Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
I don’t think you can ever be sure how the day is going to end. Even if you’re in a nice house on the coast of Northern California when the sun rises over the hills, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be there when the sun goes back down.
This morning I was reading my copy of the Oakland Tribune, trying to focus on the news with some kind of odd buzzing in the back of my head. I never would have guessed what that meant, or that I would be here, in the SFPD headquarters this evening, telling you about the darkest secrets of my life, and the darkest depths of human nature.
Funny how things turn out, isn’t it? I suppose all men must one day face their demons, though, and I fear that I will soon be facing mine in Hell.
There’s not much I can tell you that you don’t already know. I used to work for a software firm called Benji Computing, back in the 1990s. That didn’t really do much for me, but it did get my foot in the doorway of Silicon Valley. When Benji tanked in March of 2001, I had enough cred to land myself a position working with a little start-up with a lot of potential named Tancata Systems. This is the part you want to hear about, right?
I’m sure that you’ve already been told about all of the money the government poured into Tancate after they pitched their TSS network to DARPA in 2002. The TSS probably sounded like a good idea; a Telepathic Surveillance System which could monitor everything going on anywhere on Earth. No expensive satellites, no clandestine flights around the Arctic Circle. Just one computer, in Tancata’s main office in San Francisco.
The only problem with the TSS was that all it was was a good idea. We had no way to make it workable. Even though Tancata was able to monitor and prove the existence of Telepathic waves, we still weren’t sure how to manipulate them or observe them on such an immesne scale. Contrary to the image often given to the public, the “psychics” who bent spoons, used tarot cards, and read minds were universally either frauds or just people who believed that they could do something they couldn’t. Actual telepathic ability was something subconscious, and something uncontrollable. If we could figure out how to get it under control, then we would be able to give DARPA their machine, and we’d all be set for life. If we couldn’t, though, then we would almost definitely be accused of ripping off the federal government, and they’d take their funds back out of our skin.
Our early attempts to make the TSS work were pretty harmless, but they weren’t very effective. Andrew Thatcher was in charge of those. If you have him in custody, you might as well release him now; he was just a code monkey, trying to piece psychic wavelengths together out of C++ and Java. It didn’t work, but no one got hurt because of it.
We didn’t make our progress or do anything particularly dangerous until our CEO, Marcus Pliny, replaced Thatcher with Dr. Jeanne Meracor. She was the person who proposed the bright idea that we needed to replace our computer banks with live, human ‘processors’. I was initially opposed to that concept, but I eventually decided to give it my support.
We got a few people together, and we performed tests on them to figure out how much Telepathic potential each of one of them had. Some of them were volunteers we took from off of the street; some of them were employees who worked at Tancata. We thought at first that intelligence contributed greatly to Telepathic potential, so we encouraged Tancata employees with Master’s Degree or Doctorate level education to take our Parapsychological tests. It seemed strange when not one of them scored even slightly above average.
Rather than intelligence, the most important deciders for Telepathic potential proved to be gender and ancestry. Out of the twenty seven people who tested in the ranges between ‘Slightly Above Average’ and ‘High Telepathic Potential’, twenty four were female. Way too high to be a coincidence. The three males all tested on the lower end of the spectrum, too, meaning that they were all out of the running for the later phases of the program.
Of our top ten, all of them were female, and six of them identified themselves as being ‘of Asian descent’. Only one, our top scorer, was able pinpoint exactly where in Asia her family had come from; her father had moved from Japan in the 1980s. Obviously, we didn’t have enough information to make anything out of that with any real certainty. I think that if we had done genetic testing on all of our high scorers, though, we would have found some distant link to a common progenitor living in Japan, or possibly even someone older who moved to Japan from mainland China during the Neolithic Era.
Someone at our office brought up the ancient Japanese myth of the Onriyu; vengeful ghosts, almost always female, who preyed upon those who committed injustices against them during life. The whole thing sounded really superstitious, but looking at our top scorer, it was impossible to avoid that image. She was the picture of one of those mythical beings dragged from a wood-cutting. Tall and frail, as pale as a sheet, and whenever she was in a bad mood, it was hard to go near her without feeling some dark shadow falling over you. The only thing they seemed to get wrong was that, outside of those long repeated legends, the Onriyu were still alive.
Unfortunately, or maybe very fortunately, we weren’t able to use her for the program. She was exponentially more powerful than her runner-up, but she was also emotionally unstable. When we checked into her medical records, we found a diagnosis of schizophrenia, another of borderline personality disorder, and strong indicators that she had tried to kill herself at least twice. We decided to take her out of the project for her own safety, and for ours.
We still needed ten people for the program, so we decided to call our eleventh highest scorer, another woman, also ‘of Asian descent’. She still wanted to be involved, but only the on the condition that we explain to her what she would be doing. We ended up using our twelfth highest scorer.
Over the next four months, the ten people in our program lived at the Tancata Systems office block. They were given nice rooms, good food, high pay, and anything else they might need. Twice a day, we gave the medication developed by our bio-tech lab and proven to increase Telepathic abilities in mice. Once a week, they were ‘trained’ by a researcher and taught how to funnel their mental energies. That part was really touch and go. Their telepathic brainwaves were also scanned to see if they were making progress. Within two weeks, they all began to show marked improvements.
Problems started after the middle of the third month. The scientists down in the labs said that the subjects were all complaining of headaches, and that one was reporting hearing voices outside of a laboratory setting. They were starting to see distant parts of the world through the eyes of other people, just like we had wanted, but they were seeing things in their dreams, too, and those things weren’t very pleasant. Our experts told us that it might be a good idea to terminate the program, but but Jeanne Meracor didn’t seem to agree. She told us all to continue what we were doing and not to report any ‘minor problems’ to DARPA.
When all of our subjects started going rogue, I suppose Meracor considered that to be a ‘minor problem’, too.
See, it turns out that the human brain really isn’t made to hold the equivalent energy of an electrical generator. That was why our top scorer had been so unstable, and why all ten of our test subjects lashed out one day and tore part of our office block apart.
It was my idea, when we finally managed to secure all of the test subjects, that we should keep them sedated and continue the program. We were too far by this point; we couldn’t just stop. We hooked the subjects up to brain monitors, and we pumped them full of drugs and nutrients to keep them alive. It probably wasn’t very healthy for them, but we did it anyway. Their heart rates were always elevated, and from time to time, the monitors would actually jump like the subjects were running marathons in their sleep.
We eventually managed to pull images and even videos from their minds, and with that, we should have been able to make the TSS a reality. There was just one little glitch. More often than not, their visions were of horrors we didn’t like to imagine. Nightmares, we guessed, but worse than any we could picture. Every now and then, their terror would get so bad that one of them would break through their chemically induced trance and start screaming in fear and pain. We would just sedate them again, and lower their dose of psychic enhancers slightly. Basically, we tortured them, and I’m pretty sure that they knew who was doing it.
This continued for a while, until 2005, when DARPA pulled our funding. They didn’t demand any money back, they just wanted out. Someone had decided that the TSS, if rendered functional, would be too big a potential invasion of personal privacy in the wrong hands. They had no idea. With all the opposition that the government was getting over the Iraq War, a machine that could read everyone’s thoughts didn’t exactly seem like something they wanted to be involved with.
Tancata was left with two choices then, and I can tell you, neither of them seemed too appealing. We could either level the subjects off of their enhancers and let them go, hoping that they wouldn’t remember what happened, or we could cut off their life support and terminate them.
Meracor, being the brilliant business woman she was, decided not to take either of those options. Instead, she did nothing about the TSS program. She just kept it going as always, and encouraged Tancata’s CEO to pour money into other programs to keep the company going.
Meracor had the TSS moved from the basement of the Tancata office block in the fall of 2006. It was starting to effect some of the people working above, and I think some of them were getting suspicious about what was going on. I know they talked about it at lunch; the headaches, the gnawing anxiety, the mild hallucinations they sometimes saw on their peripheral vision, moving through the hallways and cubicles like ghosts.
I’m not sure where Meracor moved the TSS. They shipped it in a huge metal crate with ‘Industrial Hazard’ written on the side. If I had to guess where it ended up, I would say Tancata’s Nevada Facility, south of Reno, but your guess is really as good as mine.
The company dragged on for a few more years, but the financial burden caused by the lack of DARPA funds, coupled with the growing national recession caused the company to file for Chapter 11 in November of 2008. I had already left by then, though. I jumped ship when I saw the chance nearly a year before. I had a good enough resume by that time to get myself a job as a high level programmer with a major company in Oakland, and I never looked back. I was hoping that all of this would be behind me forever.
If you can get Meracor into custody soon enough, she might be able to tell you what Tancata did with the TSS when they went under. My guess if that they tried to kill it, but it was just too powerful to die. At any rate, it’s irrelevant. I’m sure you know that the TSS is still somehow alive, and that it has grown into one entity. Something with teeth and claws, and tentacles stretching across the country. You’ve got someone from Tancata, probably the CEO, I’m guessing, who has linked the blackouts in the northeast to the false missile launches in the midwest and the nightmare that’s breaking loose along the California coastline, and then he’s tied it all back to the TSS. Either that, or DARPA figured out what we were doing too late.
Anyway, if you think that you can stop the TSS I have some bad news for you. Unless you want to channel the force of every nuclear weapon on the planet into one electromagnetic bomb, you aren’t even going to be able to slow it down. Even then, you could just interrupt its freqeuncy for an hour or so. What it wants to do, it’s going to do, and right now, it just wants to inflict pain and death until its rage is spent.
I can give you one bit of advice, though. If the lights start to flicker, then you want to get as far away from me as you can as fast as you can. You don’t want to be in here when the lights go out.