The little vehicle was parked against the backdrop of the forest. Its two occupants had decided that it was a convenient location to avoid any stray electromagnetic radiation that could interfere with the fragility of their endeavor. It was located close enough to the town’s pizza outlet. Inside the little vehicle was a large array of impressive gadgetry, with two people huddling over. One was tall, and clearly uncomfortable at being confined in such a cramped space for so long. The other was younger, keener and perpetually clattering away the keyboard. For a moment, they had opened the windows of that stuffy car, in order to let some of the cool forest air enter in and drive out the semi-pervading odor of a little too many onion-garlic pizzas.
“Fingers, what’s happening?” asked Watchtower, impatiently.
There was the sound of staccato keyboard typing, and the occasional accompanying beeps from inside the surveillance vehicle. Watchtower had been a little awe of his partner when this project began. Fingers was barely a college graduate. It was only afterwards that Watchtower found out that Fingers had hacked into every high security website with uncanny ease. The government was tired of asking him to suppress information, and threats against him didn’t seem to work. So they hired him.
Watchtower watched Fingers’ fingers twitch over the keyboard in some form of ghost typing. In the dim blue reflected light, he mused a bit about the generation gap between himself and Fingers. Too many geniuses packed into an era, he wondered. Where was human evolution heading?
“Friend is making breakfast,” said Fingers, cheerfully. He swiveled around in his chair, flexing in the tiny vehicle. “Told you, Tower, there was no need to rush. Bishop is the human embodiment of predictability.”
“We can’t know that for sure.”
Fingers scoffed mildly and interlaced his long fingers at the back of his head. “Of course we can. He’s an old man, who’s lived in solitary exile for way too many decades.”
“Doesn’t make him any less dangerous.”
“Tower, come on. There’s no way he’s capable of anything. He’s so disconnected from the rest of humanity, he doesn’t even connect to the Internet. I mean, if it wasn’t for his robot, we wouldn’t have even known he still existed.”
“Who knows what else that thing is capable of? The damn thing was constructed from a missile guidance system.” asked Tower, philosophically.
Fingers scrambled a bit over his keyboard. A few rapid clicks later, Friend’s specifications illuminated their faces.
“Hmmm…..the robot seems to share the same operating core as the old missile guidance systems. Obviously, Bishop’s heavily modified it. But most of the functionality is still managed by the guidance AI…..The physical appendages seemed to be comprised of a miscellaneous collection of metallic junk….”
“Metallic junk can be quite dangerous in the hands of a veteran spy. Especially when it’s in the hand of a missile guidance systems. I mean, Fingers, you were probably just a kid then, but those guidance systems were…. ”
Memories of gunshots. Haste, evasion, capture. Human attackers would at least stop for a moment and recuperate. A small defect that was easily countered by using automated systems. That was how Watchtower had earned his name. He used to stay out and snipe the machines down, one by one. Careful. Precise. He didn’t need to waste an entire magazine emptying bullets like torrents on the enemy, watching their blood spatter on the faces of the fallen…..
“….Were?” prompted Fingers, interrupting Watchtower’s memories.
Then a generation of geniuses came along, and decided that having merely automated killing machines wasn’t good enough. So, they made them adaptive automated machines. Let’s teach our machines how to kill ourselves better. Watchtower still got goosebumps from hearing the voice of those guidance systems. Cold smooth, calming metal voices, zoning in on their position with less than 0.000001% error. Target assigned. Target confirmed.
“…were homicidal AI’s,” finished Watchtower, shrugging his shoulders in an instinctive attempt to get the memory of that voice out of his head.
There was an awkward silence between them, while Watchtower wondered why in the world would anyone want to design a companion out of that. You needed to be a some level of desperation to be able to truly have the voice that haunted the entire generation live with you. The same voice that coldly, ruthlessly drove missiles into people was now telling a spy like Bishop how he should live his life?
“Oh come on, really?! Friend is the kind of thing a high school kid designs for a class project! The AI is older than Bishop himself!”
Watchtower didn’t buy it. He stayed quiet for a while, as Friend’s encoding flashed across the screen. What could Bishop be doing with that guidance system? Was he planning a secret attack somewhere? Was he outfitting the system for something nastier? An assassination, maybe?
The “Friend” had once tried to access it’s sub-networks to search for replacement parts as it was a model designed to optimize it’s own functioning. It’s specifications were now outdated, and if Fingers hadn’t particularly been scanning for it, he wouldn’t have found them. Within two seconds of the AI accessing the Internet, Fingers had jumped on its IP and after several traces, located Bishop as an unexpected surprise.
The authorities had been after Bishop ever since he was recorded as missing from exile. If they known at least a decade earlier that one of the AI had joined forces with him, they would have sent an entire army instead of two operatives. But now times had changed. An old exiled spy in possession of an even older failed machine did not represent an alarming threat. Hence Fingers and Tower were assigned to full surveillance, knowing that their heads would be on the line if they summoned the cavalry without probable cause.
Fingers didn’t ask before he looked past Friend’s basic shell encoding, and crept into Friend’s inner database. They watched the seemingly endless stream of code. Random segments of alphanumeric characters that comprised Friend, and his machine psychology.
“Whoa, wait. What was that?” asked Tower, pausing the stream with a tap on the keyboard.
“What?” asked Fingers, already crawling his own over the keyboard, identifying the selection by syntax and keywords.
“That bit of code. Is that a…..is that a…..”
“Memory module. Yeah. Tons of encrypted files overwriting the geographical data the original guidance system used to have. See, the very fact that we can access it means that some of it’s former security has been disabled.”
Watchtower wasn’t quite convinced. It could be a lure. The old guidance system used to do that too, in order to fool the intruders that they had taken control of the projectile, until it backfired on them.
“Wait, so he’s replacing the geographical data? Why?”
“He’s storing some form of date log in them. It’s chronologically structured, and it’s….voluminous. Since the geographical data hasn’t been in use ever since the system hardware was replaced, the operating system is pushing all this new data over the old ones. ”
Fingers scrolled ahead.
“The hardware additions are designed to manage kitchen utensils and the like. Friend’s so harmless, Tower!” He sounded as though he was justifying for the robot himself.
“What kind of data?” asked Watchtower, unable to suppress his paranoia.
“Um, mostly entered texts, some videos, and audio recordings….”
“They’re largely about himself, I presume. If I didn’t know any better, I would guess that it’s some form of his personal diary.”
“HE STORES HIS SECRETS?!”
“I guess. Lonely man like him is probably gonna talk. Friend seems to be designed for the sole purpose of being a….friend, really.”
Watchtower felt a bit confused at this discovery. Bishop had, in all these years, forged a personal companion from a formidable targeting system, and was now using it as an extended repository of memories? He was a fool to believe such a thing could be true. No, no. Now that they had identified his location and they knew where he existed, it was evident that they hack into it and try to find out more about what information Bishop had stored.
“Why can’t you just break in and confirm if the data’s about him? What if it’s about sealed government records or something?”
Fingers’ long fingers twitched over the keyboard. For once he hesitated.
“Um, Tower, I don’t know how to break this to you, but since he’s started modifying it so heavily, the original operating system doesn’t organize it as it used to. All this overriding information is dispersed all over the kernel of the guidance system.”
“So, you’re saying that we would have to rewrite some of the protocols that the original guidance system used to have?”
“Um….I sincerely hope not, but we might have to. You know what they say about AI’s that have been hacked into, right?”
“They go corrupt and homicidal?”
“Right. And those that are homicidal to begin with? They just get worse.”
“So, you can’t do it?”
“Of course I can,” Fingers scoffed. “I just wanted to let you know what the consequences were.”
“Fingers, I haven’t come where I am today without taking a few risks,” said Watchtower, sounding braver than he felt.
Fingers was smart enough not to fall for it. Or maybe it was the way Watchtower’s face flinched as Fingers peeled past the guidance system’s code.
“Whatever you say,” said Fingers, and began to edit the code.
</to be continued/>