I've re-submitted this with mainly formatting tweaks (when I originally posted I didn't realise that italicised sections wouldn't come accross from Word). Hopefully this will help comprehension of the latter paragraphs.
I would appreciate any feedback on this. It is intentionally short on exposition at this stage(the ch 1 characters are central to the plot but relatively minor). The plan is to introduce central protagonists in chapters 2 -3 but this chapter is very specifically to set events in motion.
She hurried across the empty floodlit compound like an urban scavenger darting for cover. The lab-coat had been disguise enough, and after scanning the hacked I.D, security let Crystal through the gate; no problems. Reaching the science facility’s entrance she slid her pass through a reader, silently willing it to work. It did. The double doors breezed inwards, bringing her face to face with Wenng.
The badge gave her his name. He was security but not a fat type with too much hat. Wenng, whose neat haircut didn’t suit his face, was wolfish. Eyeballing Crystal severely, he ignored the raised I.D and beckoned, “follow me”; the hoarse tone reminded her of gang speak. She didn’t reply, just withdrew the pass defensively to her chest. “Come on, hurry please!” She backed a step away, his grab at her shoulder just catching a twist of coat.
“No, who are you?” Aiming for the assertive voice of her cover, Ms Grabski, Crystal only managed shrill and panicky. She was backed against the door now, and as Wenng closed in on her she noticed the tendrils of a tattoo snaking up his dark, corded neck. He put his hands on her shoulders, not hard, just pressing back to stop her cowering.
“Look lady, we need to hurry. I know who you are ok. I’ve been sent to help – to make sure you get out.”
"I don't know what you mean."
"Sure you do Crystal."
Crystal's body stiffened, a flush blooming in her neck and face. "How?” Was all she could reply.
"Just follow me." He released her shoulders. "Quickly, people are coming." Saying this he turned and began walking.
“Who? What people?”
Anxious, Crystal followed the security man, hoping he was genuinely on her side. Am I being played ? She knew Clein were a streetwise firm. Fighting an urge to cut out, she patted the Zapper in her pocket for reassurance.
The corridor off the entrance lobby ended at a grey door covered with hazard notices. Wenng used his card, letting Crystal enter first; she stepped into the strip-light gloom of a hanger sized space. Against the walls were banks of machinery, a jumble of heavy duty stuff; conduits sprouting thick cabling amongst which were buried scientific looking consoles and LED screens, haphazardly arranged by various techs. Several structures with the look of upright glass coffins were irregularly spaced amongst the mess, stickered up with more of the yellow and black hazard signs. It was sinister, like the stage for some interaction of mechanical and organic things. The smell of the place suggested disinfected but not washed. She thought of animal experiments.
Wenng led on again, hustling past the diode winking clutter. Crystal followed obediently, wincing at the echoing clack of her heels. Then she froze: there was movement in the shadows ahead. Wenng looked round at her; Crystal looked back, eyes wide with accusation. He shook his head dismissively, indicating carry on. When she didn’t move he grabbed her wrist “Come on”. He dragged her a few paces further so she could see the source of movement: two guards virtually mummified with duct tape. They were secured to gantry struts with the stuff and wriggling.
“It was meant to be empty.” Crystal said.
Wenng shrugged, walking on, “I think they called someone. We’ve got twenty minutes, maybe, before they’re here.”
There was no card reader when they reached a reinforced looking hatch set into the back wall. Instead Wenng tapped a code into a keypad inset by the handle. Crystal wondered what else she didn’t know about. “It’s in here”, he said. The pad chirruped, followed by the solid clunk of cantilevers operating as the portal swung open. Blinding light made Crystal blink, stepping into a pristine white corridor with what appeared to be elevator doors at each end. Directly in front was a floor to ceiling window, beyond which, in a cavernous chamber, suspended a vast, seamlessly mirror sided cube.
Whatever Crystal had expected when she first discovered the term Quantum device, it hadn’t been this. Having spent months trawling Clein Industries’ network, she knew that great swathes of data were taken offline and buried in the thing, but it was like no computer she’d ever seen. The great silver box seemed extra-terrestrial. Wenng looked uneasy “Let’s do what you have to do and go”, he said.
She didn’t like to admit being unsure. “Ok, I guess we pick a door!”
“Go right ahead lady.”
With Wenng in tow Crystal went left down the corridor. Doors hissed open on approach, revealing the Theatre-like darkness of a long rectangular room. Every surface was black. The floor was carpeted and both walls and ceiling had a velvet-like covering. The only source of illumination was a dim blue glow emanating from the ceiling’s perimeter and from around the one object in the room: a lectern made of clear resin, centrally positioned a few feet from the door, where the floor began a shallow downward slope. “This is so weird”, said Crystal, trying to recall anything that might explain the place. Wenng grunted something like agreement. He was growing impatient and it made her nervous.
Feeling rushed, Crystal approached the lectern for a closer look; etched into the surface was a single word: Document . The word somehow resonated with what little she understood about the Quantum Device. She recalled jargon that had been glossed over because it was so obscure, but amid the exponentially compound calculations and literal technical specifications, there had been a journal entry about the nature of the thing which piqued her interest: the higher functions of this implementation, such as inference and abstraction, are subject to the limitations confirmed in testing; namely that direct interaction with the Device constitutes observation. Any input, other than through indirect channels will fundamentally compromise its’ operation .
Crystal glanced around the room, then upwards. Set in the ceiling directly above the lectern was a small circular protrusion that looked like a shuttered lens. She dropped to one knee and began urgently rifling her handbag, throwing out items including the data grub originally intended to interrogate the Quantum Device. “This thing is seriously offline”, she said, knowing immediately that Wenng had shrugged. Crystal found it: the hard-copy list of names that were central to her investigation; entities that had gone into the silver box. She smoothed the paper out across the word Document.
With a tiny buzz the lens opened and the blue glow diminished.
A bright point of light, projected in the centre of the blackness ahead, expanding rapidly into a vortex of fluctuating data and images.
Wenng grunted with shock at the sudden phenomenon. Crystal was startled too, but became drawn in, mesmerised; she identified with it as a machine version of intuition -- a light show of pre-cognition as the Device pursued context.
Suddenly one item glowed distinct in the iterating jumble, became large and prominent while everything else faded away: Joseph . Subject open . The name was from the list. The text spun out of focus, replaced by the grainy side profile image of a young mans’ face; a stretched past resolution security-still. Crystal sensed that the device understood the significance of the list and that despite an absence of specific information, it was forming a patchwork from coincidental fragments, inferring links between names, coordinates, events and times. Other names flashed up followed by images of varying quality; mug shots, security stills sometimes several potential matches to a name flashed by in quick succession, but after Joseph every name had the tag-line Subject closed.
Momentarily there was utter darkness again, then a point of light, this time appearing at the farthest end of the room. Quick increments bought it nearer and larger. Crystal recognized a hologram of the Tech hanger, rendering in scale and resolution appropriate for the long theatre room. Perspective flickered between top down and first person. There were time lapse glimpses of activity; techs buzzing around workstations and huddles of science types in conference.
Sometimes a distinct event; a figure led to a coffin, a stinging flare of light, a figure led away.
The hologram froze in first person. Fast zoom to a central space in the hanger felt like physically rushing forwards.
Crystal was back in strip-lit dimness looking along a row of men. Naked from the waste up, jutting bones clothed in pallid slack flesh, eyes wide; each ones’ mouth gaped in un-asked question. They had received some profound wound under that dirty light which had made them less than human. A pause rush of time lapse took her to the same place, same perspective but now there was a white coat spooning mush into one of the empty men down the row. Not even a flinch as unregistered food fell from mouth. Pause rush again. The white coat was administering an injection; the patient reflexively twitched, its gaping mouth widened but in the absence of instinct gave no legitimate expression of pain.
White coat moved down the line towards her, each thing got a jab.Then it dawned: she wasn’t viewing the scene from any distance – in fact she shared the perspective of the last one in the row. It was an eerie sensation; and how could it be? White coat was in front of her now; in front of the one whose eyes she saw through. Despite herself Crystal tensed for the needle.
Perspective changed and she faced the doctor . It was too close to see his face, she just got the stubbly underside of a non-descript chin. He made no move with the syringe – instead he seemed to be carefully observing.