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.


The Robot Lord Scenario – Chapter 6 (Evelyn)

Chapter 5 here.

Matheson paced back and forth in the waiting room of the private clinic. He didn’t see the beige furniture and mildly narcotic e-ink art as it morphed on the walls. His vision was filled with streaming surveillance footage as he tried to do a postmortem on the attack. He popped another Modafinil absently when his attention started to drift, and he realized that he had been awake for 28 hours. In the old days, when he worked for The Company, he would have had an entire team of analysts working on this stuff, but now pattern recognition AI identified and tagged all of the relevant footage.

Matheson had enthusiastically adopted this new paradigm, as automation had shrunk the footprint of his operational team and thus lowered the risk of leaks. But now he missed having someone to bounce his ideas off of, as he struggled to figure out how this simple benefit dinner had gone so terribly wrong. And he was about to face the harshest cross-examination of his life. Evelyn’s father’s chopper registered on his situational awareness dashboard long before he heard the heavy thomp-thomp of its rotors. Matheson wished he had something to calm his nerves before facing this furious plutocrat in person.

He briefly considered calling the cyberspecialist, Oliver, to get some independent read on the situation, but he had jammed all radio frequencies around the clinic, and he had even taken the drastic step of physically cutting all of the fiber into the clinic when they brought Evelyn in, so he didn’t want to risk a call at this point. Suddenly, his local area map lit up like a Christmas tree, and Matheson caught his breath in shock. There was a flash, and the single triangle representing the chopper carrying Simon Ardenwood was immediately replaced by an entire formation of unmarked aircraft, probably military. At that moment, Matheson’s live outdoor camera feeds flickered and revealed the parking lot filled with SUVs and several large, unmarked box trucks.

“Fucking feds came in with full stealth,” he muttered to himself, as the door opened and a team of agents entered, obviously from the FBI, but in undesignated tactical wear.

Two suits approached Matheson with a deferential air. “Sorry to spring this on you, sir. But you understand,” said the agent on the left. He left his shades opaque during the greeting.

The other agent was more polite and made his glasses translucent, so that Matheson could see the tension in his brown eyes. “Director Hitchens is coming in on Ardenwood’s chopper. They want you to greet them. Come with us.”

Matheson made a face to show his surprise at the mention of Hitchens’ name, but neither agent took the bait, and they ushered him outside, where the air was full of copters, most of them modern military units, disturbingly quiet as they dropped down onto the building’s roof and the manicured lawn. The air stunk of diesel from the big trucks and helicopter fuel.

“Obviously, we have the perimeter locked down. We had to blank out your defense systems to come in quietly, but we are going to release them now. Please stand down all defense modules, including frequency jammers,” said the agent with the dark shades.

“I won’t bother asking for transfer of custody codes, I guess,” muttered Matheson, as he sent out the commands to shut down his measly defenses, which paled in comparison to the assets that the feds had brought in.

“We are law and order guys, not military, we will get you your codes, sir,” said the brown eyed agent.

Matheson looked him over. He was a young fellow, Asian or Hispanic, he couldn’t tell. But he seemed earnest.

He was distracted by a big civilian chopper landing right in the lot and creating a massive blast of turbulence. Hitchens and Ardenwood emerged, ducking as they ran out from under the roaring rotors.

Matheson’s gut roiled as he stood up straight to greet these two powerful men. Ardenwood had entrusted his daughter to Matheson, and Matheson had failed him. He could really use a drink right now.

But Ardenwood didn’t pay Matheson the slightest bit of attention, he just sprinted toward the clinic, anguish carved into his face. Matheson turned to watch his employer run past, realizing how painful this must be for him. Hitchens clapped him on the shoulder and brought him back to the moment.

“Matheson, I read your file, you are good man,” said the greying director. He was a chubby man of medium height, grey haired, with the soft hands of a career bureaucrat.

“Thank you, uh, Mr. Hitchens,” said Matheson. He had been about to address the director as “sir,” but he caught himself.

“We are going to want to debrief you here, my team is assembling now, I hope that’s convenient,” said the director absently, in a tone that said he didn’t care if Matheson found it convenient or not.

Matheson, Hitchens, and the two agents reentered the clinic together and went through the foyer and down a light blue, tiled hallway that looked and smelled perfectly antiseptic. A tall, blonde haired young man dressed as an orderly appeared. He guided them to the examination room, where Simon Ardenwood hovered anxiously over his daughter, who was laid out on an exam table. She was wearing a hospital gown and was attached to an array of machinery that monitored her heartbeat and brainwaves. Her eyes were open, but she was staring off sightlessly, as she writhed and thrashed back and forth on the table, surrounded by doctors and nurses.

“Evelyn, can you hear me? It’s Papa, darling,” shouted Ardenwood, taking his daughter by the wrists.

“She can’t hear you, Mr. Ardenwood,” insisted a hard faced nurse with the lean, muscular physique of a triathlete. She firmly detached Simon’s grip from his daughter and led him away from the table where she lay, delirious.

A dark skinned Indian doctor, his eyes burning with a fierce intelligence, took Simon by the arm and guided him over to Hitchens and Matheson.

“I am Dr. Joshi,” said the doctor to the group. “This is a very strange case. Ms. Ardenwood seems totally unresponsive, but her EEG clearly shows that she is conscious. Her blood work has revealed nothing. We need to transfer her to a neurological facility as soon as possible. In all my years of experience, I have seen nothing like this.”

“Thank you, Dr. Joshi, but we have our own specialists coming in, and we’re afraid that we HAVE seen something like this, and it isn’t good,” said Hitchens.

The doctor looked concerned. “Do we need to institute a quarantine?” he asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Hitchens. “At least not one that we are capable of implementing in this sort of facility.”

“My god, what are we talking about here, Hitchens?” demanded Ardenwood. “You’ve been cagey with me the entire flight. I want answers! Don’t make me get on the phone with the attorney general.”

Hitchens looked pained. He made a motion for the agents to stay, took both Ardenwood and Matheson by the lapels, and led them out of the exam room. They found an empty breakroom across the hall, and Hitchens turned to Matheson.

“I assume you have some fancy, commercial grade privacy screens?” Hitchens asked, as he located a paper cup and filled it with coffee from a dispenser.

“Well, you should know I had military grade stuff deployed when you arrived,” said Matheson.

“What is this nonsense? Has my daughter been drugged by some sort of maniac?”

“Simon, shut up and listen to me,” said Hitchens sharply, bringing Ardenwood to a halt. “We aren’t talking about a fucking DRUG here. And that was no maniac. Do you really think I would bring in so many assets for such a thing? I mean, you are an important man, but really, use your brain for a moment.”

Ardenwood’s face worked as he struggled to contain his emotions. “So some sort of terrorist group?”

“Targeting the economic elite,” added Matheson.

Hitchens turned to Matheson and pointed. “Bingo.”

Matheson continued, but he felt unnerved. “And if it’s no drug and the techs at THIS fucking place can’t pinpoint it, we are talking about something heavy, black nanotech or something.”

“Jesus Christ, Matheson,” said Hitchens, genuinely impressed. “They said you were good, but what the hell?”

“I’ve locked down the signals in and out of this place,” said Matheson.

Hitchens shrugged, “You know how it goes, they get their dirty little fingers into our research pipeline and all hell breaks loose.”

“I don’t know what the fuck you two are talking about, autonomous nanotech making my daughter delirious?” scoffed Ardenwood.

“Look Simon, I’m sorry,” said Hitchens. “We need to move Evelyn to a secure compound. This isn’t the first case we’ve seen.” He turned to Matheson. “You are off the case, Mr. Matheson. This is a very sensitive federal investigation. My team will debrief you and you will go on leave until further notice. Your services won’t be needed.” Matheson started to object, but Hitchens held up a delicately manicured hand and bowed his head. “I know what you are feeling right now. You feel like you dropped the ball and let your charge be attacked. You want to run out there and catch the bad guys. And you are good, one of the better operators around, I can see that. But this game is too complicated as it is, and we can’t have any more moving parts. You need to sit this one out.”

“Matheson works for ME, Hitchens, not you,” sputtered Ardenwood.  

“Your connections can protect you, Mr. Ardenwood,” said Hitchens, brushing his sleeves casually. “But not your operatives. If you put this pawn back into play, I will remove him from the board.”  

Ardenwood looked at Hitchens in shock as his words sank in.

Hitchens smiled in a friendly way at Matheson. “Don’t take that the wrong way, son. I mean, I know you are more of a knight than a pawn. Just leave those screens in place. My team will come in to debrief you in a moment. Have your surveillance footage and operation logs prepared for secure transfer.” Hitchens tossed his coffee cup in the garbage. “And you know what? When this mess is all over, let’s set up a meeting and see about getting you back onto the government payroll. Some of our special positions offer compensation packages that are competitive with the private sector.”

Hitchens left and Ardenwood started pacing, clearly agitated. “Matheson, you’ve worked for me for a lot of years, but I won’t ask you to risk your life for Evelyn.”

“You don’t have to, Simon,” said Matheson, “You don’t have to.” In his heart, he knew he would take any risk to find the bastards that had hurt Evelyn. He just hoped that Hitchens couldn’t command the sort of loyalty that he thought he could. It would take a special sort of bootlicker to gun down a fellow American and fellow operator in the field. Even if Matheson had been in the private sector a long time, he hoped that the brotherhood among those who serve might offer him some protection. Because he was about to stick his nose where it didn’t belong, and knight or pawn as he may be, he would prefer to stay on the board a while longer.

Across the hall, Evelyn writhed under the worried supervision of the medical staff, but she didn’t see the blinking lights or concerned faces all around her. Instead, she saw a dusty refugee camp and a figure in a Guy Fawkes mask leading her into a dismal, hellish tableau of death and suffering. “Come see the world you have wrought, my precious flower,” he told her in his choppy, synthetic voice, and then he dissolved into pixels as she wept at what lay before her.

Chapter 7 here.

The Robot Lord Scenario – Chapter 5 (Mira)

Chapter 4 here.

Mira was in her glory. It was a little weird how she couldn’t quite tell her friends the whole story, even when she swapped to a different visor. The hacker boy had somehow put a filter on her account and she couldn’t describe him, his drone, or his mother. But the holes in her story only made it more interesting to her social network. And there was no denying that she had been offline for a crazy amount of time with no record anywhere of her activity. As word spread of her strange adventure and Mira’s status rose, she was able to start acquiring more Bling for her avatar.

As her social status points soared, Mira and her friends eagerly scanned the Bling catalog together. They chattered madly, high on the prospect of disposable status. Each of her pals started tagging accessories they thought Mira should get for her avatar to wear. She added an animated rainbow feather boa, a giant rhinestone cowboy hat, and some ruby slippers, for good measure. Some snarky comments about her taste level started showing up on third degree of separation boards, but Mira just blurred those windows out so that she wouldn’t have to see them, while her friends loudly defended their recommendations.

Some local boys heard about her story and flew a drone into the building she had described. They confirmed that there was an apple tree and a mini forest there. They attached their footage to Mira’s thread and soon both they and Mira were getting more attention and more status. People with lots of followers were tagging her story and she was surfing on the network effect, riding it higher than she ever had before.

Even with all of this Bling though, Mira still needed actual money, so she continued her original plan and headed for the blood bank. She followed the green dots absentmindedly, while reveling in her notoriety. But she was forced to lift her visor when it showed her a boy firing his gun into the air. He was a skinny Hispanic kid. The recoil of his rifle nearly knocked him over as he shot at a formation of drones patrolling the area around the clinic. Mira had never seen this sort of thing before and she took cover behind a burnt out gasoline car as she fed the sight into a feed for her newfound social audience.

The boy managed to knock down one of the drones, but not before it released a stream of tiny bots, which converged on the little gangster like a swarm of insects. Mira almost felt bad for the kid as he waved his arms about frantically, trying to drive them away. But his efforts were futile, and he dropped his gun and ran, howling with pain as the tiny bots stung and harassed him. Mira wondered if she should wait until another gangster came to replace this one, so she could make sure she paid her tax. The tiny bots must have drugged the boy, because he dropped to the ground and lay still. A few moments later, a police autocar appeared, scooped the kid up into its hopper, and then sent out a crablike bot to collect his gun before peeling away. This was something Mira had seen only once or twice before. There wasn’t much law enforcement in the refugee zones normally. And none of the other blood banks operated drones out here, either. This must be a pretty fancy clinic.

Now Mira’s ChatTime feed was exploding and a huge flame war was erupting as the leftists screamed about due process and how these new automated detention procedures were unconstitutional. Mira wanted to complain that the kid had been there to shake her down and must have murdered someone with a knife or a club in order to earn his rifle, which was the standard initiation for the gangs around there, but she bit her tongue. Talking shit on gangsters on social media was a good way to get hung from a bridge. So she let the leftists battle it out with the New Right Front assholes and just collected her status from both groups of idiots.

She didn’t know what she was going to do with all of this Bling, and she was giddy with excitement as she approached the entrance to the blood bank. She knew this was a special place when a smiling avatar appeared before her, welcoming her into the clinic as the door slid open to admit her. All of the other blood banks made her take off her visor and deal with the attendants in meatspace. But here, a pretty anime nurse led her to a machine to scan her vital signs. Mira lifted her visor briefly, but there were no humans to be seen. This was a fully automated lab. She felt pretty special to be admitted to such a place, and she hoped that she hadn’t picked up any diseases along the way that would prevent her from donating.

Mira heaved a sigh of relief as a big green check mark appeared before her and a pleasant chime sounded in her ears, letting her know that she was healthy enough to donate.

“You are a perfect candidate, Mira,” said the anime nurse with a fantastically enthusiastic smile.  “We can offer you a special rate if you will donate 2 litres of plasma today.”

Mira let her closest friends have access to her feed pretty much all the time and her pal Rebo pinged her right away.

That’s a LOT of blood, Mira, is it SAFE?

“We use a special blood replacement that is fully FDA approved,” said the anime nurse at that moment. Mira had to double check her privacy settings, but the nurse shouldn’t have been able to hear what Rebo said. Maybe it was just good at guessing the cause of her hesitation. The amount on offer was displayed before her in kaosKoin or USD, and Mira gasped. They were offering as much as she would make from two months of weekly donations at the other blood banks. She readily signed the waiver over the worried murmurings of Rebo and her other close friends.

The nurse gave her a cute smile and led her to a big machine, where she could lay down. One cuff went over each arm, slipping into place automatically. One to pull out her whole blood and one to put back her red blood cells, along with the synthetic blood replacement, explained the nurse. And this machine was just as painless as the injection. Mira couldn’t believe it. She saw the cheerful cartoon readout displaying how much blood was being withdrawn, as a big red heart slowly filled up from the bottom. But she hardly felt anything. Normally, it was an uncomfortable procedure for her, and Mira was acutely aware of the metal spike embedded in her arm, but this process was practically painless. The cuffs inflated around each arm and squeezed her tight, and there was just a tiny prick at the beginning, but then nothing but the tightness of the cuff.

Mira went deeper into the Bling catalog than she had ever gone before. Her friends thrashed with excitement like a pack of sharks with chum in the water. For the first time, Mira could afford an assistant with some decent AI, so she chose a yellow boa constrictor to wear around her avatar’s shoulders. She could give the boa simple commands to complete, and it would give her shopping advice, since it was partially sponsored.

The next thing she knew, Mira felt the cuffs loosen. She swiped away most of her social feeds and saw that the cartoon clinic’s readouts were showing her a list of green checkmarks.

“Well done, Mira!” chirped the friendly anime nurse. “You didn’t complain a bit. And I like your new boa too, by the way. I have transferred your kaosKoin now, you should see it any moment.”

“Thanks so much,” said Mira. She checked her kaosKlutch app and found that her new balance was safely frozen. “I’m rich!”

Way to go, Mira! chimed Rebo.

And the newly rich Mira emerged back into the blazing wasteland of the abandoned plaza, totally oblivious to the rubble and destruction all around her, as the virtual boa entertained her and her friends with a musical mashup that it had devised itself from the latest hit songs. Her eyes filled with the flashing glitter of her Bling, as the blue line safely guided her around the blasted area where the drone had attacked the gangster. She was on her way back to the squalid camp under the overpass that she called home.

Chapter 6 here.