Annika de Groot is a mid-level manager at Rook Industries. Through hard work, diligence, and some judicious backstabbing (so far, metaphorical), she’s risen through the ranks at Rook Industries to gain leadership of the HTT Program.
Her direct reports don’t always understand her goals, and have both broad discretion and high levels of accountability - that’s how Annika likes it. It encourages creativity and initiative, and gives her ready excuses when she needs to weed out actual rivals (usually by transferring them to another division - it’s for the best of the company, after all). As a result, when she has a meeting like this, to update them on the state of the program, everyone pays close attention.
Today, there’s a new face at the far end of the table. It’s a replacement for Barton, who was getting a little too memo-happy, and bypassing her to report to senior leadership. Annika searches her memory for the new hire’s name. Jack F… something? “Jack” is good enough, everyone’s on a first-name basis here. His ethnicity is unclear. He definitely looks familiar - and not just from orientation. Where has she seen him?
“Right,” she begins. “We have an update, and it’s not good. We’re going to pivot back to a discovery phase. We have three working meetings scheduled. Attendance is mandatory. For now, I’ll just lay out the situation.”
For the sake of the new guy, she lays out a bit of background. “HTT stands for ‘High-Tension Thinkers’. Rook’s business model is driven by technical innovation. Obviously, the more innovators who Rook actually has internally, the better off we are. HTT exists to explore new avenues that other teams will then develop.”
Translation: we identify and kidnap or coerce super-geniuses to work for us.
“The next generation of Halcyon City has yielded several promising candidates.” Stereoscopic images - not quite full holograms, Annika’s budget is better spent elsewhere - spring to life, spinning in place, and she clicks through the stills one at a time. “Jason Quill. Leo Snow, aka Link. The Menagerie member ‘Charade’. Other Menagerie members, including sentient robots.”
“Unfortunately --” She leans heavily on this word “-- certain aspects of our approach have burned bridges with those individuals. So we innovated.”
Another image comes up. “Dolores - and good work, by the way, D, this was really clever of you.” Annika flashes an honest, genuine smile at her subordinate, who blushes and smiles back. “Dolores identified another candidate pool we’d never considered. Cryokinetics.”
“This is important, so I want to talk about it a little more, in the hope that the rest of you may come up with something similar. We had Asset R68–” Rossum, the Minion Maker, but we can’t name names so freely “-- for quite awhile, and his insight into the brain and nervous system were unparalleled. We know the brain is an electrochemical machine. A hundred million neurons, each signalling ten thousand of its closest friends across the synaptic vesicles, operate in a mostly chemical regime.”
“As it turns out, below a certain temperature threshold, electron tunneling and chemical effects become dominant. The brain switches from a chemical to an electrical regime. In short, the whole nervous system becomes a superconductor, and thoughts travel far faster. Of course, no normal human being could survive such cold. But some cryokinetics can.”
More images, of test subjects. “We experimentally verified some of these results by collaborating with our space-exploration division, who are working with cryonics. But those subjects can’t be interrogated. We can chill them to the points where their brains accelerate, but we can’t put data in, and we certainly can’t get it out. Yet.”
“But what if there was a way to interact with someone in this sub-freezing state, normally? We wanted to find out.”
An image appears on the screen. She’s known as “Carbine” to the world. “Asset A92 was engaged to recruit someone. Unfortunately this effort failed. It failed in ways that make it difficult to recover from.”
“Now this does not reflect badly on Dolores personally,or A92, or anyone else involved. It simply means that we must cast a broader net. But we believe the basic technique is sound.”
Annika looks from face to face. They’re all involved, engaged, thinking not only of how to locate more cryokinetics, but also of how to exploit their own assorted scientific and technical backgrounds to make a similar breakthrough. Good. They’re motivated.
She studies Jack’s face for a moment, the newcomer. Time to see if he measures up.
“Jack, thanks for getting up to speed on HTT so fast. Do you have anything you’d like to ask, or add to the discussion?”
The young man doesn’t even pause a moment. “Exiting the cryonics crossover research might have been premature. My understanding is that R68 had done work in extracting the state of a brain by emitting a pulse, using the skull as a reflector, and turning the reflected image into a connectome. Brain radar, basically. If you don’t have that research, work has been done around the prestriate cortex, and it may be possible to feed data into - and get results out of - the brain as images, not words. You might need to do some surgery on the posterior parietal cortex, but I mean, seems like it’d work?”
Jesus, whoever hired this kid deserves a bonus, reflects Annika. Where did he get his education? He looks like he’s fifteen.
“That’s very interesting,” she says smoothly. “I expect to hear more about this from you very soon, so let’s schedule a meeting to review your proposal. In the meantime, I look forward to everyone else’s thoughts and ideas over the next few days.”
Who cares whether that kid’s dad is King Winter or not? He would have been perfect to work with. AEGIS has been guarding him like a hawk for years. He must be insanely powerful. If his kid could do half of what he could–
Annika pushes these thoughts out of her mind. Lost opportunities are to be cleanly closed off. New avenues will open up, if you push hard enough. She needs to focus on the future.
“Jack” has found an out of the way corner, a place he knows he can stay without being disturbed. He dials a number, and speaks in low tones once he hears the other end picking up.
“Mike to Joel. Mike to Joel.”
“Go ahead, Mike,” comes the other voice.
“Rook investigating cryonics and cryokinetics for some kind of thought-acceleration program. They want to turn cold manipulators into super-geniuses. That’s the reason for the run on your guy.”
“Cool. I knew something had to be up with that. Good work, Mike.”
The new hire can’t keep frustration out of his voice. “Look. I might have to give them useful advice, if I want to stay here for long. That means helping these motherfuckers. I don’t like it. How long is this going to take?”
“I don’t know, man. I know you’re antsy. I know why. Just trust me, this is for the greater good. And your good.”
The young man sighs. “Fine. When this is over, I expect you to keep your promise. I want Pneuma back.”
“I never promised that. AEGIS can’t promise it either.”
“You said you’d help.”
“That’s all I said. Joel out.”
The mole pockets the phone and rubs experimentally at his own hand. The imitation of flesh isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough. Did anyone twig to his nature? It didn’t seem like it.
He smiles, remembering the meeting. Would they have been surprised, talking about acquiring Leo Snow to help them, if they knew his android duplicate was sitting in the very same room, doing just that?
Time to get back to work. For the assholes who kidnapped Pneuma - who hurt her.