I’m working on the fifth and sixth Rachel Peng books now. These will be released at the same time due to…that scene. This is an excerpt from Book 5 which sums up the origins of OACET and might be a handy refresher for readers. As always, this text hasn’t been copyedited and content is subject to change before publication.
Once upon a time, there were five hundred people in their late teens and early twenties, all of them fresh-faced and starting their careers in civil service. Five hundred people who had volunteered to join an experimental program designed to network those serving in different federal government sectors into a single cohesive entity. An expensive program, certainly, as each of those five hundred people needed a custom-made quantum organic computer implanted in their brains, with other technological thingamabobs inserted throughout their bodies to allow that computer to interface with the external world.
Such an expensive project! Prohibitively so, really. The price was something only the wealthiest of governments could manage, and that was before you considered the human cost. The computers were wetware, useless pieces of junk unless they were sunk deep in the parietal lobe. But if they could pull it off, the United States would have the world’s first fully cybernetic agency, with all of the advantages that entailed…namely instantaneous, untraceable communication between Agents, no matter the distance between them.
Worth the investment. Even if you overlooked the potential implications for espionage (and why would you?) you’d still be eliminating many of the usual barriers between federal agencies. Think about the reaction time during a crisis situation! Goodness! So when tech billionaire-turned-U.S. Senator Richard Hanlon donated his research in organic quantum computers to the federal government and asked if they could, perhaps, do something with this data that he, personally, didn’t have the money or the resources to implement, the government began cracking open skulls before the ink was dry on the contract. Never mind how Hanlon had made sure that he was in charge of oversight for the new Office of Complementary and Enhancement Technologies, so when the new fledgling program failed—and oh! how he had made sure it would fail!—he would be positioned to scoop up the cyborgs and claim them as his own.
Once upon a time, five hundred cyborgs had lost five years of their lives to Senator Hanlon. Then Patrick Mulcahy had come along and torn Hanlon’s plan apart, shown the world how the real purpose of the cybernetic implant wasn’t communications but access. The implants could be used to communicate wirelessly across rooms or entire continents, true enough, but they also allowed users to take control of any machine with network capabilities. Yes, even the nukes.
(Why did everyone always ask about the nukes? There are things out there that are so much more lethal than bombs, and computers control access to them, too. Explosions and contamination are short-sighted; viruses are eternal.)
Today, OACET was still defining its place as a new federal agency, an ongoing process that wasn’t nearly done as there were countless public and private entities which believed that autonomous cyborgs that could take control of nearly any machine made in the past thirty years could cause problems.
Which was precisely why Hanlon had made sure the implants were programmed to gradually break down their users’ free will. After all, why bother to trick the government into funding your invincible cyborg army if the cyborgs could still think for themselves? Free will is important. Privacy, perhaps doubly so. Take those away and replace them with a hivemind, and life becomes nothing but a sea of unprotected personalities crashing against itself, forever. Rachel had survived: she had blinded herself by staring straight at the sun for two days, but she had survived. Others…hadn’t.
Once upon a time, five hundred young people had volunteered to change the world. Five years later, three hundred and fifty of them were left to form OACET.
A year after OACET had gone public, Rachel had finally managed to find a way to force Hanlon to resign his position and slink out of Washington in disgrace. But before he had left, Hanlon had put plans into motion that would play out over time, and Rachel was sure she hadn’t yet managed to find them all.
That was fine. She had brought down their evil overlord once. She was sure she could do it again.