Sonne hopped up and stared at Cowan’s twitching body, which jerked one more time like a rag doll before flopping still. “What is it? Talk to me!” Gray was killing him!
“It’s okay, Sonne!” someone shouted. “You’re safe!”
Cowan drooled, but he breathed. His chest rose and fell with comforting regularity, and Sonne realized why he’d trembled like that. Someone had hit him with a stunner round!
Sonne glared as Kate and Lucy strode into the warehouse. They both wore shiny black outfits, form-hugging graphene body armor. It was stupidly expensive and entirely bulletproof. Also, it made them both look like absolute badasses. “You shot him?”
Kate’s gaze swept the interior. “Where’s the people who took you?”
“Gone now. Why did you zap my date?”
“I’m changing the plan. Remember the plan?”
Sonne didn’t. “What’s the plan?”
Kate popped a linkline into her own auxiliary port and offered the other end.
“I’m infected,” Sonne said. “Memory redaction scripting.”
“I’ve got dynamic firewalls, honey. We’ll be fine.” She stepped closer, tip of her linkline extended. “Now, please. We don’t have much time before the CID gets here.”
Sonne shrugged — Kate knew best — and plugged the linkline into the port behind her ear. Her vision blurred as an earlier memory redaction cleared, hidden memories Sonne only now recovered. A discussion at 0212 in the morning about Kate’s father, the way Cowan’s brain read in a pleasurebox, and Taylor Lambda’s coma.
“Wait!” Everything clicked together, old memories and new. “Cowan didn’t paralyze Dad!”
Kate frowned. “How can you know that?”
“He explained everything!” Sonne flipped over to her headdesk and bundled up everything her PBA had archived tonight, ensuring their last conversation came first. The conversation about the dead astronomer who paralyzed their father.
Kate’s eyes went distant as she experiencing Sonne’s horrible night at rapid pace. She twitched and gasped. When she opened her eyes, she clutched Sonne tight. “Oh God, honey, I’m so sorry! I should never have left you unprotected!”
Sonne hugged her back and sniffled. “It’s okay. I’m okay.” She was now, at least. She might be a wreck at the moment, but hugging her sister helped.
“One of Benzai’s helos has detected two motorcycles on surface streets,” Lucy said. “I believe those are our abductors. Shall I order our helos to pursue?”
“No,” Kate said, wiping at her eyes, “we will do nothing to antagonize those men.” She grimaced. “They’ve been in Sonne’s brain and Cowan’s, so we can’t risk triggering something nasty by going after them. We’ll get them, just not tonight.”
“Thank you.” Sonne eased back to arm’s length and stared down at Cowan’s unconscious body. Another wave of guilt rushed through her. “You’re still going to hack his PBA?”
“I can’t just take his word he’s innocent.” Kate plucked the linkline from Sonne’s head and knelt beside Cowan. “I have to make sure he’s not just playing you, or worse, that he’s working for this Galileo guy.”
“Cowan wouldn’t do that.”
“So I won’t find anything. That’s what we want, right?” Kate took Cowan’s chin gently in two fingers, turning his head to expose the port behind his ear. “Lucy, stun anyone that isn’t Sonne.” She snapped in her linkline.
Lucy’s eyes glowed visibly red, which meant Kate had just flipped her HARM switch. So far as their own security was involved, those with OneWorld’s favor had complete discretion in how their bodyguards used force. Lucy was good at using force.
Sonne wiggled bare toes on cold concrete as Kate, now silent, hacked Cowan’s PBA. This wasn’t right, using Cowan like this, after he’d opened up to her. Being honest. Of course, the whole reason he’d been so honest might be because he knew she’d just forget everything, and they did need to know for certain. Gray’s redaction counted down.
It kept counting. What was taking so long? Sonne knew finding your way through a firewalled PBA was difficult, but Kate had always been really good at that. With sixty seconds left on the delayed redaction timer, Kate blinked back to meatspace.
“Well?” Sonne said. “Is he involved?”
“Close enough.” Kate popped her linkline and stood. “I’m sorry, honey. Cowan Soto is in this up to his neck.”
Sonne’s heart sank. “How?”
“He’s got enough tricks and traps buried in there to fry a dozen braincooks, so I couldn’t get much, but I found enough. When OneWorld finds out what he’s been doing, they’re going to rewrite him and anyone involved. If you didn’t redact tonight, I’d do it for you.”
“Then we should help him, not abandon him!” Sonne tried to walk over to Cowan, but Lucy stepped between them. “Hey!”
“Not my call,” Lucy said.
“I wish I had time to convince you,” Kate said, “but the two of us can’t beat OneWorld, and as nice of a guy as Cowan might be, I can’t lose you like I lost Dad. This isn’t our fight. We’re staying as far from this as possible.”
“That’s my decision, not yours!”
Kate glanced at Lucy. “Zap her, please.”
The lower half of Lucy’s forearm split open, revealing a long stunner mounted inside her prosthetic forearm. “Sorry.”
Sonne tossed up her hands as Lucy’s stunner rose. “Goddammi—”
* * *
September 15, Just Past Midnight
“Please cease running.” The synthcop’s comforting voice echoed down the alley, loud and clear. “You may injure yourself.”
Doctor Rohan Bedi ran anyway. The synthetic didn’t stun him, even though it had a clean shot, which meant his plan was working. He tried to enter the Sim again, but Protection Services still had him locked out.
This particular synthcop had detected the overloader strapped to Rohan’s chest and correctly interpolated that stunning him might stop his heart, killing him. The synthcop’s virtual intelligence algorithms — its VI — wouldn’t let it risk causing harm to a human. Rohan knew that, because he had scripted most of those algorithms.
His lungs burned as he fell against the wall, desperate to catch his breath. He didn’t do a lot of cardio. He really should be doing more cardio.
He heard the distinctive hiss-clomp of the synthetic hurrying up they alley. Rohan stared up at an eight-story building frame, an iron skeleton missing its skin, and ducked under the yellow construction gate. He had to survive until the real cops found him. No matter what happened tonight, he could not let Protection Services get away with this.
The site was muddy from recent rain, and its dull work lights filled its puddles with lines. Construction synthetics loomed over him, treaded metal giants in sleep mode. Protection Services was certainly watching him by satellite now, ensuring no one came to his rescue. His employers needed him alone. He was now a man who knew too much.
Rohan waited by the building skeleton as the synthcop clomped into the construction site. Its body was almost humanoid, hard plastic and rough metal. Its head was an armored triangular box and metal pistons connected its arms and legs, like bones might inside flesh. A police shield covered its right shoulderpad, bearing a OneWorld logo.
The synthcop raised its arms and popped its metal hands open to reveal stunners. “Please stop running, Doctor Bedi. Security personnel are on their way to help you.”
Rohan would take the construction elevator to the seventh floor of the building skeleton, one floor from the top. He could disable the elevator and hide from his pursuers, and he still had time to do that. A few minutes. Enough time to attempt one more call for help.
Rohan read the synthetic’s unit number off its left shoulderpad. “Officer 817, toggle administrator mode, debug phrase: Do androids dream of electronic sheep?”
“Security personnel are on their way to help you,” 817 repeated.
Of course Protection Services would change the debug phrase once Rohan defected. Yet this was a police model, and it looked like a 600 series. Could it have a CLU box?
Rohan squeezed the trigger to his chest overloader and held the switch high, where the synthetic could see it. “If I involuntarily release this button, my heart may stop. If you approach or attempt to immobilize me, I will release the button.”
The synthcop kept still as a statue. “Suicide is not the answer, Doctor Bedi.”
“I know that. If you answer my questions honestly, I won’t kill myself.”
In truth, Rohan couldn’t kill himself — clear circuit algorithms forbid self-harm — and the dead man’s switch in his hand wasn’t a dead man’s switch at all. Yet a synthcop’s VI wouldn’t let it take that chance he wasn’t bluffing.
Rohan closed his jacket. “Have you updated all incoming units and personnel about my condition?”
“Yes, Doctor Bedi.”
“Have you notified the CID and the VCD that I’m at this construction site?”
“No, Doctor Bedi.”
Of course it hadn’t, since Protection Services wouldn’t allow that, but perhaps it would tell him why it hadn’t done so. “Why not?”
“Corporate Security is already on its way to protect you. Additional forces are not required at this time.”
So Protection Services had given this synthcop orders that forbid it from calling anyone other than Protection Services. Made sense. Yet synthcops like this one — augmented with a CLU Box — were capable of drawing their own conclusions, if their orders were vague enough.
“I’m going to ask you some questions now, Officer 817. I simply need you to answer them. So long as you continue to answer my questions, I will not kill myself.”
Officer 817 retracted its stunners and lowered its arms. “Please ask your questions, Doctor Bedi.”
“First question. Are you capable of drawing your own conclusions, given sufficient data?”
“Yes, Doctor Bedi.”
“Wonderful.” This might actually work. “To start, what do you know about rewriting?”
* * *
[Have you enjoyed these first four episodes? If you’d like to see where the story goes from here, please pick up Loose Circuit off Amazon, here, or, if you’re a member of KDP Unlimited, read it for free at the same location. Thank you!]
[Want more Loose Circuit? Read the first part of The Simworld Scripting Derby, a short story set in the Loose Circuit universe, here and, if you’d like that story and many others set in the worlds of Loose Circuit, Supremacy’s Shadow, Glyphbinder, and many others, you can download my short story anthology, Simulation Disorder, by clicking here.]