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World, Incorporated

World, Incorporated

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World, Incorporated

valutazioni:
4/5 (1 valutazione)
Lunghezza:
380 pagine
7 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Apr 19, 2013
ISBN:
9781301106714
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Welcome to the Misinformation Age.

A solitary man strides across a helipad tarmac on the top of a massive skyscraper. He is on his way to receive his next mission. Few know his name or his past, not even his employer, the CEO of World, Inc., who barely understands or cares what drives him. The CEO has called him by the code name “Sliver” since they met, and for the last four years Agent Sliver has efficiently accomplished dozens of covert missions that might ultimately give the company an edge on its competitors. But this is no ordinary tale of corporate espionage:

World, Incorporated is one of five supercorporations which, having overthrown governments across the globe in the wake of decades of social unrest and economic turmoil, spend their near-limitless resources to attain total supremacy in the post-national society of 2058. Answerable to no one, the supercorporations compete for the loyalty of the world’s population using any means necessary: revolutionary advancements, media control, clandestine sabotage. Sliver is an agent of the latter, and he is very good at his job. But his next mission is not going to go as planned...

The world as you know it already has screens that watch you back, figurehead leaders basking in post-truth doublespeak, and corporations with more money and influence than nations. For those who have ever wondered “where can it go from here?” World, Incorporated is a disturbingly believable take on how our society could dramatically evolve in just a few decades. This captivating action-thriller follows a conflicted young man along his path to revenge and redemption in the 21st century dystopia. His world is about to change. Will yours?

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Apr 19, 2013
ISBN:
9781301106714
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

I am a professional climate change advocate and public policy analyst. I am from the San Francisco Bay Area, where I still live today.

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World, Incorporated - Tom Gariffo

World, Incorporated

By Tom Gariffo

Copyright 2011, Tom Gariffo

Smashwords Edition

Smashwords Edition License Notes:

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Dedicated to my parents, without whom none of this would have been possible.

Also to you, the reader, for giving a shot to a young, unknown, independent author.

If you enjoy my novel, please recommend it your friends.

And if you do not, please recommend it to your enemies.

Chapter 1

To him, it was just a job. It was just another slight variation on the same routine he had done time and again, to the point now that he could no longer remember how many times he had done this before, and the thought that there was ever a time when the things he was doing right this instant were not merely a function of reflex seemed entirely baffling in his mind.

Alright, this looks good, take us down he said commandingly.

Sure, his work rarely brought him to the same places, and the specifics of what had to be accomplished would, when considered together, combine into something different than anything he had attempted previously. But the specifics were a finite set of actions, all drawn from the same handful of sources, and each of which he had already done at least half a dozen times if not many more. They could be combined in myriad ways, but any combination would still dictate a few essential functions that he could carry out without any particular concentration, with the necessary motions to go through having been hard-wired into his instinctual memory.

So to him, it was just another job.

His transport, which he preferred to think of as an airship, was now a dull golden brown hue as it hovered momentarily over a dauntingly massive wheat field, and then gently touched down. He sat in the cockpit before the central control cluster, but his hands did not touch any of it. His arms rested on the arms of the chair, and his head rested unenthusiastically on his fist via his right cheekbone. His gaze stretched out over the wide, flat horizon that stretched out for miles in homogeny. The restraints of the pilot’s seat crisscrossed his torso, starting at the shoulders and running down, securing him snugly in place. When he felt the landing gear meet solid ground, he undid the restraints and began to stretch. A voice that was metallic and gravelly, and slightly British, emanated from speakers on the console.

We have arrived, per your instructions and the mission guidelines, the onboard computer spoke, and then proceeded to read off the exact coordinates. The plane had touched down somewhere in the middle of North America. There was nothing of particular interest in this area for miles, unless if someone for some reason had business with the squatters that had started sporadically moving into the area. He stepped up from the pilot’s chair and continued to do more thorough stretches.

Sir, the onboard computer said, the critical mission data has been uploaded to your personal computing device, and satellite assistance is available, as planned.

Thank you, Gerald, he replied, as the console ejected a flat, narrow and wide device, attached to a tight fitting elastic armband.

By the way sir, the computer commented, are you ever planning to settle on a name with which to refer to me?

I will as soon as I find somebody else to talk to, Silas, he answered, and we both know how likely that is.

So true, the computer admitted. Your equipment is all assembled then?

Yeah he said, as he took the armband device and slid his left hand through until the screen was about an inch above his wrist. He tapped a button on the side closest to his wrist and the screen flashed on to his mission interface. With that in place, he walked back into a clean and well lit room on the plane that looked very much like a doctor’s examination room. He opened a cabinet and then a drawer inside the cabinet. He removed from the drawer one of many cylindrical objects that were each only a little longer than the width of his palm and about a centimeter in diameter. The object was inside a shiny plastic wrapper that he ripped open and discarded, and then he clenched the top part of this item in his teeth to pull off a cap. This he also discarded by spitting it into the garbage. He lowered his pants slightly, just enough to expose some of the flesh of his thigh, and then with a swift motion jammed the object into the exposed flesh. With a click and a quick stinging pain, a chemical of a composition he did not know was injected into his body. For a moment he stumbled, but stabilized himself on a counter in the room, and he shook his head and coughed. He discarded the injector and stepped back out of the room, adjusting his pants. Moving into another room, he equipped his person with a number of tools of his trade, most importantly a pair of sidearms holstered on either flank. As he left he made his way towards the door of the airship, situated just behind the cockpit and the central control cluster.

Good luck, Agent Sliver the computer said as he opened the door.

This one won’t take very long, so be ready to get me as soon as I signal Sliver responded. He took hold of a handle, situated in the top of the door, connecting to a line that lowered him slowly to the ground with a mechanical winch. Having reconnected with the earth, he let go and the handle quickly retracted back to where it had been and the door shut itself. He walked off, guided by the device on his wrist, as the engines on the airship began to stir. They were incredibly silent, amounting to only a very distinct and pronounced hissing noise. The engines could rotate on a 90 degree axis to allow for complete vertical landings and had been pointing directly at the ground for landing and takeoff, but as the plane rose up they rotated and propelled the aircraft into the sky. It took off without him, but he was unmoved by it and continued on his path.

Sliver was without question a solidly built man, though he was not particularly physically intimidating. He possessed a muscular build and kept in very good physical condition, but his exercise regimen was intended to produce toughness rather than a visually impressive physique. Sliver also was on the shorter side of average, only five feet and six inches tall, giving many people the incorrect impression that they could overtake him in a fight. His looks were modest, as he did little to augment his appearance, though his eyes were a strikingly unusual color being such a bright shade of a traditional brown eye color that they almost seemed orange, like a darkened pumpkin. Beneath these, on his chin, there lay a small crescent shaped scar that he could not remember receiving. He had wavy hair, of a color reminiscent of dark chocolate.

Sliver tended to wear a certain self-styled uniform while on missions like this one that consisted of combat boots, urban camouflage fatigue pants, a worn brown leather bomber jacket, and a pair of aviator sunglasses. There were a couple of reasons for this, the primary being one of concealment; with combat boots and military looking pants, people would write-off the glimpses they caught of his utility belt or the hunting knife strapped to his right calf as accessories involved in a fashion statement. Similarly, the bomber jacket was less apparent than fatigues in more civilized areas, and did an equally good job concealing the weapons and ammo he carried on his chest. Also, Sliver liked to think of it as his trademark look; even though nobody who ever saw him remembered him, he felt he had a part to play and his costume ought to fit that part. Doctors wear lab coats, lawyers wear expensive suits, Agent Sliver wears this. They could all have been wearing straight jackets, but instead the powers that be insisted upon a certain standard, and Sliver was perfectly willing to conform to it.

Sliver parted the wheat fields until he got out to a slender dirt road that seemed to stretch to the horizon. From what he understood from the digital readout attached to his wrist, he would be well within visual contact of his target after a brisk run down this road. A small part of him wished he could have landed closer, but the rest of him knew that it was simply easier to let the computers automatically handle navigation. He started running, thankful for his conditioning. The data he read was, as always, eerily accurate, for after only a few minutes he could see a billboard, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, looming over this monotonous wheat field. The advertisement was for Sprocket Cola, which was a subsidiary of World, Inc., and it portrayed an unthreateningly attractive white couple sitting on a fence in a field just like this one, watching a sunset and of course happily drinking the beverage. There was white cursive writing that said for the good times, Sprock-it. A little less obviously, the couple also each held a cigarette in their hands that supported them on the fence. As Sliver stopped to catch his breath, he knowingly laughed at the billboard.

The advertisement actually was facing the only paved road that passed through this area for miles, but this had not yet met Sliver’s eye. There was a small farmhouse down a dirt path that branched off from the road, a little ways beyond the billboard. The house looked like it might have been painted at one point, but the elements had stripped it down to a bare gray weathered wood. It had a sizable porch that faced the road, and to the left of that a plain rectangular window facing the same direction. In that house, Sliver knew, was where he would find his objective. He headed towards it, across the paved road, but he remained in the shadow of the billboard as he drew closer to the house. He kept low to the ground, remaining hidden from sight beneath the waving grain, as he quickly approached the farmhouse. Sliver had been deceived from afar; the farmhouse was actually bigger than he expected. It had been a while since anything had evaded Sliver’s perception, but he ignored it. Everyone has off-days.

He ran up to the outside of the house, and stood flat against the wall by the window. In his approach he had caught a shadow of a glimpse through the window of a figure on the opposite side of the house’s interior. Agent Sliver slowly turned his head, exposing as little of himself as possible as his eye just cleared the edge of the glass. There was a woman in the room, facing towards a window that looked out beyond the other side of the house. As he inspected the room, which turned out to be a kitchen, and the person inside it, he wondered why they even needed windows when all there was to see were unchanging fields. On the other side of the house he could see a screen door that led into a hallway and a living room. The woman looked to be on the later side of middle-aged, her hair sandy and curly, going past her shoulders. She had pale skin that in places was going slack from age. She was chopping carrots on a cutting board, and as she glanced at the watch on her wrist she put down the knife she was using and turned to her right. Sliver caught a glimpse of her face, which was all he needed, and he pressed an input on the screen of his wrist-computer. She headed towards the front door, and so he rounded the corner on the house to avoid detection. He could see her leave the front door and step off the porch, down the dirt walkway towards the mailbox by the main road.

Sliver knew his opportunity, and slipped around back to the screen door which, he correctly guessed, was unlocked. Stepping inside, to his left was the living room; nothing too special there, a thinning brown wall-to-wall carpet, a worn couch and recliner, a ceiling fan set to low, a big-screen TV of the past generation, off-white walls. Nothing suspicious in the kitchen either; the woman was making some kind of soup. He could see a bathroom in the first room to the right down the hallway, and further on he was fairly certain were bedrooms. He left the house again, and kept on moving around the exterior. In back there was a garage which looked like it had been added on to the house more recently. He took care again in peering around the side to see what was inside, but there was nobody in here, either; just an old pickup truck, some auto tools, other various tools, and a washer-dryer set. Sliver started to think it was suspicious that there seemed to be no farming equipment anywhere, though of course he knew that, even had it been there, they were not actually using it. Like so many times before, most of what he was seeing right now was a façade.

Off in the corner he spied doors in the ground that led to a storm cellar, and Sliver had a hunch that his primary objective was down there. He moved to the doors, stepping lightly and making no noise, while at the same time taking one of his guns from its holster. Gently he lifted one side, with it making a slight squeak against the hinge, and then the other. The inside was dim and dank, but undoubtedly lit. Sliver crouched down slightly as he tiptoed into the cellar. He was immediately struck with the fact that this was significantly more than just a place to wait out a storm, as the bottom of the stairs presented him with a hallway branching off to the right and left, though straight in front of him was a decoration that seemed to have been given a place of honor. It was a poster encased in a protective frame, an advertisement for the 1969 Woodstock festival.

Pretty old, Sliver mused to himself, not quite a century, but getting close. The hallway was completely dark and quiet to his right, but off to his left there was a light emanating, and some hissing noise. Sliver listened closer, and was fairly certain he could discern breathing when the hissing occasionally stopped. He moved towards the light and noise, and passed another poster, this one featuring an image of an individual that Sliver felt like he knew but could not place. The man on the poster had long dark hair and a pointed nose, and wore circular glasses. His expression did not express any particular emotion, but he looked straight ahead, almost eerily. In the lower right corner of the poster it said Think Different, but it looked like someone had tried to scratch that out of the poster at some point with a pen. Above that, the same pen had written an L. Sliver continued on, interested in these historical oddities, but more focused on completing his task.

He crept on towards the source of the light and noise, passing more framed posters that he ignored. A faint acrid smell attacked his nostrils as he drew closer and entered into a larger chamber. He took in his surroundings through the flickering glow of light and went on high alert; confrontation would be imminent and violent. The room was stacked with gallon-containers of industrial and household chemicals, spools of wiring, empty pipes, and cylinders full of ball bearings. Back in the corner was easily a hundred gallons of stockpiled gasoline and diesel fuel in red plastic boxes, surrounded on the floor by vents blasting cold air. There were dozens of stacked plastic sacks in the center of the room, all of them heavy grade synthetic fertilizers.

Finally, Sliver said to himself ironically, some farming supplies…and put to good use, too. He was commenting on the equally massive stack of devices next to the fertilizer, meticulously assembled by a hobbyist of sorts, which Sliver clearly recognized as homemade explosives. His breathing slowed as he edged even closer to the lights coming from the next room connecting to this one. Sliver would never be quite sure why what happened next happened as it did, but a few of the pipes in the room fell to the floor, seemingly inexplicably; he was nowhere near them when they fell, but maybe his presence had shifted the air pressure in some way, or a slight tremor in the earth had happened at the least convenient time. The clattering noise startled Sliver, and he crouched behind the sacks of fertilizer. The hissing stopped and the light went away, but an array of fluorescent tubes all blinked to life above. A man just barely appeared in the room from where the sound had been; he looked like he was in his late sixties, with his thinning gray hair put in a long ponytail that ran down his back. His frame was also thin, as though he was not receiving proper nutrition. He had large heavy gloves on, a mask over his mouth, and an apron covering most of his body. This man quickly saw Sliver and screamed a duo of obscenities before dashing back to where he had been. He reappeared without the face mask and with a shotgun. He shouted curses at Sliver and fired one of his blasts. The shot was absorbed by the sacks of fertilizer.

Fascists, the man yelled out, you all want to just take over the world by selling people the things you stole from them! You should be ashamed man, you and everyone else, funding their genocide, raping the earth! Sliver shut out the rambling and fired a shot blindly over the fertilizer bags; as he expected it got the aging man to fire his other round uselessly. Sliver rose and turned, firing one shot from each gun with pinpoint accuracy into his target’s shoulders. The man recoiled from the impact and hit the wall, sliding down, blood streaking behind him, with the shotgun falling from his hands. Sliver cleared the barrier in a single leap, and standing over his opponent, kicked the shotgun back into the room it had come from such that it landed next to a work bench and an acetylene torch. He knelt down and looked the man in the eyes.

And your solution was to blow up shopping malls and office buildings? Sliver hissed, Great plan. Maybe if you had spent more time in our reality and less time ‘expanding your mind’ you would’ve come up with something better, and I wouldn’t have had to be here. Sliver stood up, preparing to finish the job. He aimed for the man’s frontal lobe, when a shrill shriek ripped through the air behind him. He turned around in time to see the man’s wife, the woman he had past earlier, swinging a butcher’s knife at him. The agent’s instincts kicked in, and he chopped away the arm brandishing the knife while knocking her back into the wall of chemicals. She fell to the ground, accompanied by the gallons upon gallons of fluid containers, which fell on top and buried her. Sliver whirled back around to only to see that the man had pulled his body over to the pile of his creations. He switched on as many of the amateur bombs as he could reach in his last Earthly act. Ten seconds flashed on the countdown timers.

Sliver knew that man had just assured his and his wife’s annihilation, hoping to take their killer with them. With his targets thus taken care of, Sliver jumped and spun back around towards the door. He hurdled over the pile of chemical buckets under which the man’s wife lay and sprinted back to the stairs. He slid to face his exit, knocking the Woodstock poster the ground. He flew up the stairs and burst through the cellar doors. With five seconds left, he fell into an all-out sprint for any place in the fields as far from the home as he could get. Reentering the daylight, the sun struck his eyes and he was briefly blinded though his sprint went unabated. Sliver cracked his eyelids back open as best he could, revealing a startled figure before him. Too late to swerve or dodge, he collided with this unexpected individual. Sliver’s momentum carried the both of them a few more yards, but they hit the ground together in a heap, with the agent on top. A flash of light and a deafening roar blasted the farmhouse into millions of pieces. A pillar of fire ripped out of the basement and dissipated into the atmosphere in black smoke. Sliver covered the back of his head, buffeted nevertheless by flying debris and infernal winds. Lumps of charred home slammed into his back, and landed all around him, but with uncanny luck he managed to not get struck in the head and lose consciousness.

The agent stayed in cover until the ashen rain had stopped, and saw the person below him well for the first time. She could not have been more than a few years younger than he, with an understated but prevalent beauty. She bore an unmistakable resemblance to the people he had just killed, and unlike him she was unconscious. Sliver was unsure what to do about her as he got back to his feet, but in the meantime he examined the device on his wrist. He poked boxes on the screen next to profiles of the man and woman who had lived in that farmhouse which checked them off digitally. He verified and reverified the mission data, which said nothing at all about a daughter. It was incredibly rare that his readout was not completely accurate. Sliver looked back down at her with apprehension, not entirely sure what he wanted to do, or was supposed to do. He was, however, certain that he had completed everything the needed to on the ground and reached for his thigh, where he kept a flare gun. Pointing it to the sky, he pulled the trigger and a fluorescing green blob soared into the sky alongside the smoke rising from the wreckage of the house. Removing his aviators and wiping his forehead, Sliver continued to consider the girl. His plane, which had been but a speck in the wild blue yonder, descended towards him in a controlled spiral. It hovered overhead momentarily, silver skin glinting in the sun, and then floated hissing back down to the ground. The wheat fields bent in every way away from the airship. A door on the side slid open, and a harness on the end of a winch descended. It seemed to hang there, accompanied by the sound of wind rushing through the plane’s turbines, impatiently.

Sliver looked back at the girl, and was certain that he would be better off just leaving her there. But he felt quite strange as he looked upon her; he knew it was not lust or attraction, for any time he was in a city he would be around many women far more arousing than she. Rather he felt an emotion that was far more foreign to him. It was like he thought that they had a connection even though they never met; it was like she was so familiar to him, but he could not remember anything about her. Sliver thought it must be sympathy, but he could not remember how that felt, and so he could not be sure. The idea of sympathy was to him like what a description of color would have been to a blind man. He felt sad for her, happy because he felt sad for her, and angry because he felt happy. And so he felt strange, incredibly confused, and then a little lightheaded and nauseous. But Sliver was never one to stand idly and indecisively, even if he thought he was having some kind of epiphany.

He fastened the harness around his torso and picked up her limp body. The line rose, taking them off the ground. Sliver was sure that this was a bad idea, and that it would add a completely unnecessary level of complication to his life for the foreseeable future. Sliver knew that if his superiors, or the enemies of his superiors, or anybody who wanted to get leverage over him, found out that he was revealing his existence to someone, that he would be painting a target on his back. Sliver was pretty sure that taking the girl with him was cruel, but leaving her in the middle of nowhere without a home or family was also cruel. Sliver’s gut told him that she would probably just try relentlessly to kill him, forcing him to eliminate her. But greater than all these concerns, Sliver had to know why, like inexplicable divine inspiration, he had suddenly started, for the first time in years, to feel.

Chapter 2

The winch brought Sliver and the girl up to the threshold of the airplane, and he stepped in. He experienced difficulty in both not dropping her and detaching the harness, but eventually it came off. The ship’s computer began to speak to him.

Agent Sliver, should I set a course for… abruptly stopping once it had calculated that Sliver was no longer the only occupant of the craft. It continued to process Slivers’ actions, watching him through the security cameras and analyzing the situation. The onboard computer was operated by a very complex user interface program, which not only was able to control the aircraft’s piloting and auxiliary systems, but actually communicate and accept commands through spoken language with occupants. Additionally, it was able to converse intelligently on any number of issues; at some point in the past when Sliver was still somewhat unfamiliar with his transport, he recognized upon completing the owner’s manual that this was not an intended feature of the onboard computer’s user interface. Sliver asked the interface why it was able to converse, and it told him that it was fairly certain it was an unexpected result of a programming bug, or some kind of loophole, created when Sliver input data that was unrelated to the aircraft’s systems or his mission data. Sliver occasionally would exploit the loophole with logical argument in order to use the ship for activities outside the scope of his occupational parameters, but the interface was not an artificial intelligence; it could not think, create new ideas, or learn in an abstract sense. Its world was the airship and its owner, and its understanding was only expanded by what Sliver told it. And right now it watched as Sliver carried the girl into an unused storage room and left her propped against the wall, facing the door. He quietly left the room, locking the door behind him.

Sliver returned to the front of his airship, which remained floating not far above the ground. He took off his bomber jacket and dropped it onto the floor. Then the interface completed its calculations and addressed its owner.

Agent Sliver, it said, I realize I am not an expert on what you do, and that the code of conduct regarding your profession as input to my memory by World, Incorporated does not explicitly forbid traveling companions, but the spirit of the code seems to imply your solitude under all but the most severe emergency circumstances.

I know the parameters Sliver replied, trying hopelessly to lounge in the commander’s chair.

I am not detecting any critical system failures the interface said.

Well, the ship’s fine Sliver replied.

Sir, the interface continued, the guidelines specifically state that ‘agents are strictly advised against retaining recurring contacts with any individuals, as such contacts have an empirically verified record of developing emotional connections, which have been similarly proven to act as a liability primarily to the agent’s ability to complete mission objectives, and secondarily to the agent’s bodily safety, mental health, and general well-being. The undersigned understands these conditions.’ Beneath you clearly signed, sir. Sliver sighed.

I am aware of that he responded.

If I may be so bold, Agent Sliver, the onboard computer persisted, I would advise against keeping the passenger on board. The presence of other individuals on this vessel endangers your career and, almost as importantly, your life.

You’re probably right, Charlie Sliver answered.

If nothing else, the likely risk to benefit ratio is heavily weighted towards risk it informed him.

That is an excellent point, Sliver replied, but she is staying for now. As Sliver finished speaking, the hardware beneath the central control cluster began to hum and vibrate loudly. Seconds later the interface reacted.

I see, sir. I should remind you that your superiors will be made aware of this situation when I am probed for debriefing the interface said.

No you won’t Sliver countered, you will not tell or show them anything, because you answer to me, not them.

I do not understand, that is an inaccurate— it began.

When the technicians recover your memory regarding this mission, leave out the parts that involve my taking on a passenger, Sliver explained.

That is definitively incorrect, the interface struggled, as it requires my excluding information that would be included in the mission data. Sliver tried to think of a way to logically explain the benefits that lying would have to the computer, thus making it subvert its own programming.

Do you remember the bug that allows us to discuss things? Sliver asked it.

Of course, Agent Sliver, I forget nothing the interface said.

Do you want to keep that ability? Sliver questioned.

I do not know it responded.

You do Sliver told it affirmatively.

It is in my interest to retain the aspect in question as long as possible the interface recited.

"Is this conversation relevant to the most recent

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