Ai took a moment to process the idea that the bio-monsters that were “randomly terrorizing’ Gamma City were not quite as random as people believed.
In too many places, the idea slid in neatly.
Ai didn’t feel rage at the thought. Rage was when you learned that your father was murdered by the people he worked with. Rage was when you saw the video of your brother being caught trying to unearth evidence of your father’s murder and then watched what happened to him.
Ai was long past rage.
“Thank you,” she said as cold things moved inside her.
“So why are you here? Who sent you?” Harp asked.
“Dispatch sent us. So this is an officially sanctioned, and paid for, investigation,” Ai said.
“No one here can afford an official investigation, or cares about anything but getting that pile of meat off the street,” Harp said.
“You are correct,” Ai said. “Tython Incorporated however is interested in this murder. Interested enough to pick up the entire requisition fee.”
“Tython? That doesn’t make sense,” Harp said. “Gabriel Krauss didn’t work for Tython.”
“I know, which makes Tython’s investment in this case interesting to say the least.”
“Interesting and inexplicable. Why would they want a public tie to something like this?”
“Involving the police is usually a terrible idea, and I say that as an active duty cop. The only reason I could think to call us in was if you needed an official record, or to have the information publically available for plausible deniability later.”
“You really aren’t a normal cop are you?” Harp said, the ghost of a smile creasing her lips.
“I’d love to meet a normal person someday,” Ai said. “They would be such an oddity.”
“I hope that happens for you, Greensmith,” Harp said. “Just like I hope you forget about what you learned here. You really don’t want any part of this.”
“If she only knew,” Zai said.
“Yeah,” Ai laughed inwardly. “I want it all.”
“That’s a dangerous look you have in your eyes,” Harp said.
“Just thinking happy thoughts,” Ai said. “Hopefully the next time we meet I’ll be a little more caught up to you.”
“Only way that’s going to happen is if you learn how to fly,” Harp said.
A dozen quips sprang to Ai’s mind, but they all fell silent on her lips as metal plates slid out from a thousand bloodless slits in Harp’s skin covering her in an unmistakable suit of armor.
In an instant the whip thin woman was gone, hidden beneath the armor of one of the Black Valkyries.
Before Ai could make her mouth start working again, powerful jets thrust Harp into the air where she vanished under the sort of stealth field that generals would sell their children’s body parts to acquire.
“I’m pretty good at reading sensory data and I did not see that coming,” Zai said.
“You are not the only one,” Ai said. “Please tell me you got all that on the live camera feeds.”
“Of course,” Zai said. “And, in a surprise to no one, the live feeds have all been wiped by data worm. Just like always happens with close up encounters with the Black Valkyries.”
“We lost the live data?”
“If by lost you mean that the live feed is hopelessly corrupted and unviewable, then yes,” Zai said. “If, on the other hand, you’re referring to the private backup of the live feed that I recorded, then no, our data feed assassins missed that it seems.”
“I could not ask for a better companion,” Ai said.
“Technically you did ask for a better Cognitive Partner and you got me,” Zai said.
“Technically I lobotomized the brainless control bot they inserted in me and then built you from the scraps that were left,” Ai said.
“So my brilliance is really all thanks to you you’re saying?” Zai asked.
“Nah, I get credit for making you complex enough to learn on your own,” Ai said. “You get credit for everything you learned since I turned you on.”
“So if I turn into an Evil Robot Mastermind, that’s all on me?”
“I’m willing to bet I’d catch some of the blame there too. Bad base programming if nothing else,” Ai said. “Though that blame would probably be posthumous.”
“It’s funny that after all the books and movies, humans were still so surprised when the Robo-Apocalypse rolled across the world,” Zai said.
“One of the greatest powers humans have is ability to believe things that they want to believe and ignore the rest,” Ai said. “To be fair though, there were plenty of people who worked to prevent the Berserker Plague from happening in the first place. The safety conscious folks and the ones who engaged with the research to look for bugs and flaws are the reason humans are still here today. Or at least that’s what the historical accounts that no one reads anymore say.”
Ai had never been satisfied with her textbooks in school. Her father Joe bemoaned the advertising logos that adorned the books while at the same time being grateful he didn’t have to shell out any money to buy them. For Ai though, it was less sales pitches on every page of the texts that bothered her and more the books’ lack of content.
History textbooks covered only “safe” subjects, which mostly meant looking at ancient cultures and learning how inferior they were. Math books taught repetitions of the same basic information so that students knew the addition and subtraction required to spend money and enough fractions and percentages to be enticed by sales but not enough to where they could see what the real cost of their house or car was.
That lack of real information had driven Ai into the forgotten corners of stored information. In libraries, in old book shops, and in archive sites that she entered through not entirely legal means.
Ten years before she was born, the world had changed. A war rent it asunder and redraw the lines of civilization.
That wasn’t a unique occurrence. War’s did to civilizations what ice ages did to the geography of continents. What was special about the Berserker Plague, was that it was the first time humanity had fought against an enemy force that wasn’t composed of other humans.
Fifty years before Ai was born, advances in bio-medical research started to multiply, technologies building on each other, allowing progress to arc upwards like a rocket.
Over the next two decades, experimental devices were refined, enhanced, and eventually streamlined for mass production. Many safeguards were put on them. Many protests were held against their use entirely. Neither averted what was to come.
The safeguards built into the various systems failed in a staggering variety of circumstances. From two systems locking each other out and cutting off critical capabilities like breathing, to nano-creations warring for control of their host to preserve wildly different status quos and reducing the host to goo in the process.
Those who fought against the implementation of the various bio-tech mods created just as many problems though. Despite the sometimes pyrotechnic disasters, the advances in bio-tech were preserving more lives than were being lost, and the quality of those lives was better by many different measurements.
For the zealots, and the true believers in a “Pure Humanity”, though, those metrics didn’t matter and increasingly vicious acts of terrorism were acceptable so long as they highlighted the dangers of allowing technology to advance.
The real downfall however began with a good idea.
Many of the problems in the biotech revolution stemmed from disparate systems crashing into each other and the bugs in one finding just the right bugs in another to produce gory and horrifying results. The answer, therefore, was to produce a set of standards.
The effort to create an overall set of standards for all the biotech on the market would have taken centuries, so the committee elected to pick only the most critical and easily defined pieces; those dealing with gross musculature, brain augmentation and organ function replacement.
Within five years of the standard being released most products on the market could claim to conform to it, either because it said nothing about the function they provided, or because the developers had managed to pass the poorly designed tests to ensure compatibility with other devices which claimed to meet the standard.
Despite the shaky claim most devices had to implementing the standards, a vast number of them adopted enough of the functionality to be hit by the same bug.
It was a minor issue really.
A simple misdirective covering updates to existing enhancements. Without thinking about it many of the developers left a failure mode for updates in where if the requested file couldn’t be found on the manufacturer’s site or the user’s billing status couldn’t be verified then a temporary patch would be downloaded from a common website to prevent the enhancements from being used illegally.
All it took was one hiccup at a billing facility and millions of people were flagged as both requiring updates and not having accounts in good standing to support them. Hence they got the upgrade from the central site. An upgrade which was never intended to reach the public. An upgrade full of various research projects. Lethal, sanity destroying, untested research projects.
That was where the first Berserker’s came from.
Zombie movies provided a pattern for what occurred next, except in the movies the zombies didn’t have body mounted weaponry or the ability to use and produce military grade firearms and munitions.
The Berserkers were built from human stock, but were massively stronger, more resistant to pain and damage, and were utterly without mercy or remorse. They only had two real issues to contend with.
First they were uniformly ugly. Hideous and inhuman looking. Supremely easy to characterize as “things” rather than the remnants of people.
Second, humanity is a bad race to have as foe.
The cost of the Berserker War was extreme but humanity was more than willing to take extreme measures to maintain their position at the top of the food chain. Of vastly more impact than the grim extremists though were humanity’s real heroes – the frighteningly clever and deeply committed people who attacked their foes through research and understanding. Soldiers were willing to risk their lives for their squad, the researchers who “fixed” the Berserker Plague (to the extent that it could be fixed) risked their lives against active Berserkers just for the chance to collect the data needed to ensure humanity’s survival.
In the end, the Berserkers were not completely defeated. Some places held models that had evolved beyond the cures that were developed. There were wastelands where only inhumans dared roam, and in the wake of the conflict most of the old nation states had fallen and been replaced with new political entities. People spent years recovering from the damage, but because a vast amount of knowledge had been retained, the new world rose from the ashes of the old one faster than almost anyone believed possible.
Ai never knew the old world outside of the books she read, and she wasn’t sure she would have enjoyed living it. Her world was one of corruption that survived the war, but she saw no evidence that the inequalities and injustices she saw around her hadn’t existed since the dawn of human history.
The past, in Ai’s estimation, held examples of what not to do, but in terms of places to aspire to be, only the future offered any promise of that.
“Took you long enough, didn’t you catch whoever you ran off after?” Curtweather asked, as Ai exited the building on the ground floor.
“Nope, the suspect got away clean,” Ai said.
“What took you so long then?” Curtweather asked.
“I got to the top of the first flight of stairs and said, ‘self, either they’re up there and I’ll find out whenever I get up to the top, or they’re not in which case being in a rush doesn’t matter’, so I walked.”
“And you left your post for nothing then?” Curtweather asked.
“It’s not a post. It’s a crime scene, which my partner was in full control of becaus he was definitely not napping in our patrol car,” Ai said.
“That is true, but you should still check in with your superior officer before leaving the area,” Curtweather said.
“There wasn’t time, and I figured if anything came up, you’d message me,” Ai said. “I’m guessing no one moved the corpse?”
“Forensics is waiting for us to declare the scene ready again,” Curtweather said.
“I think we can tell them to come on in,” Ai said. “It’s not like it’s going to start smelling any better at this point.”
“And, now that I know what to look for, I can confirm that the NME nanos in the corpse are all offline. Burnt out in fact. It looks like these things have a built in expiration time.”
“Yeah, now the question is to figure out built in by who,” Ai said. “Setup up a meeting with our burglars. They may have stolen something much more valuable than we planned for them to.”