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IEET > Fiction > Fellows > Ramez Naam

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Nexus: Chapter 1 - The Don Juan Protocol (pages 1-8)


Ramez Naam
By Ramez Naam
Ethical Technology

Posted: Dec 19, 2012

First nine pages of chapter 1 of the riveting science fiction book Nexus by Ramez Naam brought to you by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Check back here tomorrow for another nine pages of this fascinating book!

Click Here for an IEET review of Nexus.


Chapter 1 - The Don Juan Protocol

Friday 2040.02.17 : 2255 hours

The woman who called herself Samantha Cataranes climbed out of the cab and walked towards the house on 23rd Street. The door opened, spilling light and the sounds of music and voices out into the night. A pair of young women emerged, arm in arm, wrapped up in conversation. They smiled at her as she passed them, and Sam smiled back. Faceprinting code identified them, used her tactical contacts to superimpose softly glowing names, ages, and threat levels beside their faces in her field of view. All green. Civilians. No known connection to her mission.

Sam ran her eyes over the exterior of the home. Her sight came alive with structural elements, power lines, data lines, possible ingress and egress through doors, windows, weak spots in the walls. She blinked it all away. None of it served her purpose tonight.

Her left knee twinged as she ascended the stairs. A memento of that disastrous firefight outside Sārī. As if she could ever forget that night. Her face felt tight. Her lips were overstuffed, her cheeks taut, her jaw awkwardly cocked. Her nerves strained in protest at the visage she held. It would be a relief to relax into her own face again.

Bits of her briefing for this mission flitted through her mind unbidden. A building blasted apart, bodies strewn everywhere. Religious leaders murdered by trusted old friends. Politicians with sudden, implausible changes of heart. All the suicide bombings, the assassinations, the political subversions, the blank-faced companies of inhumanly loyal, unthinking, unquestioning super-soldiers. And behind them all, the common thread: Beijing’s new coercion technology. A technology that this target might just help them get a step closer to understanding and defeating.

Sam opened the door and let herself in to the party, a wide smile on her false face. Overly loud flux music hit her. The smells of dozens of bodies inundated her sharpened senses. Identities swam over the sea of faces. Somewhere in this house, she would find her man.

***

Friday 2040.02.17 : 2310 hours

“Do you romp?” the girl asked. She leaned in close, close enough to be heard over the din of the party, close enough to kiss.

Kaden Lane watched carefully, clinically, as Don Juan molded his body’s responses. A slight smile. Release of oxytocin. Dilation of capillaries in his cheeks. A mix of confidence and anticipation. Candidate replies flitted through his mind, half-formed on his lips, as the software’s conversational package sifted through possibilities:

[Yeah, I love to dance.]

[Sure, what kind of music do you like?]

[If I’m with a pretty girl like you.]

Signals propagated through the highly modified web of Nexus nodes in his brain. The drug’s nanostructures evaluated data, processed it, transformed it. Don Juan made a choice in milliseconds. Input spiked at Nexus nodes attached to neurons in the speech centers of his frontal and temporal lobes. Nerve impulses raced outward from speech centers to motor cortex, and from there to the muscles of his tongue and jaw, his lips and diaphragm. A fraction of a second after he’d heard the girl speak, those muscles contracted to produce his response.

“Yeah, I love to dance,” Kade heard himself say.

Who writes these lame lines? he wondered.

“Want to see if there’s something good tonight?” she asked.

Frances. Her name was Frances. They’d met twenty minutes ago in this hallway. She was twenty-six years old, a Virgo, a graphic designer by trade. Frances smelled nice, liked to touch him when she talked, and did look rather fetching in her tight pants and low-cut top. She loved acro-yoga, loud dance music, travel in Central America, and her two cats.

Kade had never asked anyone their sign before. He supposed in a way he still hadn’t. The software had done that with his mouth and lungs. Did that count?

All the test was supposed to show was that software could use their Nexus-based interface to control speech and hearing in a real environment. It was Rangan who’d insisted on using this dating app to test their platform, and that Kade be the one to run it. “You gotta get out and have some fun, dude,” he’d said. “All you do is mope around. Flirting with some girls is exactly what you need.”

Next time, he thought to himself, Rangan can do the field test.

“Sure, let’s see what’s happening,” Don Juan answered.

Kade pulled out his phone and stuck it to the wall beside them. Don Juan spoke to it. “Bay Area dance parties tonight. Full immersion for two.”

Frances turned to face the camera. A partygoer jostled her as he scooted by down the hall. She squeezed up against Kade, nestling into his side. Her body did feel rather warm and enticing, he had to admit. He put an arm around her waist as the phone responded to his request. Maybe Rangan did have a point...

Retinal projectors sought out their eyes. Targeted acoustics zeroed in on their ears. Local events scrolled across shared vision.

SEROTONIN OVERLOAD IV

A brief advertisement for the event washed over their senses: pulsing music, syncopated lights, warm smiles, dancers embracing and moving in time.

Frances made a face. “A little too earnest for me.”

Kade chuckled.“Next.”

CYGNUS EXPRESS – A PROJECT ODYSSEUS FUNDRAISER

Vastness of space, planets orbiting distant suns, partygoers in gleaming imitations of vacuum suits, bleeping sound of contact through the static of cosmic background radiation, overlaid with driving trance rhythm.

Frances shrugged. Damn, she felt good pressed against him.

“In space,” she said, “no one can hear you dance.”

Kade shrugged. “Next.”

CARE BARE by UNITED SKEINS OF SEXY

New sights and sounds: Writhing, almost-naked bodies, skin moving against skin, moaning pulsing sounds, fast flashes of mouths and hips and breasts.

Frances moved her hip against him just a bit. “Now that looks pretty hot. Yeah?”

Kade laughed out loud. Any other night, he wouldn’t have the balls to venture into a scene like that. But what the hell. His task tonight was to push the platform they’d built on top of Nexus’s nanoscale elements to its limits.

It’ll be a great test case, he told himself. I’m doing this for science.

Don Juan responded for him. “Maybe. You planning on getting fresh with me?”

Kade let it drive, let it wink with his eye.

Frances smirked and raised an eyebrow, turning towards him, her body still pressed against his. “Oh, you’d like that, would you?”

She batted her pretty green eyes up at him.

“Oh, I think the pleasure would be all yours,” Don Juan replied. Kade put his other arm around her waist, holding her to him now, looking down into her eyes.

Frances bit her lower lip.

“Prove it.”

Kade might have stuttered, might have blushed, but a more calculating logic was in control. “Your place or mine?”

***

They kissed standing up, Kade’s back against the wall of the room they’d snuck into. Frances was a giggler. She made out with a fun enthusiasm that Kade found infectious. They kissed and kissed, giggled and whispered. Kade’s clinical detachment crumbled. Someone opened the door to the room, saw them, and backed out apologetically. More giggles ensued. More kissing followed. Giggling gave way to sighing. Sighing gave way to grinding, to hands roaming. Heat rose between their bodies. Her breath was coming short and heavy. So was his.

The dialog sucks, but I can’t complain about the results, Kade thought to himself. There was one more test he’d promised Rangan he’d run. Now for the kinesthetic interfaces…

He kept his eyes closed as he kissed her, immersed himself in the Nexus OS that he and Rangan had built atop the hundreds of millions of nano-structures of the drug that suffused their brains.

Softly glowing numbers scrolled across the bottom of his field of view. A column of icons hung at the right. A research log window with his field test notes lay compressed down to its title bar. The muted roar of the party still rushed in his ears. Kade flicked his inner eye over pulse, respiration, neuro-electrical activity, interface status, neurotransmitter and neuron-hormone levels. All green. He could see the copy of Don Juan that Rangan had pirated and modified running through its models, behaving nicely and only using the resources he’d assigned. He flicked past it, sought out another program, one Rangan had lifted from VR porn and hacked to send its output to their body-control software. Peter North.

[activate: peter_north mode: full_interactive priority: 1 smut_level: 2]

Frances pressed herself more insistently against him. The giggles were gone. Her lips brushed his jaw, tugged wetly at his mouth. Her body was hot beneath his hands. Her snug pants were smooth and slick and hugged her ass perfectly. She spread her thighs slightly, leaned her hips against his, ground her crotch against his leg as they kissed. Her soft little moans of pleasure went straight to some primal part of his brain. Numbers and icons still floated in his vision.

Kade ignored one set of stimuli, let himself be absorbed by the other.

Peter North was in charge now, a VR porn bot Rangan had lifted from the net and adapted to their Nexus OS as a way to test their kinesthetic interfaces. It spat out limb position changes and muscle and joint vectors. Nexus nodes in Kade’s brain flared, signals raced from his motor cortex to his limbs, and Kade’s body responded.

Frances moaned softly, shifted her ass against his hand, ground herself against his hip. Peter North slid Kade’s hand down her back, past the fabric of her low-cut top, and down onto the smooth and snug backside of her pants. His hand squeezed one perfect cheek, rose up into the room, and came down with a resounding smack.

“Ooooh,” Frances murmured. She bit his lower lip then, not quite too hard, and tugged. Her finger rubbed his chest, teasing one nipple. Forefinger and thumb came together, pinching, enough to hurt this time.

Damn, thought Kade. Why did I ever think this was a bad idea?

Peter North grabbed hold of Frances by her hips, steered them both to the couch, pushed her down into it. The software brought his body down atop her, kneeling on the edge of the cushion, one knee between her thighs. Kade’s hands came up, entangled themselves in her hair and made fists. Peter North tugged, tilting her head back, making her look at him, paused until she opened her eyes to stare into his, waited just a moment longer, then brought his mouth down on hers.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Rangan, he thought, for forcing me to get out here and have some fun.

Frances responded with nails on his back, sharp and even painful through his shirt. She shifted her hips forward on the seat, pressing herself more firmly against his knee, squeezing her thighs around his leg, purring into his mouth as her hands found his belt and eased their way under his shirt. Searching for skin, ready to draw blood.

Kade forced himself to concentrate. Forced himself to make more notes in the research log. He was still a scientist, damn it.

[Smooth muscular control. Feedback systems excellent. Possibly insufficient pain response.]

Outside, Peter North had him cupping one breast, one hand tangled in her hair. His shirt was gone. Frances was biting her way down his chest, his stomach.

[Definitely insufficient pain response.]

Her hand was on his crotch now. Kade was hard, as hard as the safety limits he and Rangan had coded into the interface would allow. Frances seemed to approve. She smiled seductively as her hand squeezed him through the front of his pants, started to move in time to her own grinding against his lower leg…

Kade made no note of this. He’d tested the erection module extensively already.

Frances smiled coyly up at him and gave him a long squeeze. “Is this for me?”

She licked her lips lasciviously.

Kade’s mind filled with an image of what was about to happen. His heart skipped a beat in anticipation. He opened his mouth to reply.

[interface warning – max spikes per second > parameters]

[interface warning – packet loss in connection 0XE439A4B]

[interface ERROR – socket not found OXA27881E]

[interface ERROR – socket not found OXA27881E]

[interface warning…]

Oh fuck, he thought.

Errors and warnings flooded Kade’s vision. Parameter displays were spiking into yellow and red. Intracortical bandwidth was saturated. Packets were being dropped. CPU cycles were being consumed in massive ways by error-catching and error-correcting packages, stepping all over each other in their haste to fix whatever was wrong.

Outside, neither Peter North nor Kade were in control of his body. His hips jerked forward spastically, again and again. His hands gripped hard on Frances’s shocked head. His still-clothed crotch was banging into her face on every pelvic thrust. His mouth was wide open, his eyes unfocused. An incoherent sound was escaping his throat.

“Ug. Ug. Ug.”

[interface warning – max spikes per second > parameters]

[interface warning – max spikes per second > parameters]

[interface ERROR…]

Fuck fuck fuck.

[system halt], he commanded.

Nothing.

[system halt], he repeated.

Nothing.

[system halt] [system halt] [system fucking halt!]

Neuro-muscular stimulation ceased. Kade’s inner displays went blank. His muscles relaxed. Hips stopped moving. Hands eased on Frances’s head. Success!

Kade drew breath.

And then another hard spasm rolled across every muscle in his body, and another, and another...

What? Oh shit.

Kade was ejaculating.

He threw himself back from Frances, collapsing on the bed behind him, back arching and toes curling as some side effect of the stimulation threw him into a whole-body ecstasy. Laughter burst forth. Tears rolled down his face. He rolled onto his side in bliss and confusion and hilarity and some deep warm sleepy sense of peace. Ahhhh.

“What the fuck was that?” Frances was on her feet, yelling at him. One hand was to her face. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Kade rolled over in a haze, opened his mouth to apologize, to explain, tried to pull himself up onto his feet. “Frances…”

“You stay there, jerk!” She leveled an accusing finger at him. “I’m walking out of this room, and if you so much as twitch, I’m gonna scream for help!”

She was backing towards the door.

“Hey, wait, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… umm…”

“Shut up! Stupid ass one-minute wonder. Next time you wanna play rough, you ask first, asshole.”

She opened the door, slammed it behind her. Through the door he heard, “Hey, there’s some sicko freak in there…”

Well, he thought, that didn’t work so well.

Click Here for an IEET review of Nexus.

 


Ramez Naam, a Fellow of the IEET, is a computer scientist and the author of four books, including the sci-fi thriller Nexus and the nonfiction More than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement and The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet.  He writes at rameznaam.com.


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