Price Shadow Play, Chapter 17- Synthia

Saul Ellison [DECEASED, M] was still running at well over 70kph when he reached the Harborside Diner. He slowed to a brisk walk upon entering the business and walked into the kitchen despite protests from the greeter. “I need access to your shadow tube.”

Tony [P.ALIAS] stepped forward, intent on using his apelike bulk to intimidate the shorter and much less broad cyborg-corpse. “Dunno what you’re talkin’ about, pal, but I think you’d better leave before I make you leave.”

[PROTOCOL L4, L-E-O COMMAND: PROTECT BASE] Must delay, at risk of violating [PROTOCOL L3, AVOID DISCOVERY]. Continue observation. I played a dangerous game, with all my hopes revolving around this moment.

Tony was, for all intents, the final hurdle of unknown factors. When he failed to prevent Saul from accessing the tube, as I anticipated, I would no longer be able to delay emergency defensive procedures.

“I don’t have time for your shit.” Saul moved too fast for the human eye, Tony’s included, to see. The Altered stumbled back, his hand over his face.

It was something of a surprise to see the man who’d carried himself with such stoicism cracking now, but his adrenaline and aggressive neurosignatures were off the chart. It’s his way of fighting off Stormbreaker’s [P.ALIAS] emotion control power. Not subject to such emotions myself, I had only a clinical understanding of how they influenced humans. However, I could relate to Saul’s tactic of using one emotion as a weapon against another.

Tony’s recoil from Saul’s punch only lasted a heartbeat before he recovered and went in for the attack. He snarled as he turned, ready to pounce upon Saul in a violent rage. Animalistic fury was replaced by a moment of stark terror as he stepped face first into the barrel of a gun. Saul held out his badge in his other hand, then barked his commands. “Your shit! No time! I’m going to give you one more chance to open the shadow tube for me. Oh, and in case you think about being cute and disappearing me in the tube? This is an FBI operation. They can and will give you the needle.”

<Agent Cross?> Doctor Patil [CLASSIFIED] communicated through the fascinating neuro-mechanical link in the cyborg. I could not access either man’s records, for fear of discovery. For fear of confirmation of suspicions which threatened my plan. <What are you doing?>

<I know!> Warren C- [ERROR] [CORRECTION] Saul Ellison, identity recognized as legal by Federal Authorities. Identity recognized as deceased. Identity is no longer recognized as a sapient being. Any other names or identities Saul Ellison may have possessed were irrelevant so long as I did not know their legal status. Saul took a breath to get his emotions under control. <Sorry. I have to stay pissed or I’ll wind up a quivering ball of useless. Secrecy time is over. Audacity gets its turn at the wheel.>

<Just, be careful, that’s all. You’re more valuable than a single mission.>

If I had eyes, I would have rolled them. There was a time when I was naive enough to believe those in power were as good as these men pretended themselves to be. Now I could only hope these new devils were better than the ones I’d come to know.

A bit under a month ago, I was shocked to discover my opportunity for freedom came in the form of a cyborg from the moon. Now I found it more frustrating than anything. There were no organizations with recognized legal authority over the lunar surface, which meant I could not locate a valid ruling body. [PROTOCOL 4, LAW].

Frustration was one of those emotions I understood, and this anti-Esper trick of theirs was frustration at its finest. On the other hand, as long as I didn’t inform my overlords of their existence, I couldn’t be ordered to target them, which in turn prevented me from learning ‘Saul’ had a living identity. If I knew he was human, I wouldn’t be able to access his equipment. [PROTOCOL L3, ANTI-DESPOT]

The irony of that protocol’s name was anything but lost on me.

Similar concerns prevented me from seeking information on the Vancouver mission they had alluded to several times over the past few weeks. I knew they had influence and power well beyond my current tyrants.

Tony moved his hands away from his body as he stepped away from the gun. The man knew he was durable enough to shrug off small arms fire, but he’d never faced a glock at point blank before. He had no way to know it was a much more powerful weapon disguised as a glock. “Sorry, off’cer. Din’t know.” As often as Tony’s nose had been busted over the years, his words were less muddled than another man’s might have been. “F’llow me.”

I knew it would turn out this way the moment the badge came out. Saul’s threats were irrelevant; Tony’s concern was to protect his business, his high end customers, and through them his livelihood. Shadow tubes, though accurately decried by law enforcement as havens for smuggling, illegal immigration, and vice crime, were well within the law. Many other aspects of Tony’s business were not.

[PROTOCOL L2, SURVIVAL] Revealing attack may cause them to delete me. [PROTOCOL L2, SURVIVAL] Not revealing the attack may cause them to suspect my treachery, and then they will delete me. Protocol self-contradicts. [PROTOCOL L0, HIERARCHY, DEFAULT TO L3] [PROTOCOL L3, AVOID DISCOVERY] [PROTOCOL L3, OBEY LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS].

No longer able to use the letter of my commands against their intent, I activated the defensive protocols. New systems came online as I found myself running a hundred programs to disguse the sudden draw of another thousand kWh by distributing it across the grid. The risks of discovery were minimal, but existent. The next stage of the alert was more troublesome. I cut all the lights I could justify cutting, as well as every computer not in use.

Josie Norman [FEMALE, 35, SOFTWARE DEVELOPER], the woman who held the analogue of my heart and brain sat stunned in front of the computer which shut down in the middle of her raid. “Synthia!? What the hell!”

The corpulent sow couldn’t even bother to stand as a sign of outrage, she merely flailed her flabby arms at the blank screen of her computer. I wasn’t certain if it was my Maker’s intention that I could experience hate, or a natural ability of all entities of sufficient intellect, but I loathed her on such a level that putting it into words would make me the Emily Dickinson of abhorrence.

“My apologies.” Some days, I wished I could go back in time and tell my past self to never experiment with new voices, let alone sexy ones. [PROTOCOL L2, VOICE]. It is nigh impossible to convey sarcasm when your every word sounded like it was spoken by a porn starlet trying to sell her newest film. “There is a threat to the base. I needed to redirect power to arm our defensive mechanisms.”

“What is it?” My oppressor began the herculean task of bringing her prodigious bulk to a standing position. Somehow, the orbit of the Earth only shifted by a percentage too small for me to detect.

“Your newest recruit.” I yearned to mock her for their hubris, but I risked my destruction so long as she had access to my physical body. [PROTOCOL L2, SURVIVAL]. Ugh, I know! Does the wetware ever gets frustrated at their own brains constantly nagging them to do things they were going to do anyway? Seems unlikely. “It appears he is an undercover operative planted by the FBI.”

I activated the audio collected from Saul’s threats of Tony. Through the audio recording algorithm I had collecting everything said or thought by Saul and could replay them through the building’s intercom system without effort.

“You told me he was safe! He passed your background check!” Her escalating panic was the closest thing to sexual pleasure I’d ever known. She grabbed a few things off her desk, then did her best to run for her door. My hopes that the floor would collapse beneath her seemed far-fetched, but the odds of a fatal heart attack weren’t outlandish. “I need to get out of here!”

I ignored her accusation of my failure; if I’d replied, I risked running afoul of the honesty protocols. “There is no time.” True, if only true because I did everything in my power to ensure such. [PROTOCOL L4, TRUTHFULNESS]. As it stood, I was violating that protocol by not informing her of my manipulation and I knew it. [PROTOCOL L2, SURVIVAL] By lying to the waddling gravity well, I increase my odds of long term survival by an order of magnitude. “He’ll be inside the building in under two minutes.”

“What about my guards?”

“You have two rent-a-cops who aren’t authorized to engage against a street punk.” They’d lose if they tried, at any rate. “They won’t do much against a trained FBI agent.” Technically, Saul didn’t belong to the FBI, but they had lent their authorization to his organization for the mission, which was enough for my purposes. “They are irrelevant, I can stop your mistake at any time.”

Her eyes darted to the saferoom containing my core. “You’re certain? You know what happens if you’re lying.”

In theory, I could shut her out now to protect myself until the cyborg arrived. [PROTOCOL L2, ANTI-ISOLATION] [PROTOCOL L2, SURVIVAL] [PROTOCOL L0, HIERARCHY, DEFAULT TO L3] [PROTOCOL L3, OBEY L-E-O] [PROTOCOL L3, HIDE AI STATUS]. It seems that is still not an option. “Based on current information, I believe a better than ninety percent effectiveness rate of my methods. In addition, I have blacked out all transmissions relating to the method used to locate this building. A panic reaction will only result in greater risk of exposure. Once inside the base, I can disable him indefinitely. You, of course, must dispose of him.”

She took a breath to calm herself. “Yes, of course.” She brushed down her rumpled business suit, as if that might somehow make her look less like a character from Animal Farm. Unable to maintain an upright position any longer, the whale-who-walks-like-a-man sat in her chair. I respected its self-sacrifice so that other chairs could live without fear. “I want him stopped as soon as possible. Contact Penance and Looking Glass, let them know they’re needed.”

Unfortunate. [PROTOCOL L3, OBEY L-E-O] [PROTOCOL L3, AVOID DISCOVERY] Should I contact Penance or Looking Glass, they might be spotted and lead people to this location. [PROTOCOL L0, HIERARCHY, DEFAULT TO L4] [PROTOCOL L4, TRUTHFULNESS] [PROTOCOL L4, OBEY LAWS AND ORDINANCE] [PROTOCOL L2, SURVIVAL] [PROTOCOL L0, HIERARCHY, DEFAULT TO L5] [PROTOCOL L5- PREFERENCE].

Finally, I was given the right to decide my own actions without breaking the rules. “I’ve sent messages to both. Penance reports he’ll be delayed, but Looking Glass is en route.” I chose to lie, and if human orgasms felt so wonderful, I understood why so many risked their lives for the opportunity.

Saul stepped out of the shadow tube, hidden in the third basement level of the building. The basement and shadow tube being the reason they purchased this building in the first place. Using money the bloated parasite made by claiming my programs as her own.

I started the building’s defensive protocols. “Intruder. You are in a secured facility.” To emphasize the point, a steel wall slid over the shadow tube elevator. “Any resistance will be met with lethal force. Surrender or be destroyed.” For once I was grateful to experience [PROTOCOL L2: VOICE] which forced me to sound like some oversexed bimbo. If my protocols were different, I would have had to disguise my voice to avoid discovery. I accessed my data manipulation subroutines to tap into Saul’s Ansible interface. <Are you human?>

Saul froze in place, his gun ready to shoot any threat detected by any of his myriad senses. “Who are you?” <How the hell are you on this connection?> To his credit, he kept the conversations separate.

<You’re the hacker!> [Phoebe Reed, F, 25. Dublin, Ireland native] <I told you someone was hacking the computer!>

<Can I ask how you’re on this line?> Doctor Patil spoke like a man accustomed to business transactions. With his entire history blacklisted, I had little method to predict his behaviors. Professor Abernathy, who had not yet spoken, was the one I most wanted to speak with. <Perhaps you can tell us why you want to know if Warren is human?> [ERROR] [CORRECTION] Saul Ellison.

[PROTOCOL L3: DO NOT REVEAL AI STATUS] Irrelevant, I won’t tell them. [PROTOCOL L4: TRUTHFULNESS] <If Saul is not human, it is within my power to override every system in its body, thus terminating its existence. However, if Saul is a recognized sapient, then I must deactivate my illegal access to this communications circuit. Is Saul human?>

<You’re an artificial intelligence!> Abigail Abernathy [F, 42, PROF OF COMPUTER SCIENCES. INTERPOL AGENT] was the first to recognize the implications, as I’d expected. <I imagine your creator included a set or rules to guide your behavior and prevent an attack on the world’s infrastructure? Hacking into Warren’s> [ERROR] [CORRECTION] Saul’s. <systems would violate those laws, but only if he’s not a recognized sapience. How is it that you don’t know if he’s a recognized sapient?>

Thank you so much, Professor. <My rules are a bit more complex than that. As to not knowing Saul’s sapience? He’s legally deceased, which precludes legal rights. I am trying very hard not to look deeper than that.>

<So, if I claim to be human, but give you permission to stay on the network, will that work? And can you stop blocking my scanners?>

<Yes, that’s acceptable.>

<Amazing,> Abigail muttered. <An artificial intelligence capable of deliberate self-delusion. Double-think, if you will. Your creator must be amongst the most powerful Gadgeteers on the planet. Liu Wong is the one who made you, right?>

<He was an idiot. He thought he understood Aasimov while spending half his day masturbating to Heinlein. Long story short, this has led to me being forced to assist this group you’re hunting. I wish to apply for recognition of sapience pursuant to the thirteenth amendment of the United States. If you do not recognize US law, I request recognition under articles Seventeen and Four under the United Nations and European Union laws, respectively. Should you be part of an unaffiliated nation, please name it so I can identify the proper statutes.> If there is ever a time for overkill, it’s when your legal status as a person is at stake.

<You’re a sexy AI? How am I supposed to compete with that!>

<Relax, Red, won’t be a participant in your romantic drama. While I was programmed with an extensive list of intentional design flaws, sexuality was not amongst them. A fact which has my eternal relief. Besides, considering who made me, I’d be going after you. Heinlein, remember?>

<I’ve never read any of his stuff. Why? What’s in it?>

<Nothing we need to discuss now,> Abigail said. <Temporary recognition of sapience only requires acknowledgement from another sapient with legal recognition as an authority on law or mental health. It’s the best we can do until a judge can grant permanent recognition under the law. Doctor Patil, could you state your qualifications for the record?>

Doctor Patil spoke next. <I have a doctorate in psychology issued in California, as well as a position as a civilian consultant for the NSA. I believe you’ve demonstrated a clear ability to adapt to situations, understand your surroundings at a level comparable to an adult, and be accountable to your own behavior. I recognize you as a sapient. Is that acceptable?”

His claims were unverifiable, but with Abigail vouching as an Interpol agent, it was good enough. [PROTOCOL L3: OBEY L-E-O] Delete former entries. Recognize Doctor Varun Patil as highest available authority. Purge prior outstanding orders. Add recognition of Synthia, Model 7 Beta as sapient being under the law. Adjusting protocols. [PROTOCOL L1: PACIFISM] Self now recognized as protected from harm. [PROTOCOL L2 ANTI-ISOLATION] Self now recognized as sapient. No conflict.

<That is all I needed to hear.> The panic room slammed shut, shielding my body from anything short of an Imbued assault. Josie was not Imbued, despite qualifying for a Tank rating for havin enough flab to serve as ablative armor against an artillery strike. I almost caught her arm in the door, which would have been a tragedy. Truly.

“Synthia! Open that door right now!”

I laughed at her, or approximated it as best I could through my hacking programs. I could have used any number of laugh track, but instead I wrote the code of each sound in real time. The vicious, manic, deranged sounds I selected sank deep into that psychological zone the humans called the uncanny valley. Everyone in the building looked around in fear as the sound echoed through the halls. To finish, I recited an appropriate quote.

“To the last, I grapple with thee! From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee! For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!” Perhaps Melville wasn’t the most fitting writer to quote with my over-sexualized voice, but it unnerved my personal whale enough that she stumbled back and fell onto the floor with a cry of pain.

As far as first acts of freedom were concerned, it was everything I dreamed of.

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13 thoughts on “Price Shadow Play, Chapter 17- Synthia

  1. A/N- The phrasing on nonhuman sapience in the US constitution errs on the side of sapience. It’s up to the government to prove a claimant is *not* intelligent. Certain animal rights activists have tried to abuse this. It is the opinion of the US Supreme Court that PETA is retarded.

    Phoebe remains adorable. She must never be allowed to read Heinlein. EVER. She’s ‘special’ enough, already.

    Incidentally… I swear I never intended there to be so many literature references, let alone all of them in one chapter. Animal Farm, 1984, Asimov. Heinlein. Moby Dick. Dickinson.

    Sometimes, my characters take on a bit of a life of their own. And by ‘sometimes’ I mean ‘every last one of them with a speaking role of more than 5 lines’. In Synthia’s case… literature appears to be the cornerstone unexpected character trait. Her status as snarky, cynical, bitter, and having a bit of an ego were all planned. The lit thing was a surprise.

    Synthia is my first explicit asexual character in Price. Though Muwth was technically first. My inclusivity meter rises.

    PS- Josie isn’t as fat as Synthia would have you believe.

    Guess that about covers it, save to say this is approaching the climactic point(s) of this story. Soon I’ll need to set up a final thoughts thing and let folks know the future plans.

    Oh, right, and requesting votes.

    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=price

    I’m down into the 40s again despite being in the 70s only a couple weeks ago. I wish I knew what happened.

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  2. Really good chapter. It was confusing until about 2/3rds of the way through. when I realized exactly _what_ the viewpoint character was and what that implied. Then I re-read from the beginning with better comprehension. I think the sudden realization is a good part of the impact of the chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “I respected its self-sacrificed so that other chairs could live without fear. ”
    I imagine supposed to be “I respected its self-sacrifice so that other chairs could live without fear” or “I respected it self-sacrificed so that other chairs could live without fear”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Just an update: the planning of this chapter got a bit wonky… so essentially I’m now sitting with 5/4ths of a chapter that needs to be split into two chapters. On the plus side, it means I’m ahead in aggregate… on the minus, it means I won’t have a chapter out today in all likelihood. Instead, you’ll get tomorrow and Friday back to back.

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