AI’s were not allowed into the Hobby shops uninvited but sensing his worry they were now asking for an entry card. The buzzing got so loud Digbee had to stop and press a panic button. Noise stopped and Digbee was floating somewhere, it always happened like this with controlling AI. You were just there. Digbee suspected it was in some part of their shared mind space.
“Something is wrong Digbee.”
“Sarah?” a silence then a yes. Shit they had dropped him in with some of the real top brass here. “What is wrong Sarah?” Another uncharacteristic pause.
“What the… “ he twisted in vain in his blackness, but he was held fast.
“We are still gathering the facts but a large part of Grid Seven is off line”
“What do you mean ‘offline’?”
“We don’t know we are still gathering data.”
“Sarah why am I here?” Pause…
“We need you to jump ships and HER onto G7 real time.” He stopped before he replied, orders never came direct from AI.
“Who’s asking Sarah?” He started to stretch around some more as the pause in answer made him digitally sweat.
“I am” Shit, he couldn’t take that kind of order, even from Sarah who was the modern day equivalent of a Supreme Judge. He was black ops. Didn’t exist.
“Sarah put me back in the shop, I need to be there” he tried to sound calm.
“Take us in with you” It wasn’t a question.
“No Sarah you know the rules, Hector won’t allow that” Digbee didn’t like how this conversation was going so he pressed another panic button.
“Unless I am being detained put me back in the Hobby Shop now. I’ll invite you in when I can and when it’s appropriate. ” He said as confidently as he could.
Calm again, the smell. Old and new at the same time, just like a real hobby shop. The one Hectors great grandfather had ran as a Hobby for himself. He put comments about Genocide to one side for a moment and went to the counter. A very old manual push button till sat on the counter. Digbee had never seen it open but was sure it would when pressed. Still no Hector and then he caught a glimpse of something move in one of the shop isles. Again the itch for the gun, he suppressed it when he recognized the shoe of Hector moving and rushed over to a Hector lying on the ground twitching. There was a small amount of blood oozing from a cut he had sustained in what looked like a fall. This was all very un-goo like but Hector broke all the rules. Digbee felt the bracelet on his friend’s wrist. Similar to one he had been given by Hector many years ago, it was warm. This meant he was off somewhere in the subconscious of the Current Universe. Digbee ordered one of Hector’s shop bots to search for some saline solution and a drip kit. It was all done on manual in the Hobby Shop, no AI. One was produced and inserted into Hector. Digbee sat down with his legs out straight on the floor and lifted Hectors head gently into his lap. He stoked hair away from the wound and asked the bot to attend to the small cut.
An external routine in his own mish mash of internal links to the Goo told him Local Military for G4 had been asked to attend the Hobby Shop, which was the AI’s starting to attempt to get into the shop by other means, bypassing Hectors orders. He sighed and looked down worriedly at his friends face, just as his eyes opened; fluttering and he looked dead pan at Digbee. Then something very odd happened. One tear rolled out of the corner of Hectors eye.
“I’m sorry Digbee I tried to save them.” We’re Hectors first words.
“What, sorry for what. What has happened? Can you sit up?” Hector responded by sitting up but not yet standing.
“Sarah was right. Genocide on a terrible scale has happened and it was right under my nose.” He stayed Digbee’s questions and instead stood and walked to the room behind the counter beckoning for him to follow.
“We have to create some illusion of calm here to keep the AI at arm’s length.” They sat at the usual tables in the usual room. Hector looked up at him again from opposite.
“Something or someone, detached and dumped the data in seventy percent of the Bio Personnel Banks in G7 Digbee. They are gone.” Digbee held up a hand.
“What about redundancy and backups? I thought we had that all built in.” Hector sighed at him.
“Not at that fundamental level” he said patiently. “We couldn’t duplicate all the personal data stored on everyone, we would need the same amount of ships over again. No we back up what they have done since being encoded.” Digbee went cold. Fake cold but in the Hobby Shop everything always felt more real.
“Shit, that’s about ten million people, your saying are just gone, wiped out?”
“Yes” Hector responded in a dead pan voice.
“But your code locks and protection routines?” Digbee pressed.
“Yes” Hector said sardonically. “Something has gone terribly wrong.”
Just then an amber alert flashed into Digbee’s routines, Hector obviously got it too. There was someone official outside the Hobby Shop in person. Probably an avatar of Sarah herself given the magnitude of what had happened. The official was almost past all the security in the shop, Hector Grabbed his hand.
“I need to go Digbee, I can’t solve this with them. All they will do is hold me back. I need you to be my eyes and ears. Work with them until I get in touch. The truth is I need the data they are asking for too. Go to ship G7, work all the usual trails.” He was about to protest when Hector simply disappeared. Not just from the room but all traces of him from the Goo as well, then the presence was in the shop and walking into the room. He didn’t need to turn around, she still insisted on sensor arrays blowing out her perfume wherever she went.
“Mika Andrews” he said turning to look at her tall slim, but deadly frame.
“Digbee what a surprise.” She said waltzing forward and sitting down. “Where did Hector go?”
He was about to say something when Hector walked in and asked if he could help her.
“And I don’t mean a copy,” She said looking from the new Hector to Digbee.
Hector started to espouse about how he was perfectly capable of handling any issues when Mika held up a hand to silence him. Digbee lent back in his chair.
“He disappeared. That’s the honest plain truth. Just before you walked in.”
“Where was he going?” She asked the question with a fatal note of knowing he didn’t know.
“Well he didn’t tell me Mika. But he did ask me to HER into G7 and have a look around.” He said standing.
“You coming?” he asked. She gave one last look around the room as she walked back out into the main shop and he followed. They had worked together ever since her death as a cheap journalist climbing her way up the ladder, or sleeping her way up, he never really could see the difference. He had known of her before, but stayed well clear. The Nest had decided she contained the “right stuff” to rebirth her into their pool of investigators, some human, some android. She had excelled, even to his surprise, and now, some thousand years later she was top brass. She was probably remoted herself 24/7 by the top tier AI Nest of which Sarah was scratching to the top of nicely.
“So tell me again” He said to her as she stood up from the pool of Hectors blood. “Are you technically AI or considered a real human rebirth if we ever get the chance of a real carbon rebirth?” She turned to him hands on hips. The perfect online vision of cooperate beauty.
“Are we really going to have this conversation every time we even meet? You know the answers to all the questions as you’ve asked them a thousand times.” She didn’t let him finish. “So if you don’t shut up quick, ill pull my file; you know the one. And start asking you questions about why technically an anti AI personality is working so high up the intelligence scale of the AI side or a war for the best future for the human race there isn’t even a grade for your position. Not to mention the name of any superiors listed in your chain of command. Last time I counted there were still well over two hundred questions I hadn’t even asked.” He met her gaze and this time let it drop. She smiled.
“We’re clear for HER into G7” She said turning to him.
“I was cleared before you got here” he said turning away from her so she couldn’t see his contempt. Cleared! Typical AI bull shit. He wasn’t sure what part of the Nest controlled what he did any more. But nothing ever needed to be cleared. There was no transition tube, or executive ride this time. The world dissolved and they re-emerged in an HER pre preparation room. He turned to Mika in the HER pod next to him and called out.
“And that pisses me off too, you can tell your AI buddies that aren’t my AI buddies. When I am in the Goo I like to make my own travel plans, just like the old days.”
“Noted” She called back.
“This was more efficient, sorry if we offended you” Sarah now in his head.
“Ok but all of you get out of my fucking head too! and my conversation, last time I checked they were still mine.” He looked at Mika for a reaction but there was none. She was running pre checks to make sure all her pre-requisites for rebirth were in the menus. Being a senior agent of the Nest she had a dazzling array of requirements going into an android rebirth. There was no time for a carbon clone and no real need to be honest. The line between android and human rebirth was becoming thinner by the day. It was really a moral question more than anything. To be frank the information pod the unknowns had left behind after the defeat of the Atromee had enabled them to produce android blanks for HER that were far more suited to survival than any carbon clone. For his part though when time was on his side he always chose human.
“Hey” he called across, “Can you make sure you choose the white cotton underwear for your entrance. It’s so simplifying on such a complex personality.”
“Fuck you Digbee” was the last he got from her as she slammed the pre-program button on her pod and her Goo Avatar slid into the processing chamber.
Alone at last he selected his usual configuration stored in every Goo HER database and closed his eyes ready to hit the button, then chess. He looked up at his opponent and Hector was sat opposite him. They were suspended in a glass cube in total blackness, it could have been the basement of an old Honeycomb Nest inside earth or the void of space vacuum itself. Hector made a move in a game that it felt oddly like they had been playing for a while, he scratched at the memory but then Hector spoke.
“The breach came from inside, which means it’s been dormant till now.” He looked pale as he looked into Digbee’s eyes.
“Where have you been, and what does that mean for us Hector, you can’t just leave like that and expect me to deal with all the AI fall out.” Digbee was sincere in his question but Hector avoided him.
“Somewhere I can think and figure out what’s happened, and yes I can leave you like that. You’re the only one I can in fact leave like that. Get on to the ship and figure out what is going on. The physical clues lie there and you and misses A will have to work fast. I have many leads to follow up on. But I suspect I will need you to travel for me. Alone and soon.” Hector made that, I am about to leave gesture.
“Wait! That’s it? You pulled me into a glass cube in the middle of fuck nowhere to tell me barely nothing.” He suspected this contact was causing some risk for Hector’s privacy. Hector seemed to notice the Cube for the first time.
“No your right, this is no ordinary assignment. You need to pull in a top caliber team configuration for this. Mika will be amassing assets. I’ve compiled a short list of people stored in the Goo not on assignment you might want on your team. There is a program loaded into your lace now that will thaw them out and HER them before the Nest can interfere. They are spread between ships G2-9 so make your team selection quickly but keep it to people you trust. I’ll make sure they are delivered but then I may be out of touch for a while.”
Then Hector was gone and he was back in the HER prep room, a small icon blinking in his mind telling him Hectors program and list had arrived. He gave the go order and felt that odd sucking feeling then; cool air and hands. He always looked down at his hands first. His naked body would soon be clothed. Tubes and cables were being withdrawn from his new body and the elevation of the HER chamber was being lifted from horizontal to near vertical. Next to him he could hear Mika up and about. She was bound to ask about his delay. He sighed and stepped out of the machine, picking his clothes of the drone that had stopped in front of him. He dressed and picked up his weapons. All advanced weaponry but as much of it as possible relied on no electronics at all. The truth was the VCHAS8 Android he was in could manufacture just about any weapon he could possibly dream of.
“Hey that stuff makes me sneeze.” Mika turned and gave him a blank stare as more and more Forensic Grid particles FGP’s trailed out of the end of her finger. The stream of particles was off on a pre-programmed course towards the now empty data banks to start to form a lace of forensic wrapping that would soon devour and cover the entire ship. Despite their differences when on an operation together they shared a virtual command center between the two of them in which nothing was hidden. He reviewed the mission brief. It was thorough. Mika knew her stuff and there was not point protesting mission logistics with the senior AI nest plugged in. Mika already had a swarm of micro bots around her as she walked towards the scene of the crime. These ship were massive. Built like snap on Lego, each bit built and then shipped to the assembly hub. The effect was like walking through some very advanced toy Lego Ship from the 21st century. The design and build process was a master piece actually. As time ran out on earth the encoding process had to start to ensure everyone was encoded in time. So the build process for Another Destiny was moved to a mobile one. It was something to behold as space ships the size of fifty old skool football pitches slipstreamed space as close to light speed while the rear of the ships were still having snap on parts brought in and clipped together. It was only when they were fully built that the GFD’s would take them FTL.
He retreated to his internal mind where he knew he was alone.
“Sally, run me the list.”
Up popped a list of all too familiar names of veterans of many conflicts that could form part of his team. He filed the list. Benzo was top and would take over from him at a moments notice if needed. Mika had worked with him a lot as well which was a plus.
“Use Hector’s program to warm Benzo up first. Brief him with all the usual handcuffs and make sure he agrees with my list, before you wake the rest up.”
“I’ll get right on it.” Sally replied.
“Second thoughts, leave Benzo’s body and put him in one of these S8’s, he may need the extra help.” Which reminded him as he called ahead.
“Mark II’s? Why are we not in Mark III’s of the S8’s” These 2’s done always have the right sensory input calibration under certain adverse conditions.” He queried Mika.
“Complaining about your toys already?” She stopped what every mind boggling processing she was doing with her swarm and faced him.
“Combat close to the center of a particle explosion, antimatter mainly.” I nearly lost a whole unit as a result.
“Only you would knew that.” She sighed and went silent.
“We are ahead of the shipment of replacements” she responded. Something about that irked him. It didn’t make sense it was ages ago he reported the error.
“Sally look into that discretely will you please.” He asked as he jogged to catch up with Mika who had started walking again. They were not far from ground zero. He posted his team list up in the VR for her to see.
“Your usual bunch of blundering butchers I see. But I supposed the best of a bad bunch.”
“Well you know my views on All AI Combat Team’s. They have worked well for us in the past.” He left it hanging. Some massive blunders on the AI teams leaving him and her exposed over the years.
“Perhaps if you trusted them a little. But lets not get into that debate now.” She said turning back to her swam. “I approve”
“I wasn’t asking for your approval darling.”
“Sally as soon as Benzo approves get them here. I want a full debrief with them in no less than eight hours.”
Mika help up a hand.
“This is where the empty banks start. All the grids we have walked past up till now still hold intact personalities. From here to the end of Data Storage its empty Goo.”
He stood and looked. He had been witness to some terrible battles on earth and off, but never a death toll this high. And always a lot more debris.
“Makes it even worse that you can’t see the devastation.” He said. She nodded a silent response.
“Do we know why they stopped at seventy percent?”
“Hector.” She said looking at him with surprise. “He didn’t tell you?”
“We were pressed for time.” She smiled at him.
“Yes you we’re. If it were up to me even more pressed. Well hector made it here in time to fathom what was going on and stop it. He then went into some kind of hyper-deep state”
“We believe he was trying to figure a way to save them.” Sarah piped in. Even Mika look miffed at the intrusion. “Did he mention anything about this Digbee or what his plans are? It is very important we understand what’s going on and we need Hectors input.”
“The answers still no Sarah.” Digbee said before moving on past Mika who was leaking more dust onto the machines.
“Why don’t you get your swarm to do that?” he said waving his hand at the accompanying cloud.
“Some things, the basic building blocks of an investigation I like to do myself.” He gave her a pressing look. “Let’s just say once bitten forever shy.”
“Benzo will be here in an hour or so and the rest of the team not far behind. They will be all grumpy and need news so let’s get up to personnel and give them the once over before we let your professionals pick their brains.
As soon as the attack had happened all persons not in the goo wherever they were, we’re asked to account for themselves then locked down. No travel. It actually took very few real hands to run a well-functioning fleet. There were two hundred in all on active assignments. Either standard ships personal on rotation or engineers on some errand to fix minor glitches that automation couldn’t take care of.
“Translocate or walk?” she asked.
“I’m tired of walking and short on time”
The command deck appeared before them. Startled junior staff looked up while senior staff informed of their presence here looked at them with fake humorless smiles. This was going to be really hard on them all.