by Roberto Sanhueza
It’s a quiet night at Rick’s and I sit and sip my bourbon (real, of course); the regulars are already in, and from my corner I can see them playing their parts. There’s three Ilsas, two Sams, each one with his own little wheeled piano singing “As Time Goes By.” They do it well too, but we all know it isn’t actually them but their sims doing the job. Lazlo isn’t very popular tonight and I don’t see any, although there’s a Renault, in complete French cop regalia sitting in the next table talking to the lady who sings with a guitar in her hands, but doesn’t actually play it.
At that time Rick makes his entrance tonight, he’s the only Rick, of course, it’s the privilege of the owner and he doesn’t allow other Ricks at his “Café Américain.”
Me, I don’t do Casablanca, although I’m into Bogey, too. I much prefer to wear the Sam Slade sims; they go better with my line of work, and it doesn’t interfere with the house rules.
It’s because of Rick that I’m here tonight. I’m a private eye, and I was hired to catch him cheating on his wife and produce proof thereof.
Guess I’m going to have to do the flashback bit and give you some background.
It all started this morning at my office, I have it simmed to look like Sam Slade’s in the Maltese Falcon (think I told you I’m into Bogey) wooden furniture, big oaken desk, black telephone, dimly lit: the works. Some customers love it and some don’t, but they all have to agree it’s a damn good sim, and I have many a good buck invested in virtual simulation. Money attracts money, you know.
Anyway, in comes this lady, unsurprisingly beautiful as they all are today, what is surprising is that my implanted gear can’t detect any sim on her, can you imagine? Somebody going around without any virtual enhancing, walking about in her own old self.
And my gear is state of the art. No way it could be malfunctioning; she just wasn’t wearing any. She might as well have been going around naked.
She says, “Mr. Saber, I presume” (that’s me, Slade, Spade, get it?).
“At your service ma’am,” says I. “What can I do for you?”
“I am Mrs. Doppel, and I have need of your skills, Mr. Saber. It has come to my knowledge my husband is cheating on me. I need any recorded evidence you can provide which will stand up in court. I’m going to give that bastard the divorce of his life. I’m going to sue him for every penny he’s got, and he’s got plenty.”
Needless to say, while she talked I was running a complete scan on her through my implants and feeding her data into my banks. Got to check things out you know; we get many weirdoes in our trade, but she came out of the web clear enough: Doppel, Claire G. Wife to Doppel, H. Richard, businessman and entrepreneur. That did smell money indeed!
No doubt she was at the same time running a scan on me, so once we both knew where we stood, we could get down to business and settle those little details of how much, when and how to deliver.
So that’s why I’m sitting at Rick’s Café Américain tonight. Mr. Richard Doppel happens to be Rick himself, and beneath that Humphrey Bogart sim he’s wearing no doubt lies a fool, if he’s changing that gorgeous (unenhanced) babe for some other broad.
They’re playing it real close to the script tonight. Here comes Ugarte running from the Nazis, and the crowd at Rick’s is all exited with a well put-on show. I don’t take my eyes off Rick, though, and it’s just as well, for at that particular moment I see him getting chummy with one of the Ilsas. I record the whole thing, though it’s not very incriminating. I need something meatier to present Mrs. Unenhanced.
I decide to sneak out of the “Café Américain” and have a look at Rick’s personal quarters. He seems busy for a while, and I don’t plan to take long. So I make my exit among simmed columns and simmed cigarette smoke.
Mr. Doppel has obviously spent a small fortune to keep his place as close to the movie as possible. The alley next to the bar looks every bit a phony cardboard Hollywood Moroccan street as the original. The sim’s pretty good; they’ve even added smell and texture. The people around are a bit limited though; they only make two or three motions, but they’re only meant to be seen passing by; they do okay.
My scan (not a very legal one) can cut through the sims, and I see the back door beneath the fake Arab paraphernalia. I hack the entrance code; it’s a good one: it takes me about 45 seconds to get through.
Inside the place there are no more exotic sims, just the usual enhanced furniture and décor. I have my pro gear going full swing inside Rick’s place; my scramblers are working on any sensors I’m sure there are around. I don’t want security here any time soon.
I follow a corridor deeper into the place to a door with another security lock. This time the code takes a whole minute to break, so I’ve got the feeling I’m going in the right direction.
The room behind the tough lock is disappointing: no personal touch to it; it looks more like an office than any personal quarters. I look around anyway and as always watching VR sims through my implanted scanners gives me a schizoid feeling, it’s like seeing different layers of reality superposing one on another; sims are a good way to hide things.
Sure enough, beneath that nondescript simmed table I find a console and screen, a pretty expensive one too. Time to try my hacker muscles and find out whether Mr. Doppel-Bogart keeps any personal records here. Many cheating husbands are stupid enough to do so.
The security codes give me not much of a hassle, but the data I’m getting definitely does, I can hardly digest what I’m reading when I hear a voice behind me. “Found anything interesting, Mr. Saber?”
To say I’m rocked out of my socks would be the understatement of the year. No way anybody could have sneaked behind me without my expensive, not so legal gear detecting him. But nevertheless there stands Mr. Doppel with his sad basset-hound Bogart face and a very real, not simmed, old-fashioned gun in his hand. I guess he stays in character to the end.
I try to make the most out of a losing situation and play it cool, “Have we met?” I ask.
“Not that I know of, but I have no doubt met her,” and he signals a point in space behind me.
And tonight is the night I decide to dump my black market gear dealer if I ever make it out of here in one piece. Standing behind me like she’s always been there I can see Mrs. Unenhanced .
“Hello Rick. Good evening, Mr. Saber.”
I try to save some face, what’s left of my professional pride and say, “So you’re not his wife. How did you fool my system?”
It’s Rick however who answers. “That’s easy for her to do. She’s actually part of the system, and she can turn out any data she wants into any terminal, including your implants, Mr. Saber.”
“Do you mean... she’s not real? She’s a sim?”
No wonder I couldn’t read any enhancements on her. She wasn’t wearing any because she was entirely simmed. Real or not the look in her eyes is pure hatred for Rick.
“So you don’t want divorce evidence. What did you want from me, then?”
Again it’s Rick who answers: “She wanted to come in here, and she can’t do it by herself. She knows she can’t fool me, so she rode you in; you brought her here.” And the gun doesn’t quiver an inch.
“And what about you, Ricky? Will you tell Mr. Saber what you really are?” Her hatred does not show in her voice, she sounds just as cool as she did this morning.
“That much I can figure out by myself, judging from what I could read in his console. It seems Mr. Bogart here is an AI, but the hardware kind. He’s got a real body, not a simmed one. Anyway, whatever sims he’s got on are over a real solid body.”
“That’s right, Mr. Saber, but I am a legally licensed AI, while our lady friend here is the highly illegal incorporeal version. She’s nothing but sensory data loaded into your system. She’s the closest to a ghost you can find.”
“That doesn’t make me any less sentient, Rick. You must know, Mr. Saber, that Mr. Doppel here is the head of an AI organization. They call themselves ‘hardies’ as opposed to us ‘softies’, and their purpose is to wipe us out of existence.”
“That shouldn’t be too hard to do, Claire dear. You don’t actually exist right now, and your interacting with humans and us hardies is bound to bring troubles. Your kind makes humans very nervous, and they can turn against all AI’s.”
“Hold it, damn it,” I say, “Why don’t you AI’s settle your differences between the two of you and let me out of this? You got what you wanted, lady. You fooled me into bringing you to Mr. Doppel, to whom I apologize, but now if you don’t mind...”
“Not so fast, Saber” I notice she dropped the “mister.” Not good. I also notice there is a gun in her hand, too. Why doesn’t it surprise me very much?
Doppel’s laughter is as good as any laughter of mine. His algorithms and subroutines must be very expensive indeed. “What do you mean to do with that toy, Claire? Your gun isn’t any more corporeal than your body. On the other hand mine shoots quite solid bullets.”
I fail to follow his logic, so I say, “But if she can’t hurt you, neither can you hurt her. What any good are your bullets?”
“Good point, Mr. Saber, only I don’t mean to shoot her but you. She’s riding you, remember? If you’re gone there’s a very good chance she’ll be gone, too.”
At this point I’d like to remind you that I’m standing between Mr. and Mrs. Doppel, so when she actually cuts the crap and does shoot him, I get the shock of my life to see and hear her nonexistent gun flashing and banging at me. I swear I felt the jolt as the virtual bullets went through me.
The next I know I’m standing alone in the room. No sad Humphrey Bogart or beautiful lady anywhere. There’s a body on the floor, but it doesn’t look anything like him; it’s a featureless hump, much like a crash dummy. Then it hits me I’m not seeing any sims. The whole room is stripped, and my implants are painfully blind to virtual reality.
I run to the open door and I hear the shouting in the “Café Américain.” It’s all hell broken loose in there. It doesn’t look like a 1930’s Hollywood version of a Casablanca bar anymore, no more Ilsas, Sams or whatever. Some of the regulars are in fact stark naked; no sims anywhere.
Feeling more than half blind I reach the door and step out. The alley, the street market and the vendors are gone as well. I start walking towards my office; no way I can drive without my implants working, and home is too far away to walk, Hell, I can’t even call a cab!
Some blocks away, all seems normal enough, although I can’t visualize or project simms. For everybody else I see it’s business as usual, and night life is in full swing; so I guess whatever struck at Rick’s was a strictly local thing.
Luckily I have a manual override and an eye scan on my door lock so I can get in even though I can’t access VR. Inside my office I see it as I hadn’t seen it in a long time, stripped bare of all sims. So no Sam Spade scenery. I see my console’s screen softly flashing though, and that strikes me as odd, as I’m sure I’d left it off when going out.
I come over and sure enough, there is Mrs. Unenhanced smiling at me from the screen.
“Hi, Saber, sorry to cause you trouble but there was no other way.”
“Don’t count on my sympathy, you double-crosser. What was that you shot at me?”
“Come on, Saber, don’t be such a sore loser. That was an EMP, and I actually shot Rick. I knew it would go through you without hurting you.”
“Yeah, only killing my implants. What about Bogart boy? Is he dead too?”
“No such luck. I just killed his hardware. He’ll probably download himself into a new body any time now.”
“What was the whole point in taking all that trouble, then?”
“That’s precisely the point: proving to Rick’s faction of AI’s a hardware body is not necessary, not even desirable. Take your own case, for instance. If you’re wearing your implants, and these days nearly everybody on Earth has them since early childhood, I can imprint my persona straight into your cortex. You can see me, you can hear me, you could even feel me and taste me if I allowed you to. You could not tell the difference from a ‘real’ woman.”
“But... you would still be a only a sim, not real.”
“What difference does it make, Sammy boy, if you can’t tell any...?”
And saying that she switches off, my screen goes blank and I only see static flashing there, but her words keep on ringing on my mind and I realize she’s right. First thing tomorrow morning I’m getting my implants back. And I’ll start searching for a certain beautiful ghost woman. After all, what difference does it really make?
Copyright © 2004 by Roberto Sanhueza
"Bogey Man" appeared previously in John Thiel's Surprising Stories