FutureBlog, chapter 6, by Pete Nicholls
This program has committed an illegal operation...
Welcome to chapter 6 of FutureBlog! Deep into the Machine Levels, Sato and Ryca are still looking for the woman somehow surviving where she shouldn’t be able to (at least according to the health authorities of the year 2222). Can they find her before she is killed or poisoned by the environment of the M’s? Or will they run into trouble? Read chapter six and find out!
We left the opening where the autonet was and moved deeper into the complex maze of steel and plastic machinery. We passed by other robots that paid us no mind what ever. I was reasonably certain that Ryca was looking at each of them for a moment long enough to scan them. For what purpose, I can’t be certain. Regardless, we were just a few hundred meters from where I first saw her.
"Please be alert. We are close in proximity to a location where a past act of terrorism occurred. Terrorists may be in the area." Ryca's voice was suddenly cold and dry as it had before Arif had applied his little hacking device.
"I'm aware of that, Ryca. Thank you." I said as we exited into a large, open area. On one wall were control panels for a good thirty meters save for a portion of the wall that was simply a large section of blackened, twisted metal. This was where the Nogoodnick bombing had occurred. “Why hasn’t this been fixed yet?”
“No need,” Ryca said in a relaxed tone. “Infrasystems would have just rerouted the data through this area and transferred whatever activity running here to other resources.”
“So, the bombing has no effect on the city infrastructure?”
“No. I estimate that it would take a great many bombs the size they used to cause any serious damage.”
“Do the Nogoodnicks even know that their bombing was completely without effect?”
“I don’t have any information on that, Sato.”
“No, I don’t believe they understand that. However, the common goal of most terrorists is, by definition, fear in the populace.”
Ryca seemed to understand a lot more that I thought.
"I was standing out here," I said as I passed more robots and moved through a doorway. Ryca followed me out, onto a landing that overlooked a dramatic chasm and an equally dramatic drop down a few hundred meters into fog.
"Halt! Authorization, please!" I looked to the source of the voice.
"I know you," I said aloud. "You saw me here thirty-three days ago. You're the secdroid that stopped me from catching the mysterious woman the first time I spotted her. Before I even realized she was a she."
"Please provide me with authorization or I will have to report you."
"In all honesty, you are just the secdroid I need to see." I reached into my left jacket pocket and found Arif’s little hacking device. I took it in my hands, reached around secdroid, as quick as I could, and placed it on the base of his skull. I found a small depression on the device, touched it with my finger and jerked my hand away as a bright blue spark flashed from the back of the secdroid’s head. I immediately felt a sharp, but small, pain on my right hand.
“Are you injured, Sato?” Ryca asked in a warm but concerned voice this time. I looked at the wound—it was very minor. It was just a pink patch of skin on the underside of my forearm just below the wrist. I held it out to her.
“Scanning,” she said in the cold, robot voice again. Then, in the warm voice, “That looks minor. If it hurts, I can treat it but otherwise, you will be fine, I think.”
“Secdroid,” Ryca began, still in the warm voice, “do you have any security data around the Nogoodnick bombing that took place here, thirty-five days ago?”
I asked her what she was doing as the other secdroid started to reply. Ryca held her hand up to her opposite and replied to me, still with the warm voice. “I am inquiring about our quarry. You said you saw this woman first while you were reporting on the Nogoodnicks bombing from last month, correct?”
“Well, I didn’t say that, specifically, but that is, indeed, correct.” It seems she had inferred as much from us being around the area of the bombing. There are high end artificial intelligences capable of such accurate inferences, but none are standard for secdroids of Ryca’s tech level. I started to wonder just what that LHD of Arif’s really was. (LHD = Little Hacking Device)
“I will continue my inquiry,” Ryca said with the warm, now almost human-sounding voice. “Secdroid 2760, do you have security data from this vicinity from two-two-two-two-oh-seven-one-oh-seven around oh-four-thirty-hours?”
“Affirmative,” 2760 coldly said after a moment. “Would you like—”
The machine seemed to have locked up for a long moment and just as Ryca moved to wave her right hand in front of his face, his head turned slightly and he continued speaking, but his voice was much less cold, now. “—would you like me to play the data for you on any nearby device? Uh, I think that’s right. Yes it is. You can connect to my wireless node.”
This was getting quite curious indeed.
I withdrew my dev from my inside jacket pocket and set it to the 2760's wireless frequency. After a moment, the video data loaded into my dev and its display began to glow. Another short moment passed and I could see the moment just before 2760 blocked me from reaching the mysterious woman.
I watched as I lunged toward her only to have the secdroid shove me back. I was careful to note the direction the mysterious woman had moved in. The direction made no sense to me.
The woman had headed in the direction of the edge of the landing. I moved to the edge of the area and saw that it was easily one hundred meters to the other side of a chasm and easily as much distance below before a fog took over.
Had she simply jumped off?
“What’s he doing?” I heard 2760’s voice behind me.
“He is my assistant. He is aiding me with my investigation.”
“Oh. Very good.”
Two androids having a conversation behind me in plain, human language. I thought there were laws against that sort of thing.
I pointed to the fog below and looked back to 2760. "What's down there?"
The secdroid approached the edge of the landing and looked over it.
"Those are M levels 34-40. No humans or humanoids allowed below the 33rd level," 2760 said, sounding like a friendly tour guide.
We were on the 33rd level.
"Why are no humans or humanoids allowed below the 33rd level?"
"Machinery, is just too dangerous for traditional forms, I’m afraid."
"You let me be the judge of that, all right?"
"I don't understand the question, sir." the secdroid said adding, “I’m afraid that I still need to see your authorization to be here.”
“My existence here is your authorization, 2760,” Ryca said, approaching the edge, as well. There was a stern sound of authority in her still vaguely digital voice. “My authorization to be here derives from Secdroid Protocol Six—that a secdroid is required to view protecting human life as the top priority at all times.”
2760 tilted his head to the right and downward for a long moment. Then looked to me. I shrugged and waved.
Another long moment passed. “Is it this human’s life that is a priority?”
“Negative, 2760. We are looking for a woman who has been down here for at least several weeks now. Human physiology is weak and cannot survive long on the M’s. If she is below the thirty-third level, she is in even more danger than before.”
“Then I shall help you. What is your designation?”
“My name is Ryca. Please call me that.”
“Your name? My designation is 2760. I am not aware that I have a name.”
“Can we just call you Twen?” I suggested, doing my best to ignore the foggy oblivion that felt tugging on my lizard brain’s biological fear sensors.
“Twen. Very well. Updating my device profile currently. Twen.” He sounded almost… satisfied.
I turned to Ryca. "All right, Ryca. Now that we’ve made a new friend, once again into the breach."
"No humans or humanoids are allowed below the 33rd level," Twen said, sounding like a cold machine again.
“Twen, you said you would help us,” Ryca said.
“I apologize. I don’t know why I said that.”
“Great, let’s go,” I said, waving at them to start descending.
“Sato, I am sorry, but I—” Ryca paused and then spoke in her cold, old voice. “this unit is unable to allow you to progress further downward.”
“This unit is unable to allow you to progress further downward.” Twen repeated the same notification. It seemed that what ever the LHD had done to both of them, it hadn’t erased their core programming or their loyalty to Secdroid Protocol Six.
I unstrapped the scaling pod from her back. "Fine. If you're too scared, stay here."
As it was, there was no need for her to travel further with me. There weren't likely to be security sensors beneath the 33rd level. After all, "no humans or humanoids are allowed beneath the..." blah-blah-blah, etc, etc, and all that was probably just rhetoric meant to scare people out of going down to level 34.
I strapped the scaling pod onto my back and then lifted my right leg up, to climb over the railing.
“This unit is unable to allow you to progress further downward,” Ryca said, with Twen, once again, repeating.
“But you both said, you’d help save this woman. I must go whether either of you do or not. You said I could do this, Ryca. Twen, you said you would help us. Stopping me here is the opposite.”
"You must not progress any further," Ryca said in her more human voice. I found it jarring in the moment.
“We cannot function if we allow you to go further, Ryca assistant human,” Twen said.
“Call me Sato.”
“Sato,” Twen said.
I simply shook my head and climbed over the railing.
I shrugged as I lowered myself over the edge so the scaling pod’s treads could melt into the wall and then cool and hold me there for a moment. That’s when I heard both of their “cold” voices say the same thing:
"This program has committed an illegal operation and will be terminated."
I craned my neck around and could see both of them looking over the railing at me, frozen. I called up to them but they didn’t respond. I really didn’t feel like it was a good use of my time going back up to find out what was going on with them. I decided that I should stay focused and keep to the plan.
I looked out in front of me. Just the open-air and the opposite side of the chasm a hundred, or so, meters away was all I could see. I felt a vague sense of worry for those two androids up there and for myself. I glanced down at the fog below and activated the pod's motors. I immediately began to descend downward and then into foggy darkness… alone.
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