Sabotage IV: Termination

<Recap: Watchtower and Fingers are two operatives who are using an exiled spy’s robotic companion to constantly monitor him. Unfortunately, the robot is built on a missile guidance system which is incredibly lethal and adaptive.>

Watchtower was woken from his fitful sleep by a very white and pale Fingers. Immediately, he knew it was trouble.

“It’s that robot, isn’t it?”

Watchtower waited for his blurry eyes to focus on the poor screen rendition of what had once been Bishop. The old man had been smashed in the head and his pillow appeared to be drenched in blood.

Fingers was restless and fidgety and absolutely incoherent.

“I swear I was just trying to make the thing move away from him! The damned firewall began to spout gibberish and started to corrupt the data, so I went back into the system and tried to clean it up but…”

“Fingers…”

“But the system override malfunctioned at the same time and then I was…”

“Fingers. Stop,” said Watchtower, now almost shaking the younger man back to sanity.

“I can’t Watchtower! I think I just killed the old man!”

“Calm down and tell me what happened.”

Fingers sighed deeply. He pushed his glasses up against his nose and then began his tale.

“So, after you fell asleep, I started watching some of the videos. It was mostly the usual stuff I expected. Him showing off his survival skills in the forest. How many birds he’d killed and eaten. The right way to hunt for one of the more edible species. Tree climbing 101 and suchlike.”

“That’s some seriously gruesome content, but go on.”

“Then, he started telling the robot about itself. About what are the things it first learned to do. How the new appendages were working and so on. The last few longs are basically about how to hack at trees, you know with knives and stuff.”

“Okay, and?”

“And Friend sort of began to move his arms. It sort of looked like he was imitating Bishop’s motion from the last video, because I’d played it. I got worried that I had inadvertently activated a routine, so I tried to go back into the system and then turn the damn thing off, or at least move it away from the old man, without blowing our cover. Friend’s security firewall suddenly locked me out. And when I was scrambling to uncover why, the visuals knocked out as well. The system came back online only after I’d stopped trying to access it, and then our visual trace opened up to show me this.”

Fingers sighed after he’d finished. There was a long pause while Watchtower’s mind was in overdrive. He wasn’t completely illiterate when it came to managing computers. Fingers looked tired and harassed. It was almost as if the guilt of having actually killing another person was wearing him down and he didn’t know how to manage it. Watchtower scrutinized him carefully. He wasn’t used to bloodshed. He wouldn’t be able to survive more than a few minutes in battle, unless he was behind an electronic device.

“Wait, there’s something I need to confirm for myself,” said Watchtower, leaning over the computer.

“You can have it,” said Fingers, pushing the keyboard away from him in some expression of revulsion and disgust. he didn’t know how he was going to explain his actions to anyone. It was obviously an accident, but with such a high-sensitivity target, who would believe that?

Watchtower considered the situation carefully. Even though they had managed to locate such a target, there had been no conclusive evidence that they would have been able to gather any information from this source anyway. Besides, most of Bishop’s data would have details about the war, foregone information that would work serve only to rile up tensions and serve as more fodder for conspiracy theorists and historians. What need had this generation for such tensions?

“Fingers….”

“I have no chance out of this, do I?” asked the younger man, face sick with guilt and with the thought of the inevitable consequences.

“Fingers, answer me this. Can you somehow retrieve the footage of the last few minutes before Bishop died?”

“What good will that do? I’m incriminated as I am.”

“Fingers, just trust me on this. Try to hack into it, one last time.”

Last time, he remembered, a robot like Friend would still have it’s underlying locomotive control managed by….

Fingers groaned and began to type furiously all over again. A wall of corrupted alphanumeric data blocked Fingers out.

Watchtower’s eyes widened as a calm, smooth voice recite…..

“Target assigned. Codename classification: Bishop. Status: Exiled. Location confirmed. Target confirmed. Mission completed.”

 
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Sabotage III: Suspicion

<Recap: Watchtower and Fingers are two operatives who are using an exiled spy’s robotic companion to constantly monitor him. Unfortunately, the robot is built on a missile guidance system which is incredibly lethal and adaptive.>

“I think he’s onto us,” said Watchtower, after the old man was asleep. He spoke in a hushed whisper, almost afraid that Bishop could hear him.

“There’s no way he could be,” replied Fingers in a flippant tone “And there’s no need for you to be so hushed up. We can hear him, but he can’t hear us.”

“Did you see the way he just stared at the robot the whole time? We saw it through the robot’s own eyes!”

“Just because he was looking doesn’t mean anything.”

“What if he built in a fail-safe or some form of intruder detection?”

“Tower, I have to stop you here. Did that poor old man look anything remotely like a spy?! He probably couldn’t even remember his own name!”

“Oh yeah? Then tell me why did he not choose to input any data files today? He probably suspected his Friend had been hacked into.”

“Tower, give the man a break. He has nothing to say. Nothing! What could you possibly have to say after living so many years by yourself in exile?!”

“I would have a lot to say if I was carrying so many state secrets that I had to be exiled!”

There was a momentary pause in the hostilities. The crickets in the forests had fallen silent.

Fingers tried a more diplomatic approach.

“Tower, do you really think that Bishop is capable of remembering memories from so long ago? He’s an old guy, and people forget things, you know? Especially old people.”

“Look, Fingers, I’m not asking you to find him and coerce information out of him. Just go through whatever content he’s stored inside his robot and then we can start with that.”

“You do realize that means keeping the robot up all night?”

“What? Robots don’t sleep.”

“This one does have a standby cycle programmed into it. And it will consume energy. Bishop will know if his toy’s batteries run out.” said Fingers, swiveling back to his keyboard and pulling up Friend’s encoding again. The translucent wash of code did not hide the old man sleeping peacefully underneath his blankets behind it.

“File repeat,” said Friend’s voice to itself once the humming loop was over.

Watchtower couldn’t help but jump a bit once he heard that voice again. After encountering that voice in several unpleasant contexts at the front lines, Watchtower had a conditioned adrenaline reflex to it. Fingers noticed his discomfort. You had to have survived some really nasty experiences if  voice was bad enough to frighten you. Watchtower was, by no means, an easily frightened person.

“Tell you what, Tower, I’ll go over all the data. You catch some sleep, yeah?”

“You’ll do that?”

“Yeah, I’ll be up all night.”

“I owe you coffee,” said Watchtower.

“Not a problem,” said Fingers, busy working on the encryption protocol. The code transformed before his very eyes. Fingers really enjoyed his job.

“Just…just be careful not to tinker with it too much, okay?”

“Don’t worry. I won’t.”

</to be continued/>

Sabotage II: Isolation

<Recap: Watchtower and Fingers are two operatives who are using an exiled spy’s robotic companion to constantly monitor him. Unfortunately, the robot is built on a missile guidance system which is incredibly lethal and adaptive.>

Bishop sat in the cozy chair he had once made for himself several years ago, and felt his withered fingers outline the scratches and marks he had made in the walls of his cabin. Solitary exile was not a thing for the weak. The incessant silence had a way of making memories come larger to life, of making random voices in his head sound louder than reality. It had come to a point when Bishop had realized that he was screaming and screaming to himself until his voice was hoarse and yet, the memories returned with a vengeance.

“Do you want a drink?” asked Friend’s smooth, calming voice. Miles away, Watchtower and Fingers stared at Bishop through Friend’s poorly pieced-together visualizer. Watchtower gripped his companion’s chair strongly as the pixels tried to gather themselves into the face of one of the most wanted fugitives of the last generation.

“Thank you, Friend,” said Bishop, accepting one from the Robot’s extended arm, blissfully unaware of two humans watching him via Friend’s visual scanners.

He watched reflectively as the machine bustled around the makeshift kitchen that he had put together. His entire residence was a tribute to the accumulated strength of several years of survival skills in the wild. Yet, the comfort of having another mobile presence in this void was so fulfilling. There was that one day when Friend’s vocal transmitters failed. Bishop remembered the dread he had felt during the night Friend was silent. That terrifying sense of being flung into the unfathomable depths of some inconceivable darkness, the sense of being lost in the void. The absolute, complete, and invulnerable sense of nihilism had driven Bishop to suicide many times over. For a man who was trained in self-survival, the task of trying to kill himself was a very rebellion against the essence of his being, and his physical conditioning forced those ventures to be a failure.

Terrible. Terrible. The silence had been screaming at his ears for long enough now. How many years had it been? His senile brain lost count.

Until he had found a Friend.

“You’re very quiet today,” said Friend, staying faithful to its programming and breaking the lull.

Bishop smiled paternally at the hideous conglomeration of metal and scrap goods that formed Friend’s face.  He wondered why, of all things, had he fashioned a powerful guidance system into a humanoid robot that was nothing more than a talking, functional toy. He knew why.

In that pitch black silence, in the height of his depravity, in the misery of his pain and terror, there had been a voice that had saved him.

“Warning: Central core disengaged”, it had said.

Bishop could have cried hearing another voice. It was a guidance missile, true. It could have been lethal, true. It could have been set on targeting him, true. But, for that one moment, Bishop had heard a humanoid voice that spoke a language he understood after a decade. He was not giving up on that. He was not letting go. And running away, was very possibly the last thought he had in his mind.

Exile wasn’t going to be so bad once he had a friend.

“Is everything all right?” asked the same voice that occupied his thoughts. Once the voice of a killer, now the voice of a friend.

“I’m fine,” said the usually garrulous old man.

“Do you want to record the events of today?”

Bishop laughed until his lungs gave up and he wheezed a bit. Recordings. He had stopped entering his logs and recording his memories a long time ago. Granted, the contents of his thoughts would have cost a human soul in the last generation. And in fact, they did. They cost many human souls. Those that lay on the cemetery. Those that manned the weapons. Those that mounted guidance systems on automated missiles. He had once known some of the most terrible scandals ever, some of the most closely guarded secrets of states and dignitaries and weapon systems.

But the silence had taken them all away. The primal human need for a person, just someone to hold, to regard, to speak to was more stronger than integrity.

It was after making several video logs and several diary entries that Bishop learned a new flavor of exile. Beyond the occasional tree he used to climb, or the random bird that he hunted or some mundane activity that he could manage besides daily housekeeping, he had nothing else to say. Now that he was too old to do or be anything, he felt reluctant to record. What possible content would it have?

One of the first things that Friend had learned to do was repeat the logs back to him. Bishop heard himself for a while, and then realized that the ennui was as terrible as the silence itself.

Where was death where you needed it? Had he truly spent all his life avoiding death so skillfully that he had escaped it forever?

Of course not! Bishop, you’re impatient even in your senility, he told himself and smiled at nothing in particular.

“I am unable to engage you in conversation, or keep you entertained. My repository of stories is limited and I cannot access any more amusement for you. You refuse to enter new content into me. Am I not functioning satisfactorily enough?” asked Friend.

Bishop avoided choking on his drink. Since when was Friend suffering an existential dilemma?

“Friend, you’re fine.” he said, clasping one of the hand-shaped appendages, all five fingers. Such a comfort to hold. The joy of feeling a presence through actual tactile response was a privilege that Bishop had been long-denied.

“Are you sure everything is okay?” repeated Friend, its eyes peering into Bishop’s closer than before.

“Yes, Friend. I’m just tired. An old man like me needs some of his quiet moments, no?”

Friend turned away and performed a superb imitation of sipping its own drink. Avoiding silent moments was the sole purpose of Friend’s existence. Yet, Friend had adapted to the increasing frequency of these needs as well. The adaptive system was genius, pure genius. Especially how it seemed to intuitively guess human wants.

Bishop regarded the robot with his weary eyes. He felt a rush of paternal affection. It was his own creation. His child. His caretaker. His companion. His Friend.

“Help me get to bed please, friend?” The robot obliged almost instantly. It’s flexible arms helped the old man out of his makeshift chair and provided him with the structural support he needed as he hobbled to his bed. Then, Friend covered him with a blanket and without a prompt, began to play a soft humming melody from it’s data reserves. It was a tune that Bishop himself had recorded several years ago, and then played it to himself every night. The audio file was labeled “Mother’s lullaby”.

</to be continued/>

Sabotage I: Malfunction

Prologue:

Target assigned.
Codename classification: Bishop
Status: Exiled.
Location confirmed.
Target confirmed.
Launch co-ordinates selected.
Departure confirmed.
Warning: Projectile trajectory deviation detected.
Warning: Central core disengaged. 
Warning: q2837687ASYD08uqgeW-a-arning————//////<system failure>///////

1.

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….”

“…containing?”

“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/>