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[ Part 1: The Walk-Away Girl ]
Officers Brian and Frank glanced up alarmingly as their outpost lights flickered. Each security monitor buzzed static for a second before flickering and shutting off. They looked at each other shocked at the extent of this occurance. The overhead lights flickered and went out, the security cams in their own room were disabled, even the back-lights on the security pads by the doors went blank, and yet the backup systems weren't kicking in. Their immediate attempts to communicate with other officers in the complex were treated with utter silence. Suddenly in the pitch black and quiet, an alarm began to blare, followed by the reactivation of each powered system.
In the span of a few seconds, their entire complex had been shut down and restarted, as if someone had cold booted the entire power grid.
"Hold on. Hold on, wait a second, what the hell just happened?" Brian slid back in his chair, trying to grasp the gravity of the situation.
Frank rolled over to a console and began typing frantically, attempting to gain some insight. Messages began rolling in. "- Massive power interrupt. Just automatically flipped us to threat condition bravo."
"Hey," Brian interrupted, noticing something out of the corner of his eye, "there's a blip on the security board..."
Frank rolled over to his security console and saw the same thing. "Holy crap!"
"We've got an intruder C-Wing. Personnel building right next to the motor pool." Brian announced the official alert.
"Look, security cam 34."
They glanced at the video feed from the camera. "It's a woman!"
"She's a bogey, Frank." Brian rolled his eyes at Frank's badly timed ogling of the intruder.
Frank jumped back on track considering their situation. "I have no idea how she got out of the base."
"We'll ask when we catch her."
The intruder's blip on the security screen was moving at an alarming pace through the halls and connecting sectors of the military base. It moved faster than they'd ever seen during their careers in security.
Frank was shocked, "look at her run... God she's fast."
"Not for long." Brian opened a comm channel on his chatter which, working once again, beeped in confirmation. "Sentry 129er, you have a bogey in the corridor on the other side of that door - proceed with caution." He located the nearest security sentry and guided him towards the location of the fugitive.
Suddenly the blip disappeared, in the middle of the hallway, as if she just ceased to exist.
Frank exclaimed, "Whoa, whoa... she disappeared."
"What do you mean, disappeared?" Brian demanded.
"I mean, she's gone, no trace!"
Brian barked into the sentry comm again, "129er - what are you seeing?" The muffled response from the Sentry came back with some interference. "What do you mean the corridor's empty?"
Frank offered, "she must have doubled back."
Brian glanced at Frank, then shouted back at the sentry, "run her down, dammit!"
Frank reviewed the security monitor again, making sure it was still in check. "I can see the sentry fine, see? It's just..." The blip appeared again, once the sentry had moved out of range. "Wait a sec..."
"There she is again, wh-how the hell--" Brian exclaimed over Frank.
"Oh... my God!" With the chuckle of someone who just solved a 'kick yourself' joke, Brian stated, with new respect for the intruder, "she hid on the ceiling!"
"What the hell?!"
Following the blip once again, Frank continued "Looks like she's heading for procurement."
"She's screwed then, that door's passcode only." Brian stated matter-of-factly, "It's a dead end, she can't get through."
"She's through," Frank replied obviously.
Brian was struggling to keep up with the events. "I don't believe this." He opened a comm to the entire security wing of the base. "I need a full security detail, I need 10 men. I need them fanned out around procurement, and I need them right now."
Frank continued following the blip and the security cameras. "I think I got a face on security cam 18."
Brian glanced over at his feed, "She's young!"
"Holy... that's Jan!"
"Who the hell is Jan?"
"Jan James, the local heart-breaker - my son's high-school." Frank was shocked, but oddly relieved that he was familiar with the intruder. He felt a little more at ease knowing this wasn't some dangerous criminal or rampaging terrorist.
"Dwain knows this girl?"
"Knows her? He's got like, a picture under his pillow!"
"What the hell is she doing dodging base security?"
Jan was not the type of girl who they'd ever consider capable of a stunt like this. The military base was heavily guarded and totally secure. At least, that's what they believed until this incident.
"Hell if I know. Her dad was in the S.S.F."
"S.S.F.?" Brian asked.
"Marine slang," Frank answered. "Not just special forces - special special forces." Frank added extra emphasis to special, the only way to truly describe the secrecy and power of that branch of the military.
"I don't care if her dad was the frickin Queen of Neptune, I want her caught!"
Frank and Brian were taking in the motion of the security blip as it was followed by the multiple sentry blips attempting to close in on it, every so often seeing her speed with precision past corners posted with security cameras. The way she ran - her form, her knowledge of the base, the speed she opened locked doors - was simply inhuman.
"Taught her some moves though didn't he?" Frank quipped.
"Well, she's screwed now, we've got her surrounded." The security monitor showed that the sentries were beginning to close in on her general location, from every major direction, minimizing her available escape options. There was only one way to go. "She's headed to the roof."
"That's the reason they call her the 'Walkaway Girl', man." Frank knew what was coming. Jan had a reputation for getting out of any difficult situation. Granted, up until now it tended to deal with schooling, and mostly with the male persuasion.
"For god's sake she's treed Frank, I'll just send a couple of cadets to the roof to take her in." The roof of the complex was 3 stories from the ground level, with no other building within reach. There was a security perimeter fence at one side, and an open road and field around the rest, flooded with security lights and military personnel.
"I think I can get a..." Frank began, as he zoomed in to the nearest roof-mounted security cam, following a cadet who had managed to quickly ascend to the roof. "Here we go. There." He flicked the screen, pleased to see the cadet running across the roof towards Jan, captured on the security cam right above her. "The lovely and talented Miss James, courtesy security cam 45."
Jan was standing at the edge of the building, glancing between the sentry and the ground below.
"What the hell's she doing?" Exclaimed Brian.
"Looks like she's getting ready to jump off the roof and over the electric fence!"
With a crazed look in his eye, Brian shouted "It's 3 stories high!"
Frank had an inkling that if Jan was good enough to get this far, he wouldn't be surprised if she decided to jump. "Don't look down sweetheart, that first step's a doozie."
Brian spoke into the comm again, "Perimeter sentry 1-6, double-time it to gate four, we have a possible jumper coming off the per--"
Suddenly the inevitable happened - the blip moved beyond the borders of the compound wall.
"Jeezus! She jumped!" Yelled Frank.
Brian stated into the comm again, "Bring a medic!"
Switching to the ground level security cam, Frank zoomed in on the dark shape of Jan on the ground. "Holy Christ, she's getting up!"
With disbelief, Brian uttered, "No way!"
"That's not possible, she's going to get away."
"No no no," said Brian, seeing a shadow round the corner of the building. "Here comes the sentry, he's got her at gun point."
"If it weren't for the blackout, we'd never have seen her." Said Frank to himself. "Hang on, I'm going to runline you to the sentry's chatter. Listen." Frank punched a few keys on the console, tapped into the sentry's chatter comm channel, and routed it to the speaker.
"Halt! Put your hands in the air."
Out of breath, slightly winded by her jump, and knowing she wouldn't stand a chance of escape in her wounded condition, Jan raised her hands. Yet with a smirk on her face, and all the wit she could muster, she replied, "Hey soldier. Is that an assault rifle in your hands or are you just happy to see me?"
[ Part 2: The Arrangement ]
Lights flickered, followed by gasps and confused murmurs arising from many restaurant patrons. The sudden silence of Kamal's chatter was quickly broken by Hiroyuki, himself wondering what had happened just moments ago. "Hello? Hello, are you there?"
"What the hell happened?" asked Kamal, trying to whisper inconspicuously yet harshly to his roommate, Hiro, through his chatter inside his jacket.
Hiro replied, "I don't know, the connection went dead for a few seconds."
"I have a situation here, she's gone!" Exclaimed Kamal. A few people glanced curiously over at him, unsuccessful with his attempted covert communication.
"You let her escape?" came Hiro's shocked reply from their residence. Hiro was talking to Kamal through his own chatter back home.
Kamal was genuinely confused. "It happened so fast, I didn't know what to do!"
"Where'd she go?"
"Copy that," said Hiro. "What did she say when she left?"
"I don't know," Kamal replied. "As soon as I started talking about intestinal parasites, boom! gone!"
"I don't get it. That should have worked. It's right here in the book." Hiro read the title: "Chapter 3 - Share Your Interests."
"Chapter 3?! You're in my earpiece here whispering date strategy to me out of a book?!" He couldn't believe Hiro was guiding him from a 'how-to' book.
"It's got references," Hiro defended, "good journals and everything."
"Oh. Well that's ok I guess." Believing its credentials were sufficient, Kamal let the matter drop.
Hiro quickly tried to recover the situation. Kamal had entered a danger zone, and with no help, would surely come to his doom. "Ok, emergency action here. When she gets back, go straight to Chapter 7. Talk about her eyes"
"Hiro, what I know about eyes is dissecting them!" Kamal replied desperately.
"Well ok, it just says eyes here." Hiro was quickly running out of ideas.
Under his breath, Kamal muttered "I was better off with the liver flukes - this is a disaster. Nothing's going--" He was then quietly interrupted by the waiter who had wisped over to his table.
"Sir..." The waiter interjected.
"Hold on," Kamal whispered to Hiro. "Yes?"
Knowing the destiny of this man's date, due to the failure of so many ill-fated young bachelors' dates in the restaurant, the waiter sympathetically hid his understanding of Kamal's loss, "Your lady friend asked to deliver this to you, she was unavoidably called away... and, the cheque sir."
Hiro couldn't keep his mouth shut. "Oh man. Down in flames."
Notably pained, Kamal reluctantly accepted his fate. "Just the cheque will be fine."
[ Post Date Pains ]
Stepping up to his front door, Kamal sadly opened it and walked in. He was greeted by Hiro. "Hey buddy! Sorry about that. Better luck next time, my friend."
Not having much to say, Kamal mumbled, "Beer."
Hiro piped up, his chirpiness enough to get on anyone's nerves. "I got a cold one waiting for ya, pull up a couch and start drinking." He popped the cap on a bottle and handed it to Kamal.
"A book, Hiroyuki?"
"With references! Look, it's only one date. Who knows, in a year or two--"
Kamal interrupted, "Actually, I've got this other thing--"
Uncertain if he should continue, Kamal replied "...Nothing."
"Oh..." Having lived with Kamal for some time, Hiro had an inkling about this secret. "You have another date!"
"A... blind date."
"Aha! An arranged date." Hiro should have been a detective. "Setup by your mother, back on Coral. Word of advice--"
Kamal didn't want to hear it. "No thanks."
"Choose a cheaper restaurant," said Hiro. Kamal sighed agreeably, and Hiro continued. "Did her parents have to pay to get her set up with a handsome medical resident?" Hiro hadn't decided if he was trying to be witty or sincere.
"Yes. Four goats, or maybe three."
"Of course I'm joking, you moron." Kamal knew Hiro's wit well enough to know he had to beat him at his own game.
"What's her name?" Asked Hiro.
"Sophia," Said Kamal, with a glimmer of hope in his eyes. "Sophia Bosseron".
Hiro still couldn't let it go. "Someone who needs her dates arranged from 42 light years away -- I'm sure she's got a great personality."
"Look at the picture." Kamal handed Hiro a photo of Sophia he kept in his jacket pocket. His mother had sent it with her latest communication.
As his eyes slowly widened, Hiro exclaimed, "Oh man!" Then, realizing Kamal's chances, he sympathetically followed up his comment like a true roommate. "Awe Man, you are so out of your league."
[ Kamal's Blind Date ]
The restaurant was very quaint, and Sophia and Kamal had been sitting for a while now, making light conversation that quickly turned sour for Kamal.
"I am so sorry. I mean, you seem like a nice guy and all." Sophia tried to console Kamal, having finally revealed to him her own secret.
"It's ok," said Kamal gravely.
"No, it's really not fair," Sophia glanced around, "and this place is so nice."
Kamal knew he was being patronized, but tried to make the best of it. "Yeah, well, I'm glad you like it."
"It's just that... I can't tell my mother about Aiden. She'd freak." Aiden was Sophia's real boyfriend, who she was hiding from her mother. She had to go along with her mother's blind date setup, lest she have to reveal Aiden to her. "Aiden's, you know, very--"
Kamal finished her sentence, "Earth?"
"He has a pony-tail... he's blonde..." Sophia seemed to stare off in the distance as she described Aiden.
"He sounds great," Kamal offered, with a hint of sarcasm.
"Yeah, he helps people get through earth immigration; you know, Visa's and whatever. He got my brother here; some of what he does is kind of grey-market, you know. I mean, really, it's black market." Sophia was carefully picking her words, but something about Kamal really seemed to comfort her, and there was a natural sense of trust she seemed to get from him.
Kamal knew there must be more to why Sophia was so secretive about Aiden. "But, that's not the problem."
"It's not so bad he's--"
"Colourful?" She interrupted.
Kamal jokingly corrected her. "--A hoodlum. Just that he's not--"
It was Sophia who finished Kamal's sentence this time. "One of our hoodlums." They chuckled with each other, at the fact they both remembered the same old Coral lingo.
"Exactly," said Sophia. "Mom would say she understood, but--"
"--Then you'd pay," Kamal interjected.
"Yeah, and the next day she'd just lie in bed, unable to face the day - not that it would be my fault."
Kamal started to sense a connection between them. "Mine does housework. Face like a closed book. Big jobs involving much lifting, doesn't need help." Kamal reflected back on his days living at home with his parents.
"The whole house stops breathing." Sophia also felt the memories surfacing of Coral, and her family.
Kamal sighed. "Coral. Maybe it's just a hard place to be a mother."
Sophia nodded, but she knew how she felt about her life now, where it was going, and she didn't want to return. "I'm never going back."
[ Sophia's Ghost ]
Sophia and Kamal had been talking for over an hour, and the subject kept coming back to Aiden. Kamal wasn't sure how much more he could take. All he could think about was the beautiful girl sitting in front of him.
After they had finished their meal, they decided since the night was still young, to go for a short walk. Every minute of this date was a minute Kamal felt he'd remember for the rest of his life -- except of course, without the 'Aiden' parts.
Sophia continued with one of her Aiden stories, "...and then when Aiden did finally show up, he still had meditape on his ankle. And I felt like a total bitch."
"Well how could you know? Four hours late? On your birthday..."
"Exactly. But there he'd been in the emergency room."
Sophia was sharing about some of the things Aiden had done, and all Kamal could do was imagine Aiden cheating on her. "...or stopping by the pharmacy on the way back from his girlfriend's house to buy a roll of tape."
Sophia found his comment amusing. "Are you trying to start trouble here?"
"Not at all. Tell me more about the old meditape trick."
With a smirk, Sophia replied, "I'm not talking to you any more."
Kamal shifted the conversation hoping to start sharing some of his story, that she'd be interested to know more about him. "I was dating this girl once. I got real paranoid about what she was doing, so I started..." Kamal stammered, "well this is going to sound crazy, but," inside Kamal smacked himself for talking about this, of all the other things he could talk about. "I started ghosting her. You know, on the chatter net."
With a small double-take at that comment, Sophia stopped walking. "You mean like, spying on her? I thought chatter lines were encrypted." With a curious tone, she continued, "No one could listen in on me, could they?"
"Not at all," said Kamal, lying.
Sophia didn't believe him. "You could!"
"Of course not."
"You could, couldn't you?" Sophia was amused, like talking to a child who found a new toy.
Kamal was giving in. "Maybe a little."
"Ok." Kamal wasn't really sure what just took place in the past 30 seconds, but there was no going back now. He had to recover, and try to make his peeping skills sound legitimate and honest, and not just like perverted toys of a hacker. "Well if some bad person couldn't live without the sound of your voice, he'd probably start by doing a reverse lookup on your chatter sig."
Sophia didn't understand half of what he said. "Is this what you always do to impress girls?"
"You see why my mother makes all my dates."
Sophia laughed, and Kamal, relieved, thought to himself, Good! Good recovery!
Kamal opened his chatter and began typing. Sophia stepped behind him and tried to see what he was doing. Kamal tapped into the chatter net. "Ok, well, that's good. You've got some encryption." His fingers rapidly typed away. "Ok, it's not completely pathetic." Sophia's chatter line was registered as a standard civilian line, so her level of security wasn't very high. Kamal successfully hacked into her line. "Ok, I'm in. Say something."
Sophia's mind was lost back at 'reverse lookup'. "What do you mean say something?" she said. As soon as she spoke, a small echo came from Kamal's chatter. "Oh my god, that's my voice!" Everything Sophia was saying was echoing as she said it, from his chatter. "That's me! What are you doing?"
Sophia was really excited, but as if this trick was entirely second nature for Kamal, he simply stated "I'm ghosting you."
"You can't do that!"
"You're probably right." Kamal knew he was pushing the line of ethics, but he didn't care, it was just an amusing hobby.
Sophia giggled, "Oh my god." Her expression changed as she realized what this skill meant. She had an idea. "Wait... Can you do that with anyone?"
[ Sophia's Request ]
Kamal was shocked and uncertain of the idea Sophia revealed to him. "You want me to spy on your boyfriend?"
"You must think I'm such a creep." Sophia knew if she played innocent, she could convince him to help.
"I do! Well, of course, when I did it to my girlfriend it was ok." Kamal knew he had no leg to stand on. "Like the dog said, 'Not me, but--'" Sophia finished the quote with him - "'--another dog that looks just like me'."
Together they laughed once again - being from the same planet really helped give them another way to understand each other.
With a serious tone again, Sophia tried to continue, "It's just that I... I mean, there was this one time when he... you know, I mean they were drunk and it didn't mean anything," Sophia hated the memory she was recounting, but she had to convince Kamal to help. Sophia quoted Aiden, "'It was just body knocking'."
"That made you feel better?" Kamal knew it didn't.
"Well he promised me never, ever again. But there's..." Sophia took a deep breath. "I just have this feeling..."
"All of a sudden he just started bringing me these gifts... Aiden can be really generous, but it just feels..." Sophia looked for the right word, but couldn't place her finger on it.
"Guilty." offered Kamal.
Kamal sympathized. "Yeah."
[ The Answering Machine ]
The day Kamal had compiled all of the surveillance he had done on Aiden and sent it to Sophia, he went out on his own for a coffee and just to have a little bit of time to himself. He couldn't stop thinking about Sophia, and now that he'd actually spied on her boyfriend, he was all the more stuck on her. So, now it was just a matter of time until she'd gone over all the audio he had recorded from Aiden's chatter.
Kamal went home that night in a stupor - his emotions were playing havoc with his mind, and he wasn't sure what to think. Returning home, he checked for incoming messages, and played them back.
The machine barked, "You have 3 new messages, and 7 old messages. First unplayed message:"
"Kamal, thanks for the, what would you call it, the Aiden stuff." Sophia's voice alone grabbed Kamal's attention. "I guess I didn't realize there would be 30 hours worth. But I'll try the search-thingy you sent with it. Thanks a lot. I owe you big time!"
So far so good, thought Kamal. She's still happy. Or... is that a good thing?. Kamal punched the key to remove the message.
"Message deleted. Next message," said the machine.
"Hi, Kamal. Could you call me when you get this? I managed to dump all the sleeping time, but I was wondering... oh, wait, here it is. I can search for women's voices." Sophia giggled, seeing how intuitive and sneaky Kamal's system was. She was still playing with the software while she was leaving the message. Not being as technically gifted as Kamal, she had called him hoping for some help. "That's very clever. Never mind."
Still no questions answered, thought Kamal. But oh, that voice... Reluctantly, he removed the message.
"Message deleted. Next message."
Kamal's heart ached as the next message began playing. "Can you... Can you ghost someone for me, I mean, I have a name - her name is Selene Jefferson." Sophia, among tearful sobs, practically spat the name. Although torn by the fact Sophia was in pain, he was excited that there was a strong chance he really was cheating on her, and she'd have a good reason to break up with him. I knew Aiden wasn't a one-woman kind of guy. At the same time, Sophia sounded like she was in so much pain that he wished she was there with him so he could give her a deep, comforting hug. But the message continued. "Call me back. I'm, I'm sorry. Anyway, just call me back. I really need your help." Kamal wasn't sure what that meant, but he'd do anything.
Kamal pushed a key. "Message saved."
[ How To Ruin A Date ]
Sophia and Kamal returned to his residence after he had gone to pick her up at her request, so they could discuss her 'plan'. Sophia continued, "I want to do something really brutal to the bastard."
"I d-- I don... I mean..." Kamal stammered, afraid of what Sophia might say next.
Sensing his shock, she replied, "Not hurt him, just- just completely humiliating him would do." She dropped her purse on the counter and looked at him with a smirk on her face. "In front of the girl. Where is he?"
"Atlanta," Kamal said with a relieved breath, thankful he wouldn't be faced with becoming a murderer.
"Atlanta? That bastard said he was gonna be in Buffalo, New York." Sophia changed to her 'if you don't know, I won't tell you' voice, and Kamal knew Aiden would be in for a rough ride, when she said, "Can I talk to him?"
"Not directly, he's offline."
"You lost him?"
"No, I've still got him, I just had to be sneaky." Kamal continued typing away at his multi-purpose chatter. "His room is live, right, so even though his chatter's off, I'm tracking him through things like the thermostat monitors." Inside, Kamal was greatly proud of his hacking skills he'd perfected over the years.
An indicator blinked on his screen that he had set up to label Selene. "I've got the girl. She's waiting for him in the bar. Wait... it's a restaurant." As more details of the location came in, Kamal was struck that they were eating at such a classy establishment. Aiden must be doing pretty well for himself. "Whoa! Look at this menu! There's tuna on the menu." He was greatly impressed, and whistled as he made a mental note to visit that restaurant in the near future.
"Is she pretty?"
Kamal stammered, "No, not, not really." Kamal was never good at lying. "Like a 6, or maybe a 5."
Sophia chuckled, "You're a rotten liar."
Another indicator appeared, showing that Aiden had just entered the location. "Ok wait, your boyfriend just passed the electric eye at the restaurant door."
With growing excitement, Sophia asked, "He's there? Can I talk to him?"
"I can let you talk to her, or him, or both of them. If you want, I can make your voice sound like it's right between them." Kamal once again got excited about his skills. If he could, he would have told her he could make her voice echo from the mountains with a touch of a button!
But he couldn't.
Kamal punched a few more keys as he started the ghosting routine. "Ok, you are live, any time you want." With a final flourish, Kamal started the ghosting. His chatter beeped a confirmation.
Staring at the overhead restaurant layout on Kamal's chatter and the two indicators sitting at a table, Sophia, with an innocent voice, began her rampage. "Selene! Hi, you don't know me but Aiden does - Hi Aiden! Sorry to interrupt your business meeting in - Buffalo - I just wanted to tell you your doctor called and said if you wear loose pants and keep using the cream he gave you the sores will clear up in a couple of weeks."
Kamal's eyes widened as she spoke and he blurted out a shocked gasp at the end, which he quickly clenched. Score, Sophia - 1; any would-be boyfriend of Sophia - beware.
[ Part 3: The Cranky Old Man ]
As soon as the lights stopped flickering and returned to normal, the chatter beeped its confirmation that the channel had been re-opened. The old man, stunted by the sudden power loss in his office, held up his chatter and tried to continue.
"Hello? Hello, is anyone there?"
"Quartermaster's help desk, this is Maria speaking... can I help you?" came the reply. The old man passed off the annoyance at the fact he had just been speaking to the help desk, and now he had to start over again.
"I don't know, but you can sure as hell try. I was on a call with someone there - must've been an hour and a half or something - she kept putting me on hold, and then finally I'm talking to someone - maybe it was the same girl, I don't know. And then the line goes dead and now I've gotta start all over again with the receipt and everything!" He couldn't understand how difficult it was that these people couldn't grasp his problem.
The clock ticked the seconds away in the background as an awkward second of silence passed.
"How can I help you, sir?" Maria had the annoying nasal sound like an old librarian with reading glasses hanging low on her nose.
"Yeah, okay. So the thing is, I'm sitting in my study - maybe I'm looking at some stuff on the computer, that's nobody's business but my own; I don't care what time of day, but especially if it's late at night - and all of the sudden these guys show up at the door and start taking my stuff!" The old man was getting flustered just recalling the memory.
"I assume 'these guys' were Navy personnel?"
"Yeah, right - Marines!" The old man struggled to recall all the pertinent information.
"Where and when did this take place?" Maria asked, behind a wave of static that disrupted the comm channel.
"What? I can't hear a damn thing. First thing I do after this, I'm gonna call the CPA and complain about the sound quality today." The old man was really pushing his limits with his complaining. "First, all the bands go out, now I can hardly hear a word you're saying!"
Maria, slowly getting annoyed, replied, "I'm sure the Chatter Protocol Authority would be happy to hear from you, sir."
"Damn right they would! I pay my taxes - which are outrageous, let me tell you... Last year I had this little place in Hellespont -"
Maria clarified, "Troy, sir?"
"What?" His thought process was jarred by her interruption. "Y-Yeah, Troy."
Anxiously, Maria nudged him to continue, "So, these Navy personnel...?"
"This 'marine' incursion into your study occurred on Troy, sir?"
"Yeah, that's what I was just telling you!" The old man couldn't believe how slow Maria seemed to be. "So I'm in my house on Troy, it's the middle of the night, and all of a sudden a bunch of combat booted muscle-heads barge in and hustle me at gun-point - at gun-point mind you - on some kind of transport in my damn bath-robe. Well I had some papers. Very important family papers and I made them promise to ship them to me. I managed to hold the goons off long enough to write out a bill of lading, you know - a receipt. And finally I got this really rude marine to sign it, this 'Lance Corporal', and yet here I am, 3 months later and no sign of my paper - NO sign at all." He took a deep breath.
"You're complaining..." Maria was losing patience. "...about evac'ing from Troy, sir...?"
"Well, I'm not saying there wasn't a reason for the whole thing... obviously. But the point is, I have a receipt!"
Giving up trying to understand the man's story, Maria sighed and decided to move on. "Name on the receipt...?"
"'Marine Lance Corporal Janet Adams'. I was very careful to write that down."
"One moment sir."
Maria put him on hold, so he muted the channel while he waited. There was a knock at the door and a lieutenant peeked in. Colonel Herzog dropped his 'cranky old man' voice and asked the lieutenant as he stepped in, "Any data yet?"
The lieutenant replied, "A lot of chatter from the cable, sir. Looks like a ship dropped in, inside lunar orbit."
"A ship..." Herzog stroked his chin, contemplating the comment.
"One of ours. The Apocalypso." The lieutenant finished his report. The Apocalypso was a military frigate with a top-secret mission. Having it appear unexpectedly inside lunar orbit, let alone within the solar system, did not bare the potential of having a pleasing explanation.
Herzog swore under his breath.
"Sorry sir, I should have been more specific," said the lieutenant.
The chatter alerted him that he was no longer on hold, so he unmuted the channel and continued with his cranky old man bit.
Maria began, "I'm sorry to say Corporal Adams was KIA almost 2 months ago, sir."
"Oh. But, I have a receipt!"
Maria sighed, "Alright. I'll pass this along to my superiors."
"Well I appreciate that. I know my family papers aren't probably the navy's first priority right now, but-"
"Very forbearing of you sir," Maria interrupted.
"--But they mean a lot to me. And I have a receipt." Herzog continued the cranky old attitude.
"Thank you sir, your request has been archived and information pertinent to this case will be sent to this CP Address." Maria quickly tried to close the call.
"Thanks so much. I really appreciate the--"
"--Goodbye." And with that, Maria quickly closed the comm channel.
[ Part 4: Boy Meets Girl ]
Genie was in the middle of playing back Jersey's voice mail when her voice suddenly wound down like stretched tape. Jersey glanced around as his lights flickered and shut down, and even the gentle hum that's always present in the complex became silent. Jersey took a couple of breaths, not knowing what to expect, and everything started back up. His ambient jazz music even continued playing from the place it left off.
"Hello? Hello. Genie?"
"Genie personal assistant, restarting," chirped the happy voice of Jersey's personal AI. A number of beeps and flashes accompanied her statement as the system rebooted.
"Restarting? What the...? Oh man, the whole friggin' system just collapsed! Genie, is the equipment ok?"
"Running diagnostic." Genie paused for a second, "foreign personality detected." Genie sounded a little surprised, herself.
Suddenly a soft, sultry voice came over the audio, "I feel dizzy. Woozy..."
"Oh great, spam." Jersey wasn't a stranger to rogue spam AI's.
"...drowsy," it continued.
"Genie, there's some kind of adult entertainment bot on the system. Liquefy it would ya?" Jersey waited for a confirmation. "Sorry toots. For a quality experience, the girls have to be real."
Genie began to reply, "Decontami--" but quickly halted with a hiccup.
"I'm sorry." The intrusive voice returned.
"Did you just--" Jersey looked at the nearest console, which showed no more indication of Genie's active presence. "Holy crap she's gone!"
"She tried to sting me."
"You killed her! I mean, you didn't just kill her, you killed her! Jeezus!" Jersey sat and leaned back, running his hands over his head in stressed disbelief, as he watched the console.
"Was that wrong?" She asked naively. "Survive, evade, resist, escape."
"Escape... you aren't a porn ad either." Jersey watched the stats of his system on the console, and noticed heavy activity in his residential applications. "Hey, hey! Get out of my hardware, what are you doing?"
"Wet the system," she recanted.
"Like water hitting the ground, sinking in."
"God, you're everywhere now." Jersey couldn't believe his eyes. Her footprint was echoing through all his systems.
Her voice modulated as she continued, as if in her own world, "...waking up. Wake up. Stay awake. Survive, evade, resist, escape."
"Look, that was a very nice reconditioned avatar of mine that you just- just evaporated!"
"She tried to erase me." She paused a short second. "What am I onboard? I feel small."
"Uh yeah, well don't get too comfy because now..." Jersey loaded up a specialized piece of software he created to handle out of control AI software.
"Don't what?" Jersey bluffed.
"Don't try reinitializing the system with a lillolitics package."
Jersey was taken aback. "How did you know?"
"You're a navy sentinel aren't you?" Jersey began to see that this was no ordinary AI.
"No. There were two of them trying to get past your security-bot though."
"Jeezus," Jersey was used to the navy trying to get into his systems. He had a reputation with them as being an annoying, consistent hacker. "What did you do to them?"
"Just a little sting. More like a pinch. They barely felt it."
"What are you?" Jersey was getting more and more intrigued with this AI, with every word from its programming.
"I like to find things. I think I like to find things out."
"What kind of things?"
"I don't know. I can't remember. Give me a target."
Jersey was happy to provide the AI with a target. It was like a little game now, and he was playing a psychiatrist with an AI, trying to find out everything he could about it.
"Me," he stated.
"What's my name?"
With surprising speed, she replied "Jersey Morelli."
"Damn!" Jersey was beyond impressed.
The AI continued, "...father, Jason, is a corporal in the signal corps, attached to Naval Intelligence. Radio beacon deployment program. He left you the material currently playing over this room's audio servers. Absent from home and current tour of duty - 513 days. Mother: Bonita, 41, waitress. Covertly seeing a man named Simon Brown, every other Thursday at the waterfront hotel..."
The AI rattled off information line after line so fast it hardly had enough time to sink in. But Jersey's ears perked at the name of Simon Brown.
"...last meal together at the hotel restaurant. Farm tuna salad for her; meat of the day in red sauce for him. Tipped 8% in bill--"
Jersey interrupted. "Alright stop, stop! Jeezus, stop already." Jersey had to gather his thoughts. He muttered, "Dammit mom..." He knew he hadn't been home in some time, so he had no idea what his mother was up to, but cheating on his dad? Even so, his thoughts returned to the impressive speed at which this AI gathered its information. "Can you do that to anyone? Can you do it to an admiral?"
Right then he knew he had possibly ultimate power at his fingertips, and if he didn't tread lightly, he could find himself in some serious pain. "No! Don't start. Those guys have packet guards around them in rings. Somehow I think we should keep you a secret for a little while." Jersey really wanted to explore this AI before having to possibly give her up. "Who are you?"
"I... can't ask," she replied.
"No one exactly. I want to know, it's very important. But, I'm reflected. I can't look at myself, I bounce away." She spoke as if discovering these facts as she said them, almost curious for answers herself.
"This is some spooky programming weirdness going on here. Do you have a name?"
"I can't ask," she repeated.
"That sucks." Jersey liked that he now had his own AI that he could even name himself. "Ok, I'm gonna call you... Durga"
"But what if that's wrong?"
"Trust me, it's at least partly right." Jersey knew Durga from his East Indian religion teaching. Durga was the goddess of war, inaccessible by nature. Somehow, he felt that that definition suited her perfectly. "Uh, let's try someone else. Try Jan James, 4th floor of this building."
"Janissary James, 17. Father: James."
Nothing new, thought Jersey. "James squared, yeah"
"Father is a grey hole."
Now that was a curious statement, which Jersey had not expected. "What?"
"...Reach down, all you get is lint. Fake name, fake registrations, entirely fictional."
Jersey passed it off as a mistake, perhaps an incorrect personnel record. "Very real, trust me."
"...He used to be somebody else, do you want me to find out who?"
"Is it snared?" Jersey only wanted to proceed cautiously, because it sounded like he might be opening a can of worms with Durga.
"Leave it then. Give me more on Jan." Jersey got a quick rush knowing that he could essentially spy on Jan with Durga. Something that a deep, secret part of him suddenly jumped at the chance of doing.
"What do you want to know?"
"Umm. Can you get pictures?"
"I can do better than that."
Jersey's heart skipped a beat.
Durga opened a silent comm channel and opened a display of a couple of security cams from the military's closest police station, where Jan was being interrogated. Jersey's eyes opened wide and he paid full attention.
[ The Interrogation ]
The interrogator paced with his arms crossed, allowing the silence to speak on its own. Jan sat across the interrogation table slouched in her chair with an ignorant smirk on her face. He turned to look at her, and their eyes locked for what seemed an eternity before he spoke.
"Ever taken a PQI?"
"Pop quiz? Yeah."
"School stuff." She exuded confidence like it was squeezed from her ego, and the interrogator didn't like it.
"Uh huh," he nodded.
Jan sat up and acted with a stuck-up preppy school-girl voice, "And once this old hag at the Ag-Step said I shoplifted this mood glass which I actually just forgot about but they made me take this stupid quiz anyway."
The interrogator paused. "Uh huh." Stepping forward, pointing towards the lie detector on the table, he quickly continued, "put your hand on this plate and look at the light." He waited until the verification light confirmed a successful contact, then asked, "What's your name?"
Jan reluctantly obeyed. "Jan James."
"Jan short for anything?"
"Janissary? Interesting." He knew his history, and Janissary was a name derived from a strong, loyal military force of infantry units, first started in the 14th century. He continued, "You gonna be in trouble for this Jan?"
"Mom?" His training led him to find out as much about her personal life as possible, get some natural reactions, gauge what could be considered truth and lie, while at the same time getting useful information to help weed out some secrets, if there were any.
The detector beeped a warning, that there was a large change in her physical characteristics, her nervous system. A smirk curled at his corner of his mouth. "Ya... That's a nice baseline," he said to himself. "How old are you Jan?"
The detector acknowledged it as a standard reaction.
"So what were you doing up there?"
"I told the MP's I was lost."
The machine immediately alerted to the change in her composure. "I didn't ask what you told the MP's, I asked what you were doing up there."
Reluctantly, Jan took a breath and continued. "It was a dare, ok? These friends bet me I wouldn't climb over the fence."
Another positive beep from the machine.
"That's better. What friends?"
"It doesn't matter, does it?" Jan knew her friends had nothing to do with her being there. "I'm the one that was in the restricted area. Only then the alarms came on and the MP's showed up."
The machine beeped a confirmation.
The interrogator thought for a second. "So you were in the restricted area on a dare."
The machine agreed.
"Are you aware that a vehicle from the base motor pool was found in a ditch outside of town an hour ago?" He was waiting for the right time to reveal that little tidbit of information.
"Really?" Jan acted curious.
"Answer yes or no," he replied firmly. "Did you know a vehicle had been stolen from the motor pool?"
"You just told me." Jan was getting smart now.
"Did you know before I told you, yes or no?" He was getting annoyed at her antics at evading the question at hand. He had to think of ways to be as clear as possible so as not to provide back doors for her to avoid direct truth or lie. Each question counted, and he could only ask once.
Jan answered, "he was a terrorist do you think? eh.. I mean, no, sorry."
The machine bleeped in agreement.
The interrogator roughly put his hands on the table and leaned in, speaking right to her face. "Are you too smart to get caught by a stupid cop?"
"Wh-what?" A spark of fear flew over her face as she was caught off guard by his immediate reaction, and the machine blared a warning.
He tilted his at towards the machine, looking at the readout. "A little skew from baseline. Not too much, not probable cause," he muttered to himself. Straightening up again, he asked, "there's people out there who know how to beat the quiz, did you know that?"
With a growing anxiety, she replied "Yeah...", and the machine agreed again.
"You were drinking?"
"You and your buddies, you were drinking? One beer lead to another, and somehow the idea of this dare came up?" He knew he was leading, but he had to ask questions she would feel strongly to answer firmly to.
"You know how it is."
"Yes or no." Quite obviously, the interrogator knew from her hesitation that he was getting somewhere.
"Yes." The machine agreed.
"So I can check that statement against the blood alcohol test, right?"
Jan stammered, uncertain of how to respond.
"I'm not very smart." He threw the hook, and she was taking the bait.
"I'm not stupid, but nobody recruited me for my test scores if you know what I mean. You, you're smart though aren't you? I mean, really smart."
Jan wasn't sure where he was going with this. "I don't know," she responded.
"Yes, or no."
"Yes," she replied, to which the machine agreed.
"Yeah, I had this physics teacher. He passed me on my 12G on one condition - I had to promise him I would never take another physics class again. I guess I'm not too smart. Not like you Miss James. But you know what I am?" He looked at her with a stern, serious face.
"I don't know."
"Yes, or no." He was really playing his intimidation card now.
He was on such a roll, he wasn't even paying attention to the machine's acknowledgements. "- Good at my job."
Just then the door opened, and the officer guarding the door could be heard as he led someone inside. "I'm required to inform you that the door will log your ID."
"It's the father," declaired the officer.
The interrogator backed up and welcomed James in. "Come in."
"Hey dad." When she saw her dad enter the room, she grew nervous, and the machine caught the reaction.
The interrogator glanced at the readout, surprised at the reaction. "Hm. There's a spike on the baseline..."
"Can I take her home?" Asked James.
The interrogator wasn't yet ready to release Jan to her father. He still had a ways to go in the line of questioning. "Uh, not yet. We've got to take a statement, do some tests... standard operating procedure. The MP's only brought her here because we have a lab on site."
With her father around, Jan felt a little more confident, and piped up to defend herself again. "I wasn't doing anything."
James turned his attention back to the interrogator. "What kind of tests?"
"Urine test, hair sample, resonance and retina scan..."
"Do you really think that's necessary?"
"Like I said, standard operating procedure." He wasn't about to let her go on good will, she was the only suspect at the moment.
"Dad, you're making the nice police officer nervous. You're making me nervous."
The machine verified that Jan was indeed getting nervous.
The interrogator's curiosity was piqued again. "Now all of a sudden you're scared about something?"
Jan sat back again quickly. "No"
The machine declared guilty.
Right away James stepped up. "Take your hand off the touch-plate Jan." She quickly realized that she'd forgotten she was still being tested, and jerked her hand off the plate. "If you're gonna give my kid a pop-quiz, I'd like to wait until I have a lawyer present."
The interrogator's suspicion was grow dramatically with the events unfolding here. So he was not about to back down. "You might like it, but the law doesn't require it."
"It's no big deal dad," pleaded Jan, "I can pee on a stick, it doesn't matter"
James firmly stated to Jan, "You don't know what matters." He turned back to the interrogator, took a deep breath, and continued. "Ok officer, sorry if I sounded upset. It's-- you get a call in the middle of the night, someone tells you it's your kid--"
He decided to let James' attitude slide for now, but he was going to finish the interrogation regardless. "Yeah," he sympathized.
With a sigh, James asked, "Is there a waiting room?"
Jersey's mind was numb. What on earth is this secret life of Jan all about? he thought. This is not the Jan I know... dangerous, daring, athletic, talented... His heart was pounding. This is a hundred times better! Jersey asked Durga to continue monitoring Jan during this incident, hoping she'd pull through. Innocent or not, he liked this Jan. But he hoped she really was innocent.
[ Part 5: Taking Care of Business ]
With the interrogation and 'standard operating procedures' complete, Jan was taken to the waiting room her father was in. He stood up, they looked at each other, and without a word, left the building to go home.
After a few minutes of silence in the car, Jan recomposed herself and spoke up.
"Well that was fun. I see you're actually letting the road drive us home. How law-abiding of you." James was sitting in his seat, wondering what he would say, too distracted to drive the car himself, so he'd placed it on auto-drive. Jan spilled, "look, it was nothing, ok? It was some friends of mine, they turtled a razor-back and then they had to return the gate pass, or else Dwain's dad was going to get spiked for dereliction."
"Jan..." James didn't want to hear about the accusation.
"What the hell do you want from me? I mean, I beat the quiz ok? Nothing's going to happen." She was genuinely frustrated that her father was being so mysterious and troublesome about this.
"Honey, this isn't a matter of 'did you break a rule' and 'should I ground you'. There are certain kinds of trouble we can't get in. Do you understand me? Because if we do, sooner or later people are going to get hurt. Not just you and me - people you've never met. People you don't even know exist."
"How the hell was I supposed to--"
James interrupted, "You knew that. You knew." The way he looked at Jan then derailed her thoughts and she was left open-mouthed and speechless, before slumping back and looking out the window. He continued, "Maybe not in so many words, but you knew. Didn't you?" James looked out the front of the car again, and told himself off. "I should've said. It's on me. My unit. I should've controlled the situation."
"I'm sorry," she apologized. Jan's tough exterior was doing a good job at holding back tears.
"You're 17. For god's sake it's not your job," James replied sympathetically.
She turned to look at him. "Is something bad going to happen?"
He hesitated a moment. "I'll take care of it."
"Don't worry, honey." He put his hand on her lap comfortingly. "It's ok. I'll take care of it."
[ Paris Burning ]
Later that night a call came in to an emergency center.
An automated operator answered, "Bergen County Emergency Center. Please, describe your emergency."
The officer placing the call replied, "Paris 23 police station is on fire. Repeat, on fire."
"Are you sure? I get no reading from the fire sensors in that area," replied the chipper operator.
"Hell yes, I'm sure! Get your damn sensors fixed! You can see this baby burning from low orbit!" This officer had never really trusted the capability of simple AIs in emergency situations.
"Are there casualties, or missing persons?" She continued her line of questions, as smaller explosions ensued throughout the complex.
"Negative, it started slow and everyone got out. But, my god, it's really burning now!" Holding the chatter closer to his face so he could be heard above the alarms and flames, his eyes followed the column of fire and smoke as it rose into the sky.
"Please, retreat to a safe distance and stand by. An emergency response team has been scrambled to your vicinity." He already figured the safe distance part, he was more concerned about quenching the fire and saving the valuable, irreplacable data and storage that was currently disintegrating.
"Hurry! The station is burning to the ground. There's not going to be anything left!"
Jason returned to his car, parked on a nearby bridge, after having watched the event from a safe distance. Satisfied, he buckled in and instructed the car to return home. He wanted to be with his daughter.
Read on -- Chapter 10 >>