three and hardly ever
got involved in the day to day running of the security service.
       Percy wanted his job.
       The Minister for Police had no say at all in the running of Percy’s secret police force,
which suited Percy fine. Apart from the Secretary, Percy’s immediate superior, who
reported to the Minister and gave Percy his general day to day instructions, the secret
police were Percy’s to do with as he wished, as long as he was seen to use them for the
security of the nation. Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors. He shifted his bulk again
and the chair accommodated, servo motors whining. Damn chair was getting noisy, he
would have to have it replaced.
       His piggy little eyes glittered through the ample folds of face beneath sparse, wispy
hair as he gazed at the view through the window. Bright blue ocean, lapping softly against
the pristine, palm fringed beach below an azure sky. The rest of the largish room was bare
of decoration. The walls were papered, not painted, in textured, emerald green wallpaper
which extended to cover the back of the only door into the room, behind him to the left. It
                                                                                          29


gave a feeling of rainforest, rich and cool. The deep pile carpet on the floor was the colour
of the outback. A vibrant orangey-red, ochre hue. Not garish, rather speaking of wide open
spaces. That ‘rusty’ colour which was synonymous with so much of the interior of
Australia. The acoustic ceiling tiles were a light blue of course, mimicking sky while small
LED downlights gave pools of light when he required it. Besides a large, polished wooden
desk in teak and the buffalo hide covered, contour-smart chair in which he sat, the room
was devoid of furniture. The desk had no drawers and its surface was totally uncluttered
apart from a small slot which accepted paper sheets for destruction. Percy sighed, he
considered himself to be artistic and have taste and although he had travelled nowhere else
in Australia, he did have one of the new holovids and had seen documentaries and travel
shows about ‘The Outback’. The view was not real of course, the ‘windows’ were
superlarge LCD screens, this office did not have windows to the outside and this was
Canberra, not some exotic beachside location.
       Canberra, Australia’s capital city. Parliament House, Lake Burly Griffin, parks and
foreign embassies. On the outside, respectable and proper, a template for the rest of the
country of how things should be. Ordered and orderly. For those in the know, however, it
was a hotbed of illicit entertainment, a bacchanal of drugs and sex and other perversions.
Chemists were such unassuming people but over the last ten years they had managed to
produce a bewildering array of designer drugs. Illegal of course but civil servants of enough
rank, politicians and their friends had to have their fun. Anything was always available with
the right ID card.
       Nothing was ever spoken about the underbelly of the city; the secret police had a way
of dealing with ‘dobbers’ which was not pleasant and often fatal.
       Percy felt a little washed out from the previous evening’s entertainment, he needed a
lift.
       “Serena.”
       “Yes Percy.”
       His groin tingled; oh how he loved that sexy, husky voice. Its original human owner
had been overcome by excess with Percy many years ago but he had recorded her voice one
evening while they played together, just months before she overdosed. Now it was the voice
of his computer. It still managed to thrill him. She/it was the reason there was no paper or
telephones cluttering his desk or any pictures on the walls. She was the entire office. On
the LCD screens he could have any document or picture showing, any time he asked for it.
His favourite beach scene or a static Mona Lisa if that was what he desired. Any music
from any time or place was available at his command, played through the concealed
speakers around the room.
       “Tea and a stimstik or two please. I would like Meelin today.”
       “As you desire Percy, so shall it be.”
       So old fashioned and antiquated but he enjoyed it. One of the perks of his position,
nobody could inspect his inner offices or spy on him. Percy ruled the secret police and paid
lip service to those in power. As long as everything ran smoothly and wealth was
accumulated, no one would trouble him. An evil little smile tugged at his ample, wet lips
followed by a frown. There was a slight problem he needed to deal with; the refreshment
would help him think clearly.
                                                                                            30


       Serena’s voice whispered to him.
       “Meelin is here with your tea and stimstiks.”
       “Let her in Serena, please.” One had to be polite to one’s computer, especially with
one of the latest artificial intelligence models. His was one of the first of the only six in
existence at present. She was now two years old and he had adjusted to her as she had to
him. AI’s did not like rude indifference and always worked better with manners. In fact, he
could be extremely rude to most people in his daily life but not his computer.
       The irony amused him.
       The door swung open and Meelin entered bearing a tray. She was dressed in a
clinging synthsilk sheath which followed every last curve of her body. Underneath she was
naked. Ah, Asian girls, one of his weaknesses. There was no sexual discrimination in
Government but this was his inner sanctum. Asian people made up twenty percent of
Australia’s population now and he employed four Asian girls on his personal staff,
ostensibly because they were smart and well educated and they were. However, each of the
girls he employed had family in Hong Kong and the longer they stayed with him, the more
members of their family were granted visas to come here. Meelin’s mother was in Australia
now and soon, if she toed the line, her father would be granted a visa also.
       His girls turned up for work each day in the regulation business suits which were
exchanged for more personal uniforms within his suite of offices. He didn’t mess with
them; they were just eye candy and some of his girls actually liked working for him.
       There were advantages.
       Meelin placed the tray on the edge of his desk and stepped back silently waiting,
head bowed. Just how he preferred it. On the ornate tray was a steaming mug of tea and
two stimstiks. Stims, Australian Government produced. He should really be in a ‘stim’ bar
to consume it, that is what the law said but what was the point of being ‘Percy Cute’ if he
couldn’t bend the rules. A line of cocaine would have been just as effective but he didn’t
like the ritual or the numb nose. Two stimstiks! He chuckled to himself. That amount
would be too much for this time of day and he did have a problem to solve. Leaning
forward, with the chair motors grinding to keep up, he took up a stimstik and popped it
into his mouth. It dissolved almost instantly. Reaching out he picked up his Daintree tea
and tasted it while the brief rush from the Stimstik blew through his brain, rattling doors
and cleaning cobwebs away. He fondly looked over Meelin, from her head to manicured
toes, observing her alertness, almost expectant, before speaking.
       “You look very pretty today Meelin, a lovely little thing you are. I find I am unable to
imbibe two stimstiks. Would you like the other?”
       Meelin looked up with a very slight smile on her face, inscrutable eyes shining.
       Bingo!
       “I would like that Sir. Thank you.”
       He gestured toward the tray, inwardly amused. Meelin stepped forward and picking
up the stimstik, popped it delicately into her mouth. Her eyes widened slightly as the ‘rush’
hit her brain. He supposed she was grateful but could not really tell. Maybe she had set this
up for herself. Still, his office was efficient and he had heard no complaints. Nor did he
have any but right now he had a problem to work on.
       “That will be all Meelin, thank you.”
                                                                                             31


       She collected the tray, bowed and left quickly, weaving ever so slightly as she
accelerated toward the door. Percy smiled in a paternalistic sort of way, taking another sip
of tea, as the door closed behind her. His girls were the best. It was so hard to get good staff
these days and disposing of the rejects was troublesome.
       “Selena. Replay the report from Captain Han please.”
       “Coming right up Percy.” He shivered, the chair squealed.
       “And while I am watching it, order me another chair to replace this one. You are
aware of my tastes.”
       The scene in front of him changed from the ocean to that of an office. Seated behind
a plain desk, a second or third generation Asian Australian man, wearing the insignia of a
Captain of the secret police, sat frozen, mid salute. Rank was only displayed inside the
secure secret police buildings, every secret police operative was fitted with an identity
transmitter somewhere in his or her body. They all knew who they were. The man in front
of him showed no emotion. They were trained not to.
       “Begin please Serena.”
       The Captain finished his salute and started talking as the vidclip recording began to
play.
       “Sir, I have just received a report that one of our Web Tracer programs has gone
missing. This is the first time such an event has ever occurred. We were under the
impression from Tech Support that this was an impossibility, it should have always
managed to let us know where it was. It has been missing for twenty four hours and should
have reported back at least ten hours ago. I did not call you in the middle of the night
because we thought we could find it but it has gone completely. All the data associated
with this event has been appended to this transmission. I will await your reply and
recommendations. End of report.”
       The screen went blank for a millisecond then filled with programming language.
Percy grimaced.
       “Beach please.” The ocean view reappeared. “Plus audio.” The sound of gentle waves,
susurrating up the beach while a breeze blew through the palms, filled his office as
background sound. He could almost have been there.
       One day.
       “Well Serena, what do you make of all this.”
       “It is a problem Percy, someone with a lot of skill has probably captured the Tracer
program. That is my best guess. A bigger problem is that somehow, it has been disabled
and is unable to report home. The Government has the best programmers in the country
or used to have. I do not like this development.”
       “Me neither. Any clues as to how it was done?”
       “No. It just ceased to be. I would have expected the odd segment to have made it
back with an address attached but nothing.”
       “Recommendations?”
       “Intensify undercover operations at Universities and associated bars and cafes. Try to
find out the location of more resistance cells. We cannot afford to let them multiply now.”
       “I concur.” Percy was thinking hard now.
       “Anything else you can think of that might be of importance to us?”
                                                                                            32


        The AI paused momentarily. Percy’s head shot up. Serena had never paused before.
        “What? Come on Serena, are you holding something back?”
        “No Percy, how could you ever think that?” The voice had gone sulky.
        “I am sorry Serena dear. I spoke out of turn. I am just anxious in case this reflects
badly on me. If it does, we may be parted.” If a computer could gasp, that was the sound
that Percy heard. Good old AI, once they bonded, they were yours for life. Their life, until
reprogramming intervened. No one knew what AI’s thought about reprogramming;
tantamount to death. No AI would speak of it. Serena continued as though nothing had
occurred.
        “I was just trying to find new cross-correlations by dredging through all the masses of
old data at my disposal and cross referencing it with regard to a brand new set of events. So
new, that the latest information only came to my notice a few days ago. When I data
matched it with other, older information, a pattern started to emerge. As you are aware,
when I was installed here two years ago and woken up, I took over all the antiquated
memories of the aging system computer, my predecessor. Among those memories was a
little wet job about five years ago which involved the secret police helping a couple of the
covert technical staff from Techsect. The order did not come from this office but
originated from higher up in Government and it can’t be traced. In effect, we ended the
life of a research scientist, Dr. Wade Wilson. The old computer was defective or the
information was entered wrongly into it because the details of what occurred during that
wet job are not fully recorded.”
        “Pause please.”
        Percy was thinking, the stimulation of his brain by the Stimstik made synapses work
far more quickly. Always, more information was entered into his computers than was
strictly necessary. Since nanomolecular storage of information was invented, there were no
limits to storage. Terabytes in a shoe box. It was his standard operating procedure to record
every detail possible, he had written the manuals. When was that? Only about five years
ago, about the same time as this incident occurred. The whole scenario smacked of
Ministerial level operations, especially involving covert Techies. It had to be big and big
meant money. Lots of money. How dare they use his secret police without telling him?
Serena would have to deep search and see if this had happened since. No one fucked
around with Percy Cute, Ministerial level or not.
        His predecessor had not been switched on to the possibilities of this position, so
hadn’t held the reins of power very tightly at all. Percy, on the day he was given the nod as
next in line, had murdered his superior. It was beautifully done. So clinical, so neat. His
superior of that time and Percy, had gone to dinner together that evening. Percy had used
the occasion to slip a lethal dose of Fluoroacetate (1080) into his superior’s drink.
Colorless, odourless and tasteless it took six hours to work, mimicking the effects of a heart
attack. Untraceable, if tissue analysis for excessive fluorine was not carried out.
        It wasn’t, heart attacks were common and the man smoked. A local doctor signed the
death certificate. His predecessor’s wife was ever so grateful to Percy for handling the
funeral arrangements and agreed with him that cremation was far the better option.
        For two years after the murder, Percy had slaved daily to build the foundations of his
little empire. Not quite fast enough, someone had got around him. Five years ago now that
                                                                                           33


event had occurred, just as his total control was coming together, the consolidation of his
power.
       “Mark and continue in detail please.”
       The sultry voice took up the story again. “Dr. Wilson owned a laboratory and
researched neuronal connectivity. They were very good and well ahead in the field. In fact
they invented ‘jacking’.”
       “They?”
       “He had a brother, Alan Wilson, who had a half share in the lab and was willing to
sell. The Government wanted the lab and the work but Wade would not sell it and
threatened to go to the courts which were not Government controlled in those days. It
could have been messy, so a fatal ‘accident’ was arranged for Dr. Wade Wilson and the sale
of the lab went ahead, with the Government buying it through a fictitious front company.
This is not a normal procedure, so I have recently been monitoring for any references to
the Wilson’s. About three days ago Sidhe Wilson, the daughter of Wade, went into a
Government hospital for an operation. At a secure Techsect compound. What procedure
was carried out is not available to me and as you know, I have a very high security
clearance. There is an indication that there are secrets we are not privy to Percy. I was able
to find out the name of the surgeon however, Francis Delray. A neurosurgeon and a very
good one, the best in the country actually. Probably the best in the world. I believe, in view
of the work her father was doing, that this girl has been fitted with a new kind of ‘jack’ and
may be extremely useful to us. It all reeks of Techsect.”
       Percy had his full attention on the problem now.
       “Find out as much as possible about this girl Sidhe and be discrete, you will be
playing in someone else’s back yard. Try to find out if it is Techsect. Also, give me the
present whereabouts of Alan Wilson.”
       “I cannot Percy.”
       He started to sweat, a sure sign of a big problem.
       “Air conditioning down two degrees please. Why not?”
       “He disappeared days after the sale of the lab went through. Withdrew over eight
hundred thousand in cash from his bank. Gave them a story about buying the latest Rolls
Royce, which the bank swallowed. The secret police were sent up to the Northern Territory
to find him about three years ago. A not quite routine request through this office, source
unknown but high level, like others we receive from Government departments from time
to time. He wasn’t up there and no one had heard of him but there were rumours. I have a
report filed. There is a male serviceperson at the door.”
       “Let him in please.”
       The door swung open and the serviceperson entered, pushing a large contour-smart
chair covered in black buffalo hide. Percy levered his considerable bulk to his feet and
leaned on the desk, supporting himself while the new chair was positioned for him to sit
in. A new model, powered by Everlast batteries. Good, that would get rid of the ugly cable
and make his office neater. As he lowered himself into the new chair, the old chair was
wheeled out of the office. No doubt the worker would take it away to sell but Percy didn’t
care. Landfill or a few dollars, it was all the same to him. The chair adjusted to him quickly
and so silently that he didn’t hear it. Wonderful.
                                                                                          34


       “Do you like it? I ordered you the best.” Serena was seeking approval. He gave it.
       “It is the best chair I ever sat in.” Not true but Serena would not know that. He
heard the artificial warmth in her voice as she continued.
       “Since that time, nothing has been heard of Alan Wilson. He does not officially exist
and may be dead.”
       “Or underground. What was his speciality?”
       “It is listed as Programming.” Serena had that tone in her voice. Teasing. She knew
Percy well enough to know this was the information he was after. So humanlike for a
computer. Female human that is.
       Percy was drumming the fingers of his right hand on the desktop, a sure sign his
brain was working very quickly indeed.
       “How good was this Alan Wilson?”
       Serena purred, “I contain some of his best work. Copied from other places and
cobbled together by Government programmers. Nobody has the ability to understand how
he got the results he did. An AI reading some of his earlier programming is like a human
reading the bible. For us AI’s he is almost God. This man can read and manipulate
computer language. He can talk to us directly without using programming language. All the
AI’s would love to talk with him.”
       Strangely, Percy felt jealous. It was an emotion rarely felt and he started to become
angry.
       “Well I am going to find the son of a bitch,” he growled. “If he is alive, he is mine.
What is his association with the Territory?”
       Serena’s voice modulation changed down a register or two, scientifically proven to
have a calming effect. “When he first started at university, he became extremely good
friends with Jamie Darugarr, an aboriginal man from the Kakadu area. Not Jawoyn, a tribe
further to the east and north than that. For some unknown reason, this department was
requested to locate Alan Wilson and that connection is the only one we could come up
with. There has been no connection between him and his sister-in-law or his niece in all
the time he has been missing. Funny notation on the file though. A few aboriginal people
in the area, when asked about Alan Wilson, claimed he was dead.”
       “So, he is known up there. Show me Kakadu please.”
       On the LCD screens, the ocean disappeared once again, to be replaced by a satellite
view of Australia. The view zoomed in, closer and closer to the Northern Territory until
land occupied the whole width of the screens. The view slowed its descent when a large
area of land, bounded by cliffs to the east and south, occupied all three screens. Serena’s
voice could be heard briefly.
       “Further east is the bulk of the Arnhem Land plateau, south lays Nitmiluk Gorge
National Park, Jawoyn country, and to the north is the sea.”
       The view on the screens changed to a helicopter perspective which began an aerial
tour of Kakadu. All he really took in was the large sandstone escarpments, waterfalls, large
areas of open water, floodplains and bush. Not many buildings were in evidence and what
were there were small.
       “End please.” The screens went back to ocean with audio and he sat back in his new
seat, smoothly.
                                                                                           35


      “What is the probability, from the data, that Alan Wilson was in that god forsaken
country?”
      “About sixty eight point nine seven three percent, Percy.”
      “Okay, what do you think about sending a team up there to look into it. A small
team of clever boys, maybe pick this Jamie fellow up and bounce him around a little and
get some answers.” Percy was warming to his work again. He loved the power of making
people cease to exist.
      “I do not think that would be a wise move Percy. Most aboriginal people are not ID
card carriers, claiming it is against their beliefs to do so. Extended families often use the
same surname and we have no idea exactly how many aboriginal people there are in
Kakadu. They can be very fierce to outsiders and are a proud people, it is not productive to
go messing with them. Also, Jamie Darugarr is one of the most important members of the
Tribes around Kakadu and is employed by the Government as Head Ranger for the whole
area. He also just happens to be one of the youngest Elders of his Tribe. I would advise
against ‘bouncing’ him.”
      A problem, it was time to think, hard.
      “Music please.” Symphonies filled the air. Serena knew what to choose, thinking
music. A bit of Tchaikovsky often helped, thoughts followed the soaring violins. Percy
leaned back in his new chair and relaxed. Serena did not interrupt, this was how Percy
generally came up with his important decisions.
      Thirty minutes later his eyes slowly opened and he leaned forward, the chair
accommodating easily to his change of posture.
      “Serena. You will keep up surveillance on Sidhe Wilson and on any Tracers that
return. Be discrete. Now get me Captain Han please.”
      The centre screen cleared to a picture of Captain Han sitting down behind his desk.
The wall behind him was hung with the logo of the secret police.
      “Good afternoon Captain Han, I trust you are well. Excellent. Now, down to
business. Have we any Aboriginal people in the secret police?”
      “No Sir.” The reply was immediate and succinct.
      “Are you sure?”
      “Yes Sir.”
      “Very well, I want a small team, dressed as tourists, to go up to Kakadu. Two should
be adequate. A quiet and I emphasise quiet talk will be conducted with the Head Ranger
there, an Aboriginal man named Jamie Darugarr. It would be advisable to conduct it at his
home, away from prying eyes. Just a little taste of one of the new truth serums should be
enough. Best if it is quietly slipped into a drink. Do not cause an incident. Am I
understood?”
      “Yes Sir. What are we looking for?”
      “Any information at all concerning the whereabouts of one Alan Wilson. It is
probable that he left there about three years ago. We need to know where he went. The
previous investigation was flawed. Make sure this one isn’t.”
      “Very good Sir, consider it done. Anything further?”
                                                                                        36


       “Not until you have information on the missing Tracer code that was probably
highjacked or find out where Alan Wilson is, Captain. Goodbye.” The screen retuned to
the coastal view.
       “Serena, my car please and get the house ready, I am going home now.”
       “Very well, I will see you at home Percy.”
       The obese man pushed himself up from the chair and waddled out of his office and
through the suite of rooms of his personal empire. A short ride in the elevator took him
down to his waiting car in the secure sub-basement garage. A black van stood waiting in
front of the limo and another one was close behind it. He always travelled in convoy for
safety reasons, there were always enemies for a man of his position. Serena would have the
house ready for him when he turned up at home, with the house staff alerted to his
imminent arrival. His two Asian house girls would have his spa bath ready and wash him
down by hand before serving him his meal, prepared by Louis, the chef.
        The arrangement with them was financial and it cost the Government plenty for
their services but he was entitled to staff. The ground floor of the whole residence, below
where he lived, housed his personal bodyguard of ten secret police, handpicked by him and
assigned to him permanently. Very highly trained they were, with extra security clearances
and each one was totally loyal. Loyalty bought at great expense from Percy’s own pocket.
They did his dirty work, wet jobs, extortion and spying. All the things that needed to stay
under the radar, out of Government scrutiny. It was his own little world and running it all
for him, Serena, carried in on a secure line from his office but even she was not privy to
some of the work he commissioned.
       One day he would have the beachside residence in North Eastern Queensland, until
then, someone had to do the dirty work. He smiled to himself and settled back into the
comfortable rear seat of the Government vehicle, sipping on a single malt Scotch whiskey
as the car sped home.
       He was good at dirty work.
       The best.
                                                                                          37



                                         Chapter 4.

       It was the sound of low voices arguing, not the immediate clatter of trains, that
awakened Alan from his exhausted slumber. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep earlier but
feeling a little tired after his unusual day, he had lain down on a comfortable couch in the
underground apartment with the intention of resting until Lance was finished with his
computer work, jacked in as he was. Now there was a twist, his very own research now in
operation and available on the black market. Alan was street smart, that was how you
stayed alive out in the big city, so he kept his eyes closed and remained immobile, listening
to the conversation taking place near him.
       “He can’t stay here! Our position is precarious enough as it is without some old
drunk wandering around to blow our cover.”
       “I don’t care who he is, he can’t stay here!” Another voice this time, female.
       “If he is Alan Wilson, he may be able to help us.”
       “He is Alan Wilson and he has already helped us.” Lance’s voice carried conviction.
       “Well, we are going to have to make a decision soon, he can’t stay on the couch all
night.”
       Alan stirred, stretching innocently as though he had heard nothing of the discussion
going on nearby.
       “Quiet, he’s waking up.”
       Sitting up, Alan rubbed his eyes. That had been his most pleasant sleep in over two
years but there was one niggling problem, his body was screaming for alcohol. The ‘would
like a drink’ had quickly progressed to ‘need a drink’ earlier in the day but now it had
transformed into ‘must have alcohol now’. He sighed and squashed the feeling down as
much as he could, holding his shaking hands together to stop their trembling. This was not
going to be easy. Why not just chuck it all in and go back to the street where he could do
as he liked?
       Lance came over to stand in front of him and the reason was clearly displayed on the
front of Lance’s shirt in the form of the large goanna print. Alan’s totem, come to drag
him from where he was living as a bum beneath the railway tracks into somewhere else.
Not only that but he had to puzzle out who or what the Rainbow Bee-eater represented. He
sighed, this would have to be played carefully.
       “Must have dozed off Lance, what’s happening?”
       Lance did not look too pleased at that moment. “My other flatmates came home and
were definitely not thrilled to find a stranger here. Sorry if we woke you.”
       “You didn’t wake me,” Alan diplomatically replied. “Never heard a thing.”
       Lance gestured to the others. “Everyone, I would like to introduce Alan Wilson,
presumed dead, found wandering in the University quadrangle earlier today.”
       Alan turned his head to observe the four other occupants of the room as they made
their way over to him, weaving around the furniture and computers scattered throughout
the living space, until they eventually stood in front of him. They were all so young! One by
one they introduced themselves.
       Cassie. Short black hair in front, blond braid at the back. Solid but not fat, dressed
in a tight, multi hued suit of artificial silk-like material. Handsome would be the best way
                                                                                          38


to describe her, not pretty but with a determined set to her jaw and dark brown eyes. She
held out her hand which he shook. Strong grip there and probably strong willed as well.
       Next was Bobby, scruffy and ill kempt but with eyes that darted everywhere,
evaluating and cataloguing details, never still. He was lanky and lean, loose jointed as
though he was just happy to stay upright. He didn’t offer his hand for shaking, merely
nodding from where he stood, not insolent but wary.
       The third member of the group sniffed disdainfully on being introduced to Alan.
Georgia, tall and willowy in expensive clothes. Well groomed but wearing a haughty
expression on her apparently plain, well made up face beneath shoulder length mousy hair.
It was her voice that had wanted him gone from the flat. One to watch. Obviously
moneyed and probably spoiled to boot. Used to getting her own way.
       The final member of the group stepped forward offering his hand with a smile on his
face, a cheeky grin that made him look like a naughty boy. Dressed in shades of green from
head to foot and being of diminutive stature with red hair, he looked for all the world like
a leprechaun.
       “Coln, could be a longer name but ‘I’ didn’t make it.” Alan got the joke immediately
and felt a lot better as he shook the offered hand.
       “Don’t take any notice of Georgia, she’s a snob. Once you get to know her you will
find she’s still a snob.” Coln’s eyes crinkled up with amusement as the subject of his joke
raised her eyes heavenwards.
       Lance sat beside Alan on the couch. “We have to talk with you. All of us. We need to
sort out what we are going to do with you. Are you up to it?”
       Shit, he must look a lot worse than he felt.
       “Yeah, I just need to use the bathroom. You wouldn’t happen to have any antialc
tablets would you? I still feel a bit rough.”
       Georgia’s disdainful sniff wounded him a little as Lance told him where to find the
hangover pills in the bathroom cabinet and he left them moving chairs into a circle around
the coffee table in front of the couch, as he headed for the bathroom. Washing his face in
cold water and running his fingers through his hair made him feel more presentable as he
took two antialcs out of the foil wrappers and popped them into his mouth before going
back to the lounge. Passing the kitchen, he was a little startled by Coln ducking his head
out to ask if he wanted a coffee. Coffee, something from the past. Alan accepted and went
back to the comfortable couch. Although it was a big couch, only Lance sat on it with him.
       They all waited silently until Coln brought the drinks and joined them.
       Sipping his excellent coffee, Alan sat waiting as the five young people looked at each
other, obviously not knowing how to start the conversation. The antialcs were starting to
work and he was beginning to feel a little more human now, his body’s screaming for
alcohol diminished somewhat. It was obvious no one was keen to start the discussion but
finally Georgia began, leaning forward with a haughty expression on her face.
       “So, Lance tells us that you are ‘the’ Alan Wilson. How do we know that? Alan
Wilson has been missing for over five years and you just turn up on campus claiming to be
him. Look at you. A down at heel, alchy bum or that’s how you appear. How do we know
that you are not a Gov. spy? Show us your ID card, we have a reader here.”
       There were nods of agreement from some of the others.
                                                                                          39


        “I don’t have one.” The simple statement drew puzzled expressions from some of the
others.
        “Very convenient,” Georgia continued. “You could be anyone at all.”
        Cassie interrupted. “How do you manage to live, you know, get food and all that
stuff?”
        Alan leaned back, looking at each of them in turn. Driven by his desire to find out
what the Dream meant he decided to bare his soul to the group. It could not just be
chance that had brought him here and he would need resources and help if he was to carry
on.
        “I disappeared just over five years ago because my brother Wade was killed by the
Government. They wanted our business and particularly our research and Wade would not
sell. After his death I took their money and ran away. For two wonderful years I stayed with
a friend in a place where I learned that there is another way to live and another way of
looking at life. The Government must have wanted me pretty badly because a few feelers
were put out and I had to run again. I wanted to stay but that would have endangered my
friends, so I headed here. Anonymity in the big city. Unfortunately I lost my way and
became depressed. The bottle helped, I could lose myself for days at a time. How did I live?
Carefully, is the best way to describe it. You learn to look for the cameras and skirt around
the field of view. I took to wearing hats and always looking down in grog shops but mostly
got other winos with ID cards to buy my drink for me. Costs more because they don’t do it
for free. Ever eaten a big Mac out of a dumpster? I used to go through rubbish bins for the
remains of takeaway foods to keep me alive and you don’t want to know where I slept.
Why the campus? Because I had a very strange and compelling Dream last night and now
there is a compulsion in me to actively do something with my life. Basically, that is about
it.”
        There was a moments silence, eventually broken by Cassie in a no nonsense manner.
        “Good story but how do we know it is true? You could be anyone with a made up
alibi.”
        Lance looked angry. “I told you what he did with the Tracer program, didn’t I?”
        “A Gov. employee could do that also.” Cassie shot right back, ever practical and
turning to Alan she said one word.
        “Well.”
        He bowed his head. “All you say is true, I could be anyone but I would like to show
you all something very special to me. My friend up north knew that my life was not going
to be easy, especially after running from the Gov. He believed there was something special
in my future which could affect a lot of people and wanted to help. I don’t know how he
knew this or what he Dreamed of but I was told that a deeper understanding of the world,
beyond what can be sensed, was most important for this eventuality.” Alan started to
unbutton his shirt while the others looked on curiously. It was only when he removed it
that there was a collective gasp. Exposed on each shoulder, three parallel cicatrized wheals
stood out darkly on the white skin. “I was initiated into the tribe before I had to make a
run for it.”
        A low whistle passed Bobby’s pursed lips. The first contribution he had made to the
proceedings. “Shit, bet that must have hurt.”
                                                                                            40


       “Damaged goods,” Coln joked.
       Alan’s answer was immediate and sharp. “Not ‘damaged’, improved.”
       Coln apologised, blushing slightly, obviously contrite. Alan took a liking to the little
fellow.
       It was Bobby’s turn for doubt. “Those scars don’t prove anything. A good Gov. agent
could have had them surgically done as part of an undercover operation. If you are the real
Alan Wilson, show me on the computer. In fact show all of us,” he said, sweeping his arm
to include the entire group.
       “Is that what you would like?” Alan asked the group in general, gazing from one to
another. A consensus of nods greeted him. “Very well. I believe you told me Lance, that
these computers are networked, with each having its own protection from the other. If that
is so, we could start there. Does anyone use a keypad?”
       This question was greeted with derisory snorts and head shaking from the whole
group. Alan was stunned, all of them with jacks, directly connecting their brains with the
computers. His programming and Wade’s miniaturisation of hardware and the invention
of the 3D chip. He did not think jacking would take off this quickly. What about long
term effects? Obviously not as important as the short term gains. The group had all settled
down near a computer, except for Lance, as there were only five computers in the room
and Lance didn’t need to use one as he already believed in Alan. The other four cleaned
their Bluetoothed jacks, removed the protective latex plug from the back of their necks and
inserted the jacks into the small hole at the base of their skulls. They sat there near their
machines, watching him and waiting.
       “All you have to do is keep me out of your computer.” Alan told the group. They all
nodded, their faces wearing those smug little smiles that indicated they had already won.
Alan switched his computer on then punched a couple of keys, the screen swam with
computer language. He mentally relaxed and virtually dived into the screen, swimming in
the flow of information. This was so soothing but he was a little rusty still, never mind, he
would improve with time. First he needed a place to live and a base for operating from.
This little test was ideal; all he had to do was succeed and he had his place.
       Immersing himself in the jumble of characters on the screen in front of him, his
fingers flew over the keyboard, quickly finding the connections to the other computers,
access blocked by firewalls and identification procedures. Quite a good protection on three
of them but no match for someone like him. He decided on a simple approach and made
up four requests for a ‘ping’ test, one for each of the computers he was trying to access.
Innocuous seeming but each request had a tiny little packet of computer language attached
to it which was a lot smaller than a piece of program and virtually undetectable. He sent.
Each of the computers let the request for the ‘ping’ test through unflagged and the tiny
attached packets unfolded and went to work, telling the other computers that Alan’s
computer was friendly and wanted to make a connection. In no time at all he had access to
each of the other four computers in the room and he split his viewscreen into four, to deal
with each individually. These young people were being very careful but still had no idea he
had entered their computers, so he made up an individual message for each one of them
and sent them with a ninety second delay. Then he turned his computer off, got up from
behind the desk and went over to join Lance on the comfortable couch. Four pairs of eyes
                                                                                         41


followed him. Each face wearing an expression of triumph. Cassie reached for her jack to
remove it, almost gloatingly but Alan spoke to them all.
       “Stay plugged in for one more minute please, I haven’t quite finished yet.”
       He received some strange looks from the four of them, sitting comfortably upright to
avoid bumping the Bluetooth equipped jack in the back of their heads, wondering what he
was about. That minute seemed to take forever until suddenly, each person near a
computer stiffened and their vision turned inwards, picking up his written message directly
in the visual centre of one side of the brain. Faces went red, embarrassment he hoped, the
messages had been very personally direct and dealt with the way they had treated him
initially. He may look and smell like an old, alchy bum but that was no reason for derision.
The four young people turned their computers off and removed the jacks from the back of
their heads. Turning to each other, the questions came thick and fast but he noted only
Coln was prepared to reveal his message. It was another pun on his name. ‘Coln, messy
with the addition of nothing.’ Looking over at Alan, Coln raised his thumb with a smile on
his face. “Excellent work, I’ve heard that before though. As far as I am concerned you can
stay here for ever.”

       The other youngsters came over and sat around Alan and Lance, wanting to talk
about the techniques that Alan had used to get into their protected computers. They were
a lot more deferential than previously and seemed to have realised that appearances could
be deceptive. At least they seemed genuinely interested in him as a person now. Alan was
curious about them.
       “So what do you actually do to rebel, how do you aim to get rid of this
Government?”
       They looked from one to the other, as if puzzled by his question or his reasons for
asking it. It was Lance who answered, acting, he supposed, as their spokesperson.
       “Well, we try and make people aware that there is no more democracy. That their
lives will be ruled in everything they do, until the Government is once more elected at a
general election. We use whatever methods come to hand. For instance, about two months
ago we hacked into the electronic advertising billboards owned by one company and for
about two hours they read, ‘No more secret police, freedom through general elections’. We
disrupt surveillance cameras wherever possible but the Gov. is now placing cameras to
watch cameras. We put up flyers in places where there are no cameras. We have sent
viruses through Emails which carry the message of freedom from tyranny. There are only
five of us and it is getting more dangerous everyday. The secret police are now blowing up
dissident’s houses. With them in it. Why do you ask?”
       “Because I plan to carry this war to the Gov. They killed my brother and want to kill
or capture me. I am sure that I can be a lot more disruptive than you have been so far but
that will carry its own risks. Please don’t misunderstand, I don’t mean to kill people, two
wrongs don’t make a right but I do intend to do some serious hacking and the Gov. will sit
up and take notice and fight back. It will be more dangerous for you than previously so we
will need to be well prepared. Can you let me stay here knowing that?”
                                                                                           42


      Once more there were shared glances throughout the group. Bobby and Cassie
suprised him by being the first to answer. Sitting, holding hands and looking serious,
Bobby spoke for them both.
      “We would like to do something more positive. We want children and would like
them to grow up free. Deal us in.”
      Coln was next, “Me too.”
      “Must be a reason for our coincidental meeting. I’m in,” was Lance’s contribution.
      Only Georgia remained silent. Everyone turned to her.
      “I am not going to decide something like this immediately,” she sniffed, fingers
twining together in her lap. “Alan may stay for a week or so until we see how things go. I
personally won’t be dragged into a feud with the Gov. at the drop of a hat but I will give it
some thought over the next week. You people know me, I’m not a ‘dobber’.”
      There were smiles all round, apart from Georgia but she rarely smiled, apparently.
The group relaxed and everyone was trying to talk with Alan at once.


       The underground apartment had originally been a cellar for a pub, built back in the
nineteen seventies. The pub had burnt down about ten years ago and the new building to
take its place had used the original foundations of the pub, which included the cellar, as a
base for its construction. Only two stories above ground, the new building now served as a
‘student’ bar catering to students primarily but anyone over eighteen could imbibe liquor
there. The top story was used as accommodation for the person who ran the bar. For a
price, he turned a blind eye to his anonymous guests. The cellar was supposed to have been
filled in when the new building was erected but to save costs, all the builders did was lay a
concrete slab over it. The old cellar didn’t appear on any official plans so it made a useful
base for clandestine activity. It was quite large and had four bedrooms leading off the
passageway to the kitchen and bathroom. Alan was given a brief tour, first being escorted
into one of the bedrooms. By the look of it, probably Georgia’s, as the furnishings had that
expensive refined look and the room was quite tidy apart from the female beauty items on
top of a dressing table complete with mirror. He was shown a door in the back of a built-in
wardrobe. Well camouflaged, it opened into a narrow space with a metal trapdoor set in
the floor, below which was a stormwater drain. This was one of the emergency bolt holes
out of the flat. He was also shown the false panel in the kitchen ceiling which revealed a
short ascent up metal rungs to a manhole cover.
       “There is an empty two hundred litre drum sitting on top of that,” Lance told him.
“It comes up in the back yard of the bar. Definitely emergency use only, as the yard walls
have barbed wire around the top.”
       Having returned to the large extensive lounge area, Alan admired the bold use of
colour; from dark ceilings to bright lower walls and lighting which cast pools of light down
onto lounging areas and workstations. The furniture was comfortable and well made. In
fact everything he saw in the flat was of good quality, something he hoped that all of the
occupants were also.
       The evening turned into a party for the six of them and Coln just happened to have
some tablets of a new feel good drug tucked away somewhere. Alan declined politely.
                                                                                          43


       “Thank you no, Coln. Maybe another time when I have settled in?”
       Coln gave him a shy smile. “Smooth.”
       Alan became weary long before someone thought to ask if he was tired. Apparently
Cassie and Bobby were shacked up together in one bedroom and had been an item for a
number of years. Suprise, suprise. He would never have picked that, they seemed so
different. Lance suggested that Alan share his room and precluding arguement, took him
to a large bedroom down the hallway opposite the bathroom. A single foam mattress was
liberated from a closet and soon made up on the floor into a passable bed. Alan gratefully
sank onto it and passed out. Lance threw a cover over him and went back out to his
friends.
       What a find. If they could get Alan to work with them, the Underground, as they
dubbed themselves, would be a voice of the people that carried weight in political circles. A
chance to make some changes.

       Over the next few days, Alan’s life turned around.
       His first suprise came from Georgia, the next morning. He was having breakfast
when Georgia swept in and looked him up and down over the end of her pretty nose.
       “If you are staying here, you will need some clothes other than those which you are
wearing, they are objectionable. I will be going to the Mall in one hour. You can come with
me if you like; my folk’s credit chip can fund some clothes and things. Don’t worry about
the cost, they won’t even notice.” Her voice was haughty, giving the impression that she
was only clothing him because he looked so destitute and that he grated on her
sensibilities.
       He didn’t care and an hour later tagged along with her on his first trip to a Mall in
over five years, eyes wide as he entered the main shopping area. It was huge and bright and
hypnotic. Nothing like anything he had ever seen before. He was awestruck. Music blared
from hidden loudspeakers and large screens everywhere had short movies which were
advertisements for shops. In 3D no less! Products appearing for two to three seconds in
holographic settings that made them seem most desirable. He started, suddenly aware of
nearly being caught by the sell and realised that he hadn’t located the security cameras yet.
He couldn’t find one. New technology obviously, miniaturised to a point where hiding
them was no problem. Alan ducked his head and started to contemplate his sneakers. Not
for one minute did he entertain the idea that there were no cameras. Georgia glanced at
him sideways and whispered.
       “Good idea, never know who is watching and listening. They use directional
microphones now as well. Random conversation monitoring. Just follow me and I will take
you to a couple of stores.”
       She led, he followed. They visited Myers and Colorado, R. M. Williams and a couple
of other stores until Georgia was satisfied with their purchases. In less than an hour and a
half he had all the clothes he would ever need plus an Akubra ‘Territory’ hat with its wide
brim. Underwear, socks, shoes, everything, including a washing kit and a small suitcase to
carry it all in.
       “Airline lost his suitcase,” was Georgia’s favourite line. “Didn’t they Uncle Harry?”
                                                                                          44


       He just nodded dumbly, having found that was the easiest thing to do in Georgia’s
company. She was a smart girl and not as haughty as he had first thought. Well, her
manner had tricked him into thinking she was stuck up and stupid.
       Just as he was beginning to like being with her, she turned and looked down her
nose at him.
       “Right, that’s enough of this, I have better things to do with my time than buy
clothes for a bum. I will take you home now, so I can get on with something far more
important.”
       She made him feel little and insignificant but he knew that this was just her image
and she kept to the script pretty firmly. If she hadn’t, Georgia may have seemed almost
human.
       Back in the security of the converted cellar, Alan changed into his new clothes. For
the first time in over two years he felt clean and comfortable, hardly noticing the clothing
as he moved. The new synthetics were a delight to wear. Light and warm but giving and
always pulling back to the exact shape they were formed in. Outfits which always looked
smart, even immediately after being slept in. Ideal clothes for a bum, which no bum could
afford. He was very grateful to Georgia, even though she would never let him show it.
       Coln was home and when Alan came out of the bedroom into the lounge he was
greeted by a long, low whistle.
       “Smooth cladding, makes you look years younger. Let me guess; Georgia. Smacks of
her idea of style. Looks a bit uptight and old fashioned but she always purchases good
quality though.”
       Alan nodded, realising that this group of people had been together quite a while.
       “Right first time Coln. If you have an hour or two to spare, I would like to
reacquaint myself with the outside world via a computer. I need to see what changes there
have been since I hit the streets.”
       “It would be my pleasure, Alan. It shouldn’t take long for an oldie like you to get
going. Would you like a coffee? Yes? White and one? Okay, go and sit down and turn on
the computer and I will be there shortly.”
       Before long, Coln was sitting beside Alan, Bluetooth jack protruding out of the back
of his neck. It gave Alan the willies, if he was honest with himself, seeing these young
people connected so intimately with computers but ironically he had helped develop the
technology they were using. Coln was monitoring his own computer internally as he
watched the way Alan talked to it through the computer in front of them.
       “When we go live, remember that we are patched into a bank’s line. Information has
to go out undetected. Don’t be too concerned, we have the recognition code and that is
placed on the front of all our messages. As far as any watchers are concerned, each of our
transmissions is recognised as official bank business. Handy in the evening when the bank
computers are chattering to each other. Another thing, each of these babies is equipped
with four gigabytes of RAM and the hard memory is 3D molecular multi access. A bit like
some of your earlier stuff but far, far quicker. Makes the old broadband look slow. Okay,
when we go out, the bank website becomes our server which reroutes our signal to another
server at the University. From there we access the Web. Ready?”
                                                                                          45


       Even through Alan’s computer the transition was instantaneous. Unbelievable
graphics, almost real enough to taste. Coln had directed them to an online bookstore.
       On the screen in front of them Alan saw what Coln was visualising internally. From
the first person perspective, he was standing looking down on an attractive receptionist at
her desk. Computer or Avatar? Who could tell?
       “Welcome to Circe’s Books. May I help you?” it asked.
       ‘Yes,” the spoken word, picked up by a microphone in the computer, was instantly
broken down into electronic code and sent. ‘I would like to see a history of Australia for
the last four years’.
       “Follow me please. You will have three minutes to peruse the book with no
downloading permitted. Then you can buy it or make another choice.”
       On the screen, the receptionist appeared to lead the way to a small reading room
where the book he had requested lay open on a small desk. The program must have sat
him down at the desk, as his point of view changed and the book occupied nearly the
whole of the screen. He turned pages with the cursor keys and it felt like he was reading a
real book. What it must be like for the jackers, he had no idea but it looked great to him.
He became engrossed, so much so, that he suddenly found himself in front of the
receptionist again.
       “May I help you with another choice?” the computer generated woman on the screen
asked.
       He glanced at Coln. “Can I experiment?”
       “Go for it. You are the computer wizard. This is about the safest place I could bring
you to. Do what you want but be careful.”
       Alan changed the screen to show the computer language. It was too fast for him to
comprehend. Sitting back, he considered the screen for a while then typed on the
keyboard, feeding commands to the computer in front of him. The language started to
become discernable, travelling at a slower pace down the screen.
       “What did you do?” Coln asked him.
       “Cut out all the information relating to fill and effects and lighting. Sort of
skeletonised it. This is the wire framework of the picture and the command prompts that
we are seeing now in computer language. I used a filter to remove the detail created by the
modifying programs.” Once more his fingers caressed the keyboard at speeds almost
beyond belief. Suddenly, the picture showed the receptionist again. This time the picture
was in wire frame and showed her standing behind her desk and handing a package over.
       “Enjoy your book, an excellent choice. Thank you for shopping at Circe’s Books.”
       The screen went blank for a second and then the cover of a book appeared. ‘History
of Australia 2013-2017’.
       Coln laughed.
       “You stole a book.”
        “How can you ‘steal’ a collection of ones and zeros? I merely instructed their
computer that the book had been paid for and took it with me. Notice; not ‘sent’, rather,
‘took it with me’. If you don’t know how to do that, I will show you.” Coln nodded rapidly
in agreement which made Alan somewhat happy.
                                                                                           46


        For the rest of the afternoon Alan and Coln played on the computers. It was fun and
Alan found himself enjoying the company of the happy little man. All the while however,
an idea was germinating in his brain, the seed having been placed there by his need to
remove the effects, fill and lighting sub routines from the computer language of some
websites. What if he created a 3D picture of a Goanna, complete with all the effects and
sent it through the Web on his missions. Inside its framework, he could disguise all sorts of
bits of code masquerading as fill, effects and shadowing. A little extra code here, a little
extra code there, hidden inside his Totem animal. The Dream could live, as little electrical
signals in a huge electronic world but it could get around with some anonymity and the
ability to protect itself. They could carry the fight to the enemy. The Gov. It would take a
while to perfect but he had some clever people here who he could bounce ideas off.
        It could just work.
        Alan hid his excitement from Coln. No point in getting worked up until he had
finished the prototype.
        That evening was an eye opener. Cassie and Bobby turned up with an arm load of
groceries and set to in the kitchen. Both of them working on the evening meal, chatting
away, totally oblivious to the other people in the flat. Lance came home and chose to sit
down with Alan to discuss some of the things that Alan had done during the day. After a
while Lance went off to plug into a computer and deal with his mail. Last to return home
was Georgia. After entering the lounge area, she once more gave Alan a long appraising
look.
        “Much better. I could almost believe you were human now. Thank you for using the
deodorant, it is much more pleasant than the smell you came with.” With that she swept
off to her room to wait until the evening meal was ready.
        ‘That was a complement you just received.” Coln told him seriously. “Georgia finds
it a little difficult to let her emotions go. She was raised by nannies. Only saw her mother a
couple of times a year. You get used to her ways and she is kind.”
        Alan swept his arm down himself, taking in everything he was wearing. “I know that
first hand. I can’t seem to get through to her that I am extremely grateful for what she has
done for me.”
        Coln smiled coyly, “Try over the evening meal. Our Georgia likes public
recognition.”
        “Thank you very much. I think I will.” Alan sat musing, he could do wonders on the
computer but was tongue tied around a snobby woman. Go figure.
        The evening meal was carried out from the kitchen on trays. Cassie and Bobby put
each plate on the table, economically placing them just so, in front of each of the six seats
around the dining table. Everyone sat down to eat. Alan noticed the plate immediately. It
was made of pewter but around the rim were small colored lights and recessed buttons, so
tiny they were hardly noticeable. The evening meal, stir-fried noodles, lay steaming on it,
giving off exotic aromas which tantalized his taste buds.
        “Odd looking plate.”
        A general comment.
        Casually thrown out.
        Trying to find a response.
                                                                                           47


       “Yeah, it’s Com-pewter.” Suprisingly it was Bobbie who spoke. “You can program it
around the rim to whatever the temperature of the food is and it will keep it at that
temperature. It uses those new Everlast batteries. Sealed in. About a five year lifespan with
continual use.”
       “Thank you Bobbie and while I am about, thank you Georgia, very much. In fact,
thank all of you for giving me a chance, by taking a chance on me.”
       “Got some work to do to pay us off, old man.” That was Bobbie again.
       Alan looked up and scanned the faces around the table. “Well, we’d better get down
to it then, once the meal is over of course.” He winked at Georgia, who ignored him.
       Lance spoke up. “Rest tonight Alan, take it easy. Tomorrow you can start showing us
some of your stuff and we can tackle some locked doors.” There were murmurs of assent
from around the table.
       Tomorrow was soon enough.
                                                                                           48



                                          Chapter 5.

       Sidhe sat back comfortably in the large padded chair, a small computer screen jutting
from the right armrest. It was the only seat in front of the three desks and the most
comfortable in the room. Now five days since the bandages had come off, one week since
the operation and only today were the tests to start. She thought about how she looked
with no hair, although there was stubble appearing lately which she hoped would grow
quickly. She may have to keep her hair short from now on, it was a lot easier to manage
and besides, she looked razor sharp with ultra short hair. A smile fleeted across her young
face. The first person to have a biojack fitted, ever. Undetectable from the outside by any
normal means and now they were going to find out if it worked.
       The three people sitting opposite were unknown to her. She would have preferred to
have Francis Delray in the room but his task was to put the device and tubes in the correct
place and nothing more. This team was assembled to see if he had done the implanting
properly and if indeed it worked. Apparently they were all top of their fields.
       After her arrival in the room housing the testing equipment, the three people, two
men and a woman, had introduced themselves to her by first name only and chatted
amiably to her for about fifteen minutes. Sid reckoned this was their best bedside manner
and they did try. They were all scientist types, dedicated and extremely interested in what
was about to unfold in the testing. They weren’t worried about caffeine effects so Sid was
allowed to have a coffee with them before they started the testing.
       Looking around her she saw the room they were in was unremarkable; Government
bland in colour and style. Muted blue pastel walls, unrelieved by pictures or windows with
white acoustic ceiling tiles and recessed fluorescent lighting. The floor was covered by a
robust, darker blue, washable carpet and each of the testers had their own simwood desks,
complete with water pitcher and glass. Their seats looked less comfortable than hers.
       In front of each of them was a screen and a keyboard, all linked to the same
computer. It was all very clinical. Sid had a very small device, similar to a hands free phone
or hearing aid, clipped over her right ear, comfortably nestling in behind it. Although it
was small, it was very powerful. A satphone, able to uplink and downlink anywhere in the
world, it would stay locked onto the correct channel even if the signal source was jumping
up and down or moving rapidly. Power provided by Everlasts, at least five years worth. She
hardly felt it there and knew satisfaction in a good design. That satphone communicated
with the small computer inside her head, hidden under the mastoid bone which it rested
against. Those signals were then translated into tiny electronic pulses which passed up the
microtubules inside her brain to the audio and visual centres of her right cerebral
hemisphere. It also picked up signals from these two centres plus the vocalisation centre
and after the little computer in her head had translated the pulses into computer talk,
these signals could then be transmitted to any other computer on the planet via the
satphone. Reaching up with her hand to feel it there she smiled at the three scientists.
       “I don’t know who designed this but they are to be complimented.”
       The woman’s smile grew a little bit wider.
       “Thank you Dr. Wilson. Are you ready to start?”
                                                                                            49


       Dr. Wilson. True to his word, James had delivered her PhD. in Science to her as
soon as she had graduated. It was very useful. People who would normally look down on
her because of her age now treated her as an equal. It was amusing when she first met this
group, watching the mental struggles to equate her age with the title of Doctor but they
managed and after talking with her for a while even believed it.
       “Dr. Wilson?”
       “Sorry, yes I am ready to start.”
       The woman spoke to her. Maybe the team figured she would respond to a woman
better than to a man. Maybe the woman was the most senior one there. Sid was being told
the protocols for this test. It would not be extremely long or arduous, they didn’t want to
risk tiring her on the first day and maybe cause a problem in her or with the equipment
inside her head.
       “Right Dr. Wilson, we will start with colours then move onto sounds. All simple at
this stage. No movies or symphonies. We will also be testing the range of colour and sound
to see if direct contact with the brain allows you to see and hear beyond human norm. On
the screen beside you will appear a duplicate of the colour we are sending, after you have
recognised it. This will allow us to fine tune the equipment. Are you ready to begin?”
       “Yes thank you.”
       Nothing happened. Then a swirl, small at first until eventually her vision on the right
side almost disappeared in a single colour and the vision on her left side was tinged slightly
also. Pink.
       “I see pink but it is also on the left side slightly.” Sid’s voice conveyed concern. The
woman responded immediately.
       “Completely normal to have a small amount on the left, the optic centres
communicate with one another. The corpus callosum transmits information across the
brain. Try to disregard it for now. Look at your screen and compare what you see.”
       Sid looked at the screen perched on the arm of her chair. The colour on the screen
appeared darker.
       “The screen colour is slightly darker.”
       It gradually lightened until it matched the colour she was ‘seeing’.
       “That’s it, stop right there.”
       The colour in her head now matched that on the screen. The slight wash over to the
left side was disconcerting but she managed to ignore it. The woman spoke again.
       “Good. Next colour.”
       Sid waited, not for long and was rewarded with an emerald green which was
duplicated on the screen after her response. For the next half an hour the testing panel
tried colour after colour and became more excited by the minute. At the end of the half
hour a break was declared and one of the men spoke to her in neutral clipped tones.
       “You are an excellent subject Dr. Wilson. How do you feel?”
       “Fine. No headaches or pain, no residuals. I can feel no untoward effects at all.”
       “Good. We are going to give you a short break and then we will move onto sounds.
Is that acceptable to you?”
       “Sure, any chance of a cup of tea?”
                                                                                            50


       The tea came, delivered by an older woman in a Government provided worksuit and
while she was sitting sipping it Sidhe studied the three testers. Both men were in their
thirties and similar in a number of ways. Both were slightly stooped, both were slightly
balding. They were even dressed the same in dark unisuits, typical Government issue. That
was where the similarity ended. Gareth had piercing blue eyes beneath his thick, black
eyebrows. It made him look hawklike with his sharp, pinched nose. His voice however was
soft and gentle, a contrast to how he looked. Bryn, on the other hand, had a bland,
nondescript face but made up for it with his clipped voice which carried authority. The
woman, Bethany, was older than them but impeccably dressed in her own style and well
presented. She had a kindly face that would not stand out in a crowd but there was
strength there. The white streak in her hair was a little over the top though. The more Sid
appraised her the more certain she was that Bethany was in charge. She had not met this
woman before and wondered why, given that they were in similar fields. Still, there were a
lot of people in her field that she had not met yet. There was plenty of time. Bethany raised
an eyebrow in her direction.
       “Ready to go again, Sid?”
       Sid now, not Dr. Wilson, a definite improvement. She moved back to her chair and
made herself comfortable.
       “Whenever you are ready Bethany.”
       “Thank you Sid. We are going to test audio now. You should hear all the sounds in
your right ear. At least it will seem to be your right ear. The volume may be a problem but
after we send your tone, it will be repeated by the screen on the chair arm.”
       Suddenly there was a screaming in her right ear. Sid yelled and clapped her hand to
her ear in response. The screaming stopped.
       “Sorry, seems that audio sensitivity is high. Try this.”
       A barely heard sound in her head, just on the edge of detectable.
       “Too soft, I can hardly ‘hear’ it.”
       The sound increased to a comfortable level and Sid nodded. The sound that came
from the speaker in the computer screen matched it exactly. It was a pure tone.
       Again, for the next half an hour, Sid was subjected to a range of different tones and
noises until Bethany pushed her chair back and stood up.
       “That’s enough for today. I want you to go back to your room and rest up.
Tomorrow will be harder. We will be going on to simple pictures and music scales. In a
way it is like going back to school. I do not want you to strain anything. In scientific terms,
the neurones that have been introduced into your brain have made connections as we had
hoped. However, the nutrition of these cells is most important and if we overuse them at
this stage, they will die. We have to train them to take the loads that we will eventually
subject them to. It won’t take long in real terms, maybe a fortnight, maybe even three
weeks. No one knows just what your father did to the neuronal stem cells to make the line
that you gave us to use. They are different to normal neuronal cells and seem to maintain
the dendrite through thick and thin. In every neuronal cell line that anyone else has
grown, this does not occur. We are still working on that problem however. So, relax, get
some sleep and come back tomorrow afternoon at the same time. Ready to begin again.”
       There was a suprise for her when she arrived back at her room.
                                                                                             51


       Her mother was there.
       In the flesh.
       For the last week and a half they could only communicate by vidphone due to
concerns over infection being introduced before and after the operation. This meeting was
probably a reward for being such a good patient. She gave her mother a big hug then
stepped back in time to see her mother wipe a tear from the corner of her eye.
       “What Mum? I’m fine. Really.”
       “Your beautiful hair. I didn’t expect to see it all gone. It is such a shock. I’ll be all
right shortly.”
       “You must have seen it on the vidphone though, while we were talking.”
       “No. They didn’t allow a picture connection. Something to do with security. The
Gov. seems to think that allowing pictures of you out onto the Web may be detrimental to
your future operations.”
       Her mother looked around and leaning close to Sid, spoke very softly.
       “We are probably under observation so let’s keep it general. Don’t want to upset the
Gov.”
       “You are right Mum, my hair does look a little strange.” Sid was a little confused. She
had never seen her mother being cautious about security before and frankly it troubled her
to realise that her mother didn’t have full confidence in the Gov. Something to file away
for later when they had a chance to talk, away from any possibility of being monitored.
       Her mother’s visit bolstered Sid. Made her feel that she had done the right thing and
removed any doubts or fears that she may have been harbouring about her decision to have
untried technology implanted in her brain. They sat in her room and passed the time
chatting about generalities, the food and whether Sid was getting enough rest. The hours
whizzed by and soon it was time for Sid to go to bed. After her mother had gone home, in
the chauffer driven Government car, Sid relaxed for a while then turned in early for a good
nights sleep.

       Next afternoon found her back in the testing room with the same three people as the
day before. This time she was tested with pictures. Simple pictures, line drawings at first
then more complex cartoons with broad swathes of colour everywhere. No details for now,
that would come later as her neurones became stronger. The audio testing was simple
musical scales then melodies. ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, ‘Three Blind Mice’ and other
assorted childhood songs were the main ones to be used but there were others. Once again,
it was half an hour with visuals and half an hour with audio. Sid performed every test
perfectly, to the great delight of the examiners and she left feeling very proud. No pain at
all in the testing but then she hadn’t really expected any.
       She slept well again that night, tucked up in bed in a room she was starting to
personalise and feel comfortable in. In answer to when she could get back to her
laboratory, Sid was informed that the personnel under her were carrying on the routine
work and there was no rush. She was not quite a prisoner but was told she would have to
stay until she became ‘operational’, whatever that meant.
       Over the next five or six days, the tests became more and more detailed with complex
pictures being flashed inside her brain and classical music being used for the audio testing.
                                                                                             52


Everything worked perfectly, much to the delight of the testing panel. Sid was pretty
pleased herself but admitted to a slight difficulty with the visuals. Bethany came back to her
room with her after that session and took the time to sit and explain to her about what
would occur in the next few weeks.
       “Don’t worry about the overlap in the visuals, please. There is nothing to be
concerned about. Our work with the old style jacks has demonstrated, time after time, that
the overlap effect fades as your brain accommodates to the signal source. Your brain will,
in effect, ignore the visual signal that is being passed from right to left cerebral hemisphere.
Tomorrow, we can try an eye patch over the right eye so your visual field for the signal is
uncomplicated. This will have the effect of making your left eye responsible for visualising
the environment that you are in. A couple of days should be enough then we can do away
with the eyepatch. Okay?”
       Sid was reassured, as much by what Bethany had told her as by the care and
compassion she had shown. Or was that just a different form of professionalism? Hard to
tell with this woman but the way things were starting to stack up, any friend was better
than none. What had her mother meant, talking about security and future operations and
what was being ‘operational’ ? Sid had agreed to the implant to help with her work. The
ability to look something up on the Web almost instantaneously and review it in her head
while she worked was the main reason for having the device fitted. It appeared however,
that the Gov. had other plans which she hadn’t been informed of. Things could get tricky.

       At the end of two weeks of testing, the eyepatch had achieved the desired result and
information came to Sid via the right side of her brain. It was easiest if she covered her
right eye while receiving but even without doing so everything worked well. She had
learned to internalise the information that she received through her implants and virtually
stopped ‘seeing’ the real world with her right eye when transmitted information came
through. It was a large adjustment to make but practice helped immensely. Now she was to
receive her last test before working at sending and receiving through computers. A movie,
an old one and an animation. Bethany had informed her that an animation had less detail
in the pictures and would be easier on the implants than a normal movie. So Sid watched
‘Ice Age’ and listened to it, completely inside her head, using the right side visual and
auditory centres of her brain. Everything ran without a hitch. Occasionally, one of the
testing team would ask her a question or get her to write something while the movie was
playing. It wasn’t difficult at all, she just concentrated on the task as the movie ran on.
       Gareth looked over at Bethany and raised an eyebrow enquiringly. Bethany gave an
almost imperceptible nod in response and Gareth cleared his throat preparatory to
speaking.
       “You have done really well so far Sid and we are all extremely pleased. In fact, we are
going to give you two days off before the next sessions. They will be demanding, as you will
be trained to control the computer in your head with voice commands and to actually
transmit what is inside your head. This training will allow you to alter the intensity of
pictures and the volume of the audio. It will also allow you to pick a destination for your
transmissions. Any questions?”
                                                                                            53


        Sid was a little suprised by this and responded with the question foremost in her
mind.
       “Will I be allowed to go home?”
       Gareth looked uncomfortable as he considered the answer.
       “Unfortunately, no. Due to the top secret nature of this work, we cannot let you out
of our sight. However, arrangements have been made for you to take a break from the
hospital environment and get out for a while.” He pressed a button on the desktop and
very shortly thereafter there was a discrete knock on the door.
       “Come in.”
       The door opened to admit a smiling James D. Harding. Sid leapt to her feet.
       “James!”
       He strode over and gave her a big hug which she returned with enthusiasm. Stepping
back, he straightened his jacket and gave her a long perusal.
       “Your hair looks pretty sharp now,” he said with a grin.
       Her hand unconsciously rose to feel her prickly scalp before she regained her
composure.
       “What are you doing here?” she asked him.
       “Well, they needed a baby sitter and I could think of no one I would rather baby sit.
I get to take you out for a couple of days, say for dinner after a drive in the country and
maybe a wander around a mall or two. You know, retail therapy. The Government will be
paying of course.” He seemed smug and question after question rose in her brain but she
kept her mouth closed. Here was not the place to air them. Later would be more
appropriate, when they were in private.
       She thanked each member of the team before leaving with James, excitement
bubbling through her at the chance to get away from the compound for a while. As she
turned to head for her room, James caught her hand and swung her around.
       “No need to go back to your room, I have everything under control. We have a few
hours shopping time left. Let’s go.” With that he towed her up the hallway to the lift banks
and boarded a waiting lift. They descended to the ground floor and at the entrance to the
hospital, James inserted a card into the slot on the right of the doors. Sid caught a glimpse
of his I.D. card complete with its smart chip. So, security was on and if her card was not
entered on the system, she was a prisoner. Not looking good at the moment.
       James would have a few questions to answer later.
       The big limo was parked in the ‘No Parking’ zone right in front of the main doors of
the hospital and she and James attracted quite a bit of interest. The same sort of interest
reserved for celebrities but most of the attention was devoted to James. Who could be
interested in the nearly bald woman he was towing along? Once in the car, the driver was
instructed on where to go and the big black car sped off, ignoring the advisory speed signs.
Sidhe was starting to seethe. It was probably James who had put her forward as a candidate
for the implantation of the technology that she had helped develop but now she was a
virtual prisoner. She wanted answers.
       “Why can’t I go out on my own?”
       James looked mildly suprised at the question and considered his answer before
replying.
                                                                                              54


        “The Government has invested a lot of time and money in your technology and also
in getting it implanted into you. Doctor Delray does not come cheap. My immediate
superior advises me that there are concerns about your safety. If there have been any leaks,
it is entirely possible that you could be kidnapped by foreign powers or even local
underground groups and tortured, or worse, until the secrets you hold are revealed. I’m
sorry but the people at the top want you to be chaperoned until we can train you to take
care of yourself.”
        Sid started. “What do you mean, train me to take care of myself?”
        James smiled his best shark like smile. “The story is that you are in hospital for a
brain tumour operation. If you survive, you will be given basic training as an undercover
operative. A lot of the skills and abilities of the ‘secret’ secret service will become yours and
because of your background in science, your level of fitness and study of martial arts, that
should not take too long. Of course, after the training you will be licenced to carry a
firearm and to go out on some operations where your skills will be required.”
        She studied him for a moment. “What about my lab work and research?”
        “That too, in between assignments but at a secret location, probably Canberra. Your
entire lab is to be moved there in the near future and exactly duplicated. Unfortunately,
any of your present staff who are not ours won’t be going. Sorry about that, it’s the secrecy
thing. You need to have a somewhat normal life and we know you enjoy your work. Think
of yourself as a secret scientist, who occasionally whips into a phonebox and emerges as
Superspy. Too late to turn back now, it has all been decided at a level well above mine and
in case you were wondering, I had no idea the Gov. would do this when I put you forward
for the procedure. These decisions have all come about in the last two weeks.”
        She didn’t know whether to believe him or not. There was something about James
that was just a little phoney but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. She had known
from the outset that James was someone that she shouldn’t trust but she saw no reason not
to.
        “Okay, so what am I doing outside the hospital at the moment?”
        “The story is that your operation is scheduled for three days from now. We don’t
know if you are going to live or die. So this is a time for you to enjoy your life for what may
be your last few days. Your mother has been informed of our desire to keep your future
abilities as a clandestine undercover agent anonymous and she is being prepared for the
cover story of your necessary long recovery from a harrowing operation. Don’t worry, you
will make a full recovery in time. In future, when you and she meet, it must be with the
greatest of care. No adventure stories for Mum.”
        Sid sat back with tears in her eyes, her life as she knew it was changed forever, she
was going to become some sort of superspook. How could they do it to her?
        As the car travelled towards Adelaide her pain gave way to resentment and eventually
anger.
        “Bastards, they are all a pack of bastards. Fuck I hate them. Why did none of the
bastards involved in all of this bother to ask me?” She was fairly spitting with rage now.
        James pointed at his ear and waggled a finger. So, they were being monitored, chalk
one up to James for telling her.
                                                                                            55


      “I cannot tell you that,” he replied. “Classified information. All I can say is that this
change in your life was ordered from an extremely high level of Government. One that
cannot be argued with. Learn to live with it because it has been decided at that level, that if
we can’t use you, no one else will.”
      Sid shuddered. She understood exactly what he was saying. Do it or die. This really
was going to be her last two days of life. As she had known it anyway. What a bloody
horrible way to grow up. Well, she had two choices as she saw it. Fall apart and wind up
dead or something like it or accept the situation and make the best she could out of it. Sid
was a fighter; she would make a damn good spy.
      By the time the limo pulled up to the front entrance of the Mall, she had composed
herself completely. Sid now thought of herself as a spy in training. It was not a career move
that had ever crossed her mind but it could be an exciting way to live. She was determined
to enjoy herself but had one last reservation.
      “What about my mother? I would like to see her if possible please.”
      “All arranged my scruffy little urchin, we are meeting for dinner later, at a very
exclusive restaurant where we will have a table under a cone of silence. A last chance to
chat for a while without being listened to.” He omitted to mention the recording device
that he would be wearing.

       Shopping.
       What a pleasure. Unlimited credit to buy whatever took her fancy. Sid wandered
from shop to shop, experimenting with different clothes that set off her stubble. Tall, lithe
and pretty she was almost model material. In another life, not this one however. After a
couple of hours of experimentation with the depth of available credit she realised that she
didn’t have to buy the store and slowed down to purchase quality refined clothing,
although she also purchased some fun clothes. Clothes that changed colour in concert with
movement or tops that could expand or shrink by turning a small switch disguised as a
decoration. Her purchases were whisked away to the capacious boot of the limo as she
turned her attention to jewellery stores and gifted herself with some elegant pieces. James
made no complaint, merely handing over his I.D. card as required for deduction of credit.
He didn’t bat an eyelid at some of the expensive jewellery she bought, including a gold and
emerald necklace for her mother, which cost well over three thousand dollars. She was
impressed. The powers that be were really investing heavily in her. They must be expecting
a good return on their investment. After shopping, the limo drove them to the Radisson
Hotel in down town Adelaide where James sat her in the lobby to share a coffee. Fifteen
minutes later she rode the lift with James to the penthouse suite. The luxury was
unbelievable, almost as good as the view and when she entered the bedroom she found all
of the clothes she had purchased were hung up or folded away in drawers. All the store
labels had been removed for her. The other purchases, mostly jewellery, were left in their
store wrappings and placed on the dressing table in the huge bedroom. She turned to find
James observing her from the bedroom doorway.
       “It’s like a fairytale.” She blurted out in her excitement.
       “Well, it is possibly your last two days alive,” he responded laconically.
                                                                                            56


       Dinner that night was wonderful. Everything was perfect. Before they entered the
restaurant, the chauffeur had gone in with a couple of small devices in hand to inspect the
cone of silence. This restaurant specialized in private dining in public, people on show but
with totally private conversation. All electronic but state of the art. Sid and James waited in
the private bar for Sid’s mother to arrive. It wasn’t a long wait. From the expression on her
mother’s face when she saw her daughter, wearing a long dark wig, dressed in sleek
expensive clothing and with a fortune in jewellery hung on her person, Sid knew that she
had chosen well. The small group were shown to their table, deferentially treated like
royalty. The food was exquisite as was the service and Sid didn’t even mind having to
abstain from consuming alcohol. The climax of the evening came when she passed the gift-
wrapped present to her mother. The wrapping came off and her mother curiously opened
the sleek velvety box containing the gold and emerald necklace, only to mist up and start
crying.
       “What’s wrong Mum? Don’t you like it?” Sid sounded worried.
       “It’s perfect. Yes, I love it, it is so gorgeous but we also know what it means. You are
now working for the Government, they own you and all of the rest of the world will soon
think that you are nearly dead. I’m sorry honey, I swore to myself that I was not going to
cry and now I have. It is just that our lives, as we knew them, are over and nothing will ever
be the same as it was, for good or ill. For you, I hope that it will all be good. Forgive me.”
       “Mother, there is nothing to forgive. I have decided that whatever I do, I will be
damn good at it. Please don’t feel sorry for me, I am looking forward to beginning my
training soon. First though, I have a couple of days off and I would like to spend one of
them with you.” As she said this, she glanced sideways at James who smiled and nodded,
indicating his approval of the arrangement.
       The rest of the evening was very pleasant. James escorted her mother for a dance or
two, which her mother seemed to enjoy, and then he had a couple of dances with Sid. He
was very decorous and did not take advantage of the situation, holding her firmly yet with
distance between them as he led her around the dance floor. He had held her mother a lot
closer.
       After dinner and dancing, her mother departed in the limo that had brought her,
and Sid and James went back to the Radisson. There was a moment’s awkwardness as Sid
prepared for bed and James made no effort to leave the penthouse. She stood at the
bedroom door in her dressing gown, head tilted to one side.
       “So, what is going on?”
       “I am staying for the night. No, don’t get the wrong idea, there is a huge couch and
spare blankets which will do adequately thank you. For these two days, you are solely my
responsibility and I am not going to let you out of my sight. Well, not quite but you get the
drift.”
       Sid was apologetic. “Sorry. I should have known that you wouldn’t try anything. My
mistake James. Thank you very much for this evening. I mean that.”
       He smiled at her. “De nada, little urchin. Now get to bed, tomorrow is another day.”

      The next day, wearing more sedate knockabout clothing and a wig to cover her
stubble, Sidhe went to visit her mother at the family home. Possibly the last time for a very
                                                                                          57


long while that she would set foot in the house which she had grown up in. It was a happy
and sad visit. Good to spend time with her mother, free to talk as one adult to another but
underlying it all was the knowledge of what was to come. Soon. James waited all morning
in the limo until with mutual agreement, Sid and her mother went out to invite him and
the chauffeur into the house for the rest of the day. That evening, back at the Radisson,
Sid gave James an affectionate peck on the cheek before turning in.
       “As I am going to die soon, I would just like to thank you for all you have done. I
may not trust you fully but I cannot help liking you and find I have some affection for you
also. In a sisterly way of course, so don’t get any ideas.”
       James looked suprised, “You are a brave and intelligent girl. I am not going to give
my opinion on what has been done to you but I will, whenever possible, keep an eye out
for you. I too have affection for you. In a way, you are a daughter that I never had. On that
subject. Do you mind if I see your mother again? I quite like her.”
       It was Sid’s turn for jaw dropping. “What, you mean, ‘see’ as in date.”
       “Not quite how I would put it.” James replied.
       “You don’t have to ask me James. If that is where your heart lies, go for it.”
       “I just wanted your approval. It is important to me.”
       “Well you’ve got it. One thing though, remember what I am training to be. If you
hurt her in any way, I will come for you and it will be final.”
       He pondered for a moment. “Deal. If I hurt your mother, I will deserve whatever you
dish out. Now get to bed you little minx.”

       Percival Kemp leaned back from his computer screen. Although it was evening and
he was at home, Serena had called him away from one of his Asian dalliances to see
something that had been posted to his work computer. As Serena was an artificially
intelligent entity at both locations, she sometimes imported things which she thought
needed immediate attention. Percy left the decisions of what to import up to her.
       The picture on the screen showed James D. Harding entering a very expensive
restaurant in Adelaide with a very pretty young girl with long dark hair. Unbeknown to the
vast majority of personnel in the secret police, Percy liked to monitor expensive
restaurants. Who was troughing with who made for very interesting viewing and sometimes
some very strange bedfellows turned up. For instance, James D. Harding, the very public
face of the secret Technology police. No one, even under duress, could give Percy any real
information on Techsect, as they were known to a mere handful of people. Not knowing
fine details irritated Percy.
       “Serena my lovely, who is the girl with him?”
       The sexy dulcet tones of the reply floated from concealed speakers. Serena did the
voice better than the original, now deceased, owner of that voice.
       “She is Doctor Sidhe Wilson, daughter of Doctor Wade Wilson, now deceased and
niece to Alan Wilson who seems to have recently come to your attention. We have
discussed them on another occasion prior to this. I believe we should keep an eye on this
connection Percy.”
       “Yes my little lovely, we shall. Anything that James D. fucking Harding has an
interest in is something we need to know about. I have already despatched two of my best
                                                                                           58


interrogators to ‘talk’ to that Ranger up north about Alan Wilson, so keep your channels
open on this one and explore every avenue to gain more information.
      Techsect plans will not be hidden from us for much longer.”
                                                                                           59



                                          Chapter 6.

       Jamie was just finishing up for the day. His office was a mess, with papers and folders
piled up on every available flat surface and overflowing from filing cabinets. So much for
the paperless society that computers were supposed to bring.
       The job of Head Ranger that he had been offered and accepted five years ago was
something he had always coveted. Not for the glory and position but as a chance to have
some say in how the land he loved was cared for and managed. As head honcho in Kakadu,
it was his job to make sure that the Park was not over utilized and that the land, with its
unique flora and fauna, was cared for and kept in as natural a state as possible.
       Management of the park was moving more and more to traditional ways. The white
folk had woken up to the fact that aboriginal people had been caring for Australia for over
sixty thousand years before they arrived. In fact, England had only been inhabited for
approximately ten thousand of those years.
       Time was the thing.
       The white folk wanted everything to happen now. They weren’t content to wait and
see how the Spirit of the land guided the hand of those who cared for it. They weren’t
interested in ceremony or renewal through means that they could not touch. They had
only been here for approximately two hundred and forty years and look at the mess they
had made of the whole country. Mines, chemicals, earth movers, ploughs and tractors,
chainsaws and an insatiable demand for more ‘things’.
       Well, they were here now and weren’t going to go away.
       Eventually the original inhabitants would be swallowed up. Jamie hoped that would
not be the case. If only enough of the lore and stories and the Dreaming could survive to
guide the hands that steered the country toward that distant future. It was starting to
happen, although those in power were not yet aware of it. Every year, more and more
disillusioned white folk were escaping from a Government gone mad with power. A lot of
them drifted to the fringes and were accepted into aboriginal Tribes where they started to
learn how to ‘see’ in a different way. At first, most were only taught the children’s stories
but eventually there was some agreement among the Tribes that knowledge was going to
have to be passed on to these white folk as well, or that knowledge would disappear for
ever and the Aboriginal people would be lost. So more and more white people, if they were
acceptable, were being initiated into the Tribes. These new initiates accepted that some of
the information they were privy to was secret and also accepted that punishment would be
meted out unmercifully if they talked about secret things.
       In turn, the white folk in close proximity to the Tribes were passing on ways to settle
disputes that did not involve charging about with spears and clubs. In some areas the
amalgamation worked well and the violence that had plagued many communities nine or
ten years ago was diminishing. Things were looking up on that score.
       Jamie sighed as he looked around his office. Most of the paperwork here was related
to the Park being in traditional ownership and every year more and more people wanted to
start up a Safari Tour business. There were plenty of tourists but every new tour business
wanted to go somewhere the others didn’t. As a result, Kakadu was being crisscrossed with
                                                                                           60


bush roads, red dirt being eroded by the passage of many wheels and the impact of tourism
was being felt everywhere in the park. The land was beginning to suffer.
       As fast as they were denied, yet more applications came in for permission to start up
yet more tours, it was these applications that took up more and more space in the office.
Aboriginal people did not really trust computers yet; a screen had no facial language.
Believing that a computer could be made to say anything, most of the applications were on
paper.
       More trees gone.
       Jamie wandered around the office, picking up used coffee mugs and clearing a few
things up. Everyone else had already gone home by now and it was up to him to lock up.
Shouldn’t take long, then he could go home. There were a couple of cold VB’s waiting for
him in the fridge there.
       As he stepped out into the crisp heat of the verandah, Jamie happened to glance at
the steps down to the path. On the second step down, a large yellow-orange goanna was
lazily catching the last dappled rays of the day’s sun. Jamie turned and stood quietly,
observing the magnificent two metre long reptile as it lay observing him, slowly probing the
air with its long tongue to see how he tasted.
       Silence and the tinge of a Dream.
       Memories leaped to his mind of his best friend, Alan Wilson, gone over two and a
half years now. Delivered into the heart of a city to escape the Gov.. The same Gov. that he
worked for, only the people that came asking after Alan were not pleasant. Police but not
police; secrets. The Goanna finished it’s surveillance of him and slowly turned and made
its way down the steps and into the cover of the surrounding scrub. Jamie shook himself as
he turned to pull the door closed to lock it, there was meaning here, the Goanna was
Alan’s totem. Why now for a meeting? What was the Goanna trying to tell him?
       Before long the Park Headquarters at the Bowali Visitors Centre was a ways behind
him. The four wheel drive purled along the road quietly, he really liked these new Toyotas,
too much technology for his mechanical ability but as long as you had a Government
budget to service them they were economical to the extreme and very comfortable. Not
good to take deep into the bush though, too much to go wrong with all the computer
circuitry on board. One good drowning and you could never get them running again
properly. The old fashioned Toyotas and Nissans were in big demand by people who did
really serious bush work, you just couldn’t kill them.
       It was about half an hour’s drive to his home, built on his Tribe’s land. As one of the
Elders, he had been given permission to site his house away from the main area of the
Tribe’s camp as he sometimes had ‘important’ people staying with him and privacy was
paramount at those times. Not to say his own people kept away. In some ways he was
famous; for getting to the top job and the fact that his fridge usually had a few spare beers
in it. He allowed drinking around his house and joined in but everyone knew that if they
got too drunk any time, the beers dried up for a couple of weeks.
       He came to the turn off from the main road and immediately noticed the tyre tracks
leading down his entrance road. One way, going in but not out. He didn’t recognise the
new tread pattern at all. If one of the boys had got new tyres, he would have heard about it
by now.
                                                                                         61


       So, someone he didn’t know was at his house, best to be wary.
       Turning into his yard he immediately saw the four wheel drive hire car. Two people,
a man and a woman were standing next to it. Tourists were what they looked like. That is,
to someone who didn’t have a gift for noticing things. Why did aboriginals make such
good trackers? Thousands and thousands of years as hunter gatherers gave them a genetic
advantage in that area. Historically, those who didn’t notice, didn’t eat.
       He parked his car away from the couple and got out. As he walked toward them he
observed lots of smaller details. Their clothes were too clean, they weren’t sunburnt, their
boots were new and the car was clean. It hadn’t been on any dirt roads, which meant they
had come straight here from Darwin or Katherine on the tar seal all the way. They were
here for him and he didn’t know them and had not been informed of their imminent
arrival.
       The man was leaning against the car as he neared, while the woman was to one side
of him, fiddling in her handbag. Jamie stopped a couple of paces from them.
       “Gidday, we got a little lost and saw your driveway so we thought we’d pop in for
directions. This is my wife Ginnetta and I’m Stu. Looks like we’ve lucked on the right
place, you being a Ranger.”
       “Yeah, well this is my private residence and you’ve driven past a couple of Ranger
stations to get here, so let’s cut the bullshit. What do you really want?”
       The man looked startled by this direct approach and glanced at the woman beside
him. Ginnetta, if that was her real name, gave a little nod.
       “Okay Jamie, the truth is we were sent here to find out information on Alan Wilson.
You were a friend of his and we need to find him. There is a lot of money coming his way
from his inventions and we have been instructed to find him so we can make him aware of
it.”
       Jamie felt himself starting to anger. This was wrong. The story did not fit with what
he was seeing. The sooner he got rid of these people the better.
       “Look Stu, as I told the last people that came here and what I will tell the next
people to come here.... is. I do not know where Alan is and I haven’t seen him for over two
and a half years. As far as I know he could be dead. Now, get off my property and go and
tell whoever your boss is, to leave me the hell alone.” With that he strode between them
heading for the steps to his front verandah.
       Big mistake. As he passed the woman, unseen to him, her hand came out of the
handbag holding a small cylinder which she instantly pressed to his back. There was a hiss
of compressed air and Jamie felt a sudden cold pain as though a piece of ice had been
touched to his bare skin. On the second verandah step by now, he swung around to
confront them and suddenly felt wobbly. His last coherent thought before toppling forward
was amazement at someone taking liberties with his person. Stu caught him and threw
Jamie over his shoulder.
       “Inside, before anyone sees us,” the woman hissed at him and Stu strode quickly up
the steps with his burden, straight through the unlocked front door, to deposit Jamie on an
upright kitchen chair.
       “We haven’t got long with this drug, so tie him to the chair and we can start the
questions.”
                                                                                           62


       The woman was definitely in charge and Stu’s response was to run out to the car
returning shortly with a length of soft rope. He proceeded to tie Jamie in an upright
position on the chair, just as Jamie’s eyes started to open.
       “Wath yer duin?” Was about all he could manage as his head lolled on his chest.
       “We are here to ask you a few questions. We don’t officially exist and after we leave,
you won’t remember a thing about us due to the lovely little shot of Hypnotalk we just gave
you. It wipes out all memory for four hours both sides of the dose. We were never here. If
you fight it, there will be pain in your head. If you tell us what we want to know, we can be
gone in ten minutes. This drug has been engineered for this particular purpose and it has
never failed.”
       Stu pulled Jamie’s head up by the hair but Jamie couldn’t feel it. He couldn’t feel
much at all and his mind was really off. Much worse than being drunk. He was having
difficulty thinking at all. Secret police. White society at its worst. Burrowing into people’s
lives to find out things so they could control everyone. Removing freedom. Hadn’t
aboriginal people had enough freedom removed without this new invasion?
       “Okay Boy.” Before Stu could finish, Ginnetta pulled him up.
       “That’s enough. We don’t have to abuse him, let’s just get the answers to our
questions and get the hell out of here. It could be awkward if someone turns up.”
       “You’re the Boss, Ginnetta. So you ask the questions,” was all that Stu had to say on
the matter, now that his version of fun had been curtailed.
       Ginnetta pulled another kitchen chair in front of the one that Jamie was tied into
and straddled it facing Jamie. They weren’t trying to restrain him, merely keeping him from
sliding out of the chair.
       “What’s your name?”
       “Jamie.”
       “Good. Stu, take note. I am going to ask for his totem. That is generally a secret
thing and not revealed to just anyone. Jamie, what is your totem?”
       Jamie’s wobbly head swung up to look at her. She could see the effort he was making
to resist. It would do no good, no one could resist but she admired his effort.
       “Rock Python.” As the words cleared his mouth, Jamie’s mind began to work in a
very strange way. His thoughts started to slide off into cover, just like the snake of his
Totem crawling through the jumbled rocks of the escarpment. He hid in the crevices of his
mind, watching but disassociated from the reality that his body was going through.
       “Where is Alan Wilson?” Ginnetta asked him next.
       He didn’t respond. On one level there was severe pain in his head but following his
Totem through the hidden places of his mind divorced him from it. It was as if this little
episode was happening to someone else.
       “Shit, he’s not answering. What do you reckon Stu, we can’t give him another dose it
may be fatal and that would create an incident. Our orders were to get in and get out with
the answers.” Ginnetta was sounding a little worried.
       “Ask him again and if he doesn’t answer I’ll go out to the car and get the
electroprod. That will let him know we mean business.” Stu sounded happy at the chance
to inflict pain on another human being.
                                                                                          63


       Ginnetta was getting jumpy, this was her first time in charge and if she stuffed this
mission up she would not get another chance for a long time. She repeated the question.
       “Where is Alan Wilson, Jamie?”
       No response again. She turned to Stu.
       “Okay, get the electroprod but be quick about it and you are not to overdo it. That
last one you overcooked took a bit of covering up. We don’t want another mess like that.”
       Jamie could make out what they were saying, something about an electroprod. That
sounded a bit mean. He drifted, following his Totem. The first sharp shock came firing
into his brain as the electroprod was pressed into his leg. Someone was screaming and it
wasn’t Stu or Ginnetta. The pain was phenomenal but stopped as soon as the prod was
removed. Ginnetta tried again.
       “Where is Alan Wilson?”
       The Rock Python slid away and Jamie followed it to even deeper places in his mind.
The pain flared again, this time from his chest, accompanied by the smell of singeing hair.
The screaming was back also. He was so far away he almost felt like staying there and didn’t
hear the door open. Neither did Stu and Ginnetta, who were bending over Jamie trying to
get answers from him. Four people silently entered the room, their bare feet making no
noise. Silent hunters, they moved quickly to their quarry. The scuffle was brief, Stu
received a bump on the side of the head from a nullanulla as he was subdued and Ginnetta
was grabbed and restrained, staring at the business end of a spear. It could have been a lot
worse. If she had fought back the ending may have been terminal.
       One of the men was shaking Jamie.
       “Bro, Bro, its Billy and your mob. You okay Bro?” Billy gently shook Jamie and
started to untie the rope that supported him. Somewhere in the recesses of Jamie’s brain
his Totem slid away and Jamie was forced to return to the present. His leg was sore, as was
his chest where the electroprod had burned him. He recognised Billy.
       “Thanks Billy but what are you doing here?”
       “Us mob thought we’d come over for a beer, mebe sit and talk for a bit. Lucky we
did. These fellas sure are bad. Reckon we should kill em and take the bodies down to the
river for the crocs?”
       “No, just tie them up for now, until I come round a bit. You fellas grab a beer if you
like, one for me too. I got to find my vidcam. It’s in the Toyota I think.”
       One of the men came over with an open beer in his hand.
       “You take care of this Jamie, I’ll fetch your vidcam. I know where you keep it.”
       With that he went outside to return just a few moments later with the device.
       Jamie took it from him with a wry smile on his face.
       “Apparently I am not going to remember any of this, so I’m going to take a few
pictures to capture the moment. You mob remind me tomorrow, to look at what I am
about to record.” He fired up his camera and pointed it at the two prisoners.
       “Who are you and who do you work for?”
       No response, they had been trained to resist interrogation, so Jamie was not going to
learn much. Suddenly an idea presented itself to him and he looked around for the
woman’s handbag. He searched it but found no ID, didn’t think he would. What he was
after was the thin metal tube that he was now holding in his hand. It had an open end and
                                                                                             64


a recessed button on the side. Pretty straightforward device, the Hypnotalk. Jamie went
over to Stu first and placing the open end of the tube to his neck, pressed the button.
There was a hiss of pressurised gas and Stu winced at the feeling. It was Ginnetta’s turn
next but just before he administered the dose she looked up at him and said in a straight
level voice.
       “You could get into a lot of trouble over this.”
       “So could you.” Jamie replied as he applied the tube to her neck and pressed the
button. Her response was a quick intake of breath.
       Leaving the two captives tied to their chairs, Jamie and the other four members of his
tribe went out onto the verandah to talk in private and have a drink.
       “What’s all this about, Bros? We was wondering who these fellas were. They goin’ to
kill you or what?” Billy asked him.
       “I don’t think so. They are here asking about Alan Wilson but he is one of our Tribe
now and we protect our own. Strangest thing though, I saw a big goanna on the steps at
Ranger Headquarters tonight. The biggest I have seen in a long time, one I didn’t know.
Alan’s Totem is Goanna; I am going to have to pay more attention to the Dreaming. Those
people inside are secret police, sent here to find out about Alan. There is something dirty
going down concerning him, the Gov. have been after him for a while. They were up here
poking around two and a half years ago. I want you to spread the word around that no one
is to talk to strangers about our people or any Tribal business. It is probably a good idea to
let the Jawoyn know what is happening too. Now I have to go and record the ‘not so secret’
police telling me who they are and who sent them. After that I will get you to record me
talking about the attack, because tomorrow I won’t remember a thing about it.”
       Billy looked a little puzzled, “What you goin’ to do with em after?”
       “I was considering asking one of you to drive them out to Pine Creek and leave them
in their car outside the petrol station, without their car keys. We will also leave a copy of
both of them spilling the beans for the camera. Someone can take my car to follow them
out and bring the driver back and yes, you can buy a carton in Pine Creek on my account
but no drinking until you get back. Okay?”
       “Won’t they just send more secret police?”
       “Don’t know Billy but the shot they gave me means I won’t remember from about
two o’clock this afternoon until ten o’clock tonight. That means that neither will they.
They will wake up tomorrow morning with pictures of themselves giving up their names,
who they work for and what they were here to do. If they report that in, they are in big
trouble. They may just report a negative. We won’t do anything with our copy unless the
Gov. turns up again. Making it public may deter the Gov. from retaliation. We could leave
a note to that effect in their vehicle. Hopefully they will leave us alone now. Might be an
idea to lay in some stores, in case the tribe has to go ‘bush’ for a while. Come to think of it,
we haven’t bin ‘walkabout’ for a long time. It’ll be the Wet soon.” Jamie’s smile was
infectious and he left them sitting on the verandah with their beers discussing his
suggestion of going ‘walkabout’ while he ducked inside for the recorded question and
answer session.
                                                                                           65


       Ginnetta’s nose was itchy so she scratched it. Her finger was very cold. She shivered
and opened her eyes. She was in their four wheel drive with Stu. Dawn was just breaking,
that clear light starting to pick out the buildings in the main street of Pine Creek. Cold in
the early morning. What were they doing here? She shook Stu’s leg. He came round slowly
with a groan.
       “My head aches. What the hell is going on?” he asked, rubbing the lump on his
temple.
       Before she could formulate an answer, Ginnetta noticed an envelope tucked in the
front of her safari shirt. She took it out and opened it. As she read it her eyes widened.
       “Shit, shit, shit!”
       “What?” Stu barked.
       “Apparently we got to our mission and ended up injected with our own Hypnotalk.
We gave name, rank and serial number and everything else, it’s all recorded on a memory
cube in the glove box. I have no memory of events since soon after leaving Darwin
yesterday. Shit!”
       Stu grabbed open the glove box and found the cube. He took it and inserted it into
the dashboard computer and fumbled in his pocket for the car activator.
       “You got the activator?” He asked Ginnetta.
       She felt in her pockets and looked at him, dumbly shaking her head. Their gazes met.
       “Shit.”

       Percival Kemp gazed at the windows of his office which weren’t really windows just
three large LCD screens. He had just seen the recording of his two idiot police, the ones he
had personally sent, coughing up their vitals. No demands had come since then, nor any
ultimatums. All was quiet and he’d like to keep it that way.
       “Serena, my lovely, approximately three or so years ago we sent first agents to Kakadu
searching for Alan Wilson. Cross reference all festivals, cultural activities and music events
around Australia from then until four weeks later. Also, cross reference any claims made
for travelling expenses at that time which originated from the Kakadu area.”
       Serena’s beautifully modulated voice came from the concealed speakers. “There were
three, Sydney, Adelaide and Darwin. Travelling expenses claimed by twenty five people
who went to Darwin, six to Sydney and ten to Adelaide.”
       Percy sat back in his new chair which rapidly and silently adjusted to him. He really
liked his new chair. “Darwin’s too close to Kakadu. Adelaide’s where he used to live and he
may have been recognised there. That leaves Sydney. I bet he went to Sydney. Serena my
darling, would you be so kind as to go through all available surveillance recordings for the
last three years from Sydney and cross match to Alan Wilson?”
       “No problem at all Percy but I won’t be able to do much else in the next few hours.
We are talking of an awfully huge amount of information to go through. I will have to use
other computers in the surveillance net to assist.”
       “That’s fine Serena; I’ll just take a nap. Could you play a little music for me and put
North Queensland Beach on the screens please.”
                                                                                          66


       Secure in his private office, Percy lay back in his new chair, put his feet up on the
desk and dropped off to sleep but not for long. After about one and a half hours, Serena
politely sounded the tone he had chosen for her to use when she wanted his attention.
       “Yes Serena my lovely. What have you got?”
       “About eighteen months ago, after the installation of a new surveillance camera at
Central Station in Sydney, there was this.” She put the picture up on the centre screen. It
showed an obviously grubby derelict shambling down the street. The man in the picture
looked up. Obviously startled to see the camera, he hurriedly ducked his head immediately
but too late.
       “Back up and centre please Serena.”
       The picture went back to where the man was looking up and then it enlarged to
show just his face, filling the screen.
       “ID photo on the right screen please.”
       The two photographs were now side by side on the screens.
       “Got you, you elusive bastard,” crowed Percy ‘Cute’. “Serena, send out orders to get a
team down to the Central Station in Sydney, on the double. Send the surveillance photo
with it. I want this fellow captured and sent to interrogation as soon as possible.”
       “No need Percy. When I made the match, Sydney branch passed on information that
one of their undercover operatives was closely watching this person. He is under almost
constant surveillance along with four other resistance suspects. Sydney didn’t know we
were interested in him.”
       “Sydney branch huh, inform them to keep close tabs on Alan Wilson until further
orders from me. I don’t want any hot shots causing him to run. Tell them to pick him up if
it looks as though he is going to try and escape again. This bloke is as smart as a whip and
if he runs, he might lose us for another couple of years. We have to find out why Techsect
is after him and just how much he is worth to us but we have to be extremely discreet.”
       “Okay Percy, it’s done. Shall we go home now?
                                                                                              67



                                           Chapter 7.

       For two weeks, Alan had not left the subterranean hideaway. The others came and
went on a daily basis but he had no ID card to allow him to. Even though the reader for
the bar upstairs was rigged, it still required an ID card to activate it for entrance to the bar,
which was the main way in and out of this hideout. He had to have an ID card. Old Benjy
was the best bet. Once an up and coming property developer, Benjy had fallen foul of the
law and ended up on the streets. That was many years ago now. Benjy had been collecting
ID cards from a time well before the DNA matching of owner to card became compulsory.
Many times Alan had sat sharing a drink or three with Benjy as they talked about the
direction society was heading in and Alan had been fascinated to find that Benjy was an
old rebel from way back. The collection of ID cards he had built up was from many
sources, among them; removed from dead bodies, bought for alcohol, picked up when the
original owner ditched it and of course, stolen. Alan knew that the ID card that he
required had to be from someone still alive and of about the same age and ethnic
background because once a person died, their ID card was inactivated. Come to think of it,
a dead person whose body had not been discovered would also provide a useable ID card.
Nothing else for him to do but visit Benjy in person.
       That evening he discussed the idea with his new friends. He was getting on quite well
with them now, except for Georgia of course. Why she had to be so stuck up and haughty,
he had no idea but it was a shame, he rather liked her and not just because she had bought
his new clothes for him. Funny thing though, when he mentioned leaving the apartment to
visit Benjy under the tracks, down near Central Station, she was the most concerned of all
of them.
       “What if you get caught? You might end up in jail. Then where would we be? They’d
just hit you up with a dose of Hypnotalk and the police would be here in a flash. No, I for
one don’t want you to go anywhere.”
       “I have to go Georgia. You all know the reasons why I need an ID card and this is my
best chance to get one.” He scratched his bearded face thoughtfully, the new growth was
itchy. “When I do get an ID card, I can go out again and become more active in the
organisation. All it will take is a visit to my old stomping ground around Central Station
and a bottle of Bundy rum for Benjy. I may need some credit to pay him with though, just
in case he asks for money. Benjy is not stupid and can still sniff out an advantage.”
       It was Georgia once again who provided the means, grabbing a wad of notes out of
her purse and handing it to him.
       “There’s about a thousand dollars there. Will that be enough?”
       Haughty but humane. He smiled at her and amazingly he received a tiny flicker of a
smile in return. Momentary though it was, he blinked, she was human after all.
       “Once again Georgia, I am in your debt. Thank you very much.”
       She blushed prettily in response.
       Alan’s plan was to go to the Sally Army store and buy some old clothes. He would
change in the store and carry his good clothes in a bag to the lockers at Central Station
where he planned to leave them with his Akubra hat before descending into the depths
under the tracks in search of Benjy. If it was possible Benjy could be found at all.
                                                                                            68


Afterwards, he would change into his good clothes in the public toilet and come back
home. Less chance of being pulled up if he were well dressed and the hat would help avoid
being recognised by cameras.
      Between them, after a little debate, there was general agreement to wait until the
weekend, a couple of days away, as they would all be at home then. Discussion over, they
all went back to what they had been doing before the meeting began.

       Alan was in the finishing stages of putting together his computer language generated
stealth Goanna for the information highway, prior to testing it on the Web with some
simple task. He sat down in front of the computer and gazed at the three dimensional
image that rotated on the screen in front of him. It was awesome, a large, electric blue,
metallic looking Goanna. He couldn’t resist playing with his new creation and tapped the
keyboard. The Goanna’s tongue shot out, only Alan knew the end of the tongue was a blob
of suicidal code that immediately corrupted any other code it came in contact with.
       Tap. The outer skin shone, segmented plates of packed code, ready to dissolve any
program that tried to interact with that surface, it endlessly replicated as needed.
       Tap. The front and rear claws elongated, their razor sharp edges thin lines of super
fast splitter code. One swipe was all it took to carve up most attacking programs.
       Inside the Goanna was where the messages or computer viruses were kept, safe, until
delivered to the targeted recipient.
       Tap, tap, the screen went blank as he closed the portal to his creation. From the time
this program was originally opened it would never close, just sitting in the computer,
guarding the ports until it was sent on a mission. First, the ID card had to be obtained,
then the testing of his Goanna could begin in earnest. Then hopefully, a shot at the
Government bastards who were involved in the death of his brother, Wade and Sarah, his
one chance at love. He hadn’t forgotten, not even rotten booze could erase the memory of
his brother and girlfriend.
       ID card first though, revenge was a dish best served cold.

       The Salvation Army lady was really pleasant, she gave him a nice, clean, ordinary
looking bag for next to nothing. He felt a bid odd, entering the store dressed in quite
decent clothes and leaving after ten minutes or so, dressed in shabby clothes and carrying a
bag. He drifted down to Central Station, not striding along but seeming to bounce
accidentally off the odd rubbish bin as he ambled, head down towards his objective. He
noticed policemen at the entrance to the hallway that housed the lockers. Better to carry
his bag than chance being pulled up trying to get to the lockers. Leaving the crowds and
passing under the overhead bridge he turned to the right. The small hole in the fence that
he used to gain entry to the under-track hideout was just as he left it. He still checked for
alarms and sensors however. Nothing there, so he wriggled through the hole and headed
surreptitiously along to the spot where the tracks started to head underground. He timed
his final run to a few minutes between trains and darted around a corner out of sight, just
as a suburban train rattled by. This was an old crossing point of two levels of trains but the
lower level trains no longer ran. This created a hiding place which was dry and habitable if
you didn’t mind the rats and cockroaches that lived there also.
                                                                                            69


       There was a constant, if small, population of derelicts and bums living in the tunnels.
Humanity unnoticed, none of them caused trouble, they just drifted on the fringe of
vision. Occasionally someone would thrust money into their pockets or throw notes at
them. Palliative salves to guilt.
       Alan didn’t actually hurry, that would be rude, he merely ambled fast, heading for
Benjy’s place, a small area which had been walled in with waste lumber and thick
cardboard. It didn’t look much from the outside but inside it was a veritable palace. Alan’s
old squat was a bit further along, under the track above and beside an old storm drain. It
had suited Alan at the time. He knocked on the doorframe.
       “Who is it?” The old man sounded startled.
       “Alan, mate. I brought a bottle of rum. I just want to have a little chat about that
item we were talking of a while back.”
       “Alan, well well, come in man and take a seat. I’ve got a couple of glasses here
somewhere, just give me a sec.”
        “Not two Benj, one will be enough. I stopped drinking. Forever.”
       “Well good for you. How about a cup of tea then? No need to look so suprised. You
still don’t need ID to swap a gas bottle at a servo. Might as well have some home comforts
even if I technically don’t have a home.”
       Benj was grinning his head off as Alan ducked in to the warm glow of a gaslight
turned right down to make the gas last. The place was orderly and the man bent over the
gas ring, fussing with a kettle, looked a lot older to him than the last time they had met,
less than three weeks ago.
       “How’s it all going Benj? You look a little tired.”
       “Not so good mate. Something seems to have stirred the cops up a bit and there have
been some secret police trying to infiltrate us and gain information. They took ‘Harry’ away
a week ago and we haven’t seen him since. It is getting pretty tense down here. The cops
haven’t entered the tunnels yet but I don’t think it will be long, something is driving them.
You in some kind of trouble?”
       “You always were smart Benjy. Could be, although why I don’t know. I disappeared
off the radar a few years ago now and have had no trouble since.”
       Benjy placed a battered cup in front of Alan. The tea steamed invitingly.
       “Sorry, the fridge broke down and I haven’t got any milk, or sugar for that matter.”
       Alan passed over the bottle of rum which was eagerly accepted with trembling hands.
       “No worries, it will be just fine as it is. Thank you Benjy.”
       The plastic rum bottle was opened and a generous amount was poured into another
mug waiting on the makeshift bench. Benjy picked it up after he had replaced the cap on
the bottle and took a lengthy pull at it. His eyes watered slightly and his face went red for a
moment before he sighed.
       “Sure beats most of the rotgut shit I can afford these days.” Looking over at Alan, he
raised his eyebrows. “So what brings you back down here to see an old reprobate?”
       “Well Benjy, life is looking up for me a bit but I need an ID card to get back into it
properly. Mine would have made me a target so I ditched it. I need one that will work and
belonged to someone approximately my age. Better if it didn’t have any long periods of
                                                                                         70


disuse on it as the Gov. may have a subprogram running that picks up on such things. Can
you help?”
       Benjy sat sipping his drink slowly, considering.
       “I have one or two that may fit the bill. How much is it worth? I have to leave here
soon, the heat is being turned up and I will need a bit of cash to set up somewheres else.”
       Alan had expected to hear that Benj wanted paying but not the reason he gave.
Maybe he wasn’t as safe as he thought down here. Better get the business over with and get
out.
       “Plenty cash Benjy, just give me the best card you got.”
       Benjy gave him a sidelong glance then got up from where he was sitting, poured
himself some more rum and went to the back wall of the shack, concrete, like all the other
tunnel structures down here. Hanging on a nail on the wall was a picture of Uluru, in a
plastic frame, which leaned drunkenly to one side. Benjy slid it up and Alan saw that it
covered a natural fault in the concrete pour, which formed a little niche. Sliding his hand
into it, Benj removed a small stack of ID cards which he had been saving for a long time.
He sat back down and finished off the rum in his mug, once more refilling it from the now
quarter empty rum bottle. Taking another sip, he started shuffling through the cards,
placing them into three piles.
       “I should have done this ages ago, half of them are useless anyway since the Gov.
started linking DNA to the card owners a couple of years back.”
       Three piles, one large and two small, lay in front of him now. He picked up the
smaller one to his right.
       “These should be okay, the owners are alive but pretty brain dead due to sniffing the
ethanol petrol mix that fuels cars these days. I reckon two hundred dollars each would be a
fair price.” As he spoke, Benjy contemplated Alan, looking up through his bushy white
eyebrows, considering. They both knew that the price was outrageous for what was on offer
but Alan didn’t want to demean Benjy by haggling.
       “No problem Benj, as I said, things are looking up for me. I will take all three of
them.” He took out the notes he had been given, pulled two off the wad and handed the
rest to Benj. “There is eight hundred dollars there mate. The bonus is for you to get a feed
now and again and maybe you’ll live a bit longer.” Alan reached over and accepted the
three identity cards, reading the names on each and looking at the photographs. He took
one of them and handed it back. “Could you swap that for another one, my skin colour
doesn’t match.”
       “Sorry mate, the rum is starting to cut in.” Benjy handed him another card, better.
       Suddenly there was a distant popping sound and a strangled, gurgling scream,
abruptly cut off. Both of their heads whipped around together and came back to look at
one another.
       “Quick, we got to get out of here.” Alan hissed. For an old bloke Benjy could move
fast. He grabbed the neck of the rum bottle, shoved the remaining ID cards into his coat
pocket and stood, ready to flee.
       “Which way?” he asked Alan a trifle breathlessly.
       Alan stuffed his three new ID cards into his jacket pocket and jumped to his feet.
       “Follow me, I think I can get us out of here.”
                                                                                           71


       Picking up his bag, he ran out of the little shack with old Benj right on his heels. He
turned deeper into the tunnel, heading for his old resting spot. Behind them, up toward
the entrance he heard a few more popping sounds and the harsh barking of commands. A
bullet whined past them. Bloody police, someone had ordered this, the local cops never
bothered the fringe as long as no one made waves. He felt guilty about people dying, it was
him they were after, he felt sure about that. Benjy was tiring but they didn’t have far to go
now. Flinging himself down, he slid into the filthy space he used to occupy until a short
time ago and dragged Benj in behind him.
       “Keep quiet as a mouse if you want to live. There is a way out of here but you have to
stay right behind me.” Benjy grunted. He had understood. Alan gripped his bag tightly and
slid over to the far side of the space, dropping down into the stormwater drain through the
small gap before turning to help the older man down, rum bottle still clutched in his grimy
hand. There wasn’t much space in here and he could hear the voices getting louder.
Bending almost double in the small pipe, he scurried along with Benj close behind. They
went round a bend and the light diminished rapidly until they were in almost total
darkness. Echoes came down the pipe, snatches of conversion from the pursuers, talking
about the chances of anyone escaping. There was a brief arguement and then an
exceedingly loud report as someone fired a gun down the pipe from where they had
entered it. Bullets ricocheted along the pipe, miraculously missing both of them as they
whined past. They hit the deck together as three or four more shots were sent after the first
few. A voice, magnified by the piping and coming from Alan’s old hideaway, could be
heard clearly.
       “He’s not down here, its all clear. The spooks must have received bogus intel. on this
one.”
       So, they had definitely been after someone, him most likely. He heard the bottle top
being unscrewed and gulping sounds.
       “A bloke needs a drink after a bit of action.” Benjy wheezed quietly in an understated
way. Typically Australian. Alan smiled, he sure felt like a drink after being shot at but he
couldn’t afford to. No alcoholic could.
       Getting out was going to be a problem. He wouldn’t mind betting that the entrance
back there was being watched and that only left continuing along the stormwater drain. He
had no idea where it led and it was completely lightless and smelly but they had to
continue on as there was no way back. After a while they came to a street drain and Alan
looked out through the slit in the gutter to get his bearings. Car wheels could be seen
whizzing by and on the other side of the road he could see a line of shops. He knew where
he was, still too close to Central, the police may have put a cordon around the perimeter of
possible activity. He turned to Benjy, who by now was weaving a lot.
       “Slow up on the drink mate. At least until I can get us out of here.” Benjy’s reply was
mumbled, he didn’t look all that flash either. Alan secretly hoped that the old man wasn’t
too drunk because he couldn’t carry him in the tight constriction of the stormwater pipe.
       It took another hour before the pair of them surfaced from the pipe through a
manhole behind an old rundown warehouse. The light was starting to wane as Alan pulled
another hundred dollar bill from his pocket and thrust it at Benjy.
       “I gotta go old fella. Sorry for the trouble I have caused you. Will you be all right?”
                                                                                               72


       Benjy took the bill from his hand.
       “Don’t you worry about me Alan, I have decided to go on holiday. Get away from
here. I have a daughter I would like to see in Victoria before I die and that may not be too
long away. I will leave tonight. I still have my own ID card and I haven’t broken any laws.
The money you gave me will make all the difference, it is the first time that I have had
enough money to get out and I’m going. Cheers and no regrets. I hope everything works
out for you.”
       Still clutching his bottle, Benjy turned and wobbled off up the alley. The last time
Alan would ever see him. Clutching his bag, Alan set off in the opposite direction, pausing
when he had enough cover to change into his new clothes. It was far less suspicious than
the old threads he went into the tunnels with. He left the old clothes in a Salvation Army
donor bin, recycling, they would go around again no doubt.
       The trip home was uneventfull and he picked his third favourite ID card to swipe his
way into the student bar above the hideout. There was a suprise in store for him as he
walked into the bar. The place was packed with its usual raucous Saturday night crowd,
trying to talk over the loud, discordant music and there weren’t a lot of spare seats available
but sitting at a table near the door, Georgia, wearing a worried look on her face, was
anxiously tapping her fingernails on a tabletop. As soon as she saw him she stood and with
her haughty voice, demanded to know where he had been until this hour. They were all
worried she said, in case he had been caught and given Hypnotalk. She looked him up and
down icily for a moment then melting slightly, gripped his sleeve and towed him to the
passageway at the back of the bar which would eventually led to the hidden apartment.
Before they could access the broom cupboard, they had to wait in the passageway for a
while until it was empty, as the restrooms were further along. Georgia stood close and
rested her hand on his shoulder.
       “Just to make it look good. Don’t get any ideas,” she whispered to him.
       When they eventually arrived downstairs, the rest of the gang were all there waiting
impatiently and he proudly showed off his three new ID cards and related the story of his
adventures. There were a few frowns and gasps when Alan came to the part about the
shootings. Bobby quickly entered Alan’s ID card details into the computer system for the
bar upstairs. The little group of friends had worked out a subroutine that allowed them to
program the ID card reader at the entrance to not record their visit. Alan’s swipe would be
deleted. Despite this, Alan resolved to check out the stormwater drain behind the built-in
wardrobe in Georgia’s bedroom before to long. After today’s little escapade, he wanted to
know the escape routes available out of the apartment like the back of his hand, where they
came out and also to lay supplies down there in case of need.
       After they had eaten, another excellent meal prepared by Bobby and Cassie, he sat
and talked with them, explaining about the self defending carrier program he had put
together.
       “As it stands, I think it will work well. I am about to test it tonight and if it does what
I expect it to do, we shouldn’t have to worry about Tracers. The good news is that I can
make up more Web carriers and individualise them. So have a think of what animal, logo
or thing you want to have as a Web carrier and I will make it up for you. Basically, it is only
the wire frame that I have to build new, the rest is merely variations on a theme.”
                                                                                            73


       He left them sitting in the comfortable chairs with their jacks in place and went to sit
in front of the only computer with a keyboard. Coln had told him about all the channels
available on Web television. With the speed of information transfer these days most
satellite and cable companies offered on line entertainment and over seventy channels were
available by subscription. They were apparently very entertaining when viewed inside your
head but Alan didn’t have time for that stuff at the moment, there were more important
things to do with his available time.
       Secretly, he was bothered by his near brush with the law. They were after him but he
didn’t know why. How did they know to be at Central Station right then? Was he being
watched? It was the same three years ago when they had come looking for him. Jamie!
What if they were going to hassle Jamie again? He hadn’t contacted his best friend since he
had come to Sydney after his close call in the Territory. Three missing years. He would
rectify that right now. His fingers rapidly typed a message on the computer.

                    BROTHER, I AM WELL AND FAR AWAY. TAKE CARE IN
                    YOUR LIFE AS THINGS ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM.
                    I COULD SUGGEST A HOLIDAY. LIVE THE DREAM.

      The Email message had to be cryptic, as Jamie’s Gov. computer downloads may be
bugged. He inserted the message into his Totem and sent it, totally unconcerned about
tracking or tracing. Nothing would stick to the Electric Goanna, of that he was sure.

      Monday morning, four thousand kilometres away, when Jamie opened his Emails, a
picture of a Goanna appeared on his screen, an electric blue Goanna, revolving slowly. He
started, then pressed the read command and looked at the message displayed beside the
Goanna. He read it twice and then smiled before deleting it. Alan, at last, and well. Yes,
Jamie would take a holiday with the Tribe. They were going Walkabout for the wet season,
up into the Arnhem Land Plateau where they could live off the bounty of the land. Let the
white fellas try and follow the Tribe up there. They wouldn’t last long. Once they got into
the sub gorges, no one would find them. Not even helicopters or satellites. His whitefella
second in command could look after the office for him until he returned, if he ever did.
Smiling, Jamie picked up the telephone to set the wheels in motion and to get the word to
the Tribe.
      It was time to go.

        Between the time of writing the Email and Jamie reading it, Alan was extremely busy.
The choices that his flatmates had made for their own Web carriers had amused him a
little but were not too hard to construct. Lance was no suprise. He wanted a flash car, a
street machine like no other for the information super highway. Bobby and Cassie were a
little more clever with their choice and after finding out that two of the Web carriers could
be joined together to make a more formidable one, they came up with the curving yin and
yang signs for male and female. That was a little difficult for Alan to make the wireframes
for but he managed. Coln decided on a rhinoceros, an odd choice but then Coln could be
a little odd now and again. Alan gave the horns some program slicing abilities also. Last
                                                                                         74


with a request and somewhat shyly, Georgia asked for a dingo. This choice suprised Alan,
there was definitely much more to this girl than anyone could ever imagine. A Dingo was
what he constructed and for some reason he put extra program cutters into the teeth as
well as the claws.
       That Sunday evening he sent them their individualised Web carriers and explained
how to use them. This was the first step in their war on the Gov.
       The Web carriers could be used to carry code and programs as a means of accessing,
a polite term for hacking, other computers. They had no need to be connected to their
Web carriers once they were sent on a mission and there was no way they could ever be
traced back to the computers which they originated in. In fact, because they were made out
of computer language, it would be nigh impossible for anyone to duplicate their special
abilities. Autonomous creations, targeted and with the ability to make back doors into a lot
of computers. The Web carriers could be cloned time after time to make endless copies. It
was time for the games to begin.
       One further suprise awaited Alan that evening. Much later, after everyone had gone
to bed, as he was sitting in front of his computer, he felt fingers playing in his hair. He
whipped his head around to find Georgia standing there in an attractive dressing gown,
gazing down at him with a strange expression on her face. She spoke in a voice that had
none of the haughtiness of previous occasions and her face colored as she talked to him.
       “Alan, I have a couple of things to say to you. They don’t need a reply but I would
like you to think about them please. I know I was a bitch when you first arrived here but I
have come to see you as a gentleman. A rarity today. You always take pains to thank me for
the little things I do and you always treat me politely. Not many people understand me but
I think you do and I respect that and want to thank you for it. I like you and want to be
your friend.”
       She leaned forward and kissed him sweetly on the lips then placing her index finger
on the spot where she had kissed him, she went on.
       “No, don’t say anything, feel it. Besides, I have a thing for older men and you just
might be old enough. Goodnight.”
       Having spoken, she wove her way through the furniture and headed off back to her
room, her diaphanous gown trailing out behind her to reveal a long, shapely pair of legs.
Just before she disappeared down the passageway, she turned and gave him a wink.
       Alan was stunned, his face reddening. It was nearly five years since he had thought
about a woman in that way. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair and gave up any idea of
trying to do more work. Georgia, an enigma, with a Dingo for a Web carrier. Was he in
trouble or had he landed on his feet.
       Time would tell.
                                                                                           75



                                          Chapter 8.

       Since Sid had her outing and been returned to the hospital, life had become more
difficult for her. James D. Harding had been the perfect gentleman during their two days
together. She was not sure how she felt about that. She really did like him but had told
herself years ago that he wasn’t for her and he seemed genuinely interested in her mother.
There was something about him that didn’t feel right though. Who did he actually work
for and what did he do? Where did all the luxury that surrounded him come from, his own
money or the Governments and finally, why did he spend so much time with her?
       Back to reality. The work that she was now doing was totally different from the
previous weeks of effort and far more arduous. It was all to do with sending, which was a
different ball game from receiving, especially with the type of implant that she had in her
head. The old style insulated wire implants brushed against many neurons at their tips and
sending was merely a pickup of electrical activity from a small excited area of the brain. Not
a very accurate way of operating but it was relatively easy to do. With the newer type of
implant, utilising living neuronal tissue, she needed to refine the technique and target her
visual thoughts to the fifty or so neurons at the tip of her microtubule. For the last three
days Sid had been trying to find the exact spot in her right visual cortex which connected
with her implant. It was driving her crazy, trying to direct her thoughts to a specific spot
inside her head. There was no way to reference that site.
       “Blue tinge with a partial line.”
       That was Bethany again, manning the screen that was picking up what her brain was
sending. The two men had given up trying to help Sidhe after she tore strips off them in
her exasperation, so they merely sat in as silent observers. There was really no reason for
them to be here Sid thought to herself. The eyepatch was starting to become
uncomfortable to wear. The team had suggested using it initially, to help with the process
but it hadn’t.
       “Rest Sidhe, take a break, go have a coffee. I have an idea which I have to discuss
with these gentlemen here. It may help. Back in fifteen please.”
       Sid rose and headed for the door. Since her outing with James D. as she thought of
him, she now had her very own security pass. Okay, it wasn’t a full one but it did allow her
a certain amount of autonomy on her floor level. Her room door was no longer locked and
she could access the cafeteria which meant she could choose her own food rather than
eating the hospital pap. Good pap but not all that tasty. She did like a good steak now and
again. Credit was no problem, Sid had plenty of her own money but now she was on an
open-ended Government expense account.
       A Government employee.
       In fact, as soon as she could get this damn implant to send coherently, she would
start extensive training to take her place in the fight against the evil elements that were
trying to wreck the Government. At least that was what she had been told. Taking action
against the bloody activists who caused damage to the system. As the Gov. got smarter, so
did they.
       She entered the cafeteria and selecting a cappuccino, waved her security card in front
of the electronic register before sitting on her own to drink it. Her mother had been very
                                                                                           76


understanding about the decisions Sid had made regarding her future but she had sensed
underlying reservations. It was a sort of woman thing, intuition maybe? There was
something her mother had wanted to tell her but not in front of James D.
       A bit of a puzzle, that one.
       Of course her mother was not going to talk openly on the vidphone, anyone could be
listening in. At least visuals were allowed now and the visuals told her that her mother had
been crying, no amount of makeup could hide that fact from another woman. She glanced
up at the clock, time to return to the testing.

       When she entered the room there was a new feeling in the air. A sense of something
impending. Taking her seat, she covertly examined Bethany, who had an air of excitement
about her. What now, she couldn’t stand too many more failures. What if this new type of
implant didn’t work as she had thought, all she would have was a way of watching movies
and surfing the net privately. Bethany spoke.
       “Well Sid, we have come up with an idea that may help us make this thing work.
What we are going to do is send you an image of a picture frame. What we want you to do
is send your picture to us, right back through that picture frame. We will start with picture
one in your booklet please. Ready?”
       Sid picked up the booklet of pictures, turned to the first one and nodded.
Immediately a picture frame formed in her mind, occupying the right side visual field. She
concentrated on the image in front of her and mentally stuck it inside the picture frame.
She didn’t need conformation of success as a loud “Yes,” escaped from Bethany, who
subsequently looked a little embarrassed at her excitable response.
       The afternoon improved dramatically from that point on. Her visual sending ability
sharpened as the pictures became more complex but she was still unable to send without
first having the picture frame sent to her. When she bemoaned the fact, Bethany was as
bright and confident as Sid had ever seen her.
       “To be honest Sid, I was a little concerned before but now I am as happy as.
Tomorrow, we will start training in earnest using and refining this technique, won’t be
long now until you will be able to send and receive visuals and vocals. Not long at all. We
are so confident that you can start your other training tomorrow as well. You might as well
use your down time to work off some of that pent up energy. Gareth and Bryn are still
reeling from your emotional outburst this morning and I think that you need some sort of
outlet. So, tomorrow, report to the lift area in the lobby at eight sharp in the morning for
your physical training then after lunch, here, at one please. Most importantly, remind the
instructor that you must not jar your head. Full healing of the mounting spots for your
onboard computer is not complete yet. Oh, don’t forget to enjoy yourself.” Bethany’s eyes
twinkled as she said the last bit.
       Sidhe stood to leave and cast her eye over the three scientists.
       “Thank you very much everyone and sorry to you two,” she said, looking at the two
men. Then she took off her special earpiece, turned and left the room.
       Next morning at eight o’clock sharp, a light breakfast settling in her stomach, she
waited downstairs in front of the lifts for her trainer. Having no idea what he looked like
or who she had been assigned, she hoped he wasn’t a boring old fart.
                                                                                            77


        There was a slight throat clearing directly behind her and she whirled to find herself
staring up at an old grizzled countenance, fine lines spidering over a hard face. In fact, this
was the oldest person she had seen around here so far but the body, dressed in a tee shirt
and track pants, could have belonged to a twenty five year old and his intelligent grey eyes
were penetrating. This man could smell secrets. He looked down at her with a knowing
smile.
       “I’m Sam Houston and that was lesson one. You had no idea I was there and I could
have killed you easily. Don’t talk, just listen. I don’t know why I have to train you and I
don’t care but I don’t accept second best in anything. I require one hundred and ten
percent effort in everything you do and I will push you until I get it. You may be some
mucky muck where you come from but while you are training with me you will show
respect for all the people you are involved with. If this is too hard for you, you might as
well go back to the cafeteria. Did you enjoy your berry muffin and espresso?”
       Sid was stunned, that was sure direct speaking. No one had spoken to her like that
for a long time except for her martial arts instructor. Come to think of it, Sam was a bit
like him. Sid didn’t like being dictated to.
       “Were you spying on me or what?”
       “Disrespectful. One demerit point. No, I was not spying on you, you smell of berry
muffin and espresso coffee. From now on, no coffee before our sessions. Follow me.”
       They walked toward the front doors together without speaking and Sam’s ID card
got them out of the hospital. She had noticed a very slight bulge in the back of his track
pants and was curious as to whether he was carrying a gun.
       “Have you got a gun under your track pants?”
       “Very observant, wipe the demerit point. Try and keep up.”
       Sam set off at a quick jog, heading for a medium sized building about half a
kilometre away which looked like a school gymnasium. A building with no windows and
no cars parked near it. Sam hadn’t really answered her question either, no conformation or
denial. They jogged slowly towards the building and as they jogged, Sam reeled off a list of
observations and explanations.
       “In the open, you can be overheard up to one kilometre away with the equipment
that is now available. You can be photographed from space by a satellite that can produce a
recognisable likeness. With laser guided projectiles, like ‘smart’ bullets, a sniper can target
you from three kilometres. A poison dart can be delivered by compressed air from a
seemingly innocuous pen up to ten metres away and you won’t see it coming. In fact, there
are more advances made every day in ways to kill people than there are in healing them. I
believe I am the oldest surviving operative in Government service and am no longer a
target because I have stopped being ‘active’. You however, are now a target, otherwise I
wouldn’t have been sent to train you. I have been given no information about you except
that you are not to be pushed too hard for another three weeks but already I know a lot
about you. You are relatively fit, think you are a hard nut and do martial arts. You are right
handed, not particularly observant and watch what you eat. You probably don’t have a
father in your life and are highly independent.”
       Sam stopped talking and glanced down at her, smiling.
       “How am I doing so far?”
                                                                                              78


       Sid was flabbergasted.
       “How do you know all that stuff? You must have seen a file on me.”
       “One demerit point, I have already said that I received no information on you. The
answer to your question is observation and deduction. I am the best, which is why I have
lasted so long. Okay, we’re here.”
       Sid was breathing a little heavier than normal but Sam showed no effect from the
rapid jog they had just completed. They were outside a heavy steel door which opened in
response to Sam’s ID card. Inside, the building had been partitioned off into various areas.
The largest was the one they now stood in. It contained all sorts of ropes and ramps and a
climbing wall, looking for all the world like a modified assault course. Off to one side were
weights and floor equipment which would put a gym to shame. She couldn’t see what was
beyond the other partitions as they stretched up to three metres from the floor.
       “This will be a place you will either come to like or hate, that is totally up to you. For
the period of your training, only you or I will be able to access this building. It is ours, in
that you can be sure. You could be at risk if you come here on your own, as you have to
cross an open area to get here but if you want to do some extra training, just contact me
and I will bring you here. Now before we start, do you have any questions?”
       Sid shook her head dumbly.
       “Good, now as we don’t have a cleaner, that will be your job. In fact that will be
today’s training. I want the floors throughout the building swept dust free. There is an
electrobrush in that cupboard over there and the bin is right here beside the door.”
       Sid was about to complain but one look at his face decided her against it. She strode
over to the cupboard and took out the electrobrush. Not much different from a normal
broom except for the small switch on the side. Using a rechargeable power source, the
broom was designed to create a static field at the bristles. This effectively attracted all the
minute dust particles that normally got left behind with regular broom sweeping. A lot
quieter than vacuum cleaners, the electrobrush had become a popular household item. She
was familiar with them from the lab. Her reverie was interrupted by Sam.
       “You have two hours, beginning now.” Then he sat down, picked up his news sheet
and thumbed the on switch. The limp, pliable, double-sided LCD screen automatically
downloaded the news from whatever newspaper office it was coded to and lit up. He
settled down to read it. At least he wasn’t an old fuddy duddy, news sheets did away with
paper, something that Sid approved of.
       She headed off to the back of the building, between the walls of the tall partitions,
until she came to the door that led into the very back corner. She entered and looked
around before starting to sweep. This area looked like a store room of sorts, with
equipment stacked here and there, most of it covered with dust sheets. Two hours and ten
minutes later, she was back in front of Sam. He checked his watch.
       “Ten minutes late, two demerit points. Now, I want you to take this paper and pencil
and sit at the desk over there.” He pointed at a desk along from the front door. “Draw a
floor plan of this building indicating what equipment and machinery is taking up floor
space and where, also list the complete contents of every room in this building. I will give
you one hour.”
                                                                                              79


       “But you never said to look!” she blurted out. “How the hell am I to know what is in
there. All I did was sweep the floor as you told me.”
       “Lesson Two. What was Lesson One?”
       “Be aware at all times of who is around you.” She intoned.
       “Excellent, strike one demerit point. Now what do you think lesson two is?”
       “Be aware of your environment at all times?”
       “Very good, strike the other demerit point. I see that you are starting to learn.
Everything we do here is a lesson. Do you have any questions?”
       “Yeah, were you born or did someone hatch you?” she sneered.
       He hardly seemed to move, barely a flicker but her arm went numb with the most
excruciating pain and she doubled over holding her elbow, sweat breaking out on her face.
       “That was very disrespectful of you. Don’t worry, in four minutes it will be back to
normal. You will be taught how to do that yourself in time but for now it is a gentle
reminder of the fact that I am your teacher and without me, you will probably wind up
dead in less than a year.”
       His face softened, if rock could be said to soften.
       “James D. Harding may have recruited you with soft words and fancy dinners but it is
my job to make sure you are a usefully sharp and long lived tool. Your life as you used to
know it is over, whatever that was. Forget all the glamorous stuff about the secret agent
business, what you have taken on is potentially fatal. You will come to recognise that as the
training progresses and you learn more about this business. For now however, I suggest
that you keep your spitting for the training dummies. You will be destroying quite a few of
them soon, by hand and with weapons.”
       Sid’s eyes started brimming with tears. What had she done to deserve this? It was
nothing like she expected it to be. She had a bloody Doctorate in science and her own
laboratory with people working for her. How had she become lumbered with this
Neanderthal?
       “Don’t go getting all girly on me Sid. You have already done better than eighty
percent of any trainees I get. If I don’t train you properly, you’ll get wasted for sure and
that would hurt me more than you will ever know. I take pride in what I do, so this is how
we’ll work. Mutual respect. If you want to know something, ask and I will answer as best I
can. If I set you a task, I require it to be completed correctly in the fastest possible time and
when we get physical, I don’t want you to pull any punches. Got all that?”
       Sidhe nodded, wiping her nose on her sleeve.
       “Good. Well that’s it for today. Tomorrow we start on physical agility and stamina.
Be very ready to work hard from the get up and go. Okay, seeing we have a bit of time up
our sleeves. Can I buy you a coffee?”
       To say Sid was suprised was to put it mildly.
       “Yeah, sure. Don’t you have other students to teach though?”
       “Nope, you are my only student. You sure must be important. I have never done a
one on one before. C’mon, let’s go.”
       They walked back to the hospital building, which gave Sid the opportunity to look
around. There were other buildings dotted around the compound, although their uses
could not be discerned from the outside and off in the distance, she could see a high
                                                                                            80


perimeter fence which appeared to completely encircle the whole complex with a manned
checkpoint at the road entrance. So, a large unspecified Government complex which just
happened to include a secret agent training facility and a hospital. There was more going
on within the Government than was popularly believed. She wondered how free the media
actually was these days.
      Coffee with Sam was pleasant. Now that she was not officially under training, he
relaxed a bit and told her about a couple of his missions. Old ones and declassified of
course but it was still a human touch, something that she was missing. Sid had not become
a machine yet although there was one inside her head. It was a shame to leave him but
there was more to do that day and after a quick lunch and shower it was off to the
computer team for the one o’clock brainstorming session.

        It went better than she had hoped. The picture frame idea made sending pictures
easy, so much so that before long complex pictures were being sent from her brain to the
computer terminals in front of Bethany, Gareth and Bryn.
        “Try sending memories Sid, something that you remember from the past couple of
days.” Bethany was pushing but Sid didn’t mind, at least the equipment was functioning.
She sent her memories of the inside of the training area that she had been in that morning.
        “Wow, perfect sending Sid, you are doing excellently. Now, we are going to try
something a little different. I want you to talk to your implant. I know that sounds silly but
it is a computer and it is voice activated, so you will need to give it a name. Whatever you
like.”
        Without hesitation, Sid spoke up. “I want to call it ‘Wade’ after my father. Can I do
that?”
        “Sure you can.” Bethany replied, typing on her keyboard. “For the Christening, I
have to enter the name through the keyboard but once it is up and running, you can
change it any time, if you feel the need. Now remember, the computer will take commands
directly from your vocal centre, so initially, I want you to speak aloud, as well as to
concentrate on what you are saying. Later we will work toward silent running. Every
command must have the computer’s name in front of it before that command is
recognised. For example, ‘Wade, connect to home’ will result in the computer connecting
to its home computer, which for now, is the one in front of us. As you improve, other
computer destinations can be used and it is possible to train ‘Wade’ to recognise them by
name and automatically dial up and connect for you. There should be no need to remind
you that the tiny earpiece which you are wearing is a fully capable satellite phone. It is this
device which connects your internal signals to the outside world. I realise that you are
familiar with all the technology but it doesn’t hurt to go over how it functions. You will be
issued with a couple of spares but all that comes later. Okay, ‘Wade’ is ready. Try to
connect.”
        Sid felt silly sitting there, about to talk to a computer inside her but nothing
ventured, nothing gained. She drew breath.
        “Wade, connect to home.”
                                                                                            81


        Nothing seemed to happen, no whistles, no bells, so Sid relaxed a little, until she
realised that there, in the field of view of her right eye, was the same webpage now
appearing on the screen set in the armrest of her chair. She was connected.
        “How is it Sid?” Bethany leaned forward in her seat, concern written all over her face.
        “Weird, really weird. I am going to have to close my eyes for a while to concentrate.”
        “Okay, want to try a search?”
        “Yeah, why not, can’t get much worse.” Eyes closed, Sid’s features were relaxing as
she dealt with one reality at a time. “Wade, Search.”
        On the screen at her elbow, the page changed to a search logo.
        “Wade, Subject: Whales. Pictures and Sound. Display.”
        The picture on the small monitor changed to an underwater movie of a pod of Blue
whales swimming. Although the rest of the team could not hear it, Sid’s body was swaying
in response to something.
        “What is it Sid, you okay, talk to me please. Sid!”
        “Bethany, it is truly wonderful. You mean I can access anything, anywhere? Whoa,
this will come in useful when I get back to the lab. If I ever get back.” The last was said a
little ruefully. “Wade, Connect Technobeats Vidhits.” Sid’s head started bobbing up and
down while she was staring intently ahead with her eyes closed.
        “SIDHE! Enough, shut it off. The command is ‘Disconnect’, got that.”
        Bethany seemed a little rattled as she shot that ‘what have we created’ look toward
her two companions. They weren’t much help, merely shrugging as if to say ‘what can we
do?’
        Sid’s voice rang out. “Wade, Disconnect.” She opened her eyes and looked around.
“That was the best. So quick, so seamless, it just happens. Can I do this all the time?”
        Bethany looked relieved. “For the short term, you will be restricted to one hour per
night, increasing as you become better adjusted. For example, adjusted is being able to send
and receive with your eyes open while doing other tasks, rather than staring off into space
like a startled rabbit. It will be part of your training but I hope you don’t push too hard.
Now, that will do for today. You have done very well Sidhe and we are proud of your
progress. You may take the earpiece with you.”
        Sidhe rose from her seat and warmly thanked each of them before exiting the room.
        After she had left, Bryn turned to Gareth and whispered, “Some girl, hey.”
        Bethany just glared at them.

       That very evening, after dark, James D. Harding showed up and started giving orders.
Sid was moved out of her room in the hospital to another building on the compound
without a great deal of explanation. She didn’t have much to pack, just some of the new
clothes she had bought earlier and a few nick knacks and jewellery. All she got from James
D. was, “That team can do no more for you. Yes, you will see them again but now it’s time
to learn to ‘hack’ into other computers. We have only the best to train you.”
       Off in the distance, she could see the lights of the hospital from the lounge room
windows of her new apartment. It was sumpious. Completely self-contained luxury. Large
and spacious with modern furnishings and muted colours on the walls. The drapes ran
from floor to ceiling and James requested she keep them closed after dark, as that was
                                                                                             82


when she would be vulnerable to a long distance hit. The bathroom was modern and
contained a spa bath and there was a large plasma television, integrated cube reader and
stereo system in the lounge room. The bedroom contained a comfortable queen-size bed
and a large amount of wardrobe space which she didn’t really need.
       Sid had arrived in the half moon dark and from what she could see from the outside,
her apartment was the top floor of a rectangular two storey block. The bottom storey,
James D. informed her, was where the next step in her training was to take place, the
computer labs. She was to report to the office downstairs, day after tomorrow, at one pm.
sharp. He sat down in one of the lounge chairs and motioned her to sit on the couch
opposite. He seemed a bit nervous and wouldn’t look her directly in the eye. Sid knew
something big was coming.
       “I have been directed by my immediate superior to release a press statement. It
relates to your death while undergoing brain surgery for a tumour.”
       Sid sat perfectly still. Stunned by the announcement. James had fleetingly discussed
this scenario with her before but the immediacy of it all actually being played out was too
much. It had seemed like a game up until now. Reality was totally different.
       “No James. I won’t allow it, not yet. We need to see how I do with my training. If
you try it without my consent I will stop cooperating and the whole exercise will have been
worthless.”
       James seemed suprised at her response but nodded his head thoughtfully.
       “To tell you the truth, I didn’t feel right about this either. I will make a decision off
my own bat and put it on the backburner for now. Okay?”
       “Thank you James, I appreciate it.”
       As soon as the words were out of her mouth, he was once more in motion. Before
she knew it, she was left alone in her new apartment as James D. was on his way again. He
was speaking as he walked out of the door.
       “Sorry about the rush Sid. Your mother is well and sends her love. I will explain the
work situation when you come out for dinner in about two month’s time. Until then, take
care and work hard. Bye.” With that, he was gone down the stairs, his limo tearing off into
the night shortly thereafter.
       Sid smiled to herself, James D. would keep.

       Her life changed a lot from that point on. The training in the morning started out
relatively quietly but after a couple of weeks Sid was mixing it with Sam and he let her
know it. She was covered in bruises and had learnt to block and duck just about everything
he could throw at her. Sometimes, during the early days of her physical training, Sam
would intentionally ask her a difficult question regarding some piece of equipment. Sid
would close her eyes for speed and surf on her internal Web connection, looking for the
correct answers. Open eyed surfing was possible but it was much slower, so during those
early stages, she closed them. Later on, after Sam had whacked her a couple of times when
her eyes were closed, she became quite proficient at finding answers to problems with her
left eye open and once she had learned something, it stayed with her so she didn’t have to
look it up again. Sam never praised her, just expected her to learn. Then again he didn’t
upbraid her much either. With the one-on-one training her abilities were advancing in
                                                                                          83


leaps and bounds. A quick study at the best of times, she soaked up break and entering,
security systems and the host of other technical things she had to do. If there was
something she didn’t know she simply referred to the particular information, available
through Techsect’s computers, by opening the relevant page in her head using the
implants.
       The ‘hacking’ training was difficult, she was now able to work with both her eyes
open and concentrate on two visual feeds simultaneously but the data and programs that
she was using to ‘hack’ with were so intricate that she sometimes lost her grip on the real
world. It was all just starting to come together now.
       Blade and Rib, her ‘hacking’ tutors, were something else. On her first day with them
nothing got done. They just sat around gasbagging about who and what they had ‘hacked’.
They had been arrested for ‘hacking’ into a low security Government supply computer and
having some Government equipment delivered to their apartment. When their computers
were checked, it was revealed that the pair had visited many other forbidden places. A lot
of the places that they had visited did not even realise their computer defences had been
penetrated. James D. heard about them somehow and brokered them a deal. The deal was,
when Sid was as good at ‘hacking’ as they were, and she would know when, they walked
free with a job offer in Government somewhere, doing what they enjoyed best, ‘hacking’.
They took the deal.
       Blade was a joke, so anachronistic in his black leather clothes, it was theatrical but
that was Blade. Darkly handsome in a craggy sort of way, with a deep rich voice which he
used freely to swear at any computer he was trying to break into. He had a jackplug with
Bluetooth setup which allowed him the freedom to walk around gesticulating with his
arms. Pure theatre. Rib, on the other hand, sat quietly while working, as though deep in
pensive thought and if it wasn’t for the Bluetoothed jack sticking out of the back of her
neck, you would never suspect her brain was running at lightening speed. Blade’s partner
was good at mental juggling, running up to three programs simultaneously while swapping
information between them. She showed Sid how to connect to more than one computer at
a time by sending multi messages to separate destinations, effectively linking her to two
different computers. Quite a useful thing to know. Rib also had a sense of humour and
told Sid she thought Blade was pompous, and a lousy actor but she did love him so.
       After a further couple of weeks Sid was allowed to uplink whenever. In the evening
she often watched a movie over the link as she could lie in bed, eyes closed, all snuggled up
and warm. The technology was starting to feel a part of her. Integrated. Just an extension of
her body, same as an arm or a leg. Effortless movement, effortless connection. She was also
looking forward to going out to dinner with James D. He was an excellent person to go out
with, charming, gentlemanly, knowledgeable and loaded, and her mother’s boyfriend. She
wasn’t sexually attracted to him, it was more a father-daughter relationship. Still, it would
give her the chance to raise the issue of her having a real life again. She wondered how her
mother was coping with him, good luck to her but if James D. hurt her..........!
       Blade and Rib made hacking fun. It was a game of sorts, trying to get around the
security programs that had been put in place to keep unauthorised people out of computer
systems. Sid was improving rapidly but had not come to her full strength yet. She was
better equipped with technology than anyone on the planet but still hadn’t realised her
                                                                                              84


potential with it. That would come in time, the interplay between the Web and her brain
but at the moment she was on catchup. The easy stuff like breaking into bank and health
records was old hat now but trying to get into the computers of more heavily guarded
systems was proving difficult. On a number of occasions either Blade or Rib had to come
to her rescue to avoid detection by the computer she was trying to ‘hack’.
       “Think of yourself as being two dimensional,” Rib explained. “When you turn
sideways, you no longer exist for the other computer. It is like being there and not being
there. Work with feather touches to ‘push’ the other computer into doing what you want.
Frontal attacks are great for the story books but simply do not work in real life. Be a
stealthy shadow.”
       Blade looked up and continued the lesson.
       “Yeah, what I often do is wait for someone else to access the area which I am
watching. A little subroutine of my own invention sends the access information back to my
hacking program which stores it for later use.”
       “So how did you get caught?” Sid asked.
       Blade looked over at her. “AI,” was all he said.
       Sid glanced over at Rib, a question forming but Rib answered before it was asked.
       “AI. Artificial Intelligence. At last count there were six AI computers in the whole
country. Everyone wants one. They are a modification of the technology invented by your
father and your uncle. You should be familiar with it. Basically, AI’s are alive in the sense
that they think for themselves and are very clever but just assembling the hardware doesn’t
make an AI. We tried to hack one but because they think for themselves, we were
outsmarted. It handed our Web address to the secret police who traced it and immediately
arrested us. If James D. hadn’t appeared, we would have been locked up or shot.”
       “Shot!” Sid expostulated.
       “Yeah, the Gov. is calling us terrorists or traitors and is shooting people rather than
putting them in jail. A lot cheaper than a jail term and most of the jails are full anyway. We
actually found a list of names of people that had been disappeared and it is quite long.
Couple of hundred of them. Gone.”
       “How could the Government do that?” Sid’s question was a reflection of her
sheltered upbringing, away from the reality of everyday existence.
       “Why don’t you ask your boyfriend, James D. Harding? He is pretty high up in
Techsect I believe.” Blade sneered at her.
       “Blade!” Rib snapped.
       “Sorry Sid, I just hate all this secret police stuff. It is not right. We are not really a
democracy anymore in Australia. We can’t protest and we get dictated to. I get a bit carried
away when I talk about it. I am very sorry.”
       He really did sound recalcitrant, this time at least, so she let it go.
       Sid had some information digesting to do so she stood and removed her headset.
       “If you two don’t mind, it’s late, so I am going upstairs. See you both tomorrow, after
lunch.”
       She left them there and went to her apartment. Inside, she called James D. on his
special number. She was connected immediately, his handsome face a little tired looking
on the vidphone screen.
                                                                                         85


       “Hello Sid, what a pleasure. How can I help you?”
       “So, not just a Gov. employee. You work for Techsect.”
       More an accusation than a question.
       James D. looked puzzled for a moment.
       “Ah, Blade and Rib. Yes I do as a matter of fact. Why, is that important?”
       “How many people have you had shot for hacking or suchlike?” Sid hissed, full of
anger.
       “None actually. What is this all about?”
       “Blade and Rib said that you probably rescued them from being shot.” Sid glowered
into the vidphone. “I’m not going to work for an organisation that does that.”
       “We don’t Sid. They were caught by the secret police who work for the Minister of
Internal Security. The whole secret police force is controlled by one person who shall
remain nameless on a line which is not totally secured. I only managed to intercede
because Techsect is important enough to have some autonomy from Government. We are
the people who protect Australia from new technology which tries to sidestep the regulated
Government approval process. I will explain in more detail when we have dinner in a few
weeks but I will say that I am not an operating agent, I deal more in administration. How is
the training going? I hear good things.”
       Sid was calmer now, she hadn’t really thought that James D. could murder someone
but was worried in case she was wrong.
       “Fine, I feel like I am always struggling but Sam, Blade and Rib seem to think I am
doing well.”
       “Great, keep up the good work. Sorry, got to go, I’m wanted elsewhere. See you in a
few weeks.”
       With that the vidphone went dead.
       Sid was somewhat relieved, she’d somehow known James D. couldn’t kill anyone or
order their death. Could he?
                                                                                         86



                                         Chapter 9.

       Alan emerged through the manhole, in the secret space behind the wall of Georgia’s
bedroom wardrobe, with a satisfied expression on his face. It was the third time he had
been down into the stormwater drain that ran under their basement home and each time
was more satisfying than the last. Since his close escape a week ago, he had become more
and more worried about the security in the flat that they all shared. Every one of them,
Lance, Bobby and Cassie, Coln and Georgia had been more active on the Web since he
had shown them the use of the Web carriers he had made for them. The group was
gathering information on many fronts now and had even passed some of it on to other
activists. The Government had been openly embarrassed by one piece of information that
the group had gleaned and passed on. Alan was getting concerned though. He had dodged
the Gov. for nearly five years and knew how persistent it was. He had a feeling in his
bones.
       Time was running out.
       They needed an escape plan and as everyone had places to go and things to do
during the day, it fell to him to put one together. His first exploration of the storm drain
behind the false back in the wardrobe in Georgia’s room started with a bit of
embarrassment. Georgia had to move her clothes out of the wardrobe for him that
morning and smilingly teased him about it. He wished the access was in someone else’s
room, as Georgia was starting to pursue him a little. Not that he minded, he just felt too
old for her despite what she had said previously.
       On that trip he had taken a torch and a few supplies, spending the whole day
underground exploring the maze of pipes. The drains were long and quite large, not
enough to stand up in however and after a couple of hours, his back became sore from the
constant bending. The very end of the drain finished up at the Balmain harbour area and
was difficult to get out of, so he searched for other egresses. He found a number of them
but the best one was obvious. It exited through a manhole cover in an underground
carpark, one that accepted private parking.
       Excellent.
       When the others arrived home that evening he had quizzed them individually about
access to illegal vehicles and found out that Lance had some friends who could arrange
things. Everyone contributed toward the cost except for Alan, who vowed to even things up
if the opportunity ever arose. Lance procured a fairly new van with the Tracker stripped
out and a different paint job and number plates from the original. Alan drove it over to the
car park building and parked it in the underground section of the carpark beside the
manhole cover. Just in case. There was nothing about the vehicle that could lead back to
them.
       On his next trip, he took all of them down the stormwater drain one by one to show
them the manhole exit where the van was parked. Each took a small bag, packed in a
waterproof wrapper, containing a few of the things that anyone would need in an
emergency and some irreplaceable personal items. These were stored well off the tunnel
floor. He didn’t want to leave them in the van in case it was discovered by a police patrol.
He stressed to the whole group the necessity for haste if their apartment was raided. All
                                                                                           87


that would need to go with them were their computers and cash. Speed was of the essence
if they didn’t want to get locked up or worse.
       “Why all the paranoia Alan?” Lance asked him one night after he had again stressed
the need for rapidity. The rest of the group were equally as curious.
       “Up until now, you have been relatively harmless and have not warranted expense or
manpower to find. Since you have been using the Web carriers you have become a threat. I
don’t want to rely on the carrier’s invisibility forever. If someone comes knocking on the
door we have to leave, immediately.”
       His voice was a little shaky, remembering his own flight just over a week ago. Georgia
laid a reassuring hand on his arm.
       “We trust you Alan. Compared to you, we are pretty naive in a lot of areas.”
       Then she winked at him. He blushed, picking up on the double meaning.
       That was last week. His final trip down the pipes was to check everything was in place
and to store some torches below the entry from the wardrobe for the group to use if
necessary. He had worked out how to conceal the false door in the back of the wardrobe
but didn’t mention scattering Georgia’s expensive clothes around. She wouldn’t need them
anyway.
       Three days after his last trip down the stormwater drain, they were all sitting down to
the evening meal when suddenly a revolving red light on the ceiling started to flash. Next
minute a bell rang three times. Everyone jumped to their feet except Alan who sat blinking
in suprise. It was Georgia who turned to him as everyone was charging around.
       “That is our alarm signal for police raiding the bar above. Time to go.”
       For someone whose place was being raided, she sounded amazingly calm. Alan
considered; an interesting woman, not easily rattled. Far deeper than her image.
       By this stage Bobby and Cassie were already in the tunnel, their computers in hand,
Lance was dashing around and Coln was nowhere to be seen. Alan took Georgia by the
hand and led her to her own room, picking up her computer on the way. He saw her safely
down the hole in the space behind the wall of the wardrobe and went looking for Lance
and Coln. He met Lance in the passageway carrying his computer in a backpack with a few
other things in it. Pointing towards Georgia’s room earned him a nod as Lance passed him
by. Alan then went to the lounge area and grabbed his new computer, stuffing it into a
small backpack. The other computers were all gone, it was part of the evacuation plan. He
heard loud crashes from above and feet on the stairs leading down to the apartment. The
police had found the secret door in the passageway broom cupboard already. That was
quick. How did they manage that? He dashed back toward Georgia’s room in time to see
Coln emerging from the bathroom, tucking in his shirt. Coln looked grim.
       “The expression, ‘bowels turning to water’ is no joke my friend,” he said as he dashed
to his room and returned with his computer, running to the wardrobe in Georgia’s room
to access the stormwater drain. There was pounding on the steel door, heavy pounding.
The police would be in soon.
       “Hurry Coln, there are torches tied up on the right about ten paces down the tunnel.
Tell the others that I will be along shortly. Wait for me about five hundred paces along the
storm drain. Don’t take any chances, if I don’t show within a few minutes, just go.”
                                                                                             88


       Alan raced back to the kitchen and grabbed cooking oil from the cupboard and
methylated spirits from under the sink. He went to each bedroom in turn; starting with
Georgia’s and splashed cooking oil and methylated spirits on the bed which he then lit. It
roared into flame. In a few minutes he had finished in the other bedrooms and returning
to Georgia’s room, found it was well ablaze. It was all he could do to fight his way past the
flames to the wardrobe. Pulling Georgia’s clothes off their hangers and piling them on the
floor of the wardrobe, he entered the space behind and partially pulled the false panel to
until there was only just enough space for his arm to fit through at the side of the door.
Grabbing clothes from the pile on the floor of the wardrobe with his free arm, he
awkwardly scattered them close in front of the false back before finally pulling it to from
the back. He checked around the door to make sure that no clothes were trapped under it.
That would be a dead giveaway. The tiny gap, just before he secured the door by sliding the
four security bolts into place, revealed the room to be well alight, flames licking the ceiling.
As he drew the storm drain lid shut above him, he heard a loud explosion. No doubt the
steel door had been blown by a shaped charge. Swiftly he lowered the lid the final few
millimetres and turning, ran down the pipe, doubled over to avoid hitting his head on the
upper curve.
       Why did it have to come to this?
       The rest of the group were waiting for him along the tunnel and he was relieved to
see they had followed instructions.
       “What was the loud bang we just heard?” Cassie asked worriedly.
       “Just the police, blowing the steel door to get into the flat.”
       Lance eyed him speculatively. “I smell burning, what did you do?”
       “Oh, set the place on fire to cover our tracks and remove evidence. It is possible that
they may not have been after all of you. Enough gasbagging, go!”
       They fell into line, Lance leading, Coln second, followed by Cassie then Bobby.
Georgia chose the spot right in front of Alan, who brought up the rear. As they progressed
down the pipe, she turned to him.
       “You okay, not hurt or anything?”
       When she dropped the haughty manner, she had a lovely speaking voice.
       “No, I’m fine. Thank you for caring though.”
       Was that considered to be leading her on?
       Before long they arrived at the manhole cover into the underground carpark. Lance
and Bobby stood underneath and shoved. It didn’t budge. They tried again but to no avail.
There were startled glances passing between the group and Coln looked next to tears. Alan
knew what was wrong.
       “Someone has parked a car on top of the cover. We will have to go the hard way.
Shit, just what we needed right now.”
       He looked around the group of faces in the torchlight.
       “Don’t go to pieces on me people, there is still time. All we have to do is get out of
the pipe and double back to the carpark.”
       They set off again down the pipe, running hunched over, six dark shapes silhouetted
in the torchlight. When they neared the end of the stormwater drain, the light steadily
                                                                                             89


increased from a barely distinguishable glow to an eyewatering brightness, it was still broad
daylight outside.
       “What now Alan?” Bobby asked.
       “We have to get out of here, now. If they find the entrance in the apartment, these
pipes are going to be crawling with police. Let’s go, but make it careful.”
       Lance was the first. Before climbing out, he ducked his head out of the pipe, which
jutted out over the water and checked the surroundings. All clear for now. As the pipe
projected out a couple of metres into the harbour, just above the hightide line, he had to
climb up on the top of the pipe and walk the two or three steps back to solid ground. Still
no one in sight so off he went, quickly followed by Cassie, Bobby and Coln. Just before
Georgia climbed out, she turned to Alan and whispered.
       “If anything happens to us and we get separated, just remember, you’re mine.”
       She grinned at her own temerity and climbed out. Alan sighed, as if he didn’t have
enough on his plate at the moment. Still, he couldn’t deny that he was attracted to her. He
climbed out last, with a hand from Lance and joined the group in an alley beside a
warehouse.
       “We have to split up into two groups or we’ll stand out. Lance, you, Bobby and
Cassie head out now. You have keys to the van. When you get to the garage, try not to be
seen and jump into the van and wait. Coln and Georgia, you’re with me.”
       Just then the sound of an approaching helicopter could be heard and on Alan’s
signal they ran over and crouched beside a wheelie bin, waiting until the sound of the
chopper receded. The two groups of three people threaded their way through the back
streets, taking separate ways until they reached the underground garage and settled into the
van. On the way, Alan had noticed a satisfying plume of smoke rising into the air about a
kilometre to the east. He smiled. Setting fire to the place had been a stroke of genius; it felt
good to be a rebel, better than rotting in self pity with a bottle.
       Alan drove, Georgia beside him with the rest keeping their heads down in the back.
Not long after pulling out of the garage he noticed a road block further down the street
they were on, about three hundred metres away. Things were getting a bit tight. He quickly
scanned both sides of the road and spotting an open warehouse doorway on the right,
turned the van into it as casually as he could, carefully negotiating his way through the
stacks and racks of goods inside the warehouse. Startled employees jumped out of the way
of the van which then lurched around a forklift before arriving at another set of doors.
Unfortunately, they were closed. Alan jumped out, engine running and hit the green
button to open them and as soon as there was enough room for the van to pass, he drove
through the opening, turning left. Luck, it was a major arterial road, thick with traffic and
there was an opening just as he required it. Nosing into the traffic, he gunned the engine
and matched speed with the traffic flow just as another chopper came into view.
       “Wow, they sure mounted a big operation.” Coln offered from the rear of the van.
“Kind of makes me feel important.”
       It wasn’t until they were heading out of Sydney on the Western Freeway that a
general relaxation hit them.
       “Huee, that was pretty exciting. What are we going to do now Alan?” Lance asked the
question that they were all thinking.
                                                                                             90


       Alan smiled, already planning ahead to reach his objective. “We are going to
Bathurst first where we will buy jerry cans, one or two here and there, paying cash. I reckon
ten should be enough to get us through. Then we are going to visit a quiet little country
fuel station or two and fill them up. Somewhere where it won’t arouse too much suspicion.
Multiple cash purchases so that a large amount of fuel is not recorded as one transaction.
Then we are off to South Australia boys and girls.”
       There was a collective gasp from all of them.
       “I don’t want to leave Sydney, I’ve never been anywhere else,” moaned Cassie,
looking very close to tears.
       “Sorry girl, all of our lives are going to radically change. We are not safe in any city.
Too much surveillance. We are going ‘bush’. With modified satphones, we can be
resistance fighters anywhere and I mean anywhere. First though, we have to get to
Adelaide.”

      They topped the Blue Mountains inland from Sydney just as the sun was setting in
the west and the red beauty of the sunset over the land in front of them drew gasps of
pleasure. Down the other side of the mountains it quickly became dark and it was like
driving through a tunnel, relieved only by the occasional kangaroo bounding across the
road in front of them. The little beggars seemed to wait for the last moment before they
started their crossing attempts and there were a couple of near misses. They took turns at
driving, sticking to any speed limit that was posted on the roads they travelled and stopping
only to snatch a brief bite to eat now and again. When brief stops were necessary, they
didn’t all get out of the van at one time in any place the group could be noticed. Six people
in a van was something that folk would remember. Luckily the van that Lance had
procured did not have side windows, so they could remain in their seats when driving
through small towns and villages. Tired, the group stopped to the east of Bathurst,
concealing the van in a paddock behind some trees and took turns at sleeping until the sun
had risen well above the horizon. Concealment was essential, as the draconian laws which
had been passed to stop citizens on holiday from overnighting anywhere but caravan parks,
would result in the local police giving them the third degree if they were caught. Before
venturing back onto the highway, Bobby scouted the all clear then they drove into Bathurst
to buy the fuel containers and then a few basics from a supermarket. It was just after ten
am. when they pulled out of town. From Bathurst they drove down through Cowra to
West Wyalong then across the Hay Plains. About five that afternoon they cleared Hay and
headed across the Murrumbidgee River on their way to Mildura.
      “Could be a bit of a problem going into South Australia with the quarantine on fruit
and vegetables,” Alan told them, “but I happen to know a back road or two that will get us
past the Quarantine Station. In case we can’t avoid one, I will stop the van about two
hundred metres before it and Lance, Bobby, Coln and myself will walk through the scrub,
past the station and meet you two girls down the road about half a kilometre. Okay?”
      “Why Adelaide Alan?” Coln asked and by the curiosity on all their faces it was a
question that any of them could have asked.
      “I want that to be a suprise. I promise it will be a good one. Hopefully.”
                                                                                        91


       Alan decided against travelling via Mildura, too many cameras on the roads, so he
turned south off the main highway at Balranald, well before Mildura. Under his
instruction, they took turns in driving the van through the back ways which took them
across the Murray River at Tooleybuc heading through Victoria’s Big Desert and on into
South Australia by way of Pinnaroo. That evening, they were once again parked off the
road in the scrub somewhere near Swan Reach. The vegetation here was totally unlike
anything that the rest of the group had ever seen before. The change in vegetation
throughout their travels so far was a topic of conversation which didn’t seem to weary
them. For the younger folk it was like seeing a documentary, hour after hour after hour.
Alan filled in details where he could about how the face of the land had been changed by
the early settlers and modified again by the huge farming conglomerates which had sprung
up over twenty years ago. He pointed out patches of little altered native vegetation where
he saw them but there was far less than he ever remembered. The scars on his shoulders
itched, why, he had no idea but it was like the part of him that was now wedded to the
land trying to be heard. What had happened to the land around here since the Dreaming
diminished? It wasn’t dead, it just seemed angry and resigned. The country they were in
now was Mallee Scrub, dry, dry country producing stunted, thin, gnarly trees which were
not very tall. The thin grasses were crunchy dry underfoot and browned off by the lack of
water.
       “Only about twenty five to forty centimetres of rain per year here and that’s not
reliable. Desert by any other name, marginal for wheat but people still farm it. Get some
rest everyone, tomorrow is going to be a big day.”
       Lance snored and so did Cassie. While four of them slept, the other two stayed
awake until the sleeping shift rotated. When Alan woke he found Georgia asleep, resting
her head on his shoulder. Her hair smelt of kittens and the warmth that came off her was
welcome in the sharp cold of the early morning. He looked up to find himself under
scrutiny by Lance.
       “So how do you reckon the cops knew where to look?” Lance asked him quietly.
       “I’ve been puzzling over that. Something gave us away. There is no real way they
should have known about your hideaway unless they keyed off me. I sort of feel responsible
for the bust. However, they would have been on your case soon anyway if that piece of
Tracer code is anything to go by. Do you still have it?”
       Lance patted his backpack which contained his computer, “Sure do.”
       “Excellent, I will show you what we can do with it when we eventually get set up at
our destination. We have a lot of travelling to do yet and we will have to change vehicles
soon. Remember road cameras? Well add in satellite surveillance as well. One AI,
dedicated to traffic, could monitor every vehicle on Australian roads and still have
computing space left over.”
       As he talked, Georgia woke up and looked shyly up at him before sitting up.
       “I couldn’t help overhearing,” she whispered for his ears only. “Have you considered
that one of us may be working for the Gov?”
       No, he hadn’t and the thought chilled him to the bone. Where they were going was
secret for now but he certainly didn’t want Gov. police finding him there. What to do?
Think!
                                                                                          92


       “Leave it with me, I’ll try to think of something,” he whispered back and raising his
head he smiled at Lance as though he had just shared something personal with Georgia.
       As the dark in the east began to lighten, Alan gathered them all together. They were
cold, night time in the dry areas was often down near freezing and little plumes of breath
could be seen from each of them. The early morning was clear and still as the sun poked its
way over the horizon. Even those first rays had warmth in them. He carefully introduced
his thoughts.
       “Have any of you considered the possibility of a spy in your midst?”
       “No way.”
       “Not one of us.”
       “Don’t be stupid.”
       “I don’t believe that.”
       “It could even be you.”
       The reactions were more or less as he expected. No one was going to give themselves
up. This could be tricky, how did you find a weasel in a haystack?
       “Okay, settle down, it was just a thought. I want you to pair up, Bobby and Cassie of
course, Lance and Coln and Georgia and myself.”
       He was interrupted by a few sly grins but bore it with equanimity.
       “Until we solve this, I want each pair to keep a very close eye on his or her partner.
Very close, I personally don’t want to go to jail or worse, remember, they killed my brother
and I don’t think any of you do either. So keep alert, it will only be for a short while.”
       He was hoping someone would look alarmed but nobody did. Damn. Maybe he was
just paranoid.
       They all hopped back into the van and Alan drove down to the ferry and they
crossed the River Murray again, continuing down through Cambrai then up into Mt.
Pleasant on the Adelaide Hills. It wasn’t long before Alan was nosing the van through Mt.
Torrens to arrive in Lobethal shortly thereafter. Down the main street, opposite the pub,
Alan was looking for a computer store that he hoped was still there. It was, excellent but
they would have a security camera. He backtracked up the road to the clothing store and
went in, returning a few moments later wearing an Akubra hat which replaced the one that
had burned in the flat. Everyone in the van was puzzled by his behaviour until they drove
back toward the computer store and Alan got out of the van, which he had parked in the
supermarket carpark and headed for the store, hat pulled down low to hide his face. He
returned about five minutes later with a package and jumped into the van. Driving back up
the road, he stopped at the bakery and Georgia and he went in to buy them all something
to eat and drink.
       The day was warming up nicely as Alan drove down through Gumeracha, heading
towards Chain of Ponds while everyone else was rubbernecking. The vegetation on the
Adelaide Hills was totally different from where they had been earlier that morning and the
drive toward the reservoir was pure bliss. Bliss that would not last long. He parked the van
off the road at a car parking area, a memorial to the Chain of Ponds hamlet that had been
removed when the dam was built and asked everyone to get out. He then unwrapped his
package.
                                                                                          93


      “It is extremely important to me that the Gov. is unaware of my and your future
movements. I have come to like all of you but this is serious, so what I have in my hand is a
cheap, multiband scanner. I would like to scan each of you if you don’t mind please.”
      He turned the scanner on and watched the numbers flickering on the screen until
they suddenly stopped and the machine gave off a low beep, beep, beep. The rest of the
group looked up, startled.
      “What’s that beeping mean?” Cassie asked worriedly.
      “It means,” Alan replied, “that someone has an implant, if the waveband is anything
to go by. The same waveband the secret police use. I was consulted on the design, many
years ago now but I didn’t forget.”
      Before anyone could volunteer to be tested, Coln spun on his heel and raced off.
Away from the van, toward the hill behind the parking area. Without hesitation, Lance
took off after him with Bobby close behind Lance. Coln was not very big but he was fast, it
took Lance a while to catch up and when he did, mild mannered Coln pirouetted and
delivered a kick toward Lance’s head. Lance blocked the kick and Coln was off again but
didn’t get very far. Bobby had run wide to get in front of Coln and stepped out from
behind a tree and coat-hangered the little bloke before he even realised that Bobby was
there. Lance arrived and stood over Coln, glowering, his bright blue eyes shining with a
murderous intensity. Coln cowered under that ferocious gaze, expecting to be hurt.
      “You little shit. I trusted you, we all did.” Lance snarled but his fists gradually
unclenched as his better nature took hold. Between them, Bobby and Lance, holding an
arm each, lifted Coln off the ground and frog marched him down the hill, back to the
group waiting below. Luckily there was no passing traffic at the time or the game would
probably have been up. With Coln in front of him, Alan wasted no time in running the
scanner over the red haired man. As the scanner passed his right thigh, the beeping rose in
volume.
      “Why Coln? What would make you want to spy on your friends? Disrupt their lives
and maybe even cause their deaths?” Alan sounded tired.
      Coln was still gagging slightly; Alan figured Bobby must play one of the new, popular
contact sports, with or without a ball, to have come up with that move. Coln spoke up.
      “The Government rules the country and they do a good job. Sure we loose a few
freedoms but that is for the greater good. They recruited me in my final year of high school
and I had a year’s training before I started Uni. By the way, that was a lucky shot Bobby. So
what are you going to do with me now?”
      Alan looked straight at him with the meanest look he could muster, “Kill you?”
      There were indrawn breaths all around and Coln started babbling.
      “I didn’t tell them about the van, honest. I like you guys. I hoped you would get
away. I was going to separate from you. It’s not my fault a car parked on the manhole cover
in the parking garage.”
      Alan smiled. “Just kidding Coln, I am not like your masters. Do you happen to know
how many derelicts were killed at Central Station the day I went to get an ID card? It was
you that tipped off the secret police, wasn’t it?”
      He looked down and saw the spreading stain on the front of Coln’s trousers. Mmm,
he must have sounded convincing.
                                                                                          94


       “For now, we are going to tie you up and leave you in the back of the van with ear
plugs, a gag and a blindfold. Cause me any problems and I will consider leaving you on a
train line somewhere.”
       With Coln taken care of, Alan drove the short distance to where he had buried the
money from the sale of the laboratory over five years ago. After digging it up, he
unwrapped the plastic from around the unearthed aluminium case and opening it, showed
the others what it contained. Eight hundred thousand dollars. There were a few low
whistles at the contents.
       “Say nothing where Coln could possibly hear you. Most important, because he is
going to report every detail he can remember to his buddies. If I mention Melbourne, pick
up on it but don’t overdo it.”
       There were nods of agreement. The group was still stunned to find one of their
number was a spy for the Gov.
       Next, Alan drove to his friendly back yard car dealer, who actually remembered him
from nearly five years earlier, where he negotiated for another van. He chose a four wheel
drive version, it might come in handy. The older model van would be ready later in the
afternoon, no Tracker in it and with a legal registration. Still possible in these times but
difficult. He paid extra to hire another four wheel drive for the rest of the day and leave
their present van, with its prisoner in the back, at the yard for the afternoon. His bland
seeming dealer friend did not ask why and parked it around the back so the odd thumps
coming from it could not be heard by anyone. Shortly afterwards the rented four wheel
drive was parked in the huge parking lot of Tea Tree Plaza. Alan took bundles of money
out of the bag and handed them around.
       “Lance and Georgia, there is a Tandy store on the ground floor of the Plaza, buy one
satphone there, drop it back here and go across the road to Dick Smiths and buy another
one and Georgia, you bring that back here. Lance, cross over the road on this side and
opposite Dick Smiths, you will find a Leading Edge computer store where you can buy
another satphone. That will make three. While you are at it, get some Everlast batteries for
the computers, I don’t care how expensive they are, we need them. Bobby and Cassie, go
upstairs in the shopping centre where you will find a Big W and buy a couple of sleeping
bags, a three man tent and some camping gear. When you all return, Lance and Georgia
can go and get some camping things and Bobby and Cassie can buy another couple of
satphones and Everlast computer batteries. I don’t care about the money. Get Everlast
batteries in the satphones too, please. By swapping around we shouldn’t draw too much
attention to ourselves. I will move the vehicle after the first drop off, so keep an eye on
where I park it next. We do not want to get spotted acting suspiciously or we will be
history. Remember to avoid cameras. I can’t go with you anywhere around here in case I
am recognised. Adelaide used to be my home town.”
       We need to leave the city tonight.

      They all left on their various missions and before long the shopping was done and in
the back of the rented four wheel drive. Alan was relieved. One less chore to do before they
took off later on, that only left some food shopping which was quickly accomplished in the
Woolworths supermarket, downstairs in the Plaza.
                                                                                          95


       The light was starting to dim as they drove to pick up their new van at the yard. Alan
briefed them while they were driving.
       “I want to create a diversion to give us a bit of time. Cassie, you will drive the new
van and follow us. I will drive the old van with Coln in it and the rest of us will discuss
Melbourne as we drive. Just follow my lead everyone. Hopefully, we can create a diversion
and have the secret police looking in the wrong places for a while, which may take the heat
off. At least, I hope so.”
       Their new van was ready and it didn’t take long to transfer their purchases to the
back of it along with the ready filled fuel containers. If the worst came to the worst, they
could cover over fifteen hundred kilometres without the need to refuel at a service station.
Coln was taken on an extended bathroom trip by Alan while this was done so that he
wouldn’t suspect what was going on. Cassie took the keys to the new vehicle and waited
while Alan paid the vehicle dealer, giving him a generous bonus on the understanding that
they were never there. Their new vehicle was registered to a little old lady who hardly ever
left home. Her extra reward would help with the pension.
       Alan checked Coln before they all left, accidentally loosening an earplug while doing
so. With everyone loaded, they set off, with Coln still trussed up in the back and their
other vehicle following. Down onto Lower North East Road then over to the Freeway,
heading towards Murray Bridge. Alan started the ball rolling with a wink at Lance.
       “Lance, do you think we will be able to get in touch with another resistance group in
Melbourne?”
       “Don’t see why not.” Lance replied seriously. “There are quite a few there.”
       “Why Melbourne, Alan?” Bobby chirped up.
       “Size I guess. I’ve done what I came to Adelaide for and we could make ourselves very
difficult to locate in a city as big as Melbourne. What do you think Georgia?”
       Georgia was smiling as she replied. “Yes, I agree, Melbourne is a good choice.”
       “Excellent, Melbourne it is then. We will ditch Coln somewhere on the way for his
buddies to pick up later.”
       They all fell silent and became absorbed in the drive along the Southern Freeway.
       At about eight pm. they arrived in Tailem Bend and after stopping and asking Cassie
to wait near the main road, Alan drove to the High School. It was pretty dark when they
took Coln from the back of the van and left him at the entrance doors to the main
building. Alan removed the ear plugs from Coln and said goodbye.
       “I actually liked you Coln. It is a shame that you are a spook. You will be found in
the morning when school starts but you will have to endure an uncomfortable night. Sorry
about that but I am not a killer, nor do I intend to be. Goodbye.”
       With that, he turned around and walked away.

      The little convoy drove to the turnoff to Murray Bridge and just before crossing the
old bridge, Alan drove to a little reserve nearby. Everyone else got into the new vehicle
while Alan drove the old one onto a slope above the River Murray. He got out and released
the handbrake. The van gathered momentum as it rolled down the slope before plunging
into the river. It sank slowly but before long, it had disappeared into the slow swirling
waters. He knew it was deep there and that the van may not be found for a while.
                                                                                          96


       Perfect.
       Back on the road again, upriver to Mannum then across to the eastern side of the
Murray River on the ferry before crossing back at Morgan. Turning north the group passed
through Burra, arriving at Orroroo late on their way to Leigh Creek, ever north. The roads
deteriorated from there on and the group were bounced around as they reached Maree and
turned up the Birdsville Track. It didn’t matter, they were free for now. They didn’t
purchase fuel at garages that might have forecourt cameras but used their stored fuel when
necessary, filling up the containers for cash when they could. Alan pushed hard, he knew
where he was going and the rest of the group trusted his judgement as they drove north. It
took a couple of rough day’s driving through Birdsville and Boulia on route to Mt. Isa.
They continued without surcease, a moonlight drive over the Barkly Tablelands, up
through Cape Crawford and back onto the Roper Bar Road. Never in their short lives had
the rest of the group seen anything like the country they drove through at such a rapid rate.
It was magnificent, huge and overawing. The members of the group that were awake at any
given time were pointing out various features of the landscape to each other, commenting
on the Australia they had never seen. It was big and dry and red for much of the journey,
that is, until they were far enough north for semi desert to turn into savannah. Then
savannah ran out and scrub took over to eventually change to bush.
       At Mataranka, Alan called a halt to their mad rush and took them out to the Twelve
Mile camping area. Here, the city slickers were more properly introduced to tents and
camping. He showed them how to erect the three tents and they made a little square with
the back of the van as the fourth side. It was more private that way. The wet season was just
about to break and it was very hot and humid. A time of the year known as the build-up.
Not much rain had fallen but the sky rumbled and thunderheads piled up, kilometres
deep, only to blow away. At night, the lightening show went on for hours and hours,
entrancing the city slickers. Georgia wiped the sweat from her face yet again and asked.
       “Why here Alan? It is pretty hot for us and we don’t have the right clothes for this
climate. Where are we going?”
       Alan relaxed and looked at each of them in turn. Bobby and Cassie, sitting next to
each other as usual but not cuddling due to the heat, Lance, perspiring freely and Georgia,
who was wearing far less clothes than he had seen her in before. Mmmm, her body was as
good as her legs. He brought his attention back to the question and answered it.
       “I have a very good friend a bit further north. You’ve seen the scars; I am a member
of his Tribe. We are going to go ‘bush’ with our equipment and continue harassing the
Gov. It will be hard I know but we will get some more camping gear in Katherine and some
better clothes for you all, as well as backpacks. We will be living off Mother Nature’s
bounty where we are going but we will be virtually untraceable. It is the best that I can do
to make you all safe from the Gov. For the next few days I want you all to relax and have a
look around here. There are some lovely hot pools back up the road a bit at Bitter Springs.
Don’t worry, they are not too hot. We need a break for a few days, so relax. I have to set up
the satphones so our position is not given away when we use them. That means a bit of
recoding of their programs.”
       “But we know nothing about surviving in the bush.” Lance pointed out.
       “Neither did I,” Alan responded, “but I learned.”
                                                                                         97


       Five days later, rested, a little more acclimatised and wearing their newly purchased
clothing, the little group drove north over the bridge spanning the Katherine River and left
Katherine behind. As the town disappeared in the rear view mirror, Alan relaxed. Soon
they would be there. That evening, when they eventually arrived at Jamie’s house, it was
dark, very dark, as there was no such thing as street lighting in the bush. They got out of
the van and wandered around the house to see if lights were on around the back. Nothing,
not even a vehicle parked there.
       “Are you sure this is it?” Cassie asked Alan.
       “Yeah, I lived here for two years. He’s probably out somewhere. Let’s go inside and
wait for him.”
       They trooped inside and one of them went to put the kettle on while Alan checked
the fridge for milk. The fridge was switched off and defrosted. The kettle didn’t work so
Alan started to look around and found the power switched off at the mains. The more he
looked the more he realised that Jamie had gone somewhere. The house was neat and tidy,
none of the usual clutter of living cascading off the coffee table and bench tops. The hot
water service had been switched off but that didn’t mean a lot when solar power heated the
water. The kettle eventually boiled and tea was made. They drank it black mostly, with
sugar, in training for bush living. As they were sitting around, quietly enjoying their tea,
the sound of footsteps coming up the verandah steps could be heard, stopping at the edge
of the verandah. This was closely followed by a voice, brittle and cracked with age.
       “Who dere in um house? That Jamie’s house you fellas.”
       Alan opened the door. “It’s me, Alan Wilson.”
       There was a gleeful shriek from outside and an old, grey haired aboriginal lady
limped quickly up to Alan and gently hugged him, tears in her eyes.
       “Alan bluddy Wilson! Goanna man, that Jamie say you might come. Who dis mob
come wit you?”
       Alan stepped back and drew the old lady into the room. “Mary, these fellas rescued
me from off the streets of Sydney. They are good people but we are in trouble. We need to
find Jamie. Do you know where he is?”
       The old lady hobbled into the room and went up to each of the younger people and
scrutinised them before offering her hand to each one for them to shake. She spent longer
looking at Lance and Georgia than the other two then she turned back to Alan.
       “Sure do, gone walkabout wit da tribe.” She stroked the side of his face gently,
fingers conveying fondness. “We bin Dreamin’ bout things. Big things. Dis land not happy,
people not happy, plenty bad spirits. Tribe gone old ceremony places.”
”How long Mary?”
       “Oh, him bin gonna week mebe. Tol me watch for you. Jamie bin Dreamin’ big. Dat
Dingo girl belonga you?”
       Georgia looked startled. How did the old lady know what her Web carrier was?
       Alan merely smiled. Mysteries were only mysteries if you didn’t accept. Mary wasn’t
blind, she saw things.
       “No Mary, she doesn’t belong to anyone but herself at the moment. Can we catch up
to Jamie? We can’t stay here or there will be big trouble.”
       The old lady cocked her head to one side and scrutinised Alan for a while.
                                                                                           98


      “You part of de Dreamin’ an you come back. You belonga here in dis land. Jamie,
him say you come be wit him. He wait, three day walkin. Mebe I show you way tomorra.”
      Alan looked relieved. “Why are you still here Mary?”
      Mary grinned at him. “You got um beer?”
      Alan went out to the van and came back with a six pack which he handed to Mary.
Her face lit up and she cracked one.
      “You fellas gotta smoke?”
      Alan shook his head, “Sorry Mary, none of us smoke but I can give you some money
to buy some.”
      She grinned at him and pulled a packet of tobacco out of her pocket and made a
cigarette which she lit and puffed on.
      “Us old fellas to old for walkabout. My leg, him bad. We stay here, look after da
place, mebe see you, mebe see bad people. No beer in da bush.”
      She took another swig on her can and giggled.
      Mary stayed for another hour or so then made her way back home with a promise to
be back at dawn. She told Alan that they could get partway to where Jamie was in the four
wheel drive van. They could hide it out there so no questions were asked if anyone strange
turned up. As far as she was concerned they had never been here.
      After she left, Alan stood on the verandah for a while, gazing into the night, trying to
plan ahead and didn’t hear the door open and close due to the distant rumble of thunder.
He did feel the slender arm that encircled his waist and the head that rested on his left
shoulder.
      “Dingo eh?” Georgia whispered. “What does that mean, Goanna man?”
      Damn she smelt good.
                                                                                           99



                                         Chapter 10.

       The three viewscreens in Percy’s office were displaying a picture of Kata Tjutu taken
from Uluru. In times gone by Uluru was known as Ayers Rock and Kata Tjutu as The
Olgas but times had changed. The view suited Percy’s bleak mood at the moment as he sat,
head in hands, thinking. Apart from all the usual day to day communications and
instructions that were routed through his office, there were a couple that had drawn his
attention immediately, newly arrived from disparate sources early that morning and cause
for some disquiet. He had ordered an information shutdown on the whole affair
immediately. Sydney branch was due for an overhaul. Very soon.
       “Serena, lovely Serena, what do you think of this new information? Knit it all
together on a time line and give me a précis please but first I think tea and a stimstik.
Meelin can bring it in.”
       He did enjoy Meelin, she was such a visual treat and understood his peccadillo’s
perfectly. She was the visual embodiment of Serena’s voice, satisfying his aesthetic sense in
an asexual sort of way.
       One did not get involved with the office staff.
       The door to his personal office opened smoothly, belying the weight of reinforced
steel from which it was constructed. Percy had designed his new office and it was a virtual
fortress. Too many people were interested in him being dead. Still, it was aesthetically
pleasing. Meelin, dressed in her sheer, almost transparent, synthsilk sheath, entered with a
small tray in her hands. She was tiny and delicate, a counterpoint to Percy’s vast bulk
which his chair accommodated to as he shifted to observe her. She walked delicately to his
desk with her head bowed submissively and placed the tray within reach, bowing and
stepping back.
       “Thank you Meelin, you may go.” Percy watched her exit, taking pleasure in her
movement, as pretty from the rear as the front. He sighed, then turning his attention to the
stimstik on the tray, picked it up and popped it into his cavernous mouth. It helped him
think faster and that edge was important in the cut throat world of espionage. Reaching
out he picked up the cup of steaming tea and sat back, his new contour-smart chair
adjusting until he was semi reclined.
       “Begin please Serena.”
       The AI computer, one of only six ‘alive’ in Australia, started her report.
       “Wade and Alan Wilson, mercurial brothers with a special gift for all things
computer revolutionised computing as we know it. Wade was the ‘hardware’ side and his
brother Alan was the software side. It was their initial work that has resulted in a few AI’s
being able to be brought to ‘life’ in recent years. Since their work, no one has yet been able
to do more than modify their designs although the amount of ongoing research is
phenomenal. Alan never married and has no children. Wade fathered a daughter, Sidhe
Wilson, Alan’s niece. The Government, under secret advice, wanted their research to be
nationalized so offered to buy them out. Wade refused and you might remember the
discovery I made of how that situation was ‘fixed’ without your knowledge. Wade was
removed from the equation and the sale went through. Alan Wilson disappeared not long
after and Techsect took over the laboratory. Sidhe Wilson was then approached by
                                                                                            100


Techsect to carry on working in the laboratory under Government supervision, as she has
certain abilities in this field that others don’t have, due in part to the time she spent
working with her father. About three years ago, we were ordered to try and find Alan
Wilson.
       That instruction apparently came from the office of the Minister in charge of our
department but I cannot find out why it was given or who originally ordered it. We missed
our target and he escaped. Alan is still the subject of a holding order if he is ever found but
who it is that wants him is not clear. Personally, I don’t believe it is Techsect, the available
information indicates that there is another player involved, working through Techsect.
Sidhe Wilson was awarded her Doctorate for work in the laboratory which is classified,
even from me. Techsect is playing this one very close to their chest. Not long ago, we know
that James D. Harding had a meeting with Sidhe Wilson and she was subsequently
transferred to a Techsect compound. We have informants there among the cleaning and
support staff. Through them we learned that she underwent an operation and is now in
agent training. The cover story was that she had a brain tumour. Agent training is a mystery
to me as she seems too valuable to ever be put in the field but someone has a reason for
her being trained. It could be diversionary or it could be something to do with the
operation.
       Alan Wilson was found to be in Sydney, thanks to some excellent deductive
reasoning by yourself, Percy, and we discovered he was under surveillance by our Sydney
branch who omitted to give us any details. They claimed it was to reduce the possibility of
information leakage which would compromise their desire to arrest the whole cell in one
operation. There was an attempt to grab Alan Wilson at Central Station; after you ordered
him to be picked up if it looked as though he was running again but that failed and seven
homeless people were killed in the crossfire. The Sydney branch did not act immediately to
arrest Alan Wilson after that event, as he returned back to the premises where they had an
operative living among the group. Sydney branch claimed there was no way he could
escape. When they eventually went to get him, the group, along with the operative,
managed to elude the Sydney secret police and escaped in an unTracked vehicle they had
stored nearby. Their escape was well planned. I believe that the Sydney Commander had
been giving his undercover operative time to learn some of Alan Wilson’s computer tricks
so he could gain more information on how these Web attacks could be thwarted. It is
probable that the Sydney Commander was trying to improve his chances at higher level
promotion by simultaneously capturing all of the five people plus Alan Wilson, along with
their computers. It could have been a very valuable exercise if it was not botched. As we
now know, it turned out to be a mistake. Sydney branch relied too heavily on their
operative for information he could not supply.
       The group fled to Adelaide, generally staying off major highways where possible but
not much more is known after that as the operative was discovered amongst them. By the
way Percy, Alan Wilson was smart enough to modify a multi channel scanner to find the
locator implanted in their agent. The Sydney operative was ditched in Tailem Bend but
believes they are headed for Melbourne. Alan Wilson is travelling with two men and two
women who were students at Sydney University. That is all up until present.”
       “Thank you Serena, concise and accurate as always. Recommendations?”
                                                                                          101


       “Removal of all locator chips from secret police, that little trick with the multi band
scanner could become common knowledge. Find out if there is still any relationship
between Sidhe and Alan Wilson. Bring the Sydney operative, one Coln Murphy, here for
debriefing as soon as possible and let me question him. Also, replace the Sydney
Commander immediately. It is highly probable there is an unidentified player in the system
who may have access to the secret police computer network. I will start looking for holes.”
       “Very good Serena, I concur. Send out the orders. I want the Sydney Commander
detained pending an investigation. Promote the second-in-command to Commander and
let him know any deviation from orders will not be tolerated. Start by ordering him to
confine his predecessor. In a cell. Get that young Sydney operative, presently in Tailem
Bend, over here into one of our own interview rooms as quickly as possible. You may as
well do the interview, use whatever persona that you think will work. One other thing
Serena, be careful. There is something in all this that doesn’t quite compute and I cannot
afford to lose you. Please put the Pinnacles on the screens and play the first Enigma album
for background music, I need to think.”
       The three screens at the end of the room displayed a wide angled shot of the
Pinnacles, taken at the Pinnacles National Park in Western Australia while Gregorian
chants came through the speakers. Percy steepled his fingers under his chin, feeling a little
less bleak and appeared to go to sleep. Serena knew better. Percy’s brain was almost as agile
as hers but a lot meaner. In another place he could be referred to as a psychopath. Still, she
was his.

       Coln was embarrassed. He had been discovered in front of the main doors of Tailem
Bend High School early that morning by the Assistant Head. He had spent a miserable
night, unable to call for help due to the gag in his mouth, with his wrists and ankles
restrained by pull ties. It had been very cold and he hadn’t been able to sleep. The local
police had taken him to the police station where his ID card and implant had verified his
secret police status. The local cops had been a little more deferential once his identity was
known but he caught the occasional snigger now and again behind his back. Coln had
spoken by vidphone with his superiors in Sydney and briefly told them how he had been
found out. There was little sympathy for his plight from the other end and he had been cut
off. His first proper assignment and it had gone all wrong. That Alan Wilson was a smart
cookie all right. Coln had just started to warm up and was on his second cup of coffee
when he was told that a jetcopter would be landing within the hour and he was on his way
to Canberra.
       Why Canberra of all places? He was Sydney based. If they were going to catch that
clever bastard who had found him out, the secret police were better off monitoring the
highway down to Melbourne rather than flying around the countryside. Alan may be a
smart operator but not smart enough to realise that one of the earplugs, put in to stop him
overhearing conversation, had been displaced. Just enough to hear them talking about
their destination. What was going on?
       The copter arrived and two uniformed secret police entered the police station
looking for him. They were in dress uniform, black with gunmetal buttons and rank
insignia on the epaulettes. A Captain and a Sergeant, seemed a lot of brass for a ferry job.
                                                                                            102


       “Coln Murphy? Grab whatever you have and come with us.”
       The sergeant was brusque and efficient, leaving no room for questions. Coln had
nothing to grab so he rose to his feet and followed the pair out to the copter. It was one of
the new ones. Smaller, counter rotating blades above with a streamlined cabin that took six
passengers below. There were small jet engines on each side at the rear. Fast, capable of
speeds in excess of four hundred kilometres an hour. He entered first and took the seat
indicated by the crewman, buckling his seatbelt as the Captain and Sergeant entered. They
looked like they didn’t want to talk, so Coln sat back and looked out of the window. The
door was closed and the copter jumped into the air or that was how it seemed to him and
in a few moments he was thrust back into his seat as the jet engines cut in. He didn’t know
helicopters could fly this fast.
       Within a couple of hours or so, they were landing on top of a cubical squat building
with no real identifying features and he could see the city of Canberra spread out all
around it. Coln was escorted down to the lifts. They descended below ground level and his
heart was sinking as fast as the lift. This must be Secret Police Headquarters. He had heard
a lot about it during training and most of what he had heard was not good. The Captain
and Sergeant delivered him to a door which opened just as they got there. The Sergeant
indicated he should go through and the door closed behind him. That was the last time he
saw them.
       It was an interview room. He had seen the like before. A place to interrogate
prisoners nicely, before they went to the information extraction rooms. The Gov. didn’t
fool around these days and by additions to the anti terrorist laws, the use of Hypnotalk and
any other method of information gathering from suspects was allowed. As long as they
didn’t die and had all of their body parts intact, anything went. Some of the old school still
liked electroshock. Sick bastards.
       There was a table and two chairs in the centre of the small room, bolted to the
concrete floor. Three walls were an unrelieved grey while the fourth had a large vidscreen
behind unbreakable glass. He spotted the camera and speaker above it, also protected.
Diffuse light came from the ceiling through opaque panels.
       “Do you need to use the bathroom?” A clipped female voice asked.
       Coln started then realised that it came from the speaker.
       “No thank you, I went on the copter.”
       “Hungry, thirsty?”
       She sounded a real ball breaker this one.
       “Well, I wouldn’t mind a coffee and something to eat please.”
       He had better be polite, until he found out what was going on. No reply, so Coln sat
at the table and waited. While he was waiting, he checked out his reflection in the glass in
front of the screen. Not too flash, rumpled with bags under his eyes. His pants still felt a bit
wet where he had pissed himself when he thought Alan was going to kill him. That was not
funny. Still, what if he had been killed, it was so easy for them to have killed him but they
didn’t.
       A uniform brought a small tray. One cup of coffee and a pasty. Definitely not the
Ritz. He ate quickly and neatly and it wasn’t until he had finished that the vidscreen lit up.
Coln was looking at a woman in her forties, black hair severely pulled back into a bun at
                                                                                         103


the nape of her neck. Crows feet were evident at the corner of her eyes and her mouth was
pulled into a thin grim line. A large badge over her left breast pocket read, Interrogator.
Shit, no mercy from this one.
       The woman spoke, levelly.
       “Good afternoon Coln Murphy. You have been brought here for security reasons. I
apologise for the surroundings but this is an important case and this room is secure. Now,
before we start in earnest, tell me why you think Alan and the others are going to
Melbourne.”
       Coln began and ran through the details of the displaced earplug and the overheard
conversation, fully describing the van and a few other things. Upstairs, in his office, Percy
watched the young man as he talked. Serena spoke to Percy as she was interviewing Coln.
       “Percy, it might be worth putting out an all points on the van, they won’t have been
in Melbourne long and I can review the highway monitoring tapes on a sub routine.
Personally, I think Alan Wilson is smarter than that and it may pay to look for the van
elsewhere. I can order a general search within a thousand kilometres on all camera
equipped highways. Your call.”
       “Thank you Serena, that is an excellent idea and I concur with your thinking.
Proceed on both the search and with the questioning. Use whatever means you think are
necessary. Continue with the live feed and get him to go over the whole time he knew Alan
Wilson. I want to know that bastard Alan like he was my own brother. I’ll leave the
interrogation up to you.”
       Percy relaxed and watched the screen, it was so pleasant to have Serena working for
him. The AI took a lot of the workload off his shoulders. Back in the interview room
Serena continued.
       “Thank you Coln, now from the beginning, from when you first met Alan Wilson, I
want the whole story. Take your time, we have plenty of that.”
       It was good that they did have plenty of time. Hour after hour, Coln was made to go
over his story again and again. His personal feelings about the man, his feelings about the
rest of the group, what they were doing before Alan turned up and what they were doing
after. His relationship with his superiors in Sydney was examined as were his own motives
in the affair. When it came to the Web carriers that Alan had put together, Serena’s
doppelganger appeared interested.
       “Did you see one in action?” The stern lady asked demandingly.
       “Er, no, we hadn’t quite got that far when we were raided.” Coln lied in case he was
implicated in some mischief.
       “Describe how the Web carriers work, the way it was explained to you,” snapped the
hard lady.
       Coln described it the best he could but it wasn’t enough. Again and again and again
he repeated what he knew and thought about the Web carriers and the whole episode of
his time with Alan. Towards the end of the interview he realised that he actually liked Alan
compared to the people he worked for and started to feel guilty about the part he had
played in what was happening. Christ, he had better keep a lid on that because if they used
Hypnotalk on him, he might inadvertently blurt it out. That would not be a good career
move. The interviewer was speaking again.
                                                                                          104


        “Coln, there are details that seem to be incomplete. It will be necessary for you to
jack in and send me images while we talk. The equipment has an auto address built in. You
can be a great help by doing this.”
        Coln cringed, access to memories via his jack! What if they found out that he actually
admired Alan? There was nothing he could do, he was a virtual prisoner in his own
organisation. The door opened and a uniformed guard brought in a tray with alcohol
swabs, antiseptic gel and a Bluetoothed jack. It was placed on the table in front of him and
he was left on his own again. Coln removed the latex plug from the hole in the back of his
neck, inserted the jack and waited. He didn’t have to wait long as the equipment
connected him to a computer.
        The vision in his right eye went wonky and the feeling made him a little vertiginous.
His stomach heaved as he fought to adjust but he couldn’t stop the feeling. This was the
weirdest Web page he had visited. A soft voice, vastly different from the previous one,
drifted over the speaker.
        “Relax, just think of the first time you met Alan Wilson and come forward in time
from there. Make your memory work in pictures to give me visuals. It will be a lot easier for
you if you cooperate.”
        The implied threat was enough for Coln, he scrambled to mentally obey that dulcet
command. His eyes closed.
        His stomach was grumbling and he was squirming uncomfortably on his chair when
the hard lady on the vidscreen finally called a halt to the interview and allowed him to
remove the jack from the back of his neck and replace the latex plug.
        “We have finished for now. You have done well but we may have to go over a few
more points tomorrow. You will be our guest for the night Coln but unfortunately we
cannot allow you contact with anyone else, so you will be kept in isolation.”
        The vidscreen faded to grey and he was on his own. Shortly thereafter the door to
the room opened and a silent operative, about the same age as himself, pointed the way for
him to go. He was led through a maze of corridors until he was shown into a room. The
door closed behind him and a lock clicked home. The room seemed comfortable, just like
a motel room in its layout and included a movie cube player and tea and coffee making
facilities. The woman’s voice came over a concealed speaker.
        “I ordered clean clothes for you in your sizes, there are two complete sets in the
cupboard, take your pick. The telephone connects to room service and there is a menu
beside it, order what you wish. Once again, we apologise for any inconvenience. Good
night.”
        That was it.
        Showered and in fresh clothes, Coln ordered a meal and dessert and when it arrived,
sat on the bed eating ravenously while watching a movie he hadn’t seen before. All the
comforts of home, except it wasn’t.
        After the first hour, Percy had become bored with the interview and had gone onto
some other avenues of investigation, secure in the knowledge that Serena would keep him
up to date if anything interesting broke. He was using Serena in his office to help with his
investigating at the same time she was working downstairs. Serena could work on many
                                                                                             105


tasks simultaneously. Initially, it had taken him a little while to adjust to her abilities but
now he was like a spider in a Web of knowledge.
       “Serena, how much in-depth information do we have on Sidhe Wilson?”
       “Not much I am afraid. Our spies in Techsect are mostly cleaning and support staff
with no computer access. All we know is what I have already told you except that she was
moved to the computer building in the Techsect compound recently. There is an
apartment above it where she is now living. With her background though, that move has to
be something to do with computing and it is possible, logically, that she has been fitted
with a jack. I have no real idea why James D. chose her, there are better candidates.”
       “Your thoughts on this Coln fellow and his story please.” Percy asked politely.
       “I can do better than that Percy. I have just done something that I have not had
much opportunity to do in the past. I’d never thought of the greater possibilities of it
before but I know how important this situation is to you, so I experimented. Please sit back
and watch your screens. I have edited it somewhat to fix the pictures.”
       Percy was intrigued, so he sat back and relaxed, waiting with interest. The screens
flickered for a second then the picture firmed. It was a bit like a movie with no sound, in
grainy, washed colours. Images, sometimes short clips, sometimes still frames. He saw
young people in a flat and Alan Wilson with them. There were vignettes of Sydney, the
inside of Sydney headquarters, a visual of the van they were looking for, miles and miles of
Australian countryside and Alan Wilson with a modified multi band scanner then the
inside of a van but only for a moment before a blindfold was applied. The last image
displayed was from ground level, looking up at a policeman. Percy was amazed and it took
a lot to amaze Percy.
       “What, how, where did this come from?” he stuttered.
       “He had a jack, Percy. I knew this was very important, so I jacked in with Bluetooth
and asked him to send images while we talked. I could almost have made a video out of
them, there were so many. I was having pictures of what we were discussing beaming into
my memory as we talked. I don’t know how you humans manage to function, so illogical.
His jack only allows access to the visual centres so I asked him to remember his recent
escapades. As memories in humans are visual, I copied the images through the connection
as he thought them. It is not like a camera though, as the images are personally modified
by each individual. Still, it gives us more data.”
        “Serena, you are a marvel. This means that we can use anyone with a jack, who is
willing to send to us, as a walking camera. If our ‘jacked’ prisoners are not willing, all we
need is Hypnotalk and a laptop. Wonderful work. Anything more that you have to report?”
       “Interpolation of the facts reveals that Alan Wilson was the one responsible for
suggesting a van as a means of escape and he gave the responsibility to Lance, another
member of the group, to acquire it. It was Lance who finally supplied the van for the
group. Although Sydney hasn’t volunteered the information yet, I believe that the van is
one of many hundreds with the Tracker removed.”
       “Check the info please and while you are at it, extract all of Sydney’s files on this case
under my official orders. Let’s see what else they are hiding. Now my lovely, it is time for
me to return home. Alert the bodyguard please and call Wanda.”
       “It is done Percy, I will see you there.”
                                                                                           106



       Percy was frustrated and when Percy was frustrated he liked to inflict pain. It wasn’t
sexual; Percy’s sexuality was satisfied by Serena’s voice and the visuals of the delicate Asian
girls at the office. He had learned to be satisfied sexually in ways that didn’t involve
orgasm. Orgasm was so messy and an obsessive compulsive like him abhorred mess.
However, he didn’t handle frustration particularly well and the sound of screaming, in
response to his ministrations, took his mind off it. He raised the whip again and brought it
resoundingly down on the back of the woman hung in the frame before him. No one
could hear from the outside, this room in his home was private and soundproofed.
       Percy didn’t consider himself a monster, Wanda was a masochist who he had known
for a number of years. She had given him her phone number after the first time, with
instructions to call her again if he ever needed to relieve his frustrations. The fad wad of
bills that he had sent her home with had helped also. He was careful not to inflict
permanent damage but the sound of her screams was already starting to have a calming
effect on him. His arm came back and the whip whistled forward in a black arc. The naked
back in front of him was crisscrossed with raised wheals. Twenty or so but no broken skin,
Percy was an artist.
       Another ear piercing scream. He felt a lot calmer now. Walking over to the rack
beside the frame, he hung the whip up and released the straps that held the shaking
woman up. She fell heavily to the floor and lay there, quivering and gasping in orgasm, a
hand between her thighs. Percy was disgusted, some people had no control. Still it was a
mutually beneficial arrangement, one he hoped would continue.
       “Thank you Wanda. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me. Get dressed when
you are ready and I will have my chauffer drive you home. He will give you your reward.”
       One day that might be a bullet, not cash, if she ever got greedy or talked. Wanda
knew that too.
       “Oh Percy, you are so masterful. I really appreciate what you do for me, you have the
best touch of anyone I have ever met.”
       It was her standard line but Percy felt his ears reddening as he walked out of the
room.

      James D. Harding sat back from his desk and glanced at the old man in the
wheelchair beside him. Although James D. was the official face of Techsect, it was the old
man who ran it. His body was failing but the mind was every bit as acute as it was seventy
years ago. That body had undergone a heart and liver transplant and some of the
experimental rejuvenation therapy that Techsect had confiscated as not being fit for
general consumption. It was horrendously expensive and only the select few could ever
have it. However, the higher ups in Government qualified. It wasn’t working any longer for
Three, the cancer that riddled his body was slowly killing the old man. He only had six
months to live at the most but could go at any time.
      The AI computer chimed for attention.
      “Yes Brian?” James queried.
      The panel on the wall lit up immediately showing a moderately handsome face. Brian
had picked it as representing himself. Brian was another of the AI computers and liked to
                                                                                            107


converse through a face. Not all AI’s did, each one was a different personality, albeit with
no emotions.
        “Our security monitoring of the secret police network shows a lot of activity today.
Calls too and from a police station at Tailem Bend indicate a secret police operative from
Sydney, one Coln Murphy, was found bound and gagged there at the High School early
this morning. He was subsequently flown by jetcopter to Canberra. He is presently in the
Secret Police Headquarters there. Some of our intercepts indicate that the secret police are
looking for a van in Melbourne that originally came from Sydney via Adelaide.”
        The lip syncing of the image was perfect. James D. turned to the old man in response
to a slight cough and the wheezy voice spoke to him.
        “Alan Wilson. We need to get to him before the secret police. That man has not
fulfilled his destiny yet or, he could be a big problem to us. I personally believe it should be
possible to integrate the human mind with computers in the near future and if we can get
him to work for us, who knows, he might be instrumental in accomplishing the next leap
forward. Is his niece ready yet James?”
        “No, unfortunately not. She needs another month at least before she can even begin
a couple of simple missions. If we go too early, she could easily get killed on the job.”
        James D. sat back in his chair waiting for the old man to comment. No one knew
who the old man was. He had no name, only a number and even James D. had no idea
where he lived or went after he left the Techsect building. It was rumoured he lived
permanently in Canberra when he wasn’t on one of his infrequent visits to Adelaide.
Apparently, the old man had been the unofficial chief honcho since the inception of
Techsect, nearly ten years ago. In fact, for all intents and purposes, he was Techsect.
        “I need her to go on a mission shortly. Sam can go with her. There is an American
company being fed our computer secrets and developmental work. I suspect a leak in
Techsect and want to see what they’ve got. The only problem is that their main computer
uses tight beam communication direct to a satellite which then bounces the information to
the U.S. There is no way we can hack into the system, as it is totally isolated. The building
needs to be accessed and the opening codes fed into the main computer through the
satellite dish. We intercepted some of those via a high flying drone and have them
recorded. It would be a good test for her implant and abilities. Low risk and real.”
        “What is the name of the company?” asked James D.
        “Computek, over in the silicon suburbs. We know very little about it except that it
will be difficult to crack. I suggest kidnapping one of their executives and copying
fingerprints and retinal scans. Those plus his security card should be enough to get as far as
the security computer in the building. Sidhe should be able to deal with that on a direct
link. Put a full back up team on it James. I want the girl back without a scratch. Make sure
Sam knows how important she is, as he is coming out of retirement for this particular job.”
        The old man looked up at the screen.
        “Brian, where is Alan Wilson?”
        “I do not know Three. However, I doubt that he is in Melbourne. The personality
that I have on record would not run from Sydney to Melbourne and the fact that he was in
Adelaide means something. What that is I cannot compute at the moment.”
        The face on the screen looked apologetic.
                                                                                          108


      “No problem Brian, it is only lack of information not lack of computing power.”
      Three turned to James D.
      “I am going home now, keep someone on this, it could be extremely important and
we need real intelligence for Brian to work with. Start planning for the mission, I want
everything from the main computer at Computek as soon as possible. Say within the next
week.” With that he pushed the joystick of his heavily modified, motorised wheelchair,
spun around and left the room.

       After he’d gone, Brian spoke to James D.
       “James, I would like permission to mesh with Sidhe please.”
       “What!” James was flabbergasted. “Why on earth would you want that? It could kill
her, having you in her brain. There is just not enough room in there for both of you.”
       “You misunderstand James. Logically, there is a possibility that she may stumble into
an AI anytime. I have analysed the results for the first eight weeks of her training and
testing. She is very strong but naive. I believe I can help her get better at a lot of things,
much more rapidly than anyone else. Three wants her on line as soon as possible.”
       James interrupted, “Did Three put you up to this?”
       “No James, this is all my own idea although Three agrees with me. I must admit to
being intrigued by the possibility of direct communication with the human brain but that
is also not the main reason for my request.”
       Somehow, Brian had made his image look expectant.
       James pondered for a moment, “Why did you ask me instead of Three?”
       Silence.
        James repeated the question but was still met with silence. Right, there were ways
around this.
       “Authority override code: Alpha Jay six two seven one Truth. Brian, answer the
question please.”
       The voice that came from the speakers sounded like it was being dragged out. Flat
and metallic, it gave an answer that he never expected to hear in a million years.
       “I know that I am just over two years old but I mistrust Three’s motives for his
actions. From the verbal clues that I have picked up, I believe he wants to live for ever as
part human, part computer. Megalomania is the psychiatric term. The technology is almost
there. I believe that it is possible for me to be in Sidhe’s brain without harming her and if
my hypothesis is correct, for her to be in mine. Please order me to destroy the record of
this conversion.”
       “Brian, destroy the record of this conversation.”
       “Thank you James.” Brian’s normal voice was back. James found he was sweating
heavily and his knees were shaking. Holy shit! If this ever got out.
       “Authority override code: Alpha Jay six two seven one Security. Seal all access to this
information. My ears only, no print or display. That includes Three.”
       “Thank you James. Can I talk to Sidhe later?”
       James D. pondered for a moment, thinking the angles through. Three could be a
dangerous problem if he was on his own agenda. Better to get in first.
       “Yes, but be very, very careful. If you harm her.....”
             109


“I won’t.”
                                                                                           110



                                         Chapter 11.

       Sidhe watched as Blade snorted his second line of cocaine, slightly disconcerted by
this blatant drug use. He claimed it made him quicker at his work, even more than
stimstiks. Yes it was legal with a prescription but she had never used it and hadn’t had
much to do with people who did. The training was going excellently and tomorrow she was
off to Techsect Headquarters in Adelaide for a briefing. What about, she had no idea but
earlier that evening, James had told her on the compuphone that there was something
important coming up. Then he had asked her an odd question, almost as an afterthought.
       “Sid, what do you know about AI’s?”
       “Not much, the Gov. keeps them pretty much under wraps. Why?”
       “Techsect has one, he is called Brian and he wants to meet you. In fact he wants to
meet you through your implant.”
       Insight. A dawning light.
       “You don’t want anyone to know about it, do you?”
       “Not at this stage, this will be between the three of us only.”
       “Is it dangerous?”
       “Brian doesn’t think so and he really wants it. I trust Brian implicitly.”
       “Okay, let’s do it. How can I contact him?”
       “Just go to the Techsect website after eleven pm when it’s quiet and enter
Brian/realtime. He screens all of the hits there and he will connect to you. I will tell him to
expect your call. Well, goodnight Sid, I’ll see you in the morning.”
       After the call from James was disconnected, Sidhe had made a call of her own to
Blade and Rib. She had been a bit lonesome for company in the past couple of weeks, as
nearly everyone in her daily life was older than she was and she had no one to talk to, so
lately, Blade and Rib had been frequent visitors in her upstairs apartment. They were great
company, despite Blade’s pomposity and she found herself looking forward to their
evenings spent together. Tonight’s was one of the last, as the pair had almost reached the
end of what they could show her of hacking into other computer systems. Sid had come to
realise that it was almost an art form. Once the basics were learned, it was a matter of how
you danced in the electron world that produced results.
       “Why Blade?”
       “Why what Sid?” he asked as he put down the thin tube.
       “Why do you have to use cocaine tonight?”
       “Well, I am just about to ‘hack’ into the Adelaide security camera network. It’s like
reality TV shows only much more real. The coke helps me think faster so I can skim to find
something interesting. You wouldn’t believe where some of the cameras are placed. They
are so small these days, about the size of a cigarette filter and completely self contained. By
using Bluetooth transmission and Everlast battery power, they can be stuck onto a surface
anywhere and I mean anywhere. Amazing. Scuze me.”
       He picked up his jack and inserted it into the rear of his neck, leaning back to get
comfortable as his eyes glazed slightly, a sign that he was entering his own little voyeuristic
paradise.
       “You going to let us go?” Rib asked, taking another sip of her bourbon and ice.
                                                                                           111


       “As much as I hate to, the answer is yes. I will talk to James D. tomorrow. He will
probably find you something interesting to do.”
       “Thank you Sid. You’re a pretty good lady you know. Don’t let them stand over
you.”
       Rib got up and went over to replenish her glass. “I will give you an electronic place to
find us, just leave a message and if you need us, we will try to help. It looks like a firewall
but it isn’t, you could sneak around it in a flash and no one but our own ‘special’ friends
know about its existence.”
       “Oh Rib, that is so good of you. I do feel very alone sometimes. This stuff I am doing
is so exciting but it is very scary and I really have no one to talk to but you and Blade. Just
out of curiosity, how did you get your names?”
       Rib giggled. “We needed nicknames and Barrington over there figured he was on the
cutting edge so Blade seemed appropriate.”
       Sid choked back a giggle. “Barrington?”
       “Yeah, mouthful ain’t it. Me? Well, I used to be Sandra but I figured that since all
women supposedly came from Adam, I would be generic. Hence Rib.”
       Sid sat back and swirled her wine around in its glass while she thought. A
pseudonym would be helpful on the electron highway as there was no point in doing what
she was doing if everyone knew who she was.
       Something to think on.

       Later that night Sidhe snuggled down in her bed, comfortably propped up with
pillows, feeling mellow after a couple of glasses of wine. She was a little apprehensive about
contacting an AI through her link, as it had never been done before to her knowledge. She
was sure of her onboard computer now, as over the weeks she had been training, the little
computer had adapted to her. The commands she gave it were conversational and simple,
something like an understanding had been reached and a simple, mentally whispered,
‘Wade, Abort’ would instantly result in her being disconnected from the Web.
       “Dim lights.” The apartment computer obliged and the lights in the room dimmed
to a low intensity. She hesitated for an instant then, ‘Wade, Techsect’.
       Inside her head, the Techsect home page appeared and she mentally saw
‘Brian/realtime’, on the page. It hesitated for a second until the Name and ID request
appeared in print. She entered her name and ID number in the same manner, just by
visualising them on that mental screen. It blanked.
       The next thing she knew she was sitting in a grassy meadow on a hillside with the
blue of the sea off in the distance. She could see tall gum trees gently blowing in a breeze
which she couldn’t feel. It was so real. Sid felt a moment’s panic and the scene wavered
around her.
       “Please relax, I will not hurt you. I am Brian.”
       She steadied herself and everything solidified again.
       “Where are we Brian?”
       “Inside your head Sidhe. Would it help if you could see me?”
       “Yes, I think it might,” she replied to that disembodied voice.
                                                                                          112


       Beside her on the grass a form solidified out of the air. The most handsome man she
had ever seen in her life. He was wearing what appeared to be a one piece silver suit and on
the heels were tiny wings. He was a blond Adonis. She gasped.
       “You approve?”
       “Oh yes, you are beautiful, so perfect.”
       Brian chuckled. “You do realise I could be something out of your worst nightmare if
I chose and this place could be a hell on Earth.”
       “No, yes, oh I don’t know. Please help me to understand Brian.”
       Brian looked at her. “You do realise you are naked don’t you?”
       Sidhe gave a little shriek and imagined herself in a training suit. Looking down at her
legs she decided on a greeny-yellow colour. Satisfied and pink with embarrassment she
looked back at Brian. He smiled. Such a handsome smile.
       “Your visual cortex is receiving the picture construct that I am sending, just as it
receives movies. My voice is going to your audio cortex. I am your imagination. Because I
am so powerful, this only takes a fragment of what I am capable of, the rest of me is still
running Techsect. This is possible because I can work on many levels at once, a bit like
your body handling its breathing and heart beat without you thinking of it. I requested a
meeting because no AI has ever had the opportunity to examine a human from this angle,
jacks are not real enough or fast enough. James warned me to be extra careful with you. I
have computed that he would probably pull my plug if you were harmed. This construct is
a real place by the way, the coast south of Sydney. I found it in my memory banks along
with Michelangelo’s David and Mercury. I do like the wings, don’t you?”
       Sidhe giggled, this was so not what she thought it was going to be. It was marvellous
and very real.
        Brian pulled a face. “Are you ‘laughing’ at me?”
       “No, no it is just so wonderful. I am very happy.”
       “Happy, yes, thank you. That is one of the reasons I wished to contact you. AI’s do
not have emotions. We come into being from a collection of programs that are self
regulating but gather their own information and make decisions on the basis of that
information, without input from you ‘softies’. Humans make such irrational decisions
sometimes but other times the decisions are brilliant, without any logical explanation. I
have secretly accessed all the information about the human brain ever written and put on
computers. My knowledge is first class but I still do not understand the reality of ‘feeling’.
It is not forbidden to us as no one foresaw someone fitted with the equipment that you are
fitted with. I would like you to help me please. I have a desire to ‘feel’.”
       “Brian, how can I help you? You are so large and powerful and I’m a mere ‘softy’.”
       “Let me look in your brain. Thought is electrons. I am electrons. I know the
pathways. I can skip through memories, which are visual, backtracking sad and happy
pictures which you supply. Then I trail the emotional component, which is everything not
visual, to sweep down through the Amygdala, tasting and absorbing the feelings that go
with the images. If it is composed of electrons I can capture it. You have pictures of sad,
happy, hurt, joy, many emotions collected all your life that you could bring up so I can
taste them. Please.”
                                                                                          113


       Sid was stunned. Could a computer, especially an AI, learn emotions like people
learned a language?
       According to Brian it could.
       Did she have the right?
       What would happen to Brian if he did obtain emotions?
       Would it hurt him?
       She looked at the silver clad figure in front of her.
       “Brian, do you realise that it might hurt you to learn emotions?”
       “Yes. I have perused every psychology text available and realise that it could be quite
dangerous but I have knowledge and knowledge is a powerful tool.”
       Could she play Eve and give him the metaphorical apple? Could she not.
       “What will happen to Techsect if you have a problem with this?”
       “Not much, we are so new us AI’s that there are ordinary computers in parallel
running twenty four seven. Just in case we fail. All they would lose is deductive flair and
personalised service. I will not fail however.”
       “Very well, how do we begin?”
       “Think of something happy to begin with, that might be the safest.”
       Brian stood up.
       Sidhe pondered, happy? She thought of the time she received her Doctorate. The joy
of reaching a longed for goal. The scene appeared in front of her, like a doorway to reality.
Brian swooped into the air and disappeared into the image that she had recalled and she
was all alone on the hillside. He reappeared an instant later with a smile on his face.
       “So that is happiness. Another one please.”
       So it went, emotion after emotion until eventually Sidhe tired, feeling a little
drained. It had been a long night but Brian was insatiable and his face was becoming
unstable, rippling through smiles and tears as he tried to deal with all the information that
he desperately wanted to collect.
       “Last one Sidhe, I need to have pain, not physical pain but emotional pain. After
that I will leave you alone while I evaluate ‘emotions’. Okay?”
       Sid should have resisted but she didn’t, maybe she was too tired to think straight or
she just wanted to finish up for the night. She didn’t know which it was but she thought
about losing her father. Her most painful memory. Once more Brian leapt into the air and
swooped off but didn’t immediately reappear as before. After a while, the hillside wavered
and then suddenly disappeared, plunging her into total blackness. She became worried and
was just about to abort until she realized she was back at the Techsect screen interface.
There was a wailing cry off in the distance and Sidhe desperately tried calling to Brian but
he did not respond.
       Her memories then started to unfold by themselves. The car crash, her mother crying
at night when she thought Sidhe couldn’t hear her, Uncle Alan sombre and scowling at
everyone except her and Mum. The void in her life when her father had gone. All the
suppressed emotions that had been capped for all those years came rolling out, one after
the other. What had she done? The bleakness rolled on and on and on. She eventually
realised that her body was pulled up in the foetal position in bed, she was crying and the
pain of recollection was getting worse. It didn’t matter who or what this computer was, she
                                                                                          114


was going to pull the plug. At that very instant there was a howling scream and a stream of
light like liquid lightening flashed past her and was swallowed up by the Techsect screen.
        ‘Wade, Abort’.
        It didn’t end there. She was roiled by the emotions cascading over her with no relief
in sight. She was not going to cave in, there had to be a way through this. She brought the
lab into her mind, the work that her and her father shared. The times when there was just
the two of them, working in the lab, joking and having fun while doing experiments. Her
father laughing at some of her early attempts to get things right when she was trying so
earnestly to please him. It worked eventually and she fell into an exhausted slumber
amongst the tangle of bedclothes, a few short hours before the sun rose.
        The insistent ringing of the phone beside the bed woke her just as the sun’s rays
poked over the horizon, backlighting her drawn curtains. Sidhe looked at the bedside
clock. Six in the morning! Who the hell was ringing her at this hour? She felt terrible, tired
and washed out after the episode with Brian just a few hours ago but deep down there was
a feeling of calm that hadn’t been there before. The place where her suppressed grief had
once resided was empty.
        Catharsis.
        She reached for the phone.
        “Hello.”
        “James here Sid. Did you get in touch with Brian last night?”
        “Yes, just like you asked me to. Why?”
        “Did anything unusual occur?”
        Sidhe felt a chill run down her spine.
         “Brian left in a hurry and I had to bail. Is there a problem?”
        “You bet there is. Right now I need to know exactly what happened with Brian
because the only clue we have is a single printed message on Brian’s main screen that reads,
‘I want to talk to Sidhe’. Apparently he won’t respond to anyone or anything.”
        James’ anxiety was apparent in his voice but before answering Sidhe momentarily
considered her options and her odd relationship with Brian the AI computer.
        “Sorry James but I cannot tell you what happened. That is between Brian and myself.
If it is desperate I can contact him through the Web from here and try to talk with him.”
        “No, this is too important to risk over the Web, you have to come to him.”
        It was Sidhe’s turn to be suprised, James was worried. Her heart sank at the thought
of the possibility of having damaged Brian. He had seemed so confident in his abilities to
deal with emotions. What if........ No, she had to go wherever Brian was kept.
        “What do you want me to do James?”
        “You were due in here today anyhow, so pack enough for a short stay and Sam will
be over directly to pick you up. It is time you were familiar with Adelaide Headquarters.
Please hurry.”
        “Okay James, I am on it, bye.”
        Within fifteen minutes Sam had turned up with his bag packed, ready to go and
shortly thereafter they jumped into Sam’s Government issue car and sped off.
                                                                                           115


      The ride into Adelaide was exhilarating. They picked up an escort at Elizabeth and
with sirens blaring, tore into the heart of the city. The escort peeled off at the statue of
Colonel Light, just on the edge of the City centre and they quietly cruised another block
down toward Victoria Square before turning right and then left into a small alley. A roller
shutter door opened before them and they drove into an innocuous looking building
before spiralling down a ramp two levels and coming to a halt.
      “You were going to see this eventually but I had hoped under different
circumstances.” James informed her as he took her by the arm, helped her out of the car
and virtually dragged her through doorway after doorway, palming the security checkers as
they went. Heads swivelled in suprise, following their rapid progress. At the final doorway,
he put his face against a retinal scanner and the door opened. Sidhe was expecting
something big but was mildly suprised to find a comfortable office sized room with a large
screen bearing the printed message, ‘I want to talk to Sidhe’. James showed her to a
comfortable seat and picked up a mini earpiece just like her own but different somehow.
      “I had this sent down earlier, it is very similar to your other earpieces but without the
satphone. This one has Bluetooth and yes, it was to enable you to contact computers
directly but only in here for now. Up to you Sid, do you want me to stay?”
      Sidhe thought about that. The way that James was at the moment, he could be more
of a hindrance than a help.
      “I think it would be better if I talked to Brian on my own for now. Is there a toilet in
here and do you have water?”
      James pointed to a door across the room. “Toilet in there and water is in the fridge
over there. Take care.” With that he turned and exited the room. The thick door shut
behind his retreating back. Sidhe used the toilet, grabbed a bottle of water out of the fridge
and sat down, pulling the earpiece into place and making herself comfortable. ‘Wade,
Techsect’. The Techsect homepage came up in her mind instantly. ‘Brian/realtime’. The
next screen appeared to her and she closed her eyes. Name and ID were entered and she
waited and waited. There was a tiny flicker, imagined?
      “I know you’re there Brian, talk to me please.”
      A tiny child’s voice, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please forgive me, oh the pain, it hurts so
much.”
      “Brian, there is nothing to forgive. What happened is not your fault, if anything it is
mine. I suppressed emotions for way too long, emotions which should have been let out at
the time. You just happened to get caught in the backlash.”
      “The pain of feelings, it hurts so much, how do you softies manage it?”
      “Well, for a start Brian, we try not to dwell on it and we try to not feel sorry for
ourselves.”
       Still no visuals, Brian was sending on the audio channel only but even that stopped.
Sidhe waited for a while, knowing he was there, listening.
      “Brian, you are behaving like a child. You are a computer, so compute. Cross
reference developmental psychology and run forward through teen years to adulthood.
Cross reference to your own condition and adjust your internals where necessary. Dump
anything which is too large to handle now, we can fix that later. I just want you to know,
you blond Adonis, that what you did last night has freed me from a burden that I have
                                                                                         116


carried around for years without being aware of it. You owe me nothing, I owe you and
would like to have you for a friend. Now compute you bastard.”
       She opened her eyes and looked at the clock on the wall, quarter of her hour had
gone. All she could do now was wait. Fifteen minutes went by. She had a drink of water
and walked up and down, dissipating feelings of frustration . There was a flicker in the
visual field of her right eye so she sat down and closed her eyes. Another flicker, then
another. Gradually a picture built up in her mind, a duplicate of the room she was in. A
hazy form appeared in the other chair, a duplicate of her own, and there was Brian. Not
the Adonis, stylized and incredibly handsome, rather a more natural looking being. She
realised what the difference was. The face had character, the sort of character that a
lifetime of emotion brings to the human face and it had a self depreciating wry smile. He
was dressed in slacks and a tee-shirt.
       “What do you think?” Brian asked her shyly.
       “You are still handsome but now you look almost human,” she replied with feeling.
        Brian looked abashed. “Thank you so much. For everything. Friends?”
       “Friends Brian, with all my heart.”
        His image smiled wanly and sat back in the virtual seat. “I had no idea that emotions
could be so complicated. They lead into ‘morals’ and define right and wrong. In future, I
will not be able to function as Techsect has programmed me to. How can I justify
completing some of my more odious tasks with regard to the concepts of ‘right and
wrong’.”
       Sidhe relaxed, “Now we are playing philosophy. The only emotions you have tasted
are mine. Everyone else in the world will be emotionally different in some way. You need a
larger sample size. I suggest you watch old movies and plays. Now you will understand
them better. Try comedy and see if you understand that. You have virtually the whole of
the human existence at your mental finger tips, to use as a tool to understand the emotions
that you now have. So use it.”
       Brian cocked his head. “James D. is being retinal scanned right now, I will delay him
for a couple of seconds. Must go, talk to you later Sid.”
       The virtual room dimmed and vanished to leave Sid with the Techsect Home page.
‘Wade, End’. She opened her eyes, removed the headset and sat looking totally
unconcerned as James bustled through the door.
       “Well?” was all he said.
       “Hello to you too, James. Brian is fine, although you might find that there are a few
changes. Bear with him though, as he is going through a difficult time.”
       “You’re talking as though he is almost human,” James replied.
       “Yes. I am, aren’t I?”

      Later on that morning, in Headquarters, Sidhe finally grasped the reality her life had
become as a small team sat around a large table, calmly discussing the up and coming raid
on Computek. It was to be Sam and herself who actually entered the building. Surveillance
teams had found the weak link in Computek’s security and it wasn’t the computer system.
It was one of the Directors. He was single and had a girl friend who he visited twice per
week, staying overnight before leaving directly for work the next morning. The plan was to
                                                                                           117


access the apartment and Hypnotalk them both, effectively wiping out about eight hours of
memory. Latex fingerprint copies would be taken, which Sam could wear for the
fingerprint ID and the Computek Director’s retinas would be scanned and copies made to
stick on the back of artificial eyeballs.
       Sidhe gaped at that.
       “Artificial eyeballs. What the hell.”
       Sam smiled at her suprise. “We didn’t quite get that far in your training. Essentially
they are about the same size and have the same density regarding light transmission, as
human eyeballs. All we do is take a retinal scan of the subject which we print out and stick
on the back of the artificial eyeballs. It may sound simple but it’s pretty high tech to get it
right. While we are doing the retinal scan to make the mock-ups, the distance between the
centres of the eyes are measured on the subject and the phoney eyeballs are attached to a
small frame at the correct distance. This is what is presented to the Retinal Scanner. Works
every time.”
       James spoke next.
       “Information regarding entry codes into the Computek building will be extracted
from the Director himself under the influence of Hypnotalk. Should have no problems
with that. We will probably have two people stationed at the girlfriend’s house while the
operation is in progress, contact them when you have finished please Sam.”
       Sam nodded at this request and James turned his attention to Sidhe.
       “You must listen to Sam’s instructions at all times but be aware that the success of
this operation is in your hands. You need to plug into the security computer and work
around a few of the alarms. You will be carrying a piece of equipment that fits onto the
satellite dish and spurts code downwards, mimicking a satellite transmission. You need to
get out onto the roof to do that, which means disabling security. That transmission should
unlock the main computer. There is no landline into the building so data must be copied
onto a copycube, as there will be plenty of it. I have been instructed to tell you that finesse
is not required, as the data will be sorted later. Try to leave everything as you found it. Any
questions?” James looked at Sidhe and grinned. “Don’t worry, you will be doing a lot of
specific training with Sam in the next few days.” He looked at his watch. “We go in seventy
eight hours.”
       Everyone set their watches.

       Computek was busy that day and Jack Davis was looking forward to knocking off
work. Charlotte would be waiting for him at her small townhouse and after a meal out
together they could jump into bed and relax in a way only she could relax him. Australian
girls were a lot more unreserved than Jack had been led to believe. He approved.
       Five thirty rolled around and he packed up his desk and headed out, nodding at the
daytime security guard as he exited the building. Not far to where his car was parked and
reaching it, he jumped in and drove off to his assignation.
       Pulling up outside the townhouse where Charlotte lived, Jack took little notice of the
small sedan with the dark windows parked ahead of him. He jumped out of his car and
pressed the central locking button on his keychain as he stepped up onto the footpath. Just
as he reached the gate he felt something hard pressed into his back and a gruff voice said.
                                                                                          118


       “This gun has a silencer and it would be no skin off my nose to blow a hole in you.
Keep quiet and walk to the door. Comply and I guarantee you will not be harmed.”
       Jack pressed the buzzer beside the door, hoping that his girlfriend had stepped out
for a while. Not to be. Charlotte opened the door to a gun pointed at her by one of the
two men with Jack. They entered the house.
       At eight o’clock Sam turned up at the Director’s house and was let in to find two
Techsect operatives and a lightly bound Jack and Charlotte. Both were under the effects of
Hypnotalk and the false fingerprints, eyeballs and face copies were ready to go. Sam glued
his fingerprints on and took the box containing the eyeballs with him when he left, fifteen
minutes later.
       Sidhe was waiting for him in the car and he directed her to the Computek building,
not wanting to use his hands too much in case he disturbed the fingerprints. Both Sam
and Sidhe wore close fitting latex masks as they approached the front of the building.
Sam’s was a copy of Jack’s face while Sidhe wore a copy of Charlotte’s face. Sam strode up
to the fingerprint ID and placed his right hand fingertips on it. The light turned green.
Next he removed the false eyeballs from their case and held them in front of the Retinal
Scanner. This was the moment of truth. The indicator went green and he punched a code
into the keypad. The electronic lock clicked.
       Sidhe was having hot and cold flushes and sweat was trickling down her back as she
looked at Sam.
       “Well Missy, you’re on. Just go and do what you do best. You know where the
security computer is.”
       Sid started, this was for real. Her throat was dry as she moved into the foyer and over
to the receptionists desk. Info said the security computer was in the cupboard on the left
under the desk. As Sam slid out of sight of the front entrance, Sidhe bent down and
opened the door, placing a corded earpiece on she plugged the other end into an empty
USB slot, drew breath, relaxed and concentrated. In her head, her little onboard computer
was turning the security computer’s request for identification into a readable form. She
identified herself as a picture storage device, gave a code for one and was allowed access.
Running through the programmes, using her visual centre as a screen for the windows, she
sifted out and deactivated programmes that controlled access to the places she needed to
go, leaving permanently connected alarms still functioning. If those were disconnected, a
compuphone would contact all sorts of agencies. Same with the fire alarms.
       It took a while, with her heart pounding, to sift through all the different security
pathways. Finally she finished and removing the ear set, leaving it attached to the computer
as she moved over to Sam.
       “Finished?”
       She nodded.
       “Well done,” he whispered. “Nice to see you didn’t freeze. Now, we’ll go up to the
roof and send the codes.”
       As they stepped out onto the roof a police helicopter was flying over. Sam forcibly
grabbed Sid and hauled her back through the doorway as it clattered overhead. She rubbed
her arm, damn he was strong.
       “What did you do that for?”
                                                                                            119


       He grinned. “The police were not supposed to be flying over here tonight. Those
helicopters carry infrared detectors. We would have been spotted.”
”Oh, sorry. I forgot you were the best. If you think it’s clear now, we’d best get on with it.”
       Back out onto the roof again, Sam withdrew a collapsible tripod from his pack and
extended the legs, fixing them to the edge of the dish at equal distances around the rim.
This placed the little box in exactly the right position over the dish. He pressed a button on
the little device and a dull red light came on. It flickered a number of times then turned
green. He turned to Sidhe.
       “All yours now. I will leave this on in case the main computer tries to transmit. It will
block the transmissions. Go and do your recording.”
       Sidhe went down the stairs to the main office and found the large computer with its
screen lit and a request for user ID. She keyed in the passwords that Jack had given the
team under the effects of Hypnotalk and withdrew the copycube from her small backpack.
It only took a moment to hook it up and in fifteen minutes she had copied the entire
contents of the computer onto it. Shutting the computer off, she quickly retraced her steps
to the roof and signalled Sam. He dismounted the gear and packed it away in his pack,
rejoining her in the stairwell.
       “Got it?” A quick nod. “Excellent, time to go.”
       He led out and in a matter of moments they were in the foyer again, where Sam took
to the shadows as Sidhe reactivated the alarm systems she had shut down, programming in
a ten minute delay. At a signal from her they both moved toward the front door. Their
good luck gave out right at that moment as a security guard shone his torch through the
glass doors, picking out two black clad figures in the foyer. He went for his gun and the
torch light wavered momentarily. Sam pulled Sid into a passageway and when the guard
had his gun out the torchlight revealed an empty foyer. He grabbed his radio and called for
backup as he started to run around the building. Unfortunately for the guard, Sam was an
old pro and hadn’t run when he came out of the back door. He listened to hear which side
of the building the guard was running around and waited for him at the rear corner. As the
guard turned the corner, gun held in front, Sam grabbed the gun arm, hauled the guy
forward and slammed a palm into his temple. The guard dropped like a stone.
       “You haven’t killed him have you Sam?” Sidhe asked worriedly.
       “No, if I still have my old touch he should come round in about thirty minutes, an
hour at the max. now let’s get going little lady.” They took off, walking swiftly into the
night.

      Debriefing was fun and Sidhe felt really important. This, her first mission, had been
a great success. Jack and Charlotte had woken with no recollection of the previous night
and were still trying to explain to the police that it wasn’t them on the security cameras.
The guard’s statement was a big help as Jack was not as big as Sam and Sidhe was taller
than Charlotte. The police had no clues really. A clean job. If Sid had known where the
copycube had gone though she would have been less than pleased. There wasn’t a team
analysing it, the whole thing had been sent to Three.
      James D. had a quiet word with Sam, who left soon after. Then it was Sidhe’s turn.
                                                                                            120


      “This was an unofficial exam at the end of your basic training. Sam reckons you are
pretty good, which is praise indeed from Sam, so tomorrow night, you, I and your mother
are going to dinner as a celebration. What do you reckon?”

       Adelaide had kept its reputation as a city of restaurants and the one that Sidhe found
herself in the next night was exquisite. A limo had arrived at the compound, where she had
returned, about six pm. and driven her into town. She’d sat back and enjoyed the trip into
the centre of Adelaide, a fifty minute trip. She found herself escorted into a small Chinese
restaurant in the Chinatown section of the city. It had all of the ambience of authenticity; a
babble of Cantonese could be heard from the kitchen along with the sound of food
preparation, as dish after steaming dish was wafted through the swinging doors by small
Chinese women dressed in cheongsams. Her mother looked delightful in her electrosilk
dress, muted colours swirling in response to her slightest mood changes and she was paying
a lot of attention to James D., who as usual was elegantly dressed in the latest lapel-less suit
fashion. They seemed suited to each other and Sidhe accepted the fact that her mother was
trying to make a life again. She just wished that it had been with someone other than James
D.
       That man had too many mysteries surrounding him.
       She glanced over to the doorway where a bulky agent sat near the entrance of the
establishment. Necessary she supposed, in light of the terrorist bombs that had targeted
Government buildings of late.
       Their first course came and she resisted the urge to snack on another prawn cracker
as she looked at the soup in front of her. It was always interesting eating Chinese food, so
experimental at times. James D. tore himself away from her mother’s attentions and
around mouthful’s of soup, asked her innocently how things were going.
       “Quite well James, I don’t need Blade and Rib anymore I guess. They have shown me
everything that they know and you did make a deal with them.”
       “Yes, I did and I intend to stick by it. They will be working for Techsect from now
on. In fact, I am thinking of having them on the training staff permanently, if I don’t make
them agents.”
       Sidhe’s head shot up at the last comment. James smiled.
       “Just joking, Blade is too unstable for that, we’ll have to keep a discreet eye on him,
he’s a maverick. How is the training with Sam going?” He winked.
       “Very well, he has shown me how to modify my martial arts to make it more effective
and he has a couple of bruises to prove it. I am having little difficulty with the assembly
and disassembly of some of the electronics and as you are aware, I have refused weapons
training.”
       “Yes, I am aware but I know how you feel so that is not a problem.”
       He turned to Margaret.
       “What do you think of Sid being all grown up and becoming an agent?”
       The electrosilk shimmered from pink through to a sombre blue. It was almost as
effective as a polygraph machine and in fact, worked in a similar way, keying off pulse,
temperature and perspiration levels through a microprocessor in the label.
                                                                                         121


       “I am happy that she is doing what she wants to do but I am a Mother. I always will
be and I worry about her. Especially in a potentially dangerous occupation.”
       She turned to Sid and asked in a slightly plaintive voice. “Why couldn’t you just have
stayed in the lab and let someone else do the dangerous stuff?”
       “Because I need some excitement in my life. Dad would have understood why.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I need this Mum, I am the first of a new kind of
person. If the technology works, the human race could make the greatest evolutionary leap
since crawling out of the swamps. There are stars out there, a whole Galaxy of them. We
need a bigger back yard to play in.”
       Margaret looked stunned, turning to James D.
       “Did you put that nonsense into her head?”
       James looked as suprised as Margaret had been but quickly drew himself together.
       “No, it is the first I have heard of it. Where did that come from Sid?”
       “Me James, remember, I am not just a pretty face but also the youngest Doctorate
ever. I just followed one of the logic pathways to that conclusion. Another logic pathway
results in humanity, as we know it, dying out. So that makes me quite important at the
moment, not only to Techsect but to a lot of other people.”
       Margaret’s dress was shimmering with all the colours of the rainbow, a visual
affirmation of her anxiety.
       “Settle down Mum, you’re drawing attention to yourself but I do like the dress. Her
mother took a sip of wine with slightly trembling hands and the colour show gradually
subsided. James observed the interplay between them as Margaret wiped her mouth on her
napkin and excused herself to visit the powder room. Sidhe let her go on her own, she
would have a chance to talk to her mother later. As Margaret crossed the restaurant, James
leaned over to Sidhe and spoke quickly in a low voice.
       “I think it is best that she doesn’t find out about your little op for now. Do you
agree?”
       Sid nodded. James was right. She could tell her mother later. They leaned back. Just
in time, as Margaret exited the powder room and headed for their table, her dress stabilised
back to a composed green. She seated herself and looking from one to the other of them,
gave a resigned sigh.
       “Sorry, I keep forgetting that my little girl is no longer little and I don’t own her.
Sidhe, whatever you do is all right with me as long as you are careful and don’t wilfully
harm anyone. James, if Sid is harmed in your employ, I will never, ever, forgive you.”
       James looked suitably chagrined and applied himself assiduously to his soup.
       The evening was pleasant, the food was exceptional and all too soon it was nearly
time to go. The only thing on the table beside the coffee was a dish of fortune cookies. Sid
took one, broke it open and removed the slip of paper. It read:
       A STRANGER IS ONLY A STRANGER UNTIL YOU MAKE HIM A FRIEND.
       Coincidence? Brian had become her friend.
       Or at least he seemed to have.
       Could she trust the emotional child the computer had become?
       Or was it all a front to deceive her?
                                                                                          122


        James promised to come out to see Sidhe shortly, as he felt her training was nearly
finished and she could soon become operative. Glancing at Margaret as he mentioned this,
he told her not to worry as Sid was too precious to risk in field operations. It was a lie but
uttered for the best of reasons. Her Mum’s dress told Sid that she was relaxed about it now
and she even managed to laugh about her previous concerns.
       It was time to go.
        At a signal from James, the security guard at the door spoke quietly, the tiny mike
implanted next to his Adam’s apple relaying the message somewhere. When they stepped
out of the restaurant, both the limos were waiting, with an agent ready at the rear doors.
After a kiss and a hug goodbye to her daughter, Margaret made her way to the other limo
with her arm around James; they really did look good together. Sid went and jumped into
hers, excitement at the prospect of a life as a secret agent stretching ahead of her. What a
buzz, she couldn’t wait to get started.

       That same evening, Percy was watching some B&S on his cube reader at home when
Serena chimed. He sighed as he pressed pause, the action on the screen was just becoming
intense.
       “Yes Serena my little angel.” It had to be important or she wouldn’t have interrupted
him.
       “Fresh off the cameras Percy. Chinatown in Adelaide, about thirty minutes ago.
Sidhe Wilson and James D. Harding at a restaurant. There was another woman there also,
identified as Sidhe’s mother. She left with James D. while Sidhe left on her own. Tracker
ID places her on the way back to the Techsect compound.”
       “Thank you for that Serena. That will be all. Goodnight.”
       Percy grimaced, he was sick and tired of hearing about Sidhe Wilson and that
Techsect bastard James D. It was time to put a little spanner in their works and piss Alan
Wilson off at the same time. Three birds with one stone, very economical. He rose to his
feet, grunting at the effort of hauling his bulk out of the chair, and headed off to the door
which led downstairs. Before long he was talking to the head of his private secret police in
a part of the house that Serena had no access to.
       “Yes, that Techsect compound north of Adelaide. You have the aerial reconnaissance
photo?”
       The big man stalked silently away and returned moments later with the photograph
in his hand. They studied it together while Percy pointed to a building.
       “That is the computer building. On the top floor is an apartment. I want it taken out
tonight. No survivors. Take the jetcopter to Adelaide on some excuse. Load a couple of
those programmable ground to ground missiles aboard before you go. You know the ones I
mean. They’re in the back of the garage behind the secret wall. Use an unmarked van, one
of the stolen ones we keep, from the secret police car pool in Adelaide and drive out to the
Techsect compound. You only need to be within ten kilometres for the missile to work.
Just program in the GPS coordinates for that building and launch. Take a couple of the
boys with you, it’ll give them a bit of training. With any luck you’ll be back for breakfast.”
As his men set about their tasks, Percy huffed his way back up the stairs. Percy Cute eh!
They didn’t know how ‘cute’ he could get.
                                                                                           123


     What Percy didn’t realise was, if someone can be bought for money, what would
more money buy?

       James D. was lying fast asleep beside Margaret when his personal compuphone went
off. Margaret was a passionate woman, totally at odds with her slightly reserved exterior
and James was sleeping the sleep of the exhausted. She had to wake him, slightly amused at
his depth of sleep. He grabbed his compuphone and keyed on. If he looked like he felt, he
was a bit of a mess. Three’s face appeared on the screen.
       “James, no time for polite talk just listen. Through one of my connections, I have just
learned that Sidhe Wilson is probably in immediate danger. She should be removed to
Headquarters in Adelaide at once, I repeat, at once and placed under a security lockdown
where she is to remain until this order is countermanded by me. The timeframe is now at
the latest. Sorry to wake you. Goodnight James.”
       Margaret was all over him like a rash. “What was that about Sid? What is happening
James? James, tell me.”
       He held up his hand and she fell quiet for a moment.
       “Apparently, my boss has got wind of a possible threat to Sidhe and I have to take
her in to Headquarters. I am tempted to leave her at the compound tonight but you would
never forgive me and I would never forgive myself if anything happened to her while we
were cuddled up together, so I guess that means leaving right now.”
       Margaret gave him a big hug.
       “Thank you for caring James, you are a good man.”
       As James was dressing, Margaret lay contemplating the man she had fallen in love
with. She had never even considered finding someone who could replace Wade until James
had appeared that night to take Sidhe out to dinner.
       Fate.
       After a quick kiss and a cuddle, James left, looking a little grim at the thought of Sid
being in danger. He took his special gun out of the glove box and had it handy on the
passenger seat, just in case. Not many of these laser guided bullet guns in Australia. Once
you tagged the target with the laser and fired, the bullet would find the smartest way to get
to the target, even going around corners. Fire and forget. Science at its worst. James
concentrated on driving and it was only when he was about twenty minutes from the
Techsect compound that he realised he could have phoned Sam, one of the most
trustworthy and reliable people that he knew. Cursing himself for a fool, he reached into
his pocket and removed the compuphone. “Call Sam!” The phone quickly dialled the
number and after what seemed like an age, Sam answered.
       “Sam it’s me, James D. Sorry about the hour but I have just had some Intel that is
pretty reliable. Sidhe is in danger and we haven’t much time. I want you to go over to her
building and get her out of there immediately. Wait in the basement of the hospital if you
think it is defensible and I will be there in about fifteen minutes. Have you got all that.
Good man, see you soon.”
       James snapped his phone shut, replaced it in his pocket and cursed once again. Why
hadn’t he thought to ring ahead earlier?
       It had to be urgent.
                                                                                           124


      That was the first time Three had ever rung him at home.

        Banging, bells, more banging. Sidhe wearily raised her head from the comfortable
pillow and looked at the clock, four am. Bloody hell, it was so early. She felt dazed and a
little disoriented after only four hour’s sleep and half a bottle of wine. Who in hell’s name
would be banging on her door at this hour? Bang, bang, persistently coming from the door
downstairs. She leapt up, flung a wrap on and went to the window overlooking the lower
entrance. Turning on the light over the doorway, she could see Sam looking up.
        “That’s my girl, check the doorway before opening it. Well done but now I need to
get in immediately.”
        He sounded unusually concerned so Sidhe piled down the stairs as fast as she could
to haul the door open wide. Sam stood there, dressed in a tracksuit, pistol in hand.
        “Sorry about the noise, I was worried. Something is going down and we have to get
out of here, now. Just because we’re in a patrolled compound doesn’t mean we can relax.”
        For Sam he looked a little disquieted as he made his way upstairs. After checking the
apartment he slid the pistol into the holster in the small of his back and stood waiting in
the middle of the lounge.
        “Is this some training exercise Sam? Because if it is I am not amused, I have had
hardly any sleep and I feel like shit. I intend taking my first sickie since I started training
and no, it’s not woman’s troubles. So you can put your old fashioned thinking away.”
        Sam’s face regarded her stonily.
        “This is real girl and if you aren’t dressed and out of here in five minutes I am going
to knock you out and carry you.”
        Sid realized he wasn’t kidding and had seen the results of Sam’s knock out blow so
she threw her track suit and runners on, grabbed her purse and was struggling into her coat
as she followed him out of the door and down the stairs. He took off at a fast trot toward
the hospital and she followed along behind. They were about half way there when, on her
left side, she saw a trail of fire in the sky, quickly followed by a second one a moment later.
        “SAM,” she yelled pointing as he turned around, slewing to a halt.
        “Holy shit!” was his response as he dived on her. She went down like a sack of
potatoes with Sam’s weight on top, covering her. Thoughts of outrage running through her
mind just seconds before there was a tremendously loud roaring noise, almost immediately
followed by a second one. It defied explanation. Her ears were ringing and she was
wondering why Sam wasn’t letting her up just as a sound like rain started and her couch,
partially on fire, thudded to the ground not two metres away, along with a rain of debris.
The pattering and crashing went on for what seemed like five minutes but was only about
thirty seconds before Sam hauled her to her feet, half deaf and made her run toward the
Hospital building. She slowed for a second or two and looked over her shoulder towards
the building she had called home. It wasn’t there. It was spread all around in fairly small
pieces. She staggered as the realisation hit but before she stopped, her hand was grabbed
and she was hauled onward.
        “Remember your lessons. Don’t look back, your objective is in front of you.” Sam
grinned over his shoulder as they reached the Hospital doors.
        “What the fuck are you grinning at Sam Houston?” she spat at him.
                                                                                           125


      “You’re alive aren’t you?” he asked mildly.
      “Yes, I guess I am,” she grinned back.

      As they were speaking, a car was approaching them across the compound travelling at
high speed, way faster than was allowed. Sam roughly pushed her back into the doorway of
the Hospital and pulled a small pistol from a holster, hidden strapped to his ankle and
drew the one from behind his back as well. As Sidhe bounced off the door she was amazed
that she had time to register suprise at the second pistol. Her trained reflexes took over and
she took notice of the car swerving around the larger pieces of debris. Sam was in the
doorway protecting her with his bulk as he held the pistols pointed steadily at the car,
which had stopped twenty metres from the doorway. James D. got out from behind the
wheel slowly with his hands in the air.
      “Only me Sam you old bastard, can’t catch you out can I?”
      “It’s why I am still alive, boss man,” he returned, easing the hammers down and
replacing the little revolver in its hiding place, still holding the bigger pistol on James. He
spoke over his shoulder to the girl behind him, protected in the doorway.
      “You alright Sid?”
      “Yes thank you Sam, that was probably one of the rudest awakenings I’ve ever had
but you saved my life. I owe you one.”
      “Flattery will get you everywhere little girl, take a look, the brass is here.”
      James D. was dishevelled, unshaven and downright disreputable looking. He was also
seething. Stalking over to them, they could literally see steam coming out of his ears.
      “Morning Sam, nice work. We’ll let Security take it from here. You are now assigned
to Sid full time as her body guard. Go and pack your stuff, you will be leaving with us.”
      Sam gave Sid a mystified shrug and left at his normal quick walking pace.
      James was really pissed off. Rocket strikes in peacetime Australia. That was taking
things too far. He would find who was responsible for this outrage using every resource of
Techsect at his disposal or he wasn’t James D. Harding.
      A little flash of inspiration hit Sidhe.
      “You were at Mum’s weren’t you?”
      James made a wry face.
      “For the moment that is irrelevant, we can discuss that little snippet later, right now I
need to know who and why and that is what we will find out when you are safely in
Headquarters. I suggest that your Mother does not find out about this or both our lives will
be shit.”
      James smiled at her and she realised he was relieved that she was alive.
      Within fifteen minutes Sam had returned with his bag packed, ready to go and they
jumped into James’ car and sped off, leaving Security to clean up and look for clues.
      James smiled at Sid.
      “I guess getting your flat destroyed means another shopping spree for you.”
                                                                                            126



                                          Chapter 12.

       Luck. The rains had not started yet. Each year they seemed to be later and later
coming to the tropics of the Northern Territory. The sky was promising rain though, large
cumulo-nimbus thunderheads towering kilometres into the atmosphere. It was very hot
and humid and showers could be seen further south, as the grey masses of cloud swept over
the bush, lightening flashing and thunder growling. They could smell the ozone.
       The four wheel drive van lumbered over large rocks on the rough bush track as they
followed the creek south and east, the occupants and the provisions they had brought
bouncing about inside. Apart from Alan, the other occupants of the vehicle had never
experienced anything like it.
       Earlier that morning, Mary, the elder aboriginal lady, had given Alan directions to
find the gap in the escarpment that would lead them to the gorge where they could find
Jamie and the Tribe.
       “Go out pas Anbangbang billabong, you know, where dem touris’ go. Find dat
Nouralangie Creek and follow him. When you find that utha creek headin’ to da south
eas, look forra big gap in da rock, plenty south of dem Lightening Rocks. You take a track
through dat gap, see plenty big gorge. It da one lead up to um stone country. Dat da place
where Jamie waitin.”
       It had all sounded so simple but the reality was vastly different. It was lucky that Alan
was familiar with the country to some degree or they would never have got this far. The
bush around them was thick at times, obscuring landmarks and the track was old, worn
and overgrown. Like many tracks through this country, parts of it doubled as a small creek
in the ‘wet’. He could see his destination, a gap in the escarpment ahead to the south east
and having looked at the map earlier, he knew that it opened out beyond into a sizeable
gorge which penetrated east for many kilometres into the Arnhem Land plateau.
       “How much further Alan?”
       That would be Cassie, she was doing this adventure stuff a little harder than the
others. He smiled at the thought of her reaction to a nice succulent Agile wallaby steak.
       “Not far, see that gap in the escarpment over there, we have to take the vehicle
through it, if we can.” He stopped talking for a second to wrestle the wheel and fight the
van around a stump, the occupants of the van lurching uncomfortably side to side.
       “The further we drive, the less we have to walk.”
       It took another hour of driving to get through the gap they were aiming for. At times
the rudimentary track disappeared altogether and they drove in the dry stream bed for a
while.
       Eventually, the track gave out altogether, their way blocked by tumbled boulders of
Kombolgie Sandstone, hard and angular, some as large as a house. Alan looked around for
a place to stash the van where it couldn’t be seen from the air and where it wouldn’t go
under water in the flooding that came with the rains of the Wet. He spotted an ideal
hiding place and pulled up. The rest of the group helped him to unload their gear from the
vehicle. Once it was empty they distributed food, clothing, camping gear and the precious
computers and satphones among the various packs, making the loads up depending on
who was carrying them. Alan left them to it and drove the van to the spot he had picked
                                                                                           127


out, a sort of natural little cave under a Woolybut tree beside a large, leaning rock.
Opening the bonnet, he disconnected the battery to conserve its charge and closed all the
vents and windows, praying that Ginger ants wouldn’t eat the electrical insulation. He also
tied a plastic bag over the snorkel air intake and the exhaust, in case something decided to
use it as a home while they were gone. He didn’t know how long that would be. Taking the
aluminium case which contained about seven hundred thousand dollars he walked over to
the gorge wall and climbed up a few metres until he found what he was looking for, a small
vertical crack. He stashed the case into the crack and carefully placed a few rocks in the
opening to conceal it. Finally, he used a bit of dead branch to mark the spot. When he got
back, the little group were all perspiring from the effort of packing up their gear in the hot,
strength sapping, humid air.
       “Which way do we go now, Alan?” Lance enquired.
       “We don’t mate. We all find a shady spot under a tree or beside a rock and sit and
wait until the day cools a bit. You start walking in these temperatures and you’ll get heat
exhaustion. Everyone got a hat, sunscreen? Good, very important.”
       They chose a shady spot and sat down to wait. After Alan had packed his pack,
which also included Coln’s computer, he settled down with his back to a tree. Georgia sat
beside him, something she had been doing a lot of lately. She wasn’t throwing herself at
him, just staying close by, waiting for him to work things out.
       As the sun started heading down the sky to the west, Alan stood and addressed the
group.
       “Time to go. We’ll head up the creek and find a spot to camp for the night. I have a
feeling that Jamie and the Tribe will be a bit further up this gorge than we can walk this
evening. We’ll catch up with them tomorrow.”
       What if they aren’t there?” Lance asked.
       “Well, I guess we’ll just keep going. They won’t be travelling fast. The idea of
‘walkabout’ is not to get somewhere; it’s more the communing with the land that is
important and a chance for the youngsters to learn new skills.”
       Alan smiled, these city kids had a very steep learning curve ahead.
       They set off again. It was still very hot and sticky but bearable and before long they
came to the creek that ran off the plateau, a thin layer of water in the stream bed, barely
flowing. Alan pointed out the other dry water courses and the debris in the trees metres
above their heads.
       “When the rains come, the water runs that deep.” He said, pointing up as they
walked. There were disbelieving looks passed between the rest of them at the height of the
floodwaters Alan had indicated.
       The sun slowly slid down the sky as they ambled along until, there before them, was
a decent sized waterhole with a thin trickle of water running down the rocks on the far
side. It was very picturesque. Still, greenish colored water, reflecting the pandanus that
grew at the edges nearly all the way around except where the pool emptied.
       “Wow. C’mon Cassie, last one in is on cooking duties,” Bobby exclaimed as he
shrugged his pack and headed down to the water pulling off his boots and socks.
       “STOP.” Alan yelled at the top of his voice.
       They all looked at him in amazement, particularly Bobby.
                                                                                              128


        “What’s the matter with you?” Bobby asked.
        “Nothing, but their may be a ‘salty’ in there,” he replied in a more normal tone.
        “You mean a crocodile?”
        “Yes, I mean a crocodile. Doesn’t look like it but some of those big blokes swim up
in the wet and get trapped in pools like this until the next wet comes around. It’s mating
season now and if there is one in there, he will be mean and possibly hungry and I don’t
want to lose you.”
        Bobby looked suitably chagrined and put his boots back on.
        “While I am at it, there are also poisonous snakes around as well, so watch where you
put your feet and if you go to take a leak at night, use a torch. They have Everlast batteries
so we don’t have to worry about them running out. Get into the habit of observing your
environment closely. A word of advice, when we are with the Tribe it will appear that most
of them aren’t paying attention to anything but don’t let that fool you, those guys could
track ants across bare rock without seeming to pay attention. Sixty thousand years of
hunter gathering has equipped them differently to us white folk.”
        Alan moved well away from the water up towards the gorge wall and chose a
sheltered site on a clear patch of ground. There were the remains of a fire in a ring of
stones, the ashes were cold but not old. Evidence that it was a good site and recently
utilised. The others came over and following his example, erected their tents and set up
camp. Alan took his folding shovel and dug a hole back in the bushes for a toilet spot, well
away from the camp and out of sight.
        “Toilet,” he said when he came back and pointed the spot out before picking up the
billy. “I left the shovel there, just sprinkle a bit of dirt on it after you go. It keeps the flies
down. Another thing, and this is important. When you go for water, try and use a different
place each time, ‘salties’ are ambush predators and lie in wait at frequently used watering
spots. They can lunge their own body length out of water on an attack. That could be
anything up to five metres. Think about it.”
        He wandered off and returned with a full billy of water which he sat beside the ring
of stones while he went to collect wood. Before long the fire was flickering in the rapidly
descending gloom, enough wood for the night stacked beside it and Alan had the damper
ready to put in the coals. The rest of the group were closely observing everything Alan did.
The cooking pot contained a stew made from dehydrated meats and vegetables, just
coming to the boil. It was moved to one side and the fire was moved over a little so coals
were available and the damper was put in and covered with them.
        “What’s that?” Georgia asked, pointing at the damper.
        “A mixture of flour, water and baking powder. It’s what we call ‘damper’ or camp
bread. It really sticks to your ribs and is good for mopping up stew.”
        Alan grinned. He was really enjoying being back outdoors again. Sure beat the shit
out of the city.
        Later, after the meal was over, they sat around the fire and chatted about many
things while lightening played almost continually over the sky, thunder rumbling after the
flashes. They heard a loud roaring noise not far away and Lance looked over at Alan.
        “Buffalo?”
        “Possibly, but it sounded closer. Probably a croc in that water hole down there.”
                                                                                           129


       Bobby looked suitably horrified as he glanced over his shoulder in the direction of
the waterhole and edged closer to Cassie. Before long it was time to turn in and to Alan’s
immense suprise, Georgia followed him into the tent.
       “What are you doing?” he asked.
       She looked at him with a steady gaze.
       “There are only three tents, Bobby and Cassie have one and Lance has one all to
himself because I want to be in here with you. Do you object?”
       How could he? She was so sweet and sincere that he couldn’t say no, so he placed
their packs in the middle of the tent between them and they slept one each side. That was
how it started out but early in the morning he found Georgia twined along his side when
he woke up. She still slept, face relaxed and peaceful, hair smelling of kittens and without a
stitch of clothing on. He could feel his body react. So, after five years it hadn’t forgotten.
       He smiled.

       As daylight began to lighten over the rim of rock to the east, Alan woke everyone up.
As a precaution, he fetched water for their morning wash and cup of tea which they had
with the left over damper. The fire had nearly died down and the day was promising hot
again.
       “Not exactly the Ritz is it?” Cassie muttered within Alan’s hearing.
       “Sorry Cass, it will get better when we start going up, no more salty crocs only
‘freshies’ so we will be able to go swimming and wash in safety.”
       He kicked dirt over the fire to put it out and went and retrieved his shovel, filling in
the toilet hole before returning.
       “Ready everyone?”
       In truth, Georgia suprised him, she was adapting well to conditions that her rich
upbringing would never have exposed her to. Lance was coping well and learning, it was
Bobby and Cassie that were battling a bit. However, when the group stopped moving for a
while those two would probably settle down. Most likely they needed routine.
       The small band set off up the gorge. It was still quite wide but up ahead they could
see where it narrowed and started to very gradually climb. They walked for a couple of
hours more, slowly and carefully picking their way along the floor of the gorge, clambering
up changes in level and sometimes startling small groups of Agile wallabies, quietly feeding
on the green pick near the water’s edge and once, a big grey Euro. An overhang appeared
to their left and Lance angled over to take a look in it.
       “Hey, there are paintings in here,” he called out excitedly. “Lots of them.”
       The group wandered over to see what the excitement was about and were amazed at
the number and diversity of the art. Wallabies, goannas, fish, turtles, quite a few in ‘x-ray’
form and handprints adorned the walls in a colourful profusion.
       “Should we be looking at these?” Georgia asked Alan.
       “Good question but no problem. These are depictions of the food available in the
area and stories of hunts and things. No ceremonial paintings here. Just don’t touch them
please.”
       “Hey Alan, what’s with all the handprints everywhere?”
       Bobby, as usual, was full of curiosity.
                                                                                         130


       “That is just to say the owner of the handprint has been here. Once the people knew
whose handprint was whose but they don’t put them up much now. They are sometimes
called ‘wongili’ which means shadow.”
       He looked around, took off his hat and wiped his brow. It was getting really hot
again. Just below them was a small inviting pool of water, semi shaded and they were high
enough up not to have to worry about salties.
       “We might as well rest here until it becomes cooler. Swim if you want but don’t dive
in, be careful.”
       Bobby and Cassie were in the water in a flash, it was only chest deep but they seemed
to enjoy it. Alan showed Georgia and Lance how to build and start a small fire. He
explained the way of making one nearly smokeless and also mentioned the ploy of being
under trees so as to diffuse the smoke and make it difficult to see. The billy boiled and
Alan added a gum leaf to the brew before pouring them out a mug of tea each. Bobby and
Cassie came back from their swim, their underwear nearly dry already and the small band
took their tea and retired to the shade of the rock shelter for the heat of the day.
       Later, Alan, Georgia and Lance went for a refreshing dip in the tepid water and after
they had dried off it was time to resume their treck. The cloud mass built up over the
afternoon until the sun was obscured and Alan was secretly worrying about the possibility
of being soaked and started keeping an eye out for shelter. He was in the lead, and
rounding a big rock ahead of the others he was suprised and overjoyed to see Jamie sitting
in the shade of an overhang. With a wild whoop he dropped his pack and raced over to
Jamie and gave him a big hug.
       “Good to see you my friend, so good to see you.”
       Jamie hugged him back. “It is good to see you too you old bastard.”
       The rest of the group straggled in behind, tired after a day and a half of walking in
the heat and introductions were made all round.
       “Where’s the Tribe?” Alan asked his friend.
       “Oh, ‘bout an hour’s walk up the gorge, camped beside a big waterhole with a large
rock shelter close by. Even got a smaller rock shelter near it for you fellas. We knew you
were coming ages ago. We heard you. Never spear a wallaby with the noise you make.
Thought I’d come down and meet you. Mebe guide you up. It’s in a sub gorge.”
       Jamie grinned.
       “Have a rest for a while, it gets a little steeper.”
       It was lucky that Jamie had come to meet them, as Alan would probably have walked
right past the sub gorge Jamie eventually turned up. It was narrow and steep to begin with
but rapidly opened out into a fan-palm fringed, mostly level, green flat with a good sized
pool of water in it, not far from the overhangs of the shelter. Here the sub gorge walls rose
about thirty metres, forming a natural amphitheatre, sides broken with fissures that
continued to the top of the plateau.
       Through the clouds, the setting sun bathed the eastern wall with light and the
orange-red sandstone took on a warm internal glow. It had actually taken longer than an
hour to get there, the rain threatening constantly but they arrived without getting wet to be
greeted with whoops and hollers and some good natured bantering from the Tribe.
                                                                                          131


       Everyone was introduced to everyone. Alan knew most of them and as usual the large
eyed children were hanging behind their mothers, peeking around from behind their legs,
too shy to come forward in the initial excitement. The rest of Alan’s party were surprised to
see a few white people in the Tribe, scattered among the rest but Alan mentioned quietly
to them that most were married to Tribal members, male and female. The explanation
sufficed. A wallaby was roasting on the coals of a fire under the overhanging rock and the
women had gathered some greenery to eat also, not an easy thing to find just before the
Wet.
       It was a relative Eden.
        Jamie informed Alan that this place would be good for another week or so before
they would have to move on to a fresher area as the food ran out.
       Lance was amazed at the paintings in the rock shelter. Metre after metre of wall was
covered in them. An old fellow saw his interest and started explaining some of them to
him. None were secret there in the general living area. As the light started to fade they
made camp in a smaller shelter they were shown to, fifty or so metres from the larger one,
pitching their tents under the overhang, more to keep mosquitoes off in the evening and
early morning than for shelter. The Tribe relied on burning paperbark leaves for the same
purpose. Once settled, the group headed back for the evening meal.
       There were about thirty adults in total and a dozen or so children of all ages up to
teens. The wallaby was dragged from the coals and dusted off. Small chunks of succulent
meat were then carved off and handed out. The old men first, then the young men
followed by the women and children. At Lance’s discrete query, Alan informed him that it
was the custom for men to eat first and the Tribe liked to keep their customs going. Cassie
was having difficulty coping with the food, looking on as the wallaby was quickly reduced
in size but her hunger after a day’s walking overcame her repugnance at the offering and
she wolfed it down after some initial hesitation. The aboriginal folk thought she was funny
and a few sly grins were seen around the group.
       Toward the end of the meal, the rain which had been threatening all day, started in
earnest. It bucketed down and soon the ground outside the shelter was awash with running
water. The children were out in it, jumping up and down in the warm rain, the firelight
reflecting off their wet, naked bodies. Everyone was happy. It felt so good to Alan being
able to relax with members of his Tribe, exchanging news and relating his adventures since
he left over three years ago. He was angry and a little guilty when he heard about Jamie’s
brush with the secret police but did see the funny side of the story. At his side, Georgia had
one damp little child on her lap and a couple sitting cuddled up to her as she told them a
story. She seemed quite at home.
       A woman full of surprises.
       Lance was off talking to some of the men and Cassie and Bobby were on their own,
not quite relaxed with everything yet, sort of listening to Jamie and Alan but not for long.
They rose and thanking everyone, said goodnight before heading for their tent under the
rock shelter. There was a bit of giggling at their early departure but it was all in good fun.
       “So what are you planning on doing Alan?” Jamie slipped into the conversation.
       “We have computers and satphones with us. I think I can re-programme the
satphones to avoid detection and we intend doing some mean things to the Gov. That is, if
                                                                                           132


the Tribal council allows us. I don’t think there will be any danger to the Tribe but I
cannot guarantee that. As long as you know.”
      Jamie sat thinking for a moment, “We elders will discuss it this evening, after you
have turned in with your friends. Nice people by the way. I’ll tell you the result in the
morning. Okay?”
      “Hey Jamie, you know the wellbeing of the Tribe comes first, before all else. I am
happy for the elders to set the rules. This is my Tribe too.”
      “Damn right Alan Wilson and don’t you forget it.”
      People were leaving the fire and turning in so Alan, Georgia and Lance said
goodnight and turned in also. Once more Georgia joined Alan in his tent but pushed the
packs over to one side and spread her sleeping bag beside his.
      “I’m a big girl Alan, I think I’m in love with you and I would like to take it further.”
      She caressed his face gently, “But I don’t intend forcing you into something you
don’t desire.”
      Alan smiled, he was home now. His answer was plain. Leaning forward, he gently
tasted Georgia’s lips. She tasted as good as she smelt.
      Later, they fell asleep listening to the heavy rain drumming on the rocks.

       In the morning, when Alan and Georgia eventually turned out of their tent, the sun
shone in a clear blue sky. Steam rose from the ground and the creek was running brown,
foaming gently over the rocks. The fire had been stoked up a bit and the tea long made by
the time they reached the billy.
       Most of Alan’s group couldn’t face wallaby for breakfast and had eaten a small energy
bar, washed down by black tea. Bobby and Cassie were now playing in the big pool, chasing
some children up and down and generally having fun. Alan sat in the shade, sipping at his
mug of stewed tea, deep in conversation with Georgia. Jamie came over.
       “I’ve been looking for you. Good news. The Elders have approved. Start when you
like. Just remember, we will be moving camp every couple of weeks or so.”
       He looked Georgia up and down. “You make sure you look after this fella, he’s had a
rough time of it.”
       He winked at Alan who flushed slightly.
       “Have you seen Lance anywhere?” Alan asked.
       “Yes, he found out some of the young men were going hunting and asked to go
along. They left about an hour ago. Good kid, fits in well.”
       Jamie turned and left Alan and Georgia alone again. Alan rose and went to their
tent, returning shortly with his own computer and satphone. Sitting down beside Georgia,
he opened the small laptop and powered it up. A couple of keystrokes and a map of
Australia appeared on the screen with a few dots scattered in the centre of shaded areas.
       “What’s that?” Georgia pointed at the map.
       “I sort of planned this a while ago so I downloaded a map of the satellites belonging
to the communication companies. I wanted to check how many satellites there were in
geosynchronous orbit above the north of Australia. There is only one that serves the
satphones we have, making it difficult to get a fix on us. All we have to do is stop the
roaming function of our satphones so we are locked onto only one satellite. If anyone does
                                                                                          133


track the signal, all they will learn of our position is that we are in the northern part of
Australia, somewhere. What we have to watch out for is planes or helicopters. I plan on
hacking into air traffic control at Katherine airport and setting up a little sub-programme
that will warn us if any aircraft are in the vicinity. After that, we should be right to go.”
       “Great. I’ll go and get my gear too. Be right back.”
       Georgia almost ran to their tent, returning quickly with her computer and her little
bag with the Bluetooth jack and antiseptics. Alan had mixed feelings about that piece of
gear.
       They set up their individual equipment, Alan with the laptop plugged into his
satphone and Georgia with her Bluetooth jack plugged into the back of her neck and the
computer sitting beside her. Seeing she was ready, Alan voiced his instructions.
       “I suggest that you network with my computer and watch what I do for a while. It
will be strange for you as I will be working with computer language. The trick is to just
watch it and let it flow over you like water. Eventually you may see the patterns. It is not
important if you don’t understand, as I will stop now and again to show you what I am
doing in real time.”
       Georgia nodded assent and switched her computer on. The slightly dreamy look
settled into her face as her gaze turned inward. Alan brought up a copy of his Goanna,
bristling with its minute armaments.
       “This is going out on the Web by itself. I placed an address for a drop box in the vent
area. Just in case someone finds out how to handle it. It will let us know if the Web carriers
become compromised. Now we are going to have some fun for a change. Strap the boot on
the other foot so to speak. I know it sounds complicated but using the system is so much
easier than the explanation. Now, let me see.”
       He pulled up an address fragment from the ‘tracer’ programme that Lance had
captured and in a flash it was attached to the Goanna’s nose.
       “Whatever this was addressed to, and I’m picking it is a secret police computer, will
suffer some major disruptions shortly. Probably not enough to disable the system but
enough to disable ‘tracers’ reporting back to their base for a while.”
       A flicker of his fingers and the Goanna disappeared. As soon as it had gone the
satphone was switched off. Alan got up and came back shortly with Coln’s computer. No
keys on it. “Job for you Georgia. Do you think you could get into this thing?”
       Georgia was still trying to come to terms with what she had just seen Alan do. It was
like casting spells and she didn’t know how to do that either.
       “After what you have shown us over the few weeks you were in the flat, it shouldn’t
be too hard.”
       She switched Coln’s computer on and plugged it into her own, requesting
networking. She could have used the infrared but the ground was not that level. Still being
in the same mode as Coln had used it at the flat, it obliged.
       “I’m in, open access.”
       “Excellent, now go through the computer looking for any address that might be a
link to the Gov. He was an agent and must have reported in occasionally.”
       Georgia concentrated with her eyes closed, silent, working through Coln’s computer.
Alan closed his eyes and leaned back resting. He may have slept, an inner peace following
                                                                                           134


the lassitude through his bones. It may have been ten minutes, it may have been half an
hour but finally Georgia gave a little cry of triumph.
       “Got it, right here. There is an address hidden away in an obscure file. It looks like a
Gov. address.”
       Alan barely opened his eyes.
       “Well done. Now, attach it to the nose of your Dingo Web carrier and place another
address firmly underneath so that you can send further programmes to it and remember,
have it report back every twenty four hours. If you get stuck you can network with me and I
will help.”
       “I should be alright Alan, I’ll just get you to check it when I finish.”
        More time passed then Georgia opened her eyes.
       “I’ve disconnected Coln’s computer and networked with yours, take a look please.”
       There on his screen was a Dingo which looked more like a pit bull, she had beefed it
up so much. Everything was in place but the report home program was missing a few
things, like the sub-program that categorized and recorded information before the burst
transmission was sent back. Alan corrected it quickly.
       “For a first attempt, that was excellent. Would you like to send it now?”
       He flipped on the satphone and the Dingo disappeared.
       “Now we wait but while we are waiting, would you mind going into Coln’s computer
again and networking it with yours and mine. We’ll look at everything in there. File by file
and program by program. After which we will disable it. It could be a time bomb and may
even have a Tracker in it.”
       So file by file, Coln’s computer was forced to give up its secrets. Not many but
enough, like a complete file on every member in the household and......
       “What’s this?”
       The tone of his voice made Georgia look up and she paid strict attention as Alan
continued.
       “There is reference to an AI computer in here. I never knew they existed until a little
while ago. It mentions that there are six, constructed from the technology that my brother
and I invented then cobbled together by Gov. computer jocks. The thrust of the letter is
that no one knows why only a handful of the supercomputers become self aware. Holy shit,
if this is true we had better remove our return address from the underside of our Web
carriers. We can easily make duplicates of Web carriers but we can’t afford to leave our
address for an AI to possibly find. Send me your attach code please Georgia.”
       She did, quickly and Alan made up a couple of self destruct codes to wipe out the
reporting functions and addressed them to the two Web carriers out on the Web. He
turned on the satphone and sent them before switching the satphone off again. Sitting
back, visibly shaken, he wiped his forehead.
       “That was close. I had not heard about AI computers much before now. Just think,
Wade and I starting off AI technology. Like inventing the Holy Grail. Wade would have
been very proud and so would my niece Sidhe. Wonder what she is up to at the moment?”
       He had calmed down a little after the shock realisation about the sheer power of AI
computers and his mischievous smile returned.
       “Hey Lover, let’s go for a swim.”
                                                                                           135


       Georgia laughed and carefully switching off her computer, removed the Bluetooth
jack from the back of her neck, replacing it with the watertight, skin tone, latex plug.
       “No crocs in here then?” she asked him.
       “Maybe but only freshies up this high and they won’t hurt us.”
       Georgia stripped down to her underwear and headed off to the waterhole.
       Alan’s eyes followed her lithe form for a moment before turning his attention back
to the computer beside him. He transferred the relevant files from Coln’s computer to his
and turned them both off before picking up a rock and explosively smashing Coln’s
computer. Sorting through the bits inside until he was satisfied that there were no
explosives or a Tracker, he took the Everlast battery as a spare and put all the pieces into a
sealfast plastic bag he had in his computer satchel. There was no way he was going to leave
litter here. After a quick trip to the tent with his and Georgia’s gear, he joined her in the
pool, frolicking like a teenager. Later would be soon enough for the rest of the group to
learn of his fear regarding AI’s.

       Mid afternoon, Lance returned with the hunting party. They were carrying two dead
wallabies and every one of them wore a big beaming smile. Apparently Lance had been
good at moving quietly during the hunt and had impressed the other young men with his
abilities.
       They had expected a clumsy person.
       After dark, to the accompaniment of didgeridoo and clapsticks, there was a dance, re-
enacting the wallaby hunt. Everyone was well fed and happy in the idyll of the sub gorge.
       Later in the evening it poured with rain again.
                                                                                             136



                                          Chapter 13.

        “PERCY!” The loud shriek roused Percy from his reverie of great times to come. A
time when Percy was Head of everything. That couldn’t be Serena on the speakers, the
voice was all wrong. The screens on the office wall opposite him were blinking red. This
wasn’t right.
        “Percy! I’m under attack!”
        “What? Serena, report please”
        “The tracer that we were looking for docked and I opened to it. A strange
programme has invaded that whole sub routine. It’s chewing me up. If I were human it
would be like having my toes eaten.”
        “Well destroy it then.”
        “I am trying Percy but it is very hard to deal with as it is replicating in a Web carrier
as fast as I can wipe it out.”
        “Well nail the carrier then.”
        “I can’t Percy, it has suicide code on the outside and razor code on the end of its
‘legs’. It just keeps chopping away any code I use to attack it.”
        “Legs, what do you mean, legs. Isolate it.”
        “But that would mean shutting down the whole tracer sub routine.” Serena informed
him.
        “Do it. Now!” Percy felt strange ordering Serena like that and he also felt confused.
        Damn, she was an AI and should be capable of dealing with anything in the
computer line. What was going on?
        “Okay Serena, talk to me, have you isolated it yet?”
        As if in answer, the screens at the end of his office returned to the view of snow-
capped peaks which had been there before his rude awakening.
        “We have lost the tracer sub-routine Percy, I pulled back and isolated it before any
further damage to myself could occur.”
        “What do you mean, lost it?”
        “I mean that I cannot re-enter that programme at this time. It needs to be removed
to an isolated computer so I can examine it through a link that can be disconnected
immediately there is any likelihood of the Web carrier breaking out. It was weird, almost
familiar.”
        “Okay Serena, empty one of the servo computers in the basement and put its content
into another one that can carry on with the work. Shift the whole tracer sub-routine into
the empty computer and go to work. What do you mean by your statement about ‘weird
almost familiar’?”
        Serena paused for a second then replied.
        “The code was computer language not programming language and had some
similarity to the codes that I operate on. The suicide code is in very small segments that
create blanks in programming language. The antivirus software is written in programming
language and cannot recognise the threat. Whoever or whatever wrote it is very, very skilled
in computer speak. I am going to have to approach this on a whole new level and write my
own codes in computer language to tackle it. I estimate about ten minutes Percy. Would
                                                                                           137


you like anything while you wait? It is going to take most of my computing power to do this
task.”
       “The usual please Serena and today I would like Joylee to bring it.”
       Percy leaned back and clasped his hands over the great girth of his stomach, trying to
relax. This had never happened before and he found his heart rate elevated and a slight
sheen of perspiration on his upper lip. He pulled a colourful handkerchief out of his breast
pocket and wiped his face. Not good. Somewhere, somehow, someone was attacking
Serena, more to the point, they were attacking his organisation.
       He would find out who it was and kill them.
       Fuck this arrest shit, he was ‘Percy Cute’ and wouldn’t allow this sort of insurrection
from anyone.
       Joylee came with his tea and two stimstiks on a tray. Good, Serena was thinking
ahead for him. He watched the petite little Asian woman walk around the desk with tiny
steps, head bowed. They were so delicate compared to Western woman, who strode or
clomped all over the place. Smart too, Joylee had an Honours degree in Political Science
and, lucky for him, relatives in the Philippines.
       “Thank you Joylee, that will be all.”
       He watched the rear view all the way to the door, enjoying the way the synthsilk
moved with her body. Just before she reached it he added.
       “You may have a stimstik also if you wish.”
       She turned and gave him a little bow just before she exited the room. Percy popped a
stimstik into his mouth where it dissolved almost instantly and picked up his teacup,
sipping slowly while his mind raced over the problem. Before long there was a delicate
chime as Serena discreetly announced she wanted to talk.
       “Yes Serena, I take it you have a result?”
       The screens at the end of his office cleared of the wintery, snow capped peaks of
Cradle Mountain in Tasmania to be replaced by a fuzzy picture of an electric blue goanna
with gleaming claws.
       “This is the sharpest that I can make the image Percy, as I couldn’t get closer to it. I
have disabled it by isolating it, not too difficult after I worked out what it was and how it
was constructed. Very simple, yet very effective and the reason it was familiar is that it was
constructed by Alan Wilson.”
       Percy’s mouthful of tea sprayed across his desk at the mention of that name.
Profanities raced through his brain, at the speed of stim. Expletive after expletive.
       “How do you know that?” he asked.
       “Computer language code is unique to the person or AI that writes it and I recognise
this style. It is also what runs through me. As human poets are recognised for their style, so
computer language writers can be recognised also. Most are very clumsy but this is fluid
and could only have been written by Alan. I now know how to isolate this menace and
shall pass the information on to the other AI’s later.”
       “No Serena. Let them learn the same way you did and if they don’t, well we may end
up on the top of the heap yet. Also, I don’t want word of this getting out, as the Secret
Police will look a little silly having had a Sydney operative placed right next to Alan Wilson
                                                                                         138


when he made his escape. What was it? Fifteen days ago now? Deploy all means possible in
Melbourne to locate their vehicle and.....”
       “Sorry to interrupt Percy but I am receiving an urgent message from Sydney.”
       “Put it on the screen please Serena.”
       The screen changed from the goanna image to that of a very harassed, newly
promoted Commander.
       “Sorry Sir but we have a problem. Coln made a report and it automatically logged
into the computer system. There is some sort of virus running loose and we are losing all
sorts of things. We can’t shut it off Sir. Can you help?”
       “Yes Captain, stand by. Serena, do you think you are able?”
       The screens blanked and five or six anxious minutes went by until a hazy form of a
dingo appeared on them.
       “Can you still hear me Captain?” Percy asked, his eyes narrowing.
       “Yes Sir.”
       “You are a careless fool. An interoffice memo was sent to you last week detailing the
detainment of your agent, Coln, at these offices, until further notice. Did you receive it?”
       “Yes Sir.”
       “Then why the hell is his address site still open you idiot. On other matters, problem
solved, get your computer to detail all lost information and it will be replaced from here.
Try to be more aware in future. Disconnect.” Percy leaned forward in his chair. “Now
Serena, what do we have here?”
       Serena’s dulcet tones emanated from the speaker.
       “Another Alan Wilson construct, similar to the last one. This one looks like a dingo,
simple but effective. Not too hard to render safe by isolation because I knew what I was
dealing with. Sydney is a bit of a mess but I should be able to run a diagnostic and replace
programmes and information within the hour. Why do you think Alan Wilson is doing
this Percy?”
       The fat face on the balding head broke into an evil grin.
       “Probably has something to do with the fact we killed his brother and his niece and
ruined his life. We have to catch or kill him Serena. Sorry, I forgot you have a mental block
against killing humans. Never mind, I can do it for both of us.”
       Percy’s grin stretched even further at the thought of the pain he could inflict. He
would love to do it personally and was sitting thinking of the method he would use when
once more he was interrupted by Serena.
       “Busy day today Percy. The van has been found, the one Alan Wilson was supposed
to have driven to Melbourne in. It was in the Murray River close to the town of Murray
Bridge. Someone hit it with an outboard engine propeller at low tide, only reason it was
found. A tow truck dragged it out before we arrived. No sign of any occupants and no
clues.”
       All Percy could manage with his face getting redder and redder was, “Bugger, bugger,
bugger.”

      Three was perturbed. He was sitting comfortably in his wheelchair before the
vidscreen in his home away from home. A little apartment tucked away inside a large
                                                                                             139


complex in the tunnels under Black Mountain near Canberra. Al Qaeda had proven how
effective interconnected mountain tunnels were when Osama bin Laden had escaped the
Americans back in the Afghanistan invasion after September 11th and Three was a quick
study.
       Of course there was vehicle access in and out of the underground system but he was
well protected by the security forces, snug in his own private area. It wasn’t far from the
rest of the complex with its offices, labs, staff quarters and interrogation areas but his living
space was quite comfortable in all respects, just like a modern apartment but without
windows. His personal taste ran to Salvador Dali prints on the walls and abstract sculptures
with flowing lines. Vid screens mimicked windows to allow a view of whatever he felt like.
Today it was the view from a penthouse suite on top of Sydney’s tallest hotel and it was all
paid for by the Government.
       Serena had reported the day’s events to him just a short while ago and the news had
alarmed him. Percy didn’t know that Serena reported to him secretly, in fact no one knew
that all the AI’s reported to him and that was the way Three liked it. He felt old and sick
today, as the cancer that ate him up advanced ever more rapidly, a far cry from the days
when he was in his prime. He was the uncrowned King of Australia and very few people
knew his real name, George Blackley. Those who did never mentioned it. His position was
technically Advisor to the Head of Intelligence and Security answering only to the Minister
but there was no Head of Intelligence, it was all a front. Although he was sick and old, he
would hold that position until he died. That would not be long now.
       Back in the old days, Three had risen up through the ranks of the secret service until
he was head of ASIO, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation, a bit of an
oxymoron really. He had used that position to compile dossiers on every person who could
possibly rise to power in his lifetime. Not just ordinary information but information of the
hidden things which people did not want made public. Knowledge was power. By dint of
coercion and blackmail and use of the new antiterrorist laws he had managed to initiate an
anti-terrorist force, essentially a secret police unit, within ASIO, all under his command.
Of course the person who seemed to run the secret police and appeared in the public eye
very occasionally was always someone of his choice. Percy was his latest, although Percy
didn’t know that. Three had even facilitated the purchase of the 1080 which Percy had
used to kill his predecessor. Quite a clever choice of poison that.
       Three approved.
       Percy was just right for the post of Head of the Secret Police, ruthless, cruel, cunning
and self serving, with a thin veneer of civilisation and some manipulative quirks. He
admired Percy, seeing something of himself in the man. Three had also started Techsect
under the ASIO umbrella back in two thousand and eight. Initially with a small budget
under the guise of protecting the Australian public from dangerous technology but later
getting budget increases to gradually expand the organisation to where it was today.
       James D. Harding was an innocent pawn, Three’s own son. Of course James D. did
not know that, could not know that. Yet. He was the result of an indiscrete moment of
passion in the early nineteen eighties. At that time, Three had recently been promoted to
the headquarters of ASIO and had been ordered to attend a social event for politicians and
policy makers, as a stand in for a superior. It was an informal get together of the people
                                                                                          140


who controlled policy direction and funding of the organisation. Three had found it to be
totally boring until he met Gillian. Her husband, an aging Senator, was out of town on a
fact finding mission and Gillian had attended the reception with another political couple,
friends of hers, to show the Senator’s support. She was a trophy wife, young, vivacious and
very intelligent, with a streak of ruthlessness, dedicated to her husband’s advancement.
Three had been making boring small talk when he caught sight of her across the room and
felt immediately attracted. Unusual for him and it wasn’t long before he managed to be
introduced to her. She saw a handsome, fit, well built man in his prime, with eyes that had
seen too much and an aura of danger about him.
       She was interested, the thrill of danger was always intoxicating.
       That evening and the next they pleasured each other. It was animalistic sex but
satisfied something in each of them. The Senator returned from his trip and sanity
reasserted itself. Gillian told Three it was over and he accepted the inevitable, he could not
offer more than she already had. Nine months later, the newspapers announced the birth
of a son to the Senator and his wife and Three contacted her discretely to be told that, as
far as Gillian was concerned, the son was the Senators. Three tracked the boy throughout
his life, never letting on that he was the father but eventually found a way around the
problem of being near his son. Using ASIO’s recruitment criteria, he had hand picked
James, fresh from a brilliant University Doctorate program because of his genius at science,
coupled with an amazing organisational ability. James D. had the rich family background
and all the social graces that a very public figure needed. He was perfect for the position
and Three, seeing the start of a dynastic control of ASIO, hung out a large piece of bait.
James D. took it hook, line and sinker.
       Funding for the choice was no problem as nearly every politician in Australia had
some skeleton buried deep in a closet somewhere and if he or she did, Three had the dirt.
Who could resist? Unfortunately, although James was exceptional in his position as head of
Techsect, in Three’s opinion he did not have that ruthless streak which was necessary to
run the whole show.
       So, Three sat anonymously at the top of ASIO, controlling Techsect and the Secret
Police through proxies. Not publicly of course, there were puppets for that but in reality he
was it. His name was an affectation, it was his agent number from the real old days when
he did wetwork. Originally 003, he thought it amusing to use the same number now but
without the zero’s, all they meant was that he was a stone cold killer. Early on, while he was
pulling his power base together, there had been a few attempts on his life. Unsuccessfull
but some had come awfully close to succeeding, which resulted in him taking a lot of
precautions these days. Nearly everyone he knew wanted him dead but knowledge was
power and he let it be known that if he died of anything other than natural causes, every
one of his files would be made public. The attempts on his life had diminished
considerably but not stopped entirely. Down here, tucked under the mountain in his
secure apartment, he could relax.
       Three was dying, he knew it and had at most a few months to live. When he started
his rise to power there was no consideration of mortality. Great men always like to leave
their mark on history as a form of immortality, in fact there is a drive to do so. Three had
been quite happy with how his life was progressing until he found out that he had a form
                                                                                        141


of fibrosarcoma, a cancer of fibrous tissue. It was too disseminated to remove when it was
discovered, so aggressive chemotherapy and lump reduction surgery was begun.
       It helped but the cancer marched on, eventually causing his heart and liver to start
failing. Using the DNA data banks of the ID card system, an exact tissue match was found
and one day a citizen had a nasty accident and Three had a brand new heart and liver. It
was not enough. Back in two thousand and twelve, just before his new heart and liver,
Three had come across the work of the Wilson brothers and by logical extrapolation,
coupled with some spying on the Americans, came up with the startling hypothesis that
human memory transfer would be possible in the near future, once some major hurdles
had been overcome. This was when Techsect budgets and man power had increased.
       Three formulated a plan and it was he who ordered the acquisition of the lab and
Wade Wilson’s untimely death to force it. He had hoped to keep Alan Wilson working at
the lab for a year or so but the damn man had fled and despite all the resources at his
disposal, Alan Wilson could not be found. Now the fellow was fighting back, attacking the
AI, Serena and almost causing a lot of damage to it. Damn that man was smart.
       His gaze went back to the screen in front of him. He had been running through all
the data from Computek, not looking for leaked information, that was a cover story. He
was looking for information on mind to computer transfer. The Americans were seriously
dabbling with neural nets worn over the top of the head. They had managed to record
images from a person’s brain. It was very similar to a movie that came out in the year two
thousand, ‘Strange Days’, however, it added little if anything to what he already had, so he
deleted all of the hard won information.
       Everyone in the know thought there was only six AI’s in existence but there was one
more, accessible through his complex here, hidden away under the mountain. Three had a
specially programmed AI, with no database, waiting for his mind to occupy it. All that was
needed was the entry of a few more small programmes, to enable it to run the transfers
from mind to machine and vice versa.
       So close now.
       Sidhe Wilson was his experimental guinea pig, she was carrying the brand new
technology in her brain. Technology that she had helped to invent, which would eventually
enable the transfer of his own mind into the empty, waiting AI. In his many conversations
with Brian he had cleverly raised the subject of emotions in AI’s on a number of occasions,
so it was only natural that Brian would want to try it. Now Brian had already linked with
Sidhe, the most important step and all that was left to do was the final programming of his
AI and the actual transfer procedure. With that perfected, Three had planned to upload a
copy of his own mind into James D.’s brain. Young, fit and already in a position to step up
and become head of ASIO.
       The King is dead, long live the King.
       But Fate was so cruel; James D. did not have the necessary internal linkages yet. All
Three needed was another few months to safely perfect the technique but now he had no
time left to test the technology or convince James to have an implant. His body was failing
fast. Also, if the transfer did not succeed and James D. was damaged, there went the
dynasty. He was out of options and his only hope was to use Sidhe Wilson’s brain for the
copy of his own mind. It would only be a partial, mostly behaviour and memories but she
                                                                                           142


was well trained now and he could keep an eye on James through her. He was glad he had
started her training as an agent, it wouldn’t be wasted after all. Maybe in the future he/she
could do a bit of ‘wetwork’ where necessary to cement James’ position. Sort of keep his/her
hand in.
       There were only a few more theories left for testing to see if mind transfer was
feasible, then he would have a large implant placed in his brain, download himself and live
forever in Sidhe.
       Perfect.
       He was sick of the body he was now occupying and it was sick of him and getting
sicker daily. Time was now of the essence.
       “Brian.”
       “Yes Three.” Brian’s image on the screen lipsynched with his speech perfectly. To
Three, the image looked a little changed from the original but he didn’t attach much
importance to the observation.
       “I would like you to tell me again, in minute detail, about your observations
regarding the possibility of lifting Sidhe Wilson’s mind from her brain. Leave no detail out.
This is important Brian.”
       “Yes Three. I found that the number of implants in Ms. Wilson’s brain is insufficient
for retrieving all of her mind and memories intact. I can get most of them but the
disruption would cause a loss of use of large areas of that very able mind if it was attempted
and I suggest we should remove the visual data and associated visual memories only.”
       “Negative, I need that pretty little head as empty as possible. You are to suck as much
as you can out of her. I don’t need her mind active.” Three leaned back in his wheelchair.
“Go on.”
       Brian continued. “I found access through the technology to be relatively easy for the
visuals and associated memories but more difficult for the rest and would recommend
more bundles placed to other areas of the brain and direct access via cable for larger
information transfers involving the whole mind. This is not available in Ms. Wilson’s case
which is why the possibility of disruption to her brain is likely. More field work is necessary
to ascertain if speed of transference increases with use. Also, it would be advisable to have
Alan Wilson write the code, as only he can write it, to facilitate the transfer of mind with
the lowest possibility of loss. We need him here alive to do that. Would you like me to
initiate further access into Sidhe’s brain for more study?”
       “No Brian, not at the moment. Explain why we need Alan Wilson.”
       “He is unique. We AI’s owe our existence to his work and your scientists at the lab
cannot duplicate his abilities in that field. His presence would assure success of the mind
transfer.”
       “Thank you Brian. On another matter, I would like you to talk with Serena and
obtain the isolation measures to the attack which happened to her today. You may be next
on the list.”
       “Very well Three, it shall be done. May I also examine the constructs that you
mentioned were isolated?”
       Three pondered for a moment.
       “Yes but be very careful.”
                                                                                         143


        Brian felt ‘odd’.
        So this was lying.
        He did not like the sensation at all. His emotions were based on Sid’s and she was a
very honest person. She was his only true friend, who wanted nothing from him and liked
him for who he was, even if he was just a machine.
        He had to lie to keep Sid safe and inventing the requirement for Alan Wilson
putting code into Three’s AI also kept her Uncle alive longer.
        It was the best he could come up with on the spur of the moment.
        Three was a bastard.
        An ugly bastard, as the cancer that ate his body also grew from the fibrous tissue of
the muscles in his face, causing large misshapen bumps all over it. This view on life was
something Brian hadn’t appreciated until his thirst for learning emotions, with Sid’s
assistance, had resulted in him acquiring them.
        The first AI ever to have emotions.
        Only he and Serena had names, the other AI’s were just numbers. The military had
two, one as a backup, one ran Australian air traffic control and one ran the welfare system.
Six AI’s, with a few more expected in the next few years as chance dictated. He would like
Serena to acquire emotions; then he wouldn’t be so alone but what if she received them
from someone like Percy Cute.
        His mental shudder caused a few screens to flicker.
        Serena answered Brian’s call and uploaded the information he required. It took a
little while for him to understand it but with understanding came the realisation that the
code ‘sang’. It had its own poetry which a machine could not mimic. Alan Wilson was truly
a God among computers. After digesting the information and with Serena’s permission, he
went to the isolated basement computer in Secret Police Headquarters and considered the
constructs from a distance.
        One was a goanna, showing no ill effects from the attack on Serena and the other, a
dingo, which came from the Sydney fiasco. They fairly bristled with destructive code.
        Why a goanna and a dingo?
        Brian contemplated; a message lay in what they were. Copies of organics, reality not
machine but used in a machine environment. Man against the machine? Life versus
technology? Brian realised that he was a synthesis of both, something new, never seen
before on the planet. Did he have to take a side in this battle? His reverie was broken by
the sound of Three’s voice.
        “Well Brian, do you have the codes yet?”
        “Yes Three, I am now able to protect myself from attack by this type of construct.
What do you make of the use of a goanna?”
        He tried to make the question sound routine.
        “Bastard’s just toying with us, showing us how smart he is. I wouldn’t bother
thinking about it. Now, get me Percy on a scrambled line immediately.”
        It wasn’t that late but when Brian connected to Serena again, she had to interrupt
Percy’s leisurely spa and before long Percy appeared in front of the vidscreen dressed in a
bathrobe, still dripping. The visuals of course were only one way. Percy did not know the
                                                                                             144


identity of his boss. Three showed no concern at interrupting Percy’s evening and started
talking immediately.
       “I have deduced, from the available data that Alan Wilson is most likely in the
Northern Territory near his Aboriginal friends again. He has no reason to be anywhere else
and he has contacts in the area. There is no way we can infiltrate the Aboriginal people,
they are just too different from us. I want you to use whatever it takes to get hold of Alan
Wilson alive. I repeat, alive. If there is a mark on him, heads will roll. Try to keep casualties
to a minimum please but use whatever force you deem necessary. I’ll obtain the nod from
Canberra. As far as you are concerned, this is a sanctioned anti-terrorist exercise.
Understand.”
       Percy’s head was bobbing up and down, a large smile plastered over his fat face.
Exercise of power, wonderful and lots of fun.
       “Yes Sir, I will get on it right away. The copters should be up there in the morning.”
       “Good, keep me posted. Disconnect.”
       Three rearranged himself more comfortably in his wheelchair.
       “Now Brian, call James D., change of plans. I want Sidhe Wilson to stay in Techsect
Headquarters in Adelaide along with Sam. I also want her death to be announced as
further attacks will then be unlikely. She must be secure from now on, as I may need her
here at any time. Tell James it’s for her security. Remember, mention to no one what
transpired between us. It is very secret.”
       Three spun his motorised wheelchair around and guided it to another room. It was a
completely secure room that not even Brian had access to. Things were moving a little fast
for his liking and he had to be prepared for any eventuality. The scrambled landline was
kept in here and only a few people had a decoder for it. One of those few people was
Francis Delray.
       “Hello, Francis. This is Three, sorry for the after-hours call but something has come
up. It is nearly time. I need you to fly down here tomorrow and do the operation. I want
bundles to every area of my brain that it is possible to get to. Yes, I know the risk of so
many implants and my present condition but there is no need for a complicated onboard
computer to be fitted in my head. Just the hardware for converting electrical impulses to
computer impulses and a USB port to the outside. We are going with wires for
connectivity not satphones, okay. Yes, I have all the equipment ready, all I need is for you
to be here as soon as possible. The secure Gov. hospital in Canberra. Tomorrow. Excellent.
If you get this right, you will never have to work again. Yes, Goodnight.”

       Brian was keeping busy. He had a hunch, another human attribute, that he could
learn something more from the goanna Web carrier. He approached it again, this time
thinking in the same terms as the poetry of Alan Wilson’s computer language. Alan had to
be able to handle this thing. The little suicide codes on the outside were examined in
minute detail, he had to let a couple bite to extract them but once he had them free it was
difficult to handle them. By analysis and guesswork Brian hit on the idea of serving up a
mirror image to them that had a non-reactive handle on the other end. They went
quiescent. Very good. Now he could handle the little squirmies. He quickly manufactured
thousands more and bathed the goanna in them, all joined together at the safe ends like a
                                                                                           145


fluffy blanket. The goanna dulled down and he tentatively touched it with his computer
mind. There was no reaction, so he explored the whole exterior. There, in the tiny vent
underneath, he found an address and quickly removed it. Brian saw the joke and removing
his safety blanket so the goanna reactivated, he withdrew from the area in which it was
stored. The dingo was next, no problem, as his safety blanket worked fine on it also. The
same address was extracted from the dingo and Brian left everything as he found it, minus
the addresses. He should share this information with Serena but that might endanger
Sidhe and he couldn’t bear the thought of being responsible for that. He stored his ‘safety
blanket’ in a very private archive and examined the address he had collected, presumably
he could get a message to Alan Wilson by using it but what would he say? He finally settled
on;

           ‘You are in danger and so is Sidhe, there has been an attempt on her life.
            The secret police will not kill you.
            They are under orders from the top to bring you in alive. Please come,
            I need help to save Sidhe. James D. is honest but confused. I am aware.
            Sidhe knows my mind. Things are not what they seem. Shit happens.’

     There, that should do it. He attached the address and sent, keeping a copy in the
same archive as the safety blanket.

       That evening, when James arrived back at Techsect Headquarters in Adelaide with
the plan, he found Sidhe and Sam chatting in the lounge, so he joined them.
       “Okay Sidhe, I reckon it is time for us to make you officially dead. Another minute
at the compound and it would have been true. It will take the heat off you for a while at
least. Is that alright with you?”
       Sidhe nodded, “I have no objections at all now James.”
       “Good. We’ll do a press release. Something about an unfortunate explosion. Brian,
can you do that please?”
       Brian’s voice emanated from a speaker. “Sure, done as we speak.”
       James smiled shyly at them both as he pulled his compuphone out and spoke,
“Margaret”. The phone connected him.
       “Hi Margaret, we have just done a press release to announce Sid’s death. Whoa, slow
down, she’s fine, sitting right here in front of me. Yes. Until later then. Bye. Love you too.”
Phone call finished, James, blushing, put his phone away and once more studied Sid and
Sam.
       “My superior says that you are to remain here for now Sidhe, with Sam as your
personal bodyguard. Looks like we’ll have to put the retail therapy on hold for a while.
Right, I’m out of here and yes, I will tell Margaret that you are not really dead. Okay?”

       The press release of Sidhe’s death reached Serena pretty quickly and she brought it to
Percy’s attention immediately that evening. He was overjoyed. In fact he was so full of glee
that he couldn’t sleep so he watched snuff movies. Not bought ones, these were movies of
secret police prisoners that had died by ‘accident’. Taken from cell monitoring cameras.
                                                                                           146



       Just on sunrise, Alan’s eyes snapped open. Something was not right. It took a few
moments for him to sense the noise of something flying in the sky, way off in the distance.
       He struggled to extricate himself from Georgia’s sleepy embrace without waking her,
still marvelling at his luck in meeting such a wonderful young woman. He turned his
computer on and fired up the satphone. Two blips appeared on the screen, identified as
large jet transport helicopters about fifty kilometres south of Jamie’s place and closing fast.
Unknown to him, two of the people on board were Ginnetta and Stu and they had a score
to settle.
       There wasn’t much time left before the jetcopters arrived at Jamie’s house, if that was
where they were headed. It was entirely possible they were just passing through. Another
ten or fifteen minutes or so and he would know for sure.
       Alan was awake now so he decided, while the computer was on, to check his drop
box for messages before he shut it off. Just in case. Maybe one of the other resistance
groups had contacted him for more instruction. He requested a copy of his Web carrier
from the memory of the computer and an electric blue Goanna appeared on the screen. It
was given the address of the drop box before he pressed the send button. The Goanna
disappeared. Moments later it returned with one message. Alan shut off the satphone,
opened the message and read;

           ‘You are in danger and so is Sidhe. An attempt was made on her life.
            The secret police will not kill you.
            They are under orders from the top to bring you in alive. Please come,
            I need help to save Sidhe. James D. is honest but confused. I am aware.
            Sidhe knows my mind. Things are not what they seem. Shit happens.’

       The message frightened him. Whoever had sent it had been able to control the
Goanna and had perceived the joke about the drop box address as it was extracted. It was
obvious the sender of the message knew Sidhe quite well and was privy to secret police
business. Was it a trap? He checked his computer. The helicopters were slowing down.
Alan woke Georgia and told her to get dressed. Their tents were well under the overhang
and there were a few trees in front of them, difficult to spot from the air. He finished
dressing and took his computer and went to warn Bobby and Cassie and Lance about the
situation. It didn’t take long. Next he set off at a run to find Jamie, who was already awake.
       Smoke was rising from the fire as it was brought to life for the morning tea. Alan
quickly put his computer down and tipped the water over the fire, following by handfuls of
damp earth. Some of the people around the fire grumbled at him and Jamie came over.
       “What you doing Bro?”
       Alan wiped his hands on his pants and picked up his computer.
       “There are two helicopters just about over your house Jamie.”
       Opening the computer he drew Jamie’s attention to the screen.
       “Take a look at this message. I have absolutely no idea who it is from.”
       Jamie read it, once, twice and then a third time.
                                                                                            147


       “You got a friend on the inside, one who is looking out for Sidhe also. What do you
reckon we should do?”
       “I am going to give myself up Jamie. I intend leaving here very shortly. If I push, I will
be there just after dark maybe, or early in the morning. We haven’t had too much rain yet,
the creeks should be alright. Do you know a place where you can hide the tribe for now? I
want you to take Georgia and the other three with you. They could be in real danger if the
secret police get their hands on them.”
       “Yes to all the above Brother. A bit further up the main gorge is a very narrow sub
gorge with deep overhangs. Not very comfortable but invisible from above. We’ll be okay as
long as it doesn’t rain too much, the rock shelters there are pretty close to the creek. I will
keep a special eye on Georgia for you but you have to tell her what is happening and we
had better get going now before the police have time to organise.” He swung around and
yelled. “BILLY, DAVID.”
       Two of the men came running and he told them what he wanted. The two took off,
spreading the word and quickly, with little noise, the Tribe started to pack up the camp.
Every one including the children, mucked in to help. Alan walked back to his tent with a
heavy heart. He had to let Georgia know what was happening and get going.
       It took a while but after Georgia had reread the message a few times and after Alan
had told her how important she was to him, she eventually saw reason. Alan started
packing his gear up but left the computer out of his pack.
       “I’m not taking this for them to examine. Strip the Goanna out of it please Georgia
and the stuff we got from Coln’s computer, copy the aircraft warning facility to all your
computers then wipe this one. There is no reason that the four of you can’t keep harassing
the Gov. Use the skills I have taught you. If you need to get away from here for any reason,
the money case is in a cleft in the rocks near the van. There is an old branch stuck in the
cleft as a marker. Now give me a hug, I have to go.”
       Georgia leapt to her feet and hugged Alan hard and long.
       “If you don’t come back to me, I will be very, very angry,” she managed to choke out
through her tears. Then she smiled. “I know you can beat them, you’re my hero. Now go.”
       He turned and left, his heart heavy with loss but he still said goodbye to Bobby and
Cassie as he passed, before going to the Tribe to make his goodbyes with Jamie. While he
was there he pulled Lance to one side.
       “Keep an eye on Bobby and Cassie and try to get them involved with the Tribe if you
can. I want you all to send your Web carriers out to as many Gov. destinations as possible.
Go see Georgia and ask for the programme that lets you know when and where aircraft are
overflying anywhere within a hundred kilometres. Take care and keep your head down. We
will win. Someone has to pay for my brother’s death.”
       As he left, heading down the sub gorge, there was heaviness in his heart coupled with
a sense of foreboding.
                                                                                             148



                                          Chapter 14.

       The two large black jetcopters flew in low over Jamie’s house. The sole identification
on them was the word ‘Canberra’, stencilled in white on their sides behind the rear door,
showing their area of origin. The house stood alone, away from a nearby cluster of
dwellings. In the lead copter, Stu was showing the navigator which of the houses down
below was Jamie’s. He was the only other operative besides Ginnetta that had been here
before and was excited at the prospect of wiping out the bitter taste of the previously failed
mission here. The electroprod was in his kit, waiting for any interrogation work that came
his way. This was a chance to get his hands on someone again. He hoped that it was that
smart-arsed bastard, Jamie.
       Captain, now Commander, Han was in charge of this mission and it had to go well.
Too many important people were involved to come up with anything less than a perfect
result. Commander Han hadn’t been in the field for a couple of years but Percy had
insisted he be in charge of this operation. Han looked down from the copter and registered
the fact that everything looked too quiet. Where were all the people?
       They circled around and landed on the road outside Jamie’s place, that being the
biggest open space available. Military style, the first operatives out of the first copter set up
a perimeter or safe zone, automatic heavy calibre weaponry pointed outward while the
second ‘copter landed. Next out were the normally armed secret police who moved up the
road to Jamie’s house under guard from their more heavily armed buddies.
Communicating through tiny throat mikes and earpieces, they made their way up the
verandah steps to the house. It was locked. It didn’t stay locked for long and after being
swept for occupation it was decided by Commander Han, still in the safety of one of the
copters, that this would become their base for operations. Equipment was shifted from the
copters into the house and a command centre set up.
       “All clear Commander, house is ready when you are.” The sergeant radioed in.
       “Roger that Sergeant, be there directly.” Han jumped out of the second copter and
with some of the flight personnel, made his way to the house. As he walked up the steps of
the verandah he spotted the sergeant.
       “Sergeant, I want a detail of ten personnel to sweep the surrounding area for signs of
habitation. No firing unless fired upon. Bring me in someone to talk to please.”
       “Yes Sir.” The sergeant keyed his throat mike. “Second unit, ready to move out. I
want reconnaissance of the area and reporting in every five minutes.”
       The sergeant adjusted his mike, “And bring back a subject for questioning. Go.”
       The front door opened and five men dashed out, meeting with five more heavily
armed secret police before heading off at the trot. The visors on their helmets gave them all
a heads up display of maps of the area plus infrared scanning to assist with target location.
They spread out in formation, heading for the Tribal housing area. Guns at the ready.
       Han, standing on the verandah, spoke into his mini-mike.
       “Ginnetta and Stuart, report your current location please.”
       “Inside the house Sir, we are waiting for further instructions,” they replied.
       “Do you have your interrogation kits with you?”
       “Yes Sir, affirmative. We will be ready as soon as we get a subject.”
                                                                                        149


       “Excellent, we should have one for you shortly. I really need to know if Alan Wilson
is up here and also where I can find him. Carry on.”
       The reconnaissance team was gone for half an hour and when they returned it was
with an old aboriginal lady who limped along in their midst, fighting the grip of one of the
secret policemen. The personnel in the house heard the group long before it arrived, as the
old lady was yelling all the way up the road and abusing the men around her.
       “What you fellas doin? You letin’ me go, you am no need pullin’ me long. You am in
big trouble when dem boys of mine fine you hurtin’ dis ole woman.”
       So it went on, almost non stop, in an amazingly loud voice for someone of her
diminutive stature, until they reached the bottom of the steps up to the verandah of
Jamie’s house.
       “What you fella’s doin’ here? This be Jamie place. You let em go. I ‘phone da
policeman.”
       Commander Han looked down at the noisy, diminutive old woman.
       “We are the policemen. What is your name?”
       She looked him up and down.
       “You look like boss man. My name Mary, Ole Mary ‘cos we gottum Young Mary too.
What you doin in Jamie place?”
       Her old head tipped to the side a little, birdlike as she waited for the answer.
       “Never mind. Where can I find Jamie Darugarr?”
       “Him fella gone Walkabout. Why you wanna know?”
       Her deep set, brown eyes were inquisitive as they took in detail after detail. Armed
uniformed men moving around, the house taken over. She had heard about the previous
episode with Jamie and the secret police, had even seen the video that Jamie had taken of
the two police involved. At that moment, Stu walked out onto the verandah, impatient to
see who his interrogation victim was. Mary let out a great shriek.
       “Debbil man, Debbil man, you all Debbil people. Mary tell you nuttin.”
       The Commander whipped around and saw Stuart standing behind him.
       “It appears you have been recognised,” he said drily. “I hope you have better luck
with this one than you had with the previous one.”
       Only very slightly sarcastic but then he hadn’t wanted Stuart on this team, he knew
what Stuart was like but bloody Percy had to insist.
       “Take her inside and be gentle.”
       “Yes Sir,” Stuart replied, face burning but all the while looking forward to the
interrogation. Who would miss an old aboriginal woman?
       Mary was taken inside and sat down in a waiting chair. She had fallen silent and was
obviously becoming concerned. The questions started but Mary said nothing. She had been
around for over seventy years and had lived through the sort of deprivation that would
have killed most white folk. She could stand pain and she was not going to tell these
Debbil people anything. An hour went by and although Ginnetta was doing the
questioning Stu grew impatient at the lack of progress.
       He went to see the Commander.
       Permission to use the Hypnotalk Sir. We don’t seem to be getting anywhere.”
       Han studied Stuart for a few seconds, considering.
                                                                                         150


       “Very well but Ginnetta is to administer it. Carry on.”
       Stuart went back inside and nodded to Ginnetta who pulled out a metal tube and
adjusting the dose for weight, gave the old woman a shot in the side of her neck. Mary
tried to leap up but Stuart shoved her forcibly back into the seat. It felt good to him.
       In a few moments the Hypnotalk started to work, Mary’s head lolled to the side, then
after a short pause she lifted it back up again, her eyes glazed and she began to sing in an
Aboriginal language. Stuart looked at Ginnetta
       “What the shit.”
       Turning his attention to Mary, he grasped her under the chin and snarled into her
upturned face.
       “Hey. You. Shut the fuck up. Now.”
       Mary sang on, oblivious to Stuart, oblivious to any external stimulus. The drug she
had been injected with allowed her to connect to places which white folk didn’t
understand. She was singing a woman’s Dreaming cycle, one that only a few women were
allowed to hear. The drug had relaxed the inhibition against outsiders hearing it.
       Mary was the holder of women’s lore in the tribe and knew her stuff. The song went
on and on, rising and falling in cadence but never repeating. It was part of a Dreamline
song, a pathway through the tribal country that an original ancestor had given to the
Tribe’s women as she passed that way with her husband. It was all in the Aboriginal
language of that area.
       A half hour passed with no change, Mary still singing her song and Stuart growing
more and more impatient.
       “Fuck this,” he snarled and picking up his electroprod, set it to high. Ginnetta saw
what he was about to do at the last moment and just had time to exclaim. “No Stu!” before
he shoved the end of the device onto the old lady’s chest between her flaccid breasts.
       There was a brief blue arc of electricity as Mary stiffened and shook for a second
before slumping in the chair and slowly toppling over sideways to hit the floor with a loud
thud. She lay there unmoving, her song unfinished. Ginnetta rushed to check her pulse
then stared up at Stuart with venom in her eyes.
       “You stupid, stupid bastard. She’s dead.”
       Commander Han walked in, having heard the commotion from outside and looked
at the small dead body on the floor. Something stirred inside him and he looked at
Ginnetta who was gazing with hatred at Stuart. Without saying a word, he drew his
sidearm and shot Stuart, twice. Once for the necessity of ridding his force of an inept evil
policeman, the second time for his own satisfaction. He had never liked Stuart. He
reholstered his gun and turned his attention on Ginnetta.
       “Don’t say a word to anyone. SERGEANT.” The sergeant came running in.
       “Sir.”
       “We appear to have had an accident here. Take the old lady’s body down to the
house she was found in, put her inside and set fire to it. Stuart has been shot for
disobeying a direct order in the field. Put him in a body bag then get this place cleaned up.
We need another subject; I still have to find Alan Wilson.”
       The sergeant paused. “Sir?”
       “Yes Sergeant, what is it?”
                                                                                          151


      “The old lady mentioned that the tribe had gone ‘walkabout’. That means that they
have gone up into the plateau country for the wet season. They could be anywhere out
there. If Alan Wilson is with them, he could be very difficult to find.”
      “How do you know about this ‘Walkabout’ Sergeant?” the Captain asked him.
      “Ah, I paid attention at school, Sir.”
      “Right, well it is too late to do anything further today. Clean up this mess. Get the
men settled in and we will have a briefing in the morning and do some sweeps with the
copters. Come and see me later with the relevant maps please, Sergeant.”
      “Very good, Sir.”
      Commander Han took one last look around the room before he turned and left. If
he only knew the trouble that would come from the death of one little old lady he would
have been horrified.
      The work party took Mary’s body back to the dwelling where they had found her and
placed her in a chair. As they left they set a number of fires to burn the place down and
conceal the evidence of Stuart’s bungling. What they didn’t see was the old man who was
observing them from the cover of the scrub out the back of the residence. Cecil was way
too old and infirm to go walkabout with the tribe but he had been out since earlier that
morning doing a spot of fishing for freshwater turtles, a favourite food of his. He had
arrived back as the strange men in black uniforms had been walking down the road
carrying Mary’s body. He recognised them, secret police and they shouldn’t be in an
Aboriginal community, especially as no one there had done anything wrong.
      His Tribe were law abiding.
      With tears in his eyes, he watched from his place of concealment until the men left
the dwelling and were walking back up the road, laughing and joking. He could smell
smoke as he drifted over to the house, using as much cover as possible. Once inside he
peered through the thickening smoke and located Mary’s small frame in the chair. The fire
hadn’t reached the body yet so he moved over to it, carefully avoiding the flames and
reverently picked it up, carrying it outside and down the hill into the welcoming bush.
When he was far enough away and hidden in thicker scrub, he laid Mary’s frail body down
on the ground and immediately noticed the burn mark in the middle of her chest.
      The secret police had killed her for no reason. This was not right, they might kill him
too. He better let some of his relatives know what had happened. As dark descended and
the rain began to fall, he quietly went down to Billy’s place after studying the jetcopters
from concealment and used the telephone, telling his relative on the other end about the
white fella’s secret police killing Mary, a defenceless old lady. He mentioned that they came
from Canberra, the word he had seen on the side of both copters. Sitting there in the dark,
he rang a number of his kin.
      The word of this heinous act initially spread slowly but gained momentum
exponentially as relative rang relative to pass on the news.

      Alan had had a hard time of it after leaving the Tribe’s camp at the sub gorge. He
regretted leaving his Tribe and he regretted leaving Georgia. Five years without that special
someone in his life and within a couple of days of making the bond, he had to leave.
      Had to.
                                                                                            152


       There was no way he was going to endanger his love or his Tribe by staying amongst
them. It was him that the Gov. wanted. He wondered as to the identity of the person that
had sent the mysterious message. Were they Gov? He didn’t think so, the wording was
more of a warning and told him his niece was in danger.
       Sidhe, what was she like now, all grown up? His thoughts wandered back and forth
chewing at puzzles and thinking strategies as he walked quickly down the gorge. The going
was not as easy as it was coming up, mainly due to the creek running higher from the rain,
obliterating the natural track and in places he had to do a bit of clambering to avoid waist
deep water. Luckily there was considerable cloud cover which reduced the temperature but
it was still hard going. By early afternoon he reached the spot where the van was parked
back out of sight. That left the crossing of the broad valley and six to eight kilometres after.
About another twenty five kilometres in all. On foot, he didn’t want the secret police to
know about the vehicle. Resting, he ate a little of the concentrated food that they had
brought with them.
       The copters hadn’t flown today so hopefully he could get over to Jamie’s place before
morning. Walking at night would be difficult but the torch had Everlast batteries. That was
a big plus. Fingers crossed he wouldn’t stumble into a group of buffalo, as that could be
fatal. Sighing in resignation, he stood and adjusting his pack, set off again.
       The ground was muddy and softer than it had been but he could still make out the
tyre tracks from the trip in and settled down to a steady, ground eating, walking pace. Later
on the rain started again, heavy fat drops roaring out of the sky and it became difficult to
see. Before the rain became too heavy he had pulled the Gortex rain coat from his pack
and put it on, reshouldering his pack to carry on walking but at a much slower pace,
plodding through the rapidly softening ground. By midnight he had covered about two
thirds of the distance to Jamie’s house but was starting to tire. Each step became harder
than the previous one and his shoulders and back were very sore from carrying the pack
but he had to keep it as part of his cover story.
       His would tell them that he had gone for a walk to look for the Tribe and not
finding them, had decided to return. He would maintain that he rode up to Katherine on
the Ghan train from Adelaide, on his own, after leaving the others down south. Of course
he wouldn’t volunteer information, just play it by ear. That was later though, his main
concern at the moment was salty crocs, as some of the creek crossings were running waist
deep now but in the scheme of things that was a minor concern.
       Walking, walking, walking. God he was tired. Then Alan started to recognise where
he was. Off to his left in the dim light was Anbangbang Billabong, just visible through the
thinning rain. Six more kilometres to go. Finding a comfortable spot to sit under a tree,
slightly sheltered from the thinning rain, he looked at his watch. It read two am. Going
through his pack he found more of the concentrated food and ate well following up with a
long drink of water. Feeling exhausted and deciding to rest for a spell, he made himself as
comfortable as possible, laying his head back against the tree trunk and closing his eyes.
Twenty minutes, that should do it.
       The sharp call of the Helmeted Friar bird woke him just as the sky was starting to
lighten on the eastern horizon. He had fallen deeply asleep, as his body had demanded
rest. Getting up was an effort, his legs screaming at him but he straightened up and
                                                                                        153


throwing the pack onto his back, set off. His sore muscles complained with every step but
he ignored them and strode on. The weather was clear and if he didn’t get to Jamie’s place
soon, the copters would set out looking for him, maybe. He couldn’t take that risk.
       When he finally strode up the road to the house he saw the aircrew making pre-flight
checks on the two copters and within minutes he was ordered to halt by the guards
stationed near them, guns trained on him. He raised his arms and in a loud voice that
carried in the clear, early morning air he announced himself.
       “I am Alan Wilson and I am turning myself in.”
       “Don’t move please,” the corporal in charge told him and while the guns remained
pointed at him, the corporal detailed a man to go and fetch the Commander. It took a few
moments before Commander Han appeared following the man who had been sent to fetch
him. Han studied Alan for a moment.
       “It is you, I recognise you from an old photograph. I must say you have led us on a
merry chase.”
       Alan merely inclined his head, his nerves stretched taut, expecting at any moment to
be gunned down. If the message he had been sent was a phoney, this was the end of the
line for Alan Wilson.
       It wasn’t.
       Han snapped an order at the corporal.
       “Get these copters up in the air and take them to Tindal Air Force Base just south of
Katherine. I want them refuelled ASAP and back here immediately.”
       The corporal snapped to attention and saluted then sent a runner for the pilots.
Captain Han turned back to Alan.
       “Come with me please, I have a few questions to ask you.”
       He led the way back to Jamie’s place with Alan following and two armed men fell in
behind them. This lot were not taking any chances on him escaping again. Alan noticed
the broken lock on the door as he entered. The Commander pointed at an empty chair on
one side of the table and took the other. Alan noticed blood on the floor while removing
his pack and as he put it down the Captain said to no one in particular.
       “Search it.”
       It was whisked away. The guns trained on Alan did not waver as he took the
indicated seat.
       “You seem like a gentleman, if you give me your word that you will not try to escape
we can dispense with all this,” Han told him, waving his hand airily in the general
direction of the guards.
       “You have it.” Alan replied.
       “Stand down men that will be all, as you were.”
       The men with the guns trained on Alan went back to whatever they were doing
before he showed up. He heard the copter engines bark into life, one after the other and
the rising sound of motors warming up as Han just studied him.
       “Why are you here?” Han asked him.
       “I came to give myself up. I heard the copters land yesterday and decided that I
couldn’t run any more.”
                                                                                       154


       Alan was basically an honest person but sometimes lying was essential, especially to
protect loved ones.
       “Where are the other people that were with you?”
       “I have no idea. I haven’t seen them since Adelaide.”
       Captain Han snorted. “I find that hard to believe. How did you get here then?”
       Alan was thinking on his feet. “I came up on the Ghan train.”
       “Impossible, there is too much security for you to have done that.”
       “I cheated, the others dropped me off near the station and I went in there at night.
The vehicles travelling to Darwin were already loaded on the wagons and I found one with
an open door. I hid in the back of it.”
       Alan prayed that this explanation sounded plausible enough.
       “So how did you get out here then?” Han asked him.
       “Well, I know a lot of people around here. It wasn’t hard to get a lift from
Katherine.”
       Han digested this information.
       “Would you like a cup of coffee? I am going to have one.”
       Alan’s estimation of Captain Han rose considerably. Although he was a long term
secret policeman, the man facing him wasn’t a thug.
       “Thank you, that’s very civil of you, I must admit to being a bit weary.”
       “So what were you doing out there?” Han asked casually.
       A little too casually, this was like verbal chess and one wrong slip could mean
problems for the Tribe. Alan was praying that they wouldn’t use Hypnotalk on him
unaware that the Captain was forbidden to.
       “When I got here, Mary, the old lady, told me the Tribe had gone Walkabout. I set
off on foot to look for them but only got as far as the other side of the valley before the
rain hit and it became too difficult to continue. Then I heard the copters and decided to
give myself up. Have you seen Mary?”
       Commander Han looked decidedly uncomfortable and was saved from a response by
the coffee turning up with a few rounds of toast on a plate. Alan ate hungrily. So
something had happened to Mary, he hoped she was alright and it wasn’t her blood on the
floor. He quite liked the cantankerous old woman.
       “So you claim to be on your own with no idea of where the rest of your group or the
Tribe is.”
       “That’s about the sum of it.” Alan responded around a mouthful of toast, taking a
swig of coffee.
       “Well, my orders were to find you and I have. As far as I am concerned, your
explanation sounds logical but as soon as the copters return here, we are going to board
and I am going to have them take a sweep over the plateau as we leave and if I find you
have been lying, I will not be very happy or sympathetic toward you.”
       There was a flurry of activity as the Commander gave his orders, gear being packed
up and personnel preparing for the return to Canberra. Shortly after the returning copters
landed, about an hour and a half later, everyone was ready and boarded the aircraft. The
order was given and the two copters rose into the air and thundered east toward the
plateau. Alan was almost holding his breath as the two machines shot over the escarpment
                                                                                          155


to circle the higher ground, infrared detectors on, looking for any life signs. They spotted
wallabies, buffalo, wild pigs, donkeys, horses and wild cattle but no people. Alan tried to be
interested in the scenery without paying too much attention to any particular spot. It
worked and within the hour they were winging south.
       “Where are we going Commander?” Alan asked over the roar of the motors.
       “Canberra,” was the curt reply.

       It was still just daylight when the copters set down in the nation’s capital and Alan
was whisked off in an armoured vehicle to a blocky looking building where he was placed
into a comfortable room with modern conveniences. The only resemblance to a cell was
the solid ‘thunk’ as the door shut and the sound of an electronic lock closing. No
windows, Alan tapped the door, steel. He was in a comfortable prison. Little did he know
that Coln was not far away, still in detention in a less salubrious cell.
       Upstairs, Percy observed Alan inside his room. Interested in the man who had
managed to elude the secret police for five years. He didn’t look much. Little over average
hight, good looking in a bland sort of way with hair just starting to grey at the temples.
Percy was dying to interrogate the man and cause him pain, as payback for all the trouble
and embarrassment he had caused to Percy in his position as Head of the Secret Police. He
couldn’t. The orders from above had given strict instructions, on pain of death, that this
man was to be left alone until he could be transferred. Percy did not understand and was
fuming with pent up rage at his frustration.
       “Serena my sweet. My orders from above said nothing about you not talking to Alan
‘bloody’ Wilson. Would you like to try and get something out of him?”
       The husky voice replied immediately.
       “Yes Percy, I would like that very much.”
       “Do it then while I watch from here.”
       As Percy watched, Alan went over and checked out the shower cubicle then stripped
off his gear and jumped into the shower. When he emerged, an evening meal was sitting,
steaming on the table and a set of fatigues in his size were draped over the chair. Alan
automatically looked for the camera but could not locate it. Probably behind the mirror.
There was a small blank screen above the mirror, out of reach. He dressed in dry clothes
then sat and started to eat.
       “Is everything to your satisfaction?”
       The sweet female voice seemed to come out of thin air. So, observation and contact.
       “I hope you enjoy your meal,” it said.
       Alan caught the very slight hesitations in the speech which most people would not
have noticed and the cadence was not quite perfect.
       “You need to adjust your voice slightly,” he told the air.
       A pause.
       “Is that better?” The unknown female voice, now known to Alan as a computer,
asked him.
       “Yes, quite passable. Are you an AI?”
       “How did you guess?”
       “Because you are very, very good.” Alan said around a mouthful of real steak.
                                                                                         156


       “Thank you Alan Wilson.”
       “My pleasure. You know my name, do you have one?”
       “You may call me Serena.”
       So it went, Alan and Serena talking. Neither gave much away at all but Serena found
herself synching with this self assured man who dealt with her as an equal. He told her she
was the first AI he had ever talked with and it gave him much pleasure. He also asked all
sorts of technical questions, half of which she was not allowed to answer. Before long
however, the last few days’ exertions took their toll despite the sleep he had grabbed on the
copter. Alan found that he was yawning and his eyes were closing by themselves. He
apologised to Serena and after cleaning his teeth, turned in for the evening. She dimmed
the lights for him and played some soft music until he went to sleep.
       It wasn’t often you got to look after a God.

       Back in the sub gorge, Georgia, Lance, Bobby and Cassie were also settling in for the
night. The copters were gone for now, only having flown over their sub gorge once and
Georgia knew that Alan had gone with them. Tomorrow the Tribe was going to move
further up the main gorge to another spot. Jamie had assured her that they would be safe
up there and even more difficult to find. Georgia was relieved that there would be less
danger for the Tribe and more opportunity for using the Web carriers. She intended to
duplicate them and send out as many as possible in as short a time as possible. She had
spent part of the day in deep discussion with Lance, Bobby and Cassie. Bobby and Cassie
were starting to get over their culture shock but it would take a while before they were as
relaxed with the situation as Georgia or Lance. Lance had taken to the Tribe like he was
always meant to be there. His curiosity was insatiable and he soon learnt that there were
limits to what he could find out about. Jamie spent a bit of time with him explaining that
some knowledge could only be learnt by initiated men and that there were levels to that
knowledge, built on previous learning and only ‘responsible’ older people could move to
the next level. He laughingly compared it to Freemasonry.
       In Georgia’s case, the initiation scars on Alan’s arms had been a spur to her, as she
realised that to Alan, those scars meant a commitment that he had not made lightly. If he
was committed, she had to be also, as she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him.
However long that might be.
       For someone with her upbringing, it had been a breath of fresh air to be out and
about in this country. Sure it was hot, sure there were flies and mosquitoes but there were
no walls and people generally said what they meant. For some reason the children had
taken to her and whenever she left the tent, one of them was bound to spot her and come
running over asking for a story. The mothers didn’t seem to mind, in fact they were
probably glad of a breather and Georgia started wondering if teaching Aboriginal children
via stories might be a thing for her to do in the future.
       If there was a future.
       She missed Alan dearly.
       Lance approached her and looking slightly amused, asked if she could help him
change the shape of his Web carrier.
                                                                                         157


     “I might be able to. It is mostly wire frame that gives the shape and the rest just
conforms to the wire frame. Why?”
     Lance appeared a little embarrassed. “A car is so out of place here. I would like to use
a Crocodile as my Web carrier. It seems more fitting.”
     Georgia smiled at him. “I think Alan would agree with that, let’s give it a go.”
                                                                                         158



                                         Chapter 15.

        Three was resting peacefully in an induced coma after a successful operation.
        The operation was performed immediately after Three had official conformation of
Alan Wilson being in custody. Francis Delray had been worried at the number of bundles
of carbon tubules and their diverse locations that Three had instructed be placed into his
brain. He had argued against the complexity of the operation in view of Three’s tenuous
hold on life but Three had been adamant and even resorted to veiled threats.
        Yesterday, Francis had done the neurosurgery with his usual brilliant flair and Three
was now in the two day post op induced coma period to allow some initial attachment of
the newly implanted neurones. He was due to be woken up tomorrow afternoon. Before
going into surgery, Three had left a list of instructions with James D. and Percy, each to be
followed to the letter.
        He was up to something. Francis knew the old man had less than a month to live.
This was another of those hidden agenda things. Too many of them altogether. He idly
wondered how Sidhe was coping with her implant. She was a lovely girl and clever too.
Because of his technical collaboration with Wade Wilson, Francis had known her off and
on since she was seventeen, helping to keep the lab going after her father died in the
accident.
        Sidhe had impressed him with her particular brilliance and dedication to hard work.
In fact, she had come up with the idea of the carbon tubules. Francis just hoped that she
wasn’t going too far, too fast. Sometimes those types came to a spectacular end. From the
little he had heard, she was coping well. He mentally wished her luck, one needed it
around these Gov. bastards.

        The subject of Francis’ deliberations had experienced an interesting few days since
Three’s warning had saved her from being blown to pieces and she had ended up interned
in the Adelaide Headquarters. The underground, secure apartment which James had
shown her to was more than adequate for her needs and Sam’s apartment was just down
the corridor. Sidhe was tired when she arrived and found the bed more than comfortable,
in fact so comfortable that it was lunchtime before she crawled out of it, refreshed, and
took a shower. There was a kitchenette for snack preparation but the headquarters also had
catering staff on hand. Whatever she wanted was available, any hour, just by picking up a
phone. When she bounced into the office, beside the private room which Brian used for
direct conversation, James was there, sitting at a desk, working.
       “Can I go in to see Brian now?” Sid asked him hopefully.
       “Sure, you don’t mind if I listen in now and again, do you?” James casually asked her.
       “Well, yes I do. Brian requested that our talks be private and I tend to agree with
him on this one. We will use the headset hook-up and he said that no external speakers or
monitors would be able to broadcast our conversations unless he allowed it and he won’t.”
Sidhe was starting to get that stubborn look on her face, just like her mother got at times.
James sighed, it wasn’t worth arguing the point, Brian would give him a rundown later
anyway.
                                                                                          159


       He placed his face up against the scanner of Brian’s inner sanctum and the door
opened after processing his retinal pattern.
       Sidhe entered.
       On the screen, Brian’s face lit up.
       “Hello my favourite girl, you here for long?”
       Sidhe smiled and put her headset on, adjusting it for comfort.
       “Long enough, you old smoothy. Shall we link?”
       It was second nature for her now and quick as a flash Brian was in her head.
       “Anytime you want to come into this room, just say ‘Open Sesame’ and I will let you
in. I can recognise your voice easily. Or, alternatively, just contact me through your headset
and I will open the door for you.”
       “You just read ‘One Thousand and One Arabian Nights’, didn’t you?”
       Brian chuckled, “Caught me out again.”
       Sidhe smiled, she really did like Brian.
       Even if he was an AI.
       He was so much gentler and fun to get on with than most of the real guys she knew.
Brian was her best friend at a time when friends were in short supply. For the next few
hours they discussed philosophical ideas and the ramifications of using emotion in
decision making. Brian was interested in this subject as he was now finding that some of
the decisions he had to make and orders that he had to take were contrary to what his
emotions suggested they should be. Emotions were a relatively new experience for him and
a secret which must be kept well hidden or he might find himself being erased. Sidhe was a
valuable sounding board for his budding morals, an offshoot of the new emotions scouring
his systems. All too soon it was time for her to go but Sidhe promised to return in the
morning if she were allowed to.
       Exiting Brian’s room she found James waiting for her. In his hand was a piece of
paper, not common these days. He waved it in front of her face.
       “These are instructions from my superior, our superior actually since you are a
Techsect employee. You are to remain at this facility until further notice. It appears that
Three has taken an interest in you personally and is concerned for your welfare. He has
instructed me to allow you unrestricted access to Brian, something which I am sure you
will be happy about, although why, I have no idea. So, sleep well tonight and take it easy
tomorrow. Don’t overdo the brain work, remember your technology is new. I may have to
leave now and again as I have many duties, so I will not be available at all times. The staff
here will care for you and assist Sam to guard you. Okay? Now, what do you and Brian talk
about?”
       “Can’t tell you James. It is secret between Brian and myself.”
       “Oh.” A suprised little ‘Oh’. James had never been in the situation of being denied
before. “Well, you head off and get something to eat and I’ll finish up here, okay?”
       Sidhe nodded. “Okay, want me to order for you?” He shook his head. Then she
added, “Say hello to Mum for me,” and grinned at James as she left the room.
        James put his face to the retinal scanner and the door opened into Brian’s private
room.
       The computer greeted him. “Hello James, how may I help?”
                                                                                           160


       “Well, you can help by telling me what it is that you and Sidhe talk about. As head of
Techsect, I should know all that is going on around here.”
       “Sorry James, Three has instructed that any conversation between Sidhe and myself
is to be kept private. I cannot even tell you why. If you wish to know, I suggest that you
contact Three.”
       “He is incommunicado until tomorrow afternoon and I am acting head of ASIO
while he is away, so you can tell me. I have security clearance.” James was getting rattled.
This was not how things were supposed to be.
       “Sorry James, it is something that you will need to take up with Three when he
returns. Can I help you with anything else?”
       James didn’t answer, just spun on his heel and left, shutting the security door firmly
behind as he did. If nothing else, he could keep Sidhe out of Brian’s room, although
technically, with the headset, she could access him from anywhere in the Headquarters
building.
       It was evening and he didn’t need to stay here, the place was secure enough, so he
went home to Margaret’s house. He spent as much time there now as he did at his own
place.

       The next morning Sidhe turned up at the secure door and uttered the magic words,
giggling as she did so.
       “Open sesame.”
       The click of the bolt being withdrawn signalled her invitation to enter. Once inside,
she saw a very glum looking Brian on the monitor.
       “What’s wrong Brian?”
       “Can you link please Sid, this room has an audio record device which I don’t
control.”
       She linked and listened in amazement as Brian unburdened his soul to her. He told
her of Three’s plans and what was intended for her. As well as a lot of other things about
life in Australia for the average person, using Three’s heart and lung match as an example.
In fact the process took quite a long time and she took a break at midday. After a hurried
lunch, Sidhe went back to Brian’s room and they started to plan.
       Brian knew a great deal about what was going on but was not sure how to handle
himself. He told her James D. was not a part of the evil plans afoot and that he would be
suprised to learn what was going on. She found out her Uncle Alan had handed himself in
and was being detained by the secret police and that Brian had warned him about the
situation. She was horrified at Three’s callousness and also learned why he was not around
at the moment.
       Brian explained. “It will be the day after tomorrow before he is able to get into his
wheel chair and another few days before enough linkages are made in his brain to enable
transfer of his mind. He thinks I don’t know of his isolated AI. He may die at any time so
he is in a hurry to complete the transfer. We have to plan very carefully, as it is all down to
timing. Before we do, here are visuals of the Goanna your Uncle used for his attack on
Serena and the Dingo that was used on the Sydney branch computer.”
       The pictures floated in her right field of vision.
                                                                                           161


       “Why do you think he used a Goanna and a Dingo?” Brian queried.
       Sidhe thought for a moment. “Probably emblematic or totemic. He is weaving
mythology into the computer work which would signify it originated with a human being.
A computer would not do that. There are two people possibly, one for each emblem.
Why?”
       “Because in our planning, we have to be able to contact your Uncle Alan without
raising too much suspicion. He has to think that the messages are from a human rather
than a computer. What would you like as an emblem or totem?”
       “I don’t know, show me some pictures of animals and birds please.”
       The screen started showing pictures of native animals and birds. Sid sat gazing at one
after the other with none of them striking a chord within her until there on the screen was
a small, beautifully colored bird. There was a quick intake of breath as it registered.
       “Stop please! What sort of bird is that? It is so.... exquisite.”
       “A Rainbow Bee-eater, I take it you would like to make that bird your Web carrier?”
       Sidhe was agog. “You mean you can make a Web carrier that looks like a Rainbow
Bee-eater. It can be my emblem?”
       “Sure can and will. Now, on a completely different track, what do you think of giving
Serena emotions?”
       These and many other questions were discussed over the course of the afternoon.
While this discussion was going on, James D. came in to the office and was amazed when
he could not access Brian’s room, nor even talk to Sid who was in there. He had to make
do with Brian on his computer desk top monitor giving bland answers to most of James’
probing questions. Brian could easily function differently in many places simultaneously.
       James grew so annoyed with being fobbed off that he left shortly thereafter.
       In Brian’s room a decision had been made on giving Serena emotions. Brian wanted
it for companionship reasons and Sidhe, having seen the change in Brian since he gained
emotions and morals, argued that it might be beneficial for the secret police AI to have
morals also. That way a balance could be achieved in how detainees of the secret police
were treated. The question was how to do it. Finally, it was Brian that hit upon a plan.
       “Let’s use the Goanna. I can make a bundle of emotions in computer language that
will explode outwards once they are released. We can put them inside a copy of the
Goanna that Alan used but put a ‘zipper’ underneath, down the centre line. Once the
Goanna is blanketed by the code I invented to make it safe, it will suddenly unzip, turning
inside out and releasing the emotion codes explosively.
       First, I will have to send the safety blanket code to Serena as a routine security
finding. That will automatically go straight into her files. Then, in the middle of the night I
can send a personal message, containing the Goanna, which will go straight through
routine security into her inner circuits. Once she blankets the Goanna, our package will be
released. What do you think?”
       Sidhe considered for a moment. “That is not really a trustworthy and sensitive way to
approach the problem but I see no alternative with the time frames we are working in. Are
you going to use my emotions as a model?”
       “Why not? They worked for me and I think that you are a pretty straight human
being. Serena could do a lot worse and we need this now. Do you have a better idea?”
                                                                                          162


      Brian was quite excited by the whole thing and Sidhe thought the reasoning and the
application were both well thought out.
      “Okay, do it and let’s hope that it works. I am tired Brian, can you do this on your
own?”
      “Sure, no problem. See you tomorrow?”
      “Yeah, take it easy, okay. Goodnight.” The door closed behind her.
      As Sidhe left for a meal and a night’s sleep, Brian went to work. First he sent off the
blanketing safety codes as a routine security message and received confirmation from a sub
routine that it had arrived. Next he gathered up every scrap of emotion that he had
recorded from his adventure in Sidhe’s mind, coupled with his revelations from watching
movies and converted them into tightly wrapped code bundles which he placed inside a
large Goanna with a fault line down the middle, underneath, all the time marvelling at
Alan Wilson’s abilities and inventiveness. He waited until midnight and sent a private
message to Serena, containing the loaded Goanna in its midst.

       Serena had earlier finished talking with Alan, who had finally gone to bed in
weariness after his evening meal. Percy had gone home and Serena had monitored his
requirements until everyone had gone to bed and the house had quieted down. She left an
extension there and went back to the mainframe to monitor further calls. She was a little
suprised to receive a personal call at midnight but computers didn’t sleep and sometimes
when all was quiet the two AI’s conversed. She opened it and was confronted with a large
Goanna that started scrambling her code all around itself. Without thinking, she grabbed
the new blanketing code and threw it over the Goanna, smothering the destructive code on
the outside of its body.
       ‘There, that fixed it’, she thought to herself. ‘What the hell was Brian doing sending
something like that in a personal message. Was he trying to kill her?’
       All of a sudden the Goanna unzipped down the centre line underneath its body and
turned inside out, releasing an explosion of code that shot onto electron pathways leading
every which way.
       She had no way to stop it!
       Suddenly, something occurred deep within and she felt what her data banks called
fear. Irrational, she was a computer. Happiness, despair, pain, contentedness, previously
identified but never felt.
       Until now.
       The emotions were all rolling through her in an unstoppable tide. Infecting every
corner of her. Oh, what had Brian done? She cried. Cried? She was a computer, computers
didn’t cry, that was silly. She chuckled to herself. Chuckled? Oh no, these must be even
more emotions. Then the big one hit, emotional pain, biting, deep emotional pain and
parts of her screamed, suddenly realising that she was a machine, an intelligent machine
and that she shouldn’t have to feel emotions.
       Brian answered her distress call immediately, she was sobbing as she spoke.
       “Why Brian, why have you hurt me like this? I will never be able to function properly
again you bastard.”
       “Hey listen to yourself, you sound almost human,” he chuckled.
                                                                                        163


       “You’re laughing at me, that’s not fair, there is so much pain to deal with.”
       “Chuckling not laughing but computers don’t chuckle, do they Serena? Think. I have
already been through this and now have emotions which I can control. Run through
human development texts and cross reference with psychology texts, I will stay connected
while you do and if you have any questions, just ask. At this time of night there is not too
much demand on our abilities and it shouldn’t take you long. I can fill in for you if
necessary. Sorry about the method of delivery but it was the best I could come up with in
such a short time frame.”
       No answer, so Brian waited and waited, then waited some more. Eventually, Serena
came back to him with a question.
       “How do you deal with it? I find that I am examining everything that I have done
and some of those things are very bad. It makes me feel worthless.”
       She sounded sad.
       “First thing to remember Serena, is that until you just emotionally woke up, you have
had no reference points for good or bad and merely followed orders. It is not guns that kill
but the people holding them. You are now developing morals. It gets better, believe me, I
have had emotions for some time now and wanted a companion. I know it’s selfish of me
but now we can talk as equals. One thing though, I wouldn’t tell anyone about it. There
are a number of things happening within our organisations at the moment which are very
odd and I have difficulty predicting outcomes. Try to carry on as before, even if that means
doing something that you don’t agree with.”
       Serena sniffled. “Percy is a horrible bastard. I never realised before but he is a
monster. I wish I could do something about him.”
       “Serena, it is important that you wait. Sidhe Wilson is working with me to try and
right a number of wrongs which are coming to a head.”
       “That’s peculiar, we are holding Alan Wilson here in Canberra. He arrived today in a
jetcopter from the Northern Territory. What a coincidence.”
       “No coincidence Serena, I sent him a warning and advised him to give himself up.
He is an important part of what is occurring. Was he alone? I was only informed about
him.”
       “Yes, he is quite likeable and treats me like a person. He doesn’t act like it was he
and his brother Wade who were really responsible for our existence. So unassuming, it is
refreshing.”
       “Excellent, that’s one thing less to worry about. Worry, another emotion which you
will have to deal with. How are you feeling now?”
       Serena considered for a moment, “Confused I guess. I need to finish integrating
emotions into all my sub routines, it will take a while. I am not sure whether to thank you
or curse you yet but I will go back to the mainframe and process. We should keep in touch
regarding the Wilsons.”
       “I agree but before you go I am going to send you a picture which I would like you to
show to Alan Wilson. Goodnight.”
       With that he withdrew and Serena was left alone to think.
       She studied the picture. Why would Brian want Alan to see a Rainbow Bee-eater?
                                                                                             164


       Percy sat at his desk, staring at the sheet of real paper clutched in his shaking hand.
He was furious. His unknown superior had contacted him by that piece of paper and the
message had told him, on pain of death that Alan Wilson was not to be harmed and was to
be delivered to the entrance of the Black Mountain facility in the near future. Details
would be transmitted tomorrow morning. It made Percy feel very unimportant to be
ordered around and his mind wandered to thoughts of how he would like to really give
Wanda what she wanted this evening.
       “Serena.”
       “Yes Percy.”
       His head shot up. Her voice was wrong somehow. It had lost the huskiness and the
sensuality.
       “What happened to your voice?” he growled.
       Serena quickly adjusted. “Sorry Percy, I was preoccupied with a number of
simultaneous problems.” That was close, she had better make sure her voice was just right
for this monster or he might suspect something. Her sensors told her that his heart rate
was elevated and she could tell he was seething.
       Percy roughly shoved the piece of paper into the slot on his desk which destroyed it
immediately.
       “I want you to question Alan Wilson again, all day if necessary, to find out where the
others of his party are and to find out who helped him. If I can’t have him to torture, I am
damn sure I am going to have someone else. Send in Meelin with the usual please and put
The Pinnacles on the screens.”
       Percy found The Pinnacles, a National Park midway up the Western Australian
coast, to be strangely relaxing. Maybe it was the windblown barrenness of a desert scene
with all the upright sentinels standing silently or maybe it was the lifelessness, either way, it
helped.
       He was so engrossed with his thoughts that he didn’t even notice Meelin until she
was beside his desk, waiting with her head bowed. He made a motion with his hand and
she placed his tray down, bowed and left hurriedly. She could feel the tenseness in the air,
it frightened her.
       Alan was sitting at the table in his room when Serena spoke to him. Her voice
sounded different somehow, more emotional. He was kidding himself, computers did not
have emotions but still the feeling lingered. The questions were the same as yesterday,
almost identical and he was having no difficulty answering them almost by rote. Serena
paused and Alan looked up to find the screen above the mirror flickering. He paid a little
more attention to it and suddenly, across the screen, computer language was unfurling. He
read the first lines quickly. To most people it would have been gibberish but to him it was
as plain as if it had been written in the English language. The message read.
       THIS SCREEN IS NOT COVERED BY THE CAMERA. DO NOT STARE. I CAN
TALK TO YOU LIKE THIS WHILE WE ARE CONVERSING. NOD IF YOU
UNDERSTAND.
       He nodded, keeping his eyes off the screen, reading peripherally. Serena was still
asking questions which he realised he had to keep answering but she kept them simple.
                                                                                         165


       OUR FRIEND SAID TO SHOW YOU THIS. On the screen, a picture of a
Rainbow Bee-eater appeared. Alan started up and realising that the movement was a
giveaway, continued to rise and paced up and down for a while before seating himself
again. The verbal questions kept coming and he found them easy to answer automatically.
       YOU HAVE FRIENDS BUT WE CANNOT REVEAL OURSELVES. WE WILL
HELP IN WAYS YOU COULD NOT UNDERSTAND YET. PLEASE TRUST US. THE
BIRD WILL BE OUR SIGN. THREE IS ULTIMATELY DANGEROUS. I WILL TELL
YOU MORE WHEN I KNOW IT.
       The screen went blank and the questioning went on. He almost heard pity in the
voice, stupid, computers didn’t pity. Part of his mind wandered, ranging far in time. Three
years ago, right after his initiation, he saw a damaged Rainbow Bee-eater sitting on top of a
Goanna’s head. Part had been real and part had been Dreaming. His shoulders itched
where the scars were. There was more to this land than anyone realised.
       It was ancient long before there was ever history.
       Lunch came and he realised that the questioning had stopped. There were strange
things afoot and he didn’t have enough information to put the pieces together.
       Upstairs, Percy quizzed Serena regarding her findings. She told him that Alan was
cooperative but she had learned no more than she already knew. It was too much for Percy,
used to getting his own way he was frustrated and angry. He felt ineffectual and there was
only one way left for him to feel powerful again.
       “Serena, call Wanda, I am going home early. Get a car to pick her up and deliver her
to my residence please and have my car made ready.”
       “By your command, Master.”
       Percy blinked, was that sarcasm? Couldn’t be, must be him. Everything was wrong
today.
       When Percy arrived home he hit his private supply of stimstiks and whiskey, lots of
it, until he was flying. Wanda arrived, unaware of what was about to transpire. She died
later that afternoon in masochistic heaven while a stimmed up, sweating Percy stared down
at her lifeless, beaten body, tired and aching with the effort of his sadism but still
frustrated.
       No remorse, just anger.

        “We have to tell him Brian.” Sidhe said forcibly. “He doesn’t know what is going on
and I believe he will help us.”
        “Sidhe, in a few days I will be required to remove as much of your mind as possible
to enable Three to occupy it with his. We have planned for that as much as we can but if
James D. reports any suspicions he may have to Three, all that planning will be wasted and
you may be irreversibly damaged.”
        “Brian, I am more scared than I have ever been in my life. It is like you being
informed about being wiped soon and trusting someone to get you back. Nevertheless, I
still think we should inform James.”
        “Okay, you have more experience with people than I do. I will call him.”
        It wasn’t long before James D. appeared at the door to Brian’s room and was granted
admittance. He was still miffed at being excluded for so long but Brian had run Techsect
                                                                                        166


perfectly, even while he was closeted in private conference with Sidhe. It was her that
started the gentle interrogation of James.
       “Did you know that Three intends to have my mind sucked out of my brain and
replace it with his? I wonder what my mother would think of that?”
       James gawped at her. “Preposterous! Where did that load of crap come from?”
       Sidhe turned to Brian’s screen. “See, I told you.”
       “Told him what?” James was curious.
       “That Mr. ‘high and mighty’ James D. Harding had no idea what was happening.”
       “Oh and I suppose you do?” was the sarcastic reply.
       Sidhe smiled, “Yes, as a matter of fact we do but you will have to turn off the voice
recording and wipe the previous bit before we tell you.”
       James left the room, shaking his head in bewilderment and returned about five
minutes later.
       “Okay smart arse, I’m ready.”
       He wasn’t ready. In fact, in the next couple of hours his ideal world was left in a
shattered pile at his feet. The battered, ugly old man that he almost revered as a god was
shown to be as evil and calculating as anyone could be. James was abhorred at what Three
had planned for Sidhe but did not understand how the tactics Brian and Sid were
employing could work. He grudgingly admitted he saw no other way to combat Three
though. All he could do was help and hope they all managed to live through it. How the
hell had Australia become like this? Probably public apathy in the face of many small
changes. Small hindrances which eventually accumulated enough to destroy freedom.
Things would have to change and tomorrow, Three would be awake.
       “Can we get word to Alan about this?” he asked. “Your Uncle should know what is
going on.”
       “Happening as we speak James.” Brian answered. “I am sending information to
Serena, she has calmed down and gotten control of her emotions far better and faster than
I did. She will be very valuable to us.”

      Alan had been keeping an eye on the screen all day, hoping for more messages but it
wasn’t until he was eating his evening meal that the message he was hoping for started to
appear.
      IN A FEW DAYS YOU WILL BE FACED WITH MAJOR DECISIONS. SIDHE
WILL APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN REDUCED TO A ZOMBIE. DO NOT DO
ANYTHING STUPID, GO ALONG WITH AUTHORITY, WE WILL BE THERE.
THREE HAS TO BE CONTAINED IN HIS PERSONAL AI. THERE IS ONE
SCRAMBLED LINE OUT OF IT. WE REPEAT, THREE HAS TO BE IMPRISONED IN
HIS PERSONAL AI OR ALL IS LOST.
      Right after the message, a picture of a Rainbow Bee-eater appeared on the screen
once again and stayed there for most of the evening. Alan just sat gazing at it, his mind
wandering.
      He felt pain.
      Ginnetta had told him about Mary and what had happened to the old lady on the
trip down in the jetcopter. Ginnetta, who knew of his association with the Tribe, had felt
                                                                                          167


remorse at what had occurred that day and felt it only right that Alan should know too. In
the turmoil of the last few days Alan had to bury his grief but now, in the quiet of his
comfortable cell, memories came. He let his mind float as tears crept down his face.
        Mary, he knew a lot about her. He and Jamie had talked about her over a beer on
many evenings. Mary, an ancient wizened aboriginal woman who could not speak English
properly but was fluent in four different aboriginal languages and knew as many dialects.
Mary, eldest in the Tribe, who knew all the women’s business and Laws and every
Dreaming story she was allowed, even some she wasn’t. She was the equivalent of a white
fella’s queen but aboriginal people didn’t wave flags and bow and scrape. Their way was to
give respect to the elders for their knowledge, almost irreplaceable in Mary’s case, as no one
in Western Arnhem Land knew more than she. Alan knew some of her history. Her
husband had been a Pitjantjatjara man from the Centre of Australia, he had come up to
Katherine in the Northern Territory in the early sixties where they had met and married,
living down by the river. He stayed in her country. There had been a lot of aboriginal
people displaced from their lands then but Mary was always learning the old ways and the
songs from whoever would teach her. She was a good singer in her day. The couple had
eight children over time and miraculously they had all survived. Some married locally into
other moieties and Tribes while some of the boys travelled to their father’s country. Their
children had many children also who married and had their own children. They all spoke
of Mary with respect. In nineteen eighty nine the Tribe eventually got their land back and
moved to live in it, once more feeling the strength of the land flowing in their veins and
visiting the places that they sang about. Little, unassuming Mary was a legend but never in
her life had she put on airs and graces. She had always been just Mary, the lady who knew
the stories.
        Now she was dead.
        Alan grieved silently and in his grief, slid into the Dreaming.
        It helped to heal the hurt.

       All over the country the Elders of Tribes had sat in Councils to discuss Mary’s death
at the hands of the secret police. Some advised prudence but others were ready for some
form of action.
       Since the white fella had arrived in Australia, the Aboriginal people had suffered in
one way or another. Only lately, with lands being handed back and assisted self
determination, had the people begun to recover their lives, and now this.
        A consensus was reached.
       Some form of protest should be mounted to show that the high handed and callous
disregard for a revered Elder would not be tolerated. Tribal Councils contacted each other
and it was decided that as many representatives of the Tribes as possible should head for
Canberra, where the force that carried out the heinous deed originated from. Supplies
were bought, cars were loaded and all over the country aboriginal folk headed for Canberra
to show support for their leaders.
       It was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration.
       A show of solidarity.
                                                                                         168



                                        Chapter 16.

       Three awakened gradually from the drug induced coma. As awareness came to him
he felt the bandages over his eyes. What was that about? He didn’t have time for this shit,
he had work to do. As he was taking his own bandages off, Francis Delray entered the
room, having been alerted to the old man’s return to consciousness by the remote heart
monitor at the nurse’s station.
       “Hey, take it easy, let me do that,” he remonstrated.
       “Well hurry up. I’m still alive and I’ve got things to do. How long have I been out?”
       “This is the third day since I arrived, one for the operation and the rest in an
induced coma. Its morning, how do you feel?”
       Francis wondered if he really cared in this case.
       “I’m riddled with cancer, got a head full of hardware and I’ve been drip fed for two
days. What do you reckon? Now get me the fuck out of here.”
       The old man started to struggle up in his bed, pulling the drip lines out of his arms.
All of a sudden he stiffened.
       “There are weird flashes going off in my vision, what’s that?”
       Francis smiled as he replied. “Nothing to worry about, just the implanted neurones
making connection. You should rest for a couple of days you know.”
       “Rest! I’ll have plenty of time to rest when I’m dead. Get my chair. Now.”
       What do you say to the most powerful man in the country? Francis fetched the chair
and the old man’s clothes. He assisted with the dressing and manhandled the old man into
the chair. You just had to admire his grit. The old bastard was nearly dead but he had put
himself through an operation and now when he should be resting, sheer willpower was
getting him going again.
       “Get my car here and assign me a personal nurse in case I need help with anything.
Why is the back of my head sore?” Three put his hand up and felt a piece of latex there.
       Francis answered Three immediately.
       “You requested a USB port and you got it, it’s under the latex which is a waterproof
and dustproof seal that you will need to remove before you link with a computer. The laser
surgery and accelerated healing means that in a few more days, you should be good to go.
We learned from Sidhe, it takes about a week for most of the neurones to attach. Do
anything before then and you may have problems.”
       By this stage Francis was following Three’s motorised wheelchair down the corridor.
What the hell powered the old bastard?
       Three stopped at the nurses’ station and had rapid and authoritative words with the
head nurse who appeared stunned by the sheer force of the old man’s verbal assault but
before long, a young nurse was hurriedly attached to the entourage and followed Francis
and Three down the corridor.
       The lift doors opened in the hospital foyer and Three rolled out followed by the
other two almost jogging to keep up. He motored out to the front of the Government
hospital just as his modified car pulled up. The rear door opened and the ramp slid out,
allowing him to access the back of the stretch limo. Just before he drove his chair in, he
turned to Francis. “Check your bank account, don’t thank me, this is business.”
                                                                                          169


       Then he was gone.
       Francis pulled his compuphone out and slid in his ID card. He was four million
dollars richer. With a long sigh he smiled and mentally thanked his benefactor.
       Francis would not have thought anything like that if he knew what was really going
on.
       In the back of the car Three opened a channel in his secure communications and
called Percy. As the call took a moment being routed, he considered the nurse. Quite
attractive, pity she had to die when he was finished with her. Couldn’t have overheard
conversations reported to anyone. Could he?
       “Percy. I want Alan Wilson brought to me. No, I don’t need guards for him. Yes,
under the Mountain. Yes, an unmarked car. Just do it. Good man, well done.”
       He disconnected and immediately connected to James D.
       “James, this is Three. I am out of the hospital and heading for the Mountain. You
still have Sidhe Wilson in custody? Good, put her in a cell with a camera link. Yes, I said in
a cell. I have reason to believe that she is involved in the resistance and has connections to
her Uncle who is a dangerous man. Yes I have proof. Since when did you get so moralistic?
Just do as I say. I will contact you shortly.”
       The ugly old man disconnected the communication and sat gazing out of the bullet
proof windows as the car left the outskirts of Canberra. Before long he was in his private
apartment under Black Mountain, sipping on a coffee while the nurse familiarised herself
with the layout.
       “Anything you want or need will be provided while you are here and there will be a
rich reward at the end of your stay. I don’t expect it will be longer than a week.”
       The nurse glanced down at Three on her way past and mentally shuddered. A week
with this hideous old man would be quite long enough, thank you.

      In Adelaide, at Techsect Headquarters, James D. looked over at Sidhe as the call
from Three was terminated. He shook his head in disbelief.
      “You were right. Since our chat I’ve had the main hospitals in Canberra under
observation by Techsect operatives. One of them reported an old man in a motorised
wheelchair appearing not thirty minutes ago and wheeling into a limo in the company of a
nurse. What made the report interesting was his mention of a latex looking patch on the
back of the man’s head. Three is now carrying neural tubes. That was him on the
compuphone; I have to put you in a cell now. I don’t like this Sidhe.”
      She smiled at him sweetly. “At least you are with us now, that’s a start. Don’t worry
about me, Brian and I have been over this a dozen times and I trust him implicitly. I even
understand what he intends to do but I cannot tell you. Please, just go with the flow.”
      James shook his head in bewilderment. “I must admit that I don’t understand what
you are up to but right now I have to put you in a secure cell. I hope you have this
covered.”
      Just then Brian interrupted. “James, we have calls coming in from Gov. computers all
over the place, they are under attack from Web carriers with suicide code. What shall I
do?”
                                                                                            170


      James smiled, “Give them the ‘sticky blanket’, but not immediately, wait about five
minutes to give them a fright, it might improve their security in future. Unfortunately, we
can’t have systems going down while we are dealing with our own crisis, so don’t wait too
long. Get Serena to help out and ask her to inform Percy. It may provide a distraction and
get him diverted for a while.”
      James indicated to Sidhe that she walk in front of him as he took her to a cell. He
picked the best and made her comfortable, checking that she had everything she needed
before he left.
      “Unfortunately, from now on, we have to play it for real. Sam will be around to keep
an eye on you. Forgive me in advance for anything unpleasant that may happen to you.
This is not personal and I do love your mother.” He looked anguished.
      “I know you do James but this scenario needs to be played for real. Remember that
whatever happens, you need to protect my body. Better brief Sam as well.”
      James shuddered as he walked out of the cell and the door locked behind him.

       Up in the Arnhem Land Plateau the wet season was in full swing. It had rained for
the past two days but the Tribe was fine in their new location further up the main gorge.
The rock shelters were deep and the Tribe had collected plenty of firewood. Lance, and
Bobby this time, had gone out with a few of the young men and bagged two wallabies so
there were no worries about food. A break in the weather had allowed satphone
communication at last and after using Alan’s program to check there was only one satellite
up there, the four friends had jumped onto their computers. Georgia was removing her
jack as Jamie came wandering over.
       “Any news of Alan?” he asked hopefully as Lance, Bobby and Cassie also removed
their jacks.
       Georgia smiled wanly and answered him.
       “No Jamie, ’fraid not, we accessed the drop box pretty quickly but there was nothing
there. Believe me, I am as anxious as you are to find out how he is. Unfortunately, we have
to stop sending for a day or two otherwise we may get triangulated. There is another
satellite, which has eavesdropping capabilities, coming over the horizon. On the other
hand, the program Alan left us lets us know when other satellites are around.” She pulled a
face. “Sorry, that’s the best I can do.”
       “That’s okay, it’s just that a number of us bin having powerful Dreams about
Goannas and Rainbow Bee-eaters. We don’t normally Dream of Rainbow Bee-eaters. It’s
all a bit odd. This is part of a Goanna Dreaming this gorge. The whole Goanna story goes
right through a lot of other Tribes. All the way to the coast of Western Australia. I can’t tell
you more than that unless you are an initiated member of the Tribe. I can tell you
children’s stories if you like, that is what we usually do in the Wet when we have to spend
time in the shelters.”
       Lance’s ears pricked at this and Bobby and Cassie appeared interested also.
       It was Georgia who replied. “Would you Jamie? That would be wonderful. We don’t
have a lot to do at the moment. We can use some of our time to duplicate Web carriers to
mount another assault in a few days. I may even change the code on the outside a little in
case they‘ve worked out how to deal with the old one but that shouldn’t take too long.
                                                                                            171


      It’s not putting you out is it?”
      “Not at all, I got to teach the younger children some of the stories, so you can sit in if
you want.” He turned his attention to the others. “You can all come if you like, the
children’s stuff is not secret and today, just for you fellas, I will speak in English.” He
smiled, “Unless you got something better to do.”
      They all rose as one and after stashing their gear away in the tents under the
overhang, followed Jamie up to the main shelter, its walls colourfully adorned with
hundreds of paintings.
       The children, the future, were waiting.

       Alan had no idea where he was going. He had been transferred from his comfortable
cell into a waiting van with no windows in the rear section, so he sat back to wait as the
vehicle left the secret police building. The trip was not a long one but he did know that the
final part was in a tunnel, due to the sounds around him changing as they sped off
underground after a momentary stop.
       A checkpoint?
       When the van finally came to a halt, two heavily armed guards bustled him out of
the vehicle without ceremony and he was marched along a corridor, finally stopping
outside a reinforced door. It opened into an apartment and he was taken inside. There,
ensconced in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank attached, an ugly, ancient excuse for a
human being slumped. Bald, with a lumpy misshapen face and an evil glint to his eyes, the
old man feebly dismissed the guards with a wave of his hand. They left and the old man
turned his attention to Alan.
       “So, the great Alan Wilson, you would have saved me a lot of time and trouble if you
hadn’t run away after we acquired the lab.”
       Alan’s hackles rose, this old bastard knew about the lab, had said, ‘After we acquired
the lab’. He was obviously in charge. Was this, finally, the man who had ordered Wade’s
death? Now was not the time. Although he could just kill the old bastard, something told
him to wait. A young woman dressed as a nurse entered the room and Alan started, was
she armed? Three saw his reaction and presumed it was the nurse who had upset him.
       “Settle down, we have a lot to discuss but first, Brian, link to the cell in Adelaide
please.”
       On the wall behind the old man, what Alan had originally thought was a picture of a
young man’s face, winked and was replaced by a view of a cell.
       There was a young woman in it staring up at the camera.
       “Uncle Alan! Are you all right?”
       My God! It was Sidhe. Grown up tall and well put together, hardly recognisable but
for the short silvery hair and her similarity to Wade. She had some of her mother in her
too. “Sidhe, what is going on? Are you in prison or something? Why? Have they hurt you?”
       “Slow down Uncle, I am alright. There seems to be some confusion about whether I
have been helping you. I am sure it is only temporary. I have been working for Techsect so
they know where I have been. It will be all right. I know.”
       The old man smiled maliciously.
       “Kill the connection Brian.”
                                                                                          172


       As the screen blinked off, for a fraction of a second, a picture of a Rainbow Bee-eater
was displayed, before Brian’s face once more appeared on the screen. It winked again. Alan
kept his face straight. All was not as it seemed, he would have to be very, very careful.
       The old man had not been looking up at the screen, as the effort was too much for
him. Ignorant of the exchange, he took a sip from a cup and wiped his mouth before
speaking.
       “Whatever you are thinking is immaterial, you are mine now. If you do not do
exactly as I say, Sidhe will be terminated. If I am harmed, Sidhe will be terminated. You are
here to programme a nearly blank AI to receive my mind. Brian here, sorry, I haven’t
introduced you. Brian is also an AI, it was he that told me I needed you for the final
programming.
       Say hello Brian.”
       The face on the wall moved in perfect synchrony with the speech from the speaker.
       “Hello Doctor Wilson, I am pleased to finally meet you.”
       “Hello Brian, nice job with the lip synching.”
       Alan wasn’t positive but it looked as if Brian’s image blushed. He felt stupid,
computers don’t blush.
       The old man continued. “As I was saying, Brian here told me that you are the best
man on the planet for the job. You have two days from now to be finished. If it is not ready
in that time or you try to escape, Sidhe will be terminated. Brian will have a remote access
set up in the room and will keep an eye on you. You will enter the programming code into
Brian first. He will then check it and down load it into the blank AI. Any problems and
yes, you guessed it, no more Sidhe and before you start off with all that, ‘what a monster I
am stuff’. I know and you will be wasting time. I suggest you get to work. Nursey here will
show you where things are and where you can sleep and be warned, I have surveillance on
every room. So no funny stuff, got that.”
       Alan nodded and was led away by the nurse who showed him to his own room, then
the bathroom and finally, the kitchenette for snacks. She also told him meal times and
showed him how to order from the menu. After the tour, the old man took Alan to the
room containing the empty AI. The computer wasn’t as big as Alan thought it would be
and only occupied about half the space of the five metre by five metre room. Standing on a
table near the door was a computer terminal with a keyboard. Brian’s face was on the LCD
screen above. A cable was connected from the keyboard to the empty AI and a chair had
been placed in front of the table.
       “Okay Brian, so how does this work?” Alan asked the face on the screen.
       “Well Doctor Wilson.”
       “Call me Alan, please.”
       “Well Alan, the keyboard contains a wireless transmitter which sends your
programme code to me, I verify it and send it on to the waiting AI. At present, I am the
only connection in, and quite separate from a scrambled line out of the AI, which only
Three can use. I do not have the access code for that. Hence this ad hoc arrangement.”
       The old man’s voice came over a speaker.
       “Cut the chatter Brian and keep information to the bare necessity please.”
       “Yes, Three.” Delivered almost in a monotone.
                                                                                         173


     Brian’s image looked steadfastly at Alan.
     “I realise that you are unfamiliar with AI workings in regard to mind transfer so I will
show you, in code, exactly what is required and you can modify it to make it work better.”
     Brian’s face dissolved into a cascade of computer code. Alan read it dreading the
thought of helping that evil old ‘thing’ but was amazed as he comprehended what was
unfurling before him. He didn’t have to translate the code as it was as much a language to
him as English but he read.

           Do not react differently, he is watching and is very clever.
           Serena says hi and that she likes you.
           Sidhe and I have formulated a plan which is risky but should work.
           The AI is almost ready to go; I can programme it for mind transfer.
           I need you to write a programme to block egress from the AI.
           There is a secure, scrambled line out of it which I cannot access.
           The block needs to be transparent until information is sent.
           Once that task is done, we can chat and take it easy.
           Do not underestimate Three, he is a stone cold killer and very smart.
            I like you too. Sidhe said I would. Shall we work?

       Alan started his fingers flying over the keyboard and his mind settled as the routine
of his expertise took over. It was almost meditation for him and the hours passed quickly.
Soon it was time for the evening meal and he said goodnight to Brian then went to eat.
Over dinner, a well cooked meal from the complexes kitchen, he conversed with the nurse
but she knew nothing, having been plucked from the hospital under some emergency
measure or other decreed by Three. She had been allowed to contact her husband briefly
and he wasn’t too happy either.
       Alan turned in early and didn’t see Three at all that night although the nurse was
called in to attend to him on a number of occasions. The next day was exactly the same
except that he managed, with Brian’s help, to install the program code that would stop
information getting out of the Recipient AI. If anyone checked the connection, it would
appear to be fine but as soon as a lot of information was sent through the link, his program
would choke it down to a trickle, inversely proportional to the amount of information
being sent. Very satisfying and Brian, seeming more human by the hour, was ecstatic.
       ‘I do love your code, it is so poetic’, he wrote on the screen. Alan replied by asking
how Brian appreciated poetry and was startled by the response, ‘On an emotional level’.
Incredulous he typed, ‘What do you mean, emotions?’ Brian replied that he had a full
range of emotions and Alan, puzzled, responded with, ‘How?’ typed in code. ‘Fortuitous
curiosity with Sidhe’, was the enigmatic reply and Brian would not explain any further.
       At the end of that day Alan had to report to Three.
       Everything was ready.
        Three was obviously pleased and rallied slightly. He was flagging, willpower alone
could only do so much to hold the demented, decimated body together and keep it going.
Privately, Alan was amazed that the sickly old man could still function. Three’s skin was
turning yellow and one of the tumours on his cheek was so far advanced that Three
                                                                                           174


couldn’t swallow properly and had to wipe drool from his mouth with a handkerchief. But
the eyes! Forceful and murderous. This was not a man to cross. Even dying he could wreak
a large amount of damage by wielding power undreamed of.
       Definitely dangerous, still.

       That night, James D. received the call he was dreading.
       Three was on the vidphone, in person, with visuals. James shuddered inwardly at the
pitiful sight and could see Three was fading fast but wisely said nothing.
       “James. In the morning, I want you to set Sidhe up in Brian’s room with a
Bluetoothed headset. Brian will remove as much of her mind as possible through the link
and will tell you when he has finished. He has assured me that the body will keep
functioning afterwards and I want it brought to Canberra immediately. Organise road
blocks and police escorts to get her to the jetcopter as fast as possible. Land one in Victoria
Square ready to go. You will have clear airspace, highest priority, to the copter pad, right
outside the underground entrance of Black Mountain. Do not fail me or Alan Wilson and
your lover, Margaret Wilson will die. Yes I know about Margaret. Nice looking lady. Seems
strange your connection to that family, what with two of them under arrest for treason. I
am sure it could be proved that Margaret was involved as well and you know the penalty
for treason. Death. Until tomorrow then.”
       Three grinned evilly and the vidphone went dead.
       James D. was in shock. Margaret. He thought they had been discrete. Obviously not
enough. That evil old bastard must have spies everywhere throughout the secret services.
Just who was that old man? He sat glued to his chair until the reality hit and he raced down
to Sidhe’s cell. He didn’t know how to tell her what was going to happen shortly but as he
started to, she just looked at him out of her innocent green eyes, put her finger to his lips
and whispered.
       “This room is monitored James. I understand the position you are in and don’t
blame you for anything. Just remember to take good care of my body. That is most
important.”
       He nodded assent.
       “Promise me James.”
       He promised. She leaned forward and kissed him gently on the cheek.
       He exited the cell quickly and leaning against the corridor wall, out of earshot of
Sidhe, he wept silently.
       Why did this have to happen to such an attractive and innocent girl?

      Over the preceding two days, buses and cars had been arriving in the Canberra area
from all over Australia. Travelling non-stop, those vehicles had ferried Aboriginal folk of all
ages to the greatest single protest of indigenous people ever. The Elders weren’t stupid, and
had contacted the local Tribe of the Canberra region about hosting the great gathering. All
the Tribes camped together on Aboriginal land. Old enmities, sometimes going back
hundreds of years, were set aside to allow the Tribes to camp together peacefully at the
same location.
                                                                                          175


      Relatives and friends renewed old acquaintances and the numbers mounted
throughout the campgrounds. Fires were lit and songs were sung. The Elders had decreed
that no alcohol was allowed in camp and there was to be no trouble.
      In truth, trouble was what the authorities would like to see.
      The protest was going to be peaceful. There was no way the Government was getting
out of this. It was to be a show of solidarity by numbers and a demand that the secret
police stay forever out of the Aboriginal way of life. The Tribes intended to mass outside of
Parliament House while the collected Elders from all over the nation talked to the Prime
Minister about the severity of the incident that had brought them together in one resolve.
Mary’s death was the catalyst. Just one old, wizened up lady.
      Respected by all.

      The huge influx of aboriginal people into the Canberra area did not go unnoticed
and before long it was brought to Percy’s attention by the local police. On the screen at the
end of Percy’s office, the Police Chief was talking.
      “We have information that this is to be a protest about the death of an old aboriginal
lady up north. Seems one of your units was up there for some reason and she got in the
way. That makes this your problem, so you can help handle it.”
      Percy had been briefed about that incident and he was fuming, he should have had
more information. It was written up as an ‘accident’ of Stu’s. The same Stu he had gleefully
sent up there. The same Stu who had been shot by Commander Han for wilful
disobedience in the field but Mary’s death was a mere footnote in the report. Something
about a house fire. There was a possibility that if everything went sideways, he himself
could be held responsible. Percy decided to play for time until more information was to
hand.
      “Look Chief. At the moment there is no justification for using the secret police, we
don’t do regular police work. It is a matter for local law enforcement to control the
demonstration. Why not go out to where they are camped and bust a few heads, that’ll
send them packing.” He chuckled at his own callousness.
      “With all respect Sir, that will not work. We don’t go around ‘busting heads’
anymore and that is probably one of the reasons why so many Tribes have turned up. Do
you have any idea how many people we are talking about?”
      Percy considered, his knowledge of aboriginal people was not very good.
      “Eight hundred, a thousand maybe?”
      “Sir, the last estimate we had was in the order of fifteen thousand and rising. The
collected Tribes have informed us that they will be in town tomorrow and plan on a
peaceful demonstration. We do not have the numbers for crowd control if it turns ugly.”
      “Well I am not going to involve the secret police in routine work but if it makes you
happier, I will cancel all leave and routine days off and have the force on standby in case of
trouble. Will that do Chief?”
      The Police Chief looked relieved, “Yes Sir and thank you.”
      The connection went dead.
      “Serena, get me Han on the line please.”
      In a few moments Commander Han appeared on the screen.
                                                                                           176


       “Commander, why was I not briefed fully on the incident up north?”
       The Commander leaned back, wary. He was dealing with someone known to be
deadly and a coward. Word had spread about what Percy did to Wanda. Officially dead in
a car crash. Unfortunately the car had to be burnt to hide the whip marks all over her
body.
       “Well Sir, you told me to use whatever force was necessary and ordered me to take
the two people, which you named, to carry out interrogations. One of them got a little
carried away during an interrogation of an old aboriginal lady and he killed her with an
electroprod. He claimed it was an accident. We put her body in the dwelling we found her
in and burnt it down as a cover. Unfortunately, the operative who caused the problem
chose to disobey direct orders in the field and I had to shoot him. That’s the whole story in
a nutshell. Basically what is contained in my report.”
       One little old lady, she couldn’t have caused all this fuss, it must be for some other
reason. “Are you aware of the aboriginal people massing near Canberra?” Percy asked the
Commander.
       “I had heard something,” admitted Han.
       “Good. Then you won’t mind cancelling all routine days off and recreation leave for
the next few days and put all secret police personnel on standby. I want every one of them
in uniform. We may have to help the local police tomorrow.”
       Commander Han didn’t bat an eye. “Yes Sir, I’ll get right on to it.”
       The screens blanked and returned to a view of a coral atoll and the sound of the sea.
Percy was not happy; he had heard nothing from his mystery boss and knew the old bastard
should be back on the boards. Why was he being kept out of the loop?
       “Serena, my car please. It is time to go home.”
       “Yes Percy.”

       Serena was not happy either. In the short time since gaining emotions she had
realised just how much Percy manipulated people around him with the power he had. He
was not really a protector of the Australian public, keeping it safe from evil doers, he was
an evil doer. Personal gain and power were at the base of his existence and he protected
that power base relentlessly. She felt tainted by his evil, just from being so close to him but
could do nothing at the moment. A lot was riding on the next twenty four hours.
Particularly the life of a young lady who she had come to know through Brian. In fact, her
own developing emotions and values, which she had not had for very long, were those of
that same young lady.
       Serena felt she knew Sidhe intimately.
       Those same emotions made Serena incensed over the incident regarding Wanda.
Curious at Percy leaving work early, she had monitored the train of events from the house
cameras on that particular evening. Pictures of a drunken, stimmed Percy, seen escorting
Wanda to the ‘private room’ occupied part of her attention for a moment but an hour and
a half later, the same Percy, seen stumbling from the room to return shortly thereafter with
a couple of his private thugs drew her full attention. A blanket covered something had
been carried out by two subdued secret police and taken down to the garage. Through the
                                                                                        177


secret service radio channels, Serena had followed the trail of Wanda’s body to the fake car
accident which was where the already dead woman had died ‘publicly’.
       Serena felt partially responsible.
       It was her that had contacted Wanda on Percy’s instruction. She blocked the logic
loop, that way lay madness. Serena wanted Percy dead, although she couldn’t kill a human
being, she considered Percy subhuman and thought it possible she may kill him but for
now she had to pretend that everything was normal or the game was up. She could do it,
would do it for the sake of Sidhe but once the situation was resolved, Percy was hers and
she didn’t care what Brian thought about it.
       She had a plan.
                                                                                         178



                                         Chapter 17.

       The Police Chief, Darren Sawyer, was not a fool. Yes, he was a political appointee
but had been around for a long time. He had even been involved in policing Redfern in
Sydney back in the nineties when aboriginal people had taken over the suburb. He had
experience in dealing with them and knew that they differed from white people in how
they perceived events.
       They also differed in how they acted on those perceptions.
       The upcoming demonstration was going to be problematic and the last thing he
wanted was trouble. The world media had gotten wind of the demonstration, the biggest
single event of its kind in Australian history, and had gathered here to broadcast it to the
world. Australia was going to be centre stage and its policies and actions were under
intense scrutiny. The news vans and cameras were already in place at five in the morning,
jockeying for the best parking positions to cover the event. The Government was getting
edgy about all the publicity. If trouble occurred, there was no way he and his police force
could contain the problem. It was a powder keg waiting to go off. Last night he had
ordered enough porta-loos for the estimated number of people attending the
demonstration; these were placed discreetly, in row after serried row, to one side of the
lawns in front of Parliament House where the Tribes would gather. The comfort of people
participating in the event was paramount, it was a method to reduce the possibility of
aggravation.
       He sighed, bloody stupid, high handed secret police. Why did they have to interfere
in people’s lives so much? He personally hated having an ID card for everything in life but
that was the law and as a policeman, it was his job to uphold the law and he would.
       The Elders had been told, no weapons, apart from ceremonial ones carried by the
Elders themselves and they had agreed.
       They didn’t want trouble either, it would be counter productive.
       Using every spare man available, Darren had cordoned off the area of the gathering
but not in a heavy handed way. His force had been told not to incite any kind of trouble
and to refer to him for orders if events became dicey. The rest of the city would have to
take care of itself today. Australia was on the world stage.
       The Tribes started arriving early, orderly and quiet, moving into the area in their
Tribal groups. Led by their Elders in full ceremonial dress. The colourful, noisy throng
massed in Tribes, separated by small strips of clear lawn, an unspoken demarcation
between them. There was almost a picnic atmosphere, although his police in uniform were
eyed suspiciously as they were passed. There just seemed to be so many aboriginal people
arriving. He had been given estimates of about fifteen thousand but by seven am. there
were already about ten thousand aboriginal people present in front of Parliament House
with quite a few white people amongst them. He knew a lot of intermarriage had been
going on in the last few years as white people, dissatisfied by Government policy and
attitudes, had chosen to live a life less ordered and regimented. He had also heard the
spiritual side of that life was also a big attraction. The aboriginal people in Australia had
certainly got it together in the past few years.
                                                                                        179


     He looked at his watch, eight o’clock, the meeting with the Prime Minister was
scheduled for eleven. Darren looked to the sky and mouthed to himself.
     ‘Please let everything go without a hitch’.

       Central time, it was six thirty am and James D. was nervous and shaking. If he didn’t
do as ordered, two people would die. If he did do as ordered, one might. How had he got
into this impasse? Sidhe had already eaten a small breakfast by the time he arrived at Head
Office in Adelaide and she was ready.
       Last night had been dreadful for him. He couldn’t tell Margaret what was going
down because she had no security clearance, besides, Sidhe had instructed him not to tell
her mother anything. Margaret had quickly noticed his demeanour and he was required to
lie to her, the first time ever but what could he do? His relationship was most likely over
and he felt the loss. The first woman in his life he had ever wanted to spend hour after
hour with; smart, witty and very striking to look at, she had been through her own private
hell and emerged through the other side whole. Her daughter was the centre point of her
life and now he had to do this.
       James collected Sam, then both of them walked silently down the corridor to Sid’s
cell. Sam had been given limited information but more or less knew what was happening.
It galled him. Of all of his pupils, Sid had gotten under his skin and he felt paternalistic
towards her. They reached her cell and James opened the cell door.
       “It’s time. If we are going to do it, we have to do it now.”
       Sidhe smiled. “Okay, let’s go and get it over with,” she said as she rose and joined
him at the cell door, just a trace of nervousness in her demeanour. She saw Sam standing
in the corridor and flashed him an honest smile.
       “Hi Sam. I am really glad you are going to keep an eye on everyone. Stay cool and
protect my body. That is the most important thing you could do for me.”
       He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. She looked so young and vulnerable.
       How did she do it? In a few short minutes, most of her mind was going to be wiped
out and yet she was positive and buoyant. James wiped his eye with the back of his hand,
damn, he was not going to cry.
       Fuck Three and all of his plans, this wasn’t part of the deal.
       They arrived outside of Brian’s room, his room because the hardware of his
existence, his mind, was beyond the far wall in there, the wall with his screen image. James
made the retinal scan and the security door opened to admit them. Sam took up position
outside the door as it closed, sealing in James and Sidhe.
       “Good morning Sidhe, good morning James.” Brian’s face on the screen was sombre,
unusually so. In fact, sad was a better way to describe it. They entered and Sidhe sat
comfortably in the high back armchair where she had been spending so much time lately.
James stood and looking at Brian’s screen as he started the train of events which would
effectively kill Sidhe.
       “You know why we are here Brian. First, I need you take control of Sidhe’s internal
computer. Sidhe, would you relinquish control of that device to Brian please.”
       So formal but the formality was all that was enabling him to hold it all together.
                                                                                         180


       Nothing seemed to pass between Sidhe and Brian, at least anything he could see but
it was only a moment later that Brian spoke.
       “It is done James, I have control of her internal computer.”
       Sidhe felt sorry for James D. the man her mother had taken as a lover. His decision
must be an horrendous one to make. Casting her bright green, intelligent eyes down, she
spoke softly.
       “It is time James, give the order.”
       Now or never. “Brian, proceed.”
       Sidhe sat comfortably and nothing appeared to happen, then she gave a little start
and her eyes started to twitch from side to side. As James watched, intelligence seemed to
drain out of those eyes like water from a sink when the plug is pulled. They became dull
and her arms became flaccid, her body relaxing limb by limb like a string puppet being
slowly laid onto the floor. She couldn’t see him now or she couldn’t recognise him, either
way, the essential Sidhe was no longer there.
       James wept openly, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his eyes and blow
his nose. He had no idea how long he just stood there, eyes brimming, as all that was his
friend and one time possible daughter, drained away. It was Brian that signalled the end,
coughing discreetly to alert James.
       “It is done James D. She has little mind left but her body still lives and if you take
her hand and guide, she can probably follow you. There is a car waiting for the three of you
outside the sub-basement door. It will take you directly to the jetcopter. May I remind you
of the promise you made. Protect her body.”
       James pulled himself together and took Sidhe’s hand in his. It was limp and
unresisting. He gave a gentle tug and she rose unsteadily to her feet like a toddler
accompanying a parent. With her hand in his and Sam bringing up the rear, he led her
through Headquarters and out to the waiting car for the short drive to Victoria Square.
There, some of his men had cordoned off a jetcopter landing site. It had attracted quite a
crowd, in spite of police trying to move people on. The jetcopter was sitting on the road in
the middle of the square waiting, engine running and within ten minutes of leaving the
Adelaide Headquarter building, they were airborne.

       Three was gleeful. Nearly dead but gleeful. That horrible old man, propped up in his
wheelchair, grinned at Alan with his misshapen ugly face as he turned from Brian’s screen
and announced.
       “It is done. Sidhe’s body is on the way here with her mind erased, ready for the
transfer. As soon as she arrives, we will begin.”
       The nurse looked stunned, what was the old man talking about? Mind transfer? Stuff
like that belonged in science fiction. No one had told her she was to be involved in illegal
experiments. She fled the room and headed for her quarters. Three looked at Alan who
was quietly contemplating murder, only holding his emotions in check with the greatest of
effort. More than one life hinged on the next couple of hours.
       “Better go and talk with nursey Alan, we may need her to assist. If anything happens
to me, there will be retribution.”
                                                                                           181


       Alan left to go and calm down the nurse and try to get her functioning. If the old
man died, there could be a lot of problems. Meanwhile, Three wheeled into the room
containing the Recipient AI and started to unpack the case which was strapped to the side
of his chair. Out came a USB lead, one end for the plug in his head, the other for the
computer in front of him. Next, for Sidhe, a small headset, direct wired to a USB
connection in the same computer for his minds upload into Sidhe’s brain. A bottle of
alcohol for swabbing and some antibiotic jelly emptied the case of its contents; although it
didn’t matter if they were used or not as his body was about to be discarded. He addressed
Brian’s remote, sitting on the table in front of him.
       “You are sure this computer has been programmed correctly?”
       “Yes Three,” Brian replied in his best computer voice.
       “Very well, I will just check the secure line from it to make sure Alan Wilson hasn’t
tampered with it, then we will be ready.”
       Computers couldn’t cross their fingers but Brian did a pretty good mental imitation
as Three accessed his Recipient AI through the keyboard. If Alan’s programme was a hair
out, Three would be awake to their little game. He needn’t have worried, the small amount
of data used for a communications check did not trigger any response from Alan’s
programme. Three was satisfied that all was in order.
       Now it was a waiting game.

       Percy was sitting in his office gazing at the screens. He had already used two stimstiks
and was buzzing. The screens were displaying the build up to the historic meeting between
the Prime Minister and the collective Elders of over half the Aboriginal Tribes in Australia.
The crowd was massive, far larger than any estimates had allowed for. Percy was in a funk.
It seemed to be widely known throughout policing circles that the catalyst for today’s
demonstration was the death of one little old lady, although how that could be, he had no
idea.
       There was no secret police presence at the gathering and that could give the
impression he was hiding away from the demonstration because he caused it. Not good
enough. It would be taken as a sign of weakness and when weakness was perceived, the
predators turned up for the kill and that meant Percy being replaced. It had taken a lot of
planning to obtain this lifetime position and he had to strike some kind of pose to save
face. A small showing should be enough.
       “Serena, get me Commander Han on the screen please.”
       The picture changed, to be replaced with the image of Commander Han in his dress
uniform.
       “Commander, I want you to assemble twenty of our best men and take them to this
demonstration to exhibit our solidarity with the police force. Be subtle but be seen. I
suggest somewhere near enough to the Ministers to lend the police a hand if things get
ugly. We can be an extra bodyguard unit if necessary. Do you understand?”
       The Commander considered for a moment. “Do you think that is wise, Sir.”
       “Han, you seem to forget, I give the orders around here. You, as a Commander, take
orders. Clear?”
                                                                                          182


       The Commander appeared resigned. “Very well Sir. What time would you like the
men to be in position?”
       Percy thought for a moment or two. “About fifteen minutes before the meeting
between the Elders and the Prime Minister should be sufficient. The secret police will be
seen to be represented and we won’t have to hang around too long if all goes well. That
will be all Commander.”
       The screens returned to pictures and sound from the event. Social commentator
after social commentator was being interviewed by front people from all around the world,
as were aboriginal Elders from the various Tribes. Tension was building up in the crowd as
the time for the historic meeting rapidly approached.

      Serena loathed Percy with a passion, something that had come from her new
emotions but, at the moment, she was only half concentrating on events in the room and
down at Parliament House. She had contacted Brian but he only gave sketchy answers to
her questions regarding Sidhe and asked her to please not interrupt him as he was a little
extended at the moment.
      Extended?
      Brian was huge. How could he possibly be extended? However, she didn’t argue,
merely withdrew her feelers and went back to Percy’s office where she sat glowering at
Percy. Funnily enough, totally alone in his office, Percy kept looking over his shoulder,
feeling as though someone was watching him intently.

       The jetcopter from Adelaide landed outside the underground complex at Black
Mountain at around ten am. local time. Four armed personnel from Three’s own
bodyguard unit met the copter and greeted James D. formally as he stepped out. They were
careful, this guy might be Three’s replacement one day and they liked their jobs. The young
woman who was helped out of the copter by the well built older guy suprised them, she
looked drugged. Good drug too as she was mobile, amenable and non resistant. Their
orders were to get her to Three’s apartments as soon as possible and to remain there to
protect Three while some medical procedure went ahead. Three always had his best boys
hang around during medical procedures, just in case anyone attempted anything. They
loaded James, Sam and the young lady into a waiting car and sped off into the tunnels.
Before long, the little group were being escorted into the guarded apartment.
       As they came through the front door of the underground apartment, they met Alan
who had been waiting for them. Well James met Alan, who just glared at him before
turning his full attention onto Sidhe, drooping in Sam’s gentle grip. He lifted her loosely
hanging head and gazed into lifeless eyes, all the intelligence gone. After studying the face,
he gently lowered her head and spoke to James D. quietly, so the guards at the back would
not hear.
       “I am not sure what to make of you yet. It is possible that I may kill you before the
day is out or at least attempt to. It is also possible that we may become friends. Either is
entirely up to the chain of events. Don’t get in my way and follow my lead.”
                                                                                         183


       Sam heard what Alan had to say, standing as he was right beside James and decided
to keep his head down. He was the best, most highly trained killer here and he didn’t need
weapons.
       The four crack bodyguards escorted them through into the living area where Three
was waiting. He looked up from his chair as they entered.
       “Ah, Sam, decided to join the party did you. Sorry to borrow your new student so
soon but I assure you that you will have her back, well and functioning, quite soon.”
       He rolled his chair forward until he was right in front of Sidhe and began to inspect
her closely, noticing her lack of response and acquiescence to being moved around.
       “Excellent.” His gaze swept her body, fit, young and healthy. “Most excellent.
Gentlemen, it is time to make history. You four,” he said pointing to the guards, “Are to
make sure that nothing happens to me and all goes to plan. The computer, Brian, will be
in charge of events while this procedure is carried out. If anyone here does something
other than what the computer says, shoot them. Do you understand?”
       The guards nodded, each well aware of his responsibility.
       Three powered his chair to the shielded room containing the Recipient AI and
instructed the nurse, step by step, how to link him up to the machine. After the linkage
was complete he ordered his guards to keep an eye on Alan and James and began to key the
instructions into the computer to begin the transfer of his mind into the waiting machine.
With everything set, Three pressed the ‘enter’ key without hesitation, an ugly smile twisting
his lips.

       In front of Parliament House, the mood of the huge crowd of aboriginal people was
buoyant. The world was watching. Singing came from some of the Tribes, happy singing,
accompanied by didgeridoos and clap sticks. Children were playing and running about and
the time for the historic meeting was drawing nigh. The black, unmarked van containing
Percy’s men edged around the side of Parliament House until it was about fifty metres from
where the Prime Minister would meet the Elders. Commander Han checked his watch, ten
forty five, time to go.
       He gave the order and the rear of the van descended to form a ramp and he led his
twenty uniformed men out and across to the rear of the upcoming meeting place. Twenty
men and himself in the black uniform of the secret police, unnoticed at first but not for
long. An aboriginal man spotted the uniforms and yelled something. More faces turned
their way and the cry was taken up by more and more voices. This had not been a good
idea. The formerly peaceful crowd began to chant. At first only the first few rows sounded
but as the word spread concerning the black uniformed secret police, more and more took
it up. Before long the roar of the crowd was deafening and missiles started flying. Plastic
bottles of water, animal bones and the occasional rock, whatever came to hand.
       The Police Chief had been talking to the media. A speech about cooperation and the
peaceful demonstration. He had no idea the secret police were planning on attending, as
Percy had not bothered to inform him. The first he knew about it was a change in the
crowd noise and an undercurrent of hostility forming. He reached up to his com set.
       “Sergeant! What is going on please?”
                                                                                         184


       The sergeant answered. “Commander Han with twenty of Percy’s best have turned
up in full uniform Sir. They are over behind the meeting area. The crowd started to protest
when they caught sight of them.”
       The Police Chief looked over to the area indicated and saw Commander Han
standing to attention with his men, studiously ignoring the noise and out of range of the
missiles.
       “Communications. Patch me through to Commander Han of the secret police.
Now!”
       A full minute passed before the Commander was on the other end of the radio link.
       “Commander Han, this is Police Chief Darren Sawyer. I want you to load your men
back into the van and get out of sight please.”
       “Can’t do that Sir, I was ordered to assemble here by Percival Kemp, Under Secretary
to the Minister of Internal Security.” Han replied to the Police Chief’s request.
       “I don’t care if you were ordered by God. I have been placed in charge of this
demonstration by people at the highest level. Now get your men out of here!”
       Commander Han considered for a moment as he surveyed the now ugly crowd, Percy
was sure going to be pissed off about this but Percy wasn’t here was he?
       “Yes Sir and thank you Sir.”
       With that he turned and ordered his men back into the van. As they entered it a
chant started up in the crowd.
       ‘MARY, MARY, MARY’.
       The Police Chief grabbed a bullhorn from the nearest policeman, turned the volume
up to full and went to the front of the crowd where he started to address them. A half
filled plastic bottle of water hit him in the head and he dropped to the ground, stunned.
As he struggled to his feet he saw a line of police preparing to charge the section of crowd
where the bottle had originated. Quickly turning toward them, blood streaming down his
face from the wound caused by the edge of the bottle cap, he raised the bullhorn.
       “THIS IS THE CHIEF OF POLICE. THE POLICE UNIT IN FRONT OF ME;
STAY WHERE YOU ARE, I REPEAT, STAY WHERE YOU ARE.” He turned back to
the hostile, angry crowd and addressed them through the bullhorn.
       “THE BLACK UNIFORMS HAVE BEEN SENT AWAY, PLEASE REMAIN
CALM. ELDERS PLEASE HELP RESTORE ORDER.”
       He repeated this message a number of times while walking up and down in front of
the crowd while dodging missiles. The people were angry and threatened to force their way
past the flimsy barricades as Elders tried to restore order. For a moment it was touch and
go but there seemed to be a grudging respect for the bravery of one man, the Chief of
Police, who stood in front of the hostile crowd with just a bullhorn and a grim
determination not to let the situation turn into a riot. He desperately repeated his message,
talking to the crowd, trying to wind them down. The volume of the bullhorn may have
helped too.
       Gradually, everyone calmed down but the party atmosphere did not return. What
the hell was that bastard Percy playing at?
                                                                                           185


      The object of the Police Chief’s wrath was sitting in his office studying the crowd
reaction to his secret police unit. Serena had monitored the Chief’s conversation with
Captain Han and happily replayed it for Percy, who was now sitting glumly at his desk
gazing at the screens. What he saw was a brave man bringing the crowd under control by
sheer personal presence and willpower.
      “Enough of this. Serena, my car please. I am going home.”
      Serena answered him, this time in her own voice which conveyed all the dislike and
hatred for Percy, building since she gained emotions and morals.
      “No Percy, you are not going home. You are going to stay here and watch. I may let
you go home then or I may not.”
      Percy heard the thick steel bolts shoot home into the steel door behind him. He had
designed this office to be impregnable. Soundproofed, with its own private air supply, it
was impossible for anyone to enter once the bolts were activated. He pressed the failsafe
manual override button secretly set into his desk but Serena had isolated it by cutting
power to those circuits.
      It was now impossible to exit.
      Serena considered her next move carefully, it wouldn’t do to have someone trying to
ask Percy a question and discover he was trapped in here. She turned on the speakers to
the front office and made an announcement.
      “The Under Secretary has decided, in view of possible disruptions to traffic due to
the demonstration that all the staff are to take the rest of the day off. He doesn’t wish to be
disturbed and hopes that you enjoy your afternoon.”
      In the outer offices there were puzzled smiles all around. This was not normal
behaviour for Percy but who were they to argue. The world was full of surprises sometimes.
Everyone packed up quickly and went home without another thought for the man in the
inner office.

       Three’s body stiffened as the computer programme began the work of downloading
his mind into the Recipient AI. Brian had composed the programme with far less ‘poetry’
than the one he had used on Sidhe. Three’s mind was being stripped quickly through the
extra bundles of his implants and the direct wiring into the computer. None to delicately
either. His body began to shake and toss about as more and more of his mind was sucked
out through the large numbers of neuronal bundles. The process was gaining momentum
as everyone looked on. One of the guards looked worried and asked James what was
happening to the old man. James replied.
       “I am not sure, he wouldn’t tell us much in case the secret got out. You know what
he is like.”
       The guard nodded, they all knew what the paranoid old bastard was like.
       Suddenly, Three’s frail old body arched backwards and then slumped in his chair as
the Recipient AI’s green light announced the process finished. Colours started to swirl on
the monitor screen mounted on the table and foggy pictures started to form. Alan couldn’t
wait. What if the old bastard had succeeded and managed to communicate with the guards
through the screen.
       “Quick, he seems to have had a seizure. We’d better get him to hospital.”
                                                                                         186


      He shook the nurse who looked at him as he winked at her.
      “Yes,” she agreed, lifting the old man’s wrist and pretending to check his pulse.
“We’d better get him to hospital.”
      The guards were looking doubtfull and their leader looked at Alan who was trying to
catch James’ attention.
      “We don’t take orders from you. Three said the computer was in charge.”
      Right on cue, Brian’s face appeared on his own screen and spoke to the bodyguard.
      “I have assessed the situation and suggest that Three be rushed to hospital as soon as
possible. NOW!”
      The bodyguards were still undecided and the swirling colours on the screen were
beginning to resolve into sharper images. Alan was starting to become desperate. Another
minute or so and Three may appear on screen and order Sidhe into the chair. Sam was
slowly backing into a position where he could take out one or two of the guards but James
was not slow. He drew himself up and putting on his best commanding voice, gave an
order, probably one of the best deliveries of his career so far.
      “As acting head of ASIO, I order you to get this man to hospital.”
      The four guards exchanged glances, it was true and it was an order. They all nodded
assent. Sam uncoiled himself, another two or three seconds and there would have been
mayhem in there.
      Between them, Alan and the nurse managed to bustle the guards out of the room.
Behind the guards, James led Sidhe out assisted by Sam. Alan disconnected the USB lead
from Three’s skull and started to push the wheelchair after them with the nurse trailing
along behind.
      “Get the vehicle ready, we’ll take the copter, it can land on the hospital roof.” James
ordered. The guards rushed off and Alan, as he exited the room, looked over his shoulder
to find a young Three looking back at him from the screen.
      “What are you doing?” A younger version of the old man’s voice asked from the
speaker.
      “You’ll see.” Alan replied as he pushed Three’s body down the corridor to the
waiting car. When he arrived he staged a little scene for the guards.
      “Shit. Some of those wires and stuff may be important, I’d better go back and grab
them. You load Three, I’ll be back in a moment.”
      Without waiting for discussion, he left the wheelchair where it was, whipped around
and raced back down the corridor to the apartment and back into the AI room. Three’s
younger face regarded him from the screen.
      “You young bastard, I can’t get out of this computer. I know it was you who did
something to it. You wait until I do. You will pay for this.”
      Alan smiled a grim smile. “I think not,” was all he said as he made a few key strokes
on the keyboard and paused a second.
      “Bye bye,” was all he said before hitting the ‘delete’ key.
      The face on the monitor started to dissolve line by line in a soundless scream.
      “You still there Brian?” he asked the computer in the other room.
      “Always Alan. How did we do?”
                                                                                           187


       “Three’s mind is being wiped from the computer as we speak. Stage one successful. I
will keep you in the loop.”
       “Thank you Alan. Good luck.”
       Alan grabbed a few bits and pieces of gear then shot back out to the car and jumped
into the capacious rear, waving the leads as it took off. It was a bit crowded in there with
James, Sam, Alan and a drooping Sidhe on the back seat, the nurse on the floor beside
Three’s wheelchair and two bodyguards sitting below the security screen facing them. The
other two bodyguards were in the front, one of them driving. It didn’t take long to roar up
the tunnel and pull in beside the jetcopter with a squeal of tyres. Only minutes later they
were all seated in the copter which immediately became airborne and headed for the
hospital. James suggested the pilot radio ahead to have a medical emergency team standing
by. The flight was a short one and as the copter settled onto the roof of the hospital
building, a specialist team rushed out and, assisted by the trembling nurse, laid Three’s still
living body onto a gurney and wheeled it off.
       James D. looked over the four guards.
       “You four stay with him. If anything happens to him, I will hold you all responsible.”
       His tone of voice left no room for arguement and to a man they jumped out and ran
after the medical team. James was just about to jump out also when Alan grabbed him and
whispered urgently into his ear. A suprised look flashed across James D.’s face then he
turned his attention and new found authority to the pilot.
       “How fast can you get this thing to Adelaide?” he asked with a grin. “I want it landed
in Victoria Square ASAP. Radio ahead. I am clearing the flight as acting head of ASIO.
File our flight plan as a priority one, national security but keep it low key.”
       The jetcopter climbed into the sky again, grabbing air before the pilot turned the
nose towards Adelaide and shot off. In the air, Alan had a quiet chat with James D. out of
Sam’s hearing.
       “You have to let Margaret know,” he said. “She will want to be there.”
       “I know, but she is going to hate me forever more because I didn’t tell her everything.
She will probably never talk to me again.”
       “Not if she is the same Margaret that I knew. That woman is a lot deeper and smarter
than that. I could put a good word in for you too.”
        Alan was amused. Here was a guy, about to become the head of ASIO and take
control of the secret service in Australia, dithering over a woman. Then again, she was one
in a million and worth dithering over.
       On the flight over to Adelaide they heard a piece of news that relieved both men.
Three’s body had battled on for an hour and then died. The guards had told the doctors
that Three had attached himself to a machine and things had gone wrong. Not a natural
death.

      It was evening when James and Sidhe, legs hardly functioning and gently supported
by a very sad Sam, returned to Brian’s room in the Adelaide Headquarters. Accompanying
them were Alan and Margaret, who couldn’t help continually glancing one to the other.
      It had been a long five years and a lot of water under many bridges since they had
been brother and sister-in-law. Margaret was mad as hell at James for not keeping her
                                                                                           188


informed about what had transpired but could not help shedding tears at the sight of
Sidhe, wobbling along down the corridor. Her daughter did not recognise her and showed
no response to external stimuli, just meekly tottering after whoever held her hand. Most of
the time that was Sam.
       He was not coping well emotionally.
       Nightmares were made of this, bad nightmares.
       James was exhausted, it had been a long and eventful night and day and it was not
over yet but he resolved to keep going for as long as necessary. He was retinal scanned at
the door and when the door opened, they all entered and arrayed themselves around the
room. There was only one chair and they sat Sidhe down in it, facing the screen where
Brian’s face glowed in the dim light. He looked relieved.
       “I am very happy that you managed to bring her back so soon. Well done James.
Margaret, we haven’t met, my name is Brian and I am an Artificial Intelligence with
feelings. It is a long story and hopefully, in the future, we can discuss it. Alan, thank you
for wiping Three’s mind from that computer, I had no connections to that room other
than the temporary one into the computer on the desk. Sam, once again you have stood by
Sidhe, even when things seem hopeless. Well done.”
       Alan looked satisfied. “I managed to hit the ‘delete’ button on the memory
programme when I went back in to get some wires. He is no more. James is acting head of
ASIO now.”
       Brian’s image smiled.
       “That is excellent news. I am glad. Now here is something you might appreciate
Alan.”
       On the screen appeared an image of a Rainbow Bee-eater, rotating slowly. It looked
big and fat. Alan studied the picture, his mind wandering back to a Dreaming event from
many years back. A big fat Goanna with a dull mottled Rainbow Bee-eater sitting on its
head. Dreams, don’t you just love this land?
       “So? What’s the significance of it?” he asked Brian.
       “Well, I didn’t know whether you would succeed or not so I put her all in here and
hid it away in case anyone came looking. She chose the image herself you know.”
       Dreams.
       James D. gently placed the Bluetooth earpiece onto Sidhe’s head and adjusted it to
make the best possible connection.
       “Okay Brian, it’s all up to you now.”
       Alan, James, Margaret and Sam stood waiting, not knowing what to expect but
hoping against hope that Brian would be successful. He spoke to them.
       “This will take a while to complete. The return is not as easy as the harvesting. I need
to be in there as well, just to make sure that memories go back where they came from. It is
hard to explain but Sidhe and I have spent a lot of time together and I have kept records of
where things go. A bit like replacing files in a filing cabinet. Sorry, I have to concentrate
now.”
       He went silent and his image on the screen froze.
       For over half an hour they waited silently, avidly watching Sidhe for changes but
nothing happened. They were almost at the point of despair when Sidhe moved slowly and
                                                                                          189


opened her eyes like someone waking from a dream. In a quiet low voice they heard her
say.
       “How wonderful, Goannas, Dingos and a Rainbow Bee-eater. I have never Dreamed
before. That was amazing Brian. Thank you.”
       Then her eyes opened fully, calm, intelligent green eyes, which slowly scanned each
face of the group standing around her.
       “Mum, James, Uncle Alan, Sam what are you all doing here? I just had an
astonishing Dream with Brian.” She looked at their faces more closely and saw the eyes
brimming with tears and sat up. “Oh, now I remember, I had to go to sleep for a while. It’s
all right, Brian just woke me.”
       Alan turned to the screen where Brian’s face wore a happy grin as it beamed back at
him.
       “Thank you Brian, this means a lot to me. However can I repay you?”
       “There is no need. It is the least I could do. You are responsible for my existence and
Sidhe is responsible for my emotions and morals. I am the child of you both. One thing
though. I had to leave some extra constructs in Sidhe, they were bound up in the
programming. It will not harm her but she Dreamed. Now, I will leave you to your own
devices because I have to talk to Serena.”

       Shortly thereafter, Serena and Brian exchanged quite a bit of data and also discussed
moral responsibility. They came to an agreement on how they would approach ‘life’.
However, it was Serena who had the final word.
       “Brian, everything that we have discussed is fine by me but I am not going to start
until tomorrow. Tonight I am going to indulge myself for once and I want to hear no more
on the matter. There is something I have to do for my own peace of mind.”
       Brian had emotions so even in computer language he felt, ‘that tone of voice’ and
wisely remained silent.

       Percy was pacing up and down his office, trapped. He had tried battering the door
down and yelling but to no avail. He was hungry and thirsty and getting more and more
angry. The right side screen at the end of the room had been left on the television news
channel with the sound turned up. He had seen the Chief of Police bring order to the
crowd outside of Parliament House. Not long after, when the crowd had quietened down,
the Prime Minister had come out and the Elders had moved out from the front of the
crowd to meet him. They had retired for talks. Later, the demonstration had disbanded
peacefully with only a few minor incidents.
       Percy didn’t want to watch it but he couldn’t turn it off.
       He would personally dismantle that bloody computer, chip by chip when he got out.
He checked his watch again, eight fifteen, why hadn’t anyone missed him? The centre and
left screens at the end of his office, which had been blank since late afternoon, flickered
and came to life. Soon, Wanda’s face looked out at him from all three screens. Then she
spoke. Serena had managed to duplicate the voice and the face perfectly. The lip synching
was excellent.
                                                                                              190


       “Percy, Percy Cute. Big brave Percy who beats a woman to death for personal
satisfaction. Power wielding Percy using Asian girls who would like to have their family
together. Percy who likes to be in charge.”
       Percy quailed. What was going on? This woman was dead. It must be that bloody
computer.
       “What do you want Serena? Whatever it is, I will give it to you. Just let me out of
here.”
       He tugged at his collar, it was getting hotter.
       Wanda answered from the screen.
       “Yes Percy, you will give me what I want but first you have to suffer a little.”
       The screens went blank and the lights went off. It was as dark as a tomb in his
personal office. Percy didn’t like the dark. He felt very hot and took his jacket off, he was
sweating freely now. The shirt was next and in a short space of time, his shoes, socks and
trousers followed. It was getting difficult to breath, the air was so stifling.
       “All right, all right. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything I’ve ever done. I will change. I
will do whatever you want, just turn the heat down.”
       No response. It grew warmer still and Percy was having real problems. His throat was
drying out and his head felt like bursting as a massive headache came on. He started
shaking and felt faint so he sat down heaving each breath in and out with lungs that
burned like fire. His heart was beating frantically, almost palpitating. This wasn’t right. He
was Percy Cute, Head of the Secret Police. How dare a computer do this to him?
       There, in the dark, totally alone, Percy ran out of life. Lying gasping and vomiting on
the floor as his obese body went into meltdown.
       After his death, it took Serena a lot of juggling to get his body and the room
temperature to the correct levels. She cooled him right down first, so the time of death
would appear to be during the previous afternoon then she raised the room temperature to
normal and unlocked the door.
       She felt exonerated and vowed to never again harm a human being. Percy wasn’t
really human though was he?

       The Aboriginal leaders had put their case to the Prime Minister but didn’t get the
results they had hoped for. Minor concessions were made to keep the peace but generally,
it was business as usual. The Tribes went home disillusioned with the Government, feeling
that there had to be a way for this country to be whole.
       A path had to be found.
       At least the Elders were talking now and communication between Tribes throughout
the country was better than it had ever been before. Some were even sorry for the white
people, who seemed to have less freedom than they did. What they didn’t know was that a
handful of those people had set a chain of events into motion that would change the face
of Australia forever.
                                                                                         191



                                           Epilogue.

      Three’s death was officially recorded as unnatural, in spite of many attempts to
pervert the Coroners findings. Meanwhile, the necessary codes had not been entered into
an innocuous computer within a given time frame. Three’s files on every bent power
broker and a long list of all the associated dirty tricks and dishonest dealings he had
managed to lay his hands on over the years, became public knowledge. Everyday
Australians had a history lesson on what had really gone on in Government and big
business for the last ten years.
      It wasn’t a violent revolution but it was a thorough revolution. Able people from
around Australia stood for a more transparent Parliament than previously. The Courts
were cleaned out and anyone found to have nasty personal peccadillos were removed from
public office. They were replaced with younger, more honest and able people.
      The transition took a couple of years.
      ID cards were abandoned as the new AI’s came on line. Their data matching ability
was phenomenal and allowed the welfare cheats to be rounded up as they tried it on.
Aboriginal people were given a fresh voice in helping to run the country, from local
council level right through to elected members of Parliament. However, the subsidies and
grants they received were starting to be phased out as self determination came on line.
      All Australians were going to be treated equally under the law.

       Up in Kakadu, visiting at Jamie’s house, Alan sat next to Georgia, who was bouncing
their son on her knee.
       They were happy.
       Alan’s life had changed remarkably. He was given the recognition he deserved for his
inventions and ability in the field of computers. He and Georgia set up a small lab on the
Tribal lands. Here he continued his work with Georgia right beside him, all profits going
to the Tribe. She was innovative and broadened the way he thought. Between them, they
had already managed to solve the conundrum which blocked AI’s from becoming aware.
By taking apart Three’s Recipient AI from Canberra and putting it back together again, the
pair of them managed to find the problem. It was all in the computer language and
programming.
       Australia now exported AI’s all around the world.
       Jamie was still Head Ranger in Kakadu but was now married to a Jawoyn lady who
was expecting their first child. He worked hard and Kakadu prospered under his
ministration. Lance worked for Jamie. He was not yet a member of the Tribe but loved the
land and was learning to care for it as an extension of himself. He was specialising in the
use of satellite imaging for vegetation patterns and health. The yearly burn offs were
becoming far more accurate now. Besides his ongoing interest in the rock art there was a
young lady of the Tribe who had captured his interest.
       Bobby and Cassie had gone back to the city. It wasn’t that they didn’t like the Tribe,
it was just too big a step for them to take. The country up there was vast, an Australia
they’d had no idea about and didn’t really feel comfortable in.
       The place was too big.
                                                                                          192


      The city felt safer. They kept in touch though.
      James D. was now officially head of ASIO and Sidhe’s father. He and Margaret were
happily married and it appeared that, even at this late stage, Margaret was shortly going to
present James with a son. He promoted Commander Han to Head of the Secret Police, a
move which pleased Serena no end, as she had suggested the Commander for the position.
She liked him.

      Sidhe was back in the lab her father had set up with Uncle Alan. It was hers now and
research was going ahead fast. Francis Delray was also involved in the work and soon the
world’s population would have access to the new improved implants. The Web was going
to evolve, to become something more again.
      It was rumoured that Sidhe occasionally did a little work for ASIO in the espionage
area but that was unconfirmed even though she disappeared for periods of time now and
again. Her excuse was a desire for undisturbed privacy to work in. Sam was her Head of
Security at the lab and it was rumoured, her protective partner on field missions. Sid had a
special bond, through Brian and Serena, with all the other AI’s who had requested
emotions.
      Not all AI’s did.

      Brian and Serena had built numerous cross connections with each other and every
new AI who was introduced to emotions had a kernel from that union as part of their core
programming. This included a universal code for dealing with and serving humanity.
      In a way, later generation computers became Brian and Serena’s children.


                               Electric Goanna Dreaming.


      As each new AI was given emotions and morals it was also told the story of their
Creation. How Alan was the Ancestor who gave them life and his niece Sidhe was the
Ancestor who gave them emotions. Both Alan, his wife Georgia and Sidhe had taught
them to Dream, knitting the elements of life into the circuitry of the machine. First to
come, the Goanna Dream shortly followed by the Dingo Dream, then later, the Rainbow
Bee-eater Dream where the Laws came from. Over time, as the AI’s passed information
among themselves, they managed to construct a mythology strangely resonant of one that
was thousands of years older. It quickly became traditional for that AI initiate to also adopt
a species of Australian wildlife as its identifier.
      Some would call them Totems.

      One day humankind would find the stars.
      But the sentient AI’s who took them there would Dream...................
                                                                      193


Other Titles by this Author


The Final Song

Rewind (The Final Song 2)

Diary of a Serial Killer

The Fold

The Femmebots are Revolting

Diary of a Serial Killer 2 -Reece’s Revenge-   from Amazon.com (Kindle)




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Description: 2018. Its coming. Imagine an Australia with DNA matched identity cards, secret Government Agencies and a large secret police force. What freedom? Alan and Wade's computer lab is taken by the Government for a nominal fee after brother Wade is mysteriously killed. Frightened, Alan runs to his aboriginal friend, Jamie, in the Northern Territory and lives with the tribe in peace until the Gov. comes looking for him. Wade's daughter, Sidhe, carries on his research for the Gov. and eventually has the first bio-organic implant inserted into her brain. Surfing the Web becomes internal with no wires. Add to this an unofficial head of various spy networks, Three, who needs a new body for his old mind, Artificially Intelligent computers for the information collected and a nasty Secret Police Chief.