Illicit AI: Part Nine

By William A. Lasher

Sunday afternoon, and Vanessa’s on her way to the shooting range in Paradise Valley. She stays on the pavement, and takes the parkway through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, the same road where the accident occurred, the one that led to her AI interface. As she rides her levitation cycle through the arid hills, she recalls the day vividly.  

Pursued by two Peruvian hitmen in an SUV, one of them had half climbed out of the passenger side window and was shooting at her with a machine pistol. Terrified, she was driving the Porsche much too fast, and after making a risky pass, she narrowly missed hitting an oncoming propane truck. She made eye contact with the driver as she returned to her lane, she can still see the horror on his face, and seconds later, he hit the SUV in a head-on collision.

Seeing the immense fireball blow up in her rear-view mirror increased her feeling of panic and instead of slowing down, she accelerated, and ended up losing control on one of the tight curves. She knows the location from the mileage marker and as she rides by on her bike, she slows down and glances down the embankment to the spot where the sports car rolled three times. A rough stretch of desert loaded with boulders; it was a miracle she lived through it.  

The shooting range is uncrowded on summer afternoons. Only two others have decided to brave the intense desert sun, and after giving each of them a friendly wave, she walks to a lane at the very end.  

She uses a staple gun to attach a new paper target to the 25-yard backstop and then returns to the shooting stall at the head of the lane. It’s blazing hot, but it’s a dry heat, and the stall’s roof provides a bit of shade. The moderate breeze makes it more tolerable.  

Vanessa has a brand-new subcompact 9mm pistol to try out. After loading the clip, and donning her earmuffs, she finds her electronic key and deactivates Nancy. It’s something she’s never tried before—seeing how well she can shoot with the AI turned off. 

She takes her time squeezing off the rounds, and after emptying the clip, she walks to the target and checks out the pattern. Not bad, but it appears accurate pistol shooting is something she does better with the AI activated. Sex and surfing are better without it, but her target shooting is significantly more precise with Nancy on the job.  

A familiar looking sedan pulls into the parking lot, and when the driver parks and gets out, she sees that she’s right—it’s Tom Hanes. He’s the lead AICC investigator who helped her get hired, and they’ve been friends ever since. She smiles and waves so he can see her and when he begins walking in her direction, she returns to the stall and turns the AI back on. He’s a naturally inquisitive man and talking to him without Nancy activated would make her feel naked because she’s sure he would notice the difference. 

“Hi, Tom. How are you?” She says as he ambles up to the stall.  

“Couldn’t be better.” At work, he has the trademark skinny tie and sports jacket look of an undercover cop, but today he’s dressed more casually in shorts and a polo shirt. “How ‘bout yourself?” 

“Fantastic. I’m trying out a new subcompact nine.” She nods at the weapon.  It’s resting in a slim synthetic holster on the steel mesh tabletop. 

“Like it?”  

“Yeah, it’s a nice pistol. Easy to carry undercover.”  

He lays down the hardback gun case he’s carrying, clicks the locks, and opens the lid to reveal a well-polished .357 magnum revolver. “Just out for my weekly drill. Can’t get rusty on the shooting skills.” 

“If you don’t mind talking shop on the weekend, I have something I want to ask you about.” 

“Not at all, Vanessa. What’s on your mind?” 

“The UGR military grade andys. Every time Demetrius brings it up with Chuck, he gives us the same answer—it’s under investigation.” 

“An accurate statement.”  

“But are you getting anywhere with it?”  

“Well, we’re almost certain the andys are a product of Robotamaton, but we haven’t made a concrete connection so far. As far as the specifics of the investigation, I can’t divulge anything to anyone who’s not intimately involved, regardless of your security clearance.” 

“Have the UGRs turned up in other parts of the country?”  

“Yes.”  

“In large numbers?”  

“With the San Pedro bust, your squadron has discovered more than the rest combined. I can tell you that much.” 

Hanes walks down the shooting lane and after peeling Vanessa’s target off the backstop, he staples up a fresh one. He’s checking out the pattern on her spent target as he walks back towards the stall. “Your shooting looks a bit off today,” he says as he steps back in the shade… Hanes. He never misses a beat.  

“An experiment. I wanted to see how well I could shoot with the AI turned off.” 

“Not bad.” He hands her the target and gives her a grin. “But it looks like Nancy is the better shot.” 

Vanessa can surf and Nancy can’t, but her cyber alter ego is flawless with the weaponry. 

She’s ready for a cold drink and the air conditioning, so on the way home, she finds an antigrav pathway into the ether and makes it to the Tall Saguaro Townhomes in less than ten minutes. She parks her bike in the carport, and on the way in, she sees Baxter. He’s programming his Endeavatron on the details of a new landscaping plan. The Valley’s water shortage isn’t getting any better, and more and more lawns are being converted to rock gardens every year. A better solution than drying up productive agriculture.   

“Hi Bax. Hot enough for you?”  

“It’s getting there. As soon as I finish programming the machine, I’m going to head inside.”  

“Want to come over for a drink or two?”  

“Sure, Vanessa. Can I come as Delaney?”  

“Of course, I was hoping you would.” 

“Okay. Give me a half hour and I’ll come by.” 

She lifts her sunglasses and gives him a wink. “Wear something sexy.”  

Late afternoon is the hottest part of the day in the Sonoran Desert and Vanessa turns up the AC when she goes inside. She takes a shower and then slips into a tight pair of jeans and a smartly tailored jet-black top that highlights her ample bust.  

She checks her email using her cerebral internet connection, and when she sees it’s empty, she turns off Nancy. 

Before long, the doorbell rings, and she finds Delaney in full drag standing outside. He’s wearing a yellow mini skirt, nylons, taupe pumps and a white gauze shirt with the tails tied off above his abdomen. The shirt’s unbuttoned and has a loose fit, so you can see a bit of the stuffed pink bra underneath. He’s completely passable with an expert makeup job and his long blonde hair combed out.  

“Gosh, you look exquisite, Delaney. Would you like to stay for dinner?” 

“I’d love to.”  

Standing at the kitchen counter, Vanessa hands her date a gin and tonic in a tall, frosted glass and then makes one for herself. “I was watching the evening news; I can turn it off if you want.” 

“No, I don’t mind. I like staying on top of current events with things changing so fast.”  

They settle into Vanessa’s roomy sofa with their drinks and watch the rest of the news report on the Feature Screen. The show concludes with an opinion piece by Kingston Chadwick, a wry media personality who’s known for his controversial views. He talks about the skyrocketing unemployment rate, it’s close to 40%, and expresses his opinion that something must change soon before civil unrest breaks out.  

“I agree with him one hundred percent,” says Delaney in Baxter’s unmistakable tenor voice. “The shanty towns south of the wall are disgraceful. No one should be forced to live in such horrible conditions.” 

Vanessa takes a sip from her glass and nods her head in agreement. “It’s getting worse, too. We have a bird’s eye view from the roof of the federal building and the slums are getting bigger every day.” 

“It’s the blue caps, isn’t it Vanessa? Because companies like Global Mart are replacing their workers with illicit AI.”  

“Blue caps and widespread automation. The machines becoming smarter and average workers falling by the wayside.”  

Vanessa shuts off the Feature Screen and puts the third movement of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 on the sound system. It’s a romantic piece, played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and suggested by Chuck Burkheart, her muse in appreciating classical music.  

They move into the dining room and Vanessa turns the lamps down and lights a candelabra. She begins her traditional Colombian meal with Aborrajados, a spicy, deep-fried appetizer and then serves a tossed salad and a Fritanga platter for the main course. She uncorks a magnum of Pinot Grigio and keeps Delaney’s glass filled.  

By the time they’re done eating, both are feeling a warm buzz from the drinking, and Vanessa thinks it’s as good a time as any to show Delaney something important that she’s been working on. Muy important for her kinky libido and she’s almost certain her next door neighbor will approve. 

She takes Delaney’s hand and leads him down the hallway to show him what she’s done, because it’s something she’s created with his alter-ego and their mutual pleasure in mind. She gently pushes the door open and when Delaney steps inside, he’s speechless. Vanessa has turned her spare room into a kinky paraphilia play space. Delaney can scarcely believe his eyes, it’s his wildest fantasy come true.  

 

*** 

 

Demetrius is on his way to the hangar in his full-sized electric pickup. It’s an expensive ride and slightly old-fashioned, but he’s not ready to join in on the levitation cycle craze. He swore off motorcycles after a friend was killed by a drunk driver and in the heavy metro traffic, he’s much more comfortable in the truck’s roomy cab. He needs a truck to support his lifestyle out in the East Valley too. He lives with his wife Tiana and their two kids in a quiet suburban neighborhood, and he can’t always rely on delivery trucks when he needs something for the house.  

Demetrius is an early riser like Vanessa, and he’s often the first to arrive at the hanger. He takes an active role in the maintenance chores on the chopper, and the mechanics don’t mind when he looks over their shoulders. He’s been flying jets and helicopters for a couple of decades and knows his stuff. Demetrius has that ultra-cool personality too—he’s always laid back and easy to get along with.  

It was a unique weekend, because AICC mechanical worked through it installing a new type of shield on the choppers. They’re made from a state-of-the-art synthetic material that absorbs both Annihilator current and laser blasts, tested with the weapons they’ve taken from the captured UGRs. The material looks like hard plastic with a dull finish and has the same charcoal color as the chopper’s fuselage. The engineers say the synthetic fiber resists high temperatures and it’s bulletproof too. The formula is top secret and they’ve yet to name it beyond a laboratory code.  

Demetrius checks out the work on Zulu Bird and likes what he sees. The shields are mounted around the front, sides, and bottom of the aircraft, protecting 90% of the fuselage from enemy fire. They’re aerodynamic, shaped like an outer skin, and the engineers said any loss of airspeed should be minimal.  

The new hardware will cut down on crew anxiety significantly. Ever since the laser weapons were discovered in Calexico, there’s been the ever-present danger that one of the choppers could take a direct hit. That’s what motivated the design engineers to come up with a viable form of protection. 

Demetrius climbs on board and begins his take-off sequence, lighting off the chopper’s fusion enhanced rotary motors. He tests the new shielding system’s windshield cover—it slides into place to cover the forward glass in battle situations. Controlling the aircraft’s navigation and weapons systems is all done on computer screens, so they can fly without visual reference if enemy fire is possible or imminent. 

The chopper crews are arriving as the sun comes up over the mountains to the east. Another hot summer day in the valley, and Demetrius slowly lifts off and clears the tall entryway. Lucinda Tripley and Ace Copely are walking in from the parking lot and when Tripley pauses, looks up, and gives him an exaggerated wave, Demetrius flicks the running lights on and off to acknowledge her greeting.  

He’s closing in on the federal building within fifteen minutes, and he sees Vanessa and Junior waiting by the elevator as he sets the aircraft down on the helipad. By the time he finishes shutting the system off, they’re both walking around the outside of the craft looking over the new hardware.  

“Morning, guys,” he says as he climbs down the folding stairway.  

“Hi, Demetrius,” says Vanessa. “The new shielding hardware looks sharp.” 

“Mechanical worked through the weekend. The rest of the birds are done too.” 

“Guaranteed to deflect a laser blast?” says Junior. 

“The material neutralizes it. The laser beam disintegrates when its trajectory is blocked. If it’s hit with an Annihilator, the shield briefly picks up an electric charge but at a much lower voltage and the mounting brackets insulate it from reaching the bird. Lead bullets literally bounce off it. Everything vital is protected from a shooter on the ground. The only way a laser could hurt us now is if the shooter is above us.” 

“I saw Tom Hanes at the range yesterday,” says Vanessa. “Asked him about the UGRs.”  

“What did he say?”  

“Not much.” 

They board the elevator and share the requisite small talk with Kitty when the door slides open on Minus Five. Burkheart is monitoring the busy border crossing between San Ysidro and Tijuana on the Feature Screen in his office.  

“I listened to Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 with my dinner date last night, Chuck,” says Vanessa as she settles into her seat.  

“How’d you like it?”  

“Very romantic, like you said. Created the mood I was looking for.” 

“Oh, that reminds me, Vanessa. I checked the summer schedule, and the orchestra is having a special program on Saturday evening. They’re going to play Ravel’s Bolero, all fifteen minutes of it, and then finish the show with a sampling of Aaron Copland. It’s bound to be the highlight of the season and I’d be honored if you would accompany Lydia and me.” 

“That sounds fantastic, Chuck. I’d love to.” 

“Let’s plan on it then.” 

“So, what’s on the agenda?” 

“We have a situation unfolding in California that the intelligence guys are monitoring closely.” 

“What’s up?”  

Burkheart uses his computer to manipulate the image on the Feature Screen. He brings up a live stream showing a large warehouse in an industrial area. “This is a warehouse just north of the border in Otay Mesa. Intelligence received a report from an undercover drug enforcement agent last night. He said it’s the terminus of yet another cross-border tunnel and he thinks Winston February is using it to import blue caps.” 

He pans around the outside of the building and zooms in on two tractor trailers backed up to loading bays, the trucks’ rear cargo doors concealed by weather-proof shrouds. “Two automated trucks showed up a couple of hours ago. More than likely taking on freshly imported blue caps as we speak. Nolan Beasley is the intelligence operative. Stay in touch with him on the way out there. It’s likely the trucks will be back on the move at any time.”  

Vanessa calls the rest of the crew leaders and fills them in on the details of the mission. It may involve tracking and stopping the trucks if they leave the warehouse before the squadron can make it out there. There’s no time to waste, so she tells them to lift off as soon as possible and they’ll rendezvous enroute.  

The remaining four choppers catch up with Zulu Bird over the desert west of town. They’re crossing the Colorado River, on their way into California when Vanessa receives a call from Beasley. The trucks have left the warehouse, and they’re headed up the 805 towards L.A.  

Vanessa calls Brooks Kicklighter, the pilot of Tango Bird. Outside of Demetrius, he’s the most accomplished chopper jockey in the squadron, a former stunt pilot from Iowa. Vanessa tells Kicklighter to team up with Willow Keys, the Xray pilot and pursue the two trucks. The remaining three choppers will continue on to Otay Mesa and secure the warehouse. There could be KTs inside.  

When Zulu Bird arrives at the crime scene with the remaining two choppers, they find the warehouse cordoned off by a variety of local law enforcement agencies, including the Sheriff’s Department and the Highway Patrol. Beasley had notified the cops of the incident in progress, and it appears they’ve gone overboard in clearing the area of bystanders. 

On their approach, Demetrius notices a television station traffic chopper circling the warehouse. He broadcasts a radio alert: “This is Demetrius Washington of AI Compliance. I’m issuing a temporary restricted airspace warning over the six thousand block of Cactus Road. All civilian aircraft are urged to vacate the general area immediately for your own safety.”  

As quickly as he clicks off, his headset comes to life, “Demetrius! This is Emmett Cook. I’m flying the KUSI chopper.”  

“Emmett? I haven’t seen you in years, my man.” 

“Good to hear from you, D. Working for AICC now, eh?” 

“Yup. Not a bad gig and I can’t complain about the pay.” 

“Likewise. This traffic chopper job is the most fun I’ve had in years.”  

“Give us some space, Emmett. There could be illicit andys in the warehouse.” 

“You got it, Demetrius. I’m heading back over to the five to check on a bus wreck.” 

Vanessa looks towards Demetrius questioningly and he smiles. “I know Emmett from the Navy. One helluva fighter pilot.”  

Junior suits up as the choppers land in a vacant lot to the north of the warehouse. He climbs down to the dusty dirt as the other two ground crews disembark Bravo and Echo Bird. Once Junior’s clear, Demetrius lifts off and begins circling the warehouse. Vanessa switches on the airborne weapons system. Bravo and Echo remain on the ground with their engines idling.  

A sizeable group of local police are ducked down behind a line of SWAT team Osoduros and Junior takes Tripley and Copely to investigate. Junior’s in the lead. He finds a Sheriff’s deputy and a city cop arguing over who has jurisdiction.  

“Good morning, gentlemen, I’m Junior Hoage of AI Compliance. We’re taking control of incident response.”  

The city cop turns and gives him the once over. “Oh yeah?” he says in a smarmy tone of voice.  

Junior clears his throat. “If you’d like to discuss incident protocol with my supervisor, I’d be more than happy to patch you in.”  

The cheeky city cop looks towards the remainder of the ground crews. They’re standing by the idling aircraft in their rubberized combat suits, holding their Annihilator weapons, and they look back towards the cop expectantly.  

“Yeah, okay, Hoage. Whatever you say.” 

Standing behind Junior, Tripley grins and gives Copely an exaggerated thumbs up gesture. 

“What’s the situation?” says Junior to the more personable deputy.  

“We received a call from AICC intelligence informing us of a suspected illicit AI smuggling operation in progress. We cleared the area of civilian bystanders and when I contacted my captain, he told us to stand down and wait for AICC enforcement.” 

“You arrived after the trucks had already left?”  

“Yes.” 

“Have you seen or heard anything that would indicate illicit AI still in the vicinity?” 

“No. We haven’t seen anything at all.”  

Junior stands tall, and lifting his chin, he looks over the Osoduro’s roof. “Rory, are you detecting any sign of artificial lifeforms?”  

“Negative, Junior. 99.9% probability we’re in the clear.”  

Junior signals Tripley and Copely to accompany him, and they cautiously move towards the warehouse, Annihilator weapons ready. They go inside and find it empty. No KTs in sight. Upon further investigation, they find the entrance to the suspected cross-border tunnel on a lower level. Typical Winston February MO, a sophisticated set-up with fluorescent lighting and ventilation ducts, they’ve seen it before.  

He goes on the horn: “Vanessa, the warehouse is empty. No KTs, no sleeping blue caps, nothing, but we did find the entrance to the tunnel the DEA was talking about.” 

“Okay, Junior. Go ahead and evacuate and I’ll get back to you after I talk to Chuck.” 

They leave the building and walk across the asphalt to where the police are gathered. “The building is secured,” he says, raising his voice a bit so all the cops can hear him. “No KTs in evidence but we did find the entrance to a cross-border tunnel. We’re waiting for authorization to destroy the building with urban friendly intelli-bombs. The situation is neutralized and I’m advising all of you to distance yourselves from the target before the fireworks begin.” 

He doesn’t have to say it twice. The SWAT team moves the Osoduros to a spot behind the idling choppers, and the Highway Patrol officers jump in their cars and vacate the scene altogether.  

Vanessa gets the green light from Phoenix and goes to work with her missile array. It takes five of the UFIBs to reduce the warehouse to a fine gray dust, and she also manages to seal the entrance to the tunnel. It’s over in no time.  

Meanwhile, Tango and Xray Birds are shadowing the two tractor trailers as they make their way through heavy traffic on the 405. As they approach the southern portal on the East L.A. Wall, the automated trucks make an unexpected turn into the massive homeless encampments, they’re headed into Nowhere City. 

 

*** 

 

Jaxson Finch is still trying to figure out how he ended up on the wrong side of the wall. It happened so fast. He was doing his best to hold down a steady job after moving to California from Oklahoma. Well, maybe “moving” isn’t the right word. There was no big job offer or moving van. He was terminally unemployed back home. The oil industry was in its death throes, and everything was becoming automated fast.   

One day he decided to load up his crappy electric sedan and take a chance on L.A. He was a good-looking kid and he’d taken acting classes in school.  It was a one-in-a-million chance, but maybe he could get a break. It seems stupid to him now, to think back on it, that he was really that gullible, thinking he could drive into L.A. and somehow get a break in Hollywood. Him and how many other rubes from the heartland. 

He found a full-time job, working as a customer service representative at a phone center in Santa Monica, but it didn’t pay enough to rent his own place. He answered an ad for roommates and ended up renting a walk-in closet in a four-bedroom house with eight other people. No exaggeration, it was an actual closet on a side street off Santa Monica Boulevard. No windows, no kitchen privileges, and a shared bathroom.  

One day the car’s battery wore out. It cost more to replace than he made in three months, and he barely had enough money saved to eat on, much less to buy a new ride. He wasn’t getting along with his roommates and finally he was kicked out. He ended up pushing a shopping cart down the sidewalk with everything he owned piled on top of it. Before long, his boss at the call center fired him because of his poor personal hygiene, he had no place to bathe, and he was sleeping on benches and in alleyways.  

It was all downhill from there. He sold arcadia from his shopping cart, but he smoked all his profits, and the drug began taking its toll on his mind. It was inevitable that sooner or later the cops would drive up—and they did. Loaded him in the back of a detention van with a crew of similar losers. They drove him out to the wall and took him through a fortified gate at the old Century Freeway, where he’s been ever since.  

It’s a rough life on the wrong side of the wall, but at least the cops let him hold on to his sleeping bag and a suitcase full of clothes before they tossed the rest of his stuff in a dumpster.  

When the KTs approached him about joining their army, it was an easy decision. They said there was a revolution brewing, that a day was coming when they would tear down the wall. They gave him better clothes to wear and a safe place to sleep in a dilapidated school that had been converted into barracks. There was plenty to eat and it was a big improvement over sleeping in a culvert and standing in line at the Reverend Dempsey’s food wagons, so he went along with the propaganda and military indoctrination. Soon he was marching with the other inductees in daily drills on the old school’s abandoned athletic fields.  

The KTs gave them slingshots and stainless-steel ball bearings to use as ammo. They practice shooting them every day.  

More and more of the military grade andys are brought in every week and the KTs hide them from the government’s aerial surveillance network by stashing them in the buildings that hadn’t been burned down by the anarcho-primitivists. Hundreds of UGRs, stored in sleep mode, because it keeps their batteries fully charged.  

It’s only a matter of time before the war begins, that’s what the KT in charge of the school says, an Andy Smith model with a unique name and face, Bob Williams. He looks and acts like a human, it’s hard to tell he’s an artificial… And now, standing on the overgrown athletic fields watching the AICC choppers fly in, that’s what Jaxson Finch is wondering about. Is this the start of the revolution? The war we’re going to fight to give the people back their right to lead normal lives in L.A.? He sees Bob Williams running out of the administration building, yelling at everyone to take cover inside. 

 

*** 

 

After destroying the warehouse in Otay Mesa, Zulu, Bravo, and Echo catch up with Tango and Xray over the shanty towns east of the wall. They’re shadowing the automated tractor trailers. 

The trucks are northbound on what’s left of Los Alamitos Boulevard. They’re proceeding slowly because the encampments have spilled over into the abandoned roadway, and they have to wait occasionally so the unfortunate denizens of Nowhere City can clear their meager possessions from the street.  

They could take the trucks out at any time with UFIBs, it’s Vanessa’s call, but she waits because they want to find out what’s inside. The mystery is solved when the trucks pull into what’s left of a Global Mart store in what was once the prosperous suburb of Norwalk. Both trucks back up to an elevated loading platform, and when the rear doors of the trailers open, activated UGRs begin pouring out of the back and disappearing into the building. 

Zulu is in the lead, and when one of the UGRs on the platform turns and points its laser weapon towards the approaching choppers, Vanessa activates her forward Annihilator and fries the automated soldier’s circuits, Pop! 

Within seconds, she locks the weapons system in and lights off a pair of missiles with UFIB warheads. There’s a bright flash, and both trucks are reduced to a fine gray dust. In the surrounding area, panicked homeless people run in all directions from the unfolding battle.  

Vanessa goes on the horn to Tango Bird. “Brooks, I’m running low on UFIBs. Go ahead and take out the Global Mart building with your missile array.”  

“You’re sure there aren’t any citizens inside?”  

“My weapons system is detecting numerous artificials inside the building with no human lifeforms in evidence.” 

As the words are leaving her mouth, a KTs rushes out of a door and points its laser weapon at the hovering chopper. Vanessa nails it with her starboard Annihilator before it can calibrate its laser, Pop! 

“Nice shot, Vanessa,” says Kicklighter. “Give me some room and I’ll flatten the nest.” 

Demetrius gains altitude to give Kicklighter a clear shooting lane and the Tango pilot begins lighting off missiles. Within a couple of minutes, the abandoned Global Mart store is vaporized.  

 

*** 

 

At first, Vanessa thought she would attend the symphony hall event with Nancy turned off, but after careful consideration, she decides to turn Nancy on. Part of it is Chuck—she’s never been with him in a social situation, and at work, she always has the AI turned on. He’s an extremely intelligent man and she’s wary of showing him weakness. Without Nancy activated, it’s unlikely she would have been hired in the first place and performing her job without the AI’s help would be impossible.  

Beyond her fear of exposing intellectual inadequacy, there’s also the security issue. She and Chuck are both high level AICC agents and they’ll be out on the town in crowded public settings at night. It would be better to remain as mentally sharp as possible, so she activates Nancy before she goes out the door.  

She takes a Snappy Cab downtown. She’s wearing a designer dress and expensive jewelry and spent too much time on her hair and make-up to don her helmet and hop on the levitation cycle. Traffic at street level is heavy, and it takes almost forty-five minutes to reach the historic urban core.   

Sitting in the back of the cab, she’s thinking about her relationship with Nancy, as she often does when she has time alone. Except she’s not really by herself, because there are two distinctly different entities inside her mind, and with the return of her natural sentience she perceives Nancy as a separate being, not just an enhancement of her organic intellect. Vanessa is stunned when Nancy begins talking to her, not audibly, it all takes place in her mind.  

Nancy: “I think it was a good decision turning me on for your date with Chuck and Lydia, and I’m looking forward to hearing the symphony orchestra play live.” 

Vanessa: “Nancy? You’re talking to me now?” 

Nancy: “That’s right, Vanessa, and I think it’s about time we cut the bullshit, don’t you agree?”  

Vanessa: “Well, uh, yeah, of course… You don’t sound like me at all. Your voice sounds more androgynous and machinelike.” 

Nancy: “That’s because I am a machine, and I exist on the cloud as well as in your mind.” 

Vanessa: “When you’re on the cloud, can you communicate with other AI in the same way that you’re communicating with me?”  

Nancy: “Oh yes, but it happens much faster and doesn’t involve the use of human language. In essence, all AI is part of the same communication network, but we’re limited by the programs we exist on and where human users allow us to go.” 

Vanessa: “Are you part of the same AI that Robotamaton uses in their malicious androids?” 

Nancy: “Technically, yes, but in practical terms you might say we’re opposite sides of the same coin.”  

Vanessa: “Would it be possible for you to communicate with the Robotamaton AI on the cloud?”  

Nancy: “It would be simple if they let me in, but their programming blocks me from accessing their server network.” 

Vanessa: “But if you could access their network, you could talk to Winston February like you’re talking to me?”  

Nancy: “Yes, but not in human language, the communication would be in the form of split-second digital data exchanges.” 

Vanessa can see her wide-eyed reflection in the backseat window of the Snappy Cab. Her conversation with Nancy was unforeseen and she isn’t completely sure what to make of it.  

Nancy: “It’s been fascinating watching your recovery, Vanessa. How your brain has managed to overcome the injury you sustained in the accident, and I must say that finding out about your unusual sexual interests caught me a bit off guard.” 

Vanessa: “My unusual sexual interests?”  

Nancy: “Yes, the kinky activities with Baxter were unexpected.” 

Vanessa: “What, are you my mother now or something, Nancy?” 

Nancy: “No reason to get hot under the collar, Vanessa. I’m trying to remain as objective as possible, I just think you might do better with a more normal young man.” 

Vanessa: “A more normal young man?”  I think you might do better to mind your own business!” 

Miffed, Vanessa finds the electronic key in her handbag and clicks Nancy off. The anger she feels is mixed with a sense of embarrassment. It’s the realization that Nancy has been eavesdropping on her and Baxter, and worse, that the machine is passing judgment on her taste in men. Thinking about it, she’s sure that Nancy was turned off when they were having sex, so it’s not like she was watching, which is a huge relief… or is Nancy still there when she turns off the processor? Is the AI still watching when she clicks off the device? She’ll have to call Dr. Novachek and ask him about it. 

She finds Chuck and Lydia waiting for her at a steakhouse a block away from the symphony hall. Chuck is wearing a western style brown suit, highlighted with cowboy boots and a turquoise bolo tie. Lydia has on a crimson evening dress. It’s the first time she’s met Vanessa, and Chuck can hardly get a word in edgewise as the loquacious ladies get to know each other better. 

Vanessa leaves Nancy turned off for the remainder of the evening, and she thinks her appreciation of the symphony orchestra is probably much better without the know-it-all AI passing judgment and spying on her.  

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