I am over 50,000 edited words into the creation of Book V. The title is tentatively set to be "Slaughter: Darkest Knight". As you know, I tend to tell my stories through the eyes of different characters. This time is no different. However, this time we branch out in many different directions. It will keep you guessing on what is going on, who is really in charge, and from where the enemy will next come. I decided that because of the twists and turns this story takes, I will be giving nothing away by presenting the entire first chapter. Please enjoy the first chapter of "Slaughter: Darkest Knight."
Chapter 1: The Last One
She deftly flipped the pricy ballpoint pen through the fingers of her left hand. The thin shaft of sterling silver caught the glow of the bronzed table lamp with its stained-glass shade next to her. The pen twirled and spun through her fingers, rotating end over end until it reached her thumb and forefinger. There it paused for a second, outlined by her ebony skin and blood-red, well-manicured fingernails. She glanced at the glimmering writing instrument as she considered the choices and ramifications of each option presented to her. The decision here rested solely on her shoulders. The others had made their decision. They had cast their vote. But hers was the last, and therefore the only one that mattered. All decisions in this room must come from unanimous consent. So, they now waited on her vote; on what she would say to the others gathered here. Of all the decisions they had been making this evening, of all the past ones made in this storied room over the decades, this one decision would alter the course of history. No, her words here would write history. It would have lasting effects that would ripple across time far after she was dead and buried.
No pressure, she thought, a grave expression tattooed on her face, joining her eyebrows together above her red-rimmed glasses.
She sent the pen spinning in a 360-degree rotation between her pinched fingers and then flipped it back through her hand. Learning the trick had been a novelty when she had been just a cadet at the Naval Academy so many years ago. Now it had become her trademark signature when facing a dilemma, when dwelling on issues and weighing tough decisions, on deciding the fates of people. Like now.
She surveyed the room and the eyes of her gathered peers waiting for her decree. Across the expanse of space, sitting in an ancient wingback chair near the far mahogany wall with its raised panels, she gave a questioning look to the old man who was right then studying her. Although he was old, his mind was keen and cunning. This whole proposal had been his to begin with. And since she knew just how sharp and focused that mind could be, she was certain that the old man had twisted this idea in every direction looking for faults, examining every fissure and exploring every weakness.
Still, she hesitated in her vote.
She knew that the variables had been placed into their private, quantum supercomputer, the AI spinning through potential outcomes and spitting out probabilities. The giant machine hummed under the floor of where she now sat, crunching numbers, combing through the internet and social media outlets looking for trends in public sentiment. It monitored news outlets, reading, listening, and processing anything a talking-head had to say about anything. Since using the quantum computer below them, their decisions and string-pulling had been flawless and without consequence. It mapped out all the single event points that must occur for a desired effect to take place.
Mother. They referred to the supercomputer as Mother. What does Mother have to say? See what Mother says our chances of failure are. Have Mother render a list of likely pros and cons and we’ll vote on it. Have you asked Mother? She wondered at what point they stopped asking questions and making decisions themselves and started letting Mother run the show. The whole thing turned her stomach. She didn’t trust Mother, despite its alarming track record for being right. She trusted the weathered old man sitting across the room.
Still, she hesitated.
As she looked at the man who had sponsored her membership in this secretive group, flipping her pen back and forth through her fingers, the old man abruptly stood and hobbled to the massive stone fireplace. All eyes transitioned from awaiting her response to focusing on his out-of-character interruption. He seized an iron poker from the rack with one gnarled fist and poked at the burning logs, repositioning them so the flames danced higher. He chuckled before addressing her with his back still turned, stabbing at the fire. His voice crackled like the small blaze he was tending. “There’s not just indecision flickering in those hazel eyes. I see fear as well. Express it. Voice it. The fear that races our hearts and trembles our hands is often rendered impotent when spoken aloud. Speak your mind. You’ve earned the right.”
All the eyes in the room refocused on her once more. She ignored them, addressing her mentor’s turned back. “This has been tried once before. And when this body followed that plan, unforeseen repercussions were caused that no one had planned for. It created global events that spiderwebbed outward in such a way that this group was very nearly destroyed as a result. I understand that we have gotten better at anticipating results. I realize that our planning involves layers and layers of complexity born out of experience. I understand that Mother’s AI is so sophisticated that it sees the possible effects of our actions at a level that humans are not able to comprehend, that it sees the repercussions of the repercussions of the repercussions. But planning is only as good as the information you have and the brain you have to process it with. Likewise, a computer’s results are only as accurate as the number of variables that you have plugged into it, and the accuracy of those variables. With what we’re talking about here, I just fail to see how that giant toaster in the basement could possibly have all the variables. Why? Because I don’t see how anyone could possibly know what those variables would be.”
The old man still did not turn around, just continued to poke at the fire, seeming to consider what she had said. Someone else cleared their throat from a darkened corner. She didn’t need to turn her head to know who it would be. She had anticipated his grumblings before she even opened her mouth.
“I would agree with your misgivings if what you said was true about plugging in variables,” the scholarly-looking gentleman in the distant corner said. He had the arrogant presence of a pompous know-it-all professor at some prestigious university, and his voice carried an egotistical tone that only comes from a lifetime of success in one’s chosen field. The man’s presence made her sick, even more than the supercomputer in the basement predicting the actions of the world. “But I would remind you, the ‘toaster in the basement.’ As you call it, does not rely on an imperfect human to program it. It observes everything, snatches up every shred of information in the world of communication, siphons intel from news outlets and social media, eavesdrops on senators’ private conversations through their ever-present smartphones, reads every email sent through every department of almost every government on the planet. If it is digitized communication, Mother snatches it up. If it has a microphone, she listens in. If it has a camera that can be connected to the internet, she watches. She understands human behavior in ways that psychologists like Skinner, Piaget and Freud could only theorize about. She does it because she has been observing the human race for the last few years. All of us. Every one of us. Not just those that elect to lie down on a couch and talk about their dysfunctional childhood. When we ask her what will happen if we choose to perform a particular action, you can take her predictions as fact. Not theory. Not hunches or speculation. She is not human. She is perfect.”
She continued to spin the pen between her fingers, thinking, trying to reason her way through, ignoring the preening, self-important egghead across the room. She shook her head. “I’ve heard this all before. And maybe one day we will be obsolete. Maybe we will one day hand the responsibilities of our roles and the fate of the earth over to your ‘Holy Mother.’ But that day is not today. We still sit in these positions. Us.” She gestured around the room. “We mere mortals are still doing our best to guide the course of the globe so that our society advances, so that we do not destroy our planet, so that a balance is struck with Mother Nature and the infestation of overpopulation that has been inflicted upon it. We make these decisions. And until we officially proclaim your computer to be our god, every one of us better weigh our choices as if the weight of the world rests on our shoulders. Because it does.”
The old man turned and leveled a pleased look in her direction, pointing at her with the fire poker. “And you are right on all accounts. Your hesitation and respect for this responsibility is why you were recruited a decade ago. Why I recruited you.” For effect, she was sure, the old man began to hobble towards her as he continued to speak. “You are a believer. Maybe more so than any other in this room. Even maybe more so than I. But you are pragmatic. You are not given to emotional thinking. Now, the rules we live by dictate that if one member dissents, the motion is abandoned, and a new course is sought. All here have voted in the affirmative. You alone remain. You are the last one. It is time to render your decision.” As he concluded, he came to rest a few feet before her, gazing down on her with a thin smile creasing the corners of his mouth.
The pen stopped spinning in her hand. She slipped it into her suit jacket pocket. Her old mentor was right. It was time to make a decision. Still, she hesitated. She would follow her gut here, as she always had, listening to that inner voice that offered her guidance. But what would happen because of it? Those were variables she could not reason out no matter how long she flipped the pen through her fingers. There was only one way to know what the outcome would be, and it was now time to voice her vote. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, preparing to speak one last time. But she never did. In fact, she would never speak again.
An intense pressure manifested in the middle of her chest, burning her from the inside and robbing her of the ability to breathe or speak. Her eyes jerked open. Her mentor still offered that same thin smile, pleased with his prodigy’s diligence at being, what did he call it, pragmatic? But gone was the iron fire poker. He no longer held it. It was protruding from her chest. Already, she could feel herself slipping away.
There was no anger in her over the old man’s actions. Just a deep sense of failure. She had failed her mentor. She had been about to let the old man down by becoming the dissenting vote. She did not feel betrayed. She felt saddened at her choice of not believing in the man that she had come to know so well. He had only done what he had to, she knew.
Then, just like that, her world started to fade. Her vision dimmed. She could still see, but barely. Her ears, though, could still clearly make out the old man as he addressed the room. “According to our rules, when one member has been found to be against the global aspirations of the group, they are to be terminated. This decision can only be made when one-third of our group agrees. Those members have already voted in private prior to this assembly, but must now stand to be recognized by the other members.”
Her failing eyes made out other members standing from their chairs until a full half of the room was on their feet. They had planned this, she realized. They had all come into this room, greeting her with smiles that hid their deceit and intentions of murder. But they waited. Clearly her old sponsor had suspected that she might vote against his wishes. He had given her a chance, though, and she had failed him anyway.
The old man nodded to the standing members before she heard him speak one last time. “Since this member is no longer qualified or able to present their vote, the unanimous decision stands. We move forward with the proposal.”
And then, it was all gone. The room, her mentor, her feelings of failure, all of it was replaced by a sensation of floating in an ebony ocean. She was no more. She could only wish the old man the best and hope it all worked out as he believed it would.