Hi y’all. I’m really glad to serve this up for you today. I’m guessing you’re curious about…Tracy??Well, today more info about the Association comes to light, new players come on stage, and your expectations are left trailing in the dust by what you actually get served, courtesy #TeleTuesdays. Grab a tall cold drink and make sure you’re comfortable cus this’s a long one guys…enjoy!
The fluorescent tubes in the fancy overhead alcoves gave off a soft light that barely illuminated the room. The brightest source of light that illuminated the wide hydraulic table in the centre of the room was a technological marvel of 15 motion-controlled individually adjustable xenon bulbs, set in an overhead panel.
“5 minutes to 3pm,” intoned the acoustic clock that Management had had installed in each OR. The man peering through the sets of fancy microscopes mounted at the sides of the operating table barely lifted his head, too caught up in his work. He was at the most important part of the procedure – microvascular anastomosis. If the new skin was to ‘take’ successfully, it had to receive adequate blood supply or else 2 months of preparation would go down the drain.
His patient had to be awake for this part of the process to provide subjective feedback due to an integral flaw the scientists still had to find a solution to. That wouldn’t have been a problem if they’d also found a way of achieving this step that wouldn’t require the suspension of anaesthesia. The toughest patients managed to suppress all but the least of sounds of discomfort during this time but it never ceased to amaze the doctor that the ones who screamed the most were more likely to be the last ones you’d expect to, considering their resumés…
Take Enrico Alamos for instance, the man responsible for leading the largest mercenary invasion force, Coupe Coupe, into Angola at the behest of one of the rebel forces native there which had a few thousand diamonds to spare. Within 2 weeks, Coupe Coupe had perpetrated over 2,500 violent acts in the sub-region, most notably their ‘trademark’ mass killing ‘jaunts’ through over 60 villages and towns, just so some despot could overthrow another despot. However, since NATO was ‘fairly pleased’ with the former despot, they rallied their forces at last to engage in a bloody 4-day incursion into the region to soundly decimate the Coupe Coupe forces. Since the incident about 6 months ago, Enrico and the handful of his men that survived had been on the run from security forces that for once had managed to join forces across all African borders to capture and/or dispose of 68 out of the 73 commanding officers currently (particular unspoken emphasis was placed on the latter). 2 out of the 5 remaining had amassed enough wealth to seek out the Association and its ground-breaking technologies in an attempt to survive the worldwide manhunt. It was just a matter of time before the other 3 were gunned down in whatever rat-hole they managed to hide out in.
10 million US dollars bought Enrico the full package: ‘Full Facial Reconstruction with Biometric Realignment’ was the official term. It was almost literally a new birth: facial reconstruction from the cranium outwards (involving reshaping of bone followed by grafting brand new skin unto the face) and nanotechnologically altering identification parameters permanently – fingerprints, retina patterns and vocal cords. Since Association scientists had still not found a way to change DNA signatures safely, a synthetic enzyme had been designed, Gp23i, that upon introduction into a subject’s bloodstream would render all DNA samples taken from them unusable once outside the body! As if that was not enough of a get-out-of-jail-free card, he’d struck another bargain with the Association to undertake some secret mission in Accra once he’d healed sufficiently from his surgery. His reward? Prototype Full Skeletal Reinforcement – the bastard would now be over 10 times harder to put down!
It however gave the doctor a modicum of satisfaction to hear Enrico squeal like a girl at the grafting stage. Ever since they’d installed noise nullifiers in the OR he really didn’t have to hear his patients’ screams at this point, but for the worst of the worst, he left the nullifiers disengaged so they could hear themselves. Sadistic maybe? He never worried about that – as far as he was concerned, he’d already forsaken the human part of himself in working for the Association anyway.
As he finished guiding the vessels in anastomosis, he hesitated for a short while before almost reluctantly upping the dose of the anaesthetic to slide his patient back into unconsciousness. He then stepped back from the table to stretch out a bit to loosen a crick in his neck from all the bending before finishing up with the microcauterization and superficial skin grafting as his assistant looked on. He smirked slightly beneath his surgical mask as he saw the young man trying intently to once more grasp his technique, as he’d been doing for the past 3 weeks. A futile attempt for 2 important reasons: firstly, before anyone could pick up even the most basic of the techniques he employed, he always made sure they were rotated to another position on his service – prepping patients, overseeing check-ups or post-op care – for at least 2-3 months; secondly (and probably more importantly), in his first days of employment, he’d ‘liberated’ a prototype of the Association’s handheld Pulse Neural Disruptor and modified its essential components so they could be surreptitiously attached to his wristwatch and activated on short notice – what it did was to disrupt pathways necessary for the transference of short-term memory into long-term memory for just an instant, essentially making it virtually impossible for his assistants to remember the exact steps and develop the requisite skill necessary for succeeding him! The short directed pulse was also well camouflaged by the residual electromagnetic energy within the OR so it was virtually undetected.
“Clean and bandage him up,” he ordered his assistant as he finally stepped away from the table. “Check up on him every 6 hours and handle his TPN – no oral feeds, got it?” The young man nodded as he moved to mobilise the patient. The doctor knew he’d definitely forget because of the PND he’d used on him and briefly debated between letting him not check up on the patient just so he could castigate him the next day, and making a note on the chart so someone would definitely check up on him. He finally added his orders to check up on the patient to the bottom of his digital tablet of records, making sure to lightly tap it with his watch as he stepped out of the OR.
Meeting at 3:15 with the Controller and the Financier. Gotta hurry up! He told himself as he headed to his quarters. He had a strange hobby for one so technologically proficient: birds. He kept 4 birds – 2 Rock Pigeons and 2 Cockatiels in a large cage with multiple compartments by the clear glass windows. He made sure to feed them at the same time every day – 3:10 in the afternoon. He knew his living quarters was bugged but he’d gotten used to the feeling a long time ago – besides, if he wasn’t paranoid enough he’d have been disposed of a long time ago. The Association was not known for entertaining liabilities or individuals who lacked cunning and ambition enough to cut down a colleague in order to advance. The cameras, though, always proved to be a nuisance. He’d discovered them in his second week of residence when he’d been almost convinced there were only the microphone bugs he’d almost immediately spotted. Situated in two corners of the big room, they had a good view of the goings-on all over, save for the washroom accessed through a door. The washroom was windowless, confirming to the doctor once and for all that his new fancy quarters were intended to also double quite efficiently as a prison.
Slipping into the washroom he deftly removed his watch, upending it to slide out a microdisc about 6mm in diameter and 1mm thick. Tapping the tablet with his watch earlier at the OR completed a powerful data circuit that transferred all details of the patient, both prior to and after the full surgical procedure was done. Flushing the toilet, he exited the washroom, disc palmed as he headed to the bird cages. Talking softly in a soothing voice, he opened each of the cages and fed each bird, letting them outside as he did so. Locating the camouflaged pouch on the leg of the first pigeon, he discretely slipped the disc into it and after feeding it, launched it into the air saying out loud “Go stretch your wings out a bit”.
As if it understood him, the pigeon took to the air with a squawk and within seconds was out of sight. Feeding the second pigeon, he closed the cage but left the window open for the other pigeon’s return.
Breathing a sigh of finality, he stepped back and smoothed his white coat in preparation for the afternoon’s meeting. Striding out of the door a minute later, Dr. Jeremy Aruba mused to himself as he gave a small wry smile, Surprising how in a world of cutting-edge technology, sometimes the best avenue of subterfuge is pure old-school!
“Tracy is not who you think she is…in fact, neither am I!”
Lewis was taking a while to process it all. The words coming out of Kwamena’s mouth seemed like Greek to him now. He waited motionless for the other shoe to drop so it could all start making some semblance of sense.
“Both our fathers were right when they said me becoming a fisherman was crazy. Believe me, all I wanted after Uni. was to start a banking firm in Accra that would someday make it big but somewhere in final year, I was approached by a man who told me he saw potential in me that could be developed to help not just the nation, but Africa as a whole! Of course, I jumped at the opportunity and joined the Ghanaian Branch of IFAS, the Body that hired you. I must confess that I might have had some part in your being approached by them to train their operative – I remembered you’d been crazy about this new Experimental Microsurgery specialty all through University and remembered in one of our talks you told me that you’d been involved in several of the new projects coming out in Microsurgery. They originally wanted to recruit you for the job but chose their agent already because of his prior experience in field work.”
“Kwamena!” Lewis exclaimed leaning back from him, his hand partially covering his mouth, a shocked expression on his face.
Kwamena had a pained look on his face as he passed his right hand through his thinning crown of hair, leaning back in his chair before going on.
“Look, I’m sorry for all the wahala I brought your way but I really thought you were the only one who could help us back then. We heard the Association was looking for experts skilled in Experimental Microsurgery and its applications and I knew it was only a matter of time before your name came up. I was only trying to protect you then because I knew that eventually, whether on our side or theirs, you would be involved in this mess. So I chose to make it ours rather than theirs. For whatever its worth, I’m deeply sorry for the deception. ”
“Kwamena…I don’t know what to say to you now.” Turning to Ewurafua, he asked “Did you know all this too? Do you work with him also?”
“Not exactly,” she replied, looking to Kwamena to continue.
Clearing his throat, he answered the question. “Considering the nature of my real job and what keeping it a secret could do to my family, I requested a special provision from IFAS to inform my wife of the true nature of my involvement in their affairs and she was sworn to secrecy and made privy to everything.”
That’s the main reason why I can live here with my family in peace somewhat – because she knows what to do to protect the family if I’m indisposed. My real purpose here is actually to keep an eye on this area of the coast. We’d been receiving some intelligence as to the presence of a secret Association facility in this general area but all efforts to find them have proved futile…that is, until now. We’ve scoured the whole area multiple times but didn’t place too much emphasis on offshore prospects, especially old oil decommissioned rigs supposedly serving as oceanic research centers – You’ve blown the case wide open for us!”
“Glad my life-and-death experience has been of assistance,” Lewis replied dryly.
“Oh, don’t be like that! You’re here safe and sound aren’t you? Look on the bright side.”
“I’m practically blinded by the brilliance of the freaking bright side by now, don’t you think?!” Lewis snapped. “When was the last time you got abducted, chased by ghastly freaks of nature and science and rounded it all up with a rejuvenating lead-rich ocean bath?!”
“I’m sorry Paa Kwesi,” Kwamena repeated soberly. “If I’d known you’d be in such danger somewhere down the line, I’d have tried harder to keep you as far away from this thing as possible…”
Lewis got up from the table and walked to the open window in an attempt to clear his head. This is insane! he thought. Being manipulated for so long…my life as someone else’s petri dish! He turned around to look at Kwamena and his wife still seated at the table, conversing softly with each other now. His irritation then suddenly dimmed somewhat. I honestly can’t blame him – he probably did save my life…I just- He suddenly remembered something Kwamena said.
“What about Tracy?” He walked back to take his seat at the table. Something told him he might just need the extra support of a chair.
Kwamena scratched his head.
The bottom of Lewis’ gut dropped out!
“You’re lying! It can’t be true! I met her quite by accident at the airport in Schipol when – “
“When your flight was cancelled and all you scientists had to board a ‘philantropist’ billionaire’s jet back home, right?” Kwamena finished for him.
Lewis nodded slowly. He couldn’t believe his ears! Gentle, fun, Tracy who screamed with absolute terror on rollercoasters, who covered her face when they watched horror movies together – a spy?! Impossible!
“We believe that incident was arranged by the Association to plant someone – Tracy – in your life in order to ascertain what you knew about a mole whose face you’d remodeled in order to be placed within their organisation! We only confirmed this out about a year ago after picking her up. At least, the good thing was that we managed to turn her against the Association.”
“Wait, wait! Let me get this straight: first you say she works for them, then you say she works for you. Which is which?!”
“The latter. We managed to come to an …er…‘understanding’ of sorts with her and she’s been working for us against the Association ever since, as I said.”
“And how did you manage that?”
“Well, after revealing to her the full scope of their operations – as much as we’d managed to ferret out by then – she really was only too willing to help. You see, she’d been recruited under the pretence of becoming an agent for a conglomerate of companies aimed at foiling smuggling attempts, corporate espionage and also conducting periodic ventures into a few gray areas handling potential ‘security threats’ to the group of companies – absolutely nothing was revealed to her of the actual shady nature of the underground corporation for those 3 years!”
“Okay, so where’s she now? After she left me, I spent months looking for her all over the usual places but she wasn’t there…I guess your story explains why her ‘parents’ place was locked up and none of the addresses of her ‘friends’ (whom we went out with several times, by the way) existed. Is she undercover now for you guys or something?”
“Well…we don’t know where she is. We haven’t seen her or received a single communiqué from her as to her whereabouts or actions ever since we received her last message about 2 days after you two…er…’broke up’!”
“What are you saying Kwamena? Did they find her out? Is she even alive?!”
“We honestly don’t know. We’d have found her – by now.” Kwamena just stopped himself short of saying ‘body’ there. “The last thing she said was that they’d come close to finding ‘him’ (you, we think) and she was going to do something about it. When we didn’t hear from her again, we tightened surveillance around you but they still managed to whisk you out from under our eyes…the random bar-hopping didn’t help, by the way…”
Lewis decided to let the jab pass by unnoticed. He did deserve it. Losing Tracy coupled with finding no trace of her anywhere he looked had led him down the path to the bottle. He’d always been warned by his maternal grandfather of the dangers of indulging due to a familial trend that usually ended up in alcohol dependency – he now had first-hand knowledge of how low a man could sink, drowned in that bottle. Quite quickly, honours vanished, friends stopped calling, and procedures kept being postponed until the University Hospital forced him to go on an enforced vacation to sober up. It was on his staggering walk out of another dingy bar that he was abducted by the Association. She probably found out the plan to abduct him and tried to save him by walking away so they lost their eyes on him, or decided to do something more dangerous or stupid…fine line between those two.
Lewis sighed a deep sigh of resignation.
“Okay Kwamena, the All-Knowing Fisherman. What do I do now?”
“All is not lost, Paa. I’ve already contacted HQ about your showing up here. You’re going to Accra to meet my bosses. They’ll probably debrief you and we’ll see what happens from there.”
Lewis cradled his head in his hands and sighed. When did my world all go to the dogs?
“Have the cycles begun spinning to initiate our mobilisation of the Project yet?” the Controller’s cold voice intoned, his face hidden in shadows.
After 5 years in the employ of the Association, Jeremy had still not managed to find out the identity of the Controller. Smuggling in any device to record his image undetected for later analysis at HQ was also out of the question. Quite frequently, Jeremy had mused to himself that their motto should have been ‘Paranoia!’, only half joking. Entering the Rotunda was always preceded by a walk through a set of powerful electromagnetic pillars that ensured that any gadget entering the room would be instantly fried – none of the scientists or other workers employed had pacemakers fitted.
“Almost, sir. Project MEL-1A is 62% operational. We’re looking at full operation within 72 hours.”
“Hmmph!” The Controller did not sound pleased.
A drop of perspiration made its way slowly down Dr. Aruba’s neck as he contemplated the truth of the matter. Project MEL-1A had been fully operational as at 8am that morning! Checking up on laboratory findings earlier on ahead of the other scientists and researchers, he’d stolen a copy of the link-up codes and added them to the microdisc which he’d just sent off a few minutes before entering the Rotunda! He’d then proceeded to doctor the records to show 62% operational capacity, setting up the mainframe to run diagnostics for the next 72 hours. As he stood staring at the far end of the room, at the Controller, he sent up a desperate prayer that IFAS HQ would receive the data in time to decode and initiate it, thereby harnessing the power of Project MEL-1A before the Association did.
“Very well, Dr. Aruba. We’ll be waiting for word of success…eagerly.”
The door to the antechamber outside slid open – the meeting was over. As he walked back to his quarters to prepare for the evening’s Ward Rounds to oversee his other patients, Dr. Aruba couldn’t help the growing dread he felt. Things were coming to a head in the strife between the Association and IFAS – and when the unnameable hit the fan, he was likely to be standing dead centre at Ground Zero!
Having arrived at Accra in less than 2 hours via an official Government convoy Kwamena managed to rustle up, Lewis was now seated in the Spartan office of the IFAS Chief of West African Operations, Colonel Philip Onyina – no comfy leather chairs and couches, just pristine silver and white metallic furniture. An astute but gruff man, his eyes bored right through Dr. Koomson as if to sift through the truth and moonshine of the incredible story he was being told.
After sitting still for almost a full minute when Lewis had finished his story, he nodded once and got up from his chair to his full height that just came to about 5’5”. Short or not, power radiated off the man like it was expensive French cologne.
“Follow me,” he barked as he depressed a panel on the wall causing a doorway to appear to its right, through which he stepped without looking back.
What now?! Lewis thought as he followed him down a set of stairs to a solid metal door with the words ‘SITUATION ROOM’ stencilled on it and a keypad set to its side. Bypassing the keypad totally, the Colonel spoke briefly to a panel just above it. Whatever he said, it caused the gears within the door to disengage, permitting access to the room. At their entry to the large room, all 12 men and women clustered around the various monitors in the room rose up in salute. They seemed to be mostly technicians and analysts, all garbed in white lab coats save for 2 men in army fatigues – security detail, probably. Waving them back to their tasks, the Colonel strode over to a table to pick up a microdisc – apparently the same one they’d just received from Dr. Aruba.
“Know what’s on this?” he asked Lewis. “We got some data from our man inside but this time he added some extra data that we’d probably take too long to understand, apparently due to its ‘biomechanical’ link. Can you take a look at it?”
“Er, sure” Lewis didn’t understand what exactly he could make of the data that the obviously elite group gathered in the room already could not but he felt a familiar spark of curiosity tinged with excitement that he hadn’t felt in ages – discovering something new. Slotting the microdisc into the closest console, he browsed through the data for the next half hour in increasing frustration until he suddenly gave a shout of surprise!
“Aha! This reader just won’t do after all!” Looking around the room, he caught the eye of one of the technicians.
“I need an electromagnetic amp and a biomechanical transducer if you have one. Also, I’d appreciate a chain wristwatch, nothing too fancy. I assume you have the latest models with integrated microchip processing capability?”
The technician looked to the Colonel for approval, to which he nodded.
“Just a minute, sir” he said to Lewis as he quickly headed out of the Situation Room.
Turning to the Colonel, who betrayed the multitude of questions on his mind only by his raised right eyebrow, Lewis proceeded to explain his requests.
“We were going about it the wrong way from the start! True, there’s a multitude of data on there but it’s not actually necessary to understand it to use it because it’s just elaborate ‘directions’ to the mother lode – kind of like the hyperlinks the Internet used to employ years ago.” By now all the other technicians had abandoned all pretence of work and gathered around to listen in.
“So far, I’ve managed to decode that it’s supposed to lead to the most powerful technological resource that the Association has managed to develop: Project MEL-1A! The first Artificial Intelligence (AI) ever developed for higher functions and tacticals, a supercomputer of exaflop capabilities!”
The room was dead silent as all the technicians stood in shock. The only person still unfazed was the Colonel.
“In English?” he intoned dryly.
“Well, it just means that they’ve found a way of marrying a megaprocessor to a database of immense potential capacity to produce the first AI that would put the finest supercomputers of this decade to shame! Its applications could range from quantum physics to molecular modeling to processing of physical simulations in real-time. Imagine the capacity to calculate to within a percentage point the most likely outcome of stocks on Wall Street, the right combination of elements to produce clean alternative radioactive energy or even the winning faction in a war!”
The normally unflappable Colonel’s eyes weren’t the only ones that had bugged out in the Situation Room. The dread of the implications of what he’d just worked out at last fell on Lewis himself, reducing his excitement. He swivelled the chair on which he sat away from the bewildered looks and begun fiddling with the data once more, more to calm himself than to achieve any aim. Just then, the man who’d stepped out came back into the now silent room with the requested components, only pausing for a second to stare at his colleagues’ odd faces before placing them on the table and stepping back.
About 2 hours later, Lewis was finally done with the contraption. Slipping the microdisc into the modified watch after hooking the reconfigured EMA to his belt, he looked to the Colonel for a second as if to ask for his permission. He nodded his assent.
Heaving a deep sigh to clear his mind, Lewis snapped on the wristwatch, making sure the less-than-wafer-thin transducer was flush in contact with his skin. He depressed a button on the side of the watch and… nothing happened.
This’s odd, he thought as he tapped the watch. He swivelled the chair round to face the Colonel.
“It’s supposed to –” He didn’t finish his sentence before a violent shudder passed through him, cutting him off in mid-sentence! A clear but powerful voice cut through his thoughts in one single word: HELLO. His eyes rolled back into his head and he passed out!
He finally woke up an hour later to find himself strapped into a pallet in a strange room, no chains this time – he’d frantically double-checked. Seeing the walls in the same grey shade as the Situation Room, he surmised that he was probably in some sleeping quarters annexed to it. Standing up gingerly to avoid jarring his already pounding head, the realisation suddenly dawned on him that he was not alone…inside!
Staggering slightly, he palmed open the door and once more stepped into the Situation Room. He was immediately noticed by one of the men who drew the Colonel’s attention to his presence. He walked toward Lewis, a three piece-suited taller man with a comely look about him in tow.
Sinking gratefully into a chair pushed over to him by an attractive lady, he passed his hand through his short-cropped hair, an expression of disbelief tinged with surprise on his face. The Colonel grabbed a tall stool and set it in front of Lewis, sitting on it himself.
“What was that all about, Dr. Lewis?” he demanded to know.
“Just the shock of first contact with the AI. It won’t happen again, I assure you,” he began. “But that’s not the most important thing I just learnt.” He paused to take a deep breath before continuing.
“You know Project MEL-1A, the AI? It’s far much more than an ultra-supercomputer. She’s alive!”
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