The Billion Dollar Babies were part of my original concept when I wanted to write a cyberpunk story. I had a previous story idea. The concept was of a future world where superheroes were occasionally found and molded into government agents. Not perfectly original, but something I would enjoy writing. The main character was a young girl that was discovered to have superpowers as an infant, and was sold to the government. From there she was trained, a billion dollars or more sunk into turning her into the perfect hero. When she became an adult, she wasn’t quite normal, because of her stunted childhood. When she meets another hero, one who doesn’t work for the government, her life and expectations are torn to shreds.
That original story would have likely ended as a romantic drama, not my best concept. The character in it, became Ashleigh, Billion Dollar Baby #A.
I didn’t have a lot of ideas for the babies when I started, I just knew that instead of known cyberpunk concepts, like street samurai and razor girls, I wanted someone who was clearly full of cybernetic implants and technology, but had the full support of the government (in retrospect, this character is the Major from Ghost in the Shell, screw me). Ashleigh was ‘donated’ as an infant, her parents willingly releasing her for government experimentation when the NAB (North American Business Authority) was still young. She was kept in perfect form, physically, mentally, for the training that would come when she grew older.
When the Babies program continued, others were added. It was established that the second generation of babies came after Ashleigh.
“I love you, Ashleigh,” Ciel said, “You know how much I love you. You were the world to us. When we first got in the system, you were everything we wanted to be. Strong, smart, that perfect discipline.”
24 other babies were introduced to the program, each noted alphabetically, ‘A to Zed’ as Ciel says. They alternate in gender, and differ wildly in their personalities. But each of them is a well trained agent that helps the NAB police their dangerous world. The established names so far: Ashleigh, Benito, Ciel, Derrick, Elise, Frank, Marsha, Naota, Reagan, Yvonne, Zander.
So why create 25 super agents instead of, well, a whole super force? Well, for one, the Babies are expensive (hypothetically, a billion dollars each). They are also a specialized force. If police officers are needed to stop a riot, that is as easy as calling in public or private police in the area. Ashleigh is better for spy works, wetworks, or deniable operations. In the opening of Corpfall, Ashleigh takes down a room of thugs to chase down a CEO that is attempting to avoid persecution for his crimes against the people. A full force might have alerted him early, where Ashleigh wasn’t detected until she was already in the building and ready to climb the stairs.
The babies also have technology in them that helps them infiltrate and spy on the powerful megacorps that they are required to keep in check. Ashleigh displayed several extra senses, heightened hearing, lightning reflexes, and impossible strength. She is also more durable than any normal human, and her training also makes her a master of manipulation and infiltration. The babies also have one final advantage that is already established, they are a cybernetic insertion point.
Every baby is a walking advanced network. If you need a hacker in the building, and a network is blocked from external intrusion, a baby can walk your hacker right into the building and help bypass those defenses. These ‘Cyberspace securities officers’, or just hackers if you aren’t being PC, keep a close eye on the baby they are connected to. In the case of Ashleigh, she has a full ‘simulated stimulation’ suite within her body, meaning she can broadcast exactly what she hears, physical feels, sees, all of her senses directly to someone connected to her. This is called ‘simstim’ in cyberpunk terms.
The babies we know so far are a weird mix of characters that naturally popped up in the story.
Special Agent Ashleigh Anderson is our main character. She starts the novel strict, a by the book agent that focuses on completing her missions. She is accompanied by her hacker, Carlos Fuller, who is a bit of a slob and joker. Ashleigh is the original baby, and for that reason she holds a special place in the program. She is usually kept divided away from her fellow babies.
Special Agent Benito Sandoval is her ‘little brother’, and number B of the second generation. He is a large swarthy gentlemen, full of energy, constantly poking fun at their situation.
It was annoying enough dealing with one Fuller, but Benito had his own Fuller-esque moments. She felt like she was babysitting.
Benito operates like an alpha male, and likes being the strongest and most attractive person in the room at any time.
Special Agent Ciel is number C. She is small compared to the others, and holds an old grudge against Ashleigh for events in their childhood. As Benito put it, Ciel used to have a ‘crush’ on Ashleigh, and it is implied they used to be closer than any of the other babies.
Elise is number E, and she was stricken from the records of the program. She appears in the novel briefly near the end, attempting to take revenge on the rest of the program. Elise is an example of what happens when a baby doesn’t have the government maintenance that is expected. Her body is falling apart, and it is implied that several of her implanted abilities, like advanced vision, have suffered catastrophic failures.
Four babies have died. Yvonne and Reagan died in the line of duty, supposedly. On the other hand, Elise escaped the program, and Derrick was killed by Ashleigh while they were still in training. Derrick’s attempt to leave caused a rift among the babies, with Elise and Ciel siding with Derrick, while Ash held to the only thing she has ever known, her government handlers. The death of Derrick destroyed the relationship between Ciel and Ash.
Other small details of the program. Commander Paulson is the military officer that was in charge of the program, and Dr. Long was the researcher on site at Fort 22, their ‘home’. It is implied that all of the babies hold at least some grudge against these two. Dr. Long is said to have a long sordid history, but it isn’t expanded on. Also, the whole program has been expanded, with many new young agents being introduced at the end of the novel, more than were ever in the first and second generation.
That is what there is to know. The question is, what else haven’t I covered?
There are many babies that I haven’t named or detailed. Frank, Naota, Yvonne, and Reagan, are all names and that is all. Naota went on a mission to China. Yvonne and Reagan graduated but died at some point. Not much more information is necessary. If they aren’t going to be in the story, they don’t need a full life. I would rather focus on the babies that are likely to appear.
Benito is a tricky character. I played him as a relationship foil between Ashleigh and Fuller. Benito is the big strong sort of man that Ashleigh would actually like, compared to Fuller. Both men are vague minorities (supposedly both are hispanic), both men are goofballs, and both men don’t respect Ashleigh’s personal space. There are other possibilities with Benito that were not important to the story. I imagine that his attached hacker is male. Benito and Ashleigh, as the ‘big brother and sister’ of Fort 22 have played ‘mom and dad’ to the others. If there was any chance of a romantic connection between a baby and Ashleigh, Benito’s natural competitive attitude would make sure that he instead insisted on being the one who was romantic with Ashleigh. For that reason alone, I think that Benito and Ashleigh ‘dated’ as much as any strange implanted super teenagers could while they were in the program. Benito is physically impressive, and capable in martial arts and athletics, even when compared to his fellow Babies.
Ciel is the awkward character. She only appears to begin the drama about Derrick’s death. She also introduced the possibility that not all of the babies are loyal to the government. Ciel is loyal to the other babies, not the government. She takes care of her siblings, even if they have turned evil, like Elise. She is a skilled shot, and works best in teams. Ashleigh calls her a ‘Bonder’. It is also implied that Ciel had a real crush on Ashleigh, which creates an odd relationship dynamic among A,B, and C. Ciel and Benito obviously still interact amicably, but if Benito won’t let anyone be close to Ashleigh but him, he doesn’t seem to consider Ciel a real threat. Adult Benito doesn’t seem to fight for Ashleigh’s affection anymore, so this odd relationship triangle could have resolved itself in the past. For now, Ciel is best described as small, angry, and loyal. All of these factors play into her interactions as personal hang ups.
Elise was a villain idea that didn’t live as long as I expected her to. She is the kind of grey villain that I enjoy having in stories. Her motivation, to stop the Billion Dollar Baby program that destroyed her childhood, is just in itself. Her friend, Derrick, died while she was young. She escaped the clutches of the government, and now lives a miserable existence hiding from those she previously considered family. She hates the NAB, Fort 22, and even certain members of the program. Whether Elise was smart before she escaped, or only became a schemer after, is unclear. It is possible that her physical abilities failing on her required her to turn to mental efforts. She works together with another party to help her infiltrate a meeting of all the babies, and attempts to kill the third generation before they can be used by the government. Ashleigh doesn’t even believe that Elise is still alive before she shows herself, which shows just how skilled Elise is at staying invisible in a society that tries to monitor everything. Elise dies, but her history is still important. There is the implication that she managed to convince several babies to side with her, without NAB noticing. This includes Marsha. She unwittingly hires Fuller’s gang to do her dirty work, but it is possible that an AI may have lead to that unfortunate coincidence. The full danger that Elise posed may not be dealt with, because she represented the possibility of rebellion, and soured the minds of a new generation of Billion Dollar Babies.
Really, I want to see more interaction between Ashleigh and her family. In particular, I want to see how Ashleigh and Ciel talk when they aren’t ready to kill each other. There are also a lot of letters that haven’t been filled, and a few, like Frank, Naota, and Zander, that only have small notes about them. They Ashleigh’s feelings about the Billion Dollar Baby program have soured with the death of Elise, but she still stands with her handlers by the end of Corpfall. Likely, she will want to work with her family more in the future, and do what she never did before, protect them.
Also, the third generation are an interesting possibility. Whether these younger agents in training will become a problem, need protection, or develop into important characters, is yet to be seen. Ashleigh protects a young boy from the third generation, and watches another become a young leader.
Finally, the Babies project was created by NAB, but WEB (the government over West Europe) has a program of its own. In Corpfall, I wanted Fuller and Ashleigh to work together with an English agent at some point, but never got around to it. The capabilities and differences between them are worth considering. NAB and WEB are very similar, and French sensibilities play well into the kind of future I’m imagining. Still, invading privacy, hacking, and assaults, might not be as popular in WEB. Surveillance is already a larger force in Western Europe than it is in the US, but militant police action isn’t seen the same. It is possible that WEB agents work more like traditional spies, with less run and gun.
Still, their job is the same, to control Megacorps and make sure they don’t start a new corporate war. The connections between corps, their plots, and how they may be manipulating the government (and even the babies program) are all likely important plot elements for future novels. Which is why I will be covering Megacorps next time.
Let me know what you think with a comment, or just tell me I’m boring and talked too long. Either one will keep me going.