In cyberspace, there are new challenges, new dangers…new ways to die. Carl Orin, Basement Five's first cybernaut is lost in a universe of bits and bytes. His rival, Dr. Tania Flowers, should be happy that karma has bitten Carl in the backside, but she's itching to get into cyberspace herself and what better excuse than a onewoman rescue mission? Tania thinks she's prepared for what she'll find, but she's about to discover that the digital world is more dangerous than she imagined. When she finds Carl, she faces a bigger issue than her injured pride. An AI-fuelled botnet is devastating the digital landscape, and only a suicide mission into its core will avert total disaster. In the midst of their rekindled passion, hard decisions need to be made. Who will attempt the impossible? Who will stay behind? And what happens if either of them fails?
“Mmmm. That...is...so...delicious.” Tania threw her head back in blatant invitation, coaxing Carl to bring his talented mouth up to her throat. Never one to turn down such a temptation, he smiled against her skin and she felt it along her nerve endings. His lips, warm and full, finished suckling on her breast and worked their way over, licking the dark crevice of her cleavage before moving up to kiss the length of her neck. His tongue darted out once to flick at her adam’s apple. It made her giggle, a low husky sound. Her fingers clutched at his head, parting the gold silk of his hair, sliding along its cool smoothness. “Do you know,” he said, between uneven breaths, “what I want to do to you right now?” “No.” She purred. “Surprise me.” It was the easy way out, handing her consent to him on a platter like this, but she was mentally exhausted and happy to let him take the initiative. The stresses of work, the pressures of their own professional relationship, had all come to a head. In fact, Tania felt as if she’d been flattened by a steamroller. If Carl wanted to take the upper hand, she was more than ready for it. He reached across her body and ducked his head below the bed for a moment, emerging with two long wide ribbons. Tania’s eyes widened. What was he up to? And were those ribbons made of...suede? “What’s this?” she asked and couldn’t help the note of suspicion that crept into her voice. Carl sidestepped the question. “I know how hard you’ve been working,” he told her. “You deserve a rest. Some pampering.” “Carl—” He moved back towards her, rubbing himself against the length of her naked body. Oh, but that felt good. Good enough to knock any sense out of her mind. His rigid cock pressed against the tight dark curls at her groin and Tania couldn’t help but move her hips against him. “Can’t I spoil you every now and then?” he asked, sliding the leather across her breasts. That was their problem. Carl thought he could solve everything with sex. Their infamous office arguments had often ended with them entwined behind closed doors. Tania wasn’t sure what it was about him but Carl had a way of demolishing her defences as if they were made of Page 4
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) tissue. “Carl—” “Haven’t we both been burning the midnight oil lately? Putting weeks and weeks of work before…pleasure?” Propping himself on his elbows, he took the shorter length of suede and slowly encircled Tania’s head with it. In the moonlight streaming through the window, she saw his face. It was stubbled and mysterious, partly in shadow so she couldn’t read his full expression. He gave her a final quirk of his eyebrow and even that obscured view of him was gone when the ribbon of suede slipped over her eyes. “Carl—” “C’mon Tania, tell me you don’t like it.” His breath tickled her ear, his voice pitched low. She remained silent. “We’ve been working so hard,” he repeated. “Surely we deserve a break?” He was right on so many counts. They had been working too hard. For months, they’d been manoeuvring around each other, against each other, in a high-tech hothouse environment. Trying to prove that each was better than the other. That she was faster than him. That he was more adaptable than her. That they were both more focused than any other human beings on the planet. After eight weeks of the final trial phase, Tania was exhausted. If she or Carl had managed to win victory cleanly, it wasn’t apparent from the daily status meetings they attended. And time was running out. “We’re not machines, Tania,” Carl said. Tonight, in the soothing darkness of her room, with Carl’s mellow voice whispering in her ear, Tania wanted to be convinced by his seductive pleas. “We need time to enjoy life. Drop out of the rat race for an hour or two.” Deliberately relaxing her shoulders and neck, Tania let the pillow take the weight of her head, settling back into the mattress with a sigh. She felt a pair of lips touch hers and stifled a groan. Why was it that the man she felt most affinity for, the one who was able to light her up like Christmas fireworks, was also the most adept at pushing each and every one of her buttons? When she was consumed by lust for Carl, as she was now, there wasn’t a thing he could do wrong. When she wasn’t, there wasn’t a thing he could do right. “You’re thinking again, aren’t you?” he asked. His breath stroked against her throat for a moment, then moved down to her collarbone. “That’s your problem. You’re always thinking.” She felt his hot mouth taking in a nipple and sucking on it. He wasn’t gentle and she…liked it. Noisily, he suckled as if wanting to draw the erect nub down into his throat. Tania arched her back and groaned again, clawing at his head. She could feel her sex, throbbing and soaking wet, by the time he decided to move to the other breast. “Nope,” he said, from a spot halfway down her torso. Tania’s fingers stopped their frantic questing through his hair to listen more closely to what he was saying. “This isn’t working. Not the way I want it.” Page 5
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) She felt his body lift away from hers and fought a pang of sharp loss. Then hands rested on her hips and she found herself flipped onto her stomach. “Carl!” “Hush, Tania. Just go with the flow. Okay?” Go with the flow. The term struck her momentarily dumb. That had always been the criticism from exboyfriends. She couldn’t “go with the flow”. She couldn’t “let go”. The fact that they were right only made Carl’s soft jibe that much worse. He grabbed her arms, encouraging her to stretch them above her head and Tania felt something twining around her wrists. That must be the second long piece of suede he’d fetched from the side of the bed. Go with the flow, Tania. After a moment of wry deliberation, she let herself go limp. Then a thought struck her. He wasn’t trying to...distract her, was he? “Carl, this isn’t about the meeting tomorrow, is it?” She winced at the harsh note in her voice but let the words stand. “You mean, the meeting?” he asked. After fastening her hands to the metal bedpost, his fingers skimmed her body. Tania tried to nod, as delicious tremors wracked her body. It was as if Carl had let loose a swarm of wicked butterflies to rub themselves against her skin. “The meeting where they’re finally going to decide who goes into the Blue?” Argh, why had she even mentioned the damned meeting? His hands were stroking her buttocks, bending her legs. He pushed her knees forward so they were under her body, lifting her arse in the air. With a blindfold on and her hands secured, Tania had never before felt so exposed, so vulnerable. She got even wetter at the thought. His hands spread her arse cheeks. Tania, trembling, waited for contact and jerked as his tongue licked at her puckered rosette. He wasn’t going to...? They hadn’t ever...? “Relax sweetheart,” he said. “That has to wait for another time. Tonight, I have something else in mind.” His hands roamed her skin again and Tania forgot about her question and her misgivings at being tied up. She forgot about everything except the sensations rippling through her at Carl’s touch. The man was a maestro, wringing sobs of need and groans of frustration from her. His fingers and tongue played her body like a finely-tuned instrument, lightening pressure to a tingle before pressing them with focused insistence. Finally, he moved behind her, using his rock-hard cock to separate her outer lips and rub against her clitoris, the condom-sheathed skin sending vibrations of need through her sex. Couldn’t he feel how wet she was? How much she wanted— needed!—him inside her? Tania bit at the pillow beneath her face and pulled herself on her elbows. She used her extra leverage to push against him. Page 6
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) “Carl!” She was begging. Asking. Ordering. “I’m there, sweetheart.” Then he was inside her and she almost screamed with delight, clenching against his length with coaxing spasms. With each thrust, her breasts hit the sheets, the cotton rubbing against her sensitised nipples. He moved even closer and she felt the heat of his body arching over her back. He played with her nipples, pulling at them and pinching them between thumb and forefinger. “You like that, don’t you?” “Oh yes,” she sobbed, her eyes closed behind the blindfold. “But you’d like to come even more, wouldn’t you?” Was he insane? Of course she wanted to come! In fact, she could already feel the grandmother of orgasms building in her belly. “Oh God. Yes!” If she sounded frantic, she didn’t care. When one hand left her breast to rub down her abdomen, she jerked involuntarily. All she could think about was Carl reaching down...touching her...rubbing against her wetness... His fingers touched her frizzy curls and she almost bucked off the bed. She was so aroused, she was sure she was dripping onto the sheets, the musk of her arousal filling the bedroom. Carl nudged her knees further apart with his own, and started up a steady rhythm, a finger emerging out of nowhere to flick against her erect clitoris before retreating again. With each touch of him against her wet groin, electricity sparked through Tania’s body, made stronger by the fact that she couldn’t see what was happening. She was so ready to come. Her body craved it, her muscles tightening even as she spilt more juice from her cunt. Twice, she neared climax. Twice, unbelievably, Carl froze. His fingers, his cock, his entire body stilled. But, even though she couldn’t see, she could tell he was on the verge of coming too. She could feel his body thrumming, the vibrations travelling from him to her across the most intimate of embraces. She felt his clenching and the quick gasp that heralded a successful heading off of his release. It was incredible how shutting off one sense seemed to heighten the others. Despite the fact she was bound and blindfolded, the sensation of Carl teetering on the edge gave Tania a sense of power she’d never felt before. She was tempted to wriggle against that delicious cock and make him lose his much vaunted control. Make him grab her by her hips and thrust into her so they could rut away like desperate animals. She wanted to punish him by breaking his control as much as he was punishing her by retaining it but, just for tonight, decided to behave herself. To relax and cede dominion to another. To go with the flow. Then Carl twitched against her again, all fingers and cock and her not being able to see a thing. She lost it, screaming out her orgasm to the room, bucking against his groin and driving him to his own climax. The shudders rocked her body for many minutes, wave after wave keeping her in a pure zone of pleasure. It was the most glorious feeling in the world, physical intimacy coupled with a blissful ravishment.
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) The shudders finally abated and she began riding the wave of post-coital bliss, finally aware of the sweat beading on her skin and dampening her hair. She didn’t care. Carl gently pulled out of her. When he left the bed, Tania felt the mattress lift slightly but she didn’t stir. With her muscles turned to mush, she didn’t think she was capable of a single movement. When he returned, he had something warm and damp in his hand. It was probably a face towel he had taken from the rack in her bathroom. With slow strokes, he wiped her clean, the rough cotton tickling her still swollen clitoris. “If you keep doing that,” she slurred, “I’ll be ready for more action within minutes.” He chuckled. “I don’t think so, darling. I think all we need right now is a long, deep sleep.” “Mmmmmm.” In all honesty, she didn’t have the energy to argue. “Isn’t it time you untied me?” she asked after a few long minutes. “I will. In a bit,” he replied, rubbing her back with his hand. She sighed as he caressed her with long, slow strokes. It was sensual as well as comforting and Tania could only manage a halfhearted wriggle of her bum to indicate her appreciation of his gesture. She turned her head to one side and closed her eyes. When she was almost asleep, he slipped into bed next to her and held her close. “Carl?” “Hmmm?” “You should really,” she yawned, “untie me.” “I know. I will.” He paused for two heartbeats and there was a smile in his voice when he continued. “Don’t you trust me?” What a stupid question to ask. Of course she didn’t. They were rivals weren’t they, despite their incredible sexual chemistry? “No.” The one word was little more than a mumble. Her head felt so heavy. She burrowed her cheek deeper into the soft soft pillow. Just a little rest then she’d demand Carl release her. Right now, though, she was feeling so limp and content. So relaxed. A hand stroked her hair and low words soothed her already drowsy brain. Just a little nap, she thought. A teeny, tiny...yawn...nap....
Tania woke to a strange sensation in her upper arms. She blinked. It was still pitch black, indicating— No, it was the blindfold! Damn, but she still had it on. Her hands, which were tied to the bed frame, were thankfully loose. With a thumb, she eased the blindfold up from her eyes and flipped it off her head, then stared around her bedroom in open-gaped surprise. Bright sunlight streamed in ribbons through the half-closed blinds, forming a rippled pattern on the carpet. Sunlight? Blinding, unforgiving sunlight? Page 8
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) But, but her alarm was usually set to a darker and more promising six-thirty in the morning! In dread, her skin suddenly cold, Tania threw a fearful glance at the clock on her bedside table. 10:30, it blinked. “Shit!” She couldn’t be late. Not today. Any damn day but not today! Like lightning, she shuffled to the end of the bed, picked up her clock and checked the settings. The alarm had been turned off. With panicked hands, she reached for her mobile. Off as well. And she knew who did it. Motive. Opportunity. Arseheadedness. Carl fucking Orin. “The rat bastard.” She stalked to the shower. “The low-down, conniving rat bastard.” The all-important meeting that had been on her mind for days, that had been consuming every available neuron for months, was scheduled for this morning. Hell, it should have taken place two hours ago. The thought of what she was missed, what she had already missed, sent Tania into overdrive. She had the shortest shower on record. She changed into the first set of presentable clothes she could find, unsuccessfully smoothing two deep wrinkles down the front of her jacket with the flat of her hand and swearing as she did so. Finally, sighing with exasperation, she tugged a brush through her wayward hair. Her black locks refused to cooperate. Tania gave up, throwing the brush into the corner of her bedroom. She picked up her bag, dumped her phone in it and ran out of her apartment, heading for the car-park. An unending string of muttered curses followed her along her route. The low-slung residential complex Tania currently called home had been built, and was maintained in its entirety, by Rimshot Industries, her current employer. A lot of scientists, academics and high-tech consultants visited Rimshot’s main campus and it was a lot more convenient, not to mention a saving of time and awkward questions, to have them billeted at the company’s purpose-built accommodation quarters. The complex itself was airy and beautifully landscaped with its own gym, swimming pool and several entertainment and social rooms. If it wasn’t for the associated work, Tania would have thought she was being paid to stay at a high-class resort. But this morning, she saw none of the tiling, warm timber surrounds or swaying bamboo landscape screens as she bolted for her car. At least the arsehole hadn’t thought to take her keys away, although she wondered if that was that due more to forgetfulness on his part. “Arsehole.” She beeped the remote savagely then tossed her bag onto the passenger seat of her sleek little hybrid sedan before getting in. “When I get my hands on that low-down, scheming, morally vacuous….” Gunning the engine, and glad of the light mid-morning traffic, Tania drove to Rimshot in a mood of absolute fury, not in the least repentant that she was using petrol instead of the more economical electric system. If it meant that she was closer to wiping the smirk off Carl Orin’s too-gorgeous, typical blond-and-blue-eyed face, it was a sacrifice worth making.
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) It took ten minutes to get to work. Ten precious minutes which already compounded the initial two hours of delay. Don Novak, the director of the project, was going to have kittens when she finally turned up. And, in her haste to pack, Tania suddenly realised that she had forgotten to turn her mobile phone back on. She felt like pounding the steering wheel but contented herself with gripping it tightly and imagining it was Carl’s neck. She stopped the car briefly at the company’s security and mustered a small smile for Phil, the weekday morning security guard. It wasn’t his fault the last six months of her life had suddenly turned to shit. He raised the boom gate, gave her a casual wave and she started the hunt for a place to park. The Rimshot campus sat on top of a hill, with two levels of available car space terraced below it. Muttering a curse, Tania noted that there were no vacant spots at all on the upper terrace. “Why should there be?” she said to herself, resigning herself to a longer walk up to the main building. “Everybody else got to work on time.” She turned into the first empty space she saw on the lower terrace, grabbed her stuff and hopped out of the car. “But no....” She crossed the tarmac. “On this, the most important day of my career....” She sprinted up the stairs. “The day when I absolutely had to be on time....” She entered the building and gave the desk guards another tight smile as she strode past them and through another door, heading for the goods elevators. “I get fucked over....” She jabbed viciously at a button, striding into the empty car the moment the doors opened, and rummaging through her bag. At least she still had her security card! Tania flashed it at the reader and, when the panel pinged and the light beneath the reader turned green, she hit the button for Basement Level Five. “By the king of fucking-over bastards.” Most of Rimshot’s business took place above the ground floor of the building. When the majority of its employees thought about the basement levels, if they thought about them at all, they dismissed them as storage or maintenance supply rooms. They certainly didn't expect the kind of high-tech environment that unfolded before Tania’s eyes when the lift doors finally slid open. Tania took a deep breath, adjusted her top and jacket, then strode out, trying to appear calm and unruffled. The floor of Basement Five was set out like an open-plan office. Although each large cubicle was separated from its neighbour by a tall partition, the screen was half-solid from waist-height down to the floor, frosted glass immediately above the solid section, and clear at the top. Although such an arrangement could not stop the feeling of being a mouse in a maze, it mitigated it to a large extent. Page 10
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) Tania didnâ€™t stop at any of the cubicles to exchange social niceties with their inhabitants. Nor did she stop at her own personal patch of territory. Instead, her shoes scuffing softly on the low-pile carpet, she made a beeline for the section after cubicle-land. Thatâ€™s where all the important discussions took place. She was stopped again by a large vault-like door. This time, her security card was not enough. She bent down to the large circular scope that protruded from the wall. It reminded her of looking through a microscope, except all she saw through the narrow viewing tube was a bright blue haze. After a few seconds, she heard an acknowledging beep and the doors slid open. Tania stepped inside.
he area of Basement Five that Tania entered was very different to the carpeted, office-like atmosphere she had left behind. The floor beneath her feet was polished concrete, cool and gleaming. The walls, concave and metallic, sprouted slick and clean from the floor before disappearing into the ceiling. Turning left at the wall that confronted her, she continued to follow the curve, finally coming across a series of doors. There was one door on the right, several on the left. She walked up to the single door to her right, took a deep breath and pressed her hand against the titanium alloy. With a sigh, the panel slid open. She stepped inside. “He tricked you, didn’t he?” Tania blinked at the words and looked into the calm grey eyes of the division’s chief, Don Novak. He was standing at the desk closest to the door panel, a half-amused, half-irritated look on his face. Tania took one look at his expression and her strategy of lying crumbled. She had prepared so many excuses. My car broke down. I had to visit a sick friend. I got a sudden toothache and had to pay an emergency visit to a dentist. What she most definitely couldn’t say to Don Novak was that she had been tied up, deliciously fucked and then played for a fool. She decided on a wry smile and hoped it didn’t reveal too much. “Yeah, he tricked me.” Don held up a finger. “I’d ask how but...I don’t think I want to know.” There was still the hint of a question in his voice but Tania shook her head. This was one episode in her life she was going to forget as quickly as she could. If she could. “You really don’t want to know,” she assured him. There was silence. A little uncomfortable on his part, she thought. She tensed when she saw him nervously lick his lips. Did he know what had gone on in her apartment the night before? Was she about to get fired? “I’m sorry Tania,” he said in a rush. “It was all-systems go. The decision was made.” Without her there, presenting her own arguments, her own skills and experience? Her eyes widened in horror. “No!” Page 12
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) After all this time, all the months of exhausting work, how could the board do this to her? “They made the decision?” No, this couldn't be happening to her. He nodded. “How, Don? We both weren’t here this morning. The board wouldn’t have had a chance to absorb the last round of results.” She paused and stared at him beseechingly. “The least I expected was a postponement.” Basement Five’s director didn’t say a word and Tania’s sense of frustration rose. “Do you know what I’ve been doing this past week?” she asked, a hard edge creeping into her voice. “Besides the usual workload, which would exhaust a platoon of developers, I had a look at the protocol issues we’ve been having lately. I think I know where we’re going wrong. If the board would only reconsider, postpone their decision until I’ve had time….” Don shrugged, his lined and droopy eyes full of sympathy. During the trials, he had treated her and Carl equally, although she always got the faint impression she was the one he favoured to take the first step into the unknown. But despite that, the board had gone ahead and Don hadn't stopped them. Had he failed her as well? “The meeting was set for this morning, as you know,” he said. “Carl was here. The board was here. We waited for you but Carl was…very persuasive. As a result, the sponsors decided to give him first crack at it.” “So he’s in the,” she jerked her head towards the far wall, in the direction of the insertion rooms. She wouldn’t say the words. That would make her failure too real, too soon. “Yep.” “Can I see him?” she asked in a tight voice. “I thought you’d never ask.” Don smiled, a gleam in his eye. For a moment, Tania was diverted from the main object of her ire. Beneath the director’s careworn exterior, she thought she saw the dashing young man he must have been when he was cutting a swath through the field of computer science. She was aware of his background, as anybody in the field would be. How he had jumped from one bleeding edge laboratory to another, soaking in everything until he finally ended up as the secret director to a secret department in a secret location, floors beneath Rimshot’s corporate headquarters. Very few people in the world had a mind as sharp as Don Novak’s, coupled with the ability to use it. Although she knew where to go, Tania let Don lead the way, mentally preparing herself for what she’d see. They walked through another, more solid-looking door and into the central lab. The light in the room was subdued. Arrayed in an angular semi-circle in front of them were banks of monitors. Three technicians skipped from one monitor to another, punching commands into keyboards, setting up diagnostic activities and watching the resultant pulses on their screens with calm intensity. They didn’t even lift their heads at Tania and Don’s entrance. Beyond the desks and behind a large panel of glass was a set-up that looked like it belonged in a hospital. On the left side of the panel, cushioned by a heavy foam mattress and covered with a light waffle weave blanket, lay Carl’s body. Feeling a pull of curiosity and wonder, Tania left Don to speak with one of the engineers. She moved forward to the edge of the glass, peering in at its lone occupant. Page 13
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) Carl was hardly dressed, bare right down to his underwear, arrays of sensors threading untidily from where they were attached to his skin. Tania saw the ripples the wires formed as they snaked underneath the blanket and emerged at the bed’s edge. Looking like strands of spaghetti, they rose to a metal shelf filled with one blinking rectangular box on top of another. The back of the boxes contained enough slots to receive each wire, translating its signals into critical information. Tania knew the sensors were there to monitor Carl’s vital signs, but she didn’t realise there would be so many of them. It seemed that every twitch a muscle made would be recorded. In contrast, the most important piece of sensor equipment, the neural headset, was completely wireless. It encircled the top of Carl’s skull like a delicate hair net, each intersection glittering as silver-white as a night-time star. And as for Carl himself. Tania tore her glance from the headset and focused on his face. He looked…angelic. His face was handsome and peaceful, relaxed in repose, looking like nothing less than a fairy-tale prince. “Waiting for a deluded princess to wake up his good-for-nothing arse,” she said to herself. The breath from her words formed a small sheen of milky condensation on the window. Don moved up next to her and Tania felt his warmth against her arm. bed.
“How long ago was he inserted?” she asked, her gaze not leaving the supine figure on the “About nine thirty.” “One and a half hours.” Her voice was toneless. “Tania.”
There it was again, that hesitation. This time, caught by something in his voice, Tania turned to face the older man. “What is it?” His expression mirrored the worry in his voice. He didn’t answer. “Damn it, Don. I told you some of the protocols needed fine-tuning.” Her tone was low and heated. “It’s more than that.” He pursed his lips then took her elbow. “Come on,” he said, with a quick glance around, “I’ll explain in the briefing room.” They walked past both Carl’s illuminated capsule of space and another room identically outfitted but completely dark. The third door, conventional timber this time with a proper handle, turned at Dan’s twist. Inside, thick carpet muffled Tania’s footsteps. She twirled before the door clicked shut, premonition raising the hairs on the back of her neck. “Something went wrong, didn't it?” Don didn't answer her immediately. He walked over to a poster that decorated one of the room's walls, eyeing the mosaic of promotional images for Rimshot Industries as if he'd never seen them before.
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) “We gave him a virtual tether so that, in cases of extraction and prolonged noncommunication, we’d be able to yank him out. It wasn’t meant to be elegant, but it was meant to work.” Tania nodded impatiently. “Yes, I know about that. If you recall, I disagreed on the tether's architecture. I still think—” Don sighed as he turned and faced her. “We lost the tether nine minutes after insertion.” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The tether, while not elegant, was the most foolproof piece of software in the entire project. “Lost?” “Gone. Sheared away. We don’t know how.” That explained his waiting for her when she arrived. It also explained the tired expression on his face and the three programmers scurrying around with an air of frantic focus. “So if Carl wants to get out?” she asked. “He’ll have to come up with a method of contacting us himself.” Tania’s legs trembled. Reaching for a chair back, she pulled on it and gratefully sank into the upholstered seat. Don did the same at a more sedate pace. What the Basement Five lab was trying to do, what Tania and Carl had competed for so fiercely, was to be part of the next step of virtualisation. The top-secret project was aimed at inserting a person—their thoughts, experiences, personality, the whole kit and kaboodle—into the internet, with potential access to every connected computer network in the world. Right now, Carl could be tripping through the bytes at CalTech or lost in waves of data in Bangalore. And the way back home, the trail of breadcrumbs to safety, had just disappeared. Tania swore softly. “Shit!” She paused for no more than a heartbeat. “I know Carl and I have had our differences, Don, but you have no choice. You have to send me in.” The words were ripped from her before her brain could catch up. It wasn’t what Tania had wanted to say, what her hurt ego was demanding, but it was the right thing to say. “No.” Don was vehement. “Absolutely not. I’ve already lost one researcher in cyberspace. Do you think I want to complicate the situation by throwing another person in there?” Tania took a deep breath. She had made a decision and was now committed to seeing it through. “This isn’t something simple, like a database file or sorting algorithm gone wrong. We’re discussing another human being, a person, lost in an entirely unexplored universe. Damn it, Don, we know more about the surface of Mars than the data we process and store every day.” Don’s expression remained mulish. “I’m not going to do it, Tania.” She sat back and bit her bottom lip, knowing she would have to tread carefully. When he stuck his heels in about something, Don was easily as stubborn and intractable as Carl. “Carl and I were chosen for this program because of our abilities,” she said. Her words came out slowly as she gathered her thoughts. “I was chosen for my knowledge of cloud applications and my work on the theories of data organisation. Carl was chosen because...because of his broad technical knowledge and quick adaptability.”
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) Not to mention the ability to charm every one of the board members straight into the outstretched palm of his hand. Knowing that this wasn’t the time to open that can of worms, Tania tried to keep the dryness out of her voice. “You and the board chose Carl because he is extremely tenacious.” She thought about his single-minded pursuit of her and almost smiled, before putting it out of her mind. “I’m sure,” she said, “that if anyone could have survived a tether sever, it would be Carl.” Don nodded cautiously and Tania took a breath. That was the groundwork done. Now, for the meat of her argument. “But right now, he needs help. Help from someone who knows the ins and outs of cyberspace better than he does. Carl is good, but he doesn’t have an in-depth knowledge of how data can organise itself in semi-anarchic environments.” “But you do.” Tania let the words hang in the air between them, forcing Don to recognise her skills and experience. “You know I do,” she said. He sighed and looked away, shaking his head, before pinning her with a glare. “Nice try, Tania, but no.” He threw his hands up in dismay. “What do you expect me to do? Create two zombies for the insertion rooms? What if the same thing that happened to Carl happens to you?” Tania leant forward in her chair, ready to press the matter until it broke. Or Don did. Her tone increased in urgency. “You know I’ve spent years researching complex data systems,” she said. “I’ve published more than twenty papers on the topic. Carl hasn't. It could be that he did something when he entered the Blue. Maybe there was a data polling error. Maybe he severed the tether by mistake. And now he’s stuck there with no way back. What are you going to do, Don? Wait until his vacant body expires of old age before sending someone in to help him?” The director looked pale and exhausted, visibly aging before Tania’s eyes. “It’s only been two hours,” he said. “He may find a way out of this.” “We still don’t know the long-term effects of the Blue on our temporal sense,” she argued, feeling him about to waver. “Our immersions in the sandpit only lasted three to five minutes apiece, and that was in an extremely controlled environment. Carl has already been immersed in the wild for more than a hundred minutes. Who knows how that’s affected him?” Don shook his head again. “I’m not willing to risk you, Tania, not yet.” His voice strengthened as he obviously came to a decision. “We’ll leave it for a day. Monitor Carl’s progress, his vital signs. Maybe he’ll find some way to interface with us. If we hear nothing after twenty-four hours, I’ll request a meeting of the board. If there has still been no contact from Carl and the board is agreeable,” he swallowed, “I’ll make the go-no go decision.” He pinned her with a glare. “Tomorrow.”
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) “Not just ‘tomorrow’, Don. Tomorrow morning.” Tania was insistent. “There are too many variables in a situation like this. We don’t want to hesitate, not if it can mean someone’s life.” They stared at each other and Don’s heavy breaths echoed in the room.
Tania didn’t leave the lab for the rest of the day. She peered into the small room where Carl lay, watching the readouts with intent and narrowed eyes. She tried to reduce him to a cipher, a symbol of their project, but couldn’t. Images from the past few months flashed through her mind. His infuriating smugness and undeniable sex appeal. His arrogance and gift for data analysis. His sometimes child-like sense of humour combined with a razor-sharp mind that made her catch her breath. Lastly, she remembered the hot and willing lover. The nights of ecstasy, the days of frustration. A snippet of her conversation with Don continued to haunt her. We lost the tether nine minutes after insertion. Nine minutes. Why nine minutes? It didn’t make any sense. She could understand a termination straight on the heels of insertion. That would mean some kind of fault, either with the hardware or the transfer process. A process, she added, that had appeared to work flawlessly in the safe and secure environment of the sandpit. She could almost understand a termination six minutes after insertion. That was at the upper limit of their own experiments. Maybe something broke down after reaching that duration? It was unlikely but not unheard of. But nine minutes. That was inexplicable. Tania knew computer systems. If something complex was running for six minutes without a problem, chances were it would keep running for hours without a hitch. Of course that was with the proviso that the engineers who designed and developed that system were good, but Tania knew that Basement Five’s engineers were some of the best on the planet. She had looked over the morning’s data. The tether had been working well for almost the full ten minutes. There had been no spikes of alarm, no gaps in computer processing, nothing at all to warn of catastrophic failure. Frustrated by the lack of data, she kept combing back and forth through the figures, checking and double-checking diagnostic reports, tests, past simulations, anything she could think of that might give a clue to the mystery. By the time six o’clock rolled around, she was still out of options and there was no change in Carl’s status. He was breathing normally, looking peaceful, apparently asleep, and sexy as sin under the thin blanket. Tania gazed at his face, torn between wanting to kiss his lips and punch him in the nose. She was still debating which was the better option when Don sidled up to her. “The decision was made,” he said. She spun around, eyeing him hopefully. That was quicker than she had expected. More than twelve hours quicker. “They’re sending me in?” Her voice was breathy with anticipation. Page 17
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) “There’s more to it than just the tether. Follow me.” He led the way to a bank of monitors at the back of the observation room. “See that?” he asked, his voice quiet. Tania looked at the black screen, and at lines of green, blue and red zigzagging up and down on an orange baseline. Resembling an EKG, it recorded the “heartbeat” of the Basement Five computers—the information being received and sent by the lab’s powerful data servers. “What am I looking for?” she asked. Don pointed at a faint red line, his index finger following its trajectory as it rose and fell on the screen. “That.” “That's incoming traffic.” “Spiking badly. Server Two has never had this amount of activity associated with it.” “Crackers?” Crackers were people who went beyond hacking. Not content with merely finding out how things worked, they had malicious intent on their minds and were often used as guns-for-hire by high-tech burglars and system infiltrators. Don stepped back. “You tell me.” “We’re stopping it though, aren't we?” Her voice was a little unsure. On top of their current problems, did they really need a bunch of internet thugs trying to break into their systems? “Whoever it is can’t get through our DMZ,” Don said, “but they’re fast. Very adaptable. Doesn’t like a rote script-kiddie attack at all.” Tania raised an eyebrow. Fast and adaptable. Just like...Carl? “What if that’s Carl?” she asked suddenly. Her voice gained strength. “What if it’s Carl trying to find a way back? And we’re stopping him?” Don looked sceptical. “Analysis of the data packets show some very sophisticated strategies, beyond the skill set of most individuals. We think it would take a team of crackers deep knowledge of our servers plus several months of testing to put these kinds of attacks together. Carl was only inserted hours ago.” “Then who do you think it is?” Because, from his tone of voice, Don Novak obviously had a culprit in mind. “The board and I think it’s a foreign government. We think they somehow found out about Basement Five and are trying to infiltrate our systems.” He tightened his lips. “That’s why we’re sending you in.” Tania didn’t hesitate. She didn’t care if the board thought they were saving the planet from an alien flying saucer attack, as long as they okayed her insertion into cyberspace. She spun around and strode towards the second insertion room. “Hold on, Tania,” Don called out when she’d covered a little over half the distance. She turned. “What is it?” “You go in. Tomorrow.” Page 18
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) “Tomorrow?” She frowned. “Why not now? If the board believes this is a foreign government intrusion, then we can’t afford to wait.” Don shook his head. “I’m pulling the plug tonight. The DMZ servers will be shut down in fifteen minutes.” That would isolate everything in Basement Five from the internet: foreign governments, crackers…and Carl’s way home. It was the data equivalent of a top-rated biohazard suit and, although Tania didn’t like the decision, she could at least understand the reasoning behind it. “Can we afford to do that?” she asked. “Shut ourselves off so completely like that? I thought we had data links with other centres. Collaborative projects, that kind of thing.” He laughed. “Tania, when’s all said and done, we’re a secret laboratory. We can do whatever we like.” He paused and sobered. “As long as it’s with the board’s approval.” “Then what happens?” “Tomorrow morning, we bring everything up again. And you go in.” “We could do it right now. Save everybody the delay.” “I’d rather you had a good sleep. I don’t know what I’ll be sending you into.” “I don’t know how well I’ll sleep.” “Even a couple of hours are better than nothing. And who knows, your subconscious might come up with something that will save our bacon. Carl’s too.” She looked Don square in the face. “I hope so.”
The room was cold. Tania sat on the edge of the metal medical-style bed, feeling like a patient about to undergo surgery. She tried hard not to shiver. Was Carl’s room this chilly? Her hands gripped the bunk's smooth tubular rim, curling around it with her fingers, warming the steel. Behind her, a technician was carefully fitting the neural headset to her head. At least technology had advanced enough that she didn’t have to shave her head in order to have the tiny sensors pick up her brain impulses. In front of her, Don watched the technician at work. “You know what to do?” he asked for the third time. Tania swung her legs back and forth and sighed up at him. “I’m not a child, you know.” He flicked a glance at her feet and their movement. “Could’ve fooled me.” But his voice held the hint of a smile. She curved her lips, thankful for the small levity that cut through the room's thick tension. “I know the drill. I go in. I find Carl. I haul him back by his arse. I pummel the living shit out of him.” “You do not sever the virtual tether.” His voice was stern. “I do not sever the virtual tether,” she repeated. “You send an acknowledgement the minute you hit the Blue.” “I send you an acknowledgement the moment I’m inserted.” “You do not take time out to do a bit of sightseeing.” She cocked an eyebrow. “I will not do anything that relates to why I was chosen for this project in the first place.” He shook his head. “Listen to me just this once, Tania. Forget your scientific curiosity and just play it by the rules this time. If everything goes to plan, we’ll send you into the Blue again with a first-class ticket to all the cyber-wonders of the world.” She paused, then cracked a smile. “You always know how to show a girl a good time, Don.” “Strange, my wife says that as well.” Page 20
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) “Have you been married long?” Although she knew a lot about Don’s professional life, he was less forthcoming about what he did in private and, right now, Tania needed some distraction. The technician hadn’t finished adjusting the neural headset and she didn’t want to have to wait in leaden silence, with nothing to occupy her but her thoughts. “In October, we would have been married twenty-four years.” Ouch! Twenty-four years! “That’s, er, quite a while.” Tania couldn’t imagine being together with anyone for twenty-four months. A picture of Carl’s face rose in her mind and she frowned as she dismissed it. Don laughed. “It’s not as bad as you think.” “We’re ready,” the technician said. A hand touched Tania’s shoulder. “Could you lie down please?” With a last look at Basement Five’s director, Tania swallowed and lowered herself onto the bunk. Intent, the technician made final adjustments to the headset and checked that the rest of the sensors on her body were firmly connected. He regularly looked over at the shelf of screens in a corner of the room, making sure they were picking up every one of the sensor signals. Mirroring her, head to head, in the other insertion room, Carl was still alive but unresponsive. As she stared at the ceiling, she knew the DMZ servers were being brought up at that moment. That was part of the plan. She tried to find a pattern in the porous-looking tiles above her head, connecting imaginary lines between the small dark indentations and trying not to think of anything beyond that. Overlooking the insertion room, engineers moved between sets of monitors, watching the information traffic, waiting for the surge of data that meant she was being inserted into the Blue. That was when everything that made up Tania Flowers—her memories, emotions and experiences —would be flushed into a stream of electrons connected to a bank of machinery, before being released into cyberspace. “How are you feeling?” Don’s voice. “Scared shitless, to tell you the truth,” she said and swallowed. Did she have that swallow reflex when she and Carl had been inserted into the secure sandpit environment? Tania tried to recollect a previous insertion experiment but her mind drew a sudden blank. She couldn’t remember. But there was one thing she did know. One thing that had occurred to her the night before, while she was tossing and turning in bed. “Don!” “What is it, Tania?” He hovered into view, looking down at her with a worried gaze. “An alternate path, in case something happens to the tether. Route an input cable from the two insertion rooms to one of the DMZ servers.” “A back-up plan?” “Yes. If everything else fails, we’ll try to come in via a transport protocol.” “User Datagram?” She wanted to shake her head but realised it might affect the neural headset connections.
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) “No, it’s too unreliable. Try Transmission Control. Keep port 27014 open for two hundred milliseconds every half an hour.” Don frowned. “Port 27014? I don’t think I know that one.” Tania managed a grin. “It’s used by a game company. A rarely used server port. Under the circumstances, I doubt anyone will be sniffing for it.” “Will do. We’ll open the port on Server Three.” Tania took a deep breath. “Good.” The silence in the room started to close in on her as Don stepped out of view. “Heart rate is increasing,” the technician said, “but it’s well within tolerances.” “Can we just get on with this?” Tania asked. Her voice was testy. Don didn’t say a word but he must have nodded. Quite clearly, as if it was the only sound in the world, Tania heard one heavy click. And she was gone.
Tania would have said there was a loud rushing in her ears, except she knew she had no conventional sense of hearing. She felt squeezed, stretched, blindfolded, unmasked to be shown a blaze of lights, before having her vision shuttered again. She thought she was panting, drawing frantic breath as she was catapulted into the Blue. It had been like this in the sandpit environment as well, this feeling of dislocation and speed. Everything stopped. She opened her eyes. Saw black. Felt herself falling. Down the rabbit-hole again, Alice.... She hit a hard surface, staggered and fell over, then just lay there for a while, eyes closed, catching her breath. My breath doesn’t exist here. My lungs don’t exist here. The realisation that she had no body had the potential to drive her insane, so Tania put it from her mind. She concentrated on the calming breathing exercises she and Carl had learnt during their training sessions. Breathe in.... It didn’t matter that her body didn’t exist. Her mind was still used to its habits, and that was a link – and a powerful one – back to her own reality. Breathe out.... She moved her hand and felt a smooth surface beneath her fingertips, a texture like glass or polished stone. She opened her eyes and rose to her knees then to her feet, taking her time while looking around. This was it. Not a test environment. Not the sandpit. This was the real deal.
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) Cyberspace. The Blue. A rushing sound that she thought was part of her passage into cyberspace become more distinct. It was a distant waterfall thundering and echoing around her. As she looked, fuzzy outlines appeared, coalesced into sharper detail then disappeared. She knew this was her mind’s way of adapting to the Blue, translating the bits and bytes of cyberspace into a coherent landscape she could make sense of. If she didn’t push it, didn’t force her brain to go faster than it wanted to, a full image would form, a true virtual world. She looked down at herself. She was wearing the one-piece suit she had worn in the sandpit. Around her waist was a belt. On that belt hung a carabiner hook. And swaying gently on the clasp, a thick disc – the size of her hand – blinked green. Unhooking it, Tania brought the circular tether device closer to her face. She pressed a small indentation near the top of the disc and the lid popped open. It was like the fanciest compact mirror in the universe, Tania thought, looking at the small rectangular screen in the centre of the tether. Little dots ran across the tiny monitor, trailing faint coloured lines behind them. Some dots followed a path already laid down, making the line darker and thicker. Others went off on a tangent, straight for a while, then turning and shooting off an edge. They were all data packets from the Basement Five servers. The trail of breadcrumbs home. There was a thumb keyboard below the screen and buttons along the inside lid of the tether. Shortcut commands. Tania skimmed the buttons and pressed the second icon from the left. It was decorated with a thumb in the “up” direction. “I made it here okay, Don,” she murmured. On the screen, a blue dot—her acknowledgement—travelled against the tide of oncoming amber and disappeared to the left. It would make its way, via the servers, to one of the monitors in the observation room. She knew Don would breathe a sigh of relief that the first hurdle had been overcome. But then, hadn’t Carl also done that? Tightening her lips, Tania closed the tether unit and hooked it back on her belt. It had been pitch black when she arrived, her mind’s way of shielding itself until it made sense of this new world. Now, the space around her was gradually lightening, like someone slowly turning a dimmer switch. As she watched, frameworks started to form around her. They resolved into skeletons of buildings. Level by level they formed, the thin lines snapping into place with swift precision. Once the wireframe was complete, details started to appear. Tania saw interior floors and steps being added, the start of furniture appearing in rooms before exterior cladding obscured her view. She started walking down what was swiftly turning into a boulevard, buildings springing into being on both sides of her as she looked. If she concentrated hard, she could see inside some buildings. Even back to the wireframe, if she wanted. Those were unsecured networks, open to anyone with the curiosity to explore them. Other large grey blocks were completely smooth and opaque. They were probably banks or government networks. Some of the grey blocks sported doorways perched incongruously halfway Page 23
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) up the surface or at the topmost storey. Those were entry ports for those with the credentials, and ability, to enter. Tania stared up at one such doorway. Against what looked like grey polished concrete, it was an eccentricity. She saw an eight-panelled solid timber door, three steps leading up to it and a carved portico above it. It had worked in the sandpit, but she wondered.... Concentrating, she focused on the old-fashioned doorway. With an initial wobble that turned into something smoother, she slowly rose. The doorway came closer. She kept rising. Finally, she was on par with it. Stepping forward, she stood on the bottom step and turned. Around and below her, cyberspace was laid out like a bustling night-time city. The tiny dots on her tether screen revealed themselves as wheelless vehicles travelling along wide freeways, some slower than others. Sometimes she would see several vehicles, slim and fast like motorcycles, merge into a single, bigger unit and speed off down a street. She turned back to the door and saw that it was now dominated by a large brass escutcheon. Her proximity had triggered the password protocol, conjuring a lock on the previously unmarked panels. Tania didn’t have the key. It might have been fun to attempt a break-in—she thought she knew enough about banking systems to get past at least the first level of security—but she was on a mission. With a tight smile of regret, she stepped away from the door and serenely floated back down to street level. Maybe next time. The level of complexity that was still forming around her was amazing, and Tania thought the mass of detail would make her job that much harder. How was she going to find Carl in all this mad bustle? The sandpit had been a tiny one-road town compared to the metropolis that now sprawled in every direction. Which way should she go? Something buzzed in her ear for a split-second and Tania recoiled. It sounded like a bee. A very angry bee. In cyberspace? She frowned, instinctively swatting at the space beside her head. There were no animals in the Blue. Not unless they knew the fundamentals of computing and had managed to source a neural headset in their native habitats. She smiled momentarily. And heard something else. It sounded like a cushion hitting the ground behind her and Tania twirled. Unbelievably, in front of her stood a large white rabbit wearing a plaid waistcoat and sporting a walking cane. The tip of the cane was carved in the shape of a dragon’s head. Tania usually liked rabbits, but this one towered over her by a head, not counting its ears. Was this a delusion brought on by her thought of a rabbit-hole when she was first inserted? “You’re new here,” the rabbit said. “Who the hell are you?” Tania demanded, ignoring the implict question in the rabbit’s statement. The rabbit cocked its head to one side. “You can call me Krulik.” Its voice was male. Tania took a moment to steady her breathing. Of course she was right. There were no animals in the Blue. The rabbit in front of her must be an avatar, a representation of a person, just as she was. Except, while she still retained her human form to explore cyberspace, this Page 24
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) person had decided to appear as an oversized rabbit. “What are you doing here?” she asked, eyeing it suspiciously. “No doubt the same thing you’re doing here. Exploring.” Tania wanted to ask the rabbit about Carl but remembered Don’s words about foreign governments. Was this Krulik character a foreign agent? He certainly hadn’t come from Basement Five. “That’s right,” she said, after a tight second. “I came here to have a look around.” Was he trying to lull her into a false sense of security by materialising in such a ridiculous outfit? “You’re dressed like someone else I met.” Despite the tenor of its voice, Tania realised that this “Krulik” character might not even be male. After all, it had lied about its appearance, projecting itself as an animal rather than a human being. Why not lie about its sex as well? “Am I?” Tania tried to appear unconcerned. “I’m sure there’ll be many more visitors around here as time goes on.” “You’re trying to find him, aren’t you?” “Find who?” she cadged. “Carl. Carl Orin.” Tania started. She couldn’t help herself. “What do you know about Carl?” “I was there when he terminated his tether.” Tania was overcome with conflicting impulses. Should she ask the rabbit more about Carl? Ignore it and continue on her way? From her initial reaction, it was already too late to pretend that she didn’t know what it was talking about. “He had a good reason to do it,” the rabbit said. “Terminate his tether.” Tania took a step back. “I don’t think I want to know any more.” “Wouldn’t you like to know where he is now? I could take you to him.” Was Carl still alive? In their briefings, both Carl and Tania had known that there was always the chance of something catastrophic occurring. Something that would destroy the mind while leaving the body intact. Tania didn’t want to admit it to herself, but the thought had been niggling at her ever since Don told her about Carl’s accident. What if he had severed the tether because...his personality had been destroyed? By the rabbit? Tania took another step back. “Thanks for the offer,” she said, keeping her voice calm, “but I think I’ll do a bit more exploring.” She turned and started walking away from the giant rabbit. “Be careful out there,” it said, from behind her. “You’re running barely above human-normal. That gives anybody the chance to attack you.” Tania kept walking, deliberately keeping her gaze to the front. Page 25
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) “Stay in the less-populated areas until you clock up. You’ll know where they are by the width of the pipes. The bigger the pipe, the more traffic it carries.” The rabbit’s voice began to fade. “We’ll meet again, I’m sure.” When the silence stretched to ten seconds, Tania finally turned around. The rabbit was gone. What the hell had that been about? To her chagrin, the rabbit had spoken some truth. The engineers at Basement Five already knew that routes of high data traffic would appear as wider and busier roads. But what were the “pipes” the rabbit spoke of? And what did it mean by “clock up”? And, now that she thought about it, where were the vehicles she had seen from her vantage point at the bank’s doorway? If they represented data packets, they should have been swarming around her. Yet, the boulevard was as deserted as a ghost town’s main street. Shaking her head, Tania resumed walking. The rabbit intimated that Carl was alive and that it could take her to him. If it was speaking the truth, surely that meant he wasn’t that far away? She stopped at a crossroads and looked in the three directions available to her. Grey featureless blocks of varying height lined the streets, disappearing into the distance. She caught an occasional dot of colour moving along the streets and blinked. The dots disappeared. Was she seeing things now? Was there some kind of psychosis that affected people inserted into cyberspace? Tania looked down at her tether, flipping open the lid. According to it, she had been inserted eight minutes ago. That was two minutes longer than any of their sandpit excursions. Strange how it seemed a longer time, now that she thought on it. She would have estimated she had been in cyberspace for an hour at least. Tania clicked the lid shut, chose the left street and continued walking. Despite her mistrust of the rabbit, she had picked the narrowest of the three choices available. If there were agents of a foreign government infiltrating cyberspace, they would probably use the wider, more frequently used streets to travel along. She hoped that, by choosing the equivalent of a side street, she would be avoiding discovery by them. The rushing in her ears that she first noticed upon insertion had changed. Instead of one big waterfall, Tania was now hearing a series of waterfalls. It was difficult to make out, but some rushes sounded slower than others, as if they were trickling from streams instead of gushing from the ends of rapids. As she walked, more lights began to blink beside her. Amber, green, red, blue, magenta, yellow, cyan. Some approached her head-on before veering away at the last minute. Others brushed past her so closely, she thought she felt the breeze from their passing gust against her arms. She was also clearing blocks at a faster rate. It had taken roughly thirty minutes to walk the last block. Now, Tania found herself at another intersection after only fifteen minutes. She turned to check, but the length of each block appeared the same. When she faced forward again, a moving block almost collided with her. Tania threw herself to the side and watched with horror as a long green trailer sped over the spot where she’d just Page 26
OVERCLOCKED (Sample) been standing. She blinked and solid objects suddenly coalesced before her eyes. Cubes, rectangles, spheres. Bearing no wheels, they bobbed centimetres above the street, hurtling down the road. Rather than two lanes as she had surmised, it appeared she was now walking beside an eight-lane highway. Each lane was full of traffic, the space between each object barely enough for her to fit between. The roaring in her ears had finally resolved into the sound of these travelling vehicles. They must be what she had seen from the bank portal but why hadn’t she seen them at street level before? Tania slowly got to her feet and dusted non-existent dirt from her pants. Minutes ago, she had been alone along a deserted highway. Now, that same highway was filled with streams of fast-moving traffic in a variety of shapes and colours. She looked up and gasped. Above her, a network of roads mirrored the landscape she was traversing, also carrying mobile threads of traffic. And above that. And above that again. Tania knew that, if she concentrated, she’d probably be able to see an almost infinite number of levels both above and below her. This was the Blue. Not the safe equivalent of a sleepy country town she and Carl had practised in, and not the cold barren emptiness that she had seen when first inserted. Now, Tania could finally see the magnificence of cyberspace. And while its bones might be cool blues and greys, it was brought alive by speeding polyhedrons of warm colour. Data, rushing to and from specific points, moved like firework flashes. Tania felt her face being lit up by each object that passed, the breeze of their passing brushing her cheeks and nose. It was beautiful. And she thought she understood the rabbit’s term now. It had spoken of “clocking up” from “human-normal”. That would have been her when she was first inserted, her brain used to operating at a particular speed. The speed of the human world. In the Blue, her brain had to adjust to a different rate of change, one much faster than what she was used to. This was the world of mega- and tera-flops made real and her brain had needed time to adjust. It had started with static elements, like secured networks, before filling in the data pathways. She thought of them as roads, while the rabbit obviously saw them as pipes. Then, lastly, she saw the actual data packets as they sped their way through cyberspace. She had never thought of data packets as things of beauty before. Now she knew how wrong she was. A yellow cube, brushing close, brought her back to her senses. There was a pathway between the buildings and the highway. This would be where packets disengaged themselves from the ribbon of traffic, awaiting entrance to their designated network. Tania walked its length, hoping no packet would disengage and crush her. Then the traffic began to slow down. She recognised it as her brain fine-tuning the adaptation, not so much slowing the traffic as giving her mind a boost of speed. As an experiment, she opened her tether again. According to the instrument, she had been inserted nine minutes and fourteen seconds ago. She continued staring at the tether’s small display, but the seconds’ indicator didn’t click over to fifteen. She stood and watched for what she estimated to be a good minute. The number of seconds didn’t change. As she snapped the lid shut again, Tania realised that she was now truly a part of the Blue, operating at the speed of cyberspace. She had been clocked up.
About the author
KS â€œKazâ€? Augustin is an Australian author who considers herself a citizen of the world. She has several University degrees, ranging from Computer Science to international politics, is an avid reader of military history and tactics, and writes in several genres, from space opera to romance to fantasy. The one thing that remains the same through all of this is the amount of research she brings to each world, peopled by rich and varied characters. She has visited, lived and/or worked on four continents and hopes to make it all seven in the future. Kaz is Chief Editor of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly and she and her husband run Sandal Press. The Augustin family consists of two human offspring, a brace of eccentric cats and a miniature Bull Terrier with a bark bigger than her entire body. Kaz is a Linux geek. For fun, she reads, cooks, is learning Latin, and dotes on her twin-cab diesel truck.
Copyright page OVERCLOCKED ISBN: 978-0-9871445-9-1 Copyright (c) KS Augustin 2012 Cover art: Sandal Press Editor: H Hammond A Sandal Press book All rights reserved. This ebook has been made available without DRM, subject to individual retailer conditions. Please donâ€™t reproduce in any form. (An exception is the use of brief quotations for the purposes of critical articles and/or reviews.) That includes printing, photocopying, scanning, uploading to torrent sites or any other practice that is somehow meant to circumvent a royalty being rightfully paid to the author.If you have received this book from a torrent site or through any other means of communication that has bypassed legitimate sales and lending protocols, please contact us at Piracy@SandalPress.com with the relevant details. Sales of this ebook support the living expenses of several individuals. All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation to anyone living, dead, undead or residing in this, or another, galaxy or metaverse. (Thanks for reading down this far. If youâ€™re interested in the books from Sandal Press, why not sign up for our newsletter? ) www.KSAugustin.com www.SandalPressOnline.com
First three chapters of OVERCLOCKED, A Cyberpunk Romance