The Gloves Come Off

He left the hopper and was entering his POD, around the same time Max got the response back he was expecting from Roddy and he felt sick. There had been no mention of Jay being sick on the last call, no mention of Jay at all, on any call. He left the campus and headed for a Hopper.

As he entered the POD Jay noticed an unusual number of bots, droids and drones milling around. Some were in the kitchen refilling or replacing items. Others were cleaning and removing garbage. One was in the bathroom delivering supplies. He was pleased to see a hover bot coming out of the kitchen with empty beer slots on it which meant he was fully stocked up with his favorite selection.

“Chameleon that’s a lot of maintenance hardware in here today. Are you sure they are all genuine?”

“Yes Jay, why do you ask? I always check scheduled maintenance and scan all contents going in and out. You needed a lot doing and when you mentioned you were going out for the night I activated some that I had already routinely delayed, they come on auto when things need doing but I almost always keep them for a slot when you are not home”

Jay looked as round suspiciously as they all tried to get out as soon as they could, tying to finish their tasks as quickly as possible.

“No reason just some weird shit going down today. What’s the mail situation?”

When he was home alone Chameleon knew, Jay preferred to use open audio, so the neutral voice chimed out. “You have 270 messages: 40 of interest, 10 personal, and 1 official.”

“Archive all except personal,” Jay said. “Summarize official.”

“An invitation to a launch dinner on Sunday night at 8pm, hosted by the Unity League. A celebration for the official sealing of the Moon Domes.”

Could this day get any stranger? Who the hell were Unity. Jay kicked off his shoes and grabbed a beer from the fridge. He sat on his bed and stared into space. “Chameleon, what’s Unity League?”

“The Unity League is a privately-owned company specializing in deep-space exploration and research. Public records are limited.”

“Tell me the owner’s name,” Jay said.

“There is no public record of the owner of Unity League.”

“OK, file and remind me tomorrow,” Jay said. Something about the invitation did not feel right. The fact that it had gotten past Chameleon’s filters was odd, and it was even stranger that the company had no public owner listed. “Also find out if I am able to take a guest.”

“I have set the reminder. The invitation indicates you are welcome to bring a guest.”

“Great, give them Abby’s details please.”

“One other thing. The advances on your firewalls are almost constant now and the sophistication of the payloads in your spam email is very high.

“Shit ok thanks.” This was starting to really unnerve him.

Jay took a sip of beer and dove into a modular chair that adjusted to his shape for maximum comfort.

“NEWS 1,” he said, looking for some fake distraction.

His screen appeared in the middle of the room and angled itself so he had the best view possible.

“ISEC’s transmission to the aliens is due to go out tonight,” the newscaster said. “Sources say that most of the images will be landscapes and portraits of people, to show the range of human culture.”

Jay could read between the lines. On campus, people could hardly talk about anything else. ISEC didn’t want to reveal how advanced humans were technologically, or how much the people had come to depend on the AIs. Jay switched off, the fake nature of the stories irritated him rather than distracted him.

The door chimed and an image of Max Wellborn popped up in the room in front of him.

“Allow,” he replied as he got up and went to fetch a beer from the fridge. “Meet me next door in the lab,” he shouted as he keyed his code for the lab door and went in. Max followed, and Jay handed him his beer.

After half an hour of analyzing the results every way they knew how, there was no hiding from the fact that Jay seemed to have a well-known historical DNA defect attributable to giving people odd visions, sleep defects, and other more obscure mental issues. The defect eradicated many years ago delivered along with all the other gene-mods and immunizations you got these days.

“How didn’t you find this earlier?” Jay asked. “You’re the science guy.”

Max looked hurt. “I’ve only been working with you for a few months. Do you have any idea how much DNA there is in you? That sequence was eradicated years ago! It’s part of the standard vaccine package that nearly the whole world gets when they’re infants.”

“Sorry,” Jay said. “It’s just, you know what that means?”

Max took a pull from his beer, and his Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “It means that someone’s been hiding this from us. It’s DNA you aren’t supposed to have so someone reintroduced it somehow or you re grew it. Who or how though? I am lost, someone took great pains to keep it out of your files on the central AI, and that alone is impressive. What’s even more impressive and wired is that someone else knew this and had planted the evidence in your dreams when you were a kid. I mean it Jay, this is all truly a little fucking super natural.”

“Listen.” Jay said. “The only people whit that kind of access are high up in ISEC, most likely the military side.” Jay rarely heard Max swear so he tried to steer him back to some logic to calm him a little.

“I know,” Max said. “All I can say is this is truly weird. We’re told all our lives that Central AIs are programmed with the upmost integrity and are not able to lie. Permissions given to withhold data or manipulate can only stem from an international security warrant. Now here we are with clear evidence that someone has tampered with your personal data in public record and the AI let that happen. A smoking gun?”

Screaming alarms from every machine in Jays lab cut Max off. Jay was instantly alert, someone, somewhere, knew what they were up to.

“What the hell is that?” Max asked in panic.

“The beeping is from my firewalls. Someone is trying to hack in for real this time, I don’t think this is just a gentle knock on my virtual door,” he said in somewhat of a panic. “Chameleon, display perimeter defenses,” he barked.

A holo appeared, displaying his computer and network schematics. The extra security routines he bought from Dupie were not going to last long.

“Chameleon, flush all data to hard storage and disconnect from all but A-NET.” Jay looked at Max, who had gone pale. “This is ISEC level hacking, or at least powerful government or military grade. Could it be the nest” he said, trying to sound calmer than he felt.

“No, if this was the NEST directly, I suspect that they would have been and gone and we wouldn’t even know they would have visited.

There was a deafening pause as the holo showed everything shutting down. Thick blue lines draining to offline storage hubs indicated masses of evacuated data. The last remaining active link, blinking red, was A-NET. It was a federal offense to disconnect yourself from the A-NET. Disconnecting it would only make things worse.

“Chameleon, see if you can trace the source of the intrusion. Max, help me start unplugging this stuff.”

It would not be long before the attack made it through his protection routines and would have access to everything on Jay’s home network. Most of his files were innocent enough, but he didn’t want anyone finding the DNA profile work. ISEC rules demanded that AI’s continuously connected to A-NET. The attack seemed to be coming on A, B, and C-NET’s simultaneously as the young men ripped network cables from the backs of machines and chameleon disabled wireless connectivity in the whole POD and began to whitelist their personal devices.

“I am unable to trace back the data route of the intruder,” Chameleon said.

Jay wasn’t surprised. An attacker of this sophistication and scale was going to cover his tracks no problem. “Chameleon, download yourself into the house unit and get ready to retract your routines from A-NET. As soon as they break through, I want you to disconnect yourself from the A-NET. I’ll activate the voice unit in the POD.”

“This is most irregular. Withdrawing like this is a CODE A violation and will instigate a full investigation from ISEC.” Chameleon seemed unsettled. As a personal AI, Chameleon’s job was to protect Jay, so it made sense that Chameleon would be aware of the seriousness of the situation. Yet something about the way Chameleon had said it made Jay even more upset.

“Then let them investigate,” Jay said, sounding braver than he felt. “I am giving you my personal authority to carry out this order. And Chameleon, leave up the holo of my computer terminal so we can see what’s going on.”

Another set of alarms went off as the intruder broke through his hardened firewall and Chameleon executed his last order. The whole holo went red as the intruder gained access and sent in mines, bots, and zombies attacking all the computers that were still physically attached. His official school laptop was on and it was the first to fall under the weight of the attack.

“Your computer!” Max said.

“Don’t worry about that one,” Jay said. “It’s just school work. Nothing important. It’s clean.”

Max looked worried. “Who the hell is doing this?” he asked again.

“Dunno, but you almost have to be impressed with their efficiency,” Jay said. He used a keyboard command to turn on the POD’s voice function.

“Chameleon?”

“I am here.”

“Did you manage to get off net before the firewall came down?”

“Yes.”

“Did you capture all diagnostics of what was going on?”

“Yes.”

“Good,” Jay said. “Encrypt that and lock it deep in a file structure somewhere.”

As quickly as it had come, the attack ended. But without Chameleon online it was impossible to tell what damage it had done or information it had looked at. The holo went green as his firewalls came back on line. Jay’s heart was racing.

“OK, Max,” Jay said. “I want you to prepare tonight’s DNA modifications based on my newly discovered DNA profile, but don’t plug any machines back in.”

“Your whole system just got smashed and you still want me to go ahead with the DNA work?” Max said.

“You know how important tonight’s injection is, with all the new information it could break the deadlock. I need you to put it together for me, please.” He ran to his bedroom and grabbed a local network hub. “Use this to connect the machines together while I fetch Chameleon. I want all the DNA stuff and Chameleon to stay off line for now. This attack came because of the work we are doing. We can’t stop now.”

“I’m in,” Max said. “Not just for the science, but because I want to see you healthy. I used to trust the AIs completely, and the establishment. I will be honest, up until tonight some of the anti AI and authority talk you and Abby come up with scared me. But tonight, I’ve done a 180.”

“Thanks,” Jay said giving him a reassuring smile. “Look until we know who to trust, I need you to keep your connections down to Roddy, your AI. Are you ok with using Chameleon for now?”

“Err sure I have manual copies of all the programs I need on my e-pad. If I can plug it into Chameleon then it should be good.”

“Sure, ill prep Chameleon.” Jay said and while Max went to work getting together the things he would need to make the DNA modifications, Jay ripped up the carpet and popped off the maintenance hatch for Chameleon.

“Chameleon, your CPU has enough battery for me to take you over to the lab and plug you in there?”

“I have an hour’s worth of battery at full operation.”

“OK,” Jay said. “As soon as you are on the local network, I want you to initiate a full self-backup to hard storage just in case, and when that’s done take the storage units off line so I can remove them.”

“Acknowledged.”

The unit was heavier than he thought. He had never actually carried his AI anywhere himself before. Technicians had moved it when he had relocated to his university POD. He’d had Chameleon since his first year of high school, and he didn’t want to think of life without him.

With Chameleon plugged in, Max finalized the DNA injection and handed him the pen. Jay jammed the injection into his leg and threw the pen into the incinerator per protocol. Max watch the patch where he had made the injection, there was worry etched in his face.

“Jay, you are going to be in a whole world of shit when ISEC gets here. They will send the MPD too. What are you going to do?”

Jay had no idea, and he started to chew relentlessly on a fingernail that was already nonexistent, he wanted Max out of harm’s way for a while as he thought.

“‘Would you do me a favor and take the diagnostic routines on this data pad to Dupie? You know Dupie, the brilliant virgin with the lazy eye. Tell him I’ll call him later with the password, but that he is not under any circumstances to hack into the pad or in any way connect to it until we have spoken, OK?” Jay gave Max a data pad that was the size of a knuckle.

Max smiled, and Jay was glad to see his friend relax a bit. “Yeah, he lives on the second floor of my building. Everyone knows Dupie. Max’s forehead wrinkled with concern. “But what are you going to do? Aren’t you worried that whoever attacked your machines will be here in person, like any minute?”

“I don’t know yet,” Jay said, “but I’ll call you voice-only and let you know when I know. Go, now, please.” He didn’t want to seem indecisive in front of Max. His whole life, everyone had trusted ISEC and the AIs, he and Abby had not and they had been dirt listed a few times for it too. But tonight, had confirmed his suspicions and given him evidence. He needed to secure the evidence and decide how to take advantage of it.

Max took the pad and, was about to take off for Dupie’s but hesitated.

“What is it Max?” Jay asked, anxious to get rid of Max if only for some time to think.

“Look, I could lose my grant by telling you this and to be honest, before tonight’s events I probably would not have. But something happened today you need to know.” Max sat back down obviously mustering courage.

“Max, you can share anything with me in confidence, even from Abby if you need. I mean you have done so much for me it’s the least I could do.” Jay opened his hands in an inviting gesture. And so Max told him as quickly as he could about how his sprint-gene work was being used by ISEC and tried to keep it as high level as possible. Then he told him about the slip up Marcus has made and how for the first time ever he had paid Max full attention on the call.

“He made a mistake Jay, and he knew it. He covered it up with the friends of the family thing.” Any way now you know. Max looked crestfallen. Jay walked over and gave him a reassuring man hug.

“Look, it’s cool. I have no idea what it means but I am so glad you told me. Get to Dupie’s and get some rest, I will think on it and call you but don’t worry. I won’t breath a word.”

Max squeezed Jay’s shoulder and took off, saying.

“The gene-sprinting enhancements have already been loaded into tonight sequence for you so once the nano-bots get the chemical updates they will process the gene-mods really quick.

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