Chapter II: Speed of Thought

June 10, 2179, Standard Time (Six weeks later)

Many people firmly believe that the future of humanity is in augmentation. We live in unprecedented times, spread among the stars, and we face unprecedented challenges. Many (myself included) argue that to face these challenges, we need to be more than what we have been.

Agumentation is typically thought of in terms of making people stronger, faster, or more fit in some physical way for a role. Many talk about intelligence augmentation, but the closest we've come is to give people easy access to information, integrating networks with their minds as memory augmentation. At base, people are still no more intelligent than they were before.

Theorized, though, is a workaround: what if, instead of speeding up minds, we slowed down time, giving people more time to think before acting? Sadly, no company or research organization has publicly admitted to making the attempt.

Neural Implants for Dummies, Rodrigo Monterra (Phobos Star Publishing Group, 2165)

"Where are you headed next, Python?"

Alice Khalum turned around to face the speaker. It was Cheryl Lemoria, a manager at the South Indian factory she'd sabotaged.

"I'm not sure, Cheryl," she said, leaning back on the table where she'd been packing her bag, a small brown backpack. "Wherever I'm needed."

"Well, your work is done here. It'll take at least another two weeks to get production rolling again after your sabotage."

"Which is why I need to leave before morning, yes. I'm almost ready. I hope I'm not causing any problems for you."

"I will be fine. I'm not the only one here who resents manufacturing supplies for the government's war effort. The others won't tell about my part in this."

"I hope you're right." Alice zipped up her bag and put it on. "Alright, time for me to go."

The night outside erupted with sirens, flooding the building with noise through the thin walls. The sound of a man shouting through a megaphone was above it all: "Banded Python, we know you are in there; you are under arrest. Come out of the building immediately." He repeated this several times.

Cheryl spun toward Alice, distraught, but Alice had already vanished.

The police began streaming into the building, yelling to each other as they searched for their target.

Cheryl repeatedly denied knowledge of the "Banded Python" or where she was as the police shoved her into a chair and began an interrogation. Around her, dozens of men and women were searching for the elusive vigilante.

Alice, the quarry, was already two floors above them, carrying out an elaborate escape plan. For her, time had slowed down and her brain sped up, giving her the ability to think and rethink every miniscule action before she performed it. Racing through her mind was her one hope of escape: find a fire alarm.

On her way to the nearest alarm, she grabbed some rope, a lighter, and a heavy crowbar from a closet. She tied the rope to the alarm's handle, the crowbar, and then fasted the rope to a nearby door handle, right near the crowbar. She paused a brief moment to survey her work.

Yes, this would work: the crowbar's weight was currently supported by the door handle, but if the handle were to unfasten from the rope, the crowbar's weight would set off the alarm.

She lit the rope at a carefully-calculated distance from the handle, then took off running. She could hear the police, their search moving closer, their slow-motion yells becoming more audible.

She found a fire exit on the far side of the building from the main entrance and took it. She looked around cautiously: very few of the police were on this side, and their attention was focused on the other side of the building. She paused, mentally counting down the seconds until the fire alarm would sound.

There it was! A few seconds early, she thought briefly. I'm getting sloppy. She watched as the cops on her side of the building ran in slow motion to the main entrance to help out. She cautiously climbed down from the fire escape.

She checked each car. Ah, here was one with the keys left in the ignition. She hopped in and drove off.

Alice had never been a great driver, and her ploy only bought her a couple minutes before the police caught on and took up the chase. The roads were also crowded with traffic, hectic with cars and rickshaws going every direction.

She clung to one last desperate hope. As the police sirens closed in, she saw a rickshaw driver nearby look nervous. He took off down a side road and she followed. See her following, the driver grew even more desperate, taking loops and narrow turns to try and shake her. Hopefully, by following him with his superior knowledge of the roads, she'd be able to shake her pursuers.

A moment later, he was gone. She must have missed a turn somewhere. Around her was a quiet residential street, devoid of people or cars. A cow lounged lazily by the side of the road ahead. She stopped the car and climbed out, sitting on a short wall next to a gutter, catching her breath and allowing her brain to slow again to its normal speed.

Had it worked? No, here came the sirens again, growing louder as they came nearer. She continued sitting, too tired to continue the chase. She was outmatched.

She could come up with a dozen solutions to a problem in the time anyone else would take to come up with one, but sometimes there were no solutions to find. She'd been caught. She'd tried everything, and that was enough.

More opportunities would come to escape, but for now, she was caught.

As the police climbed out of their cars, she raised her hands slowly and allowed them to take her.

As the car approached a building, Alice slowed down time as much as she could, scanning the outside of the building for anything that could help her escape. She took note of the locations of every exit, trying to memorize them as best she could.

As her captors escorted her into the building, she continued looking around, noting everything she could. By the time they reached their destination, she had the path back to the main exit memorized, as long as the locations of every fire alarm, side exit, and storage cabinet they'd passed. She allowed herself to slip back into normal time as they entered a large room.

It seemed to be some sort of theatre or lecture hall. A stage was in the front of the room, and the rest of the room was filled with rows of chairs facing the stage. The first two rows facing the stage were full of people, but every other seat was empty. Alice recognized a few of them, high level executives in the Federation government.

Then she saw him. Director Khalum, leader of Olympus High Command, the most powerful person in the Solar System.

And her father.

He was looking straight at her, a slight smile on his lips. As he watched her, he absentmindedly conversed with the people around him, but his eyes never left her face.

Alice looked away.

She was led to the stage, which had a lone chair in the middle of it, and told to sit. She obeyed.

Director Khalum cleared his throat. "So, the Banded Python has been caught at last. I can hardly express my delight at seeing you again, daughter."

It took all of Alice's willpower to maintain a levelheaded response. "Hello, father. How's mom?"

"She's still on Luna, but she's well."

"And my brother?"

"Ben-Oni is at Jupiter, dealing with the Resistance presence there."

Alice looked around the room. "Why did you want me here?" she asked. "Surely it's not just my sabotage work."

"No," the Director said, letting out a heavy sigh. "No, your sabotage has really done almost no damage to our plans. I need you for what you have to offer us. Let's talk, shall we?"