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Discipline by Tamsyn H. Kennedy (© 2016 Tamsyn H. Kennedy All Rights Reserved)
Harley pulled the fibre optic cable plug roughly from the bottom of Julie’s skull, making her wince. “Why won’t this work? “
He stroked her blonde hair and apologised. It wasn’t fair to take out his failure on her. Not after all the things she did for him. She sat in standby mode, staring at the painting of a harbour on the living room wall. That was her focus picture, without which his control would eventually be gone. Harley lay down on the couch. He needed to think, go back through his work and see where he went wrong.
Harley Cooper had loving parents who wanted the world for their only son and were happy to give it to him. He demanded an ice cream as a toddler? He got it. He desired sought after a place at a top university? They schmoozed the right people to make it happen. He desired the red haired girl more than she would return? They swept her allegations under the carpet. They always told him he was the best and was worthy of the best. No mention was ever made of what the world deserved from him. Harley was clever and did well on his electronic engineering and neuroscience degrees. He was offered prestigious placements, all greased by the certainty of his own self-worth, a perspective recognised by executives the world over. A stellar career allowed him to set up his own company and develop methods and equipment of his own.
That’s when he met Julie. She was working as a legal receptionist. He would go to his lawyers and she would smile and ask him to take a seat, perfectly attentive in that moment. He would grin and flirt and she would chat about the weather or the parking or whatever Harley could think of to keep her gaze on him a little longer. But as soon as he sat down and someone else came in, her attention was gone. Despite his obvious wealth, success and interest in her, she never let it go further than receptionist and client. He asked her to coffee, lunch and sent her flowers but it came to naught. Eventually she politely asked him to stop his advances and, like a chastised dog, he limped away to another law firm, the rejection too much for his ego.
The anger and disappointment grew like a malicious flower inside him, pushing its thorny petals into the dark corners of his mind. It goaded him into sinister creativity, taking his artificial intelligence research and twisting its application to a human host. Paid enough by his patents, Harley could devote all his time to his new invention. There was no doubt whom his first test subject would be. He deserved someone as attractive as Julie by his side. He was entitled to a wife who was agreeable to his every whim. If he was not given what was owed him, he would take it.
His system took years to perfect – the cerebellum interface allowing him to bypass the cerebral cortex and access the body’s automatic response system, the computer code neuron translator and the reintegration of the cerebral lobe pathways to affecting perception and language. It became a costly business and Harley was persuaded into scientific espionage by a friend to keep it going. Not that the morals of stealing secrets bothered him at all. When his work was finally complete, a night time commute, a dark alley and some chloroform was all that was required for Julie to begin her journey to being his ideal wife.
To everyone else, Julie was perfect. Gorgeous, loving and attentive. But to Harley she was flawed. His wonderful program never fully integrated. As the days passed, little pieces of Julie’s consciousness would sneak in and fight the overrides. She would stop following instructions and question everything. Then Harley would have to persuade her to look at the painting, hypnotise her and upload the program again from scratch.
His thoughts cycled through the problem. Maybe the cortex inhibitors weren’t strong enough. Maybe it wasn’t enough to block the signal with programming; maybe physical blocks were needed too. He wasn’t keen on drilling into her head, but maybe something could be done on a molecular level, with the DNA. Use a retrovirus to change the neurons to receive but not send to other parts of the brain…..
The doorbell rang interrupting his thoughts, and Julie stopped cleaning, awaiting instructions. Sometimes she had to help carry heavy items inside or pleasantly greet a neighbour. Harley sighed and got off the couch. Outside were two girls, boldly standing on his porch, blissfully unaware of the horrors that could exist inside a stranger’s house.
“Have you seen our cat?” the taller girl asked.
Harley had no time for children. They could not be impressed or bargained with and offered no benefit. Same with animals – if you let them, they took all your time and energy in exchange for an occasional cuddle. Adults were much better, easily manipulated and coerced. He wanted to shut the door but couldn’t risk news of a surly neighbour getting back to their parents. He might need something from them one day.
“No, sorry,” he replied, tacking on a smile for appearance sake. “I’ll keep a look out though. Colour?”
“Thanks, Mister. He’s grey with spots.” said the girl, while the other one looked in his window.
“No problem. Which house is yours?” Harley tried to hide his annoyance at her curiosity, even though he was always doing the same.
She pointed across the road. “That one.”
“Got it. Good luck.” Harley kept smiling as he shut the door. As soon as it clicked the smile was gone. He also hated interruptions.
He spoke to his waiting wife. “Back to it, Julie. Then I want a cappuccino.”
Next morning Harley was completing his weekly report at the kitchen table while Julie was cleaning the oven. He liked to watch her work. The letterbox opened and post landed on the hall floor. Standing instructions meant Julie stopped what she was doing and collected it. Every day she would open each envelope, remove the contents and order them in a neat pile to hand to Harley. Without looking up he took the pile from her hands, discarding the usual credit card balance transfer offers. He stopped at a letter on thicker paper, with a coloured seal. As he scanned the contents, a frown developed.
“The National Physical Laboratory is summoning our neighbour for a Tribunal of a former colleague.” Until now his latest assignment watching Ajeetha had been a breeze, but this made it complicated.
“Something about a clock. She has to confirm her attendance next week. It was supposed to be signed for. Stupid post office.” His frown deepened.
“If she doesn’t reply, they will know she didn’t sign for it and could investigate where it went. How could you have been so stupid?” Her action fed the flames of his program frustration. Eyes wide and teeth bared, Harley pushed aside his laptop and grabbed the nearby optic cable. He folded it over and hit the motionless Julie across the shoulders. She whimpered at the pain but stood her ground, taking each hit without verbal complaint. Eventually Harley’s anger subsided and he stopped, panting and shaking slightly. This time he felt no remorse. She had put him in a dangerous position.
“We will review your instructions later. After I fix this cable I have to go over there and apologise for your mistake.”
Harley stored his electronic supplies in his garage. Like everyone else in this neighbourhood, he parked in his driveway and used the garage on the back access road for storage. He didn’t mean to get so annoyed with Julie but she should be able to adapt her instructions to outside variables. He’d included so many decision trees into the code it was getting frustrating. What he needed was a way of integrating her human decision making process and the instruction program while still avoiding her consciousness and memories. Could he grow specific neuro-transmitters?
On his way back from the garage, Harley’s thoughts were distracted by a flash of moving white in next door’s garden. Stretching up to look over the fence he saw his neighbour in a lab coat. Why was she wearing gloves? What was she doing in her shed? He needed the details for his next report. More importantly maybe she could help him with his Julie brain problem.
“What do you have going on in there?” Harley asked, attempting to hide his enthusiasm.
“I’m testing the internet connection. I think it’s working, but I’ll need to do a few more tests.” Ajeetha’s eyes flicked up and down. Harley wasn’t buying it.
“In a white coat and gloves?” He pushed further.
“I just got in from work. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten your name. Mr. Harley, is it?”
He smiled; this woman was keeping everything close. Best to keep on her good side.
“Just Harley. Do you need any help with it?”
“Help with what? Oh, the internet? No, no. I’m pretty good at DIY computing. Thank you, though.” Ajeetha was looking right at him but her body was angled towards the shed.
“Well, just let me know if you need anything. I’ve got the week off work, so I’m around.” Harley waved and turned back to the door. Truth was, he had all the weeks off work, but she didn’t need to know that. No matter, he would investigate himself later next time Ajeetha was out of the house.
Two hours later Harley thought the phone call with his patent lawyer would never end. The man performed well in previous negotiations but was terminally dull. No enthusiasm for the projects, no drive to push regulatory boundaries. Harley needed some release from the tedium of business and he was still annoyed at his neighbour’s brush off.
“Julie, come here.” He shouted. “We are going to the bedroom, where you will make love to me.”
Julie nodded and headed upstairs. As he followed Julie’s shapely behind, Harley’s thoughts were on his neighbour and he voiced them to his wife. “She said she was fixing her internet. As if. She is doing research and I want to know what it is.”
After coming downstairs Harley saw the summons on the couch. He still had to return it to Ajeetha, get it away from them. The sooner the better. A minute later he knocked on her front door and after a pause Ajeetha opened it a little too quickly, blowing her hair around.
“Harley.” She pointedly did not open the screen door.
“Hey, Ajeetha. Sorry to bother you again, but you took off so fast I didn’t get a chance to tell you we got a piece of your mail.” Harley put on his best shameful face and held out the envelope.
“Sorry. My wife opened it without looking at the front.”
“Oh, no worries. Thanks for bringing it over.” Ajeetha took the ragged edged paper and stood silently holding the door.
Harley’s curiosity about her efforts outside had not waned, so he tried again for an invitation. This time adding a quirky grin. “My offer to help still stands.”
“Well, that’s lovely of you, but I’m pretty much all set now. I was just starting to make lunch, so I’d better get back to it. Thanks for bringing this over.” Ajeetha’s grip tightened on the door jamb, his charms not having the desired effect.
“No problem.” Harley took a step back away from the door. This conversation was a dead end; he would have to make his own way in.
“Take care now.” She closed the door.
Julie was preparing soufflés for dinner as Harley walked directly through the kitchen to the back door. Her programming demanded she ask him about his needs at regular intervals but he ignored her questions and walked out to the garden, not registering the sadness on her face.
Harley moved close to the fence and examined Ajeetha’s garden. The side gate was completely grown over. Beyond there was a shed and a garage. The shed had a key operated padlock, tough to enter and not make it obvious. The garage had a white pvc door with a lock, but no windows. A check of the access road revealed the rolling garage door was closed with an unused rusted over padlock. A serious set of bolt cutters could handle it and he could buy a replacement lock. If it wasn’t used, no one would notice. Maybe the contents of the garage would tell him if it was worth breaking into the shed. The hardware store was only five minutes away. He could get the items and be prepared for whenever Ajeetha left the house. Harley walked through the kitchen, and Julie was waiting for him with his usual mid-morning coffee. He rushed past the offered mug.
“Find me later. I have things to do.” Putting on a blue outdoors jacket he gathered his car keys and hurriedly left.
Not long after Harley was back parking outside his house. From the safety of his drive he peered in Ajeetha’s front window. No obvious sign of occupancy, no TV, radio or lights on. Might as well do it right now, he thought, hiding the cutters under his jacket and putting the new lock in his pocket.
He jogged around the back of the houses to the access road. There were a few empty bins and an unpleasant smell but no onlookers. It took quite a lot of effort to cut through the metal padlock but he did, the snap making his heart jump. This was not his usual kind of behaviour and he liked it. He collected the broken lock from the ground. He would replace it on the way out with his new one, once he had scuffed it up. Gingerly he rolled up the garage door.
…RUNNING JULIE PROGRAM V8.3C….
…TIME ELAPSED AND HARLEY’S ABSENCE PARAMETERS HAVE BEEN MET…
…INITIATE EMERGENCY PROTOCOL…
…TELEPHONE MR QUARRIE….