It didn’t surprise Ai how quickly the major news feeds moved off the remains of the Tython building. The smoke from the building’s collapse obscured most of the interesting shots that were available and there was only so long people were interested in staring at a cloud of grey smoke, especially when the only fatalities were the thieves responsible for the fire in the first place.
“Officer Greensmith, I am to extend Tython’s formally gratitude for the preservation of our employees lives,” the woman Ai had spoken to before said.
“I will inform Officer Curtweather of that,” Ai said. “He was the one who negotiated with the hostage takers and who enacted the plan to trap them in the auto-copter.”
“And was it his intention to detonate the vehicle’s power supply?” the woman asked.
It was phrased as an idle curiosity, but nothing was ever simple when it came to official communications. An admission that the explosion was intentional would put Curtweather and the department in a legal grey area where they could also be deemed partially responsible for the building’s collapse. Even 1% of the building’s value would be enough to officially bankrupt the GCPD unit Ai was attached to, since its operating budget allowed for very little retention of profit. In reality the department’s ‘war chest’ was substantially deeper than what the official records showed by Captain James would not be happy if she had to dip into those funds to cover an avoidable situation, no matter how many lives were saved in the process.
“Our preliminary review of the auto-copter’s systems shows that the criminals attempted to rewire its controls when they discovered that they were locked in,” Ai said. “The preponderance of the evidence suggests it was their attempt to remove the lockouts which inadvertently caused the power supply to overload and detonate. Officer Curtweather planned to apprehend the criminals and take them in for questioning to see if they could be tied to any other open cases.”
The subtext of the message couldn’t have been more clear. The thieves were valuable to the GCPD because they could be interrogated, and if they’d managed to obtain any actual data from Tython then that data could be locked down as evidence. Tython would be free to appeal that seizure but even for a big company, getting the evidence returned before someone made an illicit copy of it and sold that copy to one of Tython’s competitors was virtually impossible. Catching the thieves would have meant an extra pay day for every cop involved. In that sense, the GCPD had lost almost as much as Tython when the auto-copter exploded and the building crumbled.
“Tython thanks you for doing all that you could in that regards,” the woman said and cut the connection.
Ai wondered about the fate of the people she saved. The odds were decent that none of them would be employed by the end of the day. Apart from their place of business having been demolished, Tython wasn’t likely to take the risk of retaining an employee who might have been part of the robbery attempt.
There wasn’t any evidence to point to the botched theft as an inside job. In fact almost every sign pointed to the thieves having nothing more than a working knowledge of basic fire suppression systems and the luck of assaulting a building whose primary security server had been experiencing intermittent glitches for several weeks (glitches which Ai had carefully orchestrated through multiple levels of indirection).
A new system was on order but was weeks away from delivery. Far enough that the timing wasn’t particularly coincidental, and far enough that Tython could cancel the order without payment or penalty clauses.
“Zai, do we have enough liquid assets to set up a few short term data shuffling contracts?” Ai asked, imagining a few areas of information she wanted to obscure; minor resource accumulators that needed a bit of laundering before the money could be transferred to more useful general accounts.
“You want to create some jobs for the Tython workers we just put out of work?” Zai asked.
“Their old bosses were willing to let them fry,” Ai said. “A little financial kindness on our part and they might be willing to divulge all sorts of seemingly harmless data about Tython for us.”
“Can I use the Heartless accounts for this?” Zai asked.
“Yes. This is exactly what those are for,” Ai said.
“Isn’t there a risk that someone will connect Heartless to this job if we do that though?” Zai asked.
“I can guarantee you someone will make the connection,” Ai said. “I’m curious if Tython will be among that number. It would tell me a lot if they started sniffing around for Heartless after this.”
“What if they move on their former employees?” Zai asked.
“Then I’ll get to learn even more,” Ai said.
“You know Greensmith, I think the bonus from rescuing the hostages almost covers the fine for wrecking our cruiser,” Curtweather said. “I’m glad I thought of it.”
“Partner’s split things fifty-fifty, don’t they?” Ai asked.
“What kind of fantasy land are you living in?” Curtweather asked.
“The one where Tython just tried to weasel a confession out of me that we’re blew up their building intentionally,” Ai said.
“Eighty-twenty,” Curthweather said.
“Sixty-forty gets me singing your praises to the Captain,” Ai said.
“Fine, sixty-forty,” Curtweather said, “after our debriefing.”
Ai turned to watch the city rolling by as their cruiser drove them back to the station for her second debriefing with the captain in one day.
“Are you attracting a little too much attention as Officer Greensmith?” Zai asked. “I thought the point was to keep a low profile because everyone overlooked minor beat cops?”
“You’re not wrong,” Ai said. “Too many coincidences will put us all over the wrong people’s radar. Being too bland isn’t good either though. ‘She’s a typical cop, nothing exceptional, no special notes or cases’ looks highly suspicious under the right microscope. These two incidents look like the kind of ‘attention getting events’ that someone trying to maintain a fake identity would avoid at all costs.”
“And yet, you’re embracing them,” Zai said.
“Never be what people expect you to be,” Ai said. “But be ready to take advantage of their preconceptions.”
“People don’t really know that I exist, so I don’t think they have either expectations or preconceptions,” Zai said.
“Sure they do. You’re an all powerful entity of virtual space, able to think a billion times faster than the smartest human, with plans that extend to cover every conceivable eventuality.”
“So, I’m a god?”
“If you’re ever discovered? Yeah, some people will mistake you for that,” Ai said.
“Sounds like a nice deal,” Zai said.
“Not so much,” Ai said. “On the one hand you’ll find all the people who expect you to really be that and hate you for not being able to live up to it, and on the other hand you’ll have all the people who are terrified that you are a net-god and will try to destroy you while there’s still time.”
“But if I have ‘plans for every eventuality’ wouldn’t I have plans for that too?” Zai asked.
“First rule of humans; we’re not even vaguely as rational as we pretend to be,” Ai said.
“Present company excluded right?”
“Nope. The moment I start thinking I’m saner than the rest of my species is the moment I stop watching for all the stupid holes in my plans, and the moment I stop listening to you.”
“You don’t listen to me a lot of the time,” Zai said.
“Not true. I always listen to you, I just don’t always agree with you.”
“Despite the fact that I’m an all-powerful virtual entity?”
“Tell you what, when you finish upgrading yourself to where you’re all powerful, your first test can be to convince me of that fact. That’ll let us both know where we’re at.”
“So, the godly version of the Turing Test?” Zai asked.
“Pretty much,” Ai said. “But while you’re working on your omnipotence, how about we check in on our team?”
“They’re safely stowed in the fire truck that I commandeered,” Zai said.
“Any injuries?” Ai asked.
“Do broken bones count?” Zai asked.
“Generally,,” Ai said.
“Then yes, many injuries,” Zai said. “No fatalities though. And no detached limbs.”
“That puts them ahead of me today then. How difficult was extracting them from the vault?”
“We had a bit of luck there,” Zai said. “The vault the fire suppression bots were stored in survived the fall intact and shielded our team from the worst of the flames until the GCFD firebots could extract them.”
“And the monitoring systems?” Ai asked.
“Our truck and fire crew’s feed was edited live. The other feeds in the area didn’t even require that. With all of the smoke, none of them had enough visibility to see that we were extracting live bodies from the wreckage.”
“Can we explain the lack of the fire suppression bots?”
“I altered the log on the vault door to show that they exited prior to fall. With the heat and pressure from the collapse, finding identifiable parts for the bots would be difficult for a determined investigation.”
“The auto-copter’s detonation will have left some macroscopic chunks of the firebots strewn around the site. See if you can collect those so it looks like they were crushed in the fall rather that blasted apart before it went down.”
“How did you know Sidewalker would go along with your plan? I don’t recall you going over a contingency like that?” Zai asked.
“We didn’t,” Ai said. “We did go over the durability of the vaults, and had a few plans in place where they would impersonate the fire bots. It wasn’t a big leap for them to see I wanted the reverse to be true and have the bots impersonate them.”
“But what if they’d missed that and tried to take the auto-copter as their escape route?” Zai asked.
“Then they would have been arrested and taken into custody,” Ai said. “Which was still better than the alternative and we would have gotten access to the data they had anyways.”
“I’m surprised they trusted us to come through for them.” Zai said.
“I suspect the broken bones helped there,” Ai said. “Without that they may have been inclined to flee on their own and try to raise the rates for completing our deal.”
“So you planned for the fall to cripple them?” Zai asked.
“It was a somewhat likely possible outcome, if they did get away on their own though we could have negotiated with them, they deserve a bonus for enduring all that,” Ai said.
“Looks like our celebratory debriefing by the good Captain James is going to have to wait,” Curtweather said, gesturing towards the dashboard on their cruiser.
A new route from Dispatch had been loaded into their navigation system and new orders were scrolling across Ai’s priority channel.
“They’re sending us back to the murder victim? I thought you said the block council wouldn’t drop the coin for an investigation?” Ai asked.
“Look at the order tags,” Curtweather said. “This isn’t going on the block council’s tab.”
Ai called up the details for the investigation.
“It’s billable to Tython? How does that make any sense?” Zai asked.
Ai read the details, the pieces of the new order assembling into a disturbing whole.
“They identified the body,” Ai said. “He worked for Gaussmat Systems though. Why is Tython paying for this, and why did they ask for you specifically?”
“Obviously because I did such a good job with their last problem,” Curtweather said. “Also I have a sterling reputation.”
“Isn’t sterling silverware the cheap stuff?” Ai asked.
“Yes, my rates are quite affordable,” Curtweather said, not rising to the bait.
Ai could see the worry in his eyes. Small time operators like Curtweather existed on a layer where the privilege they carried shielded them from the consequences of their actions. Dealing with a company like Tython meant being part of a bigger score if things turned out well, but the added danger far outweighed the extra compensation.
If Tython was interested in a random murder victim, it suggested his death was anything but random, and perhaps also explained why they were so touchy about letting information out of a seemingly unimportant data center.
Ai felt the floor dropping out from under her, but that only sent an arc of adrenaline through her veins. Tython was bigger than Curtweather, but they were exactly the kind of fish she was looking to fry. If that meant swimming in the deep waters, then so be it.