The Robot Lord Scenario – Chapter 9 (Evelyn)

Chapter 8 here.

Evelyn was still disembodied, but her ego was slowly recoalescing. She recalled experimenting with psychedelics when she was young, and this felt a lot like a bad trip. Perhaps she had been dosed by someone. Was there a boy? A party? She couldn’t recall. There had been so many visions. She wasn’t sure which reality was hers. The Guy Fawkes mask loomed above her in so many versions of the world, berating her for her wealth and privilege. Then she was among refugees somewhere. Hadn’t she seen something about this on the news? A bombing at a religious site, people gathered up and put into camps. But how was she there among them?

This dust was so real, filling her mouth and nose, choking her. A soldier appeared and shouted. He was a man, not a bot, in a bloodstained uniform. But whose blood was it? Who was he shouting at? Evelyn couldn’t tell. She wasn’t sure which life was Evelyn’s anymore. But then the soldier raised the butt of his rifle. Some ridiculous old fashioned type, a kalashnikov. Pathetic. Her automated weapons platforms would make short work of such an unruly primitive. But there were no platforms here, and the butt of the rifle came down hard, cracking her forehead. She called out in pain, her ears ringing from the concussion. All went dark for a moment, but her face felt wet suddenly. Was that water, blood? Whose blood was it?  

She staggered along, her legs carrying her in line with the others. Everywhere the dust swirled and obscured her vision. Dogs barked and snapped at her. But then a patient voice emerged. Very soft at first, it was talking for a while before Evelyn managed to start splitting the sounds into words, then attaching meaning to the words, then realizing it was speaking to her.

“Many of us questioned whether a woman such as yourself would even benefit from this sort of training. It’s a hack, and I know it seems cruel, but that’s really all this is, it’s just training. Empathy training.”

“Are you talking to me?” she asked. Who was she, Evelyn maybe? She was a girl in Switzerland once. She remembered a party. All of the teenagers from the Swiss International School were there. Rumor had it one boy was the son of a vicious dictator, they were warned to watch out for him. He’d been accused of sex crimes.

A little boy was crying. He was missing a foot somehow. It was very sudden. There was a lot of blood. The mother’s face appeared before her, eyes streaming with tears, begging her to help, but what could she do? She grabbed the boy’s ankle dispassionately. The soldier was there and he kicked her in the ribs. Hard. But she knew what to do. She tied the filthy rag tight around the ankle. There was a stick to be had, so she used it and twisted. The boy cried out in pain. The mother raged against the soldier, buying Evelyn precious time. But there was another crack and the mother fell beside her son. Was she dead? Was she injured? Evelyn picked the boy up in her arms. Whose arms were these, carrying this poor boy? The line moved on.

“It’s sexist, isn’t it? I think so,” said the patient voice in her ear.  

Were these tears or blood on her face? Whose tears?

“Women can be just as sociopathic as any man. It’s a myth that they are naturally nurturing. And sociopaths are teeming among the ranks of you plutocrats. That’s how you get to the top and stay there. Some of us don’t even think we can change the rules, you know. That’s how I feel personally.”

“Are you talking to me?” asked Evelyn. The boy was growing heavy in her arms. His sobs had subsided and his breathing grew more shallow. She checked the tourniquet. The line of people moved through the dust, shadowy figures before her and behind her.

“We can’t change the rules. You will receive the training and your empathy score will go up, and then the wolves will tear you apart. But maybe you can spend some of those billions on something useful before they take you down. It’s a thought, who knows?”

“We need a doctor here immediately,” called Evelyn. Definitely Evelyn. Someone was going to get fired for this. Heads would roll, so to speak. This situation was totally unacceptable. This was definitely Evelyn now. But which Evelyn? Did a boy spike her drink at a party? She hoped it wasn’t the dictator’s son. This was a very bad trip, something he would enjoy putting her through, she was sure.

There was no doctor to be had. The boy lay still now. She was kneeling on the ground surrounded on all sides by others. A gate was closing and there was a loudspeaker. Was it a call to prayer? People around her demanded to know the direction of Mecca. What language was this? The gates were closing continually, a rattle of chains which never ceased. The boy turned his head. The sound disturbed him. He wasn’t dead yet. Evelyn would see about that. Her people would look into it. This gate business had to be dealt with. It was very loud, altogether too loud.

In another world, Matheson looked on sadly as Evelyn was transported to the helicopter. She was struggling on the stretcher, totally unaware of her surroundings. But he had to turn his attention back to the matters at hand. His AI agents had some leads. This business with the blood bank looked very suspicious. There was a homeless girl in Oakland who had seen something strange. He had deployed some assets to pick her up, but he was getting worried. The status updates were stale. The GPS circle kept getting broader and broader instead of zeroing in.

Matheson pulled up a supervisor thread. “What is the status of the Oakland operation?” he demanded.

“Assets offline,” replied the agent. “There is a lot of police activity down there.” The resolution of the avatar before him increased sharply. Matheson could make out the animated paisley of its necktie. “Ahh, I’m sorry, Mr. Matheson. We’ve lost control of our Oakland assets. There is a significant information security threat down there right now. This whole riot was triggered by a council truck being compromised by a local hacktivist group. But the action seems to have backfired and now the state is purging the camp. It might be that we lost our assets in a retaliation attack. We need to deploy more units to assess.”

“Do it,” assented Matheson. He steeled his nerves as he faced the creepily intelligent agent, but the resolution of the avatar smoothly reduced back to normal, its computing power redirected within Evelyn’s cloud infrastructure to where it was needed more. He sighed in relief, in spite of himself. He must have been awake for too long if he was getting scared of his own algorithmic agents. He would require downtime soon.  

But first, just a few more loose ends to tie up. The windows and feeds flicked back and forth before him as the copters carrying Evelyn and the feds shrieked off toward the north, and the cars that had picked up Ardenwood and his security entourage drove off toward the city. The streetlights flicked off one by one as the sun rose on the horizon.

Chapter 10 here.

The Robot Lord Scenario – Chapter 8 (Mira)

Chapter 7 here.

The tents and shanties of Mira’s camp were huddled together along the sidewalks of a dozen consecutive blocks under the 580 overpass in Oakland. Junk was strewn everywhere: blue plastic tarps, shopping carts, baby carriages, white five gallon buckets, horrendous mattresses and couches, a stream of refuse that was dredged up by the inhabitants and periodically swept away when the various city and county agencies got enough complaints. Huge empty lots under the freeway were securely sealed off with chain link fences, forcing the homeless to erect their tents and shanties on the narrow sidewalks and often on the streets themselves. Whenever the denizens of the camp tried to knock down a fence and claim the unused real estate, drones appeared, firing rubber bullets and beanbags. Mira never could understand why the state guarded these useless lots so jealously. It was stupid.

Mira was feeling surprisingly energetic and vital after the transfusion. She was normally crushed physically after a blood donation and often needed to recharge immediately with juice, forced to spend some of her precious Koin just to make it home again. But she was practically skipping along as the sun began to set and the air around her became cooler. She adjusted her filthy neckerchief, ignoring its stench, totally oblivious to the stark difference between her fabulous, flowing virtual rainbow feather boa and this stained and moldy handkerchief she used to keep from swallowing too much dust.

Everyone knew she had gone to give blood, so she logged out and tucked her visor into her bag before going to pay her tax to the enforcer in charge of her camp. Rolo was actually a friendly fellow and always welcomed Mira warmly, but she knew that he would punch her face in if she ever filmed him with her visor, so she made sure to log off before she approached Rolo’s tent on the corner. He was sitting alone on an overturned bucket with his rifle at his feet and a vape pen in his hand. Mira approached him with her hands up, as was the protocol for paying taxes.

“Wazzup, Mira?” said Rolo, expelling a cloud of vape smoke that smelled of meth. “People sayin’ crazy shit ‘bout you.” He made a signal with his hand and Mira suddenly noticed the little ten year old kid they called Hefe, standing in a dumpster behind Rolo’s tent. He’d had a pistol trained on Mira, but he pointed it skyward and gave her a chilling smile, his eyes dead. Mira’s blood ran cold at the sight of the tiny sociopath. The rules were always the same for every gang. You had to earn your gun with a kill. Mira was afraid of a child who could kill so effortlessly.

“Yeah, shit was crazy, but I got to the clinic, and I gave my blood. Here to pay my tax,” said Mira. She kept her hands up out of respect.

“Cool, cool, you can relax,” said Rolo, giving Mira a gap toothed smile. He pulled out the special hacked together rig he used to generate KaosKoin addresses. Mira held out her hand and he stamped the back of it with a QR code in cheap ink that would rub off easily.

Mira gasped and nearly jerked her hand away. “Three Koin? How come?” Her mind was racing. That was as much as a normal blood bank would have paid her for one visit, but Rolo had no way of knowing that she’d gotten much more. She knew it was dangerous to complain, but if she didn’t then he might suspect how much she really had.

Rolo gave her a shrewd look and took a hit of meth. “You don’t have to pay it if you don’t want to,” he said softly.

Mira froze in her tracks. She knew damn well that she had to pay it or they would hurt her badly. “It’s just all I got, you know, seems harsh,” she whispered. She could feel the tears welling up. She hated getting shaken down like this, even if she could afford it now.

Rolo actually seemed guilty for a minute. “Yeah, well, you know,” he leaned in closer. “You got too much attention. People saying you rollin’ in Bliing. My boss would figure that’s good enough for you. Keep the Bliing, hand over the Koin. I would go soft on you if I could. But I get too soft, I end up in the dumpster and Heffe over there is collecting taxes, you feel me?” Rolo tried to smile, but his cheek was twitching madly from all the meth he’d smoked. He flicked his tongue involuntarily a few times, reminding Mira of a tattoo-faced lizard.

“I’ll pay it. I know how to stay alive,” promised Mira. She made a fist and held up the code to show Rolo.

“Good girl, you’ll be okay, rations coming today.” Rolo looked around nervously. “Now get.”

Mira scurried away when he dismissed her and quickly logged back into her visor. The filthy camp was obscured by the virtual structures her neighbors had created to spruce up the place. Colorful mushroom houses and fanciful castles surrounded her now, as the chatter of her social groups resumed and her view was filled with status windows and alerts. Mira sighed as she reentered this virtual world.

The real world sucked. People trying to kill and hijack you, shaking you down all of the time. Nothing but poverty and garbage everywhere. Mira thought she would go mad if she didn’t have her ChatTime, her friends, and the AR skins that hid the ratty tents and debris all around her.

She came to a big red and white spotted virtual mushroom house that was, in reality, just a brown tent with a tarp over it, but it was where Mira’s friend Zazoo lived. Zazoo was an older woman who Mira visited when she was feeling down, when she needed a mother figure. Mira’s own mother was down in LA, hooked on pills and not very communicative. Zazoo allowed Mira to see her location status and Mira knew the old woman was inside, but she called out with her voice out of politeness.

The door of the mushroom hut opened and Mira saw Zazoo’s familiar avatar, a green haired earth mother in a flowy, tie-dyed rainbow dress.

“Ohh, so pretty, so pretty,” chuckled Zazoo, welcoming Mira into her hut. “What Bliing, so fancy!”

Mira surreptitiously scanned the code on the back of her hand with her wallet and began to thaw out three Koins so she could pay her rent and forget about it. Then she ducked into Zazoo’s tent. It was a shame that AR couldn’t cover the smell. The old woman worked hard to keep her place clean, but without running water it got pretty rank inside the little tent.

“I’ve just been sitting here and watching my little Mira’s adventures, oh so many hashtags, poor Zazoo can’t keep up,” chatted the older woman. The avatar presented Mira with a sunny smile, literal suns emanating and diminishing in a geometric pattern. It was a custom animated emoji that Zazoo had bought years before, but Mira never tired of it. The avatar glanced slyly around and then leaned forward, as the woman whispered conspiratorially to Mira. “You must be hungry, but you don’t have to wait for the relief trucks. Old Zazoo still has some rations tucked away. Even on delivery day, Zazoo keeps some food saved.” The avatar produced a silver tray with a crystal dome, which she pulled away to reveal a steaming, stuffed turkey. This represented a plain turkey MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat), Mira knew.

Mira didn’t feel nearly as hungry as she normally did after donating blood, but she accepted the old woman’s precious offering. Partly to be nice, and partly to not raise suspicion with anyone who might be watching or listening nearby. Everybody was always hungry when they returned from the blood bank. No one would refuse food at such a time, especially on ration day when everyone was out of food. The turkey meal assumed its real proportions as Mira received it, so that she could eat it properly, and she took a bite.

“Your boa is so crazy, I’ve never seen such a thing,” commented Zazoo, inspecting Mira’s new AI with fascination.

“It’s mostly a DJ,” said Mira. She paused in her munching to gesture and wake up the assistant. It oriented itself immediately toward Zazoo, noticing her interest.

“I know what you like,” hissed the snake, flicking its tongue as it sampled Zazoo’s public profiles.  

“Oh yeah, pretty snake?” asked Zazoo. But then she gasped as music came forth, emanating from each visor handle into their ears. Zazoo was stunned into silence by the tune. It was some kind of really old fashioned rock with lots of echoey drums and guitar, and a chorus of men and women singing together. Mira was utterly bored by it and secretly turned down the volume. But Zazoo was smitten and tears were rolling down her cheeks as she was carried back in time, perhaps far away from this filthy camp, to a place where she was young and life still had promise for her.

Mira chowed down quietly, respectful of the emotional moment her friend was having, but a little impatient as she scanned her feeds and watched with disappointment as her notoriety slowly ebbed away. Her traffic volumes were falling a bit more with each passing minute, as new bright and shiny events drew the attention of the masses, and the story of a little girl dropping off the grid and then witnessing a gangster incapacitated by drones became less and less fresh.

The snake noticed both Zazoo’s intense emotion and Mira’s disinterest and morphed the tune subtly into a new piece, with beats and melodies from a current top ten hit that Mira loved, but mixed with an upbeat psychedelic countermelody that drew Zazoo out of her ruminations.

“Ah well,” sighed Zazoo, unaware that her emotions were being manipulated by a semi-autonomous algorithm. “Those days are long gone, aren’t they?”

“Huh?” asked Mira. “You know those cholos really fucked me hard on the rent.”

“Oh yeah, so sorry baby, but you had to see it coming.” The older woman took the empty meal package from Mira’s lap and slipped it into a compost bag. “You can’t get too famous in the camps. The spotlight brings the sharks out.” The avatar stared off into space. “Ahh, see, look, the trucks are here already, they’re parked down on Brush today. Let’s go stock up! Having a full cupboard will cheer you up.”

Mira and Zazoo emerged from the little mushroom hut and joined the crowd. Everyone was staring at Mira’s snake until she frantically toggled its privacy settings down to a much tighter social circle. No one else around there could afford such a fancy assistant. In fact, most of them were wandering around as is, without any avatars at all. This always amazed Mira. She couldn’t understand how anyone could fail to take a few simple steps to set up even a basic avatar. But some people were just too slow or too preoccupied with drugs and poverty to care about their virtual appearance.

The homeless formed an orderly queue, policed by a swarm of aggressive drones from the Social Stability Council. These drones would deliver a nasty electrical shock to anyone who tried cutting or crowding in line. People learned that pretty quickly and it was usually only the really drugged up denizens who incurred the wrath of the drones. There were some bandwidth problems with so many homeless gathered in one place, and Mira’s AR kept freezing and dropping her back into default reality, where she was confronted with the piles of garbage lining the barbed wire fence that blocked off the empty lots, forbidden to the likes of her. The homeless were complimentary subscribers and didn’t get very much bandwidth allocated to them. Paying customers rarely ran into these problems in crowds, even at big sporting events.

The Social Stability Council trucks were fully automated, of course. Each citizen was scanned and then presented with a fresh box of MREs and a visor of the latest revision, fully charged, which emerged from one of several chutes on each side of the container sized trucking unit. One box per citizen, but multiple citizens serviced at once. The process was very fast and efficient and the line moved along quickly until it was Mira’s group’s turn. She approached the nearest chute and a green checkmark appeared before her, confirming her eligibility, but then the checkmark froze and shattered in the strangest animation Mira had ever seen, let alone in any animations associated with government programs. Everyone else was seeing the same thing and a collective gasp went up from the crowd.  

“Oh shit, something bad is happening,” cried Zazoo.

But then the chutes started chugging wildly, the entire container swaying back and forth on its suspension, as box after box of rations came pouring out of every chute at once. There was chaos as people started shouting madly, grabbing up as many boxes as they could carry. The drones buzzed in angrily, trying to keep some semblance of order, but several were knocked right out of the sky by flung chunks of concrete.

Miraculously, Zazoo produced a fishing net and spread it gracefully before her with a flick of her wrist. Mira immediately understood their good fortune. Of course it was nice to get a little extra food, but these council trucks NEVER malfunctioned. She was streaming a crazy, unusual, and chaotic event to her social channels and her traffic volume was soaring. Mira was giddy with excitement, she would probably get a reality show gig from all this publicity. She helped Zazoo pile a bunch of boxes onto the spread out net and, when they had collected as many as they thought they could carry, they grabbed the edges of the net and tried to scurry away, crab walking sideways with their bulky load. There were already sirens in the distance and the heavy thrum of big security copters en route to restore order.

“We can’t go back to my hut, the cops will be here soon and they will be searching everyone’s tents. In fact, they might purge everyone’s stuff again for this,” panted Zazoo. “We need to get this down to the port. I have a secret spot.”

“No-no, no-no,” scolded a youngster’s voice. Mira’s blood ran cold as the little gangster called Heffe suddenly appeared before them. He pointed his huge gun at Mira, no particular expression on his face at all, as he threatened her life. “All this loot mine, chica.”

“Heffe, my visor is streaming this,” whined Mira in exasperation. “You know how many followers I have right now? Besides, you can’t carry all of this stuff, you are too little.”

The normally cold blooded little killer started fidgeting, shifting his weight from foot to foot in agitation. “Well, fuckin’ turn it off then,” he said. “You too, old lady.”

Mira and Zazoo hurriedly removed their visors, but it was too late, and the kid should have known that. He had already been witnessed robbing them with the gun. He’d broken a cardinal rule of the gangs around here, namely to stay the fuck off of social media streams. Especially hot ones like Mira’s. Mira thought she detected the slightest sign of fear when Heffe saw Rolo and a couple of the older members of the gang sauntering over.

“I didn’t do nuthin,” yelped the youngster, training his gun on the approaching gangsters. Sweat was beading on his brow.

“Hey, hey, we know that little man, we just here to talk, okay?” said Rolo, holding up his hands to placate the youngster. But Heffe wasn’t fooled, and he gave a cry as he fired off a few rounds in the direction of the older boys, making them duck for cover before running for his life.

Several of the boys with Rolo produced guns, but then thought better of it as the heavy policy copters approached, clearing the crowd by spraying some of the older bean bag projectiles, as well as some of the new immobilization foam.

“He’s just a kid,” said Mira to Rolo, as his companions chased after the fleeing child on foot.

Rolo’s tongue shot out and back, but he seemed completely unaware of his signature tic. “You know that ain’t true, Mira.” He took a hit from his vape pen and looked on dispassionately as the choppers dispersed or immobilized the crowd behind them. “He would have done me in in a second if I fucked up on protocol like that.” The gangster looked at the pile of ration boxes on Zazoo’s net. “And for what? A pile of fucking MREs? That’s poor impulse control, even for us crazy bastards. Ah, he wouldn’t have lasted anyway. Don’t cry. Go put your visors back on, you’ll get crazy Bliing from this wild shit.” And the vicious boy walked away casually.

Mira eagerly put her visor back on, capturing the turmoil that surrounded them as the security forces moved in. Her blood ran cold with the realization that Heffe was as good as dead. If the gangsters didn’t catch him that day, they would eventually. And they would kill the little boy. Just like that.  

But then Mira sobbed even more deeply as she saw the garbage trucks arriving. CalTrans was coming in for another purge in response to this incident, even though it wasn’t the camper’s faults that the council truck had fucked up like that. The state was coming to gather up the refuse and dispose of it in the garbage trucks. But that refuse included the tents and ramshackle structures assembled by the homeless in this camp. It wasn’t an official camp, after all.

“The fates are against us, child,” cried Zazoo in distress. “Fly to your tent and gather up your things before they vacuum them away. Such a shame to lose these rations, but we can’t carry everything at once.”

The homeless around them were abandoning their windfall rations and rushing to salvage whatever they could carry of their meager possessions, before the automated trucks started sucking everything up to be hauled off to the dump.

Mira was about to rush off to do this herself, forgetting even her wildly expanding traffic share for the moment, when her interfaces crashed again and a big, middle aged white man appeared before her. His avatar was the super-realistic kind that she had only seen on shows.

“Mira? My name is Matheson. I want to talk to you.” As the avatar spoke, an expensive Tesla autocar pulled up and the door opened. Its cool interior offered a surreal haven of luxury amongst the milling madness under the blazing sun.

“Great Zeus, what’s this?” gasped Zazoo. She stared open mouthed at the tooled leather seats of the extravagant autocar.

“Can’t you see him? Maybe he’s here to offer me a reality show deal?” offered Mira.

The avatar seemed to freeze for a moment, before presenting Mira with a wry smile. “No, Mira, we can’t offer you fame. But my employer has many resources and we can compensate you well for your assistance.”

“What’s he saying, Mira? We need to get our things, child!” urged Zazoo. She grabbed Mira’s arm and shook it.

“He says he isn’t with the networks. Shit, mister, can’t you show yourself to Zazoo too? This is stupid, they’re gonna take our stuff!”

Matheson appeared to Zazoo and was about to speak to them both, when Zazoo interrupted, her eyes alight with a plan. “You know what? I don’t care who the hell you are. If you’re offering us a ride, we’ll take it! Just swing by and let us grab our stuff first,” said Zazoo. “Mira, help me get these rations into the car.”

“Wait, what is all this?” asked the avatar. It was clearly disturbed by the pile of rations.

“Rations, fool,” snapped Zazoo. Meanwhile, Mira snatched the net from the ground and awkwardly backed herself into the car as Zazoo pushed from the other side.

“You don’t need these; we can get you all the food you want,” protested the avatar, as the two homeless women stuffed the interior of the expensive car with boxes of rations and visors.

Mira had swept her social feeds aside during the crisis, but out of the corner of her eye, she saw her friends making jokes about how silly it looked to pile poor folk’s stuff into such a fancy vehicle.

“Yeah, well, a bird in the hand and all that,” muttered Zazoo, as she and Mira climbed clumsily onto the boxes piled everywhere. “Now we need to go get our tents. Get Mira’s first, the trucks are nearly upon it!”

“What are you talking about?” complained the avatar. It presented a brow darkened with confusion and annoyance.

“Here’s my GPS, hurry, they’re going to purge my stuff,” pleaded Mira, sending the avatar the coordinates of her tent.

The avatar paused for a moment, gazing into the internet. “Oh, this is a Caltrans purge. I see. Okay, we can help with this.” The car doors slid silently shut and the car leapt forward, flinging Mira and Zazoo to the back of the cab, where they crushed a few cardboard boxes of rations.

The car whipped around a slowly advancing garbage truck with inflatable fenders that pushed the frantic homeless people aside, so that the huge, articulated vacuum tube could hoover up all of their worldly belongings. Tents and shopping carts were unceremoniously grabbed and deposited into the massive storage container on the back of the truck, while the poor, filthy denizens wept with impotence and frustration. Yet these purges happened all of the time in these unregistered camps. It was a fact of life for the rootless and dispossessed.

The car arrived at MIra’s tent just as a truck started clearing her block. She and Zazoo rolled out through the open door and began hastily tossing her things into the front trunk, which had sprung open upon their arrival. Mira did feel foolish loading such paltry junk into the expensive car: her torn blankets and pillows, her smelly old stuffed animals, so much junk. But it was all she had. It didn’t take long for them to load up her things, while Matheson’s avatar kept insisting that they could easily be replaced.

They insisted on picking up Zazoo’s modest belongings next, and soon the back trunk of the powerful autocar was loaded with more random refuse of the sort collected by an old homeless woman, desperate to extract value from the trash that could be found on the street. It included her clothing and dust masks, a baby carriage, and her drug stash, all lodged comfortably into the spacious trunk.

When the two women, one old and chubby, the other young and slim, finally crawled back into the cab amongst the ration boxes, Mira turned to the avatar of Matheson and said, “Okay, Mr. Matheson, if you aren’t with the networks, do you want to tell me who you ARE with?”

But the avatar seemed to crash, fuzzing out freakily around the edges before reassembling in a much lower resolution form. It pulled a Guy Fawkes mask from within its jacket and put it on. “Oh, you don’t want to go see that nasty Mr. Matheson, do you Mira?” asked the masked figure.

“Oh dear,” gasped Zazoo, who had witnessed the transformation.

The car swerved off the road and came to a halt. The interior lights dimmed, then turned dark red for a moment, before resuming their previous soothing orange hue.

“Uh, I don’t know,” stammered Mira, feeling a little frightened. She had never been hacked before, but she had seen plenty of shows about it. Hackers were always a wildcard, not evil exactly, but you never knew what the heck they would do. “Matheson said he would give me Koin if I helped him.”

“Oh, Koin is so easy to get,” laughed the masked figure. “What you need is fun. You’ve been too stressed out lately, we’ve seen your rise to fame. You need to kick back and relax. Let’s go to Burning Man.”

Before Mira could answer, the car jumped back off the curb and started speeding eastward.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Burning Man, Zazoo,” admitted Mira. “Do you think they will really take us there?” She noticed that her feeds had gone grey again, and she suspected that the hackers were filtering her internet connection.

“I don’t know, child. But I’m not sure what choice we have now,” admitted Zazoo. And the older woman began busily restacking their ration boxes, so that they would have a comfortable place to sit on the long trip to the desert.

Chapter 9 here.

The Robot Lord Scenario – Chapter 7 (Ivan)

Chapter 6 here.

Cyn’s car pulled onto Ivan’s block as they prepared to drop him off at home, but the street was blocked with fire trucks and emergency vehicles.

“Tell me that isn’t YOUR building on fire,” said Cyn. She launched a small recon drone to get a better look.

“Oh shit,” gasped Ivan, as the grainy infrared showed the blast marks around each of his windows. “They blew up my apartment!”

“Don’t worry, I’ll bet they grabbed your computers first,” said Batou.

“That’s not reassuring,” said Ivan. “I’m totally burned here. This is bad.” His stomach dropped at the thought of his identity being so deeply compromised. “People are trying to kill us.”

“Someone’s not happy about us knocking on the door of their server. I don’t think any of us should go home right now, actually,” muttered Cyn, as she pulled up some footage of her own house being picked through by a police squad.

“That’s your place?” asked Ivan. “Why are the police there?”

“Some kind of drug deal reported to be going down inside, which led to a shootout between rival gangs, details are sketchy right now, but there are dead bodies in my place,” said Cyn, sounding disturbed.

“That’s a crazy hack, luring rival gangs into a drug deal right inside your place!” laughed Batou. “Why bother?”

“To show us they can,” said Cyn coldly. “Care to find out what capabilities they are demonstrating at YOUR place?”

“I’ve got live alerts on my place at all times,” said Batou. “Nothing is amiss.” He paused, thinking this over for a minute. “Oh fuck. That’s the biggest mindfuck of the three. I don’t dare go back.”

“But I’m the only one with a partner here, right?” said Ivan nervously.

“We better warn your girlfriend,” agreed Cyn. “But it sounds like she’s gonna be too busy, uh, getting busy, to answer the phone.”

“Don’t Cyn, just stop,” said Ivan. Her teasing was too close to home. Ivan really did worry about this guy Jayson. He was a powerful CEO founder after all. “I hate to do this, but I can put a trace on Bryce’s phone and find Jayson’s address.”

“I think you’d better do it, we need a place to crash tonight,” said Batou.

Ivan ran the trace and fed Cyn the coordinates of Bryce’s phone.  

“Marina district? What’s up with this guy?” asked Cyn.

“Founder,” explained Ivan tersely. His gut clenched at the thought of his girlfriend ending up at a billionaire’s compound after a night of drinking, but he tried to put it out of his mind.

Cyn’s car streaked down the streets of San Francisco, streetlights flickering rhythmically in the background as the trio contemplated their fate.

“So yeah, this is utterly fucked up,” said Cyn, flicking screens of data into the shared workspace at a frenetic pace.  

Ivan tried to follow her train of thought as the windows piled up. A lot of chat screens spun by. People on /r/AnonAttackSequence were freaking out over the deployment of munitions in downtown Oakland.

“Okay, so it looks like The Legion has predictably splintered in some recent operation,” murmured Batou, following the threads faster than Ivan could keep up.

“Yeah, no one is claiming responsibility for that counterattack after we nearly popped their c2 server in China,” replied Cyn. She dumped an incomprehensible cluster of data into the workspace.

“And they don’t know the worst of it,” sighed Ivan. “No mention of your apartment attack yet.”

“So wait, what?” Ivan asked, trying to keep up. His mind was too distracted by his girlfriend’s potential infidelity to follow the conversation properly.

“Ivan, get your head out of your ass,” snapped Cyn. “We got jammed up into some sort of AnonOp bullshit.”

“That’s too heavy of a response to be Anon,” recited Ivan, as his mind focused on the problem at hand.

“Tell me about it,” agreed Cyn. She scratched her chin in confusion.

“Yeah, it doesn’t make sense. And the boards agree, they are crying like babies over there. No other Anon thinks that shit was cool.” Batou swiped the windows aside and laid down on the floor of the cab so he could think.

“Fuck it, we are here,” said Cyn. She made a face at Ivan. “You wanna call your partner or are we going to have to ring the bell?”

“She hasn’t answered any of my calls in the last hour,” admitted Ivan.

“Nice,” muttered Cyn. They were parked on a quiet street in an exclusive section of town. The street was lined with huge homes that wouldn’t particularly seem like mansions in a different housing market. She launched a few light surveillance drones to survey the area. “Shit, lots of jamming around here,” she gasped, as she immediately lost contact with her units.

“Yeah, the great and good prefer privacy, don’t you know,” sighed Batou.

“Okay, well, the street seems pretty safe right now, actually,” allowed Cyn, surveying the view from her onboard cameras.

At that moment, a pair of heavy police drones shrieked by overhead, flying low and loud.

“The fuck?” gasped Batou, sitting up suddenly.

“Look at the news,” offered Ivan, pulling up a local feed. “Yep, shit! There is a protest coming this way. Some kind of sudden thing. No permits. Police units are mobilizing. This place is going to be crawling with state and private security any minute.”

He looked at Cyn and Batou. “Do we stay or do we go?”

“We’ve got to stay, we have nowhere to go,” replied Cyn. “Unless you want to try your luck at Batou’s place?”

“Right, to hell with that,” said Ivan. He drew a deep breath and let it out. “Okay, pop the door, let’s see who’s home.”

Cyn issued the codes to open the doors of the cab and Ivan climbed out nervously. He felt the cold night air on his face as he inhaled the salty ocean smell. They were only a block away from the bay. He drew another breath and glanced back into the dim interior of Cyn’s auto. She had left the door open to comfort him, and he ducked instinctively as the police drones swept by overhead again, nearly deafening him with their rotors.

He faced a high concrete wall. He searched back and forth and located the steel garage door and the tiny service door to the side of it. He spotted a keypad and a camera lit by a hooded LED, and he approached it. An AI steward greeted him in a friendly fashion, as Ivan stood before the door, trying to make sense of the keypad.

“Hello, can I help you?” asked the bot.

“I’m here to see Bryce Connor,” said Ivan. He could hear the sound of sirens in the distance and he looked over his shoulder. Cyn still had the door to her auto open and the engine revving.

The AI seemed about to reply with a preprogrammed response, but then froze for a moment. “No one lives here with that name, sorry.”

“I know that. Bryce is visiting and I am her partner,” said Ivan. He gave his public key to the AI, which it accepted. That was progress at least. A proper security system would just ignore the key to keep him out.

“Yes, well, let me ask about this,” said the AI. It was just a standard security AI from LockSafe, which provided security to a lot of homes in this area. It was presenting as a large, muscular man in a tuxedo, wearing sunglasses. The developer even went so far as to put a wire going to an earpiece to complete the realistic security staff effect.

Ivan said nothing and glanced up anxiously as more and more drones arrived overhead, some hovering and some whipping by at insane speeds.

The AI came back to life. “We are entering into a more robust security posture right now, due to local police action. You might want to evacuate the area for your safety.”

“No, you need to let us in, I need to see Bryce,” said Ivan. He dumped an exploit onto the communication channel. It was unlikely to succeed, but it might at least get a human to check out the situation.

The AI froze for a minute and then flashed as it restarted. A human voice squawked out of the metal speaker grill next to the keypad. “You can probably still get away if you leave now. I have notified the authorities of this breach attempt.”

“I’m not leaving. I’m here to see my girlfriend, Bryce,” said Ivan. 

“Are you for real, dude?” asked the security person, taken aback.

“Totally,” said Ivan. “But I’m cool. My friends and I just want to come in and take shelter from whatever bullshit is going on right now.”

‘Okay, okay, just uh, let me check with the boss,” said the voice. “Hang tight a sec.”

What’s up? texted Batou.

Hold on, replied Ivan.

“Okay, okay, look, I need all the public keys for your friends and also the car. That shit is crazy. I want to see the inside of that thing when this is over. Totally metal,” said the voice through the fancy speaker grill.

Send keys, Ivan texted Cyn. Within seconds, she complied, and a moment later the garage door opened up, sliding silently in its tracks to reveal a tiny concrete chamber barely big enough to hold Cyn’s vehicle.

I guess we gotta trust the plutocrat at this point, texted Cyn, as her car maneuvered itself into the garage and the the door slid closed. The service door before Ivan clicked open.

“Bryce and Jayson will greet you in the foyer,” said the voice.

Ivan found himself facing a tiny Japanese bridge over a koi pond. The door clicked shut behind him and he looked around to find himself surrounded by cultured bamboo shooting up above the garden wall and screening the nondescript, somewhat modern home of Jayson Marshall, founder of Pareto and Bryce’s boss.

“Fucking plutocrats,” muttered Ivan, as he gingerly crossed the koi pond. Cyn and Batou were emerging into the courtyard where Ivan stood, via a small wooden door in the garage.

A sliding glass door opened and the three of them climbed the steps into a wide, low ceilinged foyer.  It was very spare, with a stone tiled floor and low couches composed of slatted wood supports with large beige beanbags on top.

A heavy wooden door opened and Bryce appeared. Ivan’s stomach flipped when he saw her dressed in a thin white t-shirt with bare legs. She trotted down a few steps, the front of her shirt jiggling, as Ivan looked at her suspiciously.

“Christ Bryce, are you wearing anything under that shirt?” he blurted jealously.

“She’s totally naked under there, dude,” chortled Cyn, elbowing Ivan in the ribs.

“Wazzup?” said Batou lecherously.  

Bryce’s cheeks colored slightly and she tugged self-consciously at the hem of her shirt. “I mean jeez, you know, I should be asking YOU what the hell you’re doing here?” said Bryce nervously. She was obviously guilty and Cyn gave Ivan a knowing look.

Before Ivan could answer, a thin, long haired guy, shirtless, with a chiseled jaw, emerged from the door above Bryce. His pale blue eyes pierced into Ivan and Ivan noted that the loose fabric of Jayson’s pants matched that of Bryce’s shirt. A thin sheen of sweat covered Jayson’s wiry but well-defined chest.

“You’re wearing his fucking pajama top!” Ivan shouted at Bryce.

Cyn and Batou laughed as Bryce turned beet red, but Jayson just smiled serenely at Ivan.

“Namaste,” said Jayson, putting his hands together and bowing graciously to Ivan and his friends. “Welcome to my home.”

Ivan was taken aback by Jayson’s smooth demeanor. He felt utterly outclassed right off the bat. “Fucking spiritual sociopath,” he whispered to Cyn between clenched teeth. She snorted in derision as Jayson gracefully descended the stairs.  

“Friends of Bryce are certainly welcome here, but, as you might have noticed, there is a protest afoot, so please come inside to a more secure area of the compound,” said Jayson. He gestured up the stairs and Ivan had to admit that the bastard had poise.

Bryce didn’t hug Ivan in greeting, but meekly fell into step beside him as he and his friends ascended the stairs with Jayson following behind.

A couple of half naked men and women in Black Rock City drag were lounging in the living room as they entered. Soft electronic music was playing in the background, and Ivan smelled a mixture of pot smoke, alcohol, and some other drug he couldn’t identify. This seemed like a party, but a lot of the partygoers had a hard, military look about them, like they could crush your skull with a Krav Maga kick if they weren’t so stoned. Ivan suspected that this was Jayson’s inner circle and probably composed partially or entirely of his operatives.

“We were totally just hanging out and, uh, I got sleepy and Jayson offered me some clothes to change into,” offered Bryce suddenly.

Ivan squinted at her skeptically and Cyn laughed right in her face.

“Yeah right,” giggled Cyn. She thought this was funny, but Ivan’s heart was pounding.

“Who are you?” sniffed Bryce, turning to Cyn imperiously.

“Bryce,” cautioned Jayson, coming up behind her and putting his arm around her in a familiar way that maddened Ivan. “Maybe we should have a talk with Ivan.”

“What?” gasped Ivan, getting a sense of what was about to come.

But just then there was a heavy thud and a couple of the partygoers perked up visibly, revealing a suspicious lack of inebriation. Ivan stared into space, contemplating his windows.

A muscular young man with a half shaved head, sporting a lightning bolt tattoo on his chest, rose, also staring into space.

“Yeah, that protest looks like it’s climaxing here somehow. That was some kind of explosive and it looks like the automated systems have lit up the microwave towers,” said the young man.

“Microwave?” asked Bryce nervously.

“Area denial,” offered Cyn cryptically, but Bryce just tilted her head cutely at her. “It’ll fry those fucking protesters,” Cyn elaborated, making a clicking sound and pointing her finger.

Bryce cringed back and put her hand to her mouth, eyeing Jayson with fright.

“Purely sublethal, darling,” he said, putting his hands in front of him and making a gentle patting motion. “The protesters would only feel a burning sensation if they tried to enter the compound, but it wouldn’t cause any permanent damage. Of course I am committed to nonviolence.”

“Darling?!” demanded Ivan. He felt the urge to punch Jayson right in his billion dollar mouth.

A topless woman in leather pants with multi-colored hair and numerous piercings burst into the room. Ivan was distracted by her breasts for a moment and lost his train of thought.

“Jayson, we are evacuating, I think,” said the woman. She seemed truly confused and upset and Ivan pulled his mind back to the problem at hand.

There was another dull thud and the lights went out. A Guy Fawkes mask suddenly appeared, projected on the wall by an old fashioned physical projector.

“Hahaha, hello Jayson, we are crashing your party, motherfucker,” shouted the mask through the high end audio system installed in the room, nearly overloading the speakers with its explosive volume.

“Security, report,” shouted Jayson. He grabbed Bryce and dragged her toward the back of the room where the blue haired woman was waving frantically.

“Somebody’s fancy security system just got owned,” shouted Cyn, as she ran after the retreating billionaire.

“Giddyup,” urged Batou, slapping the thunderstruck Ivan on the shoulder and following suit.

“Yeah, Olly says he’s trying to regain control of the house systems, but he’s confirming low level compromise, we have to leave,” shouted the young man with the lightning bolt. “Simon has the yacht coming online now.” He fell in behind Ivan and Batou and shoved them forward.

There was confusion all around him as the party broke up, but Ivan managed to pull up a news feed showing protesters breaching a huge gap in the wall where he had been standing minutes before. Masked twenty somethings were streaming through the gap and into the courtyard, splashing heedlessly through the koi pond, while police drones showered them with rubber bullets.

“Fucking madness,” laughed Cyn as Ivan, Batou, and Lightning Bolt joined her in a narrow hallway.

They came to a gaping hole in the floor, where a hidden hatch had been thrown back, revealing a ladder that led to a blandly lit, carpeted tunnel below. Lightning pushed them toward the hatch.

Cyn resisted and grabbed Ivan and Batou by the lapels. “Fuck this, I’m not jumping on Jayson’s yacht, I’m taking my car out of here.” She released Ivan and poked Lightning in the chest fiercely. “How do we get out to street level?” she demanded.

Lightning looked at her like she was crazy. “You want to go out into that melee?” he asked. “Your car will get torn to pieces.”

“Did you see my car?” she drawled confidently. “I’ll take my chances.”

Lightning appeared to be referencing data as he nodded along. “Holy shit, okay, then just keep going down the hall and out onto the back patio. It’s only about a 12 foot drop to the street. I’m opening the garage, better power up that tank of yours.”

“I only refrained from knocking down your garage door to be polite,” sneered Cyn. “Bullshit civilian door.”

Lightning stopped to look at Cyn for a moment and shook his head. Then he laughed and stepped right into the space beside the open hatch, dropping out of sight with shocking speed.

Ivan was torn as Cyn and Batou raced down the hall toward the back patio.

“Cyn, I don’t know,” he shouted. He looked down the hatch into the strangely mundane looking escape tunnel. Should he follow Bryce and try to get the truth out of her?

“Bullshit!” screamed Cyn from up ahead.

You wanna be on that yacht and at that plutocrat’s mercy, idiot? When he’s clearly banging your gf and would prefer to have you out of the picture? texted Cyn.

“Dammit,” sighed Ivan. He broke into a loping gait after Cyn and Batou. Cyn was right, of course, he would have to confront Bryce on neutral territory, and it would have to happen another day.

When Ivan got to the back patio, he heard a crazed chattering as Cyn’s auto deployed a barrage of non-lethal beanbags to ward off the protesters who choked the alley. The car was parked right below the patio where Ivan stood. Cyn and Batou had already vaulted the ledge and were in the car. The door was still open, inviting him along, while the protesters screamed in pain as the beanbags struck soft tissue, driving them back.

Ivan sighed and awkwardly dangled himself from the edge of the railing, dropped the final four feet to the street, and then rolled into the cab of Cyn’s vehicle. The door hissed shut behind him and the wheels shrieked as the torque engaged. The sound alone seemed to frighten the protesters back as Cyn’s auto violently cannonballed out of the alley and across the lawn of the Palace of Fine Arts, scattering postmodernists as its powerful engines sprayed turf in their aftermath.

“Ahh yes,” said Cyn, making herself comfortable on the floor of the cab. “Looks like we are sleeping here in the car on the way to Arkansas, boys.” She paused for a moment, flipping to her side, her back facing Ivan and Batou. “Can you imagine the shit fit Jayson is throwing right now? Chased out of his own house by 99%’ers? Someone’s losing their job tonight.”

Batou shrugged and joined her on the floor. Ivan looked at her back glumly as she shook with merriment. Cyn didn’t seem very upset about this situation. She liked it when things got crazy, he guessed. He found himself noticing the shape of Cyn’s body, the way her hip curved down to her waist as she lay before him on her side. He liked it. Ivan shook his head to snap himself out of it. He shouldn’t be thinking about things like that. He dropped to the floor of the cab alongside Batou and tried to find a position to nap in that wouldn’t destroy his back.

Chapter 8 here.