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[ Part 1: The Pony Tail ]
Hiro sat patiently at the table reading the day's newspaper, ignoring the constant blaring of Kamal's incoming chatter request.
"Dammit!" Yelled Kamal. Annoyed, he slammed the instant dinner he just bought to the counter.
"That's like the seventh time today you've refused to answer your chatter. I'd say it was your mother."
"My mother is 42 light years away."
Knowing how Kamal's mother is, Hiro wouldn't believe he'd ignore her, and started thinking again. "...except you'd never dare not answer your mother. Bill collectors, perhaps, or immigration?"
The chatter continued it's annoying chirp. "Dammit!" Repeated Kamal.
"--Or, you've been breaking hearts in the nursing dorms, haven't you?" Hiro mused, enjoying his roommate's frustration. He got up and walked over the residence's window. "If I look out the window here, I bet I see like four of them, standing outside in short skirts and those cute little caps, just waiting." Hiro was peeking through the curtains, as if looking for some girls. But really he just needed to stand and stretch for a few seconds.
Kamal raised an eyebrow at Hiro. "You need a girlfriend."
"We both need girlfriends."
They both pondered that comment and let that it sink in before Kamal quickly continued.
"It's not a girlfriend at the other end of that chatter, it's a gangster."
Hiro's ears perked. He looked back over at Kamal. "Good looking gangster?"
"Pony tail." Kamal shrugged.
"This is what I'm saying, you're in no position to be picky."
"I was ghosting his chatter and I sort of let him notice." Kamal shyly picked up his slightly flattened dinner, needing something to keep his hands busy.
"You did what?" Hiro crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. "You were showing off."
"For a girl."
"For the arrangement."
Kamal glanced up at Hiro. "I wish you wouldn't call her that, her name is Sophia."
Hiro dropped his arms and skeptically replied, "Her name is trouble."
"What do you mean?"
Just then they heard knocking on their front door.
Sitting down again, Hiro picked up the paper and continued. "Did I forget to mention that a good looking guy with a pony tail was coming up to the apartment?"
The knocking eagerly continued. Kamal froze. "Oh no."
[ Dinner Invitation ]
Aiden and Kamal sat opposite each other at the table.
"Freelance?" Asked Kamal.
"Free as in paid, dude. As in, I would pay you money to use your powers for good instead of--"
Kamal interrupted, "--Spying on you?"
"That." Aiden smirked.
Kamal's thoughts raced, trying to remember the fact he was talking to the guy he hated who was dating his love, Sophia. "I don't think... it would be a good idea to work for you."
Aiden raised his eyebrows, "Oh, you mean because of Sophia?" He leaned back and began patting his jacket looking for something in his pockets. "Sophie and I worked things out. Where's my damn chatter..." He found it and pulled it out, quickly making a call to Sophia. The chatter dialed and beeped a confirmed channel. "Soph, you want to talk to Kamal?"
Sophia's voice came through the chatter, and she replied, "Hi, Kamal. Aiden's a bastard."
Kamal leaned in, taken by surprise. "Pardon me?"
"But he's my bastard." Sophia giggled.
"That's good," Kamal replied slowly, lowering his gaze to the table.
Aiden quickly spoke, "Thanks Soph," and closed the channel. "See?" He said to Kamal, while sliding his chatter back into his jacket pocket.
"You're underestimating her." Aiden's voice had a natural calming effect to it, like he had a magical way with words. It was quite frustrating.
"You talked to her in the last couple of days."
"A little." Kamal sat up, curious where he was going.
"She told you about the bracelet."
"You think I bought her off?"
Kamal had to catch up, Aiden was moving fast. "It's an expensive bracelet!"
"If you think she's a whore, then--" Aiden got louder, but Kamal interrupted.
"--Don't say it."
"If I had given her that before we made up," Aiden lowered his voice, "Sophie would have run me through with a butcher knife."
"Good.." Kamal's emotions were flaring, but he caught himself. "I mean..."
"You didn't want to be disappointed."
Aiden leaned back and crossed his arms. "I'm a good judge of people, Kamal, you're not."
"You shouldn't assume anything about me." Kamal's face was showing a tint of red.
"You think I'm stupid. I'm friendly, I smile a lot," Aiden opened his arms, smiled, and shrugged. "That's not what you respect, ok."
"Respect? I don't think this has anything to do--"
Aiden shook his head and interrupted, "Not true, you think all the time..." With a smirk he leaned back to the table and continued. "So, think about the freelance thing. Maybe come by for dinner tomorrow, Sophia's cooking. 6-ish?"
"I don't think that would be such a good idea." Kamal wasn't thinking exactly straight, but he strongly disliked Aiden.
"Look at it this way, going to a job interview is not accepting a job." Aiden was really trying to appear innocent and inviting. "It's an interview - dinner, ok?"
[ Code Word ]
After Aiden left, Kamal and Hiro started talking. Kamal had to rant, and Hiro had to listen. He sat down, and offered the best advice he knew.
"What does she see in him?" Kamal asked.
Hiro patted the back of his head. "The pony tail, girls like hair."
"He nearly called her a--" Kamal caught himself. "You heard what he said!"
"You think I was standing in my bedroom, with my ear pressed against the door eavesdropping?"
Kamal stopped pacing. "You weren't?"
"Actually, I was, but it was really hard to hear."
Continuing, Kamal said, "He's so ... cocky."
"Funny choice of words." Hiro smirked. "Maybe its the jewelry? You can tell she's used to money."
Kamal's thoughts moved to the dinner with Aiden. Mainly, he feared for his safety. He didn't want to come home in a garbage bag. He thought out loud, "I'll need a panic button. A backup."
Hiro was still on the last conversation. "He can keep her in the style to which she is accustomed." Then Kamal's words finally hit him. "What do you mean a panic button? You're not going over there?" Hiro sat up, alerted.
"I'll set up a program, some...some kind of dead man switch." Kamal wasn't even paying attention to Hiro right now.
"Oh no, I don't want any part of this." Hiro waved his hands. "I'm not trusting the hands and body of a future surgeon to the tender ministrations of a pissed off boyfriend."
"You won't even have to go inside."
"Good." Hiro sat back.
"No." Hiro interrupted.
No outcome could be left unplanned. Kamal needed Hiro's help as a backup. "--I can't get to my chatter. You can be a couple blocks away, ghosting me."
"Are you even listening to me?" Hiro asked. He sat up and greatly emphasized each word, "I don't want to be involved."
As if Hiro spoke nothing, Kamal continued, "We'll need a code word. I'll say... the twelve cranial nerves."
"The twelve cranial nerves?"
"It's not likely to come up in conversation." Kamal shrugged.
"Did you hear me say no? I said no." Again, Hiro sat back in the chair.
"Except the cops need to come where I am." An idea came to him as he spoke. "Ok, I've got it."
"Kamal, you're not listening," stated Hiro.
Kamal looked back at Hiro like he tapped on the shoulder. "What?"
[ Interview Dinner ]
The apartment was quiet, the gentle murmur of the city could be heard through the open window. Aiden and Kamal sat at the table, Sophie finishing up the food preparation in the kitchen.
"I'm going to check on Sophie in the kitchen." Aiden stood from the table. "Let me get you another beer, dude. Be right back."
After Aiden had entered the kitchen, Kamal whispered down to his chatter hidden inside his shirt. "You there?"
Hiro's voice echoed in response, with the light tapping of rain in the background. "I'm here, dude." Hiro said sarcastically. "Its raining, I'm getting wet."
"So, 'cranial nerves' - you hit the buttons."
"Blue, then red." Hiro confirmed.
"Yeah, blue, then red...I think, yes." Kamal wasn't watching the kitchen door, and Kamal heard him just as he rounded the corner, walking back from the kitchen. He quickly looked up, trying to be inconspicuous.
"Good to have you over," Aiden said as he placed Kamal's drink on the table. "Good for Soph, someone from home."
"Thank you, its nice to be invited." Kamal replied nervously.
Aiden smiled, "Dinner was good, huh? She's a good cook."
"Very good. The kafta were maybe the best I've ever had." With a skip of his heart, Kamal honestly could say that he loved Sophia's cooking.
"Which was that?"
"The lamb meatballs."
"Oh yeah, I like those... home cooking." Aiden liked Sophia's cooking too, but he wasn't as enthusiastic. "So, your parents are trying to get here?" Aiden got to the point.
"They've applied, but they don't have any reason to be bumped in priority." Kamal shared about his family situation, hoping Aiden would have some kind of solution or plan. "So we're thinking when I get through with school and all that, I'll get permanent residency."
"How far away is that?" Asked Aiden.
"At least a couple of years."
Aiden contemplated. "Hmm, that's a long time - a couple of years. So there's the freaking rub." Aiden's experience with immigration led him to offer the easy solutions first, before jumping into anything risky, or illegal. "Have you thought about bringing them in on a visitor's visa?"
"I was denied."
"Lots of people trying to get here these days."
Kamal had already tried whatever he could to get his parents to earth, which was precisely why he was sitting at this table, trying this desperate measure with Aiden, and he seemed to be avoiding the question. Kamal got impatient. "Sophia said her brother was coming. You... got him papers?"
"Yeah, he's inbound. Her mother won't leave Coral, though."
"So, maybe there's a way you could help my parents?"
"It's nice to have you come over." Aiden wasn't going to make it that easy. "That freelancing thing I mentioned? It would be great. You'd be coming around, Soph would have someone from home to talk to. Could you do something like set up a chatter account?"
"A chatter account?" Kamal was blindsided. Not only that Aiden clearly avoided the topic at hand, but it now seemed as though Aiden was asking a price, and not a monetary figure. He stuttered, "I...I could set one up, but you don't need me to do that kind of thing--"
Aiden interrupted, "Maybe try it now. Set me up a chatter account for Bakri Omari-Muengue. You need me to spell that?"
Kamal knew this was really pushing the line. Chatter accounts were government mandated and government controlled. If he set one up and it was tracked, he could be in for some serious trouble. But if this was the only way, Kamal proceded with caution. "What's his government number?"
"If Bakri could get a government number, Kamal, what would I need to pay you for?"
"Alright. But this isn't about money, its about my family."
"Bringing your parents to earth? We could talk about that." Aiden offered a bit of encouragement, seeing that Kamal was getting edgy.
"I just want it clear, if I work for you, you'll see about getting my family here?" Kamal felt like he was bargaining with a criminal. Technically, he was.
"Kamal, that's what I do."
"Okay," Kamal cringed. "I can find an unclaimed address and set up a shell. From the outside it will be just like a regular account." He pulled out his chatter and began his hacking.
Aiden glanced at his wrist, forgetting he removed his watch. "What time is it, anyway?"
Kamal's eyes were glued to his chatter screen as he nudged his way into the chatter net. "Ok, this will just take a sec. I have to build a filter to find an unclaimed address."
Kamal and Aiden jumped at the sudden pounding on the front door.
Aiden walked over to the door and spoke through it. "Yeah?"
A muffled voice replied, "Berkeley police."
Aiden looked over at Kamal, still typing frantically. "What did you freaking do?"
The officer pounded on the door again. "Open up, Berkeley police."
Kamal looked up and answered, "I didn't do anything!" He hadn't yet managed to break any laws. The chatter had not yet been set up.
Aiden unhelpfully said, "The Berkeley cops use their shock sticks, you know?" He opened the door, and shivered from the cool rainy air. "Officer, what can I do for you on this drizzly evening?"
The officer entered the apartment and closed the door. He looked past Aiden, seeing Kamal at the table. "You with the chatter, hands off it." Turning back to Aiden, he started, "Are you the resident--" but noticed again that Kamal was still typing. "Hands off the chatter! Put them on your head." Kamal froze and raised his arms. "On your head! Who's apartment is this?"
Aiden replied, "I live here."
The officer pulled out a pad. "Your name?"
"Can I see your ID?"
"Sure, what seems to be the problem?" Aiden calmly handed him his ID.
"We got a trace on the chatter for a possible CP fraud." Kamal's eyes widened. The officer turned back to Kamal. "Sir, do you want to tell me just exactly what you were doing?"
Kamal couldn't find the words. "Um, I was... I was looking up a friend's address."
"I'm sorry I will have to confiscate that chatter," he said as he reached over for the chatter.
Aiden leaned in to intercept him. "Don't you have to have some sort of warrant?"
Kamal's mind was racing, realizing now was the time to execute the backup plan. He whispered frantically, "Oh god, olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trigeminal..."
Aiden continued, "Officer, my friend is just looking up an address."
Hiro's voice quietly came back through the chatter. "What? Oh, oh right, that's me."
The officer pushed a finger onto Aiden's chest. "I will deal with you in a moment, Mr. Maki, and I will need to see some ID."
Kamal was getting excited and desperate. His whispered got louder, "Red, red, red, red, red!" He looked up for something red and said loudly, "Those are really great RED - RED curtains, Aiden."
Hiro came back confused, "I thought it was blue?"
Kamal, through clenched teached screamed quietly, "Red!"
"Ok," replied Hiro uncertainly.
Aiden and the officer were looking at Kamal curiously. All they could hear were the strange comments Kamal was making, and his beet red face. Aiden tried to save the situation. "My friend is very passionate about interior decoration."
The officer wouldn't have it, and turned back to Kamal, reaching for the chatter. "I'm going to have to confiscate that chatter." He jerked back as his own chatter came to life with a police alert. "Copy that, repeat address please." The chatter mumbled a reply. He swore under his breath, and confirmed, "I'm on my way." He looked sternly back at Kamal, "You're a lucky bastard. I've got a priority one, I've got to go."
Aiden was surprised, "You have to go?"
The officer replied as he walked towards the door, "Officer Under Fire about a block and a half from here."
The officer hit his chatter again as he left the apartment, "Unit 216 responding to backup, I'm less than two blocks from the location."
Hiro came back through Kamal's chatter. "Kamal, what's going on?"
Kamal was about to reply, when Aiden returned to the table. "That was weird...and convenient."
"Yes, uh, much more convenient than if you were to suddenly drop your chatter down a sewer." Kamal spoke loudly and clearly, trying to send a hint to Hiro.
Hiro and Aiden both answered. "What?"
"Yes, if you were to lose your chatter!"
Hiro was dumbfounded. "What?"
Aiden was confused. "What?"
Kamal was desperate. "For god's sake, you moron, smash the damn chatter with a brick and get the hell out of there!" He screamed.
Kamal could hear sirens slowly growing in volume as Hiro replied, "Do what? Oh, the blue button. Only you didn't let me hit the blue button, you made me hit the red one. And that means..." Hiro paused, letting his predicament sink in. "I hate you." The channel closed.
Aiden crossed his arms. "You had someone ghosting you. You pulled some hacker stunt to get that cop out of here." He smirked.
With nothing to say, and quite nervous, Kamal quipped, "Not me. Some other dog that looks just like me."
"You were afraid. You were thinking I might be the kind of guy who would hold a grudge. Say, break your fingers, each one, with a tack hammer." Aiden held out his arms and smiled. "Kamal, I am so not that guy."
Kamal stood and packed up his chatter. "I've gotta go. I've gotta check on my friend."
Aiden said, "No, stay, and we'll talk."
Kamal had his hand on the doorknob. "For some reason, its never Plan A. No, I got my friend in a world of trouble, I've gotta go." He opened the door, paused, and looked back. "Tell Sophia thanks for dinner."
[ Peace Offering ]
Kamal jogged back to his apartment after finding that the place Hiro was stationed with his chatter was empty - no police, no Hiro. He ran up the stairs, and opened the door.
"Hiro? Hiroyuki are you home?" He ran in and checked around quickly.
"You bastard," Hiro scorned from the couch, wet and covered with a blanket.
Kamal went over to him. "Thank god you're home. You're ok? They didn't pick you up?"
"I'm ok, no thanks to you and half the Berkeley police department."
"I didn't plan it that way."
"I smashed the chatter, threw it down a sewer grate, and then it started raining cops." Hiro started bobbing his head as he continued, "Cops in cars, cops on foot, cops dropping out of camo'd helios, cops every-damn-where." Hiro was quite obviously irritated.
Kamal stopped, knowing he had to somehow make it up to Hiro. "Sophia sent leftovers."
Hiro kept on, "And now I don't have a chatter."
"I know. I'm going to give you mine."
"I don't want your chatter, all my stuff was on mine. My address book, my schedule, my debit account, every damn thing!"
Kamal walked to the kitchen and put down a bag. "Mine is cooler than yours."
"You just couldn't let me hit that blue button, could you?" Hiro got up to get a beer from the fridge.
"That would have pushed the 'Officer Under Fire' alert to my chatter, which was Plan A for if Aiden tried to, you know--"
Hiro interrupted, "Pull out your lungs?" - Something he was contemplating doing himself.
"Don't sound so eager..." Kamal said. "But as it turned out, I needed the cop to go away."
"'Away' meaning - to me, and 'cop' meaning every armed officer within 50 city blocks, all because I hit the red button." Hiro shook his head.
"The 'Officer Under Fire' alert..." Kamal futilely clarified.
"While it was still on my chatter."
Kamal open the bag he put on the table and reached in. "Yeah, but Sophie sent leftovers."
Hiro turned to the table. "Leftovers?"
Kamal put some containers on the table, and Hiro opened one. "Yeah, she made marties, little stuffed appetizers, and spiced lamb meatballs, with real meat, with almond rice and milk pudding..." Hiro was too busy sniffing and tasting the food to reply. "So, are we ok?"
Hiro's mouth was stuffed, and he replied, taken aback by the quality of the leftover. "Dude!"
[ Part 2: Witness ]
It was just about lunch time, and Jan was beginning to feel a little peckish, so she headed to the concession stand on the corner. She was a regular for years there, and the staff knew her by name. Marta was working today, and she'd known her ever since she was a child.
Jan walked up to the counter. "Hey, Marta, whatcha got today?"
"I got pigeon and the special," Marta replied.
"What's the special?" Jan asked.
"I'd stick with the pigeon." Marta wasn't the cook, but she knew good food when she tasted it.
Jan chuckled, "Maybe later."
"Mhm," Marta acted condescending and looked Jan in the eye, "Maybe later when I'm not looking, you mean?"
"Hey, hey, I was a kid! Jeez, let it go." Jan laughed, and continued on her way.
Marta chuckled and shouted after her, "Hey, you tell that good looking daddy of yours 'Hey' for me, ok?"
Before Jan took 5 steps, a car drove up alongside her and slowed to her speed. The driver window lowered.
When Jan looked over, she rolled her eyes when she saw that it was the interrogator who questioned her. "Officer."
"Does your dad know you're cutting the sleeves off his old shirts?"
Jan replied sarcastically, "Everybody loves a girl in uniform."
He stopped the car. "Listen, Jan, I need your help."
"Well, I'd crop that blue shirt of yours, flash a little skin." Jan's attitude mirrored her respect for the officer. "A little detailing in your holster wouldn't hurt either. Accessorize, that's the key."
"Get in the car, Jan." He had to be serious, and not let himself get phased by her hijinks.
Jan gave up on the comedy. "I can't do anything for you."
"Oh, I think you can. Let's take a ride so I can explain things."
"You can explain things right here."
"Ok," He paused. "You ever want to be a cop?"
"Oh yeah," she replied sarcastically. "It's all I think about." She started walking again, and he followed with the car.
"There's so many sons of bitches in the world, Jan. Being a cop is a frustrating job."
Jan looked at him and tilted her head. "Hmmm, you look frustrated."
"If I got too frustrated, I might have to redirect my attention to that fire last week." Jan glanced over. "The one that destroyed all your test samples."
"Hey, I didn't do anything--" She wasn't going to let him blame her for this as well.
He interrupted, "You didn't." His emphasis made it sound like he knew someone else was the culprit.
Jan thought for a moment. The only other person who they both knew was her father. "But... Why would he..."
"You are going to help me, Jan, but I want you to know why. Take a look at this vid tonight." He picked up a case from the passenger seat.
"What is it?"
"Take a look." He handed her the case. "My chatter number's on the case. Call me when you're done, then I'll tell you what you're gonna do."
[ Blackmail ]
Fighting tears, Jan couldn't believe what she was watching. For the past hour she had been treated to a disgustingly painful sight - a video of a woman, her clothes in tatters, tied awkwardly to a post, being beaten by a figure clothed in black, the face hidden. With each slap, with each punch, also came a scream of tortured pain. Jan had thrown up twice at the horrid video. All this time the figure had not said a word, just satisfied his twisted, perverted desires with this victim. When he brought out a new machine, Jan couldn't take any more. She quickly turned the power off, put her face in her hands and took a deep breath. Wiping her face, she picked up her chatter and called the number on the case. The officer answered, "Yeah?"
With a choking voice, Jan asked, "What do you want me to do?"
"You watch it?"
As if her voice and cooperation wasn't answer enough, she asked again, "What do you want?"
"At 8:30 tomorrow night, you need to be at the southwest corner of 4th, downtown, under the big Spaceways vacation sign."
"What do I do?"
"Just be on time, we'll take it from there."
Jan wasn't liking the sound of this plan. "And what's going to happen?"
"Well, I'm not going to get an arson warrant for your dad."
That was comforting firstly, but she wanted to know more. "And?"
"Don't be late."
There was a knocking at the door, just as they ended the call. Jan opened the door and her dad walked in carrying a number of bags.
"Hey," he greeted, "Dwayne dropped by again."
"Yeah, I know, I was just..." Jan realized her dad must have chatted with him for a bit. "Aren't you supposed to menace guys so they won't hit on me?"
"You can take care of yourself." James walked in and set the bags down.
"I say that a lot, don't I?"
"Yeah." James felt that his daughter wasn't quite herself. "Hey, what's on your mind?"
Jan wasn't comfortable talking about it. "Just... nothing, Dad." When the officer revealed that he believed her father had started the fire at the station, Jan started wondering about her father's background. She knew he was in the military, but she didn't know how far in. Why would he burn down an entire building?
James didn't buy her answer. Jan was obviously distressed. "Real nothing or code nothing?"
"Well, you never talk about your unit."
"My, my what?" That's not what James was expecting.
"Most demobs, they talk about their unit. They brag, they have buddies over, and bitch about the officers they hated, and lie about their kills..."
"That was a long time ago."
"Didn't you like them?" Jan asked.
"I served with the best, Jan, the best." The memories were coming back. But he'd trained himself to let them go, long ago.
"Then why don't you ever talk--"
He interrupted, "Do you want me to be one of those sorry, old bastards that sit around the apartment all day drinking beer and reminiscing about the good old days?" It made him cringe.
"Yeah, sometimes." Jan chuckled at the thought, but it was what she wanted, to really know her father more.
"Duly noted." James pulled Jan close and hugged her.
[ Dead Right There ]
At 8:25, Jan arrived at the location the officer prompted to her. She scanned her surroundings, not having any clue what this plan of his involved. As 8:30 passed, she was contemplating leaving, and just as she started walking, she heard a siren approaching from the distance. She looked over her shoulder, but noticed it wasn't coming towards her. The police vehicle pulled a driver over near to where she was walking. She gave the scene her full attention when she saw that it was the interrogator who got out of the police vehicle and walked over to the car.
"Sir, I'm going to need to search your vehicle," he said, with a hand on his holster.
"Excuse me?" The man was bewildered.
"Step out of the car please, and keep your hands where I can see them." He was standing just outside the driver's door now speaking loud and firm.
"What did I do?"
He took a step back. "Step out of the car, sir, now."
The man was growing anxious, not having any clue as to what the officer wanted. "What is this? Officer, I just left work. Come on, I haven't had time to do anything illegal."
Swiftly the officer pulled out his sidearm and aimed it at the driver. "I'm going to have to ask you to step out--"
"Hey, what the hell are you doing?" The driver jumped back in his seat and raised his hands.
The officer quickly became defensive and shouted the warning, "Drop the weapon!!"
Two Gunshots rang out over the neighborhood. Jan heard a scream in the distance from a woman who saw the event, but no one else saw what she saw from her angle.
"Oh my god!" Yelled Jan, shocked.
People began crowding around the vehicle as Jan instinctively backed away slowly. The officer held his arms up stopped people from crowding. "Step back, keep away from this vehicle!"
Amid a number of skeptical comments from onlookers, he stated, "He had a weapon." He looked up and found Jan in the crowd and walked over to her. "You, miss, you were standing right there. You saw he drew a weapon... Right?"
It dawned on Jan just then what his plan for her was. "...Right"
The officer walked back to the car and opened a police channel. "This is Fox-977, requesting an ambulance, this location. One citizen..." The chatter mumbled a reply. "...No, I'm ok, send uniforms for crowd control though..." More mumbled static. "...Just a traffic stop, he drew a weapon..." Jan watched him intently. "...Yeah, we'll need the scene team, but you can tell the ambulance crew their client is DRT." With a final confirmation, he closed the channel.
He looked over at Jan. "Miss, don't go anywhere. We'll need you to give a statement on a lie detector about what you saw. All standard procedure."
Jan gasped. "You just--"
"Name?" He interrupted.
"You know my..." She caught herself. Everything was coming together. This guy must have had something to do with that video the officer made her watch. A moral excuse, an attempt to morally defend what he wanted to do. He told him her name. "Janissary James."
"We'll get you home as soon as we've taken a statement, Miss James."
"Can I ask you a question, Officer?" She did her best at acting the part.
"Step over here, Miss James." He indicated a spot towards his police vehicle. Other officers were now showing up at the scene to take over.
"What does DRT stand for?" she asked.
He opened the door and motioned her inside. "Watch your head. It means 'Dead Right There'."
He closed the passenger door, and entered the driver side, started the engine, and drove to the station.
[ Jan's Specialty ]
The police channel blared the constant chatter between HQ and officers as Jan and her interrogator drove to the station.
Jan started first. "So what now? Every guy you know who beats his girlfriend, you're just going to face-hole him and blackmail somebody into backing you up?"
"Not just anyone," he replied. "A civilian witness who can pass the lie detector. The coroner's inquest is going to eat that up."
"Wow, serve and protect." Jan's sarcastic side surfaced again.
"Last week, when I had your hand on the PQI and you sat there cool as a creamsicle and lied your pretty ass off, and the machine was too stupid to tell, I just wanted to lean across the desk and slap you..."
Jan looked out the window, not affected. "Well, now I know something. Are you going to pull me over in a couple of weeks and pop me too?"
He continued, "...and a couple of days later, I figured out you were an answer to a prayer."
Jan sat up and faced him. "You can't... you can't just kill people! It can't be that easy."
He raised a hand to calm her. "Cool out, Janissary James, you didn't kill anybody. I did."
"You made me part of it." She sat back again.
"That vid you screened. That was my buddy's daughter." Jan closed her eyes. "If that was you, what do you think your father would have done?"
"Leave my dad out of this."
"Too late, Jan. Sometime when you were a baby, somebody stuck you with a needle and shot you full of miracles. Smart, fast, strong, never get sick, never get drunk, don't need much sleep..."
Jan looked at him, surprised. "How do you know?"
"...And what did you do? Shoplifting... Play high school goddess for the tormented geeks in your neighborhood." He was on a roll. Through the years, he had seen many a gifted youth lose their focus, lose sight of their goals and ambitions, and turn to crime, or simply hide under self-righteous attitudes. No good ever came from those people. Just kids, looking for place to fit in, causing trouble, not knowing their own gifts, their own intelligence, that could be used for good.
"Oh, I, I guess I should have been out on the streets murdering bad guys, huh? Strangling jaywalkers on my way home from school?" Jan defended.
"When I was your age, I pulled strings so I could join up a year early. Wanted to help save humankind. So you're about the last person on the planet I need a civics lecture from."
Jan was not happy. "Well, you sure as hell need one from somebody."
"What I needed was an asset to solve a problem. You were just dumb enough to make yourself available."
Jan stayed silent. She closed her eyes, fought back a tear, and tried to speak. "Look, you just made me help you murder someone. Could you just be a little bit nice to me?"
Realizing what he just said, he took a deep breath and sympathized, "Yeah. Ok."
[ Part 3: The Candidate ]
Herzog walked confidently up to the doors of the pub and entered. He planned to meet Professor Avi for a coffee, and discuss a little business.
Avi looked up from the bar and saw Herzog enter the pub. "Hey, you dry old man, they have very good pie here."
Herzog pulled up a seat. "Best in Boston."
"Apple, Key Lime, French Silk, or Baklava." Avi was impressed with the menu. "Although, the best Baklava is from Morocco. One of those places everyone has been... Romans, Crusaders, people as old as you," he joked.
"You're older than I am."
Avi tilted his head, "That's how I know you're an old man."
"Key Lime then."
Avi snapped his fingers for the waitress. "Two pieces of Key Lime, and coffee," he ordered.
"Comin' up," she replied.
"So, what happened?" Avi asked Herzog.
"With the chatter net?" Herzog replied.
"The ship, the one that crashed out of the slipstream inside lunar orbit--"
Avi interjected, "The Apocalypso."
Avi read Herzog's face. "It wasn't just the ship?"
"It was one of ours, huh? Navy spy ship?" Avi leaned in a bit.
"There's more... But either you don't know it or you can't tell me."
Herzog was uncertain how to continue so he changed the subject to what he went there to discuss. "You said you had a recruit."
"-A candidate," Avi corrected.
Herzog echoed skeptically, "a candidate..."
Avi sensed Herzog's reaction, smiled, and put a hand on his back. "You should retire, old man."
"I have work to do - More work since some people left the business to take soft professor jobs." Herzog had to admit he was a little jealous that Avi had a lighter career, but he loved his job. But he and Avi worked well together, and with Avi retiring, Herzog was left with the crunch of more work.
"I got too old for the game," said Avi. Herzog sighed. "And I was younger than you are now."
Continuing where he left off, Herzog prompted for more info. "You said you had a candidate..."
Avi returned to his drink. "A mouse. You would never know she's there, she's a scholarship girl from some god-forsaken hick town. Although, the only way you can tell is her haircut. She's got the clothes alright, she just seems to have a blind spot about the hair." He shook his head.
Herzog liked how he described her. "Good, good."
"She looks at the things ordinary people do, like a scientist." It rolled of his tongue, like he found the perfect candidate.
"...like a detective," Herzog finished.
"Also persistent as hell. I'll send you her dossier next week."
The waitress made her way over to their seats.
"Ah, the famous pie," Herzog said, his eyes hungrily following the plate as it was set before him.
[ Part 4: SpyHard? ]
The jazz music softly filled the room as Jersey listened in.
"Wait, hang on, this bit is great!" He turned the volume up and closed his eyes, conducting to the music. "My dad loves this stuff. He says..." He lowered the volume again. "Well, he's away a lot, like, years at a time, it drives him crazy. He says this stuff reminds him of what he's fighting for."
Durga replied, "I don't understand."
"--That he can connect. He can listen to this stuff and imagine the people who made it. They cared about the same things we do: making a buck, finding a girl, rooting for the home team. These old guys, they really knew people. They knew the human heart, that's what my dad says." Jersey leaned back with his arms stretched behind his head as he spoke to his console, where Durga lived.
"Why are you telling me this?" She asked.
"It's a long way away, you know, out to wherever he is. He gets lonely out there..." He thought of his mother. "I wish you hadn't told me."
"About my mom."
"It doesn't matter, forget about it." He waved it off.
"I'm sorry." Durga apologized.
"It's ok, it's alright, I'm a survivor."
Jersey sat up, excited. "You got something good?"
Durga was surprised. "What?"
"Nah, I can tell. There's something about you, like, your refresh rate goes up or something when you're, you know, like..."
"Efficient?" She finished.
Durga continued, "It's about Kamal. I started to--"
Jersey interrupted, "Why are you following that guy anyway?" He got up and walked over to a console. "I mean, not to be a jerk about it, but the planet's crawling with refues."
"I don't know. He just seems very interesting to me." Durga was uncertain of her reasons also.
"Why?" He asked.
"It's not important."
"It's happening again?"
"The reflecting thing?"
"You aren't supposed to want to know why you want to know about this guy, you know?" He wasn't quite sure what he just said, but he felt it was right.
"And that bugs the hell out of you."
"I am a very curious girl." That much they both knew.
Jersey prompted her to continue. "So, about Kamal..."
"I ran a secondary ring around him."
"A second?" Jersey was shocked. One ring was enough, but to track people who interacted with who someone interacted with was too much tracking to comprehend! He didn't want to go there. "Never mind."
"Listen to this," Durga said. She started up the playback of a recording she made from Aiden's chatter earlier.
"...so you come by about 6:20, 6:30, something like that," said Aiden.
"I bang on the door, demand to come in, look scary," replied the officer.
Jersey spoke up, "Pause it. Who's this?"
Durga stopped the playback. "The police officer."
Jersey was shocked. He'd overheard what had transpired when Kamal was there, but this was news to him. "What?" He got up and paced the room.
Durga logically answered, "A police officer is a member of the civilian authority structure, granted an exclusive license to use force in the maintenance of soci--"
Jersey sighed, "I know what a cop is. This is the cop? What's the timestamp?"
"13:27:41," she answered.
"...Before Kamal came over to the girl's apartment?"
Durga agreed, "Before."
"Daaaamn!" Exclaimed Jersey.
Durga continued the playback.
"I think of it as product testing - quality assurance," said Aiden. "I need people who, you know, can work well under pressure."
"You want him arrested?"
Aiden stopped him. "You trying to sell me a bigger ticket item? No, just rattle and roll it."
"I was thinking this time you can--" The officer was trying to get Aiden to agree to more work. This wasn't the first time he'd helped him out.
Aiden interrupted, "Regular prices!"
"You want to stay friends with me, Aiden?" The officer tried a threat.
"I keep a lot of friends, friend. I know the going rate."
Durga ended the playback.
Jersey exclaimed, "Un-freaking-believable!"
"You know what I am?" Durga asked.
Durga played back a portion of the interrogator's recording, "Good at my job."
Jersey chuckled, "You do impressions. Just what the world needs, super-powered spyware with a sense of humor. Wow."
Durga shifted gears, and said, "I've been thinking a lot about bees."
"Bees?" asked Jersey.
"I don't know."
"And that's, like, creepy?"
"This is more reflection stuff, isn't it?"
Jersey found the mystery intriguing, and was reminded of something he did as a child. "When I was little, we had this mirror in the bathroom. I used to hide behind the door and jump out and see if I could catch my reflection doing something interesting."
"Well, before it had time to just, you know, mirror me."
"You think that's what I'm doing?" Durga asked curiously.
"Well, the thing is, you have to jump out awful fast." It was hard enough for a human, but for an AI that was astronomically faster?
Jersey had a lot to take in. A lot had changed in 2 weeks, and he now had a lot to hide from anyone important out there. "I gotta tell you, I feel kind of weird about listening to this stuff about Jan. I mean, I'm kind of wondering if you can do a little backscan on the chick down the hall and all of a sudden you're drilling into hardened police emergency channels and..."
Durga understood his mean, "So you don't want any more material on Janissary James?"
"No..." Jersey stopped himself. "I mean, yeah... well, I mean, whatcha got?" His curiosity was too strong.
Durga started up another recording, this one from Jan's chatter.
"...So you're about the last person on the planet I need a civics lecture from."
It was a portion of the conversation from Jan's ride home with the cop. A significant portion.
"Well, you sure as hell need one from somebody."
"What I needed was an asset to solve a problem. You were just dumb enough to make yourself available."
"Look, you just made me help you murder someone. Could you just be a little bit nice to me?"
Durga ended the playback.
Jersey's heart pounded and he was dumbstruck. "That ...wasn't what I was expecting."
"Damn." Jersey was sad and distressed. He couldn't believe the girl he liked was a murderer.
"Should I stop?" Asked Durga.
"For a quality experience, the girls have to be real. Hang on, let me turn this off..." He reached over to the jukebox, and stopped the jazz. "You know, I just had a creepy thought."
"A bee dies when it stings you." Durga said quickly.
"Yeah?" Jersey was waiting for more.
"But it can also sting you after it's dead."
"Curious symmetry." Why Durga was thinking about bees again was still a mystery to Jersey.
"Ok, that's a creepy thought too, but you know what I was thinking?" He walked back over to the console.
"How spooky it would be if someone was listening to us right now."
"To us?" Durga asked skeptically.
"Spying on us. You know, like we're listening to them.
Durga was confident of her abilities, and it would take quite an advanced program to convertly spy on her without her knowledge. "That would be impossible. I would know."
Jersey sighed. "Yeah, I guess you're right, but if they were..." He raised his hands and twiddled his fingers eerily, "creeeeepy."
Read on -- Chapter 12 >>