Read Matrix Man Online

Authors: William C. Dietz

Tags: #Science Fiction

Matrix Man

Matrix Man

William C. Dietz

 

 

To my mother, Grace Elizabeth Dietz, for all those years when it was us against the world, and books were the only place we had to hide.

 

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

 

I would like to acknowledge the help I received from all the television professionals I have worked with over the years, with special thanks to those who worked at KOMO-TV in Seattle during the time I did, and to Marvin Straus for his insight and advice.

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

Soft light bathed the Oval Office as the president of the United States pulled the chromed jack out of his right temple and gave a sigh of relief. He hated the computer interface and wished there was a way to do the job without it. He stood up, rubbed his tired eyes, and stepped out from behind his desk.

The desk
looked
normal enough. It had a top of finely veined white marble and dark mahogany sides. But regardless of appearances the desk was more than mere furniture. Much more. It was a powerful IBM mainframe computer, a communications center, and a near-sentient administrative assistant all rolled into one. The computer's circuits, memory, and other components were all sandwiched into the desk's composite top.

But the desk was more than a fancy computer. It was a reminder to everyone who entered the Oval Office that in spite of all the talk about a single world government, the U.S.A. still stood atop the economic heap, a position it maintained by virtue of scientific expertise and good old hard work. Some other countries stood up there too, but not many, and not without U.S. support. Even the eastern bloc countries relied on the pure research performed in the U.S. So, if there was agreement to form a single world government, then the good old U.S. of A. should help dictate the terms. Or so it seemed to George Manley Hawkins.

"Mr. President?" a voice issued from hidden speakers. It belonged to one of his Secret Service agents, but he couldn't remember which one.

“Yes?”

"Carla Subido to see you."

Hawkins frowned. It was late, and he was looking forward to a good night's sleep. But Carla was his chief of staff, and a damned good one at that, so if she wanted to see him he'd stay up a little longer. Hawkins turned to look out the window. "Send her in."

Carla Subido was conscious of a tightness in her throat as she entered the Oval Office. This was the moment she'd worked for, the moment when her father would be revenged, the moment when
she
would change the world. The thought sent a chill down her spine.

Hawkins turned to greet her. She was beautiful. She wore her dark hair long so it touched the top of her shoulders and framed her face. It was a perfect oval with high cheekbones and large, luminous eyes. Only the slight bump in the bridge of her nose marred the perfection of her features and reminded Hawkins of her father. Carla was an enigma, a beautiful woman who had never married but seemed eternally on the verge. She'd dated a long list of Georgetown's most eligible bachelors, some for many years at a time. But then, just when marriage looked certain, the relationship always fell apart. A few months would pass, and the whole pattern would repeat itself.

It was a strange phenomenon and one Hawkins didn't understand. For the millionth time he wanted her. Not her, but the way she looked, and the pleasure she could give him. She seemed tense, and something else as well—excited? Why would Carla be excited? Hawkins forced a heartiness he didn't feel. "Hello, Carla, what brings you here on a Friday night? Good news, I hope."

Carla forced a smile, "
I
think so . . . but I'll play this disk and let you decide for yourself."

Hawkins considered forcing the issue, but let it pass. Let Carla be mysterious. She'd earned the right. Originally he'd hired her out of loyalty to her father, a wet-behind-the-ears administrative assistant straight out of college, but the favoritism had ended there. Carla had worked her way up through the ranks strictly on her own.

Carla felt his eyes on her as she pressed a button and waited for the panel to slide open. She knew him, knew he was indulging her, and knew he was trying to see through her clothes. Well, not for long. The thought made her feel warm inside.

The disk was the size of an old-fashioned quarter and slid into the slot with an almost imperceptible whir. The holo tank was huge, the largest Zenith made, and it swirled with color as it searched for video and found it.

Hawkins took a seat on the corner of his desk as the first shot appeared. It was a wide shot of him in front of an electronically inserted American flag. The flag was an animated computer construct and rippled gently to the faintly heard strains of "America the Beautiful."

Hawkins frowned as he tried to remember the occasion. He preferred live press conferences, something he handled extremely well, and this was a studio appearance sans reporters. It must be fairly recent, because that was his favorite brown suit, the one Mary insisted he buy just before she'd gone into Walter Reed Army Hospital. When was she coming out? A week from now? With so many things on his mind, it was hard to keep track of time.

The televised Hawkins looked up into the eyes of the American people. "Good evening. There was a time when I would have said, 'Good evening, my fellow Americans,' but that time has passed. For too long now we the people of Earth have divided ourselves into nations, have fought wars to protect arbitrary boundaries, have lived in hate. So this evening I greet you not as Americans, but as friends, fellow travelers on the spaceship we call Earth."

Hawkins watched in amazement as his electronic likeness produced an apologetic shrug and spoke words that he'd never said. "And I must confess that I too have been guilty of the crime called nationalism.

"For many years I've maintained that a single world government was a worthy but distant goal attainable only after American interests had been fully assured. But as time passed, I began to wonder. Should the people of the world be forced to wait while a privileged few secure their positions? Should we follow rather than lead? And you know what I decided?"

The electronic Hawkins never got to answer his own rhetorical question because a long brown finger stabbed the remote's off button and the set faded to black.

When Hawkins turned toward Carla there was anger in his eyes. "Is this some sort of joke? Because if it is, I don't think it's funny. I don't know where this disk came from, or how it was made, but I want it destroyed now."

Carla struggled against the years of sublimated hate which boiled up and threatened to take control. The small vein located over the jeweled plug in her right temple throbbed with pain. She was close, so very close, and a few more seconds of self-control would get her there.

She ignored his angry stare and walked over to a mahogany side table. The pistol was there, taped to the underside of the table just as Numalo had promised it would be. She pulled the weapon loose and turned.

In his younger days George Manley Hawkins had flown Stealth Super Hawks, and like most fighter pilots, he wasn't given to panic. Look, listen, and learn. That's what they'd taught him and that's what he did.

Carla knew what she was doing. The two-handed grip, the balanced stance, the generous space between them all suggested training she wasn't supposed to have. The gun was a Browning Disposable, one of the new plastic jobs that came pre-loaded with twenty-five rounds of caseless ammo and was thrown away when empty. An ironic touch considering the fact that he'd championed development of the weapon during his years in Congress.

Where the hell was the Secret Service? Sitting on their butts, that's where. As far as they were concerned, the president was safe and sound in the Oval Office. There isn't a security system in the world that can protect you from the treachery of your friends.

Maybe he could talk her out of it, stall for time, or get the weapon away from her. "Carla, I don't know what this is all about, but put the weapon down and let's talk."

"You aren't going to talk your way out of this one," Carla said calmly. "This is about
doing
things. It's about eliminating war, feeding the hungry, and curing the sick."

Hawkins spread his hands. "Killing me will accomplish all that?"

"No, but it will make
me
feel better," Carla replied, "and it will clear the way for a new order. Strangely enough, you'll get all the credit.
You'll
go down as the man who started it all, the statesman who rose above nationalism for the good of humanity, the father of world government."

Hawkins felt a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. She meant every word. She planned to kill him. And there were others, a conspiracy, ready to slip some sort of electronic double into his place and carry on without him. The Secret Service wasn't coming. Hawkins was on his own.

"Why, Carla? If you hate me and the things I stand for, why work to get me get elected? Why accept a position as my chief of staff?"

Carla's eyes flashed and the fingers of her right hand rewrapped themselves around the butt of the pistol. "You still don't get it? I'm surprised. It's actually quite simple. I'm betraying you as you betrayed my father. I'm hurting you the way you hurt my mother. I'm making you hate me the way I hated you. That's why I helped you get the things you wanted ... so I could take it all away."

Hawkins shook his head slowly. "I didn't betray your father, Carla. He betrayed himself. He accepted illegal campaign funds and tried to cover it up. I was chairman of the ethics committee. I did what I had to do."

Carla dropped the pistol three inches and squeezed the trigger. The gun made a flat, cracking sound which was easily absorbed by the room's thick walls. The president's right knee exploded into a spray of blood, and he hit the carpet with a soft thump.

Hawkins wanted to scream. But he hugged the injured knee to his chest and rolled back and forth instead. She wanted him to make noise, to shame himself, but he refused to do so. He didn't know why that mattered, but it did. Poor Mary. She'd been through so much and now this.

Hawkins gritted his teeth against the pain and looked Carla in the eye. "I won't beg. If you're going to kill me, let's get it over with."

She aimed the pistol at the small patch of brown skin right between his eyes and began to squeeze the trigger. The president's eyes were brown, like cow eyes, and filled with that ineffable something which man cannot give but so easily takes away.

She remembered how they had led her out into the middle of a field momentarily green after the spring rains. Tall, slim black men with gentle eyes. She remembered how the warm African sun had beat down on the back of her bare neck, how the light breeze had ruffled her blouse, how the birds had chirped as they brought the first cow before her.

"Shoot the cow here," the man had said, tapping the cow's broad forehead with a dirty finger. "She won't feel a thing."

And Carla had, shooting cow after cow until her pistol was burning hot, and a large white blister had formed on her trigger finger.

The killing made her sick at first, but eventually it became a routine, an act without meaning. She fired and fired until their bodies were everywhere and she was forced to climb over them in order to leave the field.

It was Numalo's idea, his way of desensitizing her to the act of murder, and it had worked. Carla squeezed the trigger and found it didn't bother her at all.

 

 

 

1

 

 

Kim Kio's stiletto heels made a hard tapping sound as she stalked down the corridor and straight-armed the door marked "CHIEF ENGINEER."

She had long, slim legs and they carried her from the doorway to the center of the room in three quick steps.

The door hit a large fish tank, which disturbed Mel Ryback's genetically engineered green goldfish and pissed him off. "How many times have I told you people? Do not, I repeat do not, bang the door into the fornicating greenfish."

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