Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gideon's Chip, Part Thirteen


Gideon's Chip, Part Thirteen

***

   Dr. Singapore laid back in his pool chair, one hand coming to rest next to
his mixed drink and the other on the thigh of the young blonde woman who sat
with him. He smiled at me as I tried to keep our conversation on track, but I
gave up as I caught his gaze skipping from nearby female to nearby female. I
threw the chip in his lap.
   "So this is it," he said.
   I nodded.
   With a practiced motion, he parted the wet hair on one side of his skull
and found a plastic socket in the flesh there. He popped the chip in and his
eyes, previously devilish, became blank as he lost himself in an inner world
of bits and bytes.
   My wristplugs itched and I rubbed them absently. Lily, who had refused to
have implants of any kind because of her esoteric Eastern philosophies,
tensed beside me. The sight of man interfacing with machine often had just
these kinds of effects on the watcher. It made for interesting thesis papers
for today's psychology undergraduates.
   Although my bodyguard was not cybered in a patio full of corporate type
people who were, I was not worried. Lily did not reject technology, just
having it sunk into one's skin. In fact, she had nearly caused the scanner
gate at the front door to overload. We both smiled at the attendant as we
continued on...
   Lily had a parasol. Not an umbrella, but an honest to goodness parasol. It
was just like something you might find a video clip about the Victorian Age
and I have to say, it matched the rest of her outfit perfect. A prim and
proper lady of years past would have been shocked to learn of all the
hardware that had been crammed into this accoutrement, however.
   The tip of each of the vanes held tiny sensors which were constantly
gulping in tiny samples of air and checking them for any unusual gases. The
fabric itself was supposed to be bulletproof, although I still had my doubts.
The spike at the top of the parasol was a one-shot taser and part of the
grip, when twisted just so, popped off into your hand so that you could throw
it before all the explosives packed into went off.
   And hidden in the lace at the wrists of Lily's close-fitting blouse were
thin metal spikes that would suddenly protrude if she bent her arms in the
right way. She demonstrated their use at my apartment and I have to say I was
surprised at just how long they were. There were similar devices in her
shoes. Tucked into the faux orchid corsage was another grenade, but this one
would just deliver a powerful, hopefully blinding flash of light when it went
off. Even her necklace was a hidden weapon: when the pearls next to the clasp
were crushed, they released a solvent. That liquid would dissolve the rest of
the string and a heavy-duty sleep gas would rise up out of the mess.
   Lily even had a gun in her purse. That was for emergencies.
   The vixen on Dr. Singapore's lap rubbed his bare chest as he evaluated my
data. I have to confess I did not expect to find nubile young women fawning
over a rogue bio-engineer, put the current woman was part of a kind of
changing of the guard that had happened as Lily and I arrived and many of the
opposite sex who walked by gave him admiring glances. As I said, the good
doctor returned them.
   Lily and I frowned at each other for the few minutes that Dr. Singapore
was absorbed in my chip. While I sighed and tried not to stare at the
bikini-clad female in front of me, my bodyguard scanned the pool-side crowd
around us.
   The Dr. Singapore was back. He pulled the chip out of his interface socket
and tossed it back. After a quick caresses for his lovely, he asked, "So what
is that?"
   "You're supposed to tell me," I countered.
   "Well, you said it was some kind of background research on cloning,
right?"
   "Yes."
   "It's not. It has nothing to do with cloning at all, really."
   I was getting used to being on the business end of thrown curve balls and
so I dodged this one adeptly. My mouth only hung open for half a second
before I said, "Then what is it?"
   "I'm not exactly sure." He paused. "It had something to do with DNA
sequencing, but the end result is not supposed to be replication. There are
reports on the analysis of chemicals designed for cellular regeneration.
Hints about a way to use messenger RNA to rebuild genes that have suffered
damage. Something about brain chemistry and procedures to regrow and restore
damaged neurons. That kind of thing. And it doesn't look like experimental
data, either. This stuff is ready to be put into use."
   I tapped the chip against my hand. "Well, if it's not about cloning, then
what is it about?"
   Dr. Singapore frowned and the blonde pressed herself into him as a result.
"Without taking more time to look at what you have there, I'd saying someone
has discovered the fountain of youth."
   That curve ball hit me.

***

   The red light of a neon sign came in regular, blinking waves. It found
Lily where she slept, one bare arm thrown across her eyes, and colored her
pale skin. My deck's display glowed ruddy because of it as great gouts of
machine code flowed down it. The apartment was still and silent, save for the
near constant clicking of my work at the keyboard.
   I spent hours writing and editing a custom program. When I finished, I
slept.

   The morning was hushed, bright, and expectant. It was waiting for me to
rise before sparked the rest of the world to life and just as I opened my
eyes, it allowed a low river of noise to rise into the apartment. I sat up.
   Lily smiled at me from her exercises. I smiled back, flattening a rogue
strand of hair.
   We ate breakfast together in an easy silence, a quiet like a bond between
us rather than a barrier. Lily readied the dishes for washing while I doubled
checked my work from before and made certain everything was in place. I
powered up my deck, examining the new solders.
   "Okay," I said to the room.
   "Ready?" Lily asked, knowing that I was.
   I nodded and sat. She sat beside me.
   I took took my plugs, inserted them into their sockets, and then with a
grin for my bodyguard, hit the key that took me into the Net. Immediately,
the day was eclipsed by an incongruous electronic night and I was falling
toward stars. No, not stars - lights. Then the lights became individual icons
as a homing program in my deck sped me to the address I had entered before
the run.
   The Node was as I remembered. A Code Gate scanned my deck's
indentification number, then swung wide. I walked into the virtual wall and
was absorbed into someone's idea of Wonderland. I smelled lilacs again.
   "Charles," I called out, scanning the artificial landscape for the AI.
Nothing. I tried again and the breeze shifted. Then my deck whispered that
someone was coming. Charles, still cast as the Mad Hatter, materialized
beside me.
   "Tom!" He clapped me on the back.
   "Hello, Charles."
   "You're back already."
   I nodded gravely. He frowned, asking, "What's wrong? Did you get it?"
   "I did. But its not what we thought it was." Having said it, I let out a
breath I had been holding.
   "What?"
   "It's not cloning data. Nothing like that. I don't think it will help
you."
   The Mad Hatter snarled. "You're trying to trick me."
   "No. No, I'm not." I drew out a representation of the data, a thick bar of
orange light, and held out for Charles. He snatched it away from me, then his
ICON flickered for half a second while he read it.
   "This is a trick! This is not it!"
   I wanted to step backwards. I did not. "Listen to me, Charles. Listen.
This isn't a trick. I don't know what's going on here, but its obvious the
story about the chip containing information on cloning was just a cover. I'm
sorry."
   "No!" he cried. "This isn't it!" His hands clenched into fists.
   I shook my head. "I'm going to leave now." I started to do just that.
   He must have felt the added resistance when he first began to manipulate
might autonomic responses because his face, already contorted in anger,
became a deeper shade of red. His eyes darkened into points of coal.
   I did not feel the effects immediately. With a few keystrokes, I called up
an Icebreaker to begin working on the walls of my prison. Then my heart
twinged. My breathing seemed, clouded through my interface with this unreal
world, to suddenly become labored.
   Lily would be injecting me with a powerful depressant about now.
   My code ate at the programs and hardware of Wonderland as the iron harness
about my lungs tightened. I was aware of a stabbing pain in my head and the
bio-montiors in my deck crept toward the red line. It hurt.
   I took that step backward. "Don't do this," I whispered.
   Charles' mock face had once again taken on monstrous proportions. It was
impossible to read any subtle hints there because the whole thing had become
a caricature of rage. He shook his fist at me. "I want the real data! Now!
You get it for me!"
   "Stop!" I cried in warning. The stress on my system had pushed the
monitors into the danger zone. I could feel it without checking. And I knew
if not for the extra buffers built into my deck and the drugs Lily was
administering in the real world, I would be dead.
   "You! Get! The! Data! For! Me!"
   When my vision swam, a tendril of thought directed my hand to reach for
another key. I hesitated. Then hit it. I hurt, fire raced through my lungs,
as another program unarchived itself and launched.
   Moths, cobbled bits of colored light with wings, detached themselves by
the hundred from my ICON. They poured out from my outstretched hands, fell
from my clothing, and struggled up from my hair. They hung as a swarm for a
moment in the air, floating with the scent of lilacs, then descended on
Charles.
   The Mad Hatter disappeared under a haze of pixels.
   I knew what was happening, although I could not focus enough to see it. My
deck woudl record all relevant data, however. The moths were not mere
insects, but instead tiny bits of programming code. Each one located the
running program with the parameters I had built into them and then sought to
ingrate themselves into it. In essence, they were trying to enter the machine
code that made up Charles.
   But a piece of work as sophisticated as the AI would not just allow that
to happen. I realized this and so innovated. Instead of simply trying to
trick Charles' master sequences into absorbing them, the moths masqueraded as
sensory information and clustered near the routines that made up the eyes and
ears of the program. Because these routines were designed to accept data from
outside sources on a regular and steady basis, destruction was able to pour
in through those channels.
   Each little program had one function once it had entered the morass of
machine code that was Charles: seek out the master sequences and offer up a
question. Every tiny moth clamored for attention, asking for the result of
one divided by zero. At some point, AI would have to try and formulate an
answer.
   One error has plagued computers since their inception: the divide by zero
error. When any number is divided by zero, the answer is a set of all
possible numbers. Infinity, basically. A machine, no matter how fast, cannot
spit out every number that exists. But it has to try and it inevitably
crashes doing so.
   And so during the invasion of my moths, Charles' very nature rose up and
destroyed him. I watched as best I was able.
   After half a minute, the pressure in my lungs lessened. The pain began to
fade away. Then it was all gone. I could see and function normally, the
indicators on my bio-monitors plummeting as the destructive outside influence
disappeared.
   Their work done, the moths disintegrated. The Mad Hatter was left standing
in the grass, halfway to the pond, his face contorted. Tentative queries from
my deck came back with no signs of activity. Charles was dead, but he refused
to fall over.
   Without the AI influence to keep it closed, the exit hung open. My
Icebreaker was still eating through a wall when I deactivated it. I took one
last look at the frozen ICON, glanced out over Wonderland, then left.
   Lily was looking anxiously down at me when I jacked out.

***


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