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Authors: Joel Shepherd

Killswitch (31 page)

BOOK: Killswitch
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"Yeah, well, everything's been pretty crazy lately. Why should the weather be different?" She brushed off her jacket and pants, and tried on her shades once more. "What d'you think? On or off?"

"Don't know who you'd be fooling in this building, Commander."

Sandy considered that, then nodded agreement and tucked the sunglasses into a pocket. "True enough. Much traffic inside? I still can't use uplinks."

"The President's here," Ijaz offered. "I'm not sure where though ... somewhere on the north side, I think, she wasn't allowed full access and wasn't very pleased about it."

"I'll find her," said Sandy. "I'll just follow the loudest screams."

Ijaz grinned. And said, as she made to descend the stairs, "Commander, it's real good to see you again."

Which pleased her enormously. "It's real good to see you too, Private." And departed before she could succumb to the temptation for sexual innuendo that even in the CDF, she wasn't supposed to make with enlisted personnel ...

She strode along the broad lower hall, brushing at rain-wet hair and noting that most offices were empty as she passed ... probably most State Department staff had gathered elsewhere to pass the time. At the circular atrium, Corporal Chang directed her northward, and found a spare headset so that she could listen in to operational chatter. She continued on, past busy CSA agents in suits who mostly didn't notice her identity as they exchanged notes and compared comp-slate codes and building schematics as they swept the entire State Department wing, floor by floor, room by room.

She found Vanessa in an open, north side meeting room that looked more like an exclusive VIP's club than anything else-a series of booth-style tables and comfortable leather bench seats, all of decoratively carved wood with trimmings and wall paintings that looked distinctly South Asian and Arabic by inspiration. The tall north wall windows overlooked green lawns and gardens. Vanessa stood before the glass-walled booths on the east side, firmly confronting a very important looking suit who loomed over her in evident displeasure.

"... I'm afraid you're going to have to call and say you'll be late," Vanessa was telling him as Sandy approached.

"I am not making a call that gets filtered through your monitoring system," the man insisted loudly. Sandy recognised the face-the Foreign Minister of Arkasoy, no less, several hundred light years from home and not at all happy that his schedule had been interrupted. "My world's security will not allow me to make any official transmission through the filtering software of any foreign security agency."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Atkins, but a lockdown is a lockdown. I believe we'll be finished in a few hours, maybe less."

"I'm not a part of your damned security crisis," Foreign Minister Atkins snapped. Vanessa had to tilt her head well back to look him in the eye, coming barely up to his armpit as she did. "I'm a visiting foreign dignitary on official business with a diplomatic visa, I've nothing to do with your internal security matters!"

"I'm sorry, sir," Vanessa said flatly, "but if you're in this building, you do." Atkins' own security agents were waiting patiently nearby, seeming quite unsurprised at Vanessa's stubbornness. Doubtless they'd explained it to their VIP several times. Equally doubtless their VIP hadn't cared to listen. Sandy waited between table booths, casting a glance around. She recognised several more important faces amongst bored, frustrated guests, plus personal security and various assistants. Waiters in spotless white tunics hurried to and from the kitchen, bringing drinks and snacks, valiantly attempting to keep irritated guests from exploding by placating them with sustenance. Through the old-fashioned blinds across the windowed booth behind Vanessa, Sandy saw President Neiland herself, seated at a table, chin glumly on fist as Agent Chandaram from Investigations attempted to explain the situation to her. Nearby, several dark-suited Alpha Team agents kept careful watch over the proceedings.

God help them if there was a security emergency here, Sandy thought. So many overlapping security operatives, it would be a wonder if they didn't all kill each other in the crossfire.

"I'm sorry, sir," Vanessa answered Minister Atkins' latest complaint, "but Callayan security procedures take precedence on Callay. There's nothing I can do."

Atkins swore beneath his breath, and swung about to storm back to his booth seat. And paused, frowning hard at Sandy, with evident recognition. And swung back around to stare at Vanessa, as if wondering if she'd seen. As if thinking a dangerous escapee was about to be arrested. Sandy wondered who he'd been talking to.

Vanessa met Sandy's gaze, and smiled, tiredly. "Hey-ya." Sandy smiled back, walked up and gave her friend a warm hug, because who really gave a flying fuck about all the people watching, anyway?

Vanessa returned it. "You know," she said against Sandy's shoulder, "I could get used to you as a brunette. In fact, I've been kinda wondering if I should go blonde myself. . ."

"No, no, no," Sandy said adamantly. "It's not you."

"Says your personal committee of one."

"So I'm getting conservative in my old age. Come, sit." She took Vanessa's arm, and guided her gently to the nearest booth, pointing to Lieutenant Sharma to take charge of any future VIP tantrums. Sharma nodded an acknowledgement with a smile, and Vanessa took a seat gratefully, Sandy sliding in beside her with most of the room's eyes fixed firmly upon the backs of their heads.

"How's the head?" Sandy murmured, leaning close so that the many pairs of enhanced eardrums behind them would be most unlikely to hear.

"S'fine," Vanessa murmured back. "This latest generation of neuro- peps are just wonderful ... you know, they respond to enhanced brainwave activity? The more you think, the better you feel. It's actually good to be active, 'cause I don't feel so bad, now."

She sounded, Sandy reckoned, slightly dreamy. Which struck her as funny, somehow, and she resisted the temptation to hug her again. It was just so nice to see her and to have her to talk to once more.

Vanessa frowned slightly, gazing at her from barely a hand's breadth away. "What about you? That damn GI could have had you, from what I heard."

"Worse-Sudasarno and an elevator full of civilians." She sighed, and hung her head. Vanessa's frown grew deeper.

"Bothered you, did she?" she asked. Vanessa's ability to read her emotions always amazed her. It was a totally different relationship from hers with Ari. Ari always seemed surprised and amazed at her thoughts, an amazement tinged with fascination. Vanessa was rarely amazed. She empathised.

"I don't know," Sandy murmured. And shook her head, faintly. "I'd always thought complexity led to intelligence. I mean, that's why humans are humans and bunbuns are bunbuns."

"You leave Jean-Pierre alone."

Sandy smiled. "But logically-our brains are more complex, thus we have morality, right? I mean, morality is a higher intellectual function, surely-that's why the old fear of a humanity overrun and enslaved by machine intelligence hasn't happened, right? Humans have created machines significantly smarter than themselves ..."

"If you do say so yourself," Vanessa interjected.

"... but humans haven't been enslaved," Sandy continued, "because the intellect required to do the enslaving also entails a sufficiently advanced consciousness to be subject to moral doubts and questions. And enslaving humans is unconscionable."

Vanessa made a face. "Sandy ... I've been a corporate number cruncher, and I've been a head-kicking grunt. Neither profession is exactly philosophical, my tiny little mind is way beneath this at the moment ...

"I'm saying that I'd always thought GIs were capable of more," Sandy explained, her gaze earnest. Vanessa looked tired. But she tried, if just to please her. "I'd always insisted that even the lower-des GIs could be so much more than just soldiers if they tried. If they were given the opportunity, and a reason to care. I mean, look at Rhian- just two years here and suddenly she's become all chic and sophisticated. Just the other day she was telling me she wanted to adopt a child someday ..."

"Really?" Vanessa perked up immediately. And smiled, picturing that. "Wow. That's fantastic, what did you tell her?"

"Vanessa, please, I need you to listen to this. I want to know if I'm nuts or what." Vanessa sighed, and raised a conciliatory hand. "So more complexity means more morality, right? And, I mean, the thing that makes me really different from Rhian is the brain structure, on a neurological level ... I don't understand most of it, I'm not a technician. There're people who speculate that the technology is so fucking advanced it probably isn't even hurrah ..."

"Talee?" Vanessa questioned. The Talee were a question that always got Vanessa's attention. And a lot of other people.

"Sure," said Sandy. It was common enough speculation that the Talee had provided League scientists with the first synthetic neurology tech. Yet another reason for Federation citizens to be terrified of the possible directions the League might take the human species inwithout the majority, Federation consent. "But mine's different even from Rhian's. More advanced ... I don't know how, it just is. More complicated pathways, able to process more information simultaneously without going crazy like Ari says would happen to any straight who tried to download uplinks at my speeds. Segmented consciousness. Rhian sees everything simultaneously. I compartmentalise."

"It's a wonder you're not schizophrenic," Vanessa remarked, with more concern than fascination.

"And now this GI. Jane."

"She calls herself Jane?"

"Maybe the FIA gave her the name ..." Sandy shrugged, ". . . I don't know. But she's smart. To have done what she's done so far ... real fucking smart. And I met her, Ricey. I spoke with her, face to face. I looked her in the eyes, and I saw just ... nothing."

Now Vanessa was really paying attention. Sandy thought she looked a little spooked. "Nothing at all?" she said.

"She reacts," Sandy explained. "She smiles a little, now and then. And I think I made her a little angry, telling her she didn't know shit."

"Well, there, surely that's something?"

Sandy shook her head. "It was almost like a mechanical response. Or not mechanical, as such, just ..." and she took a deep breath, trying to find the words. "Facial expressions are like symptoms, right? Symptoms of an underlying cause."

"Emotions."

"Well yeah ... but emotions are structured within a broader psychology." She shook her head. "Damn, I never had much use for psychs, but I could use one now."

"They exist within a context," Vanessa ventured calmly. "The context of that person's personality."

"Yes. Exactly. This Jane ... the emotions might be there, and the facial muscles might move, but the context ... the broader personality ... I don't know." She searched Vanessa's face for understanding. "I didn't feel anything. Does that make sense?"

"Sure. One morning two years ago, I rolled over in bed and looked at Sav. Same feeling."

"No way. Sav was a confident, exuberant, funny guy who also happened to be an egocentric arsehole. Hell, he had enough going for him to make you want to marry him ..."

"Yeah," Vanessa muttered, "big fucking recommendation."

"But you felt something, for good or bad."

Vanessa put her right elbow up on the seat back, and leaned her head against that hand for support. Fixed Sandy with a slightly glazed look, head tilted, one quizzical eyebrow raised in question. A waiter deposited drinks at a nearby table booth with a clink of glasses. Vanessa waited until he had passed out of earshot before resuming in a low voice, weary yet focused.

"Sandy, I used to be a suit myself, for one brief, bleak, lonely period in my life. I know a bit about the interstellar corporate bigwig circuit. I checked up on Takawashi, lying in my hospital bed in my awful polka dot pyjamas. These functions he's attending every second night just amazing. Every big name from the top end of town is there ... of course, in Tanusha, it takes a few weeks to fit them all in, but still. Even some Progress Party reps."

"Federation biotech hasn't seen anything like what his technology can do," Sandy replied cautiously. "If there were some relaxation in trade, in a few areas, the money to be made here is enormous."

"In this political climate? The last thing Neiland needs is more speculation that she's dragging the Federation toward League progressivism." Sandy nodded, biting her lip. That bit didn't make sense. "Mostly the media's been too busy with explosions and gunfire to notice much, but there were a few stories. The Administration immediately released a statement saying that Takawashi was on Callay on a `personal visit,' and had not been invited. And the Neiland Administration continued to oppose any and all attempts to relax controls on all advanced biotech ... blah, blah, blah.

"But I checked further, and here's the thing. He was invited. The State Department has an invitation on record." Sandy frowned at her. "That's how he got the diplomatic visa. But no one I talked to seemed to know who exactly made the invitation. Or they wouldn't tell me. This is a very wealthy, very powerful man, Sandy. He doesn't take a month out of his busy schedule for no good reason. And he just happens to be here at the same time as our friend Jane runs amok ... with help from the State Department."

"Damn," Sandy murmured. "You think Takawashi has some kind of personal interest in Jane?"

"And in you. He's responsible for much of what you are, right? So he's also responsible for much of what Jane is. Only he says this theft took place several years ago, very conveniently about the same time the FIA grabbed you here, and about the same time as the old League administration was getting real nervous that they were losing the war, and what would happen when people found out how far beyond the legal limits they'd gone in creating advanced GIs, and taking steps to get rid of the evidence."

Sandy blinked at her, as that possibility unfolded with a rush. "Oh, shit."

Vanessa nodded, with that same weary purpose. "I bet you Jane wasn't stolen. I bet she was offloaded to the highest bidder. Or maybe even for free. I mean, Takawashi loves his GIs far more than he loves the League, right? Especially the military."

BOOK: Killswitch
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