Episode 5: CLU Box (Part 5)



From inside Sarisa’s autocar, Cowan turned the drone’s camera back to the construction site. Another of Kyle’s shots blew off 817’s other arm. It vaulted from its concrete barriers, charging the nearest soldier in what might be an attempt to immobilize him.

Kyle and his soldiers opened fire, tearing Officer 817 apart in a storm of metal. The brave synthetic’s triangular head bounced and rolled before coming to a stop by a barricade. Its pitted, mangled metal body collapsed in place. Cowan winced.

He reminded himself it was not brave. Synthcops weren’t self-aware, or human, or anything like that. They just followed a series of directives until they couldn’t anymore.

The fake CorpSec soldiers advanced on the elevator in a classic double leapfrog. Cowan focused the drone’s speaker on the construction site and listened for audio. Now that there weren’t a bunch of rifles going off constantly, he could hear again.

“Doctor Bedi!” Kyle shouted up the elevator shaft. “Come down now, please!” He pointed to one of his soldiers, who dashed forward and opened the elevator terminal.

“Why would I do that?” Bedi shouted back. “You want to rewrite me!”

“You’ve been misinformed, doctor!” Kyle shouted back. “We’re here to protect you!”

“Ramon Munn ordered me to allow synthcops to ignore murder!” Bedi shouted. “Are you okay with that?”

This was plan A, of course. Get Captain Kyle to admit, on camera, that Munn had ordered Bedi to do something illegal.

“I don’t know anything about that!” Kyle shouted back, “but we aren’t here to hurt you, doctor!” So much for Plan A. “Let us take you somewhere safe!”

“I know where you plan to take me! Rewriting!”

The soldier at the panel shut it and gave Kyle a thumbs up. Kyle signaled, sending two soldiers into cover with sightlines on the elevator shaft. The elevator began to descend, presumably with Doctor Bedi trapped inside.

Cowan rolled open the autocar doors and grabbed the top of the doorframe, pulling himself up and out enough to see the street and the others. He mouthed “We’re on!” and gestured to the construction site with his free hand.

Sarisa and Zhang dashed into the construction site as Bradley went another way, toward the parked black autocars that delivered the CorpSec impersonators. They were locked, of course, but that wouldn’t stop Bradley. Nothing much would.

Cowan zoomed the drone’s camera in time to see two soldiers dragging a struggling Doctor Bedi from the now open elevator. Zhang and Sarisa loped onto the scene at an easy jog. Captain Kyle’s soldiers responded by pointing a whole bunch of rifles at them.

“Zhang,” Kyle said. “I told you to stay in the truck.”

Zhang saluted, sarcastically, which was kind of impressive. “Just here to grab my suspect, captain. Got a lot of questions for him down at the VCD.”

Cowan felt a pop as the security blanket lifted. Bradley had broken into the fake CorpSec autocar and shut the blanket down. He applied the same script he had used to hack the sleeping riveter to every synthetic currently idling on the construction site.

“This man is now in Corporate Security’s custody,” Kyle said, as his soldiers closed ranks around the two dragging Bedi. “You’re done here. Go home.”

Zhang didn’t raise his rifle, but he did fix Kyle with a huge grin. “There’s just one problem, bro. You mooks aren’t Corporate Security.”

At that moment every last synthetic in the construction site, twelve large, heavy humanoids, whirred to life. The mob stomped forward to avenge Officer 817. Shoulder-mounted lights illuminating the Kyle’s soldiers from all directions.

Kyle shouted as his men formed a diamond around Bedi, guns facing the large construction synthetics now stomping toward them. Yet Kyle had to know the score with these synthetics in play. They didn’t have near enough bullets to stop them all.

“Captain Kyle,” Sarisa said, “we’ve just disabled your security blanket, and I’ve notified the Office of Mental Health that your unit is impersonating Corporate Security. Real CorpSec soldiers will soon arrive to take you into custody.”

Kyle took in the twelve construction synthetics looming over him, Santiago Zhang, and Sarisa Bassa, the woman who had just brought Hell down on his head. He tossed his rifle in the dirt and glanced at his men. “Stand down.”

“Captain?” One of the soldiers holding Bedi frowned.

“I said stand down. You did good work tonight. Now don’t say another fucking word.” Kyle turned to face Sarisa and raised his hands.

Cowan fistpumped and took control of the speaker of the nearest synthetic, a big ditch digger with jackhammers for hands. “Release Doctor Bedi.”

Kyle snapped his fingers. His soldiers reluctantly surrendered a smug looking Bedi to Zhang as Bradley arrived to join him. Her gun rose to join the gun salad.

“Captain,” Sarisa said, “you understand you’re in a great deal of trouble, don’t you?”

Kyle shrugged. “That’s why they call it hazard pay.”

“What if I offered you a way to save yourself and your men from prosecution?”

Kyle glanced at his soldiers, then at Sarisa. “What would you be prosecuting us for?”

“You have a clear choice. You can be rewritten for impersonating Corporate Security and interfering with an active VCD investigation. Or, you can tell me every illicit activity ordered by Ramon Munn, CEO of Protection Services, and get off with light modding.”

“Well.” Kyle smiled. “That’s an easy one.”

* * *

September 15, Dawn


The nurses at Sharp Memorial took a while to brace his knee and scan it for further damage, and all Cowan could think about while he waited was who ordered Munn to change the operational parameters of synthcops. Synthcops were trusted by the general population because they wouldn’t hurt people, or allow people to be hurt. Changing that was an incredible risk, because if people found out, they’d never trust synthcops again.

Murders worldwide had dropped to double-digits since widescale PBA adoption, excluding what few countries refused. War was an exercise for pleasureboxes. People didn’t shoot people any more, or stab them, or beat them until they couldn’t talk. People didn’t rape people, except apparently they did, if he believed Sonne. Which he should.

Cowan couldn’t get out of staying overnight at the hospital, which severely limited his options for finding out what Munn was really up to. The OMH had to be interrogating Captain Kyle right now, and Cowan needed to see that. Yet he couldn’t see anything without the Office of Mental Health watching it through his PBA. So could he listen?

He kept his eyes fixed on the panel above his hospital bed and flipped over to his headdesk, accessing the private PBA partition the OMH couldn’t see. He piped the audio being archived by Captain Kyle’s PBA directly to his ear, avoiding the channels used by the main part of his implant. That was when Cowan Soto started hearing voices.

“—why you’re lying to me, Patrick. What are you hoping to accomplish?”

A female voice Cowan didn’t recognize echoed through his private panel. It wasn’t Sarisa. Cowan didn’t know who it was, and dared not risk adding video. An audio stream used enough bandwidth for a rounding error, but the OMH would notice a vidstream.

“I’m not lying.” Kyle sounded pissed, which meant he’d likely been at this interrogation for some time. “I’m telling you exactly what I agreed to tell you. Counselor Bassa said—”

“Counselor Bassa isn’t here now, is she?” the female voice said calmly. “I’ll ask you one last time. What really happened the night Munn ordered you to arrest Bedi?”

“I’ve already given you my statement,” Kyle said. “Now you’ll either honor our agreement, like Bassa said, or you’ll fuck me over, because you’re a cold-hearted bitch. Stop dicking me around and make a decision.”

“Are you truly that fatalistic, Patrick?”

“Try realistic. I’ve sat where you’re sitting now.”

“It’s not possible to puppet corporate PBAs. Your claim that Munn was acting under duress simply isn’t plausible.”

“I know what I saw,” Kyle said. “Munn was ready to take a knife to his whole family, and that wasn’t his choice. That’s why he gave Bedi the order, and that’s why he sent me to arrest Bedi when he flaked. Someone almost puppeted him into cutting up his little girl.”

Cowan shuddered in his hospital bed. Galileo was stepping up his game. Puppeting Sheila Fisher through her black market PBA was possible — any sufficiently skilled hacker could do that — but puppeting a corporate executive’s PBA was as impossible as inserting full stem barriers over the Sim. How could Galileo accomplish all this?

The answer came so suddenly he felt stupid for not seeing it before. Anything was possible if you didn’t have to worry about dynamic firewalls or read-only firmware. Everything he’d seen was possible … if you scripted behavior algorithms for OneWorld.

Galileo wasn’t some super hacker hiding in a basement somewhere, remotely altering the behavior of PBAs from his secret lair. He was working inside OneWorld, one of the legions of highly-paid scripters who created the algorithms run by billions of PBAs every day. He was building backdoors into corporate PBAs and leaving them wide open.

And Cowan had no idea how he was going to prove it.

* * *

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