Ridley on the Diginome
With a rush of sound -- loud enough to make me cringe -- our ship pulled up alongside the Antef. Drive's headpiece buzzed with chatter; the screens rolled with code. "Roger that," he said finally.
We made our way to the exit. Drive stayed behind to monitor the screens. We clambered out of the door and right along into that of the Antef. The captain, a short grizzled man with a wicked scowl, approached Hakuin. Two other crew members -- one male, one female, stood behind him.
"Captain," the man said, extending his hand. Hakuin took it with both of his.
"Ushakov," Hakuin said. "Good to see you again."
"It's a dark day in the world," the other captain said, glancing at us. "Your crew looks tired."
"You see with tired eyes," Hakuin said with a slight grin. Our captain was always composed and relaxed; standing beside this withered old man, Hakuin looked positively regal.
"Come in," Ushakov said to us, waving us inside with a gruff swing of his arm. We walked hesitantly into the Antef. The other male crew member eyed me suspiciously; the woman didn't make eye contact.
We were far enough behind to whisper without being heard. "Is that Ridley?" I asked Kelvin. He shook his head.
On the bridge, we found a pair of women lounging near the control panels. As we entered, they rose to their feet. "Ladies and gentlemen of the Nabopolassar, meet the Antef." He jerked a thumb toward each of the crew in turn, starting with the other male. "Bertrand. Ayala. Hooks. Ridley."
The crew of the Antef nodded slightly in greeting. Hakuin introduced us to them, then turned to Ushakov.
"So what's this all about that you couldn't tell us over the voiceline?" the old man asked.
"A mission we've been sent to," Hakuin said. "There's a child that we need to . . . prevent."
Ushakov scowled afresh. "And you won't kill the parents because . . . ?"
Tera grinned. "Thank you," she said. She turned to us and beamed.
"We can't do that," Hakuin said plainly. "It's not an option."
Ushakov rolled his eyes. Ramb turned toward Ridley. "What's this we hear about you working on a diginome?"
Ridley -- who had looked rather bored to this point -- blinked quickly and glanced at each of us in turn. "Me?" she asked. "What have you heard?"
"Some rather unseemly stuff," Ramb said. "Rumors fly that you're trying to tinker with the code."
Ridley began to nod slightly, then tilted her head. "Wait a minute," she said slowly. "Do you mean you think you can use the diginome to kill this kid before it's born?"
"Not kill," Ramb said. "Alter."
Ridley's eyes became slits. "Alter how?"
"The child poses some serious threats," Ramb said. "If we can find some code that inflicts this danger, we're hoping we can hack it."
"Who fed you that load of horsecrap?" Ridley shot back.
As one, the crew turned to face Kelvin.
He blushed. "Well, I said it was a theory," he said. "I've read some of your posts on the possibilities for the diginome, and I thought --"
"You thought wrong," Ridley said quickly. She scratched her forehead and let out a deep breath. "Look," she said. "Let me make this clear once and for all, since you obviously missed it in my writing." Her eyebrows clung to the bridge of her nose. "The diginome influences some parts of the subject's development -- like the genome does in real people. But no more than that. Parts of it control parts of us -- but not personality. Hair color, yes. Predisposition to alcoholism, maybe. But good and evil? Give me a break!"
Kelvin was staring past her. A tense silence came and went.
"Sorry," he said finally. "I guess I just wanted to believe it."
Ridley sighed and glanced around -- clearly uncomfortable with being the center of attention. "Look," she said. "It's tempting to make those kinds of wild connections -- it would be great if we could tinker with people like we tinker with actionscripts. But it just doesn't happen. Inside the Matrix, these programs are just as context-dependent as their real-life equivalents. Maybe more so."
"More so?" Ramb asked.
Ridley waved a hand. "Let's not go into it. Point is, that's not going to be the way."
"That certainly dashes our most promising hope," Hakuin said.
"Well, there may be something else I can offer," Ridley said, moving toward the console. She donned the headset, sat down, and punched a series of buttons. "Drive," she said. We could hear the echoes of his response. "I'm sending you a series of abstracts for something called the MentaHack. It's a gnu-style collaborative project, still in its infancy. Maybe you can figure out some way to use it." The file went through and she slipped off the headset, then turned to us. "I don't know if it will be any help," she said. "But it's worth a try."
"Hacking minds?" I asked.
"Sort of," Ridley said, stretching her legs out before her. "Someone called it a Matrix hallucinogen."
"This can't just be a short-term interference," Hakuin said. "We need to neutralize this threat."
"Well, that all depends on the dosage and the nature of the hack," Ridley said, shrugging.
Ramb looked at Hakuin. "It's worth a try," she said.
"Okay," he said. "We'll look into it." He looked at Ridley. "In your opinion, does this have the power to alter minds? Actually change them?"
"Everything has the power to change minds," she said. "The question is how changed? And with what result? The software can do what hardware can do -- it can be nurturing, or it can be deadly."
Hakuin nodded slowly. "That may be true," he said. "I guess it's all we've got for now."
The signal went off for an incoming call. Ridley slapped on the headset. "Operator," she said. She slipped it off and passed it to Hakuin. "For you," she said.
Hakuin put it on. "Yes?" he asked. Ramb stepped beside Ridley.
"I get the software part," she said. "But how can the hardware be nurturing? Isn't it just a means? Neutral, I would think."
"There are ways," Ridley said, watching Hakuin's face grow more serious. "Why do you think they call it the motherboard?"
"Sentinels?" Hakuin asked, and everything else fell silent. Hooks leaped to the controls and started up the engines of the ship. Ushakov started spitting orders to the others. We tightened around Hakuin, who stood off to the side out of Hooks' way. "Well, if they're not sentinels, what are they?" He paused. "How far away are they?" Another pause. "Okay, we'll be -- Drive!" We could hear a scream from the headset. Hakuin ripped it off and we all raced for the exit.