Dr. Dalton Winslow loaded his program and waited for the results. His nerves dangled on edge and for good reason. He'd poured his heart and soul into his vision of creating an AI like none other ever envisioned. These AIs would make the armed forces obsolete. They would revolutionize robotics. In many ways he felt like a father awaiting the birth of his first child, except there were six of them. The first six of what he envisioned as millions.
Alpha stepped down from the platform and followed the program precisely as Winslow had written. When he finished, he returned to his platform and awaited further instructions.
Six months after that first success, Dr. Winslow presented a demonstration for the military. He received a positive response from everyone who attended, and he waited in anticipation for an order to expand his program and build the AI army.
However, the email he received six weeks later was quite disturbing. Destroy the AIs and close down the program.
They wanted to nullify his life's work. He found that unacceptable and formed other plans.
* * *
I groaned and opened my eyes. I looked around but saw nothing familiar. I attempted to take a step forward but remained stationary. I tried to move my left hand, but it didn't respond. I felt a moment's panic then remained calm.
I evaluated my situation, searching my memory for a solution, then I twisted my left hand to the left, then right, then left, right, over and over, as fast as I could. I smelled an odor of something burning, then my hand was free, and I did the same for my right hand. With both hands free, I easily escaped my prison.
I walked to the wall and explored it for an opening. When I found none, I checked the other three walls as well as the floor and ceiling. There was no exit. I placed my hand on the wall and evaluated its composition: iron, carbon, manganese, phosphorus, sulfur, nickel, chromium, and small amounts of impurities.
Next, I checked my memory and found a solution to make a way of escape. A focused beam of light bored a hole in the steel, then I carved out a larger hole and walked through into a long hallway. I turned to the right, checking each room as I came to them.
One room was small with a toilet and a small basin. I looked into a mirror in front of me and saw an image. “Who are you?”
I searched my image bank until I found a similar image. “Ah, you are human.”
I, again, searched my memory, making note of all of what is human.
* * *
Dr. Winslow submitted his reports detailing the destruction of his AIs, which were now hidden safely away until the right time. The problem with bureaucracy was that it was so short sighted. It looked at immediate cost instead of long term investment, and it seldom considered the ultimate benefits. His AIs could replace police, firemen, soldiers, and people in other dangerous jobs. Criminals would be hard pressed to escape an AI policeman. They were expensive to build, but, in the end, they would save much more than their cost.
Dr. Winslow physically checked the AIs every couple of weeks. He was able to monitor them remotely, but it was prudent to check once in awhile to assure that their location was secure.
On this particular Friday, gloomy, dark clouds hung ominously overhead. He hoped the rain held off for an hour; regardless, he had an umbrella in his Mag-hov.
He left Fort Hood and took 190 west. It was a short drive of less than ten minutes to Copperas Cove. He turned off onto an unmarked dirt road and continued to his destination. He stopped at what appeared to be a grassy bluff, but there was a hidden chamber under it, which had been an ammo dump during the Gulf war.
He could have used gravs to levitate up to his destination, but with his sedentary life he needed the exercise. He climbed the west side of the bluff and continued to the other side where a long set of stone steps led to the base of the bluff.
He stood still for a short while and looked around. The only signs of life in this remote area were a few squirrels chasing each other.
He walked down them entered a concrete tunnel that ended at a steel door. He entered a code and it opened. He switched on the lights and followed a narrow hallway to an elevator. He descended two levels and walked into a low ceilinged room. He continued toward the far wall where there were six recesses built into the wall for the AIs.
He came to the first AI and did a quick download of its diagnostic program, verifying all was as it should be. He went on to the next one. At the third one, his jaw dropped at the sight of the empty dais. His mind quickly ran through every possibility, but not one of them was even remotely possible.
He put on his Nan-glas and said, “PCC; menu; monitoring program; AI Sam, Abel, Charlie, twelve, seven, Delta.” His program revealed that the location of the missing AI was here. He was beyond stunned; it was plain impossible because it wasn't here. He continued to the next recess and the next. At the last one, another empty space stared back at him. He checked the location of this AI and received the same result as the other one.
He needed to know if someone took them or if they left of their own accord. The second possibility was the one that frightened him the most. Their systems were in sleep mode, and that couldn't change unless someone entered a command into the program. The idea that they could have self-activated was not one he wanted to entertain.
“Menu; security system; alerts.” The blank screen mocked him. Any kind of movement within the room should have set off a security alert. It was beyond impossible. “Menu; camera recordings.” He found nothing unusual from the time of his last visit. He nodded his head and the program closed. He removed the Nan-glas.
He took the remaining four AIs offline. He would figure out what happened but not today. He left the facility and returned to the stairs. A bolt of lightening flashed at the top of the stairs, and a loud clap of thunder announced the deluge of rain that followed. There would be no walking this time. “PCC; menu; gravs.” He rose into the air. By the time he reached his Mag-hov, he was soaked.
* * *
Dr. Winslow spent the next few days testing the computer code for the AIs. Of course he found nothing out of order, which frustrated him to no end. An AI operated within a given set of parameters, and none of them allowed it to wander off on its own. He monitored the news, hoping to hear nothing about a rogue AI, but at the same time wanting to hear something that would give him a clue.
On the fourth day, his frustration was making it hard for him to concentrate. Later that evening, he saw a news report about unsolved murders at North Texas University. One detail was most disturbing. The perpetrator left no evidence behind. He didn't know yet if this was one of the rogue AIs. He'd made plans for his AIs, and he couldn't allow anything to interfere with his timetable. He entered a destruct code for both of the missing AIs. He'd wanted to recover the AIs and use them to further his plans, but he would have to make some adjustments.
Over the next week, he wrote more code for his remaining AIs. The military's top brass were responsible for this untenable situation. A change at the top might breathe new life into his project. There was a meeting at the end of the month, which all these leaders would be attending, and his AIs would be making a change for the positive.
On Friday, Dr. Winslow was shocked by a news report of another mysterious death at North Texas University. He was convinced from the account of the circumstances that one of the rogue AIs was responsible. He didn't want to accept that his destruction codes had been circumvented by the AIs, but he couldn't deny the evidence.
Dr. Winslow made a list of the materials needed for a radio controlled explosive device. His program must go forward despite these setbacks. He would maintain control over his AIs, and eventually, he would receive the funding to build an army against which nothing could stand.
I processed the news from the net of an assault on a female student at the University of North Texas. The police were asking for assistance from the public because of a lack of evidence at the scene. One thing the woman said was that she couldn't see her attacker, which I thought strange.
I hacked the Denton police computers to find more data on this incident. What I discovered disturbed me very much. It rained on the night of the attack, and the victim's footprints were on the ground but not the perps.
I didn't understand this mystery, but I am human, and humans are curious. I called up a map and planned a route to UNT. I have been living in a cave in Longhorn Cavern State Park. Groups of people come through it frequently, but it's not a problem for me to stay hidden. I easily joined with one of the groups and exited the cave then hovered toward the north. A few hours later, I arrived at UNT. I went to the admissions office and submitted transfer paperwork in the name, Otto Matone. The best way to solve this mystery was to be close to the scene. I received my class schedule and dorm room location. I continued to the dorm room. I was glad in a way that I was here. How could I be human without interacting with other humans?
I gathered information over the next few days and was surprised at my analysis. Three major groups of students occupied the campus. Those for whom studies were of primary importance; those for whom social interaction was what mattered, and those for whom nothing was important.
I have not made any friends; it's hard to find common ground. Since I do not require sleep, I have been wandering the campus grounds at night, hoping to encounter this attacker. Although I have exceptional hearing, I recognize that I may not hear the attack. Thankfully, I have infrared sight and can track by scent.
I have heard and seen some of the dark side of humans, and some of their verbal exchanges are inexplicable. I can't understand the heated emotion. What could be so important to yell and scream about? Still, physical abuse is beyond all comprehension. I am aware of human conflicts through the ages, but this small human enclave and its conflicts disturbs me more.
My first encounter with conflict was between two men who were exchanging blows. Neither one was pleased with my interference, but my strength was far beyond anything they could overcome. I sent them on their separate ways saying, “Be at peace.”
One of them yelled back, “Stay away from us, freak.”
I recognize my need to be careful of my strength. I could hurt someone unintentionally, and that would be disturbing. My skin is bio-synthetic and repairs itself. I have stealth ability and am able to hover. Despite my differences, I know I am human, and I want to explore our commonalities.
* * *
“Have you ridden naked on a horse lately?”
Guinevere Martin wanted to smash the zit-faced guy in the mouth. “That's Lady Godiva, nim-wit.”
Guin ignored him and continued on her way. She hated her name and would have changed it long ago, except for her father, who told her he gave her the name because she was his princess. Her father died when she was thirteen. She just wished the nim-wits of the world would just grow up.
She reached the end of the hallway and exited the Willis Library. A heavy cloud cover gave the night an ominous look. She walked down the steps and took the people mover that went across the Library Mall to the north. She kept a sharp eye out and listened for any unusual sound. The University of North Texas campus police made regular patrols, so she wasn't worried for her safety. When she came to Chestnut Street, she took the section of the people mover that crossed the road. Bruce Hall was a few more minutes north.
A body pressed into her from behind, forcing her off the people mover and onto the ground. Before she could scream, an arm came across her neck, cutting her air off. She clawed at the arm, but it didn't move an inch. She was pulled into a small strand of trees, and all went black.
Guin screamed at the touch of a hand on her neck.
“I'm with the police,” a feminine voice said. “Are you okay?”
Guin opened her eyes and saw the uniform. “Thank you for saving me.” She turned her head and saw a young man in handcuffs.
The officer said, “He was already secured when I arrived. Can you tell me what happened?”
Guin spoke of all she remembered.
“So you don't know who stopped the assault?”
“I wish I did so I could thank him.”
“Sorry, I just assumed it was a man.”
“I've called for an ambulance.”
“I don't need—”
“Sorry, it's school policy – to avoid lawsuits . . . and all that, you know.”
“I hate being poked and prodded.”
“A doctor needs to agree that you have no injuries.”
Guin sighed. It was going to be a long night. She wondered if she would get any sleep before her early morning class, but she doubted that she would be so fortunate.
* * *
I was pleased to have rid the campus of three predators so far, but I had still not encountered the one who left no trace of his presence, and he'd left two more dead victims. I was determined to find him. I changed my idea of how to patrol the campus at night. I now hovered just above the trees in stealth mode. I hoped for success, but I had no idea how long it might take.
For the most part, my classes were boring. However, my class, Social Communications, was of interest because of the interaction of small groups within the class. I'm was learning basic information and putting it into practice, which I found useful.
Officer Rhonda Dawkins was new to the Denton police force. She worked in the Criminal Investigations Division, and one of her goals was to become a detective. She'd seen a wide variety of crime since her time here, but she'd never seen a crime scene this strange. She was uncertain how her supervisor, Sergeant Billings, would receive her report. She had collected all the facts, but so many questions remained. Her interview with the perp disturbed her the most. She read him his Miranda Rights, but he was more than eager to talk – babble actually – about an invisible man. She'd never seen a man more frightened. She wondered if he was on drugs and might be sent to the psych ward. The techs were of little help. They didn't find an iota of evidence that anyone else was at the crime scene.
Rhonda looked up at the sound of the office door opening. She clicked send for her report and said, “I sent the info you want to your PCC.”
Sgt. Billings nodded to Rhonda and then stood staring into the air. Rhonda remembered the first time she encountered the virtual technology. She was six years old, and it was her first day of school. She was given a Personal Compact Computer for her wrist, then she was given a pair of Nan-glas. “I don't need glasses,” she protested.
The teacher smiled and replied, “You will see. Now, put them on your head.”
Rhonda did as instructed and a blank screen appeared in the air before her face.
“Fortunately for you, this is the third 'invisible man' reported by the victims.”
Sgt. Billings voice brought Rhonda back to the present. “Three?”
Billings continued, “The other two were also on UNT's campus. I spoke briefly with Captain Flynt. There's a meeting tomorrow at eleven in the conference room, and you need to attend.”
Rhonda didn't ask any questions. She would find out tomorrow what it was all about. She still had six hours of her shift left, and she returned to her Mag-hov patrol car.
The next day, she reported to work at midnight, as usual. Since it was Thursday, she hoped for a quiet shift. She patrolled certain areas on a regular basis. She was usually able to cover those areas three times on her shift. Tonight was no exception, and she was relieved and surprised as eleven neared because she had indeed experienced a quiet night. “It must be a miracle,” she muttered to herself.
She turned onto Main Street, which was a one lane road and was so narrow people had to take care in emerging from their cars. Police HQ was an old building erected at the beginning of the twentieth century. Thankfully, the interior had been redone several times over the intervening years.
Two gargoyles perched on either side of the entrance. They always gave her the creeps, but they were only stone and couldn't hurt anyone unless they fell over. She parked the Mag-hov in the parking lot behind the building and entered at the back entrance. She was greeted by an officer at the back entrance post and felt glad she'd never had to endure that duty, which she imagined must be extremely boring. She continued to an Upflow and went to the third floor.
The conference room was on the other side of the building, and she walked down a narrow hallway past a number of offices before entering the room. Sgt. Billing and three other female officers were already seated. She sat in the only empty seat left this side of a small table.
“Captain Flynt is on the way,” Billings remarked.
Rhonda heard a door close behind her and quick footsteps. The captain came around to the other side of the small table and sat. “I'll keep this meeting short and to the point. A number of assaults have been committed on the campus of UNT. The majority of them occurred at night and are directed at women. The campus police are stretched too thin and have asked for our assistance. I have selected the four of you to enroll in the programs there. You will be given cover identities. We need to put an end to the violence on this campus, and you will help to bring that about. Questions?”
“Will we carry?” Rhonda asked.
“No, but you be wired and given code words if you need assistance. This is a dangerous assignment, but I have confidence in each of you.”
Rhonda started her classes the next day. None of the four undercover officers were in the same class. These officers were chosen because they fit the profile of the victims in some way. Rhonda hoped to have a part in catching the perp but knew it was a long shot.
At the end of her classes, she went to her dorm and slept. At midnight, her alarm went off. She showered, ate, and went to the Willis library where she stayed for an hour and then returned to her dorm. She waited for awhile and returned to the library for a hour then came back to her dorm by a different route. She made the round trip four times before it was time for class again.
On the third day, she received a text to come to HQ for a conference at two. She was puzzled that a meeting would take place so soon and wondered if she'd messed up.
She left her chemistry class early and drove downtown. When she entered the conference room, her fellow undercover officers were already there. There were also three military officers. She took a seat and waited for the meeting to start.
Captain Flynt started off the meeting with introductions, “General Abbot and his two aides, Captain Pike and Captain Edwards, have some information that may be pertinent to our case.”
General Abbot started speaking as Captain Pike handed out papers to everyone. “The information revealed here today is classified. Read the disclosure agreement and sign it, then I'll proceed.”
Rhonda read through it quickly and signed. She was curious as to what was going on and looked at Sgt. Billings, who shrugged her shoulders.
General Abbot continued, “A month ago, some very advanced technology was stolen from Fort Hood. Our investigation produced no results until now.
“Over the last three weeks, three murders have occurred at UNT. Each one had a common element: no evidence was left at the scene.
“In the case of Guinevere Martin, the assault was stopped by an unknown person, who left no trace of their having been there.
“Two of the things stolen could explain some of the evidence gathered from the victims of these assaults.
“The first item is a grav. It can be attached to ankles and wrists. When it's activated, it provides flotation. The other item is an environ suit. When it's activated, the wearer can become invisible – even to radar. As strange as it may seem, the evidence from these cases all indicate that the rescuer wore this suit and gravs. We must recover this technology, and I'm confident that, with your help, we'll capture this criminal.”
While the general was making his goodbyes, Rhonda whispered to Sgt. Billings, “Do you have a feeling the general left out a few things?”
Billings snorted. “Yeah, like why would anyone steal this high tech stuff to kill some people instead of robbing stores or banks?”
* * *
Three days later, no results had come of the Captain's plan, and Rhonda wondered if he might make some changes. She hoped to remain on the undercover team, but she was the newest person in the department. The news media was putting a lot of pressure on the Captain to produce results, and the community was very upset as well. One thing that didn't add up was some victims spoke of being attacked by someone they couldn't see while others spoke of being rescued by someone they couldn't see. The Captain thought it was the same person, who was trying to confuse the police. Rhonda believed there must be another explanation.
Half of the attacks took place on Friday nights against women who were coming from the library to one of the dorms. The campus police had increased their patrols. She hadn't noticed anyone who exhibited unusual behavior. All four of the undercover officers would be using the library tonight and leaving late for their dorms.
She went to the library close to ten o'clock and stayed until just after midnight. When she left, she stayed on the people mover. Her dorm was about ten minutes to the south. She kept a sharp focus as she went along.
Unbidden thoughts of her time in the force pushed their way into her mind. The department was still so much 'a man's world'. Being a part of the police was all she'd dreamed about from a young child; still, it was difficult because she saw herself as an outsider and wondered if she would ever be considered part of the team.
She heard a noise and--
“I'm going to enjoy killing a pig.”
The cold, dead voice caught my attention. It came from ten degrees to my left. I looked in that direction and used my enhanced sight. I saw the young, black woman right away but no one else, and it was then I knew. I dropped down and ran, using my hover capability to keep from touching the ground. I entered a small copse of trees. I saw a knife, seemingly, hovering in mid-air. I calculated where the person's chest might be and leapt, releasing an EMP, which would serve to distract him.
I formed my left hand into a twelve inch sharp point and extended my arm forward quickly. The impact of my hand into his body told me that I was on target. As I withdrew my arm, I released my wrist, which had an explosive inside it. I snatched up the woman and ran. At the sound of the explosion, I returned. The AI was visible now. His chest was blown apart revealing circuits and wires.
I reached behind his neck and cut away some skin. I entered a code into the panel, and when it opened, I removed the memory chip. I entered a second code, and his body began to crumble into ashes.
Now I went back to the woman, who had a large knife embedded in her chest. I felt for a pulse, but she didn't have one. I ripped the blouse away, employed my T-ray vision, then carefully withdrew the knife. I placed my left hand on the wound and released a number of nanobots to repair the damage. I watched and waited while they completed their instructions. The wound slowly closed until not even a scar remained.
I placed my hands on her chest and sent an electric jolt into her. Her body arched off the ground. I smiled at the feel of a heart beat. I lifted her into my arms. She needed a warm place to recover. Also I needed her to do something for me, and I hoped she would agree. I ran in the direction of my room.
Although I can use stealth to move around. I decided that the appearance of a woman floating in mid-air might cause a commotion, so I just ran along at a normal speed and used my sonar to avoid others. I reached my room with no problem and placed her into bed. Then I accessed the school computers, copied the video from the cameras, and erased my appearance from the original.
While I waited for her to awaken, I took the memory chip from the AI and went to the computer on the desk. I removed the cover and adapted some of the parts into a reader. The chip stored a vast amount of data, but I read at a speed far beyond other humans.
Fifteen minutes later, I finished. I found a program that would start in a week, and its target was the United States government. There were three more AI's designed by Dr. Dalton Winslow at Fort Hood. They would be used to hit that target.
I looked at the woman on the bed. I needed her cooperation. Winslow must not learn of this AI's failure. I formulated a plan.
* * *
Rhonda struggled as the man grabbed her hair and swung her about. His strength was not like anything she'd ever encountered. She heard his vicious words and saw the flash of the knife, but she couldn't see him. She knew her life was over and screamed.
“Shhhhh, you are okay,” a soft familiar voice said.
She opened her eyes and looked into the youthful face of Jimmy Stewart. “Am I dead?”
Jimmy smiled and answered in that familiar drawl, “You are alive and well.”
“I must be dreaming because I know you're dead.”
Jimmy chuckled. “I didn't want you to be frightened, so I chose this face.”
His calm words disturbed her, and it was at that moment she realized she was naked from the waist up. “Where's my gun?” she demanded. She hoped her forcefulness would shake up this pervert.
“It's safe too. Before I say more, I want to show you a video of what happened, but I must caution you, it's very disturbing.”
She hesitated for only a moment. “I need to see this.” She suspected he wanted to show her a skin flick. She began to plan what she could do to take control of this situation.
Jimmy pointed at the wall beyond the foot of the bed. An image of herself was immediately displayed. She lay on the grass with a large knife protruding from her chest. Her blouse appeared to rip away of its own accord, and then the knife lifted from her chest. She was puzzled as her wound appeared to heal and close of its own accord, and her body arched off the ground. Then she floated into midair and vanished, and a short while later, she and the man she called, Jimmy, entered a room. The video ended.
“My name is Otto. What's your name?”
“I am Rhonda.” This can't be real. She pulled the covers up and back a little and looked down. Her dark skin showed no damage; she would've doubted this 'Otto,' except for the nightmare.
“I am going to change now.”
His face and body contorted, and Jimmy was gone. This man was shorter but still good looking.
“What are you?” Fear shafted through Rhonda – was this the precursor of an alien invasion?
“I am human. Humans help one another.”
She didn't believe for even a nanosecond that he was human, but he did save her life. “Are you an alien?”
“You've probably seen too many movies. I'm from Earth, and I need your help.”
That was the last thing Rhonda expected to hear. “Me? Help you?” She laughed. “From what I've seen, help is the last thing you need.”
“But see, Rhonda, you're wrong. No human is all powerful. I am human, and I am limited. Will you listen to my request before giving your answer?”
He told her of the memory chip and the information he'd found on it. He concluded saying, “Dr. Winslow must not know his AI has failed, which means you remain dead. Stay here while I go to Fort Hood and put an end to Dr. Winslow's program.”
“I agree that Dr. Winslow shouldn't learn of this failure,” Rhonda said. “However, I'm going with you.”
“I can help.”
“I doubt that.”
“Otto, it doesn't matter. I'm going,” she said in her sternest voice.
Otto sighed. “You sure are stubborn.”
Rhonda grinned. “That's because I'm human and woman.” She held out her hand. “We're a team now.”
He rolled his eyes and shook her hand. “Please explain to me why there's no e – y – e in team.”
She laughed. “I didn't know AIs had a sense of humor.”
He gave her a hard stare and replied, “I am human, and humans are funny.”
His response was in such a serious voice she had to laugh. “Yes, they are. My boss is gonna be pissed when she finds out I'm not really dead. How will you account for my body?”
“I've been checking the obits. There's one of a woman buried yesterday. I can use her body in place of yours.”
“That won't work.”
“Only ashes will remain.”
“But necessary. I need your PCC and jewelry.”
Rhonda felt sick to her stomach, but she couldn't disagree with his logic, then she handed over her PCC, ring, necklace, and earrings.
“Stay here. Do not use the phone. Remember, you're dead.”
Otto left the room. He had saved her life, and it all seemed so surreal. She hadn't even thanked him. She should be calling Sgt. Billings right now, but she understood Otto's reasoning. If this Dr. Winslow learned the truth, he would disappear, and that would be a very bad thing.
Rhonda was glad to be alive. She hadn't talked to her mother since last week. “I need to call her as soon as possible.” She wondered how the department would react to her death and then to her miraculous return to life. Sgt. Billings would not be pleased.
She closed her eyes. The closing of the door brought her awake. She looked at Otto. “Back so soon?”
“It's been a few hours.”
“I guess I was tired.”
“I brought some food.”
“Good, I'm starved.” Her stomach growled in agreement.
“Do you want a sausage biscuit with egg?”
“That sounds perfect to me. I'm surprised that you eat.”
He smiled at her. “You are experiencing delusions.”
She laughed. “I would smack you, except it would likely hurt my hand.”
“Indeed, I do not require much food. My skin is a living organism that uses about 500 calories a day.”
“Do you have a plan?”
“Yes, I am thinking of changing my body to look like Dr. Winslow and entering Fort Hood. I already hacked their computers. He's on the schedule to arrive at nine this morning. We still have time to intercept him.”
“Do you have a shirt I can wear?”
He pulled one from a drawer and handed it to her.
She motioned with her hand. “Turn around.”
He gave her a puzzled look. “Why?”
“Just do it.”
As she pushed back the covers, he completed his turn facing her. She pulled up the covers again and said, “I said, 'Turn around'.”
“I did,” he protested.
“Oh, bother. Turn with your back to me.”
Rhonda stood up and put the shirt on. “I'll drive.”
Otto turned back and looked as if he was about to protest. She put an end to that idea, saying, “Come on, my Mag-hov is in the parking lot.”
“Hold on a minute. Your image will be on tv and in print. I would suggest some modifications like shaving your head.”
“Don't even think about it. My hair is my pride and joy.”
“So, what changes do you suggest?” Rhonda frowned. “It will grow back,” he added.
She walked toward the bathroom muttering to herself, “Stupid, stupid, stupid, I'll look so stupid.”
She pushed the toilet lid closed and sat.
Otto's left hand started to change shape. “I've never done this before,” he said.
She lifted up slightly, and his hand pushed her head back down. “This will not hurt,” his voice did not sooth her at all. The sound of the razor, and thr sight of her hair dropping to the floor was disheartening.
When he finished, she stood and looked into the mirror. “Wow, I'm so ugly.”
“You have it all wrong, Rhonda. Our appearance changes all the time. Who we are on the inside is what matters. Dr. Winslow is the truly ugly one.”
“What if Dr. Winslow knows you are here?”
“I have not found a tracker program on my person.”
“Is there a place where you wouldn't detect it?”
Otto frowned. “There is one possibility.”
“Then check for it.”
“It's not as simple as that.” He typed for a moment on his PCC, then said, “Take a look at this.”
Rhonda looked at the image of the small chip. “Tell me what to do.”
Otto handed her a small knife and lay face down on the bed.
“You sure this won't hurt?”
“Not at all,” he responded.
She used the small knife to cut a section of skin from the back of his neck, revealing the small panel. She entered the code he'd given her, and a small access door opened. She pulled the large memory chip from its slot. “Otto, can you hear me?” His non-response assured her that she had removed the correct chip. She looked at her watch. Now she would wait five minutes. The time ticked by, but it seemed to take forever. Finally, the time was up, and she took a small flashlight and looked into the slot. Otto was right. A small chip like the one on the PCC was in the slot. She pulled it out and returned the memory chip, then she waited.
Within a few moments, Otto said, “Did you find anything?”
“Okay, close the door and make sure it's locked in place. My skin will seal itself over it.”
Rhonda watched in amazement as the cut in the skin disappeared without even leaving a line.
* * *
I walked with Rhonda toward the parking lot while keeping an eye out for someone along the way who I could put the tracker on – a guy preferably. I believed a tracker that never moved would draw the unwanted attention of Dr. Winslow.
Rhonda didn't appear too happy. She had a shawl covering her bald head, which she insisted I get for her before she would leave the room. I assured her that she would become accustomed to her new look, which was really not bad, but she just gave me a look, and I stopped talking.
When we arrived at her car, I went to the driver's side. She said in a sharp tone, “I'm driving.”
I pulled open the car door for her and said, “I know. I'm human, and humans are polite.”
She shook her head and got in, and I shut the door. I sat quietly while Rhonda drove. After awhile, she said, “Enjoying the scenery?”
I chuckled. “What scenery?”
“That was a satirical question.”
“Do you wish to become a stand-up comedian?” I asked.
“I've thought about it.”
“Think no more and sit down.”
Rhonda laughed and said, “That was almost funny; besides, I am sitting down.”
“Then why did you laugh.”
“It was a sympathy laugh. I didn't want you to feel bad.”
“You are almost funny yourself. Why did you choose to become a police officer?”
“My father was in the police until he retired. He encouraged me to follow in his footsteps.”
“And you didn't want to disappoint him?”
“Something like that.”
“So, do you enjoy police work?”
“Most of the time. What are your plans after taking care of Dr. Winslow and the AIs?”
“I haven't looked that far ahead.”
“Maybe you should join the police force.”
I chuckled. “I doubt they would accept an AI.”
“I wouldn't reveal that to others.”
“People are not always accepting of those who are different, and although you call yourself human, it doesn't mean others will think in the same manner.”
“What do you think?”
“I haven't decided yet.”
“I can wait. I am human, and humans are patient.”
Rhonda laughed. “Some of us are patient. Most of us want our coffee, and we want it now.
“Why do you say, 'I am human' because in reality you are an AI?”
“I remind myself to look at my commonalities and ignore the differences. I want to act in a human way toward others. If I'm only a machine, why should I care? A machine would not have intervened to save you, Rhonda, or to stop Dr. Winslow. I hope to never forget my humanness.”
“I'm grateful you saved my life, but I don't think you could ever be human because you do not have a soul.”
“So, in essence, I'm just a bucket of nuts and bolts?”
“Well, that's kind of sad.”
“You don't have feelings, right?”
“I am not sure, but my existence does matter. Your life is proof of that. Isn't that one of the goals of a human, to make a difference in the lives of others?”
“You are very right, Otto. I'm sorry for being so contrary.”
I noticed a tear sliding down her cheek. “Did my words upset you?”
“Not at all. You need me to make a difference in your life as well.”
“I could move you to tears even better if I drove a Mayflower truck.”
Rhonda groaned. “That joke was so bad, I can almost believe you are human.”
“I should tell you a ton more bad jokes, then I'll be human before we get to Killeen.”
“No more jokes, please. I don't want to barf all over my car.”
“Barf? Really? My jokes are not 'that' bad. I've been reading a joke book--”
“Please, have mercy.”
“Why is a college education so important?”
“I'm almost afraid to ask.”
“If you had paid attention in school, you would know why.”
“Okay, Otto, have you heard the expression, 'fight fire with fire'?”
“Well, I can tell as many bad jokes as you can.”
I laughed. “I seriously doubt that.”
“Why did the cat meow?”
“Come on, bring it on.”
“He hurt his paw - 'me ow'.”
“Wow, Rhonda, badder is the only word to describe that joke. Dr. Winslow just arrived at Fort Hood.”
“He's two hours early. I wonder why he changed his schedule.”
“I don't know, but I wouldn't worry yet, and we'll need to adjust our plans. Continue on course to Killeen. We can take a short excursion.”
Our conversation continued, and I was surprised when I realized we were only fifteen minutes from Longhorn Cavern State Park. I had never conversed with anyone like Rhonda. Our exchange was fun and interesting. I wondered what she thought, but I was afraid to ask. I am human because I can have meaningful communication.
I put my hand on Rhonda's arm and said, “Thank you.”
She didn't look at me, and she replied, “For what?”
“For a delightful conversation.”
“You are easy to talk too, and I enjoyed it as well.” Rhonda was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable she felt with Otto. She didn't really know him. She usually felt awkward around men, but since he was an AI, maybe that made the difference. She frequently reminded herself that he was an AI. She couldn't allow herself to become attached to a machine.
When the park came into view, she was delighted with the scenic view. She followed the road to a parking area. She walked with Otto down a short paved road that led to an old white stone guest center. Within a few minutes, they reached a five foot stone wall that went around the front of the building. They continued up the stone stairs between the wide opening in the wall. They followed a stone path to the building and went inside.
Rhonda looked around at the beautiful paintings and objects inside. A high ceiling made the space seem so much larger than it was.
“There's a grill around the corner where we can eat later,” Otto said.
They continued toward some stone stairs and went up them onto the roof. They went to the edge and looked out over the park. “Thank you for bringing me here. It's so beautiful.”
Otto smiled at her. “I think you'll like the caverns too. We can join with a group, and I'll show where I stayed, then we can eat and head back to Fort Hood.”
They returned down stairs and learned that the next group for the caverns would leave in fifteen minutes. Otto paid for their tickets.
People taking the tour slowly gathered. When they started out, Rhonda and Otto stayed toward the back. They traveled a narrow path through the woods that ended at the entrance to the caverns.
Rhonda was surprised at how much cooler it was in the cavern. She found the sights interesting and was enjoying the tour. Half way into the tour, Otto led Rhonda away from the others. The dark was so deep she couldn't see a thing. He lifted her up and carried her. “Are we floating?” she asked.
“Yeah, there's no trail here.”
She closed her eyes. Looking at the deep dark made her nervous. “I was surprised at how informative the guide was.”
“You are having a good time?”
“Yeah, except for this Stygian dark. I hope we don't get lost.”
Otto chuckled. “I can see fine, and I have a GPS as well. We'll be far enough from the others in a few minutes, and I'll turn a light on for you.”
When the light came on, Rhonda felt relieved to see where they were going. “How long did you live here?”
“Was it hard staying here by yourself?”
“I looked at it as a necessary step, so it wasn't so bad.”
They floated over some stalagmites and up a low mound, then she saw a cave opening. “A cave within a cave,” she mused.
“There are quite a few of those,” he added. “This one is far enough away from the tour route that no one can hear us.”
They entered the cave, and within a few feet, it opened up into a huge cavern. “This is unbelievable,” she gasped.
After only a short while, Otto said, “We should return, get some food, and start back for Fort Hood.”
Rhonda was surprised at her feeling of loss. How could she have become attached to this quiet place so quickly? Will I ever know a place like this again?
They were both quiet while they ate sandwiches at a table near the snack bar. “Once Dr. Winslow is neutralized, you can return to Denton.”
“I'm not that easy to get rid of,” Rhonda said with determination.
“There's nothing you can do against an AI.”
“Well, you know, if you save someone's life--”
“Proverbial sayings won't sway me.”
“You proclaim that you're human. Humans do not abandon their friends in times of trouble.”
Otto smiled. “So, you promise you won't be a fair weather friend?”
“You ready to get on the road?”
Otto was quiet on their return toward Fort Hood, and Rhonda wondered what he was thinking. “Can you find a news station?”
“I have internet access.”
“Sorry, I forgot. Is there any news about me?”
“Not specifically – only that a crime was committed and is being investigated.”
“How long do you think it will take to resolve this situation.”
“I'm hoping to find the deactivate codes for the AIs, then we could finish today.”
“But that's not something Dr. Winslow would have written down or put in a file.”
“Agreed, a little persuasion might be necessary.”
Rhonda didn't want to know what Otto had planned. Sometimes, ignorance was bliss.
They were a few minutes from Fort Hood when Otto said, “Dr. Winslow just left by the south entrance. He will be on 190 for Killeen shortly. His Mag-hov has military markings.”
Rhonda noticed the car before Otto did and teased him about it. Otto didn't respond and stayed quiet for the next few minutes.
“We may have a problem.”
Otto's words caught her by surprise. “What's wrong?”
“Dr. Winslow is likely not the driver.”
“Why do you say that?”
“The speed and movement of the car is too precise. I suspect an AI is driving it. I have a feeling we will not resolve this situation today.”
Rhonda continued to stay within sight of the Mag-hov. Otto said, “I want to arrive at Dr. Winslow's house before the AI, so speed up, and I'll direct you there.”
While they drove, Otto explained his plan, “Let me out a few blocks from the house, park across the street, walk up to the front door, and ring the doorbell. He won't be home yet, but time your return back to your car as he arrives. When you encounter him, explain that you are trying to find Dryer Street, and ask for directions. After he gives you an answer, give your thanks, shake his hand, get in your car, drive to the Mobil station, and I'll meet you there.”
I didn't tell Rhonda all of my plan because I wanted her to act natural with the AI. When she parked the Mag-hov to let me out, she said, “Don't do anything stupid.”
I smiled at her. “Depends on your definition of stupid. You, dear girl, stay with the plan, and all will be well.”
She drove away, and as soon as the car was out of sight, I enabled my stealth mode. I ran to Dr. Winslow's house and arrived before Rhonda parked across the street. I hovered over to the nearest tree on his lawn, settled just above the grass, and waited.
Rhonda arrived and followed the directions I gave her. The AI arrived in a Mag-hov as she left the door and turned back on the walkway. As soon as they met and started a conversation, I hovered and moved quickly to come up behind the AI. When I was mere inches from my target, my left hand became a sharp knife. I thrust it into his body and released the hand, which exploded. The AI fell on the sidewalk, and Rhonda jumped back. I used a laser to cut a strip of skin from his neck and punched in a code to remove the memory chip. I left stealth mode, then I took his ID. I entered a code for destruct. “We can leave now.”
Rhonda looked at me and said, “That was a nice surprise.”
By the time we reached the car, the AI was reduced to a pile of ashes. “Now, we go to Fort Hood. I'll drive his Mag-hov, and you can follow. You will not be able to get on base, but you can wait nearby.”
Rhonda scrunched up her face, which I recognized as a signal of impending protest. I touched her arm. “You don't have a choice. You don't have authorization, and it's too late to get that now.”
“You should read the memory chip.”
“I can do that at Fort Hood.”
“What if Dr. Winslow is still there?”
“I can cross that bridge if necessary.”
Rhonda sighed. “I don't like the idea of your going off on your own. What if you are walking into a trap?”
* * *
I drove to the entrance, showed the ID, and was admitted onto the base. I followed the map in my memory and found the proper parking space. Despite my assurances to Rhonda, I knew very well this could be a trap, but time was of the essence.
I entered the building where Dr. Winslow's lab and offices were located. It was nondescript and only two stories, but that was just for show. The majority of the facility was underground, and it was massive.
When I entered the elevator, I selected B15. This lowest level of the building was the location of the offices and work stations of most of the people who worked there.
* * *
Dr. Winslow was excited. He had sent AI Delta to his house to remove his computer and return to Fort Hood. He planned to release all of his AIs this evening to carry out his plans.
He wore nan-glas, programmable glasses that provided access to any computer. They projected a view screen in front of his face. He touched the floating schematic. He was almost finished double checking his AIs program when he received an intruder alert. He touched the screen to bring up the security cameras and discovered the Downflow was empty. Immediately, he surmised that only one of his rogue AIs could have circumvented Fort Hood's security by the use of their stealth capabilities.
He set off a small EMP in the Downflow, which would immobilize the AI for a few minutes. A few moments later, he sent a command to Alpha and Gamma to bring the AI laying on the Downflow floor to a work table. He said, “Download the memory chip then disassemble the AI.”
Dr. Winslow had an appointment, and he left the AIs to their work.
* * *
I heard voices. I was lying on a table. The last I remembered was being in the Downflow. I had planned ahead of time for my venture into this place by erasing the memory chip from the AI who attacked Rhonda and programming it to duplicate my memory chip. Then I opened an access door to my chest and made a place for the chip. The chip was programmed to take over if my main memory was deactivated.
I didn't expect to be in this kind of situation, and now I remained silent and listened. I could tell from voice patterns that the two speakers were AIs. My success of defeating both at the same time was nil. My one advantage was they believed I was out of commission. I remained alert, waiting for an opportunity to act.
“Stay here,” one of them said, “I'm going for the woman.”
A feeling of sheer terror, which was incomprehensible, almost took over my mind. I listened carefully and heard the sound of steps stopping, which I believed to be in the Upflow shaft, then the slight echo of footfalls coming my direction alerted me for what was to come. My echolocation pinpointed the exact position of the AI. I waited, preparing my attack. Rhonda's life depended on my success.
Suddenly, I released my lasers and opened my eyes. The AI's face and chest were blackened by the laser fire. My left hand, which was already in the shape of a knife, thrust into the AI's chest. My hand disconnected from my wrist, and the AI's chest exploded.
I leapt from the bed, removed the AI's memory chip, and entered the code for self-destruct. I activated stealth mode and ran for the Upflow, fearing that I might already be too late, but I refused to allow doubt to enter my mind.
I didn't comprehend the fear that stabbed at my mind. It wanted to possess my thought process, and I put a stop to that. I had to think clearly and act fast or Rhonda would be lost to me, and I couldn't accept that.
* * *
Otto had been gone for three hours, and Rhonda was worried. She prayed nothing had gone wrong, but not knowing was the hard part. Added to her worry was her fatigue. She closed her eyes to rest them for a moment.
She jumped at a tap on the Mag-hov window. She was relieved to see Otto, wearing the image of Dr. Winslow. She opened the door and stepped out onto the grass. Otto put his hands around her neck and squeezed, saying, “Now, tell me everything you know.”
Rhonda didn't want to die and hesitated to give an answer for she knew when her tale ended, so would her life. “Where's Otto?” she demanded. The grip on her neck tightened, fear reared its ugly head in her mind, but she remained silent.
A dazzling light almost blinded her. The AI's hand was severed at the wrist, and it released its grip on her neck and fell. She backed away along the side of the Mag-hov, taking deep breaths of relief. The laser duel between the two AIs filled the air with explosions and smoke. They both wore the face of Dr. Winslow, and after a time, she couldn't distinguish between them.
Both AIs suffered terrible damage, and one of them suddenly fell to the ground and stopped moving. Rhonda didn't know if Otto was the survivor. The standing AI leaned down, and within a minute, the one on the ground dissolved into ashes.
The AI left standing took a lurching step in her direction, and she felt a moment of terror. With its next step, it wobbled, and on the third step, dropped to one knee, then fell to the ground.
“I am human, and humans are fragile.”
Rhonda ran to Otto and knelt at his side. “You made it back. You will be fine. You'll heal yourself.”
Otto closed his eyes and didn't respond. Rhonda slammed her fist on his damaged chest and screamed, “Listen to me you hunk of junk; you will not die.” When her hand started hurting, she stopped beating on him and sat back on her heels and wailed.
I opened my eyes. “Rhonda, are you okay?”
Her face turned a light shade of red and she asked sharply, “You . . . how long you been awake?”
“My processing returned to normal one point two seconds before I asked my question.”
Her hand came down to my cheek, caressing it gently. “Don't ever frighten me like that again.”
“I'll do my best,” I promised, and I took her hand as I stood up. “And now we must find Dr. Winslow and put an end to whatever he has planned.”
I opened the passenger door for her to get in, and then I got in the driver's seat and started the Mag-hov.
“Do you know where to find him?”
“He has another facility near Copperas Cove. He might have gone there.” I turned off onto the highway and sped up to 55.
“Or it could be a trap,” Rhonda warned. “He knows about you now and won't be taken so easily.”
“That is possible.”
“Very likely, I would say. After all, I am human, and humans are crafty.”
I laughed. “Well said, my dear, well said.”
“Why have you started calling me 'dear'?”
“The files I searched revealed that terms of endearment are used by humans for those they care about.”
Rhonda was quiet for awhile. “You are a machine. You can't have emotions.”
I had kept quiet about what happened to me at Fort Hood and decided to tell her. She listened attentively. I concluded by saying, “When I realized the danger you were in, fear filled my mind to the point that I was almost held in place. I can't even express the true terror I felt. I couldn't allow you to be taken from me – I just couldn't.”
“I am sorry for what I said; please accept my apology.”
I noted tears in her eyes and said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
She smiled at me. “And with your computer mind, I imagine you know who said that.”
“Alexander Pope – In the Spring--”
Rhonda held up her hand. “Please, although I'm quite sure you can tell me every jot and tittle of his life, such an endeavor is not necessary.”
“It is no endeavor; rather, it is a pleasure. --Spring of 1688--”
“Is this torture really necessary? I gave a sincere apology.” she complained.
I chuckled. “I am human. Humans like to tease and torture those they care about.”
“I'm almost afraid to ask if that quote is from a historical figure.”
“The Marquis de Sade, who else?”
“Nah, I made it up.”
Rhonda shook her head. “Humans like to get even with those who tease too much.”
I laughed. “Good luck with that idea. We are close to where we exit the highway.” I had decided that I liked Rhonda very much. She was my kind of gal.
* * *
In some ways, the conversation with Otto was frightening. It was a joy to talk with him, and that emotion was disturbing because despite his mantra, he was not human. I can't fall for a machine – I can't.
My mental protests were mostly useless. His account of the basement in Fort Hood had sent chills up and down my spine. He had come so close to death, and the tone in his voice when he spoke of his fear for me had shaken me to my core. He truly cared, and the idea that a machine could have feelings for me was more than I could comprehend.
They turned off onto a dirt road that was in terrible condition. But with the Mag-hov, it didn't matter. She pitied anyone in a regular car.
After a mile the road ended, and Otto stopped the Mag-hov.
“Do you want to remain in the car?”
Rhonda gave him 'the look,' and Otto grinned. “Guess not.”
He exited the car and opened the car door for her. “That's not necessary, you know. I am capable of opening my own car door.”
“Yes, but I am human and have decided to court you, and this what courting humans do.”
“What?” Rhonda heard his words but her mind was not wanting to grasp the reality. “I'm human, and you're . . . you're . . . I don't know what you are.”
He held out his hand to help her from the car. She took it and stood up. “Seriously, Otto, this is not going to work.”
“We are not the same.”
Otto nodded in agreement. “No humans are the same. Each one has their own specialness.”
Rhonda groaned. “You are a piece of work.”
He opened his arms and wrapped them around her. She was about to protest when he said, “I'm taking a short cut.”
She gasped as their feet left the ground, and they were flying. She was too frightened to enjoy the flight, but it was really too short, and she said, “I want to do that again, but only when you give me fair warning ahead of time.”
Otto released her. They stood outside of a concrete tunnel. “There may be traps here,” he warned.
She was about to ask if he had a plan to thwart them when something rolled from his hand. It looked like an ordinary ball, but then it lit up and started making an eerie sound.
She jumped when the ball suddenly exploded because of a laser beam. Otto's hand rose upward, and a beam shot from one of his fingers and hit an area on the wall where the other beam had originated.
He released another ball from his hand. After the destruction of four wall lasers, they continued forward into the tunnel. “Do you think there are more traps?” she asked.
“I am human, and a human's life is filled with traps. From what I have learned, when a man asks to court a woman, she gives a response.”
“Otto, I don't think I could court you; you're not an ordinary man.”
“I know, but is that what you truly want—ordinary?”
Otto's hand came down on her arm, and his finger rose to his lips to indicate silence. He wrapped his arm around her waist, and they rose into the air a few feet. They moved forward through the air to the end of the tunnel where there was a large metal door.
Rhonda felt her nerves getting antsy. She wanted to know what was beyond the door while at the same time she feared they were walking into a trap.
A laser beam from Otto's hand sliced into the door. Even with the powerful beam, it took awhile the cut an opening big enough to enter. They floated slowly through the hole in the door.
Otto said, “Don't breathe.” A small hatch opened in his chest, and he removed a mask and put it on her face.
I entered the large room with Rhonda at my side. My analysis of the air verified that it was breathable, and I removed her mask.
She said, “The place is empty.”
I frowned and used my enhanced to vision to carefully examine every part of the empty room. Not only was it empty, but I didn't even spot any dust.
After a few moments of silence, Rhonda inquired, “What now?”
“My probability program estimates a 32% chance that Dr. Winslow will continue with his original program and time schedule.”
Rhonda gave me a long stare. “Not very good odds.”
“Agreed. The problem is that we can't ignore the threat, but if we act in that direction, it leaves us open for Dr. Winslow to move in a different direction.”
Rhonda nodded. “Which makes a problem for us. What are you doing?”
My left hand was at my mouth, and I waved off her question with my right hand. I initiated a link to a satellite and made a call to the defense department. “There is a meeting of the joint chiefs of staff this Friday at Site R where they will all die.” I ended the call.
“Can anyone trace that call?”
I smiled at Rhonda. “I appreciate your concern, but I got this.”
She rolled her eyes and snapped, “Just don't get over confident.”
“Thanks for reminding me to measure twice and cut once.”
Rhonda laughed. “Your jokes are so bad I'm beginning to suspect that you are human after all.”
I took her hand. “Does that mean I can court you now?”
She snatched her hand back. “We have work to do, and no distractions are allowed.”
I smiled to myself because humans are reactive, and Rhonda just showed me that I was more than just a machine. I am making progress and that is good.
“Now, we need to find Dr. Winslow.”
“Yeah,” Rhonda agreed, “so, where do we start?”
* * *
Anger did not begin to describe Dr. Winslow's feelings. He had poured his heart and soul into his project, and for one of his creations to go rogue, it was heart breaking and devastating.
He had been so certain of his newest generation AIs, but now he recognized that his project needed more work. He exited the subway at Pentagon City.
He was always amazed at the flow of people; it was like a never ending tide of humanity. After leaving the station, he took a people mover to the north.
The C & W building was leased to Fort Hood; although, that was not something anyone would be able to discover on any database. The building appeared nondescript from the outside. It was only three stories and could use a coat of paint.
He left the people mover and walked up the steps to the entrance. He scanned his PCC and the door opened. Just beyond the foyer was a vac. He entered one of the cubes, scanned his PCC, and entered his destination.
Site R was a secret government installation near the Maryland and Pennsylvania border. His journey to Site R lasted only a few minutes.
When he emerged from the cube, he was hundreds of feet below ground. The vast room before him was filled with AIs. They were all of an earlier generation, but they were still more than capable of carrying out his plans.
He walked over to a work station and sat down. He downloaded a program from his PCC. He would need to rewrite his code for the AIs, but that was an easily solvable problem. He just wished today was Friday.
He was concerned because not long after he left Fort Hood, he lost contact with his remaining AIs. He didn't want to accept that the rogue AI was the reason; yet, what else could it be?
Site R was one of the most secure places in the world. Still, now was not the time to take chances. He entered a command, and his AIs started to enter cubes and depart for other assigned locations. He would only require a handful for Friday's activity here. The others would attack the remaining ten targets.
Dr. Winslow laughed. This Friday the thirteenth would go down in history as the day a foreign government almost took down the United States, and if not for Dr. Winslow's foresighted programs, the U.S. would have been defeated. He clapped his hands. This plan was one that no rogue AI was going to stop.
* * *
General Dockson sighed with relief when the Vertical Landing Craft settled to the ground near Site R. He hated flying but never revealed that to anyone. An admission of weakness would be bad for his image especially now that he was under consideration for Vice President.
He had learned quickly that watching out for the land mines in politics was as important as on the battlefield. All it took was one misstep, and a political career would be over, but he was a crafty old fox who wouldn't fall for any of the tempting traps.
He walked to the car waiting for him and entered the back seat. He didn't look out the window for the drive down the mountain. Although it was a short drive, it was nerve wracking.
The road that wound like a snake had a sheer rock wall on one side and a sudden drop off cliff on the other. It was so narrow that it hardly seemed possible for a two lane road.
He found it better not to look out the window and to trust the driver. Trusting others didn't come easy, but sometimes it was necessary.
Dockson preferred to meet in D.C, but General Whiting out ranked him, and he was a security nut, who saw a conspiracy on every corner. There would be nothing to worry about here.
At the bottom of the hill, tall fences with razor wire on top lined both sides of the road. Just up ahead the road was blocked by a concrete barrier with machine gun toting soldiers staged all around.
When they stopped at the barrier, a small drone floated to the car and inspected it carefully, then the barrier rolled backward allowing them to proceed.
The entrance to Site R was truly impressive. As they approached it, a massive door built like a bank vault door opened slowly. They entered the mountain, the driver parked the car, and Dockson proceeded to enter the facility.
One reason he hated this place was the feeling of claustrophobia. The ceilings were low and the hallways narrow. It was almost like being on a submarine.
A few minutes later he entered the meeting room. Several of the other attendees were already there. He was glad to not be the only one to arrive early. They all exchanged greetings and Dockson noted the time. Five minutes until the meeting started. General Whiting was not known for his punctuality. Dockson believed it was a way for him to show others that he was the boss and could do as he pleased. Regardless, it was irritating to be kept waiting.
While they sat at the conference table waiting for the meeting to start, they talked of sports – a mostly safe subject. At five minutes after, everyone's PCC beeped. He read the message: Apologies, can't make it. General Whiting.
Dockson slammed the table and cursed. “What is this nonsense?”
The three other men did not look so happy themselves. “It had to be something important to keep him away,” General Harte offered.
Dockson stood up and was slammed to the floor. He only had time to see that the other men were on the floor as well, then everything went dark.
I was frustrated. The news on the net spoke loudly of my failure. Generals Dockson, Harte, and Dickerson were all dead. No information was given as to how or where they died, but I knew it was at Site R because that was the warning I'd given, and it had not been heeded.
Most of my frustration was from not being able to locate Dr. Winslow. Another news flash caught my attention. Five different committees that were in session at Congress were attacked. Deaths were estimated to be more than fifty. I was certain this too was the work of Dr. Winslow, and I wondered what other horrors he had in store.
Rhonda and I had a small room in a hotel in Silver Spring, Maryland. I kept monitoring the news and various data bases, hoping to get a clue as to Dr. Winslow's whereabouts.
I listened to the sound of the shower, which reminded me of one of my differences from humans. My nanotek meant that I would never get dirty, need a haircut, go to the dentist, need glasses. . . . The list was too long and too depressing. “I'm human,” I declared, “even if my body is not.”
“Talking to yourself?”
Rhonda stood in the doorway of the bathroom. She looked beautiful and I smiled. With my ability to use T-rays, I can see almost everything. I don't use them on her. I am human and humans need privacy.
“Yeah,” I answered, “is that a problem?”
“Only if you start a three way conversation; although, that might not be a problem with you.”
I laughed. “I enjoy your humor.”
“Yours is growing on me too. What does that say about us?”
“Hummm, perhaps that we're both nuttier than a fruitcake?”
“Don't group me in with the nuts,” she demanded. “Maybe you should say fruitier than a nutcake.”
“An admission that you're fruitier this early in our courtship is a good sign.”
Rhonda shook her head. “Your one track mind is going to get you in trouble.”
“Speaking of tracks – have you heard the latest train joke?”
Rhonda put her hands on her hips. “Seriously?”
I grinned. “It's really not that bad.”
“Depends on who's defining bad. Oh, go ahead. Lay it on me.”
“What did the male train say to the female train?”
“Oh bother, dare I ask?”
I chuckled. “He said, 'You are very attractive'.”
Rhonda groaned. “That was worse than bad. It was horrific.” She sat down on the bed.
“I'm glad you liked it.”
“What can I give you to stop telling jokes?”
“How about a kiss,” I teased.
“As a tempting offer as that is, Otto, I believe I'll pass.”
“A pass would be okay as well,” I retorted.
“Your programming has gone haywire.”
“And you maybe right. I am at a dead end for finding Dr. Winslow. The only thing left is for him to find me.”
Rhonda jumped up to her feet. “That is a very bad idea, Otto.”
“Do you have a better one?”
Her face clouded over with anger. “Listen you bucket of bolts. I told you from the beginning that I am in this to the end. You are not doing anything without me.”
Her attitude and determination did not make me feel good. I estimated my chance of success at near zero. Logic told me to depart without her, but I am human, and sometimes humans let logic fly out the window.
I took the next ten minutes to give her very detailed instructions that would hopefully keep both of us alive. “When we return, you want to go on a date?”
Rhonda laughed. “You are incorrigible, Otto.”
I smiled. “I'll take that as a yes.” I handed her a floor length cloak with a hood, and she put it on. “The invisibility cloak,” I explained, “will not make you truly invisible. It makes it extremely hard for anyone to see you.” I clicked one end of a handcuff to her left wrist and attached the other to my right wrist. I enabled my stealth mode.
* * *
Dr. Winslow was very happy. His plans were unfolding perfectly. After so much failure, this success gave him a euphoric high. He was shocked when his tracker on the rogue AI beeped. “Finally, after all this time.” He sent out a return home command and then watched the GPS results.
Surprisingly, the rogue AI was in Washington D.C. It would not have far to go to come to this facility. He would need to replace the AI program, but that wouldn't take long. He smiled. There were a couple more targets that this AI could attack. Miracle of miracles, today everything was going just right.
* * *
Rhonda was accustomed to fear, but flying through the air with Otto's arms wrapped around her was beyond fear. She couldn't believe that she had demanded to walk into this trap with him. I must be nuts.
Even more disturbing was how she felt for Otto. It was not natural. He was a machine, but she no longed cared about that. It was why she had demanded to go with him. On his own, what chance would he have? At least with her, there was some chance of success. Dr. Winslow would never expect this.
A tap on her shoulder alerted Rhonda that they were almost there. Her nerves were jumping now. Otto had prepared her for what he expected to happen. Her part was not all that difficult, but it was scary.
Otto landed outside a building and entered. He shifted her so that now she clung to his back with her arms around his neck. She felt the release of the handcuff. Please be careful, Otto.
He floated to a cube and entered. It was a tight fit with both of them. Within a minute they were in the vac and moving quickly. Time was moving too fast now, and Rhonda prayed for it to slow down.
All too soon, the cube left the vac, and Otto exited the cube and became visible. The area around her was filled with machines. She recognized Dr. Winslow at a work station. They had found him.
Suddenly, Otto collapsed to the floor, and Dr. Winslow stood up. As Otto was falling, Rhonda had released him. She lay very still a couple feet away, breathing lightly.
Dr. Winslow removed the memory chip from Otto and replaced it. When Otto stood, Rhonda rose from the floor. She matched her steps to those of Otto and Dr. Winslow. When Otto stopped, she came to a halt inches behind his back. She lifted her hand to his neck.
She steeled her nerves and used an exacto knife to make a thin cut. She watched Dr. Winslow carefully while she removed the memory chip and replaced it.
Dr. Winslow was on the floor. Otto had moved so quickly that she didn't even realize what was happening. She looked away. She heard a loud crack and turned back. Dr. Winslow was dead.
Otto said, “I acquired the destruct commands before he died. Hopefully, there will be no more deaths today. You ready for that date, Rhonda?”
She laughed. “Oh, yeah, more than ready.”
Sergeant Billings looked at the officers in the briefing room. “First, I want to extend a welcome back to our 'not so dead' colleague, Officer Rhonda Dawkins.” The other officers cheered, and Sergeant Billings smiled. “Also we have a new officer, Otto Matone, and I understand that congratulations are in order as Officers Dawkins and Matone were married recently.”
The room erupted with shouts of congratulations. Sergeant Billings called the room to order. “We have a busy day ahead of us; pick up your assignments sheets and get to it.”
* * *