Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Last Piece

Sometimes it just comes down to a single die roll.

Phillips was confident that Bowles had pulled it off.  ADA was dead, whatever that means to a computational intelligence. Her ghostly voice would still play in the Scanner, helping the unwitting Ingress ‘Agents’ collect XM, but for all intents and purposes, she was dead.  Really dead this time, not just cordoned off somewhere, hiding in a Los Alamos supercomputer cluster.  Dead.7r2kpn78oecy4t

And from what he could tell, pacing through the control room, avoiding the corpses of a pair of dead techs and their expanding pools of blood, Bowles had done something else, too.  He’d tricked 855 into putting on the helmet.  855 seemed inert, a zombie. A slow trickle of saliva was running down the left side of his chin.  Phillips saw an opportunity here... An opportunity to undo so much, to hit the big reset.  If 855 were also dead, two of his primary problems would be gone, whoosh, vanished. He could breathe freely for the first time in over three years.  And he would have Omnivore. Free of the burden of containing ADA’s near constant expansion, the system could be pushed to its true potential.  And he would have the NIA. A shell of its former self, but still, he would have it. Unfettered by ADA or 855, he could rebuild.  

The trouble would stop.ec81225a6c9f77c62d7f574cbb59d5d12eyq7z5x4m

The fear would stop.

The stinking, paralyzing feeling of hiding and constantly fixing the damage from the nightmare that the Niantic Project had been.

If he killed them, he would have some explaining to do, but he was good at that. You don’t make it this high in the NIA without knowing how to talk yourself out of a corner.  And besides, if he went down, a lot of secrets spilled.  It wasn’t in anybody’s interest – even Ken Owen’s, to see him go all the way down.

All he had to do was get across the room, seize 855’s gun and kill them both.

But that would only work if 855 really was a zombie.

He had to know how much control Bowles had over 855. 

Bowles looked up. Their eyes met, and for a second, Phillips could hardly recognize him. There was something different in Bowles’ eyes.  What was it? Power. For the first time in his life, this code-jockey controlled killing power. Or was it fear?  Did he know what Phillips was about to do?

Phillips couldn’t tell, but instinct kicked in.  Long dormant instinct from his military days, from his wet ops days.

He made his move.

He rolled the die.

His last piece was in play.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Scars that Remain

Bowles savored the feeling of knowing something, of understanding something, that was out of 855’s league. It was a nice change of pace after Australia and everything that had followed. His answer was almost cocky in its brevity: “She will be absent.”
“Not good enough.” 855’s similarly clipped response served as a biting reminder to Bowles of who actually held the power in the room.01383126092822351437251412391307230945
Bowles tried again. “Think of it as being like what happened with Jimmy Hoffa,” he said, referring to the decades-old case of a Teamster boss who had mysteriously disappeared and, despite years of investigation and even a couple of confessions, whose body had never been found.
“Still not good enough,” 855 responded in that cold, methodical voice that Bowles had been hearing for too many months now.

“Eight...” Bowles had taken to calling him that, despite many threats and protests. “There isn’t some CSI team who gets called in here to examine ADA’s corpse and identify the time of death. She is a virtual intelligence. We can’t know if she’s died...we don’t even know what it means for an A.I. to be dead.”
“So she could fake it.” 855 let the statement hang in the air, somehow serving as a criticism of Bowles and his plan.
Bowles wasn’t fazed. “Maybe Jim Morrison faked it, but since there haven’t been any Doors albums with him singing since he allegedly died, we have a pretty good confirmation of his absence, if not his death...”
“So how’s it happen?”
“It will happen in a microsecond... and then spread through the rest of the network in... maybe minutes. Then, she will simply not exist. I mean, it’s hard to prove that things don’t exist. Parts of ADA will appear to live on after her death, as well. Ingress Agents will probably be unaware of her death for some time. Her voice will still be there. She’ll still say things like, ‘I was getting worried about you...’ But those will just be the shadows. No more a representation of her than your bootprints are of you.”
“You still haven’t answered my question. How will I know when she’s dead?”
“You’re welcome to monitor the release as it happens from where I’m standing... but that’s not what you want.”

855 stared coolly at Bowles.

“You don’t just want her dead. You want her out. You want the scars she left inside you when she tried to break in to fade away. I think that’ll happen too, when she goes dark. But if that’s what you want, you’ll have to put on the helmet and get wired in.”
“No. Reminds me too much of being in that hospital. Her trying to get inside of me the first time...”
“So you’re afraid of it.”
“I’m not afraid of anything. I thought you’d have figured that out by now. But I am cautious. There’s a difference. What if your plan doesn’t work.”
Bowles smiled almost imperceptibly. The power plays were getting exhausting, but at least 855 was fairly predictable. “Actually, you’re very afraid of ADA; isn’t that why you want to kill her? I mean, you probably just think you’re angry with her, but anger is a composite emotion made up of surprise and fear. We’re just like wild animals when we’re cornered, Eight... we hide behind our anger and hope nobody sees the truth. So maybe anger is your defense mechanism, but by definition, you’re only angry because you’re afraid of her.”
855 looked at him, his face somewhere between “annoyed” and “seething,” and Bowles knew he’d struck precisely the nerve he was aiming for. 855 took the bait: “Give it to me.”
“Just once, can you just ask politely?”
“Or what?”
“Not ‘or’ anything. I just want you to ask me politely.” At this point, Bowles knew he was pushing it, but he also knew that 855 needed him to pull this whole thing off, and that despite his critical tone, he knew Bowles would succeed.
855 stared at him, his eyes cold but his mouth slowly curling into a frown. For a fraction of a second, Bowles thought he could read something in 855's eyes that he had never seen before: Vulnerability. “Please let me have the helmet.”
“Sit down and put this on." Bowles said dryly, handing 855 the helmet and then assisting him in getting it set up correctly. As soon as it was, Bowles clicked a couple of keys and waited for the show to begin. He could see the dull flashes from the Glyph sequence flashing before 855's eyes. He smiled.
855’s face twisted in surprise and pain. “What the hell?! She’s... I feel her again. What did you just do to me?” He rose and took a step towards Bowles.
“Sit back down.”

“You don’t give orders,” 855 snarled. “She’s saying to kill you, and I think I agree.” He reached up towards the helmet to tear it off.
There was something profoundly satisfying about the mixture of rage, confusion and -- of course -- fear that was contorting 855’s face. Bowles paused for a microsecond, savoring it. He’d been planning this moment for months; he’d set the trap and 855 had fallen into it. And with a single keystroke, 855 dropped to the floor like a marionette that’d just had its strings cut. The visor on the front of the helmet cracked, but that wouldn't be a problem. It had done its job.  
“Ouch...that must’ve hurt, Eight. Sorry. There’s still a lot to learn about how to run the interface ADA made inside you.” He frowned as soon as he said it; he probably should have come up with something a little more intimidating. But now wasn’t the time for witty repartee. He glanced at the monitors around him. “Looks like ADA knows something's about to go very wrong... she’s maxed her replication rate. Better do this fast.” He executed another command. He thought he felt the temperature rise in the room as the processors inside Omnivore’s local nodes began their inexorable task, spreading their work orders outwards through the network, to Omnivore's data centers around the world, and from there into every connected device where a fragment of ADA lay awake in the background. Or maybe that sudden warmth he felt was just the nerves and the excitement.
The expression on 855’s face changed suddenly, shifting from defensive rage to a kind of wonderment. “Gone. Like a person...” He looked up at Bowles through the crack in the visor. “There’s always that moment... that sort of mystical moment, when you’re strangling somebody and then, all of a sudden, you feel life leaving them. You can feel their soul leaving. It’s like that... She’s gone.”
“She’s gone, Eight, but the interface she made... those scars in your brain. I think I’m going to keep them around. Maybe use them for a while.”89666999-99-999664446633-3388866655588-8444666-66433444-4-4487-777744499777
855 didn’t respond.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Henry Bowles had once participated in a think tank that asked a deceptively simple question: Do computer crimes leave the same kinds of forensic evidence as physical crimes? The point was to figure out whether we were at all equipped for the brave new world of cybercrime, or if we were going to have to start rethinking the tools (and even the metaphors) being used. For example, what are the digital equivalents of fingerprints? Do cybercriminals “stage” scenes the way bank robbers do, or match certain profiles in the same way that serial killers do? Are the weapons used to commit virtual crimes as traceable as bullets and candlesticks? For that matter, what’s the crime scene in a cybercrime?

Five years ago, all of this had seemed like the kind of pointless, speculative enterprise of interest only to the eggheads living on the porous border between academia and intelligence. Now the specter of cybercrime was a whole lot more relevant--and had, of course, been co-opted by primetime television. Still, Bowles couldn’t help but smirk to himself as he realized that there was one question nobody at the think tank had thought to ask: Was it possible to commit virtual murder?rreacjrnzeftgrr

He checked his watch. With any luck, he’d be in a position to answer that question in a little over ten minutes. There would be no blood, no body, and no death certificate, yet Henry Bowles was nonetheless in the process of committing the first actual cyber murder in history.

The target was A Detection Algorithm, also known as ADA.

The crime scene was the basement of the National Intelligence Agency headquarters in Washington, DC, on a hot night in July of 2015.

The murder weapon was a combination of some particularly virulent code that Bowles had written during his months of confinement with 855, delivering a modified version of something his old buddy H. Richard Loeb (aka P. A. Chapeau) had provided--a bit of programming that, incidentally, had helped create the monster that ADA became. 

The assassin was Omnivore, a massive anti-crime, anti-terrorism snoop machine created in the wake of 9/11 and vastly upgraded over the years that followed. 

Bowles was the man who set the hit in motion, which made him some sort of cyber-mafia Don. Of course, he was acting at the behest of 855, who was probably going to kill him if he failed.

855 wasn’t the type to get chatty before a hit, but this also wasn’t exactly a normal job for him. “So how do we know when she’s dead?”

Bowles savored the feeling of knowing something, of understanding something, that was out of 855’s league. It was a nice change of pace after Australia and everything that had followed. His answer was almost cocky in its brevity: “She will be absent.”


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Expected Visitors

I had not planned on coming forward with these writings at this time, however, once again it seems that circumstances have forced my hand. I make no claims as to their veracity. -FHL



Most guys lie to their wives about working late, but that wasn’t going to work for Jay Phillips.  He wasn’t even married, and besides, he’d be lying to himself and that would look bad in the yearly psych review.  

The half-lie he was telling himself was that he had a lot of work to catch up on.  

The truth was that he was hiding in his office on the seventh floor of the NIA building in Arlington, Virginia. The truth was that he hadn’t left the building and its bulletproof windows with blast-resistant curtains for five days. He didn’t mind all that much; he was fine sleeping on his office couch and using the gym for showers, the local dry cleaners as a closet, and the NIA coffee shop as a kitchen.  

Why did he even need his overpriced, cookie-cutter condominium in Tysons Corner, anyway? 

This quasi-fugitive way of life started when an unattributed tip pinged his phone, saying that he was being hunted. Then the tipster said who the hunter was, and Jay Phillips fet a part of his spine tingle that he hadn't felt in a very long time.

855...what kind of guy goes by a number and no name? A scary, psycho hitman who seemed to enjoy his work too much. The NIA had used 855 in the past, but they took him off their list when it became apparent that even they didn’t know his real identity. 

And, of course, his name--or number, rather--had cropped up again when that pain-in-the-ass rogue A.I., ADA, hacked into his brain, after a botched attempt on Loeb and some puzzle genius who went by the name of Klue. Come to think of it, Phillips didn’t have a real ID on Klue, either.  

Ironically, among the piles of paper on his desk that were part of the work he was pretending to be catching up on was an article titled “Identity: What is it and does it matter?” It was some brainiac crap out of IQTech. The writer, Robert Ferris, was a typical fledgling analyst who’d been introduced to Phillips as “Bobby” and seemed like he was about 19 years old, Ivy League but with something shady lurking under the surface. There was a game Phillips played with himself when meeting somebody--”What is this person hiding?”--but he hadn’t been able to figure out what kind of skeletons were in Bobby’s closet.

With the exception of this skeleton-excavation exercise (which was really more of a defense mechanism than anything else), Phillips didn’t play a lot of mind games. He prided himself on being a bare-knuckle, blue-collar guy, which also meant that papers like Bobby’s just gave him a headache. He never was a good reader.

Predation, however, was a totally different story. Five years ago, he would have relished the idea of counter-hunting 855. He knew exactly how he’d do it, too. He’d assume that 855 had all the info on him and was maybe even getting updates from ADA, who might or might not still be living in his brain. The reports said she wasn’t, but Phillips learned long ago to assume that your worst fears are right.  

Hunting 855. Laying traps and setting blinds. Using his intel against him. It was an appealing option, and Phillips had entertained the notion for a few hours after he got the tip, but that was also a young man’s game. Much as he hated to admit it, a glimpse of himself in the steamed-up mirror at the gym reminded Phillips that he definitely wasn’t a young man. He wasn’t old and he hadn’t gone to flab, but he didn’t have the edge anymore. 

Phillips had spent too many of his days sitting in a chair, dealing with a very different kind of animal in the form of Ken Owen--as cunning as anything he’d run into out in the field. He’d actually considered arranging an accident for Owens, one of his “designer jobs,” but he couldn’t shake a bad feeling he had about the whole though somehow, even if he were successful, the trail would lead right back to him.

So he didn’t have a plan for how to deal with Owens, and he didn’t have a plan for what to do about 855. For five days, he’d tried to force his brain to concentrate on something...anything other than being afraid. He hadn’t had much luck. Tonight wasn’t any better.

He heard footsteps in the hallway. Cleaning didn’t usually come in this early. 

Something was wrong.

The muzzle of the Desert Eagle looked like one of those old-fashioned keyholes, with a big circle up top and a triangular opening down below. Fitting, really: If its owner pulled the trigger, it would open the doorway to eternity. Phillips was mesmerized by the gun, or at least how it looked when pointed directly between his eyes. That wasn’t like him. It didn’t even look that much like a keyhole, but for some reason, in the face of near-certain death, he was thinking poetically. Happened to him in combat, too.  

The man behind the
gun was 855. He wasn’t saying much, so Phillips started the conversation. “Let me guess: You’re pissed off because we haven’t been using you lately.”

“I thought you were going to ask me how I got in here.”

“Bowles, you can come in out of the hallway,” Phillips said.  

He expected to see Henry Bowles emerge like a child coming out from behind his mother’s skirt, but he didn’t. He was actually taller than 855 and surprisingly formidable for a tech nerd. He looked like a video game character rendered into real life. His hair was close cut in what they used to call a scalping when Phillips was a kid. Now it’d become hipster chic.

“Hey Jay. How’s it going?” 

Was this kid for real? Phillips thought. How’s it look like it’s going? I’ve got a half-whacked spree killer pointing a gun at me. What he decided to say was only slightly less sarcastic. “Never been better, Henry. What brings you fine gents into my office today? Anybody need some water, coffee?” There was actually some sincerity buried beneath the sarcasm; Phillips had the distinct feeling that they weren’t really there to kill him. They had another agenda, and he was beginning to suspect what it was. He still wasn’t sure of one thing, though: who was the ventriloquist and who was the dummy.

855 spoke. “I’m not here to kill you. Insulting as it might sound, you’re not on anybody’s hit list.”

Bowles chimed in. “We actually need your help.  Truth is, you’ll benefit too.”

“Glad to be of assistance,” Phillips responded as 855 came around to where he was half-cowering behind his desk, stood him up, patted him down, seated him in his chair--an old Aeron that he never could get to work right--and rolled the chair opposite the couch.

As 855 put his gun away, Bowles pulled a note out of his pocket and handed it to Phillips. “Read this in a way that’ll keep it from getting picked up on any cameras.”

Phillips unfolded the message.

He looked at the three letters, A, D and A again. Then, he nodded, crumpled the paper and swallowed it.

"Alright guys, lets play."