Tag Archives: Switchblade Pisces

Switchblade Pisces Pt.7

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I’m beginning to get a picture of things, but I’m not sure how much of it I’m making up. Filling in the spaces, I ask, “Janis,have you ever killed anyone before today?”

Her cortex fans are whirring more now. “In simulations. I have been training for three years now.”

I cover my forehead with my hand. “Janis, you’ve been playing video games. Real life is different. Ending someone’s life is not anywhere near the same as making some mass of pixels go away. That’s what your brain is telling you. What happened to your father and you, when you saw him lose you, and then when your mother visited you and you saw her realize that you will never be who you were again, that’s what those FBI agent’s families are going through right now. Maybe one of them is at this moment in coma just like you were. Or maybe all them are dead and their loved ones don’t even have a body to cry over.”

“If they were agents, then she did the right thing. They would imprison Eklund and without him, many would die and quality of life would diminish worldwide. They wanted your information to get more control over people. That would diminish freedom. The negative of their death is less severe than the negative of letting them have what they want.”

I shake my head, “Jazz, it doesn’t matter whether what she did was right or not. They were people. Whenever people die, it’s sad. That’s just the way it is.”

“Would you like me to believe this?” Jazz asks.

“Believe whatever you like!”

“I only believe what I am told to believe. I am a Pisces.”

I’m about to argue the point when Janis grabs my free hand. “Thank you, Ethan. I think I understand now.” She releases my hand suddenly and stares at it for a little while. Then, slowly, she wraps her fingers around my hand again. “It is not only me. I see myself in other people. I…feel a little of what they feel because I can imagine myself in their position.”

Janis’s hand is so warm against mine. She looks so beautiful. I close my eyes and swallow. I can’t be thinking about things like that!

“You do not have to be…afraid, Ethan.” I open my eyes and there is Janis looking up at me. “I will not hurt you.”

“Unless she is ordered to,” Jazz adds, his cortex whirring, “Have you made your decision yet?”

Oddly, when I look at the fans on Janis’s prosthetic cortex, they don’t seem to be spinning much at all.

“I’ll go see Eklund,” I say, almost without realizing it.

Jazz nods and takes an exit onto a highway.

~~~~~*~~~~~

After the highway, we travel through several back roads until Jazz pulls over at a fairly nondescript area where the road widens a little for cars that need to turn around. The road here cuts into the hill so I can see the sedimentary layers underneath the soil. There’s a sign that says to watch out for falling rocks.

Jazz puts the car in park and gets out.

I look at Janis, but she’s just sitting, rubbing her wrists, looking distant.

Through the side window, I can see Jazz touch an area of the shorn off hill with his large hand. The surface moves inward and up, revealing a rectangular space not unlike a garage.

Jazz walks back and folds his large body back behind the steering wheel.

As he drives us inside, I feel like I should say something but I have no idea what would be appropriate. Wow? Cool? Nice place you’ve got here? That last might be good, but the moment’s gone by now and I don’t think either Jazz or Janis are in a position to appreciate sarcasm. It bothers me that I’ve driven by so many areas just like this one and never really noticed them. Somehow I’ve always had the feeling that if I drove past a secret hideout I would know it if I saw it.

After we’re inside, Jazz turns off the engine and the door —rock face? Portcullis?— falls back into place with a reverberating thud. There’s an uncomfortable time when nothing seems to be happening, but just as I’m about to mention this, there’s the sound of hydraulics and we’re being lowered down below the floor.

Once again I get to see the sedimentary layers of the rocks through the car window, but now they’re lit by sparse, artificial light and covered over with algae blooms where the light is brightest. We keep going lower and lower, down past older and older sedimentary layers. I’m just beginning to worry irrationally about possibly going through the crust into the mantle of the Earth… when we stop.

Jazz and Janis get out of the car immediately. I take a moment to think about how I got to be where I am and whether I really want to be here. I wonder if perhaps I might be safer staying in the car. But then I realize that I’d be staying in a car several stories beneath the surface of the Earth on a hydraulic elevator operated by someone I can only assume is some kind of mad scientist.

Might as well see if I can figure out where the controls are.

When I get out, the scenery reminds me a little of those caves they have at tourist traps. Stalactites and stalagmites dramatically lit by strategically placed lights. Dominating the scene is a man wearing a linen suit that was probably white at one time. He has a white fedora on and glasses with flashlights embedded in the rims so that looking at his head is like seeing a car coming at you in the night. Because of this, I can’t make out his face too well, but judging by the martini and olive he’s holding jauntily in his left hand, I don’t get the impression that the conversation I’m about to have with him is going to be dull.

“I’m glad you could make it, Ethan,” the man says, “I’m Baxter. Let me show you around.”

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Switchblade Pisces: Pt.6

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 At this point, I feel hopelessly lost. How could all of this stuff be going on without me hearing about it on the news or something? “They can make brain cells that fire when you shine light on them?”

“Yes, this is the fundamental technology behind the optogenetic interface. The fiber optics provide an input into the brain, and EEG can be used as an output.

I know about EEG.  It stands for electroencephalogram, and it’s what a lot of the video game console makers are working on. Basically it’s where you put sensors all around your head to measure the slight electrical impulses your brain gives off. The EEG reads your thoughts and the character does what you want it to. It’s the latest thing, but it’s still a little slow. “How do you deal with the lag?”

“The lag? I am guessing you mean the lag you experience in video games that use EEG? The version we use is more invasive. The electrodes have almost direct contact with the brain. They are also more sensitive than what is commercially available. This significantly reduces the lag we experience.”

Jazz has exited off the highway and we are now on road going through the woods. When we pass by a visitor’s center I realize we must be in a national park. Jazz drives into an empty cove for RV enthusiasts that has a fire pit in the center.  “Are you okay?” I ask Janis.

“I am better. I am not yet ideal though.” Janis takes a few deep breaths. “I should be able to walk.”

Jazz gets out of the car and invites us to follow him. “I hope you have made a decision by now. We really do not have much time.” Janis and I both get out of the car and lean against the door.

“I haven’t even had a chance to think about it, yet! Just give me five minutes okay?”

“I will comply, but I would prefer to keep moving.”

I try to go over everything in my mind while Jazz and Janet are silent. Here I have two highly trained cyborg assassins sitting here waiting for me to give them an order and all I can do is make them wait! What is my problem exactly?

“I do not understand why I am so upset,” Janis says suddenly. “My prosthetic cortex affects my speech and decision making, but my memories and emotions are completely biological. Can you explain my feelings to me, Ethan?”

The purple irises of her eyes pull me in as she asks this. Something about the way she says my name makes me want to hold her. I swallow. “I don’t know. Usually I just know what I’m feeling without really thinking about it. Do you have any clues?”

Janis looks down. “Images keep playing through my mind. I see my father in the moments after the accident, when he is trying to get me out of the car, just before I black out. I see my mother saying goodbye to me after visiting me here. I see the two secret service operatives just before the explosion from the grenade I threw. I do not know what these images have in common, but when they cycle through my mind like this it is worse than confronting any one image by itself.”

“What happened when your mother came to visit, Janis?”

“I do not kn…I…I do not know!”

I think the exclamation startles Janis as much as it does me. She blinks slowly and the fans on her prosthetic cortex whirr loudly for a second.

“Mr. Yates,” Jazz says, “It has been five minutes. We can deal with Janis’s malfunctioning later if we must.”

“I am n…I..am not malfunctioning!” Janis takes a few short breaths. New tears come from her eyes. “I am not a robot, and neither are you, Jazz. Our guardian told us we should train ourselves not to rely on the prosthetic cortex.”

“Dr. Eklund is an optimist. Realistically, there is no way we can regain what we have lost. We should learn to work synergistically with our optogenetic interface. We should adapt to what we are.”

I hold my hand up. “Let her speak.”

“Very well. I will comply.” Jazz crosses his arms. I notice the fans of his prosthetic cortex whirr a little more than usual.

“It was my mother who signed over her guardianship of me to Dr. Eklund so he could give me the prosthetic cortex. A year after I awoke with the prosthesis, he invited her to visit me. He told her not to expect too much. I greeted her politely. When she asked me questions I answered them truthfully. But she started crying. I started having problems with my prosthesis about that time, but I managed to maintain equanimity. It was when she said goodbye that I had the worst reaction.”

I’m beginning to get a picture of things, but I’m not sure how much of it I’m making up. Filling in the spaces. “Janis,” I ask, “have you ever killed anyone before today?”

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Switchblade Pisces: Pt.5

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“I don’t understand. Why is she crying all of a sudden?”

Janis tries to speak “I…I…I…”

The male Pisces shakes his head. “Her speech centers are controlled through her optogenetic interface. You need to wait for her to cool down before you can talk with her.”

“Alright, what the hell is an optogenetic interface?”

“I will comply with your request for information, but may I be permitted to take you to Eklund as I do so?”

“No. I don’t want to go there.” I grit my teeth as I try to figure out what to do. “I need to think. Can you take us somewhere safe?”

“Safety is relative. I can take you somewhere that is hard to find, but I am afraid the FBI will still reach us eventually. I urge you to make a decision quickly.”

“I know, okay? I suck at decisions! Just… give me some more time to think.”

“I will comply as best I can.”

 “What’s your name by the way?” I ask to distract myself from Janis. It’s uncomfortably warm next to her, and she looks so vulnerable and hurt. Despite myself, I’m kind of worried.

The male Pisces turns on to the road and drives back toward the highway as talks. “My name is Jazz. That is the music I like the best. I don’t prefer any artist in particular, so I simply chose Jazz as my name. I am told that I enjoyed jazz before I became a Pisces as well. Has Janis told you how we came to be this way?”

I shake my head no, then I realize Jazz can’t see me so I say the word. Janis is taking shuddering breaths, but she is sitting unaided now, her elbows on her knees as she holds her head in her hands.

Jazz stops at a red light and takes the opportunity to pat Janis on the knee again. “Love will find a way,” he says, “time heals all wounds.”

It strikes me that despite the awkward mechanical way Jazz does this, he is still doing a better job at consoling Janis than I probably would, even if I weren’t upset with the Pisces woman for killing two people. Looking ahead to watch the light, Jazz continues his explanation. “Janis and I both suffered severe trauma to our brains, which left us comatose. Although our bodies were capable of autonomic functions, breathing, digestion, et cetera, we had no activity in our frontal lobes. We were vegetables. I was a police officer who got shot in the temple. Janis was a twelve-year-old girl who was in a car accident while sitting in the passenger seat. The air bag deployed too quickly for her. She was in a coma for ten years before Dr. Eklund found her.”

The light turns and Jazz drives onto the highway as he continues. “Optogenetics refers to the way Janis and I were rehabilitated. The computers you see attached to our heads control lasers which are guided through fiber optic cables to special genetically modified neurons grown in our frontal lobes. Using cells from our skin, Eklund’s laboratories were able to create neural progenitor cells. That is, cells that are able to create new neurons.”

“They can do that?” Sitting next to two people with computers attached to their brains my question seems hopelessly naïve.

“My guardian is the only one who has been able to create a working prosthetic cortex, but many of these technologies have been available since the beginning of this century.”

“How come I never heard about them?”

“The information has been available in many respected scientific journals and news magazines.”

“Oh,” I say. I guess this is what I get for reading nothing but sci-fi novels and video game reviews.

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Switchblade Pisces Pt. 4

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We’re at a gas station, because apparently even motorcycles driven by crazy robot girls need gas occasionally. I’m leaning on one of the support columns, and Janis is filling the tank when I realize I have a way out of this situation.  I call to Janis to get her attention. She looks up, her purple irises regarding me with the same focus that she had previously applied to filling the tank. “Yes?”

“I’m not going to see this Eklund character of yours. I order you to take me to the cops or whoever you’re supposed to call in this situation, and for you to confess what you’ve done.”

“I will comply. This is not ideal, however.”

“I don’t care if it’s ideal! That’s what we’re doing.”

“You understand that you will be arrested if I do this?”

“I don’t believe you about that. All I know right now is you just killed two people and I just helped you blow up my apartment after you tried to kill me.”

Janis hangs up the nozzle, but she pauses just as she’s lifting her leg above the seat of the motorcycle. She shudders and starts to collapse. Without thinking I find myself diving forward to catch her. She is burning hot, her face is beet red. She opens her eyes and they look blood shot. “I need to rest. I don’t feel well. I think. I…think I am upset about something.” She closes her eyes and a droplet of moisture falls out of a corner of one of them.

Is she crying?

She’s running a high fever, and the fans on the boxes on her head are whirring like crazy. I feel the side of one of them and involuntarily jerk it away. Feeling again more carefully I estimate that it’s running about fifty degrees Celsius. That’s not too bad for a processor, but for something attached to a human?

I consider my options. I could just get on her bike and leave her, but that doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. Even though she did kill some people.

Just then a black sedan pulls up in front of us. A man who looks to be in his forties rolls down his window and addresses me. “Ethan Yates?”

“Yeah?”

“Please get in the car. Janis is overheating. She needs rest. You are only a few miles from Eklund’s compound. I’ve been tracking her on GPS.”

Crap. Reinforcements. He’ll probably kill me if I don’t go with him. “Janis. Go ahead into the car, alright? You don’t have to follow that last order I gave you.”

“Th…Th…” Janis tried. I could barely hear her over her fans. Damn it!

The guy in the car gets out. He’s wearing a shiny silver suit. It looks expensive, but I’m not an expert. I’ve been wearing jeans and t-shirt for most my life. The guy in the suit opens the back door and I help him get Janis inside.

“She’s burning up,” I say to the guy. “You have a hospital or something in this place?”

“She will be fine. She just needs to rest.”

I sit next to Janis feeling the temperature of her skin. Before I realize it, the car door is closed and the guy in the suit is in the driver’s seat again. ”I will take you both to Eklund now.” That’s when I see the two boxes on back of his head.

“You’re like her? You’re a Pisces?”

“Yes,” he says as he drives out of the gas station. “I will follow any order given to me. I lost more of my brain tissue before reconstruction, so I suffer less from emotional stress when compared with Janis. She has been like this before, when her birth mother came to visit. I believe that if you give her physical contact and say meaningless optimistic statements, it will accelerate her recovery.”

Janis sobs involuntarily. She is definitely crying now.

The man stops to wait for traffic at the entrance and reaches back to Janis while he’s stopped. “There. There.” He says as he pats her mechanically on the knee. “It will all be alright.”

Janis sobs again.

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Switchblade Pisces Pt.3

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“Please do not attempt to have sex with me.”

I hold my hands up and back off a little. “Okay, you got it. Can you tell me why you were about to kill me?” I walk over to the kitchen area of my apartment and open the refrigerator for a beer.

“Yes.”

I pull the tab on the beer and take a swig, waiting for Janis to tell me what she knows.

“Well?” I ask finally.

“Oh. I was not aware that was a request. I am still learning intonations and intention monitoring. My neuroplasticity has been heightened, but learning is still difficult as I am no longer in the growth phase of my development. I was about to kill you because I was ordered to kill you. I do not know why I was ordered to kill you. I suspect however, that it is for the same reason the FBI wants to kill you.”

“Why?”

“I do not know. Only that you have recently appeared on their most wanted list without any information describing your crime.”

My apartment is on the first floor of a two story complex. I have two windows looking out on the parking lot. One of those windows has my air conditioner in it and I usually have black out curtains on the other one to keep the sun from making the place hotter than it already is, but the curtains are parted now to keep the place from seeming too gloomy.

That’s how we know when the FBI arrives. Well, it’s either the FBI or a black sedan got separated from a funeral procession. “Shit!”After taking a precious second to weigh my options,  I run out of the door. Of course the black sedan has my Tracer blocked, and the two guys in black suits and sunglasses are getting out and pulling out their pistols and giving me conflicting orders.

I’m standing there, trying to decide whether to freeze or put my hands up when I hear Janis.

“Please run to my motorcycle,” she requests loudly, “And hurry.”

“But… they have guns…”

Just then, Janis moves in front of me as one of the agents shoots.

Janis’s arms become a blur. There is a rush of wind and a clang. Something hits a car window, causing it to shatter. “I am aware of their weaponry,” she says holding her blades in her hands. The fans in the black boxes she has on her head are whirring loudly now. “Please run to my motorcycle. It is at the South exit.”

I swallow and do my best to follow her advice. Her motorcycle, looks a bit larger than the ones I’ve seen before, while still seeming utilitarian. I notice as I’m climbing onto it that the license plate has a single letter on it. H. The Feds are shooting at me now, but Janis seems to be able to knock out their bullets. It’s getting difficult for her though. And I start to worry until Janis throws a small, dark object at them that arcs onto the ground at the men’s feet, bouncing a little metallically.

There’s an almost comical moment when they look down and realize what it is.  Then I’m temporarily blinded and deafened as the grenade explodes me.

“Holy crap!” I yell. Janis just killed those guys! Four men paid with taxpayer money, and this crazy girl with boxes on her head just blew them up!

Janis gets sits on the driver seat of the motorcycle. I get off immediately not wanting to go wherever this psychopath is going. The floating colors in my vision are slowly fading away. I can smell the smoke from the grenade. Smells like fireworks and burnt plastic.

“The apartment is about to explode. We are in the blast radius. Please get back on.”

I move mechanically, sitting behind Janis and grabbing the hand rails beside me. She speeds away from the apartment just as the window without the air conditioner in it blows out and orange flames reach out to the heavens.  It isn’t that large of an explosion, really but what if someone gets caught in the fire?

And what about those four FBI agents? They weren’t bad people, were they? They were just doing their jobs, serving their country. And here I am sitting behind the woman that killed them, as everything else that I own goes up in smoke.

I could jump off right now even while the road is speeding underneath me. I’d get a few broken bones, but I’d get away from her.

We zoom past a white mustang on one of the wider city roads. The wind is tugging at my clothes with alarming strength. We’re going too fast. I’m stuck.

Might as well relax and enjoy the misery.

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Switchblade Pisces Pt. 2

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“I am a Pisces,” the woman says as if that explains everything.

“You’re kidding me. So am I.” I laugh.

“When were you made?” the Pisces girl asks with a tilt of her head.

“I was born February twenty first. I just missed being an Aquarius by two days,” I tell her. Not that I believe in all that mumbo jumbo, but it’s always bothered me that I was a Pisces. I mean Scorpios are supposed to be the worst I think, but whenever I see a description of Pisces it seems like the most wishy washy of signs. Worse, it fits me pretty good in some places.

The girl closes her eyes and turns her head back and forth in three movements. “You are not a Pisces in the way that I am a Pisces.” She opened her eyes. “I was ordered to kill you. In the event of my failure, I was ordered to tell you that your services are requested by Baxter Eklund and to take you to his base of operations. Would you like me to repeat the message?”

“Who is Baxter Eklund?”

“He is my guardian.”

“Oh.Did you grow up in a mental institution or something? That would explain a lot.”

The girl looks down and rubs her right wrist with the thumb of her left hand. “The AI of my prosthetic cortex was developed in an institution of learning, a laboratory. Also, I have been training with my optogenetic interface for three years in the same environment. In this sense it can be said that I grew up in a mental institution. However, I did not grow up in a mental institution in the derogatory sense you seem to suggest.”

Although she doesn’t have a discernable accent, she says all the syllables of the word “laboratory.” La-bo-ra-to-ry. It’s kind of cute and creepy at the same time. Like a levitating puppy.

“Are you supposed to be a robot or something?”

“I told you. I am a Pisces.” She’s taken to rubbing her other wrist now.

I rub the bridge of my nose. “Just so we’re clear, you don’t mean Pisces as in the astrological sign, you mean something else?”

“I am a human female, partially controlled by computer through an optogenetic interface. I am distinguished from other human females from my programming, which requires me to answer any question truthfully and to follow any order that I can physically obey. Humans with this programming are called Pisces.”

I don’t know what an “optogenetic” interface is, but there are things I’m more concerned about at the moment.“Okay. So you aren’t going to kill me if I turn my back to you or something?”

“Not unless you want me to,” the Pisces girl releases her blades and tilts her head.

“Thanks, but no. I think I’ll pass.” I look around my apartment, trying to think of what to do now. I should probably phone the police, but, well look at it another way, I’ve got a beautiful girl in my apartment. Sure she’s a psychotic nutjob who might kill me anyway no matter what she says, but that kind of adds to her mystique. “So, uh what’s your name?”

“Janis” She says, retracting her blades once again into her smooth, lightly tanned wrists.

That’s a neat trick she’s got. “Janus? As in the two faced Roman god of doorways and financial fortune?”

“No. My name is Janis because Janis Joplin’s name was Janis. I admire the passion she exhibits in her music, perhaps because I do not understand it. I hope to someday.”

I nod and get up from the floor. “Nice to meet you, Janis.” I hold out my hand. “My name is Ethan. Ethan Yates.”

She extends her hand and grasps mine. Her hand is unexpectedly warm. Almost too warm. Her grip is firm for a woman, but not unnaturally so. I release her hand and she seems to look me over. “You are attracted to me, yes?”

I feel a little heat rise to my cheeks. “Yeah…uh sorry.”

“Please do not attempt to have sex with me.”

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