She's still a Human Being!

For those who worked in the labs and research facilities of Veritas Corp, the dank conditions out in the streets and elsewhere around Oracle City were eagerly forgotten, even if only for the duration of their shift. The bright lighting, spacious rooms, clean air and sterile surroundings were better than any customized environments found within AR or VR precisely because they were real. Some believed their work was honorable, virtuous and legal -- and for some that was true. But for most the clear illumination and white plastic of every surface was a moral shade to hide the gray area in which they operated. Veritas did it all; wonderful applications of science, terrible utilization of methodical study and learning; information and data access for the masses, clandestine code compelling enough to propel Corporate champions into godhood at the expense of humanity.

It was in one such Lab that Doctor Elsy Wescott and her small team carried out their work. They had each come from different fields of study, but now their purpose was bent toward D.U.M.B. the productive development, utilization, maintenance and blotting of corporate assets. Officially they supervised the security officers. In reality they were handlers for the espionage agents.

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The lab felt significantly smaller today as there were six strangers in suits hovering along the perimeter. They had already taken more notes than Wescott compiled for the written dissertation during her doctorate. Clearly some part of this Division was under review; herself, her Agents or their methods. No one liked having their work scrutinized and constantly reevaluated for future feasibility, but that was the name of the game when Corporations controlled the future.

Elsy Wescott was an aging woman who’d elected to have multiple rounds of structural and cosmetic improvements applied to her body and visage. You could call it vanity or investing in the body for a boost in job security. She was an attractive woman forty years older than she appeared.

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“And we’re seeing this real time?” Cordell Linkovich asked. He was a thoroughly repugnant individual. Everyone came to that same conclusion and it never took them long. Thirty seconds in and Wescott already hated the man.

“Not quite. The agent is equipped with top of the line implants, but they’re prototypes and we have security and power management issues to consider. Her feed is broadcast in rapid bursts which the smaller capacitors in her suit can support. Also allows us to cycle the broadcast frequency at a much higher rate. When the signal comes in it’s chaotic like watching an ebbing and waning strobe of sight and sound. We tried viewing it raw; screws with the head. So now we run the bursts through the system on our end which compiles them into one continuous feed. All said we’re dealing with a five to ten second lag from transmission to Spectacle.” Doctor Wescott pointed at the full dimensional footage beamed onto the empty air above a backlit slick-topped table. It appeared to be a video feed of Agent Nikon doing her thing out in the field. There was lots of running and sliding with the judicial and careful application of deadly force when combatants involved themselves. At this stage of the mission anyone Nikon encountered was deemed a combatant.

“Five to ten seconds? That’s a significant delay for a video feed.” Linkovich was looking at the notes his colleague was tapping out on his Aero-Padd. No one seemed to take any issue with the three men they’d just seen killed before their very own eyes. They were, however, having a hard time with that five to ten second delay.

“I agree, but to shorten that delay would require tradeoffs we couldn’t justify. And it’s not actually a video feed. Watch your heads.” One of the robotic arms mounted above the table was in motion doing who knew what. “My apologies, but this is an active assignment so the show goes on. No doubt impromptu audits are more enjoyable, but had you thought to schedule this visit before hand….”

“That delay….” Linkovich yanked the reins again.

“If you’ll notice,” Elsy continued, addressing the suits and not Linkovich, “Agent Nikon herself appears in some of the footage, but the rest is first person, from her perspective. What you’re seeing are not camera captures; there are no drones sweeping the scene. What you’re seeing are the Agent’s memories of the event mere seconds after they’ve been generated. She puts herself in some of those memories and in others...she doesn’t. We don’t yet know why and there’s no pattern to it; it’s just the way her memories work. So our system compiles the memories into a sensible Spectacle for your viewing pleasure and my team’s careful analysis. Our other agents are equipped with optical scan and record implants, but we still have to go through all the footage and rebuild the events if we want to analyze anything. We’ve found that Agent Nikon’s memories present themselves in full dimensionality, we can manipulate the viewing angle and she does a better job of focusing on the relevant aspect and prioritizing threats than their AI.”

“You mentioned tradeoffs? Such as?” This time it was one of the suits asking the question and Linkovich looked insulted at the implied undermine.

“A stronger, more recognizable broadcast signal for one. The agent’s position would be compromised and the signal could be traced or hijacked. We’d also have to surgically install a decent sized metabolic generator. Nikon’s body has finally reached a shaky state of homeostasis with the implants she’s already received. We had difficulties forcing her body to accept the cybernetics.”

“I thought agents were screened for cellular reception.”

“They are, she was and she still receives weekly screenings. She continues to fall within acceptable parameters. Most people’s bodies will reject cyber implants on some level, that’s why the public have them installed as much as possible on the exterior. It doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing, but it doesn’t kill them. Then there is the matter of Nikon’s size.”

Linkovich pulled up a rotating model of Agent Nikon with her stats and vitals displayed. He raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Five feet tall?”

“Four feet and ten inches. Two inches makes all the difference, Sir." There was an insult in there somewhere. "She would thank you to remember the two inches. Despite standard practice, there are no height requirement for agents. But her stature does pose a complication. There’s just not much room internally for the installation of larger tech such as a metabolic generator.”

“Yes I can see she’s a tiny thing. So remove something she’s not using; replace it with smaller, synthetic equivalents.”

“Such as?” Wescott asked, but the look on her face said she already guessed at the response.

“Give her a single efficient lung, extract her second kidney, excavate her womb, utilize her breasts. Hell those are already external; we could make use of that space, granted it’s not much.” Linkovich zoomed in on the model and was scrutinizing the chest.

“You’re an asshole, Sir.”

“Careful, Doctor.” The two of them shared an awkward stare.

Finally the female doctor looked away and manipulated Nikon’s displayed facsimile to highlight the internal structures of the body. “A forced hysterectomy to free up minimal space here,” she pointed out the lower abdomen on the model, “so you can install a larger power supply in order to shave off ten seconds of lag between a cutting edge AI core and the memory functions in a one of a kind field agent?”

“A perpetual ten second lag. She signed the waivers as did they all.”

“Sir, that was fourteen years ago and she was practically a child, still grieving for…”

“Oh spare me. She’s an asset and we’ve devoted considerable resources to her creation, development and maintenance ...” He waved his hand dismissively. “Whatever the fuck it is you people do up here.” He looked up at Nikon’s memory feed. “What’s she doing now?”

Wescott observed for a moment then looked away to review more of the incoming data. “She’s stationary, probably concealed within the confines of a small space.”

“Captured? Discovered?” One of the suits asked.

“Hiding most likely. Field work involves more than running and shooting. She’s actually quite adept at hiding, it’s part of her skillset. Take a look at this.” A simplified holographic view of Nikon’s skeletal structure replaced that of the Memory Spectacle and layers were slowly added to reflect the cartilage, muscle and tendons of each major joint of the body. “Her flexibility and strength are paired. Her ability to compress and extend the muscles such as those here in her lower torso are just as critical to her contortion as the upgrades we installed in place of her organic ligaments. These are security agents, not soldiers. They were selected for their individualized strength and advantages. Her survival in the field, her usefulness to this Division depends upon her physical dexterity and joint tractability. Nikon just would not be a suitable candidate for the womb scoop organ snatch and grab routine. We need her intact.”

“And why her, specifically?”

“Getting in and out is one thing. She does it well. Handling combatants is something else and she handles that with surprising efficiency, especially when one underestimates her as a tiny thing. But why her specifically? This.” The floating model of Nikon went transparent and zoomed in to feature the medial temporal lobe of the brain. "Declarative or Explicit memory, is memory of facts and events, and refers to those memories that can be consciously recalled. Declarative memories are encoded by the hippocampus, entorhinal cortex and perirhinal cortex, all within the medial temporal lobe of the brain, but are consolidated and stored in the temporal cortex and elsewhere.”

“Doctor -- get to the point.” Fuck you Linkovich.

“Nikon’s memory recall is damn near perfect; 99% accuracy and she even flags the 1% she’s less than certain of. It’s a subconscious flag, but we’re able to extract those memories and extrapolate the missing portion if it's necessary. I’ll be frank, we’ve never encountered anyone with memory like this. She’s off the charts. Just see for yourselves.” Wescott switched the holo imagers back to the Spectacle, but Nikon was still pretzeled inside some dark container. Wescott called up a memory from many months back, one whose mission clearance level was reduced. “Try to fathom how much information her mind had to take in and retain in order to build these scenes that could be evoked by our machine AI so naturally.”

“That is incredible. But we have cognitive enhancements available right now.”

“We do. And they help tap into the potential speed and functioning of the brain along with improvements to memory, but we’ve never seen them unlock anything close to 99%.”

“You’ve told us about her recall, but what of her memory retention. Surely amassing this volume of data must take a toll. Does she have side effects?” Linkovich sounded genuinely interested for once.

“When she first came to us she experienced certain setbacks after we pushed her to these thresholds for recall. It turns out the human mind just isn’t designed to store that level of detail indefinitely. We installed a mnemonic sheaf here near the top of her spinal column. It’s tied in directly to her temporal lobe and retrieves the memories for storage, transmission or purging. At our discretion.”

The men in suits were turning to talk among themselves, clearly they liked the idea of purging memories. One of them stepped forward to ponder his question. “You can purge memories remotely?”

“We can remotely purge entire sectors of data from the sheaf, but we try not to. It’s impossible to know which memories are stored in which sector without jacking Nikon into the core AI and….”

“Yes yes, but it’s possible?”

“If you want to randomly rob the woman of memories, yes it’s possible. But we prefer to selectively clear them out after debriefing.”

“And you can place memories into the memoretic sheath?”

“Mnemonic sheaf and no, we cannot place the memories of someone else inside Nikon’s brain. And no that is not something we are working on.”

“Why not equip her with a Neural Spike? That backs up her memories as well as personality and skills. If something goes wrong, yank the plug and start again.” Linkovich was a real charmer.

“We can’t duplicate her brain’s mnemonic abilities. We’ve tried cloning; we’ve tried cybernetic enhancements in volunteers; we’ve tried experimental drugs. I told you, she’s fucking remarkable. And even if we could duplicate her mnemonic abilities, the problem of memory overload would still be present. The mnemonic sheaf does everything we’ve asked of it and allowed Talira Rane to become one of our top agents. Now if you gentleman will excuse me, I need to summon back my team so we can continue doing our jobs.”

~~~
~~~

“How did it go?”

“Just another jackpot who wants to use our assets as a showcase for their butchery.”

“You’re discrepant, Doc. Nikon’s already got loads of upgrades and cybernetics. Why are you so resistant to more?”

“I admire true art, not paint splashed across an innocent canvas.”

“Nikon is no innocent. Have you seen her kill count?”

“She does what we tell her to do because she knows we’ll make her do it. Then we take the memories away and she’s innocent again. I envy her.” Wescott had the live Spectacle on the mains again.

“Maybe not right now? Looks like she’s bent in half stuffed inside someone’s luggage traveling across the city at a high rate of speed.”

“Been that way for thirty minutes. Probably snuck aboard the back of a transport. Her vitals are steady so I haven’t pulled her up on the comm. She hates talking to us during missions to begin with,” Wescott explained.

“Think she ever gets lonely out there?” He really was a curious assistant.

“I know she does; I’m the one who analyzes her memories. But by this evening she’ll have forgotten all about it. Make sure her masseuse is on standby, she deserves a happy ending to her debriefing.”

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