When Donald C. Marsh was six years old, he saw The Matrix, and it changed his life.
A normal first-grader would probably have run screaming or been numbed by the philosophy of the story, going back to Lego or catching grasshoppers in the yard.
Donald Marsh was not a normal first-grader. The theme of non-human life resonated deeply with him. Where most kids had imaginary friends, Donald constructed increasingly sophisticated animatronic companions. By the time he was nine, one of his inventions could walk like a toddler. At eleven, he made one that could navigate the house by analyzing its surroundings for obstacles.
Upon entering university at age fifteen, Donald decided that the true ideal was not an artificial human form. There was nothing special about the human body; it wasn't that different from a chimp or a mountain gorilla. It was the human mind that he wanted to emulate. Artificial intelligence.
By the time Donald was graduating, he had settled on the technique most likely to succeed. It was to be the subject of his doctoral thesis, Distributed Artificial Intelligence System: Evolving Genetic Algorithm Network, but he decided to keep the idea to himself; it was too juicy to share. He wrote a different thesis for public consumption. Ready to enter the workforce, he jumped nepotistically into the Universe Creation Corporation.
At around the same time, Donald attended an exclusive conference hosted by a few gurus of the technology industry—as well as some shadowy governmental types who were just as smart and ten times as scary. He was offered positions with various companies and agencies, all of which he turned down. He knew what he wanted to do and already had the perfect place in which to do it.
In less than a year, a hellishly aggravating obstacle arose: not enough computing power.
For months, Donald labored on workarounds. His team had created AI routines more than robust enough for the entertainment sector, but the AI Donald envisioned existed on a different plane entirely. Despite generous scientific grants and the backing of UCC's R&D budget, Donald had nowhere near the funding to take his project to the next level.
The problem would always be money.
As Donald was coming to that unwanted and materialistic conclusion, his best friend encountered it as well. James Franklin Kirkpatrick's mother suffered a catastrophic injury in a car accident, and the only thing keeping her alive—if she was alive—was money.
Reading a few medical journals, Donald could see that no matter what resources James poured into hospitals, the fundamental issue in Hanako Kirkpatrick's brain prevented that battle from being won. That sad realization fueled Donald's desire to break through the barrier to his research by any means necessary, since all it would take was money.
A lot of money.
He called a number that he had been given at the conference a year previously, ultimately arriving in conversation with a man whose only name was Johnson.
"If you work for us," Johnson said, "money won't be a problem."
Agreeing was so easy. To Donald, the weight of being unable to accomplish his dream was much heavier than the weight of a responsibility to an agency that seemed more mythical than real.
Johnson turned out to be a source of not only funding, but ideas.
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No Life to LoseMystery / Thriller
James Kirkpatrick's difficult life leads him to take solace in virtual reality—a momentary peace soon shattered by mystery, intrigue, and unseen forces bent on plunging the world into chaos. An epic tale of love, loss, and the boundless influence of...