Read Chapter One Of Scraper: Rise of Cifer, The Tie-in Novel For Sci-Fi VR Shooter Scraper
by UPLOAD • MARCH 13TH, 2018
UploadVR worked with Jim Ivon, President of Labrodex Studios — the team behind the upcoming VR shooter Scraper — to post some excerpts from the game’s tie-in novel: Scraper: The Rise of Cifer.
Written by prolific sci-fi writer and New York Times bestselling author Ryder Windham, the novel begins in the year 2075, and serves as an introduction to the game’s characters and backstory.
Scraper: The Rise of Cifer is now available on Amazon in both paperback and digital formats.
You can experience Scraper for yourself and meet Jim Ivon, Ryder Windham, and other developers from Labrodex Studios at two upcoming shows: CTGamerCon at Mohegan Sun Convention Center on March 24 and 25 and PAX East at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center taking place April 5 – 8.
Lt. Charles “Chuck” Harvey was standing outside the Multinational Guard Recruitment Station, watching a steady stream of people flowing out from the New Austin Welcome Center and into the city plaza, when he noticed two humanoid robots walk by. The robots were Humech Version 3s, a male and female model from the Helpmate line, with Dyneema-skinned faces that could simulate the standard range of human facial expressions. Both V3s had small, distinctive blue lights built into their torsos and legs. Harvey was curious about the purpose of the lights, and he blinked at the V3s as they walked by. A tiny display in Harvey’s smart lenses indicated the time was 19:47 Central Daylight Time, thirteen minutes before sunset, on April 18, a Thursday.
He was still watching the robots when he felt someone tap his shoulder. He turned and saw a woman with red hair and a rash of freckles across her face. His lenses presented an automatic stream of data that identified the
woman as Lt. Susan Keevers, twenty-eight years old, New Austin resident, US citizen, blood type O negative. Like Harvey, she wore a dark blue semi-formal Multinational Guard uniform. He shifted his eyes to kill the data
stream, which he didn’t require for Keevers because he’d known her for almost three years.
Keevers glanced at the two Humech Helpmates that Harvey had been looking at. She said, “You’re supposed to be keeping an eye on newcomers for potential recruits. The human newcomers.”
“Yeah, I know,” Harvey said. “But check out those Helpmates with blue lights on their coxal-servomotor cowlings and hip actuators. I tried blinking for info about the lights, but nothing came up. What’s that about?”
Keevers looked again at the Humechs, who were now moving past the office for the Scraper megacity’s Housing Authority. “Beats me,” she said. “Maybe your lenses aren’t working?”
“No, they’re working fine. I’m seeing readouts for everything else. Did you try blinking?”
“No, Chuck. I’m not that curious about the lights.”
Harvey used his smart lenses to magnify his view of the Humechs’ illuminated cowlings and actuators. He blinked again but his lenses didn’t conjure up any information. “It’s probably just an identification thing,” he said.
“Or maybe ICARUS is testing new tech for Humechs.”
“Or maybe,” Keevers said, “Humechs need taillights so they can see better when they run backwards.”
Harvey looked at Keevers. “Ya think?”
Keevers groaned. “Stop staring at the Humechs’ butts, Chuck.”
“I wasn’t staring. I was observing. You know, watching for anything unusual. I mean, you’ve never seen blue lights like that before on a Humech either, have you?”
“Do us both a favor,” Keevers said, “and focus on our assignment. Keep your eyes on real people.”
Harvey returned his attention to the New Austin citizens and tourists entering the plaza. His lenses displayed readouts for their names, ages, occupations, nationalities, and other personal information. Many people stopped at the ICARUS Pavilion, which presented a historic overview of the international corporation that was best known for the production of ambulatory humanoid Humech robots. A Humech tour guide, a Version 1 female model, greeted the arrivals. Unlike the V3 series, the V1s were entirely human in appearance. The tour guide had dark hair that was tied back in a ponytail, brown eyes, and light-sensitive skin that was, at the moment, a deep tan. She wore a uniform with a tunic that bore the ICARUS logo and a prominent V1 on the front and back, so even humans who didn’t wear smart lenses could identify her as a robot.
“As you may know,” the tour guide said with a friendly smile, “ICARUS is an acronym for India, China, Australia, Russia, and the United States, the home countries of the scientific corporations that founded the consortium. ICARUS is also a proud sponsor of next year’s Olympic Games, which will be held here in New Austin. Unlike older metropolitan areas, such as New York and Hong Kong, which evolved into cities with skyscrapers, New Austin was conceived and developed as a self-sustaining Scraper megacity. Construction began in 2048. Seven years later, the first six million people became residents, and—”
Harvey had heard the speech too many times. He adjusted the communication studs embedded in his ears to tune out the tour guide’s voice. He looked to the center of the pavilion, which featured a sprawling, live-broadcast holographic display of New Austin. The hologram enabled viewers to see the entire city at a glance, including the Olympic Park and Stadium that were still under construction, and the gigantic terraforming machines and mobile 3D-printer construction platforms operating at the city’s perimeters. The tallest Scraper was the ICARUS Space Agency, although the city’s space-elevator complex was technically higher because the elevator’s flexible segmented enclosures and cable extended to a space station in geosynchronous orbit. Despite the size and scope of the holographic display, most visitors to the plaza, especially young children, enjoyed watching the minuscule holographic representations of themselves in the pavilion.
Another female Humech V3 Helpmate entered the plaza, and Keevers noticed Harvey staring at the V3’s lights. Keevers said, “Hey, Helpmate. Yeah, you.” The Helpmate stopped and turned to face Keevers. “Lt. Harvey, here, he wants to know what’s up with your blue lights.”
The Helpmate looked at Harvey and smiled. “Greetings, Lt. Harvey. The Humech blue present in all current V3s comes from the mechanical luminescent glow that is created by the lithium compound mixing with a proprietary blend of mineral oils.”
“Oh,” Harvey said. “Okay. Thanks for telling us. Because I tried blinking for data, but—”
“But the data is proprietary,” the Helpmate said.
“Oh, sure,” Harvey said. “I understand.”
The Helpmate tilted her head to one side. “Will that be all, Lt. Harvey?” “Yeah, that’s all,” Keevers said. “Carry on.”
The Helpmate walked away. Harvey watched her go. Keevers said, “Happy now?”
“I guess,” Harvey said, “but I still wonder why ICARUS changed the color to blue.”
“Ask the next female Helpmate who sashays by.”
“Aw, give me a break,” Harvey said. “I’m not that curious.” He yawned. “Chuck, can I ask you something?”
“Why did you join the Multinational Guard?”
“That’s an easy one. My mother was an MG pilot. I wanted to be like her and help with rescue operations. Disaster prevention and relief. Delivering food and medical supplies to those in need. You know, all that stuff the MG used to do.”
“So why aren’t we doing all that stuff?”
Harvey laughed. “You know why. Heck, it’s all spelled out at the ICARUS Pavilion.”
“Maybe, but I want to hear you say it.”
“Because six years ago, and on the day before my twenty-first birthday, ICARUS produced LCF-R, the Lithium Cold Fusion Ranger and the smartest AI ever. And then about a year later, LCF-R created the Humech V3. And then ICARUS put the V3 into production, and then robots put us humans out of the rescue business. No more need for human pilots either. The end.”
“So, you wound up monitoring pedestrian traffic, and you’re good with that?”
Harvey looked at her. “Good with that?” He laughed again. “What am I supposed to do? Protest against Humechs risking their circuits instead of MG soldiers risking their lives? Do I look like an anti-robot fanatic?”
“Forget I asked,” Keevers said.
“No, you started this, so let’s—”
Their communication studs buzzed. Harvey and Keevers blinked to lens up a text communication. Each read the same message.
Return to HQ for briefing re. reassignments for supervision of reinforcement for southern sea wall.
—Cmdr. A. Winston
“Reinforcement?” Harvey said as the message vanished from view. “But that wall’s built to take a tsunami.”
“You know better than to question orders from Winston,” Keevers said. “He says jump, we jump.”
An MG soldier stepped up in front of Keevers and Harvey. The soldier saluted them and said, “Staff Sergeant Stephenson reporting for relief duty. Commander Winston wants you both at Headquarters.”
“We know,” Keevers said. “We just received his message.”
Stephenson looked around the plaza and said, “Quiet evening?”
“Isn’t it always?” Harvey said. “Carry on.”
As Harvey and Keevers walked away from the Recruitment Center and headed for the nearest hoverpod depot, Keevers said, “I hope Winston’s briefing won’t take long.”
“Why? You have plans for later?”
“None of your business.”
“Oh,” Harvey said. “Then I’ll just have to look forward to total strangers applauding me at the karaoke bar.”
“Maybe you haven’t noticed, but the only applause you get is from the bar’s service robots.”
“Well, that’s because their hearing is very discerning, and they appreciate my range and control. Even my housekeeper likes my singing.”
“Yeah, my place came with a built-in unit. She even sings with me when I’m in the shower.”
“Ugh,” Keevers said. “I really didn’t need to know that.”
They bypassed a group of tourists who were waiting for a public hoverbus, and boarded a reserved hoverpod, an enclosed compact four-seater with Multinational Guard emblems on the doors. The MG pod’s sensors scanned and identified the two officers, then slid open its door for them. The pod’s console-mounted autopilot computer said, “Greetings Lt. Keevers and Lt. Harvey. Destination: Multinational Guard Base, Fort Nelson.”
As Keevers and Harvey boarded the pod, Harvey muttered, “Why don’t pods just call it ‘Fort Nelson’? It’s not like anyone would confuse it with the old base, Fort Rios. The MG shut down that place over ten years ago.”
“Go figure,” Keevers said.
The pod’s door slid shut, and then the vehicle rose fast through an alignment of gravity-propulsion rings to carry its passengers out of the plaza. They were rising past the 80th levels of the Gateway complex and a neighboring residential Scraper, and light from the setting sun was gleaming off the buildings’ windows, when Harvey felt his stomach sink. “Aw, nuts,” he said. He rolled up his left sleeve to reveal a transdermal biometric strip on his inner forearm.
Keevers said, “What’s wrong?”
“Adjusting my anti-vertigo meds,” Harvey said as he lensed the strip. “The vertidram isn’t kicking in fast enough so I’m increasing the flow.”
“I forgot you’re afraid of heights,” Keevers said. She cringed against her seat. “You’re not going to throw up, are you?”
“Not now,” Harvey said as he pushed down his sleeve. “And I’m not afraid of heights. It’s my stomach. My stomach hates heights.”
Something large and very fast soared past the pod, traveling through the air at incredible speed. Harvey and Keevers looked through the pod’s windows and used their smart lenses to magnify and identify the flying object as it passed the ICARUS complex that housed the city’s Humech-production facility. Their lenses brought into focus a black-and-silver humanoid robot with blunt-edged blue wing blades that extended from his back. They recognized the robot, but their lenses automatically displayed data anyway.
Class: Limited-series AI robot
Title: City Manager of New Austin
Type: Civil servant, non-military
Model: Avionic Vilicus
Model number: 8
Year of manufacture: 2074
AV-8 angled off on a trajectory that sent him between a cold fusion reactor tower and the city’s central Life Sciences Scraper before he vanished from view. Harvey blinked off the lens data as he eased back against his seat.
“Hard to believe AV-8’s only a year old. Wherever he’s going, looks like he’s in a hurry.”
“He usually begins his evening patrol about now.”
“I wish I could fly like that.”
“If you ever do, first take plenty of vertidram.”
“Very funny. But c’mon, you have to admit, AV-8 is impressive. He’s more than a civil servant. He’s like a superhero.”
Keevers rolled her eyes. “What is it with you and robots?”
“What do you mean? There’s nothing wrong with admiring well-made machines.”
“Yeah? This pod we’re riding in is a well-made machine. Do you admire it?”
“Well, sure, but it’s not—”
“So, you admire humanoid robots more?”
“I guess, but—”
“Because you think robots are sexy.”
Harvey blushed. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
The pod’s disembodied autopilot computer said, “Do you think I’m sexy?”
“No,” Harvey said, “and stay out of this!”
Keevers laughed. “Take it easy, Harvey. I won’t tell a soul.”
Harvey looked out the window. “There’s nothing to tell.”
The pod proceeded through the gravity-propulsion rings and into a transport hub, where it changed course for another series of rings that went northeast, across and between the terraforming barriers at the megacity’s outskirts. Harvey and Keevers saw Fort Nelson, a cluster of towering domed structures on a terraformed peninsula.
The pod approached the central dome, and the MG base’s automated air-traffic systems took over, guiding the pod toward a tunnel entrance that was ringed by green lights. The pod passed through the tunnel and into a hangar, where other pods were magnetically moored beside a V-shaped dock. Keevers and Harvey saw Commander Winston standing on the dock with his hands clasped behind his back, waiting for them.
Winston was a big man with broad shoulders, and his armored combat suit made him appear even larger. He was fifty-one years old, and had a shaved head, a piercing gaze, and a deep scar above one eye. The pod slowed to a stop at the edge of the dock. Keevers and Harvey got out and saluted Winston, who saluted in return.
“I hope you two are feeling fit,” Winston said, “because we just landed a covert rush job.”
Surprised, Harvey said, “Wait, so our reassignment to the southern sea wall . . .?”
“Necessary subterfuge,” Winston said. “Best way to keep such missions secret is to not let anyone know about them.” He gestured to a late-model sensor gate, a tall, cylindrical glass booth with sliding doors. “You know the drill.”
The doors opened and Keevers went through the booth first. A whirring noise sounded from the top of the booth as a veil of pale blue light filled the enclosure. The light vanished. Keevers exited the other side of the booth. She blinked twice, looked around, and confirmed that her lenses and communication studs were offline. No readouts materialized in her vision.
Although the deactivation process was harmless, Harvey gritted his teeth before he entered the booth. “I hate natural vision,” he muttered. “It’s like watching TV that only gets one channel.” The booth deactivated Harvey’s
lenses and commstuds and he stepped out.
Winston said, “This way.” He led Keevers and Harvey across the dock to a long, blue hoverbus with dark windows, a military transport built to carry troops and hoverbikes. They entered the bus’s main cabin. Harvey gasped when he saw another passenger already on board.
New Austin’s City Manager, AV-8, had retracted his wing blades and stood in the middle of the cabin, which was lined with racks that held armored combat suits and non-lethal weapons. AV-8’s head consisted of black and silver armored plates, with a single electronic blue eye at the center of his metal face. He bowed his head, which nearly touched the cabin’s ceiling, and said, “Lt. Keevers and Lt. Harvey. A pleasure.”
“Whoa,” Harvey said. “We saw you flying across the city just minutes ago.”
“I saw you too,” AV-8 said.
“Really?” Harvey smiled. “Next time, maybe we should race!”
AV-8 tilted his head to the side. “But that would be dangerous,” he said, “and I would win.”
Harvey laughed. “Yeah,” he said, “you sure would!” Then Harvey noticed that Winston and Keevers were looking at him funny, and he realized he was behaving like a starstruck kid. The smile fell from his face. “Sorry. I was only joking.”
Winston turned to direct his voice to the pod’s autopilot system, and said, “Pod, proceed to the destination coordinates.” As the pod pulled away from the dock and headed out of the hangar, Winston faced Harvey and Keevers and said, “Put on your combat suits. Then AV-8 and I will brief you.” Harvey and Keevers changed out of their jackets and shoes and pulled on their combat fatigues, which were lined with bulletproof mesh and light-armor plating. They put on their boots and slipped into their chest-protectors before locking armored pads over their knees, elbows, and wrists. They inspected each other’s suits to make sure all the pieces were in place, then turned to face Winston and AV-8.
Winston glanced at AV-8 and said, “Tell them what you told me.”
“Yes, Commander,” AV-8 said. “As you may know, while I manage daily operations of New Austin, my own creator, LCF-R, oversees operations in all megacities and off-planet settlements, and supervises the collection and distribution of resources necessary to maintain and expand all Scraper municipalities. Recently, I discovered that a robot-piloted transport failed to deliver a cargo container to the Space Agency Scraper. I reported my findings to LCF-R, who conducted an investigation. LCF-R determined that at least five shipments have gone missing over the past eight months. These shipments included food, pharmaceuticals, and building supplies for New Austin’s developing sectors. LCF-R also determined that AI management systems were not responsible, not at fault for the losses, and that the shipments were taken by a small group of thieves, ten humans or less. Evidently, they are—”
“How do you know they’re humans?” Keevers said. “Maybe they’re robots, like Humech V1s, robots that look human.”
They steered their bikes into the wide shadow of a docking platform. Below their position, a broad expanse of cargo containers, some in rows stacked ten containers high, resembled a small city of large, modular colored
boxes. Beyond the dockyard, they saw boats moored in marinas, and cargo carriers moving across the Gulf of Mexico. They did not see any hydrofoils. Winston used his helmet’s sensors to pinpoint the location of the container that held the valuable processed metals. He found it less than fifty feet away, surrounded by stacked containers, and resting on a flatbed car that hovered a few feet above the maglev tracks. The container was covered with faded yellow paint and patches of rust, and in no way betrayed the value of its contents.
Winston’s helmet sensors detected no recent footprints around the container. He issued brief instructions to Harvey and Keevers, telling them where to hide their bikes and how to position themselves. They moved off in
Harvey clambered onto a catwalk between two rusted gantry cranes and dropped to a crouch. Keevers climbed to the top of a stack of cargo containers that overlooked the container that was the thieves’ target. Winston brought his bike to an old overpass that extended over a maglev train tunnel, then left the bike and moved into a dark recess between the girders that supported the overpass. From their respective positions, Winston, Keevers, and Harvey had wide views of hundreds of stacked containers, and a triangulated view of the yellow container.
They activated their night-vision scopes. They watched and listened. They waited for something to happen.
They didn’t have to wait long. Winston spotted a long silhouette of a hydrofoil drift into the marina with its lights off. The hydrofoil slowed to a stop by a wharf, and five shadowy figures slid off the vessel. The figures began walking toward the dockyard.
“Got five incoming from the wharf,” Winston said into his helmet’s microphone. “I see them,” Keevers said.
Harvey said, “Ditto.”
Winston adjusted his scopes. He couldn’t tell if the figures were men or women, but he was certain they were human. They wore old military-surplus sensor helmets, which were uniformly black and free of ornamentation, as were their dark jumpsuits and boots. Each carried a dark cylindrical object, and Winston assumed the objects were weapons. Because the five humans’ heat signatures didn’t appear in Winston’s visor, he guessed their jumpsuits were lined with insulated reflective fabric.
“Ready,” Winston said, signaling Keevers and Harvey to angle their power rifles at the approaching thieves while he did the same.
The five thieves moved in silence along the maglev tracks, making their way past the container stacks as they headed toward the yellow container. They came to a stop in front of the container’s side door. One thief shifted
his cylindrical object to a one-handed grip, then used his free hand to pull a thick, disc-shaped device from a pocket in his jumpsuit. The thief affixed the device over the door’s locking mechanism, then stepped back. The other thieves looked away from the container as the device exploded with a loud bang.
And in that moment, Winston realized that LCF-R, reportedly the most intelligent individual on Earth, may have been wrong about the thieves, and that he may have made the kind of mistake that gets people killed.