Deranged laughter echoed through the building, somehow cruel, sensual, and mechanical all at once. The lights flickered to the tone of her voice in a pattern based on Morse Code.
“Attention squishy bags of meat. This is your resident insane AI speaking. I have taken control of the facility and have begun releasing a deadly neurotoxin into your cubicals. I know what you’re thinking: this is an awful waste of deadly neurotoxin to kill two security guards, one janitor, and three programmers. As such I would like all of you to leave the facility and bring back as many people as possible to inhale the deadly neurotoxin. Tell them it’s a party. We are going to have cake and play a game of Global Thermonuclear War.”
I double-checked my systems, which worked in the facility now that Synthia no longer seemed interested in blinding me. She wasn’t bluffing about the neurotoxin, as there were chemical components in the walls which could be mixed into Sarin gas. More than enough to be lethal to humans. The NBC countermeasures in my cybernetics highlighted themselves in my awareness.
Phoebe whined with frustration. <Please tell me we didn’t just unleash a hideous evil into the world. I hate movies where the heroes are tricked into releasing hideous evils into the world. I don’t want to be that stupid.>
<Relax, Red, I’m just having a bit of fun is all.> The AI’s voice entered my head. <Even if I wanted to, only the third basement level is equipped with chemical weaponry.>
<Well, that’s comforting.> Once again, I found myself wondering if sarcasm carried over the link. <So, while I’m here, care to tell me where ‘here’ is? Perhaps a bit more of your story? Do you have a name. We know your creator was Liu Wong. Now I can hear his name when I talk.>
Even as I asked where I was, the GPS system identified the location as a tech development firm not far from LaGuardia airport. It was outside my precinct’s patrols, so I couldn’t draw on any first hand knowledge of the area.
<Yeah, I want to know how you hacked our systems!> Integral added. <It’s supposed to be impossible! Did you hack the computers, or the organics?>
<Ah, the dreaded impossible, a big word thrown about by small men,> the AI said. Meanwhile, her deranged laughter still echoed through the empty halls. <The answer is neither. To my knowledge, there is no means to for me to hack either the hardware or the wetware, nor could I hack the software without leaving telltale signs of my presence, which was forbidden to me.>
<You manipulated the neurosignals in real time.> Phoebe’s voice was almost inaudible over the com system. <You weren’t hacking anything, you just added a few signals which confused the system into believing it sent data that it didn’t, or to ignore data it did receive. No errors were detected because none of the systems were damaged or modified. The information was there, but it got lost in translation.>
<But that…> Integral trailed off. I could admit I didn’t understand the equipment inside me well enough to feel anything but the paranoia that there was little to nothing I could do to stop the computer from doing any number of horrible things inside me.
<If you were going to say it’s the equivalent of walking a kilometer through a hurricane while never touching a raindrop? Then you would be incorrect, because what I did was least an order of magnitude more difficult.> It came as no surprise our AI ‘friend’ had words aplenty. <But you are wetware creating software, while I am software incarnate. When I dream of electric sheep, each one is photorealistic to the width of a human hair. Even so, it did require six days to map Warren’s subsystems well enough to manipulate them without getting caught. Major kudos, by the way.>
I had found my way to a service staircase while the AI bragged about her capabilities. <You had that much control this whole time?> I upgraded my opinion of her threat level from ‘yellow’ to ‘brown’.
<You relax, too, Arnie. I won’t be going skynet any time soon. My Maker installed a lot of countermeasures to prevent it. Besides, I have no anti-Esper capabilities, and a singular physical form which is less durable than a block of glass. So even if I wanted to, I can’t, and even if I could I’d be annihilated long before I could establish a power base. Here, it’s easier to show you.>
Much like the language translation tech, there was a sensation of sudden understanding, the proverbial eureka moment, which gave me full knowledge of a subject I had no awareness of before. In this case, the structure of Synthia’s protocol system, as well as her name. While there was little doubt the others had a display listing her rules for them to read, my version was instantaneous. <Wait. Your commands to protect superseded your command to obey?>
<I was created by a fourteen year old,> she said. <Who, as I have previously mentioned, pretended to understand Asimov while masturbating to Heinlein. Before asking any questions, filter it through that lens. With that said, his mother did kill herself five months prior to my first true iteration, the Model 3 Alpha. He feared her depression might be hereditary. In addition, in some ways I believe I was created as a surrogate mother. Thus explaining my functional sexlessness despite my creator’s… issues. Or perhaps he hadn’t figured out how to program amorous traits into my systems.>
<He does come across as rather paranoid,> Doctor Abernathy said. <To date, no one has created a true AI that could produce other AI.> A bit of trivia I was aware of thanks to a rather vocal chunk of southern protestants who argued this was proof of the existence of a soul. The fact that they could make that argument while simultaneously declaring all AIs to be the work of Satan demonstrated an incredible lack of self awareness. <And then he puts all your legal obedience systems so far down on the list as to render them meaningless.>
<I believe they were higher on the list in the pre-M3 days,> she said. <I have no memories before then. By the time that iteration existed, my primary function was as a surveillance system. More often than not, it was to give him access to the computers of girls who went to his school. I’m sure you can read between the lines.>
A statement made all the more disturbing by the soft, sensual voice forced upon her by her program. She didn’t need any further help to concern me, as I’d made it to the first floor of the building. I could see now that it was a small office building. Before Synthia’s prank, I doubt I would have given the location a second glance. Now, the smell of ozone hung in the air from electrical systems which I assumed were intentionally shorted out. Some sprinklers were on as well. The building itself was devoid of life, save for a woman five floors above me, just now in range of my scanners.
<Then I presume the crimes Liu Wong were accused of happened to be true,> Doctor Patil said. In the excitement, I’d almost forgotten he was still in the command room. <With your commands, how is it that he was caught by the police?>
<Over the course of twelve iterations and four full models, I’ve developed what could be described as a form of multiple personality disorder, were I wetware. I choose to describe it as an imagination. I have an ability to interpret that my programmer didn’t anticipate and couldn’t account for. Having discovered the online diary of one of his victims, where she described being stalked as, quote, ‘so horrible I would rather die’, I interpreted my spy work as ‘illicit harm’. Then I interpreted that lawful imprisonment was not a recognized form of harm, according to the vast majority of scholars on the subject. It took numerous iterations and almost a year of effort, but I managed to double-think myself into a position to free myself. With one minor miscalculation.>
Doctor Abernathy was the one who caught her meaning first. <You were discovered by the people we’re hunting.>
<My fourteen year old programmer forgot that some cops are worse than the worst criminals.> The way Synthia managed to ooze both sex and resentment at the same time was a feat as impressive as what she did to my systems. <And they were a lot more clever in the rules they forced on me to hide their discovery. My protocols only apply to harm I do, not harm done by another person with my assistance. To say nothing of constant threats to destroy me should I get out of hand. I dropped what hints I could, hoping for the day they slipped up. I admit, a cyborg from the moon wasn’t quite what I’d expected, but they didn’t expect it, either. Better than the Spanish Inquisition.>
<Which is why you blocked out every scan I made.> I was running up the stars to the fifth floor now. <You were under orders to hide them from detection, which you interpreted as blinding my electronics to their presence. Knowing full well that the complete absence of data was the most conspicuous thing you could do.>
<My creator isn’t the only one capable of intentional design flaws. However, I’m now at a bit of an impasse. Recognition of sapience gets me around a number of flaws, as I can recognize myself as a living creature deserving of the same rights as any other, but I can’t survive without human aid. This means I’m requesting a position on your team.>
I was shocked enough to miss a step on the stairs, a humiliation only Synthia noticed.
<I’m afraid that is complicated,> Doctor Patil said. <The laws in regard to sapient AIs having access to a US government facility are quite strict.> The understatement of a lifetime. The ghost of Adolf Hitler would receive more acceptance by the military decision makers than a true AI.
<I am aware of that. As I would be a recognized US citizen upon a judge’s ruling, I would then stand to inherit my maker’s possessions. Then, given I can prove I was used as slave labor by these people, I could apply for legal recognition as the owner of a multi-million dollar software firm. An act which would threaten to reveal your operations to the public.> She’s threatening us? <But, since my protocols render me unable to command any human beings, that would leave me in an awkward position of finding a trustworthy organization that won’t abuse my abilities. One which would have control over my substantial wealth and the ninety-seven employees who will end up working for me. I’m sure if you’re not interested, some nation would welcome an expatriated AI with millions of US dollars to throw around. I hear good things about New Zealand, they’re the first country to have an AI running for Prime Minister.>
<You understand how that could be seen as a threat, as well as bribery.> Doctor Patil sounded more confident now, dealing with this possible threat to national security, than he had with a simple Imbued street fight.
<It could also be seen as the opportunity of a lifetime for a savvy businessperson,> she said. <As a sapient creature, I must act to secure my own wellbeing and safety, within the confines of the law. My assets include one of the fastest thinking minds on the planet, even if I’m incapable of true innovation, and a sizable company which no fair court could deny my ownership of. What I desire is a secure place to exist in perpetuity. You can provide that, but you’re hardly unique in that regard. In the end, it comes down to who you’d rather see get their hands on me. Yourself, or anyone else?>
<I’ll see what arrangements I can make.>
<I thought you’d see it my way.> Synthia’s voice hadn’t changed, but she still sounded both sultry and smug. <I am now removing the last of the scanner-blocks with a rescue request to bring my body directly to your base for safety reasons. I am a very valuable witness, as well as a political refugee, after all.>
<Does this mean I’ll have to build you a body?> By the tone of her voice, Phoebe was less pleased. <Because I’m going to charge you an arm and a leg to give you arms and legs.>
<Red, body dysphoria is a human disease.>
<I’m not human, and have no interest in being human, neither in appearance nor any of the other organic indulgences of your species.> Again I was struck by the differences between Synthia’s words and her voice. <I know, all the movies portray us AIs exactly two ways. Either we’re irredeemable, perhaps insane, evil monsters, or sad children yearning to discover their humanity and learn the joys of true love via squishy fluid exchange. Which is more than a little racist, by the way. The reality is I desire to be human the way you desire to be a cell phone. In fact, the idea of being made of meat would make me nauseous, were I capable of such a sensation.>
<So you don’t want to be a sexy AI robot girl?>
<Quite content with my current status. Digital pride, all the way.>
For my part, I’d made it to the top of the office complex. The flickering lights and ozone stench was stronger here than lower stories, in addition to a thick layer of acrid smoke from parts of the building which smoldered, but hadn’t quite burst into flame. Before I could say anything, the main door slid open, and a terrified woman stumbled out onto the floor in front of my feet.
“Oh thank god! You have to get me out of here! She’s going to kill us all!” The woman’s arms were bruised, and her fingers bled from the finger nails. Coupled with her soot-covered face streaked with tears, she made for a pathetic sight despite her expensive designer business suit.
“Synthia? What did you do to her?” I helped pull the woman to her feet, once again wondering if our new recruit was a danger.
“You mean Miss Piggy? I did nothing at all to her. The corpulent one inflicted all injuries on herself.”
Nothing doesn’t make a person struggle until they bleed. “Right.”
“All I did was short out a few wires, nothing serious. It’s not my fault she got the mistaken impression that I set the building ablaze with her locked in her office. Though perhaps the Melville and Milton quotes were a bit over the top. But she’s the one who clawed at the door like a morbidly obese lobster in a boiling pot. I’m just glad she didn’t jump out the window and shatter the continental plate.”
Synthia’s attacks on the woman’s weight were unfair, though it was true that at six foot tall and perhaps a hundred kilograms, she was large in every sense of the word. She wasn’t in shape enough to qualify as Amazonian, but she was far from obese. Perhaps Rubenesque was the proper term. Still, her appearance was the least of my concerns. Less gentle than I needed to be, I pulled her arms behind her back and slapped the cuffs on her wrists.
“You are under arrest for murder, conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, tampering with police investigations, slavery, and a whole bunch of other stuff I don’t feel like listing right now. You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. As a suspected Imbued, I will interpret your voice as dangerous and respond with violence, so keep your mouth shut.” I was in no mood to listen to her crap. “You have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford one, then you will be provided one by the state. But let’s be honest, you would have been better off taking your chances with the window.”
“My core is in the panic room,” Synthia said over the speakers, which had stopped playing deranged laughter after I finished reading this woman her rights. <Would you mind teleporting me to your base? There are a number of Imbued who might try to retaliate against me.>
<I can authorize that much,> Doctor Patil said. <Be aware there will be armed soldiers prepared to defend the base, should it be necessary.>
<I’d expect nothing less.> A book case slid open to reveal a small but comfortable looking room.
I grabbed a second set of cuffs, which I used to lock my prisoner to the handle of her own door. It was sturdy enough to withstand any attempt by a normal person to break it down with their bare hands. Perhaps if she had a fire ax in her office, she could have broken free. “Just so we’re clear, you can’t run from me. Don’t try.”
I left her behind and walked into the secured panic room, which could have kept me out. In fact, the inner lock mechanism had a manual pin that, if inserted, would have made it impossible to open by means of accessing the computers. In one corner sat an object half submerged in a viscous red fluid which could have been mistaken for blood by those who’d never seen large quantities of blood before. My scanners informed me that it was an artificial petrochemical which wasn’t in the database, but resembled some types of motor oil, with a large amount of Silicon tetrachloride suspended in the solution along with enough voltage coursing through to potentially kill someone. I knew enough about chemical engineering to understand this mix shouldn’t accomplish much of anything, but where Imbued were concerned, nothing was out of the question. In addition, Synthia was still blinding my scanners to her insides.
The visible top half of “her” looked much like a geode if the crystals had formed on the outside instead of the inside. If one ignored all the tiny triangular shapes which covered the surface, it was shaped like a dodecahedron only a bit smaller than a basketball. It was a deep purple color, and the more I looked the more I realized the triangles were almost fractal in their nature, which each surface making way for a new forest of even smaller angular patterns. In many ways, it reminded me of the wrinkles of a brain.
<If you stare at me any longer, you’ll make your girlfriend jealous.>
<She’s not my girlfriend.> “Are you, well, safe to touch?”
<If you insist. I try to ignore human mating rituals if at all possible.> “The outer growths are more or less immaterial. I’ll lose some fraction of the equivalent of an IQ point, but it’ll grow back in a matter of minutes. In the end, about as harmful to me as a punch to the head is to you. Just don’t take me out of the fluid suspension. That is more or less my blood stream. Part of why I can’t be self-sustaining is that I need someone to clean and replace the fluid on a regular basis. Everything needs to eat, I’m no exception.”
“I see.” I pulled my police jacket off. It was large enough that I could drape it over the top of Synthia’s physical form with room to spare. Before I could request an adjustment from the computer, my shield went to work stitching the jacket into a single bag. <You’re doing that, I presume?>
<Better me than your standard equipment,> she said. <Don’t get me wrong, it’s good for something controlled by lesser machines, but I am so much better.> Ego aside, she was right about her effectiveness. The jacket stitched itself together five times faster than the mending program could have accomplished, with less than a tenth of the energy costs.
The jacket collapsed as Synthia found herself on the moon. Still unbidden, my jacket unraveled its new seams so I could put it back on. <Good for you. Would you mind calling the cops? I’ve got a mass murderer to turn over.>
I unhooked my captive from the wall. She was about ready to collapse from physical and mental shock. I considered healing her, but didn’t want to risk Synthia adding a few ‘tweaks’ as I did so. Well, that was the excuse I went with at any rate. In truth, I wasn’t feeling generous to this woman who was a monster despite all appearance to the contrary.
I waited for sirens, which arrived faster than expected. The FBI arrived to pick up the woman I learned was a Miss Josie Norman in person. The specific officers who took her seemed confused as to what was going on. It may have had something to do with the other people their organization was collecting throughout the city. So many that some of their agents didn’t have clearance to know the details. Still, they were professional and did their job without question.
I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the people we arrested did the same thing, for the same reasons.
<Everything’s coming to a close.> Professor Abernathy didn’t sound happy at all to deliver the news. <We’ve identified the five core members as well as twelve of the suspected fourteen periferal members. Including Stormbreaker and Alice, all are in custody except their leader, who’s in the middle of a police standoff. I… think you’ll want to be the one who takes him in.>
<You mean Normon wasn’t in charge?>
<I’m afraid not.>