|Clayton Tang, (Wiki.)|
The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue.
Thomas Da Busey Khan loved his little cubbyhole, way downtown where there was constant amusement, movement, and customers by the minute.
Chicago was his town and he loved her so. It was also his fourth major city in as many years, but he had a way of being familiar, blending in right from the start and becoming a fixture with his grab-bags of dollar candies and three smokes for a ten-spot.
There were three mega-high-schools within a four-block radius.
Taking in shoes to be mended, reading tea leaves, repairing digital scales and phones and wristwatches, he did it all, including his three-minute tattoo-removal. The Tarot card-reading machine just inside the vestibule was pure genius, and if someone wanted moloko—a good old fashioned moloko, one needled with a little something extra, Thomas was just your man. He knew everybody and his phone list was extensive. The real money was in what were euphemistically called life-hacks. Nothing too serious, just getting people out of their pesky tele-communication service contracts, (Thomas was also a paralegal and notary public,) help in disappearing when the bailiff found you, and all that sort of thing. A quick makeover on the ID when your teeth no longer matched the photo-chip embedded in your BMs as people called them. Even your shit had biometrics in it these days, one prominent study demonstrating an uncanny match-up between recent fast-food purchases and any number of trace elements in the typical sample.
To say that Mister Khan was good with the SEO would be an understatement and he wasn’t too particular with his methods either. One of his little companies did a fair bit of consulting. All off-shore stuff. The whole IT thing fit in a briefcase, as Thomas was wont to say and you could always build a few websites for people and then leave town.
The whole place was four hundred fifty square feet in area, just enough to hang out on a bar stool, and sit in behind a glass case, displaying every scratch-and-sniff lottery ticket under the flag. Behind Thomas was a pop cooler, and a few gum-pushers were kind enough to rent a square foot of display space on the end.
All of this had been enough for a down payment on Gerta. Unfortunately not enough to keep up the payments on her, but that was just a minor everyday challenge for one such as he, and not unanticipated right from the start. To be honest. It was all in the plan, and a clever and nefarious one it was, even if he did say so himself…
More than anything, he loved Gerta, and when a buzzing alarm went off on his pocket-device, his heart beat a little faster. Gerta was the love of his pathetic little life, and he knew it.
It was with a slathering of excuses that he pushed a customer out the door, reaching for his pork-pie hat and locking and bolting his stainless steel shutters. He shoved his hat in the packsack. He mounted his bike with the orange flag on an old CB-antenna whip, made sure his bicycle clips were in place, gave his cone-shaped orange and white-checkered helmet a rakish push slightly up on his forehead, and entered midday traffic nervously.
But changes in Gerta’s system were troubling indeed. It could only mean one thing, and while his firewalls and detectors were very good, there was always the possibility of somebody better—much better, somewhere out there in the real world.
He’d worked with some of them over the years. The thought that one of them might have finally caught up to him was deathly frightening.
The physical exertion of just making it home was enough to contain him for the moment.
Betty was blocking a new threat. She had been for some time. She told Scott, but he barely nodded, still half in shock.
He didn’t understand that the persistence of the threat was annoying and took up valuable system resources.
Scott had his own concerns; although it was clear she had a headache. While she could note PMS symptoms and take effective actions, it didn't always work out as promised. All of those hormones, making that hybrid cybernetic body operate.
It had been a long week and he was flagging, even just sitting there on the passenger seat, just going down the road. They’d had this vehicle something like thirty-two hours, which seemed like a long time. If the talkative GPS system was any real indication, they were making very good time.
He kept taking a long slow breath, and then blasting it out in a forceful and yet despairing manner. It helped a bit. It was like he needed more oxygen than he was getting.
Scott was absolutely fucking beat.
The two of them needed rest more than anything.
“Honey…can we slow down a bit now?”
The big vehicle jounced up, down, and from side to side.
“In a bit, Honey.”
She seemed very tense, very focused. Scott had no idea that they were cutting through a state forest in Illinois, or what had once been one. This once-popular state park was reverting, and not in a good way judging by sagging house trailers and shanties tucked in small clearings under the trees.
All the roads were rutted clay, and not a name or number marked anywhere…she was going strictly on her own reckoning, but while a compass bearing was one thing, none of the roads was being very cooperative.
She didn’t even answer him.
Scott shut up for a while. The car skidded to a halt when she was confronted by an unfamiliar sight.
“Turn…left.” The GPS was adamant, but she wasn’t buying it at first.
She checked all other sources before deciding, but there were still no road signs. Finally she went, accelerating slowly as if suspecting a trap. She kept it at about fifty kilometres an hour.
This road seemed to be maintained, and she relaxed somewhat.
There were increasing signs of a big city ahead, even on this obscure two-lane black-top running through regenerating forest-like scrub and small, subsistence farm plots. Her mouth opened and she grabbed his arm impulsively as a pale, attenuated form, a household robot bringing out the trash, paused by the side of the road.
Straightening up, it met her eyes in a silent flash of infrared communication. She kept her head straight ahead, but in the mirror the unit turned and followed the receding car with its gaze.
“Okay, Scott. We have a problem.”
|Carl Gunnarson, (Wiki.)|
Mister Boyd entered the room, pleased by their industry. The form tied on the plywood board writhed weakly against his bonds. The décor was a testament to their honorable trade.
The pair, a small, bird-like man and an incredibly fat woman, both clad in 1920s bathing attire, nodded politely.
“Is there gonna be many more?” She had been looking forward to Rio.
They had plane tickets and everything. It was their anniversary, their twentieth.
Boyd shook his head.
“One maybe later tonight. After that, we have two or three possibilities…one or two of them might work out.”
“Nothing we can’t handle.”
He inclined his head politely.
“There’s no art any more.” The lady didn’t seem particularly incensed, although her eye roved over the rack, the tongs and the pokers most longingly.
The fire wasn’t even lit, and the room was deliciously cool after being outside. What she wouldn’t give to pull a fingernail or a couple of teeth. He nodded and grinned, raising his eyebrows.
Without bidding, they unbound the head for him. They made a good team.
Grabbing the man’s wet forelock, he pulled the face up to have a look. White-rimmed, staring eyes begged his mercy.
“Hey—aren’t you the guy who invented the double-click virus…?” He laughed harshly, dropped the head, and then lovingly restored the muslin around the face as the wet round ‘O’ of a mouth sucked and gasped like a wounded carp against the thin fabric. “I still have that on my personal machine…at home, you bastard.”
The wheezing, sucking sound was music. Real music. The boy-hacker whimpered.
Boyd stood on a patch of concrete that was drier than the rest of the room, harsh shadows dancing in the glare of a single, powerful overhead spotlight. That painful light would be all their prisoner would be able to see through the thin and soaking muslin. He wiped his fingers dry on his pant legs.
The prisoner shivered and moaned.
“I—I don’t know anything. Please, oh, please. Oh, God. Please.”
“Ah, but you do, Mister Khan. You were found in unauthorized possession of one of our products. You can’t make the payments, you return the item, Mister Khan. It’s not such a difficult concept, eh? This is a very serious offense, Mister Khan. How did you break our security protocols?”
“I...I've already told you—”
Cooperation was not ideal, for how could you ever trust the information if it wasn’t wrung out of them? At best, you would get just enough to satisfy you—and then a lot of bullshit about how somebody else made them do it…but SimTech wanted the truth.
And he had been truthful, too, only they needed to be thorough. Mister Khan had been engaged in a little sexual role-playing, of a distinctly anti-social nature, but he must have had the software package all written and ready to be loaded. The time-frame was too short. He made two bi-weekly payments, and then hey, presto!
He and the little lady went off the grid.
Once he had his robot lady friend all tied up with clothesline wire, it was a simple matter to duct-tape her head to the table, switch her off with some kind of universal optical keying device, and then cut in. The lab boys and girls would have the chance to study all of Khan’s work, but Mr. Boyd was really more into the soft sciences, a nice way of saying he was a people person.
Every once in a while, you had to lean on somebody, and he was at least properly trained.
Somebody had to write that kiddie-fuck program as well. Mister Khan had all the essential qualifications.
Having broken swiftly, Mister Khan was insistent that no one else knew about what he was doing and that he hadn’t had any help at all. Keeping a secret was his best defence—he said that more than once. Mister Khan had done any number of things in the unit’s programming, including the stoppage of payments, moving to another jurisdiction, and somehow evading detection, while still maintaining the usefulness of the device. All of this was troubling to upper management, and Boyd could see their point. It might even relate to the Betty Blue disappearance, the original rationale for Plan Nine’s invocation. Mr. Khan was extremely talented—and he didn’t work for the company. This alone was troubling.
Their unit was now secured, and testing and forensic analysis were underway.
Honestly, a few red flags should have been raised when Khan ordered such a youthful model, and his store-front down-town wasn’t much of a blind when an actual person took a look at it. The business was a hole-in-the-wall, in a location that at least sounded prestigious.
What they had discovered, was that their programming was less than secure when faced by a sophisticated programmer such as Khan. It was the sort of thing that could not go into a written report, and hence his role as facilitator here today.
He nodded at the others and they set to filling up another bucket of ice-cold water.
Mister Khan sobbed and moaned, thrashing wildly against the restraints.
“Goodbye, Mister Khan.”
“No! No! Please…”
The door thudded firmly into place behind Mister Boyd.
The poor man didn’t even have the breath to scream.
Should have thought of that first, eh.
You should have stayed home.
As he walked from the ravine lodge, set well off from the main campus, the sky overhead was a brilliant oxygen-blue and the air crisp and clean after their recent spate of early June rain-showers.
There was a spring in his step.
Birds sang, one or two robotic bees buzzed in the decorative border plants along the walkway and it was all very well to be alive.
Boyd had an office, a big corner one down low on the north-east side of the main administrative building. The pot-smoking area lay down below and all he could see were treetops.
He could rarely be found there, and it was a barren space with little more than a French grey carpet, a brown desk, and the usual modern amenities, plug-ins, screens, and access ports.
Mister Boyd sat in the leather executive chair and glanced at an icon on his primary screen.
Missus Bennett was in her office, the thumbnail status showed her alone but on the computer.
He beeped her and the form looked up, a hand reached, and then she was with him.
“Yes, Mister Boyd?”
“I just wanted to tell you that while negotiations are ongoing, the Indian contract should be resolved shortly.”
“This is a secure line, Mister Boyd.” Her eyes glistened and there were some signs of stress in her posture.
I know, I know.
The trouble is, I don’t trust anybody.
Especially not you, nor anyone involved with this company, most companies, in fact…
“I won’t keep you long, Letitia. But that previous matter has borne some results.”
“Okay, I’ve got a minute.”
“The product was compromised, but it was outside interference—the only real liabilities to us are perceptual.”
“It’s our machine, after all.” She glared momentarily.
If the story hit the news feeds…the company might look bad for a day, unless one of the nine-day media wonders went on a witch-hunt.
If the story hit the news feeds…the company might look bad for a day, unless one of the nine-day media wonders went on a witch-hunt.
“Yes. But it was definitely hacked. The lab people are looking it over now, but it is clearly not the result of a malfunction.”
“Ah. I get it.”
“And what are our Indian friends saying about that?”
“Pretty much the same story. We have to analyze the systems a little more thoroughly—our Indian friends are definitely a little more talented than we thought.”
“He, ah…wreaked havoc in there. Yet my feeling is that there never was a problem with the machine itself.”
“Okay. Thank you, Mister Boyd.”
“Letitia. How are our students doing?”
“They’re following car thefts and looking for anomalous, one-time, one-card-one-purchase, burner phones, purchases that are small but leave no before and after trail…”
Boyd nodded again.
She gave him a wry look.
“Any suggestions as to how we could narrow it down a little?”
"Sooner or later they have to go through one of our bottle-necks."
Boyd wasn’t a tech guy, he was a soldier and thought in purely tactical and strategic terms.
He might even be good at it.
“Let assume the worst case scenario. Betty Blue had a major malfunction—and we don’t know what it is. Her movements appear supremely logical, and yet there must be some underlying motivation behind it.”
“So what are you saying?” She knew exactly what Boyd was saying.
“For want of a better term…what if Betty goes postal?”
She stared at her screen and hence into his bland and ingenuous mien.
“I’m sorry. What do you mean?”
“What if Betty is not simply reacting to some stimulus, internal or external, but is behaving proactively, according to some plan?”
Letitia looked away from him.
“She wants something, Letitia. If only we knew what that was.”
Letitia Bennett’s eyebrows rose, her eyes fell to her keypad and the security chief was suddenly one troubled individual. Boyd broke off and stood up to get his briefcase and an untraceable weapon.
He had another raid this evening, hopefully leading to another subject to interrogate. Waterboarding, because it didn’t leave any physical marks or verifiable evidence, was strictly legal and that was always handy.
But the odds were this was just another hacker and other than some unique and peculiar skills, they probably didn’t know a thing otherwise. He still hadn't broached his biggest concern. How was it possible for the runaways not to have been spotted, with all of SimTech's robotic eyes on the lookout, and almost universal coverage?
That one was his idea as well.
Boyd hated wasting everybody’s time like that.