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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Clarence explains what happens when a neurologist with a chip on his shoulder gets access to an effectively unlimited budget and a P.O.W. camp full of Browncoats.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1528 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Firefly is the property of Joss Whedon, blah blah blah. You know the drill.
Thanks to Guildsister and Apollo for beta reading. Feedback will of course be appreciated.
We Have the Technology: Prologue
We Have the Technology: Chapter One
We Have the Technology: Chapter Two
We Have the Technology: Chapter Three
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"There's no need to look at me like that. I'm not about to projectile vomit."
Zoë wasn't willing to discount that possibility just yet. She still half expected his head to start spinning.
"Nitro has agreed to this switchover," Clarence continued. "As you've guessed, he's been psychologically conditioned to prevent him from discussing the nature of his enhancements. I, however, operate under no such restriction. You shouldn't dawdle with your questions, since this is quite unpleasant for Nitro and he might try to regain control before you're finished. Though it's my opinion you can't handle the truth."
"I'll be the judge of that," retorted Mal. "Now who... no, WHAT are you?"
"Perhaps you think I'm some sort of demon for your preacher to cast out," responded Clarence, making Nitro smirk. "While Nitro sometimes believes that, I'm nothing of the sort." Walking over to the dissected corpse in the center of the infirmary, he tapped the damaged plastic casing and said, "This is what I am. The key to the problem that had vexed Dr. Schell for so long."
"That's what keeps them from going insane?" Simon asked skeptically.
"Mostly," replied Clarence. "The people who chose to financially back Dr. Schell desired a supersoldier. It wouldn't do for the result to be only capable of producing drool. After much experimentation, it was determined that the hardware the computer technicians assigned to him had designed was generating large amounts of neural waste, causing massive damage to the nervous system. Eventually, one of them proposed the use of an artificial intelligence system to regulate the build-up and release of the neural waste. As you can see," he continued, holding up Nitro's badly shaking hands, "neural damage still occurs, though the effects aren't significant while the various systems are running. Can't have them on all the time though, as that would create unnecessary neural waste. The projections suggest that with an A.I. properly monitoring the waste levels, terminal damage won't occur for up to two decades rather than the maximum of a week without one. And as far as the backers were concerned, it had the added benefit of being able to directly control the subject."
"So are all these A.I.s as charming and personable as you?" asked Zoë, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"No, you'd probably find them to be dull conversationalists," responded Clarence. "Dr. Schell's backers desired the personalities of the subjects to be suppressed. So it hardly seems likely that they'd want such a thing in the A.I.s. But the link between subject and A.I. is two-way by necessity. The A.I. accumulates bits of the subjects thought patterns over time. As a preventive measure, such aberrancies are purged from the A.I. during a monthly maintenance check of the subject's systems. Since it's been a while since we've had one, I would be considered quite erratic." Zoë shuddered at the idea of what sort of though patterns could exist in Nitro that would create something like Clarence.
"So who are these backers you keep talking about?" asked Simon. "Is it the Alliance?"
"That, Doctor, would be telling," mocked Clarence. "Suffice it to say that, while the Alliance benefits and provides some support, they are not the primary backers."
"With all this talk of controlling and suppressing, I'm assuming we ain't exactly talking about volunteers," stated Mal.
"Certainly not," sneered Clarence. "Schell was given full access to Alliance-run P.O.W. camps. Since violence, disease, and malnutrition claimed plenty of Browncoats in such places, a few more disappearing wouldn't attract notice." Zoë felt her blood pressure rise at that statement. Even though it was coming from a computer, the indifference to the plight of those Independents really got her dander up. It was all she could do to restrain herself from socking him. "As a plus, they were already trained in combat," Clarence added.
"Yeah, but why'd they bother with Nitro?" asked Zoë. "When we knew him back then, he couldn't fight his way out of a wet paper bag."
"But that's exactly why he was chosen," responded Clarence. "Once the A.I. concept was proven effective, Schell worked on a new enhancement he referred to as neural overrides. The hardware consists of a dedicated processing unit and memory sufficient for up to five specific purpose A.I. programs. The overrides take partial control of the nervous system, theoretically allowing the performance of various skills at levels the subject might not normally be capable of."
"From the way you're saying it, I'm guessing that the theory turned out to be a load of go se," said Simon.
"Merely misapplied," responded Clarence. "Since they were primarily to be used to provide combat skills, they were first implanted in support personnel with minimal combat training. But the training often went contrary to what the A.I. program provided. The conflicting signals would confuse the brain and cause it to shut down, in spite of any efforts by the main A.I. system. Since Nitro had no combat training, he suffered no such setbacks and benefited from the abilities provided by the overrides. And that," he concluded, "is Project Chi'ang Sh'ich in a nutshell. Aside from a few contributions from others such as the dermal armor, it is almost entirely based on Dr. Schell's theories of neural manipulation."
"Yes, it sounds like a fine and dandy project," Mal said with more than a hint of sarcasm. "you cook yourselves up a mess of near unstoppable soldiers and have some jumped-up computers plugged in their brains to keep them in line. Make it so that nothing could possibly go wrong. Except something did else I doubt we'd be having this conversation. I'm a mite curious as to what that was."
"I'm not entirely sure myself, as I was knocked out when it happened," replied Clarence, causing Nitro's face to grimace. "Most of what I know I've gleaned from Nitro's memories of the event. It was about fifteen months back when we were assigned to guard duty at a facility on Persephone where work was done on an expansion of Dr. Schell's theories on neural manipulation. In this case, he postulated that by removing certain parts of the brain from a physically immature subject of exceptional intelligence, it would stimulate the development of what are commonly called psychic powers."
The pieces clicked together in Zoë's head. The way Simon had once described to her the scan of River's brain he had gotten on Ariel. The conversation the crew had on the night Early invaded Serenity. Mal's comment about Nitro and River seeming to recognize each other. Counting back, she realized that it had been nearly fifteen months since the Tams had come on board at Persephone. A suspicion formed in her head that was quickly proven to be accurate.
"The technician who performed our last maintenance check must have been an infiltrator," Clarence continued. "It was shortly after that when I lost awareness. When I came to, I found fragments of an unusually complex A.I. program in the memory of the overrides. In combination with Nitro's memories, I was able to deduce that the program's purpose was to make him extract one of the subjects at the facility, specifically 172. Since the program had allowed him to become dominant, Nitro apparently decided to make good his own escape. It is a most bizarre coincidence that we came across her again. Why such an effort was made to extract her is beyond me, since she still appears to be as brain damaged as Nitro here."
Zoë had been keeping an eye on Mal throughout this and could see the way the vein in his forehead was throbbing something fierce. She quickly went over, ready to restrain him before he got a chance to do something stupid.
What Zoë hadn't counted on was how violently Simon would react. Almost immediately, he swung out a fist which made contact with Nitro's/Clarence's face. The blow was hard enough that it caused him to stagger backwards, knocking over a tray of sedatives in the process. Practically berserk, Simon continued to rain blows across his face, even after Nitro went into convulsions. Mal and Zoë attempted to restrain Simon with little success.
"What the hell are you hittin' me for? I ain't done nothin'!"
The unexpected change in accent caused Simon to hesitate long enough for Mal and Zoë to pull him away. "You alright, Nitro?" asked Mal. "What happened to you anyway?"
"Not rightly sure," answered Nitro. "Clarence said he had a way to let you see him. I did what he said and then I was surrounded by a Darkness. Next thing I know, the Doc's poundin' my face into a pulp." Simon stammered an apology, sounding abashed at having lost control like that. "So, did you see him?"
"Yeah, we saw him," Mal replied hesitantly. "Still have a few questions for him, but I think they can wait for another time. Should be getting to bed soon. We've all had a rough evening." Wincing in pain, he added, "Doc, think I might be ready to take those painkillers now."
After Nitro had left, Mal continued, "I think it hardly need be said that we'll be keeping what we saw and heard here to ourselves. The others have enough to worry about, so we won't tell them unless absolutely necessary. Dong ma?"
* * * * *
Mal sat in the galley having a drink of water. He was glad he had waited until after the conversation with Clarence to take the painkillers. Otherwise Mal would have probably woken up the next morning thinking what happened in the infirmary had been a twisted nightmare. They were already causing strange thoughts to pop up in his head. Just a second ago, he had entertained the notion that they were all just characters on some Cortex show.
Trying to clear his thoughts, Mal focused on the problem of cleaning up after tonight's mess. The bodies would be a simple matter of dumping them just before hitting atmo at Demeter and let them burn up on re-entry, leaving no evidence that they ever existed. The breeching pod would be a bit trickier to deal with. He supposed they could just detach it and let it float out in the Black. The chances of someone coming across it weren't especially good. Before that, they'd have to weld back the hunk of Serenity's ramp that had been cut off.
Hearing footsteps, Mal looked up and saw Nitro enter the galley and get himself a glass of water. "Evenin', Sarge," he said. "Throat's feelin' a mite dry, like I've been doin' a lot of talkin'."
Mal restrained himself from saying anything. From what he had seen and heard, Nitro was incapable of recognizing the true nature of Clarence. Mal wondered if maybe he had jumped the gun when he objected to Simon's suggestion that Nitro should be referred to a shrink when they landed on Demeter. Though he had a distrust for the profession, a shrink might really be Nitro's best option. Though it would be a mite tricky to find a reputable one who would cotton to the idea that he had a computer stuck in his head.
As Mal left to go to his bunk, a thought struck him. Had Nitro entered the galley from the corridor that led to the bridge? He quickly dismissed the thought, certain that the painkillers were playing tricks with his memory.
River awoke with a sense of dread. She had destroyed the Darkness in one of the invading Chi'ang Sh'ich and had seen pretty red dots between the eyes of the others. Yet she still felt as if one of them lurked on Serenity.
She recalled Zoë thinking they might need to recite a magic incantation to truly put them down. What was it again? Klaatu barrada necktie? She decided to go out and do so to put her mind at ease.
As she stepped out of her room, River thought she heard something. But she could see nothing in the dim lighting. As she went to the cargo bay, a blur of movement caught her eye. A hand went over her mouth before she could cry out. She felt a needle press against her skin and her awareness left her.
"Good night, sweet princess," said Clarence, "and may flights of demons scream thee to thy rest."
Onward to Chapter Five
Go se: Dog shit
Chi'ang Sh'ich: A form of undead from Chinese folklore. It results from a corpse being left unburied after nightfall which allows an evil spirit to enter it. The result is the Chi'ang Sh'ich, which has big, nasty claws, poisonous breath, and a bad attitude. The only defense against it is to run like hell until daybreak, when the spirit leaves the corpse. And it moves a lot faster than your typical B movie zombies.
Dong ma: Do you understand
Friday, October 01, 2004 3:42 PM
Saturday, October 02, 2004 6:08 AM
Sunday, October 03, 2004 2:12 AM
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