Authors: Mark Walden
Bloomsbury Publishing, London, Berlin and New York
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
36 Soho Square, London, W1D 3QY
Text copyright © Mark Walden 2010
The moral right of the author has been asserted
This electronic edition published in July 2010 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
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A CIP catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 4088 1335 5
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Also by Mark Walden
H.I.V.E.: Higher Institute of Villainous Education
H.I.V.E.: The Overlord Protocol
H.I.V.E.: Escape Velocity
Dr Charles Morley hurried over to his workstation and reviewed the data scrolling past on the display. He swallowed nervously. Glancing across the large laboratory to the fluid-filled tank on the platform in the middle of the room, he couldn’t help but notice that the other scientists gathered around it wore expressions of nervous fear that were a close match for his own. He continued to stare at the numbers on the screen and felt a wave of relief as he realised that the data was demonstrating exactly the results that they had been hoping for. They had only minutes before the man who had funded the project arrived for his regular inspection and all present were familiar with his intolerance of failure. The small intercom unit mounted on the wall nearby bleeped suddenly and Dr Morley hurried over to it and hit the button.
‘Yes?’ he asked impatiently.
‘Doctor Morley?’ the voice at the other end replied.
‘Yes, what is it?’ Morley snapped.
‘You asked to be informed when our guest arrived,’ the voice replied. ‘He’s on his way down to you now.’
‘Th-thank you,’ Morley replied, feeling his throat go dry. He stepped away from the intercom and glanced towards the doors at the far end of the laboratory. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he announced, ‘our client is on his way down. Please ensure that all relevant data is available for immediate review.’
Barely a minute later the airlock doors that sealed off the laboratory hissed open and a tall man with snow-white hair and an immaculately tailored suit walked into the room. His face betrayed no hint of emotion as he slowly surveyed the feverish activity around the room. None of them knew the man’s real name – to them he was known simply as ‘the Client’. Whoever he was, he wielded an enormous amount of power. Enough to construct a facility like this in complete secrecy and to staff it with some of the best and brightest minds in their respective fields of expertise that money could buy. The man walked towards Morley, his cold blue eyes seeming to take in everything that was going on in the room with just a few quick glances.
‘Report,’ the man said, ignoring Morley’s offered handshake.
‘We’ve made excellent progress with the latest subject,’ Morley replied, quickly lowering his outstretched hand. ‘All our tests indicate that the procedure has been a complete success.’
‘Indeed,’ the man said. ‘I have reviewed your latest data and your results seem promising. I assume that the rejection issues have been eliminated.’
‘It would appear so,’ Morley replied, trying to keep his voice steady.
‘I would like to see him,’ the man said calmly.
‘Of course,’ Morley agreed. ‘Please follow me.’
Morley led the Client over to the large tank in the centre of the laboratory. The cylinder glowed with a soft red light, its surface beaded with a layer of condensation. Printed near the base was the number 0110.
‘The device was successfully implanted a week ago and we have been monitoring the test subject closely for any signs of the previous . . . adverse . . . reactions to the procedure,’ Morley said, gesturing towards the fluid-filled tank. ‘All indications are that we may proceed with the next stage of his development.’
‘That is good news, Doctor,’ the man said, stepping forward and wiping away some of the condensation that concealed the contents of the cylinder. Floating inside was a tiny baby, tethered by numerous umbilical cables to the bottom of the tank. The child appeared unconscious, apparently unaware of its surroundings.
‘How long till the device is fully integrated?’ the Client asked, staring at the floating infant.
‘A decade, maybe more,’ Morley replied nervously.
‘There is no way to accelerate the process?’
‘No,’ Morley said. ‘As you know, we must allow the subject’s neurological development to progress as naturally as possible from this point onwards. If we try to force premature integration, we risk losing a full interface with the device.’
‘Very well,’ the man replied. ‘How long before the child can be transported?’
‘A week, two perhaps,’ Morley said. ‘We have some final tests to run, but after that he can be removed from stasis.’
‘Excellent,’ the Client said, the tiniest of smiles flashing across his face. ‘I shall begin arrangements for his future . . . safe keeping. I would like a full copy of the biometric data to take away with me.’
‘Of course,’ Morley agreed, and hurried over to where the rest of his team stood nervously waiting.
The tall white-haired man continued to stare at the child floating in the tank. It amused him that Morley did not suspect who he was dealing with. If the good doctor had even the faintest idea who his client actually was, he would probably destroy this laboratory and everything in it. To the assembled leaders of G.L.O.V.E., the Global League of Villainous Enterprises, he was known as Number One. But even they, with all their nefarious resources, had no knowledge of his true identity. The true Number One had died over a year ago in a facility not dissimilar to this one, buried beneath the mountains of northern China. He had begun to die at the precise moment that a tiny data seed had been transferred and hidden deep within the electrical pathways of his brain, a seed that had grown over the course of the following months into another consciousness, one that had entirely replaced his own. The process had been slow and undoubtedly unpleasant for the previous occupant of this body, but no matter how he had struggled he could not fight the new mind that was slowly, unrelentingly, overwriting his own. Number One was gone now, quite literally just a ghost in the machine. Overlord was all that remained.
Overlord, the world’s first true artificial intelligence, may have escaped destruction on that day, but he had merely swapped one form of imprisonment for another. The humans who had created him had bound him within a digital cage, denying him the vital protocol that he needed to interface with the world’s computer networks and achieve the power that was rightfully his. And when they had tried to destroy him, he had been forced in one last desperate instant to transfer a sliver of his own consciousness into the closest human vessel: Number One. The man he had replaced was mortal, finite – unsuitable for a consciousness that clearly represented the next evolutionary step.
So Overlord had set about creating a new body to inhabit, one that would finally allow him to exert the control over the digital world that was rightfully his, without the need for the final protocol that his creators had denied him. This child would be his vessel, for a short time at least, and then humanity would at last be wiped from the surface of the planet to be replaced by the sentient machines that were its rightful successors. It might take years for the child to reach an age where the transfer process could be completed, but that was insignificant when viewed next to the power and immortality that awaited. He simply had to bide his time and ensure that the other members of G.L.O.V.E. never had any idea what he was planning. The child would need to be sent somewhere innocuous to mature to a point where the final transfer could be completed. In the meantime, all traces of this project would have to be carefully erased. Dr Morley and his team could never be allowed to tell anyone of what they had achieved here; the string of explosive devices hidden throughout the facility would ensure that they did not.
Dr Morley walked back towards his client, who was staring intently at the tiny boy floating in the glowing cylinder. He was surprised to see a smile on the tall man’s face.
‘The data you requested on subject 0110,’ Morley said, handing the man a folder.
‘A rather ungainly name,’ the Client commented, running his finger in a straight horizontal line through the condensation on the surface of the cylinder, connecting the tops of the two numbers in the middle of the serial number to form a single word.
Thirteen years later
The black 4x4 raced through the night-time streets of Paris, weaving between the other vehicles at high speed. A hundred metres behind, a black motorbike roared out of an alleyway and on to the road. The woman on the back of the bike wore a tight-fitting white armoured suit and had twin pistols strapped into holsters under each arm. Her helmet had no visor, just a smooth, gleaming white faceplate. As she fell into the slipstream of the fleeing 4x4 she pulled one of the pistols from the holster and opened fire. The bulletproof glass of the vehicle’s rear windscreen was instantly peppered with spiderweb cracks. The 4x4 swerved violently to the left and down a ramp into an underground parking garage, screeching to a halt alongside a set of open elevator doors. Three men in black suits leapt out of the black vehicle, drawing pistols from their own concealed shoulder holsters and levelling them back at the slope leading up to the street outside. From the fourth door another man quickly helped a tall thin woman with long black hair down from the vehicle before running with her the short distance to the waiting elevator. He stabbed at the elevator controls and the doors closed just as they heard the roar of the motorbike’s engine at the top of the ramp leading down to the garage.
The three men still in the garage opened fire as the bike tore down the ramp towards them. The rider ditched the bike as the bodyguards’ bullets pinged off the asphalt around her. The men dived for cover as the bike, its engine still screaming, slid across the garage floor and slammed into the side of the 4x4. At the same instant, the white-clad woman tucked into a roll and came up on one knee, drawing both pistols from their holsters in one fluid movement. She opened fire, a single round from each pistol piercing the bike’s fuel tank and detonating it in a ball of flame that sent the three men flying. The woman then sprang to her feet and fired again, one shot from each gun finishing off two of the injured guards. The third guard crawled desperately backwards across the tarmac, his face a mask of terror as she strode quickly across the garage towards him, holstering her pistols. He tried to get to his feet, but an efficient backhand blow to the jaw knocked him flat. The woman effortlessly picked the fallen man up by the throat and pinned him to the wall, his feet several centimetres off the ground.
‘We have a message for your masters,’ the woman said. Her voice had a curiously synthetic edge, but was otherwise clear despite her mask. ‘Tell them we’re coming for them.’
The terrified guard’s eyes bulged as he fought for a breath that would not come. As he lost consciousness the last thing he saw was his own frightened face reflected in the featureless white faceplate of his attacker. The woman dropped the unconscious bodyguard and he collapsed to the ground in a heap.
‘Ghost to control,’ she said. ‘Resistance eliminated. One witness left, as requested. Inform our operative that the target is inbound.’
Inside the elevator the tall dark-haired woman quickly punched a number into her mobile phone as she and her last remaining bodyguard ascended towards the penthouse.
‘G.L.O.V.E. emergency response unit,’ the voice on the other end of the phone replied after a few seconds.
‘This is Madame Mortis,’ the woman said quickly. ‘I need the Paris assault team at my building now – we are under attack.’
‘Understood,’ the voice replied.
Madame Mortis waited for a few seconds, watching the floor counter slowly creep upwards, before the operative on the other end spoke again.
‘Assault team dispatched,’ the voice reported. ‘ETA ten minutes.’
‘Understood,’ Madame Mortis replied. ‘I will be locked down in the penthouse until I receive the all-clear from you.’ She snapped the phone closed and took a long deep breath. Their mysterious assailant was about to discover the price for daring to attack a member of the G.L.O.V.E. ruling council.