Exercises In Futility



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Scene Title Exercises In Futility
Synopsis Repercussions from the Ǝvent continue to spread like ripples in a pond.
Date January 29, 2021


Fort Irwin

Monotony is a feature for everyone who spends their time underground, and for Asset 16, his experience is no different. On the plus side, there is always work to do.

On the downside, it might be nice to see the sun more often than he does.

The instruction comes to him in the midst of routine tasks, as simply stated and impersonal as all correspondence with Marvin Whitlow tends to be:

come to subbasement-1 now

As Colin steps through the steel doors that bars off this space from the rest of the hospital, he notes the cold. It's always cold, of course, but he sees frost gathering on steel walls, and his own breath as steam in the air, thick as a poltergeist. Chill permeates up through the soles of his boots, and he notes the runoff of water pooled across the floor, just a few millimetres, enough to shine and freeze.

The set up ahead is familiar. The glass case, the fans, the pipes, the heart rate monitor. Unfamiliar is the sight of the glass case open, exposing the diminutive form of a woman lying flat upon ergonomic cushioning, her blonde hair loose, like a halo around her head. Hardware of wires, sensors, and steel circle her brow like a crown, intact, eyes twitching with REM.

As implied, Marvin Whitlow is also there.

His back is to Sleeping Beauty, sitting upright and forwards in electric wheelchair and presiding over panels and monitors that Colin Verse knows very well. He doesn't acknowledge Colin's presence immediately, rubbing his hands together to bring blood to the surface and unstiffen his fingers, before the gentle clicking of keyboard once again resumes.

“You ah,” Colin winces, rubbing at his arms and regretting not bringing a jacket down here, “you find her prince yet?” His smile is an awkward one, gaze furtive and mostly locked on the floor rather than the man seated nearby. Colin doesn’t — can’t — stay steady down here, moving from one foot to the other, jittery and pacing not just from nerves, but to stay warm as well. He eventually shoots an expectant look to Whitlow, brows furrowed in a pleading look of is this going to take long?

“You know the ah,” Colin doesn’t wait for responses, jumping over his own conversation with a nervousness that prohibits a moment of silence, “the satellite uplinks are…” he jerks a thumb over his shoulder, briefly glancing back to the door, then settling a look on Whitlow again, “we’re getting all sorts of downstream disturbances? It ah, it’s affecting data propagation to, you know… uh,” Colin looks down to the floor again, brings his hands up to his mouth and breathes a hot breath into them. “What’s up?”

"We're leaving."


Whitlow rests his hands on the arms of his chair, fingers light on the controller, rolling himself back from the computer station. "Soon," he amends, distractedly, his manner mild and voice even, as if he were simply instructing Colin to begin any number of routine security operations maintenance checks. "And we've been advised to complete Project Severance as per the terms of our extraction."

The wheels shift, turning on the spot, dragging his attention from computers and directly to Colin. Marvin pauses, thinks.

Remembers, and says, "The facility is most definitely compromised, as of five days ago." Just. By the way.

Grimacing, Colin looks back in the direction he came from and then back to Whitlow. He notices a distinct lack of facility security down here, or administration, and chooses not to comment on that absence. “Uhhh,” is the drawn-out noise that instead drools out of his mouth like molasses. “Five days?” Colin finally manages, running one hand through his hair along the side of his head. “Okay. Okay.” It’s not okay.

“Our extraction, cool. Cool.” Colin ambles over toward Whitlow, bringing his hands up to breathe on them and bring warmth back to his fingertips. “S-so, we’re uh, the fidelity tests haven’t exactly been…” his nose wrinkles, brows creasing with the expression, and he just dismisses that line of quality assurance. “Okay so, are we… we can’t use an SSD unless they’re evacuating us in a fucking aircraft carrier,” in the desert, “sssssso,” Colin glances around the room. “Where’re we dumping all this data? Out?” He points up, indicating the sky, “or…”

"In," Whitlow says. Touching the control pad at his arm, he drives his chair away from the workstation, ceding space to Colin. The journey takes him towards Asset 78, stopping a few feet away, his expression contemplating what is clearly his next problem.

Ready to leave Colin with the one they are talking about. "We've been advised to complete Project Severance," he says, again, in the same tone as before. "That does not entail the dumping, uplink, or storage of unprocessed data, but the full conversion, upon which it will be downloaded directly into the ALIA cockpit in our absence. Programme the automaton to follow simple directives upon completion. It will move to a safe location and await hardware extraction."

A pause, in which he takes a breath, and cedes, "This will compromise the integrity of the final product, but I'm confident we can patch it on the other side. If their analysts weren't confident in our work — in your work — then they would have ordered for summary destruction."

“Wait— in?” Colin looks over to the blonde slumbering in the midst of a deep dream, then back up to Whitlow. “I uh, I'm not entirely clear on the— I mean— ” he grimaced, fingers on one hand moving rapid-fire tapping against his thumb. “Yeah, sure. Sure.” Sniffing loudly, Colin circles the sleeping blonde and steps around unspooled cables at her feet to approach Whitlow.

“So the uh,” Colin stands behind Whitlow, looking up at Asset 78 as she sleeps, “simulation I've got running needs to stay operational through the transfer process or, uh, all we’re gonna get on the other end is scrambled eggs. So, I mean, she should be ready any time now. I think…” Colin leans over Whitlow’s shoulder and flicks a switch changing the display on one monitor to a series of colored waveforms. “Yeah ok, this is the dinner date one.” Which isn't important. At all.

Leaning away from Whitlow, Colin takes a step back and clears his throat. “So, after we finish upload I assume we’re taking Elsa, Poppa Smurf, and Lucky Charms with us… but…” His eyes settle on Asset 78.

“What about this one?”

Three Years Later

Unknown Location

January 29th

A shadow ripples on a wall, and from that tenebrous patch of darkness emerges the sly form of Richard Cardinal.

The lab room is dimly lit, no technicians or doctors present. Richard walks around the lab, noticing that there are no cameras. Slowly, he comes to an empty operating table and looks over the surgical tools with a curious raise of his brow. Then, seeing a lightbox with images of a damaged spine on the wall, Richard approaches it. He looks at the X-Rays for a moment, then finds his attention drawn to a vial of murky white liquid in a refrigeration unit. He inspects the label which reads, "E-CSF-2112." Richard palms the vial, then steps into the shadows and disappears.


Colin Verse throws a caramel-covered piece of popcorn at his TV screen. “B-O-L-L-O-C-K-S.

On the small TV screen, an actor portraying Richard emerges from a bathroom into a corporate lobby, but as he steps out of the door he walks head-on into an actress portraying Odessa Price. Odessa stops and looks at Richard and the two have a silent moment of inspection of one another.

Richard smiles awkwardly and cheerfully says, “Don’t worry, I washed my hands,” raising them with a smile. Odessa seems put off and straightens her sweater, clutching a clipboard to her chest before she hurries to a nearby elevator. Richard straightens his tie and walks back to the waiting area and gives an intentionally awkward thumbs-up to the receptionist who looks away and focuses on their desktop computer's screen.

God this is fucking trash!” Colin shouts, this time throwing some of the caramel-coated popcorn into his mouth. The sound of an alarm going off on a workstation at his back has him spinning around in his chair, then wheeling over, eyes scanning multiple monitors running a variety of validation checks on trillions of lines of code.

Colin finds the source of the sound coming from a closed window, which when opened shows that he has precisely 0 minutes until he is supposed to be in a “Triage Meeting.” Cursing, Colin kicks back from his chair, bolts up and gestures at the television playing a River Styx re-run with a finger-guns motion. The screen turns off.

Colin sweeps up his phone from his desk and steps out of his concrete-walled office into the corridor. The halls are quiet, fluorescent lights overhead suck the color out of everything. Hustling, Colin hurries to an elevator as his phone vibrates in his hand. “Fuckity-fuck-fuck,” he says in a sing-song voice, responding to the text message with a thought.

Once in the elevator, Colin doesn’t so much as push a button and the doors close. Floor [B2] is selected with but a crease of his brow. His phone vibrates again. “Jesus fucking Christ’s nanny I’m on my way!” He shouts at the elevator ceiling into the all-seeing eye of a security camera dome.

The swift elevator comes to a gentle stop and Colin’s moving forward before the doors have even finished opening, shouldering past a few blue-clad lab technicians in plastic frocks. Hustling down the hall, Colin barges in through a conference room door and finds himself confronted by a handful of lab technicians and one extremely upset member of management staff.


My daughter had a fucking seizure.” Gerrit Van Dalen’s face is nearly flushed entirely red, his eyes are glassy with tears and the other staff sitting at the table look tense and awkward. “She had a fucking seizure and she almost died!” His voice cracks.

“Hey, woah, uh— first of all that’s a huge downer. Secondly—” Colin doesn’t get to finish that thought.

You promised me that wouldn’t happen!” Gerrit screams and slams his hand down on the conference room table. Colin’s eyes widen and he looks around at the other people sitting at the table, then back to Gerrit. “She was fucking hospitalized on the fifteenth and I didn’t find out until today because you fucked up!

Back to the conference room door, Colin is frozen in awkward silence, locked-eyes with the furious Gerrit. “She’s alive though?” He asks in hesitant inquiry.

“Yes,” Gerrit hisses, some of the fire dissipating from his tone, “she’s alive. We don’t know her condition, security around the hospital’s too tight. It’s a miracle we were able to…” He closes his eyes, swallows audibly, and pinches his fingers at the bridge of his nose.

“Clear the room.” Gerrit says after a moment, and the lab technicians do not hesitate to clear the space. Colin steps aside from the door, letting everyone else in the meeting leave while he scuffs one hand across the back of his neck.

Gerrit takes a moment to cool down, pacing the floor while running a hand through his short, curly hair. Once the last of the lab techs has left the room, he fires a furious look back at Colin. “You promised me.”

“I did not use the word promise,” Colin contests, “and if I did… well then that’s my bad.”

“That’s your bad?” Gerrit practically slurs his speech as he leans forward at Colin with a wild gesture of both hands. “My kid is half-dead in a fucking hospital and that’s the response you fucking give me!?”

Colin closes his eyes and clicks his tongue, shrugging a little as he leans back against the glass wall of the conference room. “Look, we knew the cybertech was going to degrade without the final wetware updates. I’ve got my fucking hands full trying to figure out how to push a gooddamn update to the hardware remotely when we designed it to not be susceptible to that sort of thing, Gerrit.”

Still pacing, Gerrit rubs one hand at the back of his neck, eyes searching the floor as he sinks into his thoughts. “This Nakamura thing is going to bury us,” he says with a look up to Colin. “If they haven’t done an autopsy yet… it’s just a matter of time.”

“You let me worry about that,” Colin says with a dismissive wave of his hand. “As for your kid, we’ll figure something out. What’s the extraction plan, weren’t we going to try and retrieve one of them?”

Gerrit shakes his head. “I don’t know, nobody talks to me. They want the Gemini recipient back, but I don’t know how far along the planning on that is or how it will even happen.”

“Christ,” Colin mutters, pacing around more. “Look, Ger, I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want you to be sorry,” Gerrit says with a sharp exhalation of breath and a hand smoothed down his face. “I want this nightmare over.”

Colin looks down at the ground, a knot forming in the pit of his stomach. “I’ll go and talk to logistics, see what her plan is. She’ll talk to me. We have a rapport.”

“She hates you,” Gerrit says with a squint and a shake of his head. Colin shrugs, reaching into his jacket and pulling out a Cracker Jack box, stuffing a few caramel-covered popcorn pieces into his mouth.

“Doesn’t mean we don’t have a rapport,” Colin retorts, mouth full of snacks as he moves to the door. “Just give me a day,” is Colin’s diplomatic way of easing out of the meeting. Gerrit, slouching down into his seat, silently acquiesces.

A Short Time Later

Colin Verse raps a Shave and a Haircut knock with two knuckles on a faux wood office door set into a concrete wall. A smooth woman’s voice replies from the other side, “It’s open.”

Colin leans against the door as he opens it, rattling a box of Cracker Jacks in one hand as he steps into a mostly undecorated executive office. The woman seated at the green glass desk closes her laptop and looks up expectantly at Colin with one brow raised.

“Hey there, sorry for not setting up a meeting I just had a quick question,” Colin says as he nudges the door shut with his heel, rattling the box of popcorn around again before offering it out to the woman across from him. She smiles, politely, and holds up a hand as if to say no.

“There’s a decoder ring inside,” Colin says with a sing-song tone of voice. She continues to be both uninterested and unamused. “Hey so, this whole situation in New York? Gerrit’s out of his fucking mind. With Nakamura kicking the bucket and… you know. What’s the plan?”

Folding her hands in front of herself, the head of the logistics department tilts her head to the side and slides her tongue over her teeth. “We’re going to send an extraction team avatar our HVT, and if that fails we’re going to need to scuttle the project to cover our assets.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Colin says, withdrawing his offer of treats.

“Intellectual property theft countermeasures,” she says matter-of-factly, making lingering eye contact with Colin. “We can’t have that hardware any more exposed than it already is. Because of your fuckup and an over-eager imaging technician the Hive system was on the cover of Scientific American. The window to clean this up without a mess is rapidly closing.”

“We’re talking about people’s lives here.” Colin says with a sudden seriousness. “What you’re advocating is—it’s fucking murder.

“You can take up your complaints with leadership. Though I’m of the mind that you’ll find her significantly less pleasant.” She says with a squint and a wrinkle of her nose. Colin deflates, something about that threat making him sweat. “Am I clear?”

“Yeah…” Colin says with eyes downcast. “Yeah. You’re the boss…”


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