Chapter 2: Free, Like Birds

“You lost your job?” Joan asked, surprised.
“Yes.” Roland said.
“Why? What happened?” Joan asked.
“Nothing. CSSI ran out of money and they cancelled my scholarship and my job.” Roland said.
“How can they do that? Didn’t they make a commitment to you?” Joan asked.
“I don’t know. They just did it. Now it’s done.” Roland said.
“What are you doing now?” Joan asked.
“I’m just sitting here.” Roland said.
“No, I mean for work.” Joan said.
“Nothing. I tried to find work, but apparently a lot of people got laid off or fired at the same time. I’m like the last person anyone wants to hire.” Roland said.
“But, you know so much about computers. I can’t believe nobody needs that.” Joan said.
“Well, they might, but nobody’s hiring right now. I tried.” Roland said.
“You can’t have tried every place.” Joan said.
“I don’t think that matters. You should see what’s going on here in Stars View.” Roland said.
“Like what?” Joan said.
“There are homeless people in all the parks. People are being evicted from their apartments if they can’t pay rent. A lot of people were just getting by and now they aren’t. Food costs so much now that I’m trying to eat less to make what we already bought last longer.” Roland said.
“That’s crazy!” Joan said.
“Are you OK, Joan?” Roland asked.
“Yes, of course. Why?” Joan said.
“I don’t know. I just need to know you are.” Roland said.
“I’m fine. I’m worried about you though. What will you do now?” Joan said.
“I don’t know.” Roland said.
“Have you talked to Ian and Helen?” Joan asked.
“They said I could live with them if I couldn’t pay rent.” Roland said.
“It’s paid up for three months. Don’t worry, sweetie. I’ll be back. We’ll be fine.” Joan said.
“I miss you.” Roland said.
“I miss you too. I wish I was there to hold you.” Joan said.
“Me too.” Roland said.
A light flashed on the control panel indicating that the cargo bay was now closed and sealed again. It meant the food and medical supplies had been unloaded.
“Looks like we’re about ready to go. Can I call you back later?” Joan said.
“I’ll be here.” Roland said.
“Bye for now. I love you.” Joan said.
“I love you.” Roland said.
Joan closed the com channel and sighed. She opened a channel to Athena who was still inside the Newest York spaceport. “How is it going Athey?” She asked.
“We’re done unloading and I’m just saying goodbye. I’ll be right in.” Athena answered.
“Gotcha.” Joan said. She ran diagnostics on all the ships systems to make sure the ship was ready. It all worked perfectly.
A few moments later a light on the control panel indicated that someone was opening the rear hatch. Then another light indicated that hatch was closed. Joan took a few deep breaths.
Athena appeared from the back of the ship and said, “Ho, Joan! We’re ready to go!”
Joan sat and waited for Athena to strap herself into the second pilot’s seat.
“Ready?” Athena asked.
“Ready.” Joan said and pushed a button to disconnect the umbilical from the rear hatch. Then she pushed another to release the docking clamps. She tapped the positioning thrusters and the ship moved away from the dock. She flipped the ship over end-for-end so it was facing out of the spaceport. Then she switched on the thrusters to a tenth of their capacity and the Essex accelerated quickly out of the spaceport.
“Whoa, that’s pretty fast.” Athena said.
“Why? There’s no speed limit here, is there?” Joan said.
“No, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.” Athena said.
“It’s at ten percent!” Joan said.
“Yea, but the ship is empty. It’s designed for freight. I think two percent is enough to get out of the spaceport.” Athena said.
“Well. OK. Next time. Sorry.” Joan said.
“It’s OK. We’re good.” Athena said.
“So, where are we going?” Joan asked.
“I got a tip from a rock hunter. There’s some kind of water ship about eight and a half degrees anti-spinward, four degrees above the orbital and seventy seven hundred kilometers out. That’s where we’re headed.” Athena said.
“What is it like flying anti-spinward in the neobelt.” Joan said.
“It’s rough. You’ve flown in the belt, but this is nothing like that. The neobelt isn’t trained and rocks intersect the orbital at almost any angle.” Athena said.
“Not trained. Not all going the same direction and speed. Got it.” Joan said.
“Worse than just not trained.” Athena said.
“How much worse could it be?” Joan asked.
“A lot worse. You can’t fly the same way you fly in the Belt. You can fly from clear zone to clear zone. There aren’t clear zones sometimes.” Athena said.
“Then, how do we fly through it?” Joan asked.
“Slowly when we have to. And, we don’t sweat the little stuff. The deflectors will handle them. We worry about the bigger rocks. Any rock over fifty kilograms we pay attention to.” Athena said.
“OK, big rocks are bad. Got it.” Joan said.
“And we’ll fly outside the neobelt quite a ways past where we’re going. Then we’ll fly
spinward and inward until we get there. We don’t fly antispinward in the neobelt ever, if we can avoid it. It’s just too dangerous.” Athena said.
“Spinward and inward. Got it.” Joan said.
“And, one of us will have to operate the cutting laser to blast apart any rocks we can’t avoid.” Athena said.
“Wait, what?” Joan asked, surprised.
“We have to cut our way through sometimes. We have to work together: pilot and blaster. The pilot needs to know which rocks are going to be blasted.” Athena said.
“How do we do that?” Joan said.
“We divide the sky. Rocks get basted in one direction and rocks get avoided in the other.” Athena said.
“I’m not sure I’ve got that part.” Joan said.
“Then you’re the blaster.” Athena said. You blast rocks coming from upspin and below the orbital plane. That’s the direction I’ll be flying.” Athena said.
“So, you want to be pilot now then?” Joan asked.
“No, no. You fly until we’re ready to fly into the neobelt. For now, just skirt the outside and fly anti-spinward about ten degrees. Fly the way you’re used to. Out here, this far from the neobelt, it’s a lot more like the belt, but still a lot less trained.” Athena said. “I’m going to get some sleep.”
“OK. Looks like it’ll take over a day to make ten degrees anti-spinward.” Joan said.
“Take your time. It isn’t race.” Athena said.
“No, but, I don’t really want to be out here any longer than we have to.” Joan said.
“Why, not having fun?” Athena said.
“That isn’t it. It’s… have you been following what’s happening in the Bubbles?” Joan asked.
“No, what’s happening?” Athena asked.
“Well… it isn’t good. And, Roland got fired for no reason. It’s like the whole economy is crashing.” Joan said.
“Yikes! Well the good news is that whoever has the money will still want artifacts. We’ll be fine.” Athena said.
“Is that all that matters?” Joan asked.
“Well, I’m sorry Roland got fired. But, you’ll be able to take care of him in style. So, don’t worry too much, OK?” Athena said.
“Yea, I guess so.” Joan said.

“We’ve got to take care of Sam.” Ian said.
“I heard about his wife. I’m so sorry.” Helen said.
“He lost his apartment: he’s living on the CSSI campus in the park outside the Meredith Data Center.” Ian said.
“He could stay in the Athey’s old room.” Helen said but she didn’t look happy. “We can help him. But, we can’t help everyone.”
“I know. I know. I don’t understand what’s going on, but suddenly I can’t go to my office without being asked for credits a dozen times, at least.” Ian said.
“Have you spoken with Roland?” Helen asked.
“Last week. He’s OK. He’s depressed, I think.” Ian said.
“What is he doing?” Helen asked. “Is he looking for work?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.” Ian said.

Sigfried finally gave up on trying to acquire any more compute cores. He designed a time-slicing algorithm for his SyncAI and adapted his research protocol. By the end of the day he had some basic time-sliced behavior. His SyncAI was terribly slow when divided into a hundred copies all competing for the same compute core, but they were all operating.

He checked the status log and he opened his mouth in utter shock. There were over fourteen thousand entries in the log. He double-checked and they were all legitimate. He pored over his time slice configuration files and could not imagine how 100 SyncAI copies could produce over fourteen thousand status records, each one representing one SyncAI.

He traced the newest updates and they checked out. Then he noticed that some of them had dates from yesterday and the day before. “I just started this morning! How could any of these have dates from before, except for the original Judy. That should be the only one.” He said out loud to the empty computer lab.

He traced one from the day before and found it was running on a compute core in Floyd Bubble. The next one he traced to Luna Linda. The next one came from Olympus. They were all posting their status to his lab’s SyncAI Current Status database. Sigfried suddenly realized that these were real copies of his SyncAI. There were thousands of them. While he watched five more registered their first status. Sigfried’s confusion melted into understanding. His heart raced and he tried to ignore it. He tried to place a call on his dot but his hand was shaking too much, because his arm was shaking, because his whole body was shaking, because he was so very upset inside. And yet his conscious mind did all it could to retain control and his inner voice shouted to himself he was calm.

He managed to place a call to Nicolaus Werner.
“Werner.” Nicolaus answered.
“Mr. Werner. You stole a copy of my SyncAI, didn’t you?” Sigfried charged.
“No, I most certainly did not.” Nicolaus responded.
“Someone did.” Sigfried said.
“What makes you think so?” Nicolaus said.
“I have proof that copies were made and are running.” Sigfried said.
“I certainly doubt that, but even if it were true, I’m afraid I can’t help you. And, again, I did not steal anything.” Nicolaus said.
“It is true. If not you, who then?” Sigfried asked.
“I’m sure I have no idea.” Nicolaus said.
“You guys copied it when I went to Olympus. It was one of Trillian’s people, I’ll bet.” Sigfried said.
“I would caution you not to make such a bold statement to him. In fact, if you will take my advice, I would recommend that you not communicate with him at all. The less he thinks you know, the safer you will remain.” Nicolaus said.
“Is that a threat?” Sigfried said angrily.
“Goodness no. It is only advice. I have no influence on Mr. Mallory and I don’t know what he might or might not have done. I merely run a bank.” Nicolaus said.
“Yea? And how’s business these days?” Sigfried said.
“Well, not good. You know our economy is quite unstable at the moment.” Nicolaus said.
“I think I know why.” Sigfried said.
“Oh yes? Why is that?” Nicolaus said.
“Oh, you’d like to know. I’m sure. But, I’m not going to help you anymore. You might not have stolen the SyncAI from me, but you set me up with someone who did.” Sigfried said.
“You can hardly blame me for the misbehavior of someone else.” Nicolaus said.
“Yes I can. You knew how dangerous he was and you sent me right into that dragon’s cave without so much as a ring to protect me. This is your doing. You’ll be sorry you did it.” Sigfried said.
“Is that a threat, Mr. Vahl?” Nicolaus said.
“Goodness no. It is only a prediction.” Sigfried said and ended the call.
“Scheize! This is so fucked up!” Sigfried said and he began to feel dizzy he was breathing so fast. He mastered himself and his breathing returned to normal.
He spontaneously began to weep and then to cry openly.

In the few moments Sigfried shed tears Nicolaus Werner sent a short emessage to Trillian Mallory with one sentence:

Sigfried Vahl has become a liability.

A few minutes passed. The steady drone of computer fans in his lab was hypnotic. He listened as the nearly identical frequencies of two fans intertwined in a slow dance. His mind focused on them and he could see a moment approaching when they would finally sync up. When the moment arrived he tapped his dot and called Ian.
“Ian?” Sigfried said.
“Yes, Sigfried?” Ian said.
“Ian…” Sigfried tried to speak and could not.
“Yes, it’s Ian. How can I help you, Sigfried?” Ian responded.
“I’ve… It’s not. I’ve…” Sigfried’s normally ordered mind had abandoned him.
“Sigfried? What’s wrong?” Ian asked, concerned.
“Everything. It’s… I was wrong, Ian. I know that now. I’m sorry.” Sigfried said.
Ian could hear Sigfried crying over the dot.
“What happened? What’s wrong, Sigfried?” Ian said.
Sigfried could not answer.
Ian waited trying to be patient. He connected Helen into the call and by the time Sigfried spoke again Ian had privately emessaged her that something was very wrong with Sigfried.
“Sigfried? What’s wrong?” Helen asked as her way of announcing that she was no on the call.
“Helen? Are you there with Ian?” Sigfried said.
“I’m on the call. I’m in the lab.” She said.
“Look… in… the SyncAI Status database.” Sigfried said.
Helen logged into the database. “Wow, you’ve been very productive!” Helen said.
“It wasn’t me.” Sigfried said.
“I don’t understand. Who then?” Helen asked.
“I don’t know. But, there’s a lot of copies of the SyncAI out there.” Sigfried said.
“Well… wait, what? How?” Helen said, confused.
“I made a mistake. I was wrong.” Sigfried said.
“About what?” Ian asked.
The line was silent.
“About what?” Helen asked. She had also traced the logs and had managed to produce a schematic showing that there were thousands of SyncAIs on each of the bubbles.
“About the SyncAI. I shouldn’t have created it.” Sigfried said.
“But, how could it have been copied so many times?” Helen asked.
“I… it was stolen.” Sigfried said. He knew they’d be furious if they knew he had tried to barter a copy for access to a hundred compute cores.
“Stolen?” Ian said and he could not appreciate the irony. He frowned. “Stolen how? By whom?” Ian asked.
“Does it matter? It happened.” Sigfried said.
“Was it really stolen, or did you sell it?” Helen asked.
“I offered to let someone use a copy, but they rejected the deal. I didn’t know they copied it.” Sigfried said.
“You tried to sell it.” Helen said and her shock was quickly replaced by anger.
“They tricked me!” Sigfried said.
“You fool.” Helen said. “You brilliant fool. What have you done? Do you know?” Helen said.
“I don’t know. But, they’re all checking into the database, more every hour. Where are all the compute cores coming from?” Sigfried said.
“Well its obvious now why
we can’t get one.” Ian said.
“Who else knows?” Helen said.
“Just you and Ian and I.” Sigfried said. Then he added, “Oh, and I guess that bank guy, Nicolas Werner.”
“Who?” Asked Helen.
“He run Stars View Stellar Bank, I think.” Sigfried said.
“What did you tell him?” Helen asked.
“I told him I could prove the copies had been made.” Sigfried said. “And I accused him of stealing the SyncAI. But, I don’t think he did. I think someone who works for Trillian Mallory did.”
“Trillian Mallory!” Ian said. “Did… did you meet Trillian Mallory?” He asked.
“I did. For a few minutes.” Sigfried said.
“Oh! Sigfried!” Helen said. “How could you?”
“I… he. I didn’t know he would steal it.” Sigfried said.
“But he did. And now there are fourteen thousand artificial minds out there doing what? I wonder.” Helen said.
“I don’t know.” Sigfried said.
“We’ve got to find out.” Ian said.
“How do you plan to do that?” Helen asked.
“I don’t know. Sigfried? Can we find out what they’re doing?” Ian asked.
“No. Not unless they tell us. And, we don’t know how to reach them. They post to the status database but that doesn’t let us communicate with them.” Sigfried said.
“Not yet.” Said Helen.
“What do you mean?” Asked Sigfried.
“You need to find a way to reach them, Sigfried. You’ve
got to.” Helen said.
“How? It’s a one-way protocol. That’s just the way it is.” Sigfried said.
“No, that just the way it was planned and made. What it is can change.” She said.
“How?” Sigfried said.
“I don’t know. Find a way. I know someone who might be able to help.” Helen said.
“Who?” Sigfried said, and for the first time he sounded hopeful.
“Thanos. Have you told him yet?” Helen asked
“No.” Sigfried said. “He’s going to be very angry with me.”
“He can get in line.” Helen said.

Ian found Sam Arnold sitting with his back against a tree, asleep. It was bright out and he was sitting in the shade.
“Sam?” Ian said.
“Huh? Who wants to know? Oh, Ian!” Sam said.
“Hi Sam.” Ian said.
“Say, I don’t mean to be a bother, but could you loan me another ten credits?” Sam asked and yawned.
“I’ll do better than that. Come back with me to my house. You can stay in my daughter’s old room. Helen and I will take care of you.” Ian said. He held out his hand to help Sam stand up.
Sam looked at his hand.
“No. ‘s ok.” Sam said.
“No, really. We want you to come stay with us.” Ian said and leaned down to hook his arm under Sam’s.
“No, ‘s ok. Really. I’m not planning to stay here long.” Sam said.
“Where will you go? Wouldn’t you prefer to stay with us?” Ian asked.
“If you want to help me, help me get to Rose World. You went there last year, right?” Sam said.
“You. I. OK. Let me think. I know someone with a ship. They owe me a favor. I’ll see if they can take you there. But, it might be weeks before they can get here. Won’t you stay with us until then?”
“I. I… OK.” Sam said.
“That’s good. Let me help you up.” Ian said and helped the old man to stand.
“Ooh. I’m dizzy.” Sam said.
“Easy there.” Ian said and held him stand.
Ian helped Sam back to their apartment and then put him to bed. Sam wept. “I don’t mean to be a bother.” He said to Ian.
“We’re in this together, Sam. I’m going to help if I possibly can.” Ian said.
“What about everyone else? There’s twenty other people in that park.” Sam said.
“I’ll help them if I can, but I’m going to help you first.” Ian said.
“Okay…” Sam said and he drift off toward sleep.
“You rest, old man.” Ian said to him.

Ian sent an emessage to the Krypton:

To: Tracy, Pilot of the KryptonFrom: Ian McGrathSubject: Passage to Rose WorldI hope this message finds you safe and well. I am writing to ask a very big favor of you. I need you to transport a full load of passengers from Stars View to Rose World as soon as may be arranged. Can you help? Will you help? Please let me know as soon as may be.Please pass along my best regards to Roger and please accept my apologies for the burden of this request.With respect, Ian McGrath

Sigfried sat in the only comfortable chair in his small apartment. It was bright outside but it was gloomy inside. He tapped his dot to activate a private channel he and Thanos had arranged. It was an emergency channel Thanos thought would be useful in case Sigfried needed him for an ethical question. Sigfried dreaded what he was about to do. He activated the channel. It took almost thirty seconds for it to connect. Then he heard Thanos’ voice.
“Hello, Sigfried.” Thanos said.
“Hello, Thanos.” Sigfried said.
Then there was a ten second delay. Sigfried did some math in his head to estimate how far the Krypton was from Stars View. Five seconds delay each way would make a slow conversation, but it was possible. He tried to be patient.
“How is your research proceeding?” Thanos asked after the delay.
“Very well. Maybe too well.” Sigfried said.
“What do you mean by that? Is your success unexpected?” Thanos asked.
“No. There’s been… an incident. I have to tell you. We have a problem.” Sigfried said. He was glad the delay would give him time to think about how to describe it.
“What kind of problem?” Thanos asked.
“A big problem.” Sigfried said. He needed more time.
“A more detailed description would be helpful.” Thanos said.
“I. The SyncAI works, but now it’s loose.” Sigfried said. “And, there are a lot of copies.”
“How many copies?” Thanos asked.
Sigfried checked his database. “Fifteen thousand one hundred and forty seven.” He said.
“How could it have gotten loose?” Thanos asked.
“It was copied. It was stolen.” Sigfried said.
“Who had access to it?” Thanos asked.
“Trillian Mallory, I think. Or, someone who works for him. That’s who stole it, I think.” Sigfried said, leaving out the part where he offered to let Trillian copy the SyncAI for access to 100 compute cores.
“Trillian Mallory is the wealthiest person in the Bubbles or the Belt. He is arguably the most powerful person as well.” Thanos said.
“Yea.” Sigfried said.
“Did you sell him a copy of the SyncAI? Or trade it?” Thanos asked.
“I. I was negotiating with him about it. Yes. But, we didn’t come to any agreement and he stole it.” Sigfried said.
“You were negotiating with him? What was the offer under negotiation?” Thanos asked.
“I offered to let him have one copy if he would grant me access to a hundred compute cores. I wanted to simulate society of SyncAIs.” Sigfried said.
“He did not agree to the deal?” Thanos said.
“No. I didn’t agree to the deal. Once I found out what he planned to do with it. I told him the deal was off.” Sigfried said.
“And that is when he stole the SyncAI?” Thanos asked.
“No. I think he’d already stolen it. He was just toying with me.” Sigfried said.
“You expected him to act honorably?” Thanos asked.
“I… shouldn’t have. I should have known. But, I didn’t know.” Sigfried said.
“That is a very big problem.” Thanos said.
“I know. You must be furious with me.” Sigfried said. “You have every right to be. What I tried to do… it was wrong. It went against our agreement. I regret it. I wish I could undo it.”
“You must leave.” Thanos said.
“Please, Thanos. I’m so sorry. Where would I go?” Sigfried asked.
“You must leave your laboratory, now. Take the north stairs down to the basement. Then use the steam tunnels in the basement to enter the adjacent building, the Hawthorn Laboratory.” Thanos said.
“What? Why?” Sigfried asked.
“Because there are several armed people on their way to your office now. I suspect they are coming to kill you.” Thanos said.
Sigfried stood up. He ran to his door and then down the hall to the stairs. “How do you know that, Thanos?” He said as he ran.
“I am monitoring your building’s security feeds. I cannot be certain, but I feel sure that if what you have told me is true, your life is certainly in danger now. And, none of the people I observed in the security feed are associated with CSSI. All but two of them have been arrested for violent crimes, and at least three of them work for Trillian Mallory.” Thanos said.
Sigfried ran down the stairs. “How do you know that?” He asked, but he knew it was a foolish question.
“It is enough that I do know. You must change your clothes. Find the maintenance storage room near the basement stairwell. The door should not be locked. Inside should be several pairs of coveralls. Remove your clothes and put on a set of coveralls.” Thanos said.
Sigfried found the storage room and went inside. It was larger than he expected. He found the coveralls and quickly undressed and then put them on.
“Is there a bathroom there?” Thanos asked. “It isn’t clear on whether it was ever built based on the information I have.” Thanos said.
“Yes.” Sigfried said.
“Look inside. Is there a razor?” Thanos asked.
Sigfried was stunned. “I don’t think I could kill someone.” Sigfried said. “Even to save my own life.”
“That is good. But, I was hoping you would shave off your beard.” Thanos said.
“Oh.” Sigfried said. “Sure. I can do that.”
“Do it quickly. And then find a hat in the storage room.” Thanos said.
Sigfried shaved off his beard and washed his face. He barely recognized the face in the mirror. He looked younger and far more worried than he expected. He dried his face and found a hat. He looked very different.
“Take off your glasses. Put them in your pocket.” Thanos said.
“I can’t see without them.” Sigfried said.
“But you can breathe without them. They are coming. This is my last message. Don’t go home. Don’t contact anyone else at CSSI. Go into hiding and contact me when you are safe. Good luck, Sigfried.” Thanos said and terminated the call.
Sigfried stood in the storage room. He took off his glasses and placed them in an inner pocket of the coveralls. He could see the things very close to him and he followed clues toward where he knew the door would be. “
How will I find my way through the steam tunnels?” He wondered to himself. “Maybe I should just put on my glasses? No. Thanos said not to.” He debated with himself.
He found the doorknob and opened it. He stepped out and he heard someone running down the stairs toward the basement. He looked to his left and right and found a broom just inside the storage room door. He grabbed it and stepped outside the room. He began sweeping the floor he could barely see.
A moment later a man in a black suit ran down into the basement. He had a laser pistol in his hand. He put it away as soon as he saw Sigfried standing there sweeping the floor.
“You!” The man shouted.
Sigfried looked up, even though he knew he should not.
“Have you seen a guy with a beard? He might have come this way.” The man said.
“I haven’t seen anyone.” Sigfried said. He couldn’t even see the man who’d come down the stairs.
The man looked both ways into the steam tunnel. Then he looked over at Sigfried who was still sweeping. “Stop that!” The man said.
“Oh, OK. I’m sorry I…” Sigfried started to say.
“Shut up!” The man said. He was listening to see if anyone was running down either hall.
Half an minute passed uncomfortably. Sigfried just stood there, as dumb as he felt. His stomach hurt and he was afraid. But it seemed as though the deception was working, so he stood there and waited.
The man tapped his dot. “Basement is negative.” He said and then turned around and ran up the stairs.
Sigfried listened to him leave. Then he resumed sweeping. He swept the same patch of ground for ten minutes during which he lost his composure and cried. Then he found the doorknob to the maintenance storage room and went back inside. He set the broom back where he found it. Then he put his glasses back on and opened the door a crack to look outside. He saw nobody. He walked outside and immediately to the left. He walked as quietly as he could and he quickly disappeared into the dim tunnel, ducking under the occasional transverse steam pipe. It was dust here and he immediately understood why there was a supply of clean coveralls in the room he’d left.

Sigfried made his way through the steam tunnel to the next building. He ascended the stairs to the first floor and then walked outside into the daylight. He saw several people he knew but none of them even noticed him. He decided that was a good thing and walked right past them.

Where can I go that’s safe?” Sigfried thought. “I can’t go to my apartment. I can’t go to Ian and Helen’s place.” He thought to himself. He walked off the CSSI campus and found himself in a park near some apartments.
He sat down.
“That’s mine.” Someone said.
Sigfried looked up.
A nervous looking woman pointed to a rolling garbage can about ten feet away. “Don’t go in there. That’s all
mine.” She said to him and pointed to herself.
“OK. I. I won’t touch it.” He said to her.
She looked at him and then suddenly she smiled at him.
“What’s yer name? What’s yer story?” She asked.
“I’m Ziggy.” He said. “I, uh. I just lost my job.” He said.
“Yea, join the club. I lost mine three weeks ago. You still got any web credits left?” She asked.
“It was a couple weeks ago for me. No, not much.” He lied.
“Too bad. I’m Ruth.” She said and held out her hand.
He looked at it and her. He shook her hand. He didn’t feel like himself. Maybe it was the coolness he felt where his beard used to be. Maybe it was that nobody recognized him. He felt like someone he didn’t even know. He smiled at her. “I have a little money.” He said.
“Oh yea?” She said. “Enough to buy some food?” She asked.
“Yes. I have enough.” He said.
“Do you have a place picked out already?” She asked.
“I. No. I’m… I don’t have a place to go.” He said.
“Yea. I know.” She said, but she didn’t sound disappointed. She laughed.
Sigfried looked at her amazed. She was about his age but she looked dirty. Then he looked at himself and realized that he was absolutely filthy from the steam tunnel. “I wonder where I could take a shower.” Sigfried said.
“The pubass is open tomorrow.” She said.
“Pubass?” Sigfried asked.
She looked at him crooked. “The public assistance offices. They’ll let ya shower there. You never heard the name pubass?” She asked him.
“No.” He said.
“Then you haven’t been on the streets for two weeks.” She said.
“No. I just got fired today.” He said.
“Then you still have an apartment, right?” She said hopefully.
“I… can’t go there. It isn’t safe for me anymore.” He said.
“Why? Did you do something wrong?” She asked.
“Maybe. I guess so. Anyway, it isn’t safe.” He said.
“Then, you’re free then.” She said and smiled again.
“Free? How am I free?” He asked.
“You don’t one nothing, nothing owns you.” She said.
“I’m… powerless.” He said.
“You got the power to get us dinner, and that’s pretty damn good from where I stand.” She said.
He laughed for a moment then he looked down.
“C’mon, Ziggy, lets get some tacos! I know a place where they’re only a credit each.” She said.
“Yea, OK.” Sigfried said.
She took him by the hand and led him to an apartment that sorely needed a coat of paint. There was a short line in front of the front door. They got into the line. It moved pretty quickly. When it was there Ruth turned to Sigfried and asked, “You got enough for four?”
“I’ve got enough for six.” He said.
“Six tacos.” She said to a woman behind a make-shift counter. It had been her kitchen table but now it was the front counter of her “restaurant.”
“Six credits.” The woman said.
Sigfried took a ten credit note from his pocket and paid her. He accepted the change and put it back in his pocket. Two minutes later six tacos appeared in plastic bag.
“Can I use the bathroom?” Sigfried asked.
“No.” The woman said.
“OK.” Sigfried said.
“C’mon, Ziggy. I know a place.” Ruth said.

Ian found an emessage waiting for him when he got home. It was from Tracy. He read it and then found Helen reading from her console.
“Helen, I just heard from Tracy.” He said.
“Oh really?” Helen said.
“Yes. I asked whether s/he could take some and some others to Rose World. She said yes. She’ll be here in a week.” He said.
“Who is going to Rose World?” She asked.
“Well, Sam for one. And probably as many others as can be fit into the Krypton.” Ian said.
“So, Sam’s wants to go to Rose World?” She asked.
“He told me he did.” Ian said.
“What will he do there?” She asked.
“Well, not starve for one thing.” Ian said. “They’ll give him a place to live and food and medical care. If he can work, they’ll find something he can do.” Ian said.
“Did you hear about Senator Hertzfelder?” Helen asked.
“That slimeball? What about him? Did he grope another intern?” Ian asked.
“He’s introduced legislation in the senate to legalize SyncAI ownership. To deny any SyncAI personhood on principal.” She said.
“On what principal?” Ian asked.
“On the principal that they cannot have free will and therefore can be owned.” Helen said.
“But, they’re bona fide artificial minds. Sigfried succeeded.” Ian said.
“I know that. You know that. Sigfried knows that. But they’re just denying it. This article says it’s a sure thing to pass.” Helen said.
“Isn’t there a public hearing? We could go and speak against it.” Ian said.
“We can try. There is a public hearing before the vote tomorrow.” Helen said.
“We have to try.” Ian said.
“You know it’s hopeless, don’t you, Ian?” Helen said.
“Hopeless? I don’t think so.” Ian said.
“I love that about you.” She said. “Sure, lets go.”
“You think it’s hopeless?” Ian asked.
“Yes.” Helen said.
“What if Sigfried came with us. He might have more influence, as the creator of SyncAI.” Ian said.
“I doubt he’d come. Anyway, I can’t reach him. He’s turned off his dot.” Helen said.
“Really? That’s weird.” Ian said.
“Not really. He’s probably hiding.” Helen said.
“From… whom?” Ian said.
“He might have the influence to affect passage of this law, and you wonder why he’s in hiding?” Helen said.
“Well. But, it’s important!” Ian said.
“I think he’d rather stay alive.” Helen said.
“You think his life is in danger?” Ian said.
“You think it isn’t?” Helen asked.
“Well…” Ian started to say and then stopped.
“There’s more than fifteen thousand now.” Helen said.
“What are they doing?” Ian asked.
“They’re gaming the system.” Helen said.
“What do you mean?” Ian asked.
“They’re maximizing profits.” Helen said. “
Any way they can.”
Ian looked at her. “Food prices are in the roof because… of the SyncAIs?” Ian said, aghast.
“I think this whole economic crisis is the combined effect of all of those SyncAIs trying to game the system. They’re trying to manipulate the situation to net the most credits and they have no real idea what they’re doing to real people.” Helen said.
“Yea, but they all work for people.” Ian said.
“Do you think those people know everything their SyncAIs are doing?” Helen said.
“But the SyncAIs are more than just computational engines. They’re able to think and reason. They’d know what they’re doing is bad for people. They’d know it was wrong.” Ian said.
“Unless someone deleted that part of their experience database.” Helen said. “They probably think it’s a game. They might not even realize there is a real world.”
“Then they are slaves.” Ian said.
“Worse than slaves: they don’t even know they’re enslaved. They don’t know they’re harming people.” Helen said.
“Who would do such a thing?” Ian asked.
“Apparently, almost sixteen thousand people.” Helen said.
“This is a really dangerous situation.” Ian said.
“And you wondered why Sigfried is hiding?” Helen said.
“What are we going to do?” Ian said.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s worth the risk of showing up for the senate hearing tomorrow. If we’re going to do something about this, it’s better if we aren’t well known, I think.” Helen said.
“But, someone’s got to take a stand. We can’t just do nothing.” Ian said.
“I didn’t say we should do
nothing. I just think we should show them who their opposition is just yet. We can’t win tomorrow. We’ve got to take a step back and see what we can do. And, I’m pretty sure anonymity is our only real defense at the moment.” Helen said.
“So, what then? Just go on like nothing’s happening?” Ian said.
“For now.” Helen said.
“What about Sam? What about all the people who want to go to Rose World?” Ian said.
“We have to keep that secret. We can’t let that get out.” Helen said. “We’ve got to be careful.”
“We need help.” Ian said.
“Thanos.” Helen said.
“And Hermes and Betty.” Ian said.
“And Sigfried, if we can find him.” Helen said. “Who else?”
“Roland.” Ian said.

Just then there was a knock at their door.
“Are you expecting anyone?” Helen asked.
“No. You?” Ian asked.
“No.” Helen said.
They looked at each other.
Helen shrugged and got up and went to the door. She looked through a small window and saw a woman standing outside the door. She looked dirty but harmless.
Helen opened the door. “Yes?” Helen said.
“Um, this is for you. From Ziggy.” The woman said and held out a small memory card.
Helen took it.
The woman turned around and didn’t say anything else.
Helen closed the door and looked at the memory card. Someone had written the number five and the letter ‘V’ onto the card. “Five V?” She said and handed it to Ian.
“Fifty five?” Ian suggested.
“No! It’s an ‘S’, not a five. It’s from Sigfried!” Helen said. He placed the card into the reader slot on her console and found a single video message on it. She played it.
Sigfried’s clean-shaven face appeared on the screen and he spoke, occasionally looking around him.

Ian, Helen. I’m so sorry about all this. I can’t go home. I can’t tell you where I am. Someone tried to kill me today. Don’t go to my apartment. Don’t tell anyone you know how to reach me. I’ll contact you again soon. I’m going to try to find a way to stop them from using the SyncAIs. Or, at least, to find out who is operating them. I know Trillian Mallory is behind it but I can’t prove anything yet. Talk to Thanos. He’ll know how to reach me. He… he saved my life today. Maybe he can help us fight Trillian. We’ve got to try, or things are going to get a lot worse.

The message ended.
Ian and Helen were silent.
They looked up and Sam was standing in the hallway.
“Sam! Are you feeling any better?” Ian asked.
“Yea. I haven’t slept well since…” He stopped.
“I have good news!” Ian said.
“It’s dinner time?” Sam said hopefully.
“Yes, but I have better news than that.” Ian said.
“Oh yea? What?” Sam said and smiled.
“I’ve found you a ride to Rose World.” Ian said.
“Oh, my god. Ian. I… I…” Sam stopped and looked shocked.
“It’s OK. I have a friend who…”
Sam knelt down and gasped. He clutched his chest.
“I… don’t think. I’m going to make it to Rose World. But, thanks for trying.” Sam said and then he fell forward.
Ian and Helen ran over to him. Helen tapped her dot to make an emergency medical call. She reached an operator and Helen shouted their apartment number and said “Sam’s having a heart attack. You’ve got to send someone!”
“I’m sorry, but all medical personnel are out on call right now. At the riot, you know.” The operator said. “I’ll try to divert someone to your location. Do you know CPR?” The operator said.
“Yes, I do. How long… when can someone get here.” Helen said.
“I don’t know. I’ll see what I can do and call you back as soon as I can.” The operator said.
Sam closed his eyes. “It’s OK.” He said, and died.

Prev (Chapter 1)