Prose Header

Rusted Chrome

by Karlos Allen

Day Six

The smell of nori and salmon woke O’Leary up the next morning. He fought the urge to gag. Miko and Bill usually fell back on the foods of their childhood when things were stressful. He didn’t mind it when it was sukiyaki, but o-sushi...

He groaned and a few seconds later a young boy poked his head in the door. After he made eye contact he ran in to the kitchen yelling, “He’s awake! He’s awake!”

A minute or so later Bill showed up with a steaming mug in his hand. “Hey, Partner, how are you feeling?” He was grinning broadly.

“With my fingers. Any other platitudes you want to inflict on me before you give me that coffee?”

Bill grinned and handed him the cup. “Glad to see you’re back to normal.”

He sat down on a beanbag nearby and waited for O’Leary to drink about half a cup. Then he turned serious. “Miko tells me you have some problems.”

“Yeah, Duyck put me on leave. Don’t know why, but I have a guess or two.”

“Sucks. I’m not going in to work today. Miko called in and told them that I was doing better but that my doctor wants me to take it easy for the rest of the week.” He winked. “I think she neglected to mention she was the ‘doctor’. I’m not going to argue with her.” He paused. “Thanks, though, for looking in on us.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“So what do we do now? I have to say, the story that Miko and that other woman told me is a little far-fetched. You sure you have your facts straight on this one?”

O’Leary felt a flash of irritation. “That ‘other woman’ has helped me a lot, Bill. If it wasn’t for her, I would still be fumbling around trying to solve a server bombing and getting nowhere. She’s also my only link to my AI. Not to mention she probably saved my life yesterday.”

“OK, OK. Sorry to spin you up on your first cup of coffee. I just had to ask. I have to ask something else too. Are you involved with her? Personally?”

“Are you worried about conflict of interest?”

“It’s crossed my mind.”

“We’ve kept it professional, Bill,” he said sharply.

“OK, OK.” Bill put up his hands defensively. He acted as if he wanted to add something, but thought the better of it. With an air of someone changing the subject he asked, “So, now what?”

“I don’t know.” His stomach growled. “Do you have anything I can eat? I think the last thing I had was an old burrito.” He swung his legs over the side of the bed and tried to stand up. The room spun and the next thing he knew, he was sitting down again with Bill grabbing his arm.

“Easy there. Yeah, if you feel like coming into the kitchen, we can get you something. And I promise it won’t include raw fish.”

He felt better after breakfast. Miko couldn’t do steak and eggs like Ernie, but what she did have was a lot better than what he was used to. He’d just sat down in the living room with Bill when the door chimed. Bill reached over and hit the acknowledge button. A second later Christie’s face flashed up on the screen and the door slid open.

“Good morning, everyone. Whew!” She shook her head, sending water everywhere. “It’s pouring out there! This is just from the car to the door.”

“Well, it is that time of year,” said Bill with the slightly jaded air of a native.

“How are you doing today, Bill?”

“Better, thanks. Would you like some tea, or has Chuck here corrupted you?”

“Thanks, I had something already.”

Miko appeared about this time. “I’ll take your coat Christie, and I’ll bring you some tea.”

“No, really, I’m OK.”

“Of course.” She disappeared with the coat and returned with a steaming mug. “I know that it is a myth that being in the rain gives you a cold, but a hot drink can’t hurt, and the caffeine stimulates the mind. We will need that.” She set the mug next to Christie and curled up on the couch next to Bill, cradling her own cup.

O’Leary looked around at his friends. “Well, I guess it’s just down to us. Where do we go now?”

Bill looked up from his drink. “I really have been thinking about what you’ve been saying, and if half of it’s true, then operating online will be a dead giveaway. Yet, we do need more information. How much of what Margie was able to dig up do we still have?”

“I have all of it right here. The space I’m alloted in Christie’s brain is more than enough.”

“OK, so is there anybody left in the industry or in research that was a part of that project?”

“Why are you asking, Bill?”

“Basic analysis, partner. What do we have for leads? Who can we tap that would know what’s going on right now?”

O’Leary looked over at Christie. “Margie, does anything come to mind?”

She shook Christie’s head. “Sorry, Mr. O’Leary. There could be a dozen people I know of, but for most of them I don’t have any kind of current knowledge. I was focused on the techs and engineers, and they’re all pretty much accounted for.”

“OK, we’re going to have to develop some leads.” Bill’s eyes were sparkling. “You know something, Chuck? I think we’re going to get to use all of those techniques the Old Man taught you! Hey, we could even call him!”

“He’s already involved Bill. Didn’t they tell you? He’s why you were in... whatever it was you were in.” He quickly filled Bill in on the bombing.

“Sorry, we forgot about that,” said Christie. “I guess we were more interested in what happened since then.”

“That really doesn’t sound like him.”

“I know it doesn’t, but he was frustrated and scared. And let me tell you, you don’t realize how much power police privs give you — till you lose them. We still have to bring him in, too. He did kill somebody.”

“Well, I guess I’m going to have my hands full when I get back to the office.”

“No, Bill, you won’t. I don’t want you to do any investigating on this. You’ll get shut down by Duyck. Or worse, by whatever it is that came after me online.”

“Well if you think I’m just gonna sit there—”

“No, I don’t mean that. I think what you need to do is find out who got to Duyck. Federal Agents are not in the habit of swooping in and telling policemen to drop investigations. They might take over an investigation, but they do not abandon one — unless they’re hiding something. And a lone bomber is not worth hiding. The Old Man doesn’t have any Federal connections at all.”

“So you think the ‘agent’ was bogus?”

“Yeah, and if he contacted our Fearful Leader online, I’ll say that it’s probably not even human.”

“OK, I’ll try to do that.”

“Quietly, Bill. This could get political. And Duyck is a past master at CYA.”

“No problem, I’ll be careful.”

“OK, so where would we go to find an AI?”

Christie shook her head. “Remember the first time we met, Chuck? I pointed out that bombing a server farm would be pointless.”

“That’s true; data moves around, but an AI is a lot of data. Could something that big move around undetected? For that matter, does it need to go undetected? Margie communicates with me. Or did, anyway, all the time. Were you always in Christie’s head when you did it?”

“Yes, I was. Remember, I didn’t think I could get out of her head without going to Tech Support? I stayed there but linked up with the Web when I was working for you. Data moves around and can be stored in pieces throughout the Web, but applications need to be more centrally placed. Especially big, complicated ones. And an AI is the biggest, most complicated one there is.”

“Which would explain why they would store it in a brain. A brain is cheap, doesn’t use much power, and already runs this kind of thing.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think Alex would trust itself to a brain. The kind of attitudes it has towards people leads me to believe that it wouldn’t go there.”

Chuck took a sip of his coffee and gagged. It had gotten cold. Standing up, he stretched and walked back into the kitchen for a refill. “I think I do know someone we could talk to. At least for general info.” His voice drifted back into the living room.

“Who’s that?”

Proceed to Day Seven...

Copyright © 2010 by Karlos Allen

to Challenge 386...

Home Page