‘The Whistle’ – a free ebook / audiobook prequel to ‘NLI-10’
There’s a lot of story going on in in the cyberpunk / transhuman sci-fi thriller NLI-10, but there’s a lot I cut out too…
When NLI-10 was going to be a TV show, there was tons of room for flashbacks and fleshing out the backgrounds and characters, but now all six episodes of the first arc have been squished into an 50k word book, there was a lot that couldn’t fit in.
So I’ve sliced out a nice stand-alone story that sets up the world a little bit, presented for you as a free ebook / audiobook.
“Whistleblowers are all the rage.” That’s how Scott put it to Jennifer, with a wry smile and a glint in his eye. She wasn’t finding it funny. What Manning had done to the military, what Snowden had done to the NSA, and what Simons had done for corporations were talking points across all the news networks, at least for a time, but they barely made a dent in the world.
“This is going to be different,” he insisted, “It isn’t about brown and beige people in far off lands, it isn’t mass surveillance that the developed world is more than used to.”
They both knew it was bigger. It was chemical. It was biological. Once all the kinks were worked out, it was going to be released to the population at large without their knowledge. And when it came down to it, it was their fault.
Jennifer was sceptical. Despite knowing he was right. She always thought herself the level-headed one, the logical half of their pairing. If they went down this path they would lose their jobs, their reputations, everything. They’d be out of work, unemployable, with a sixteen year old daughter to support. Worst of all, she feared the company would seek retribution. But she couldn’t fight it. He was right. Even though Scott was an impulsive jackass, he was always right.
They had been working on the project for two years, but in some ways, their whole careers had been leading up to this point. Scott coined the phrase ‘biolopsychologist’ to describe what he did. The rest of the world called him a behavioural neuroscientist, but he though that was too easy to say, plus a little stuffy and dry. Jennifer’s background was in both organic and inorganic chemistry, with a side-line in micro-engineering and nanofabrication. As far as the project went, their skills complemented one another perfectly.
He was the head of the team working on creating bio-engineered psychoactive compounds and mood stabilisers to be orally ingested. Scott also worked in tandem with another team who installed sonogenetic switches and memetic installation, aural reconditioning to work alongside the ingested compound. This led to Jennifer’s role in the second phase of the experiment, the nanotechnology side of the equation. Evolving the subjects from within, based on the primer provided by Scott’s phase, to enable abilities only dreamed of by mankind. Together they were creating a new breed of human being. But now, they were willing to give up this new evolution in the species in favour of doing the right thing. Something that neither had ever considered before, scientific tunnel vision attaching blinkers to their heads, morality never a question in their endeavours. Until now.
The project was a phalanx of different departments, so many teams working on so many facets, but the two of them were at the centre of it all. Because of that interconnectivity, they had access to all the documentation. Whether they had the courage to take it, to release it, was another thing entirely.
Jennifer fretted from the very moment Scott mentioned the thought. When he saw the news break of the Simons scandal, the first thing he said was “God, she’s not much older than Sarah…” and she already knew what the next words out of his mouth would be. He led her out the room, out of reach from the ears and eyes of the SmarTV, and put it to her. He spoke with that wry smile on his lips and cheeky glint in his eye that she had loved since she first met him. He brushed away the grey-flecked brown hair that flopped in front of his eyes. It always flopped in front of his eyes, and he always refused to cut it shorter so it wouldn’t happen. Jennifer distracted herself in the thought, the hair that had been trying so hard to lose pigment for the last decade, and mostly failed miserably in the process. She brought her attention back to what he was saying, the man she loved, her partner in life, the father of her child, was suggesting they risk it all.
They would continue to invest themselves in the project, of course, because they wouldn’t want to be identified as conspirators. But as the work continued, they would surreptitiously take files and copy emails as and when the chance came. It might take a week or a month or a year or more. Once they had enough proof to shed light on what their employers were gearing up to unleash on an unknowing world, without its consent, as benevolent as the intentions might be, they would hand all the data over to WikiLeaks and let the chips fall where they may.
That was the plan. It was so simple, so stupid, they wondered if anyone else they worked with was thinking the same thing. Of course, nobody else was. Revolutionaries are far and few between, and they knew it. The three whistleblowers who went public in the last five years proved as much. Most people didn’t want to rock the boat of normality, shake the cage of the status quo, no matter what awful things they saw or were a part of.
Weeks or months was optimistic. It took over a year to gather enough damning evidence, each and every day passing security guards. Walking through the grey corridors textured like honeycomb, with cameras in lieu of human guards. Offering fingerprints and irises to the biometric scans at the doors to their labs that opened automatically with a gasp, swinging wide with a sigh, coming to a silent, silken halt at the end of their arc. Yet another layer of security at their workstations, facial recognition allowing only those approved access to the most precious of data. The months went on, almost every day coming out with another small morsel of proof of the company’s work, but even then, it didn’t feel like enough. There was always going to be more, always going to be something worse round the next corner, the next day or week or month. Any day the company could decide the rigorous testing was a waste of time and money, that the only way to truly test the project was to release it in a populated area. Probably not in Britain, but maybe in the Middle East, where life was cheaper than on Her Majesty’s soil. It would be small scale at first, a local water supply, somewhere contained where the aural factors could be taken into account. They weren’t beyond doing such a thing. They had certainly done it before.
Alpha trials had resulted in a 100% failure rate for the first three rounds, coming down to 90% by the fourth. Beta trials had a 75% failure rate in the first round, and were down to 60% by the time they were ready for human testing. The project itself started to feel like it was only one half of their life, a facade, a disguise worn to mask their true purpose. The espionage was thrilling. Terrifying at times, but exciting nonetheless. Each time they returned with a little more information was a buzz, they’d put themselves at a little more risk, but the adrenaline spike was worth it. As much as there were very real stakes, they felt worthwhile for the quiver of exhilaration that was stimulated by taking yet a further step over the line.
The first human trial was not what they expected. Seven subjects were chosen, or more accurately, seven of the worst criminals from the company’s side-line in private prisons volunteered for the study. The company was very specific about the number, and nobody questioned why. Scott and Jennifer watched the feeds obsessively, collated all the documentation as one by one the subjects were deemed ‘unsuitable for return to society’, even though ‘society’ in this case referred to a maximum security prison for the most violent of offenders. By the time the trial was over, only one patient survived. Even though he made it through the three months in the facility, he too was unsuitable for return to society, but there was no documentation of his return to prison. Jennifer investigated further, found transactions slipped into their budget for a construction company in Spain. Digging deeper, they discovered one of the company’s private planes had been chartered for a Balearic island, Cabrera. They were hiding him away, storing him in luxury surrounds, rewarding a murderer for being the lone survivor. This was the last straw. It was time for them to act.
They downloaded the final files from the project on to a USB key and made their way out of the lab, exchanging smiles and hugs with their colleagues. Congratulating one another on being one step closer to public trials, and the eventual release of this revolutionary technology to the world at large. Both Scott and Jennifer knew the elation of success, and replicated the aesthetics whilst the security cameras were on them. They left the building and went straight to their car, smiles still fixed on their faces, exchanging small talk about how the project could be improved in the next stage of trials.
Whilst Scott drove, Jennifer pulled a laptop from under the passenger seat and fired up a VPN, preparing to back up the data. They were scientists, after all, and both knew only having one copy was foolish. She took out her phone and sent a message to a burner back at the house. Buried deep in the back of a drawer in their office at home, a self-powered USB key with wifi connectivity booted up. She started transferring the latest collection of documents, adding to the years of stolen intel they had amassed since that first conversation.
“How do you turn autopilot off?” Scott asked. Jennifer looked over. He was having a disagreement with the car.
“What do you mean ‘off’? Why did you turn it on?” she said.
“I didn’t…” Scott said, fiddling with the dashboard screen, attempting to regain control of the vehicle.
“You’re doing it wrong.” she said, putting the laptop in the footwell and shooing him out the way.
The screen wasn’t recognising their biometric signatures, wouldn’t even let them change the air conditioning levels, let alone steer the car.
Their stomachs tied themselves into identical knots.
“Company car…” he said, turning to his wife with tears starting to form in his eyes.
She reached for her phone and spun through the contacts frantically, calling their daughter. The car began to speed up, crossing lanes on the North Circular, to the angry horns of other drivers around them.
“Hi, you’ve reached Sarah, leave a message.”
Scott and Jennifer looked at one another, both of them lost for final words. The car was doing eighty, eighty five, then ninety. They held hands tightly.
“We love you, Sarah.” they said together.
The car was up to a hundred, a hundred and five, pushing towards a hundred and ten. The phone beeped. A disconnection. The service was blocked. They wondered if their message made it through, wondered if any of their scheming and plotting mattered in the end. What should have mattered was their daughter. Blowing the whistle was certainly right, but now they were realising all too late that some right things aren’t as important as others.
The car took a curve too sharply and nuzzled up to the crash cushion, wheels catching, throwing the car up and over itself. The moment seemed to last forever, eyes locked, hands clasped, Scott and Jennifer no longer thought of doing the right thing, or of their own lives, or their revolution.
They thought of Sarah.
Then they had no thoughts at all.
Before the emergency services were on the scene, a white Bentley pulled up to the crash site, the driver getting out, as instructed by his passenger. He reached in to the smashed windows and checked the pulses of the accident victims. It was too late for them, but perhaps not too late for the partially smashed laptop that now lay between them. He reached in and took it, walking back to the car and handing it to his passenger, before returning to the driver’s seat and continuing onwards. The passenger inspected the laptop. The screen was smashed, but the hard drives would be retrievable. She was more interested in the USB drive.
She had made certain, this time at least, that it was not to be blown.
Once again, if you enjoy this free ebook, do please review it at GoodReads and Amazon. If it’s whet your appetite, why not preorder the novel it’s the prequel of… It’s only 99p / 99c for a few more weeks!
Come back around next week for the exclusive video trailer for NLI-10!