Buy direct from the publisher for £1 discount:


Log 000000000101 - Knowledge is power in the information age. The more you know, the easier it is to gain control over other people, and whoever has the greatest access to information wins.

On the shuttle to Nexus-7 I mulled over the report from Industrial Intelligence. Von Kühnert’s area of expertise didn’t bear any direct relation to what other Mind Invasion victims had been concerned with. All of the scientists were in different fields, but all of them were considered leading experts. I reckoned there had to be a connection between the cryogenic sabbaticals and each kidnap. But this obvious link had been checked and rechecked by other COSI operatives to no avail. The cryogenic parlour owners had been interrogated thoroughly using the latest cranial X-rays, and every single one had truthfully denied involvement. After some rather fruitless pondering, I wondered how I would be able to turn this situation to my advantage with Carmichael around. It was unusual for me to come across somebody so unreadable. She was legendary, but then so was I, albeit always as an untraceable alias.

Despite my many trips around the Solar System, it still filled me with joy to leave Earth. I loved the planetary views in transit, and I adored the notion that mankind was no longer tied to an arbitrary hunk of minerals, and was instead in a position to choose between a selection of hunks of minerals to live on. But most of all, my excitement arose simply from travelling itself. I got a childish kick out of being in any kind of vehicle, particularly one going somewhere fast. Moving from A to B felt like what life itself was all about. Getting there was always an anticlimax.

The Moon looked eerie in the darkness as we crossed from the shuttle pad. A guy called Chucky, one of COSI’s minor moon operatives, picked me up from the pad in a small but comfortably pressurised balloon-wheeled vehicle. He was outrageously fat, but he lived on the Moon most of the time so it didn’t matter too much. The journey was fairly short, which was fortunate as Chucky was annoyingly nerdish. He wouldn’t stop making inane factual comments about our moon transport, despite my complete lack of verbal response to his monologue. I may have been tempted to torture and kill him had we been stuck for any extended period of time together. That would not have been the most effective COSI career move, but it would have had the advantage of being highly satisfying.

Nexus-7 was one of the cleanest places I’d ever seen, considering that dust got everywhere on the Moon. If you imagined a North African desert with the area of about two North Americas, then took away the air and the Arabs, you’d get the picture. How they kept the dust out of the colonies there was just another miracle of contemporary science. The Nexus-7 rest colony for human vegetables was in a league of its own, however. It felt like the most ordered place I’d ever been to. Even the notice boards had identically-sized notes pinned to them in perfect grid arrays, with no missing spots. I wondered if you had to wait for a vacancy to put up a note, and couldn’t take one down until a replacement was found. Trying my best to walk in perfectly equal steps so as not to break the Nexus-7 symmetry, I followed Chucky’s chubby form through the pristine hallways. He was taking me to meet the head of patient care. As I walked about the facility observing the staff I began to realise that everyone here was overweight in some way or another. Everyone had been genetically and surgically in perfect shape inside the Moon resorts I’d visited before, particularly in the leisure developments around the new space port. The permanent lunar residents not so intent on making an exhibition of themselves obviously let the very low gravity do its work. Here they could get heavier without a negative effect on mobility. Some of them were so rotund you could have used them as wheels on their own lunar transportation vehicles. I’d never realised before that the Moon was a regular haven for the mass disadvantaged, but I supposed it all made sense.

After introducing myself to Nexus-7’s chief medical consultant, I explained my need to use a VR rig to analyse the effects of memory loss. My research, I argued, was part of a very important piece of psychological research into aphasia - my official cover, created for me by COSI. Without needing to go into too much detail, I was escorted to the main ward. My guide was a portly but passable nurse called Sophie. I set the equipment up in an empty private room and Sophie brought in a few of the memory-loss patients in succession. Each one was different inside. I recorded the sessions on the Philips T1000’s hard storage to look at later if I needed to refresh my own memory. None of these minds were as bare as von Kühnert’s. Their mental passageways were not so well-defined, either. Many of the brains I explored had corridors that narrowed so as to be impassable, while others cut off and brought you back in impossible loops that were different each time you traversed them. This pointed to continuing neural subsidence.

Sophie the nurse seemed very interested in what I was doing. She said she was hoping to be a genetico-neurologist and was doing her internship here as part of a course at the Moon’s Institute of Biotechnology, which was considered by many to be a refuge for dumb rich kids. I hinted that I would be perfectly happy to discuss my work with her after I’d finished my tests. That didn’t take long, as I was finding my research very inconclusive, and I didn’t really care that much anyway. Once the equipment was packed away I had no trouble in removing all of Sophie’s clothes. Nurses always managed to live up to their reputation, at least when I was around. It was as she was riding me, in obvious ecstasy while I lay beneath her making gentle ironic thrusts, that Chucky burst in with a rapid fire handgun. I laughed out loud. He looked like an angry beach ball. With an enormous shove of my arms I launched Sophie from my lap towards him, just as she was reaching a pinnacle of joy. Chucky released a barrage of shots, all of which ripped through Sophie’s body and missed me entirely. At least she died happy. Her parents wouldn’t have to pay her exorbitant university fees anymore, either. They might even thank me. Chucky fell backwards from the momentum of Sophie’s corpse flying toward him in the low gravity, giving me plenty of time to pull my gun, which was loaded with explosive shells, from under my nearby shirt. I blew off his right arm, the one which held his weapon. He screamed as the blood pumped out of him in spumes. I walked over to where he now lay on the ground, both my gun and my still full erection jutting out menacingly. I wondered which was the most scary to him. The notion of making him talk under the threat of perverse sexual acts danced amusingly across my mind to be discarded very rapidly. From time to time my wicked imagination revolted even myself. I pointed the gun at his head and dragged the tangled mass of him and the nurse into the room, then re-closed the door.

“Ahhhh, please don’t kill me”, blubbered Chucky, holding up his remaining hand as if it could provide some kind of protection.

“I may not kill you”, I answered, lying. “But it would help if you tell me why COSI is trying to kill me before I permanently rid you of your weight problem.”

I had to make some decisions fast. There was a dead student nurse and a gravely injured COSI employee lying on the floor and this would be hard to explain away as an accident. Who wanted me dead? It was unlikely to be COSI. I figured this could have been my first contact with the organisation behind the Mind Invasion kidnaps. The other hospital staff would be outside the door very soon, and the chances were they would find this situation a little odd for a research neuropsychologist. Chucky’s gun was silenced, but mine had made a big noise, and a larger mess.

Chucky grimaced with pain and tried to speak again. “Not COSI...”, he whimpered, and passed out. I reached down and took the security card for the moon vehicle from Chucky’s breast pocket where I’d seen him put it earlier. His severed arm still held his gun. I decided not to pick it up. I forced my gun into Sophie’s hand and blew Chucky’s brains out. A quick fumble undid his trousers and I pulled out his scrawny male appendage. That would keep them guessing, at least until their security group arrived. It took a minute to get dressed and collect up my equipment, some of which had a few dubious flecks of blood to incriminate me. There wasn’t much point in trying to cover anything up, anyway. It would take a brain scarcely larger than a baby Chihuahua’s to work out that what had really been going on was not a suicidal love session between two fat people. For one thing, student nurses didn’t usually carry explosive flechette handguns, except perhaps when they believed very strongly in euthanasia.

What a mess. My first comparatively honest job in years and it seemed like it was over already. I hadn’t expected this kind of contact so soon. I slipped out of the Nexus-7 clinic as quickly as possible and into the late Chucky’s balloon-tired moon vehicle, a piezoelectric craft made by Siemens that was powered by a bio-gravitational process. The Siemens was fun to drive, because the moon’s low g’s and the vehicle’s large carbon-fibre tyres made an accident almost impossible. I could fling the vehicle about like a Thai jet scooter taxi but without the fear of injury. Tuning the radio transponder to a Sri-Lankan station playing loud neuro-spunk, I had an exhilaratingly bouncy ride across the dunes to Armstrong, the Moon’s largest city. Then I took a magneto-bus to Buzztown, the once prestigious and expensive residential area near the old spacepad. Real estate investors had made the now classic mistake of thinking that people would commute to work from a home in a neighbourhood where nothing ever happened. They’d had to sell the buildings off for far less than expected. Since then the development had become somewhat seedy and a law unto itself. Perhaps now that there was some life there, people could be persuaded to leave Earth. But investors had given up totally in disgust and cut their losses by selling out to any shady buyer with the money up front.

Buzztown was well constructed, so the dust was in general kept out. But the atmosphere had become a bit smelly, because the climate control equipment was badly maintained. The whole moral atmosphere was rank, too. You could get some really sickening VR chips here with tongue-in-cheek titles like “Make Love To Me and Tear Off My Limbs, I’m Swedish”. You knew the title wasn’t an exaggeration of the content, either. If you were truly obsessed and had a lot of money you could re-enact the simulation for real with the specially-grown clone-bot of your choice. Sixteen storeys underground I found my favourite hangout, Dirty Sara’s. A potent glass of TechnoJuice in front of me, I commanded my PDA to retrieve the Moon’s latest local news items. There was nothing about a vicious dual murder at Nexus-7. Carefully disguising my call-sign via an anonymous Maori re-router in New Zealand, I surfed the COSI network and scoured the files of a few key intelligence employees, including myself. I did not come up as under surveillance. I was not registered as missing. In fact, I had apparently made a report only three minutes previously about similarities between cases of Reagan’s Aphasia and the problems encountered with von Kühnert. I sat back in my floating bar-chair and finished off my drink, wondering who my benevolent angel could be.

I was halfway through my second Juice when I was approached by the waiter, dressed in a pink parody of a Moulin Rouge outfit. Dirty Sara liked to indulge in sexual social comment with her staff. The waiter had a message for me. A gentleman only described as “Harry” wanted me to meet him for dinner in a few hours time in the restaurant, Dirty Sara’s Quick’n’Easy. Perhaps this was the contact I was after. Perhaps they wanted to make a deal. Or perhaps it was going to be another half-hearted attempt on my life. Either way, I felt man enough to handle the situation. I told the waiter to bring me the bill and to tell Harry that I would meet him at 20:30.

I spent the three hours before the meeting getting organised. I took a room under a pseudonym at a quiet and unassuming hotel, had a shower, and ordered from room-service a replacement weapon that would fit my remaining explosive rounds. Fully kitted-out and fresh, I took the lift back to Dirty Sara’s and entered the eatery. I was early, so I ordered a drink. This time I had a whiskey and cranberry juice. The menu looked good, so I chose the honeyed zero-g turbot with au gratin sweet apple-potatoes. These were a genetic hybrid of fruit and root vegetable combined into something called a froot – sweet and crunchy yet full of carbohydrates. Dirty Sara’s diner had a relaxing environment, with early space scenes adorning the walls and waiters wearing bottomless costumes, another social comment. Ambient Vietnamese pop music was playing throughout the restaurant, though it was possible to change the audio for specific tables on request.

Harry arrived. He looked Southeast Asian, which was later confirmed when I learned he was from the Thai Free State. He was accompanied by a girl with the most amazing pair of legs but a face like a lamb’s kidney. She was also Thai and went by the name of Santada. Harry approached with a huge grin which hardly left his face the whole time we were conversing. His associate was completely silent, but her eyes told me she knew exactly what was going on. Over dinner I learned that Harry was neither from COSI nor the group behind Chucky, whatever that was.

“My organisation does not want you dead, Mr Dean. On the contrary. We are most interested in assisting your research. We have a proposition to make to you. Your little police force would be very gratified to find out why great research scientists are losing their minds. There are also many in America who would like to find out how this has happened and what has been taken, and what for. My organisation can help you find some answers. We know that you in particular will be able to help us get what we want in return.” Harry sat back and grinned an even wider, perfectly-arrayed dental display.

“What is it you want?” I asked.

“We know that you are not quite what you appear to your organisation. We have helped you out of a recent mishap at the Nexus-7 Research Centre. But we could easily place you in far greater trouble.” This seemed like a combination of a threat and avoiding the question. It was yet another example of Pacific Rim inscrutability, I concluded.

“So, what do you want?” I asked again.

Harry then launched into a long and enlightening speech about von Kühnert’s research and the importance of fibre-optics and neural nets. Finally, after a manufacturer’s manual of technical detail, a lot of which I only vaguely understood, Harry began talking about a new kind of machine. The mind invasions were all linked to it, and Harry wanted it desperately. This was the first time I heard about Project Pure Light Abacus.