Nicholle Ryder sat at her brother’s desk, attempting to access his node on the company’s artificial neural net—ServerD760-R, also known as Cognition, or Cog for short. Her hand rested on the table as the plant in her right index finger shredded into the access port, giving her interface to the neural network. The touchscreen beneath the desk’s surface came alive with a soft mauve, although almost everyone now used voice, body, or mental commands. The touchscreen was just a throwback to the old Microsoft era. William Ryder had freed neural net users from being tethered to their desk with the invention of a second generation body-control system, then the third generation mental-command system.

However, William, Nicholle’s brother, had been forced to resign his position the prior month as Chief Executive Officer of America Plugged In (API) due to some rather large omissions in the company’s financial statements. That resignation now left Nicholle in charge of the family company, a position that Nicholle was quickly tiring of.

Nicholle’s training had been in the liberal arts, with a concentration in art history. She had recently left an assistant curator’s position at the insistence of her brother, as their father, Gil, had recently slipped into a coma. Matisse and van Gogh had punctuated her daily routine, but now balance sheets, P/E ratios, and stockholder meetings haunted her waking hours, and weaved in anxious moments of impending doom. The trixilate the psychologist prescribed helped with the anticipatory anxiety of coming face-to-face with stockholders, but the sweating and rapid heartbeat still persisted during public speeches.

In the upper left corner of her vision, an hourglass spun, its sands slowly wending their way downward, then a message flashed in the middle of her field of vision: Access Denied.

“Crap!” cried Nicholle. Her dark eyes flashed, then narrowed in anger as a low growl emanated from her throat. She swiveled around in the chair, her black pageboy haircut swiveling with her. Slim chestnut fingers that tapered into sky-blue fingernails dug into the arm of the chair.

“Chris! I need you!” she exclaimed, her voice cracking with frustration.

Chris’ holographic image suddenly stabbed her visual field. He was sitting in a chair, his head encased in a fryer, one he had designed himself.

“I’m busy,” replied Chris. “Can it wait?” His icy green eyes glared at her even through Cog’s rose-tinted ether.

“No, NOW!” hollered Nicholle as she slammed her foot on the floor, causing Chris’ image to shimmer and undulate.

“Okay, okay. I’ll be right there,” said Chris, tapping various controls on his fryer. Nicholle tapped her left pinky, which caused Chris’ image to disappear.

Nicholle appeared to be constantly fidgeting, with her finger and toe tapping and her eye twitches and facial tics. She had never trusted her inner thoughts themselves to activate various neural programs, for her mind had a tendency to wander. So she was still on the body-control system, which was becoming harder and harder to adapt as an interface to the newer models. She figured she would eventually have to update to the mental-command system, but she kept putting it off.

Chris came sauntering around the doorway with his signature bored, superior look, which contrasted with his rumpled, grunge attire. His blonde dreadlocks trailed down his back, tied together with a scrunchee.

“Yes, what is it?” he asked in an irritated tone. Chris’ attitude was tolerated only because he was one of the best rippers in the business. He was hired after being caught on one of his many illegal forays into Cog. The damage he had done was mostly negligible; their quantum grid system was one of the best around. Still, the mere fact that he had gained access showed up their lapses in the sentinel.

As Chris approached, Nicholle transferred the image of the Access Denied message in her visual field to a 3D holographic image in the middle of the room.

“I need to access some information on our off-shore accounts and small subsidiaries for an upcoming board meeting,” replied Nicholle.

“It needs the correct password,” said Chris.

Nicholle clenched her teeth. “I know that,” she hissed. “But this is my brother’s node. I don’t know the password because he didn’t give it to me.”

Chris huffed, then walked into the middle of the hologram and battered passwords one after the other, until he got the message he wanted: Access Granted. It hung in the air like a neon sign beckoning johns to a cheap thrill.

“You knew the password?” asked Nicholle, looking incredulous.

“Nah,” replied Chris. “But genius though your brother is, he’s also predictable. He tends to use the same passwords over and over.”

“And how would you know that?” asked Nicholle. She swiveled back and forth in her leather chair, arms crossed. Her Quatrocellini boots bit her toes, but she put the pain out of her mind. They had, after all, been a present from Q3 herself.

“Cuz I’ve been in his programs,” sneered Chris. “How can I expect to batter a competitor’s net if I can’t batter our own?”

“Waaaait, how many of my programs...?” She was interrupted by an expletive.

“***!” hollered Chris.

“What?” asked Nicholle.
“This is a level G-10 screw worm,” said Chris excitedly.

“What?” screamed Nicholle. The look of sheer rapture on Chris’ face told her that he wasn’t lying. She hurriedly twisted the ring on her finger, which caused a forcefield to drop across the doorway, tastefully decorated as an aquarium scene.

“Level G-10? Are you sure?” Nicholle asked.

“I’d even say that this is a G-11 or G-12, something I’d never seen before,” said Chris. “This thing would take the work of a neurologist. Oh, yeah.” His voice took on almost a worshipful tone. “Awesome.”

“Mercy!” said Nicholle, burying her head in her hands. “Is my brother trying to run this company into the ground?”

“As long as he gets what he wants, he doesn’t give a ***. I don’t know why you keep kissing his a$s,” replied Chris. “And your father’s, too, for that matter.”

Nicholle looked up at Chris, her face a veil of incredulity.

“Excuse me?” she said, her eyebrows furrowing.

“Pardon me if I burst your little naive, elitist bubble,” said Chris. “But your brother is a lowlife ***. He’s gotten me to do a few slightly illegal things, including that last time when I helped write a program that hid the company’s profits in off-shore accounts. He got the shaft, but at least he was decent enough not to rat me out, though.”

“Probably because he needed you for future use...and slightly illegal things?” asked Nicholle.

“Okay, highly illegal. Happy?” he retorted.

Nicholle stuck her arms in the air, exasperated. “This company will go on the chopping block if the Human Interface Commission finds out about this, and you’re playing word games with me?” Her arms fell heavily onto the desk. “If you were so against these little illegal ploys, why did you do them?”

“Because I needed the money. I’ve since learned its value since I started working here,” Chris said, sheepishly.

Nicholle glared at him. “So what does it do?” she asked in a tense tone.

“What does what do?”

“The G-10 screw worm!” she screamed.

“Oh, that. Well, it seems to be accessing alphanumeric strings of information in the brain. And it has a...”

“A what?” asked Nicholle impatiently.

“A subroutine that takes the alphanumeric information and...inputs it into a secured database that...”

“Yes?”

“Automatically takes out 20 credits a month from an account. A-ha!” exclaimed Chris.

“He’s siphoning funds from users’ accounts. I don’t believe it,” said Nicholle.

“The Interface Commission is going to love this,” laughed Chris. He stopped when he noticed the scowl on Nicholle’s face. “But, uh, it’s just between you and me, right?” He smiled a cheesy grin.

Nicholle got up from her seat and began pacing the floor and talking to herself. “It’s too much. First the investigation into our finances, then the MADI campaign against us...now this.”

“MADI? What do the illustrious Mother Against Drugged Interface want now?” asked Chris.

“If you’d get your head out of the fryer for more than a minute and read the news, you’d know that two API users were found dead 2 days ago at their consoles. They were high on pink zombie,” replied Nicholle.

“That’s not your fault,” said Chris.

“Please. When you’re a big corporation, everything’s your fault…from drug abuse to world hunger,” replied Nicholle.

“So hire a spin doctor and donate some money to a Net addiction center,” said Chris.

“Already did that,” replied Nicholle. “Short-term relief. Then the pain comes back twice as strong. But never mind that…where is the money from the users going?” asked Nicholle.

“Into an off-world account…on one of the API satellites,” Chris replied.

“What? There’re no banks on a satellite,” said Nicholle. “You sure it’s not an off-shore account?”

“Er, then I take it you don’t know about the banking system your brother established just before he left?” asked Chris timidly.
Okay, I revised the beginning. Hope it flows better and makes sense. Any opinions welcome. Thanks.
Hi Dohlman,

Science Fiction Stories are my favorite. Well...what can I tell about your Ceres - Part 1? Not bad and promising. It is sounds for me a little bit like Azimov' style. Don't want to offend you, but in my opinion it has to be more action and tensed especially in the beginning of the story to attract the reader. As a Si-Fi reader I can predict if the story is good or not from the first 1-2 pages.

I wish you good luck Mohlman. You really have to continue this story.

Regards

Laura
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Thank you so much for commenting, Laura. And I appreciate the compliment. Asimov was my favorite sci-fi writer.Emotion: smile I think you're right, tho. I'm trying to squeeze in too much background info at the beginning. I will revise to make more 'tense.' Thanks again!
Hi Dohlman,
You are very welcome!

Did you finished your story? I would like to read the rest of it. MY favorite Si-Fi-writer is Michael Crichton, but I love Azimov too, he's great!

By the way, have you already seen "I, ROBOT" with Will Smith? Crap! I mean it is a good action movie (with W.Smith it is always action), but there is almost nothing from the book itself. Only maybe the robot. If I wouldn't know the story then I would maybe satisfied. Anyway it is my opinion about the movie. What do you think about it?

I wish you good luck with your story.

Sicerely,

Laura
No, I haven't finished the story yet. My problem is that I also write for online RPGs, which distracts from my long-term goal of finishing this. lol

No, I have not seen I, ROBOT as of yet, although I do want to. I saw a brief interview with the director, who said it was difficult to make a movie based on a series of short stories (which I, Robot is), and decided to just have some common themes in the movie, so it's not really 'based on' the book. For a listing of differences/commonalities between the book and movie, go here:

http://www.asimovonline.com /
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