‘Do you want to see something fucked up?’
Stef looked up and shied back slightly at the evil look on Jones’ face. ‘Buh?’
‘The Agency isn’t perfect,’ Jones said, scooting his chair over to the bench table where she was working. ‘We fuck up things sometimes. You can’t account for every possibility, or…sometimes, someone just isn’t careful. Most of the time, things are caught in beta, but sometimes, things are pushed to live that are…buggy.’ He laid a tablet on the table and hit the “deploy” button on the next of her patches.
In her HUD, a notification appeared and let her know that something was being installed.
‘How high should I be hitting my what-the-fuck-o-meter?’
‘There’s a reason I did this before we broke for lunch.’
The implications of- ‘I can still- Agents can puke?!’
‘Short answer, yes. Longer answer, yes-with-a-short-lecture.’ Jones held up his hand; a blank piece of paper appeared in it. She looked closer – not blank, something was on the side facing away from her. ‘I’m going to show you a photo of a bear. It’s an ordinary brown bear, just the same as you’d find on wiki or any basic image search, okay?’
Jones twisted the photo to face her and-
She gripped the table.
She tried to look at the picture again, but her head dropped, her vision focussing on her hands.
She tried to look again, this time gritting her teeth and forcing her head to stay up.
Her face twitched as, against her will, her head tried to turn again.
Everything in the room was normal. The same lab that had practically been her second home since coming back to life. Same equipment. Same Jonesy. Same-
She didn’t want to throw up, but she could understand why he’d waited till after this to have lunch. If a burger was sitting just a little wrong, it would have been all over the floor.
Concentrate. She had to concentrate. Lab. Normal. Jonesy. Normal. Edges of the photo. Normal.
The subject of the photo was-
It looked like a DeepDream nightmare, pieces of the image fractaling in on itself, run through every conceivable filter, stretching and warping, breathing, taking up more and less than it should have. Utterly incomprehensible.
Finally, she let her head drop.
‘Okay, it’s gone,’ Jones said.
Another patch notification appeared in her HUD. ‘It was hot-fixed two hours after it initially went out, but it caused a stir. People thought they were under attack. Doctors and techs couldn’t detect anything physical – or even digital, since it was a verified patch – and for those couple of hours, it seemed like someone had found a new way of attacking us.’
‘Did- Did whoever did this get fired?’
‘It was genuinely an unintended conflict. And not something seen before. We learned a lot from the incident. The memes ran their course, and now it’s mostly brought up as a joke.’
‘And the reason for giving me the experience of being on all the drugs was?’
‘Two-fold. One, it’s an important lesson in looking beyond the obvious. Looking for less obvious common factors.’
Jones’ smile turned mischievous. ‘Well, it was fun.’
‘Fair,’ she said after a moment. She looked at the picture again. This time, the bear was normal. ‘I’m assuming there’s no more bugs like that in the patch queue?’
‘Nothing as fun. There was one where about five per cent of people who received the live patch were unable to separate their index and middle fingers.’ He held up his hand to demonstrate and it looked like a sad, half-hearted Vulcan salute. ‘Again, hot-fixed within a couple of hours.’ Another patch notification popped in her HUD. ‘How’s the calibration going?’
‘Going step by step, but so far, everything is good. It’s just so much more responsive than the glasses.’ She paused. ‘I’m guessing that’s by design? Training wheels?’
Jones nodded. ‘Walk before you run and all that, but it is genuinely faster running direct.’ Another patch executed. ‘Have you played with your language settings yet?’
‘I…kind of remember that from the project plan?’
‘On paper, it only takes up a couple of pages unless you get the supplementary docs. All right, how many languages do you, Spyder, speak?’
She looked down at the table. ‘English, obviously. And…pretty decent tourist amounts of Spanish and French? We did a lot of holidays when I was a kid. But I’m probably relatively rusty now.’
‘All right,’ Jones said, though his lip movements didn’t match the words she heard. ‘Let’s go through this slowly.’
As he spoke, live subtitles appeared in her HUD. Above and to the left, where a character’s name would be if it was a video game dialogue, was a box that said “Language Detected – Greek”.
‘I am just going to start reading the recruit handbook so you can play with your settings,’ Jones said, more subtitles appearing.
Beside the subtitles was a menu of three dots. As she selected each one in turn, the subtitles changed from “best translation” to “original alphabet” to “literal translation”. She cycled back to the “best translation” option and then selected an icon in the upper right of her HUD that was blinking for attention.
The options broke down simply. What to see in subtitles, what to hear – with a bonus option to match mouth movements to what she was hearing. Finally were the choices for the response language, to respond in her default language, or to match the speaker, if the option was available.
‘Okay, how’s this?’ she asked, saying the words in English, thinking them in English, hearing them in English, but feeling her mouth form them in Greek.
‘Very well done,’ came Jones’ subtitles and now movement-matched words. ‘And we can switch back to English now.’ The subtitles dropped away, and the translate menu icon disappeared. ‘Just give some time as to what you want to onboard. That’s not a decision to make now.’
‘Basically, what you want available offline. Most agents have two extra languages. Some have a lot more.’
More patches. Lunch. More patches.
‘Check that,’ Jones said as a text notification popped into her HUD. She opened Vox and saw an executable command sitting in their chat. He nodded to her, and she hit the button.
An information window popped up, stating that her software was compliant and up to date.
‘Looks good,’ she said.
‘Now that you’re current, you’ll receive patches as we do. Well. Asterisk that. We still have to check and make sure your heart plays nicely with everything we added into your code. If it does, no problem. If it doesn’t, then we might have to opt you out of certain patch updates. But that’s what the next couple of weeks are for. I know it’s been made clear to you, but one more time, this is your starting point. Even off-the-shelf agents can have issues in their newborn days. There’s always worse issues with augments. We’ll be doing well if we can make it a week without your face collapsing in on itself like your nose is a black hole.
Well, that’s horrifying.
‘I’ll try to be as cooperative as I can.’
‘There is,’ Jones had an awkward look on his face, ‘one thing I’d like to test. Ryan is going to teach you how to shift, and I’m sure he’s going to pull a little Director’s privilege to get you out in the sun for a bit. There’s something we need to know before there’s even a chance of you getting in a fight.’
She touched her chest and felt the coldness of her heart through her uniform. ‘You gonna shoot me, Jonesy?’
‘Only with your consent.’
She stood, required a candy cigarette and found a bare patch of wall. She took a fake puff on the stick, then flicked it away, dismissing it before it hit the floor. ‘Go go firing squad.’
Jones moved to stand a couple of metres in front of her, one arm at his side, a gun in his hand. Jonesy with a gun looked…wrong.
‘This shouldn’t hurt.’ He raised the gun. ‘For science.’ He fired.
Her HUD pixellated for a moment, and she was staring at nothing – past her UI, there was blue, not flat blue, but a space that had some sense of depth, some sense of movement.
Two buttons sat in the middle of her HUD. One read “Same Location”. The other said “Select Location” and had a dropdown arrow.
She selected “Same Location”, and a moment later, the lab and Jones reappeared. On the floor below her and on the bench to her right were little blood splatters – splatters that disappeared, even as she watched.
Jones moved forward, gun disappearing as he did so. ‘You’re not screaming. That’s good. You’re conscious, that’s good. You’re here. That’s double-plus good. Are you okay?’
She touched a hand to her chest, where she’d felt the briefest of sensations before being forced into the blue space, no pain, no blood. ‘Yeah,’ she said, ‘no problems at all.’
‘Achievement unlocked, first successful respawn,’ he said and squeezed her shoulder. ‘Good. That’s good.’ He visibly deflated with relief. ‘I spent hours programming that – in my head, I call it your Faraday Cage – but theories and sandboxing only go so far. Real life, in this case, is, unfortunately, entirely another thing.’
‘I mean, I am going to try and avoid getting shot.’ She thought of the project plan and the “Desire Path training” that Combat was planning. ‘I mean, other than however times Mags is gonna shoot me this week. But that’s also for science, so it doesn’t count.’
‘It counts a little.’