Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

a perilous mission - Eden Chip by Scott Cramer


Thanks to nanochips implanted in human brains, the world is at peace in 2055. But not everyone likes having their emotions controlled, or their religion suppressed.

Eighteen-year-old Raissa embarks upon a perilous mission to free the world, just days before the release of nanochip Version 7, which will broadcast every citizen's thoughts to the Collective.

The countdown has started, and Raissa must make choices that jeopardize the lives of billions, including the only boy she has ever loved.

Note: Some discussion of technology, some “techno-speak”; clean, no sex or swearing; some non-graphic violence, a tiny bit of graphic violence.

'A twisty and exhilarating dystopian romp' - Kirkus Reviews
'A gripping plot made this an enjoyable trip to the future!' - NetGalley reviewer
'Weaves serious moral questions into an action-packed thriller' -Amazon reviewer
'Very interesting idea and implementation with a fresh writing style' -Amazon reviewer
'Highly recommend this book to other lovers of sci-fi' - NetGalley reviewer


The savory odors of minty tabbouleh and roasted eggplant hung in the air, luring Jerusalem’s hungry lunch crowd. Raissa stepped along the busy sidewalk, careful to avoid bumping into anyone and triggering the explosives belt she wore underneath her oversized windbreaker.
Relax and breathe, she told herself, worried that her pounding heart would alert security personnel. Her green eyes and a prominent facial scar drew enough attention; paladins didn’t need much provocation to conduct a scan.
She stopped to check her messenger: 12:10 p.m. Ahead of schedule. Blimps of varying sizes, packed with surveillance equipment, dotted the sky. Raissa held her breath as two glided straight for each other. She hoped for the impossible: a collision, a bright flash and a loud boom, tatters of silver fabric fluttering to the ground. But, as always, the blimps slid past each other, nimble as dance partners.
A block later, she tensed when two paladins fell into step beside her. Wary expressions complemented crisp blue uniforms and tan jackboots. Armed with joules, they scanned the crowd for rebels. Raissa softened her face: just another happy person with a nanochip in her brain.
Distracted, she didn't look where she was going until a man with a long white beard bumped into her. She stopped to make sure he was okay. “I’m sorry.”
He stared at her. “Can we predict love?” The way he crinkled his eyes reminded her of her grandfather.
“Excuse me?”
He turned and melted into the crowd. His chip must have a problem. If he had waited for her answer, she would have told him that nobody can predict love.
Relieved that the paladins had moved on, Raissa dismissed the stranger and soon waded through a tour group. As the guide lectured a gawping mass of children on the history of the uprising, the kids swiveled their necks like seal pups to capture their surroundings with video glasses. They made Raissa grin. The smile vanished when she spotted Café Kadosh where she was to keep watch for her great-uncle and his signal.
In the courtyard, patrons stuck their noses in their messengers or watched the enlightenment wall across the street. Raissa feigned interest in the propaganda broadcast on a monitor that was five stories tall and fifty meters wide. Beneath the Collective’s seal—a circle of twelve hands interlocked around a human brain embossed with a symbolic chip, complete with titanium circuitry—Vice Chancellor Vasiliev was touring a lush field of wheat. The subtitle identified the location as a former blast site in India. Raissa turned on her cochlear speaker. “The world is at peace,” Vasiliev was saying. “The planet is healing. A new day is dawning for humankind.” Raissa turned off the speaker. Each Collective member delivered the same message.
She claimed an empty table by placing her backpack on it, confident that nobody would disturb the pack or notice the weapons inside, as the chip punished anyone who even contemplated thievery. She headed inside and approached a boy behind the counter. “Jasmine tea, please.”
“Have I seen you before?” He was close to her own age—eighteen.
“It’s possible.”
He smiled. “Do you go to the university?”
Is he flirting? He had a friendly expression, and she liked that he was tall with curly black hair. “I’m starting university next semester.” Had her chip been functioning, she would have been writhing in pain on the floor for lying, instead of calmly peering into his brown eyes.
“Cool,” he said, and poured the tea.
She took it and returned to her table in the courtyard. A moment later, she spotted her great-uncle approaching the café. In his late seventies, Mustafa was her grandfather’s younger brother. He had a craggy complexion and eyes dark as coal. He limped, so it was easy to follow his bobbing head.
Mustafa made brief eye contact with her and formed a fist with his right hand as he shuffled past. It was the agreed-upon code; her target was the underground bunker. Blood pounded in her head. She didn’t want to die. Go to an injection center. Get a new chip. Begin a new life.
The fantasy ended when she recalled her grandfather gasping for breath on his prayer rug earlier that day. Ever since Version 3, released a decade ago, the chip embedded in his brain had punished him, and tens of millions like him, for worshiping God. She clenched her jaw. Only I can spare Jaddy’s suffering.
She headed toward 13.1 Hanoch Kalai Street at a brisk pace, repeating the mission objectives: Kill Petrov and transmit the devourware that will free the population. Ten minutes later, the sight of a bakery ahead stopped her heart. Inside the shop was the secret entrance to the bunker.
A sign on the door read “Closed.” She peered through the window at a rotund man wearing a white jumpsuit and sandals. He was removing loaves of bread from a display case. She rapped on the glass, and he scuttled over and opened the door. “Come back at five,” he told her.
“I’m a loyal customer,” Raissa said.
“If I let you in, others will want to come in, too. Where will it end?”
Raissa felt her throat thicken, but her words carried an icy determination. “It ends with me.”
With a look of admiration, the man stepped aside. Raissa hurried to a small office in the back where she closed the door and shed the windbreaker. Five years of training had helped her ignore her light-headedness and maintain focus. She removed the weapons and night-vision goggles from her pack. After strapping a dual sheath around her right ankle, she inserted the laser dagger on one side of it and an antique pistol, a 45-caliber Glock, on the other. She checked her joule’s storage cell. Then she undid several shirt buttons to make it easier to reach the belt’s detonator.
Positioning the night-vision goggles on top of her head, she lifted a woven rug and stomped on the false tile floor. The mortar crumbled. She cleared away the debris and removed the tiles to access the tunnel hatch, which she opened.
As she was climbing down the ladder, the rotund man entered the office. “Good luck,” he said and closed the hatch above her, casting the tunnel below into darkness. She lowered her goggles.
The narrow shaft had an odor of mildew. After a long, hot kilometer, it took a ninety-degree right turn. Raissa crawled from there.
She arrived at a metal hatch. With adrenaline surging, she braced herself for battle. Once she dropped into the bunker, she would encounter security cameras, alarms, and an army of paladins toting high-amperage weaponry.
Raissa brushed her fingertips across her right cheek. The scar reminded her of what she had survived, of loved ones lost. She had no chip to chase away her sorrow, but the memories of her parents and brother gave her strength.
She opened the hatch and launched herself forward, landing in a crouched position. An alarm sounded. Raissa ripped off her goggles, squinting into the harsh light. A wall of security monitors featured her intrusion. I guess sneaking up on Petrov is off the table.
She firmed her grip on the joule and stepped into the corridor, prepared to fight and scratch her way to the so-called ‘Father of the Chip.’ A paladin rounded the corner. He tensed and reached for his joule. Calm settled over her, and time slowed. She shifted her finger to the trigger. Mind, body, and weapon became one.
Avoid looking at eyes and aim for the heart! Thousands of hours spent shooting at cutouts of paladins guided her hand, and she squeezed the trigger. The paladin’s hair puffed out, and his eyes opened wide from the surge of electrons coursing through his body. He twitched violently before toppling to the floor. Because her joule was set to stun, he’d remain immobilized for a few minutes.
She dropped two more paladins with quick shots as she raced down the hallway. When a slug sizzled past her ear, she leaped, tucked a shoulder, and rolled on the floor. She popped up ready to fire, but the paladin squeezed off another round first. The slug winged Raissa’s right shoulder, stitching her arm with hot needles. She willed her fingers to stay wrapped around the joule. Then she aimed for the heart and pulled the trigger. The paladin stumbled backward, slammed into the wall, and crumpled.
When she heard footsteps behind her, Raissa spun to see a paladin charging toward her with a pair of polycuffs. Unable to raise the joule in time, she relied on a quick left hook to the paladin’s jaw to neutralize the threat.
She switched the weapon to her left hand, opened more doors and kept blasting away. Her victim count doubled and then doubled again. She checked the joule to see how many slugs remained: twenty-seven.
She grabbed a knob. Locked. She struck next to it with her boot heel, and the door flew open. Inside, a woman held a baby in her arms. The woman appeared ready to fight to the death to protect the child. The infant stared with wide-eyed innocence.
Raissa froze as the loud alarm drilled deeper into her brain. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of movement, but as she turned her head, the whip of voltage seared into her, slamming her backward. She blacked out before she hit the ground.
She regained consciousness, still laid out flat on the floor. Goldstein stood over her. The former head of the Collective's Regional Defense Agency stared down with a smirk. “You failed.”
Raissa tried to command her limp hand to find the strength to reach inside her shirt and press the detonator button. As she made her move, Goldstein stepped on her wrist, pinning it to the hard concrete floor. “You’re not ready for the mission.”
The first rebel actors who had played paladins appeared.
She forced a smile, determined not to show Goldstein was hurting her, and said, “I’m ready.”
He lifted his foot. “Are you? The priest in Rome says the Bulgarian is close to finishing the devourware. It’s just in time. Petrov is ready to transmit Version 7. Raissa, V7 will allow the Collective to read minds. They’ll crush the resistance. You'll be going to Boston soon. Debrief in ten.”
She sat up woozily. “I’ll never hurt a child.”
He turned and walked away, his heels landing hard on the polished concrete floor.
She didn’t care what Goldstein thought. Nothing could ever make me harm a child.

Caleb inhaled deeply as he looked out his seventh-floor lab window in Paladin Research. At 18, he was the youngest employee at NanoArtisans, and he was lucky enough to have a spectacular view of Boston from his office. Blimps, monitoring the population and generating trillions of terabytes of data, were graceful as ballerinas as they hovered over the city’s sawtooth skyline across the Charles River.
Is there anything more beautiful than the poetry of technology? Caleb grinned wryly. Music, maybe.
He jolted at the live broadcast now appearing on the enlightenment wall across the campus. Health paladins were carrying the body of a middle-aged woman to an ambulance. Blood covered her face. “Messenger, engage olfactory experience,” he instructed.
“Engaged,” his device replied, transmitting a wavelength to his chip, which revealed how the unfolding scene smelled. It was a functionality intended for more pleasant broadcasts: sweet jungle orchids, the pungent odor of ozone before a rainstorm.
The scent of roses confirmed that she was dead. Paladins sprayed it to mask the odor of decay. “Messenger, disengage.” The woman must have tried to remove her chip with a kitchen laser, the tool of choice for the misguided. Caleb hoped the poison had killed her quickly to spare her the horror of bleeding to death.
Dr. Petrov’s idea to include ricin in every chip had saved many lives by making people think twice before they tried to remove them. If a chip’s position in the frontal lobe was disturbed, a few grains of ricin released and stopped the heart.
The ambulance pulled away. The paladins were taking the body to the hospital for an autopsy. Following that, the corpse would go to the solartarium for data archiving and cremation. Her next of kin would receive the carbon tab of her remains.
Version 7 can’t come fast enough, Caleb thought. Each nanochip version built on the functionality of the previous release. V1 had blunted man’s tendency to resolve disputes with violence. V2 had tamed depression. V3 had moved the population beyond thousands of years of religious beliefs. The rebels referred to Version 3 as the ‘God-killer release.’ ‘Superstition killer’ was more accurate. V4 had amplified the love parents felt for their children, and Versions 5 and 6 had fine-tuned all the functionality introduced in earlier versions. Version 7, the most significant technological breakthrough, would transmit an individual’s thoughts to a central database. If that woman had had a V7 chip, alarm bells would have sounded, alerting paladins to intervene before tragedy struck.
Caleb pulled his shoulders back, proud of the role he was playing in the development of Version 7. He had a V7 beta chip embedded in his brain, sending his thoughts to a database in Version Control. He focused on a message that Dr. Aubrey, the director of Version Control, might pick up on. Dr. Aubrey, I love working at NanoArtisans! Aware of the mind-reading algorithm’s limitations, he pictured the words and repeated the sentiment.
Caleb waited, hoping for a direct response to his messenger when a text message came in from his sister, Zoe. You’ll be here on time?
Never in a million years would Caleb miss his nephew’s injection procedure. Do you really have to ask?
What time are you coming?
Caleb tutted in frustration. Zoe acted like his mother, which he supposed was understandable. She had stepped away from a promising career in consultancy to raise him when their parents had died ten years ago. He replied: I only have one patient this morning. I’ll be at your place before ten.
I hope you’ll be nice to Jack.
Caleb’s tension ratcheted higher. He and Zoe’s paladin husband were not on the best of terms. He took a diplomatic approach. See you, Julian, and Jack at 9:30.
Have you met anyone special? Zoe asked.
The leap from one traumatic subject to the next sent spiders crawling across his skin. Since we spoke last night? NO! Ready to say something he’d regret, he set his messenger to “Do Not Disturb.”
As he strode out of his lab and down the hall to the clinic, his chip defused the ticking bomb of agitation that his nosy sister had triggered. “Messenger, engage cochlear speaker and play Vivaldi’s 'Concerto for Viola d’amore in D Major.'” He let out a blissful sigh as his favorite concerto filled his head. Music, is the original nanochip.
Five minutes later, Caleb watched on the monitor as his patient, Timothy Rooney, entered the waiting room and took a seat. The 14-year-old boy’s eyes were brown, and freckles dappled his cheeks. Unable to sit still, he bounced his knees up and down. Timothy’s parents joined him, looking fidgety.
Caleb stepped into the waiting room and extended his hand to the young man. “Good morning, Timothy. I’m Dr. Saunders. Please, call me Caleb. I’ll be downloading paladin software to your chip.” They shook hands. The future paladin had a solid grip.
“You don’t look old enough to be a doctor,” the father said.
“I’m eighteen,” Caleb replied, used to this. “I earned my Ph.D. in nanobiology at seventeen and joined NanoArtisans nine months ago.”
Caleb ushered the family into the clinic where they sat around a table. “As you know,” he began, “an algorithm selected Timothy to be a paladin.”
“Adam, an algorithm selected you, too.”
Caleb stopped, startled for a moment. The voice was unmistakable. A nasal twang, with a trace of an Eastern European accent. It belonged to Dr. Petrov. But who is Adam? Caleb looked around the room even though he didn’t expect to see Dr. Petrov because the Father of the Chip never left his home inside the Citadel. “Did you catch what Dr. Petrov said?”
“When?” the mother asked.
“A few seconds ago.”
“I heard nothing,” she replied.
Timothy and his dad shook their heads. Dr. Aubrey had warned him that his V7 beta chip might produce unusual symptoms. Shrugging it off, Caleb resumed his pitch. “When boys and girls turn thirteen, quantum computers evaluate trillions of bits of personal data. The computers then project the future needs of society. Timothy, you’ll address one of these needs.”
“I want to hunt rebels,” Timothy blurted out.
Caleb turned to the parents. “I hear that a lot.” Turning back to the boy he said, “Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to divulge your vocation. You’ll find out what it is when you turn twenty-one.”
Timothy grinned. “Can I choose what type of paladin I’ll be?”
“Data has already chosen for you,” Caleb explained.
“Will I carry a joule?” Timothy asked.
The mother shot her son a hard stare. “Timothy, sit up straight and listen to Dr. Saunders.”
Caleb smiled. “Every future paladin asks that question. Timothy, it depends on whether you focus on security, the environment, or healthcare.”
The father frowned. “I’m worried that Timothy might clean up tritium radiation.”
“Here’s what I tell parents. It will take many generations of environmental paladins to clean up the remaining hot spots from the war. If Timothy becomes an environmental paladin, and he receives a hotspot assignment, there will always be an important role for him in society.”
“Will our son be safe?” the mother asked.
“You mean if that’s his assignment? My brother-in-law is an environmental paladin. He looks after the Charles River. To address your concern, Timothy will be fine as long as he wears protective clothing.” Caleb called up an overview document on his messenger, hoping to move the session along. “The procedure is fast, painless, and safe. Your nanochip has over fifty million lines of code. With the paladin patch, you’ll receive another ten million lines. This new coding will instruct your chip to deliver impulses to different parts of your brain.”
“Did Dr. Petrov write the code?” the father asked.
“Dr. Petrov concentrates on writing the M-code. Morphing Code is a programming language that changes itself based on stimuli. Dr. Petrov invented it. The thousands of neural coders here at NanoArtisans write the rest of the code.”
Shifting gears, Caleb moved on to address other commonly asked questions. “Will your personality change?” He shook his head. “If you like playing bicycle polo now, you’ll love playing it as a paladin. Will your friends still like you?” He nodded. “They will. You’ll also be able to date and marry another paladin, or even someone who isn’t a paladin.”
Timothy crossed his arms. “I don’t want to get married.”
His mother nudged him. “Someday you’ll fall in love, and then you’ll want to spend the rest of your life with your partner.”
Her comment touched off an avalanche of nerves in Caleb. His voice trembled. “Timothy, I guarantee that you’ll love your job, and you’ll want to do it forever. Are you ready to receive the paladin software?”
Timothy puffed up his chest. “Ready.”
Caleb held up a flat wand. “This is a trans. I'm sure you've seen security paladins carrying these devices. We use them here in the lab, too.” He pressed the wand against Timothy's forehead and engaged the transmission. Seconds later, a high-pitched beep sounded.
“And…done!” Caleb cuffed Timothy on the shoulder. “Congratulations, you've become part of an exclusive club. Now go home and play bicycle polo.”
When the family had gone, Caleb took a moment to savor the flood of exhilaration which followed every patient engagement. He was helping Dr. Petrov improve society one paladin at a time. Would the parents approve of their son mopping up hotspots in Argentina? In time, yes. More immediately, they would be delighted to discover Timothy cleaning his bedroom like never before.

About the author:
Scott Cramer has optioned two screenplays, written for national magazines, and authored four novels: EDEN CHIP and the TOUCAN TRILOGY (Night of the Purple Moon, Colony East & Generation M). Scott and his wife reside outside Lowell, Massachusetts.

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