Lines on the Newness of Artificial Intelligence.
The walkway was, frankly, egregiously long. The entirety of the property owned by Mr. Frank Park seemed to be designed to annoy a guest. There was a fence around the featureless lawn, all ten acres of it, and in the center sat Mr. Park's house. The fence only allowed foot travel beyond it by way of a paved sidewalk that, for no discernable reason, wound back and forth like a snake up to the front door of the house.
The only feature on the lawn was a small pond to the west. It gave one the feeling that the yard surrounding Mr. Park's home was designed so that no person could approach from any direction without being instantly spotted.
This fact did not escape the person walking the sidewalk, dragging a wheeled suitcase behind her, but then, Ms. Emma Proust knew of Mr. Park's eccentricities very well. Mr. Park was a billionaire, and a paranoid one at that. He was the sort of man that was attracted to Couture Inc., which Ms. Proust represented.
Clack clack go the wheels of the suitcase at every crack in the walkway as Ms. Proust stalks up it. She is a rather interesting figure, standing at five feet and ten inches, and wearing an exquisitely tailored suit, dragging the suitcase behind her. One might imagine that she is some sort of security guard of the more personal and expensive type, as her shoulders are broad and she walks as if every step intended to put a hole in the ground. Her rather attractive face is currently stony, and her muscles seem tense. Ms. Proust is not a bodyguard.
She is in fact, a tailor. But a very, very specialized one. Couture Inc. started several decades ago with bulletproof suits, protection and style all in one. Instantly they became a known word among those who liked their style but also had a penchant for being shot at.
The suits became more and more sophisticated, and had ended up today to be a completely bulletproof, self contained and temperature controlled, haz-mat certified and personal ability boosting piece of clothing that came in two or three buttons, double breasted or single, and in several different blends for the most sensitive skin.
Mr. Park had been a long time customer of Couture Inc. His suits were always top of the line, the most advanced, and he had a personal tailor who would fit them and perform maintenance on the internal structures and systems when needed. Her name is Emma Proust.
Emma Proust's suit is a two-button, near perfectly black exquisite piece of tailoring, so well made that one couldn't help but stare. The cuffs stick out from the sleeves just so, the pants break at the shoe like a dream, and the creases are so sharp that a passing breeze found itself split into two rather confused zephyrs. It is also a proto-military outfit, several grades above what Couture Inc. currently sold, complete with its own Artificial Intelligence.
The AI was currently chattering in Ms. Proust's ear, and had been for the past thirty minutes or so. "That's the sixty-seventh crack we've walked over," says the young, male voice of Wehrmacht, the suit AI, cheerily in German. "I calculate we have thirty-two to go, but I frankly cannot wait to find out! Isn't making hypotheses and proving them quite an interesting way to pass the time, Emma?"
Ms. Proust's stony face is now understandable. It is very clear that this artificial intelligence is new. It's almost manically cheerful, and it was currently using the suit's many informational gathering systems to digest as much information as it possibly could. "This grass is Kentucky Blue, you know. Approximately three thousand stalks per square meter, which is interesting. Scans of the meter directly to you left suggests three thousand five hundred, which must mean that the yard is well-cared for. I believe that Mr. Park employs a yard-care service, then?"
"No, Wehrmacht, he takes care of it himself," says Emma Proust, responding in German as well. This is said in the voice one affects with a person who has asked seventeen questions since stepping into the gate. "He is rather meticulous like that."
"Ah!" says Wehrmacht. "I should have known! Files state that Mr. Park is rather paranoid which of course means he would not employ outside help! Silly me!" There is a pause. "Emma, I notice that your stress levels seem to be elevated. What is the cause for this?"
Ms. Proust, you see, is currently training a new AI. Wehrmacht is only about fourty-eight hours old. It was her duty to explain the world, and that did not include beating around the bush. "I'm annoyed because you've been asking so many questions, Vehrmacht."
The AI does not take offense to this. "Noted, Emma. I will try to space out my questions to keep you at optimal levels of stress."
Ms. Proust sighs. "Thank you, Wehrmacht." She steps up onto the porch of the house. "Now, we're here. Mr. Park trusts me, trust that was hard to build and something that I cherish, so please make sure to not cause a scene."
Wehrmacht pauses for a moment again. This was not needed, but the AI had affected pauses in his speech in the last few hours. "I will keep that in mind, Emma. I believe trust is something that is very precious to have with the humans I am helping."
Ms. Proust smiles and rings the doorbell. "You've only ever met me, Wehrmacht."
Wehrmacht chuckles. "And you trust me!"
Ms. Proust does not respond, and Wehrmacht says, "Your stress levels has spiked. Have I done something wrong?"
"It's not that. Mr. Park usually answers the door immediately."
"Mr. Park sent a request for a tailor one hour ago, complaining of a rip in the lapel of his gray double-breasted silk," Wehrmacht says as if reading off a paper. "This is not unusual. The doorbell is a mechanical model, and very unlikely to be broken. Mr Park always knows when there is someone on his property due to numerous security systems, so his not answering the door is cause for alarm. Yes?"
Ms. Proust nodded. She raised a gloved hand and rapped twice on the door. "Solid red oak door, from Northern California, I believe," noted Wehrmacht. "A solid, pleasing noise when struck. It would reverberate along the house and surely arouse anyone within who was not yet privy to our presence."
Ms. Proust's eyes narrow, and she kneels to open the suitcase. Inside are various tools, some mechanical and for internal wiring systems, along with cloth and needles, and a rather large, modern handgun. This latter she retrieves and says, "Wehrmacht, we are breaching the house. Please give me full spectrum scan. Watch my back."
She steps back to kick the door frame, and Wehrmacht tuts. "I can 'hack' the door lock, you know."
Ms. Proust pauses and says, "If you would. I would hate to ruin the door."
"I highly doubt you could, in fact," says Wehrmacht in her ear as the door clicks and swings silently open. "The lock and door are quite secure and disregarding a chainsaw, or, heh, me, it would take you about thirteen minutes to break in."
"Thank you, Wehrmacht."
The interior of Mr. Park's home could be described as spartan, but the more truthful review would contain the words "sterile", and "featureless". There was a hall that led into a kitchen, and three halls that led to a bedroom, living room, and sort of store-room respectively. The walls were white, and there were no pictures upon them, or anything that seemed to suggest that this was the home of a person who never left it.
"Mr. Park?" Ms. Proust calls out in English. "It's Emma Proust. Are you here?"
"My scans show that there is no living humans here, Emma." Wehrmacht states. "Although there are seventeen spiders living in the walls of this hall alone."
"Did you look for any…never mind," Ms. Proust starts and stops. Sitting in the chair in the kitchen was Mr. Park. The kitchen was usually spotless, but right now there was a rather large amount of blood, bone, hair, and gray matter sprayed on the walls. The reason was obvious.
Someone had put two bullets into Mr. Park's head, one above each eye, and they had exited through the rear. "I believe if I had a stomach it would be churning," remarks Wehrmacht. "But I see your stress levels have not elevated appreciably. I beg your pardon, I should have scanned for any humans, not just living ones."
"Yes, Wehrmacht, I believe you should have. Now, do a scan and tell me if there is anyone in this house besides me."
"There is not," the AI replies. "Would you like me to do a scan of the scene and draw some conclusions for you?"
"If you would." While Ms. Proust has been talking, she has been doing something of a once-over. She checked Mr. Park's pulse, rather futilely, and did a rudimentary sweep for evidence. "Give me just the basics, please, and then call in the police."
"Two nine millimeter subsonic rounds entered his skull from a distance of three inches. The assailant was standing about where you are, and and was perhaps about your height. Mr. Park died two minutes ago."
There is a breathless moment where Ms. Proust thrust herself against a wall and hisses, "Wehrmacht, do a full scan, I want the whole spectrum. Where the hell is the killer?"
"I have done a full spectrum scan, Emma. The killer is not here, I tell you." There is a pause. "Although I will admit that it is strange that we did not see anyone while we were walking in, as unless the killer was in the house for some time we would have seen him or her enter the grounds on our walk up."
Ms. Proust crouches low and, moving silently in wing-tipped shoes that offered more protection than steel toed boots, creeps slowly through the hall to the living room. One glance removes the possibility of a person hiding, as there was one lamp, one chair, and a television set. "Then where the hell is he, Wehrmacht?"
As Ms. Proust creeps along into the bedroom and clears that as well, Wehrmacht states, "I am running several simulations. Perhaps Mr. Park killed himself?"
"He doesn't have a gun," Ms. Proust states as she clears the store room as well. She relaxes and rubs her forehead. "Were your scans wrong?"
"Impossible! Mr. Park died within three minutes, and there is no one else in the house. There are no traces of anyone else whatsoever!" The AI states emphatically.
There is a second breathless moment, a pregnant pause that births the words, "Wehrmacht, please scan for any particularly odd absences"
"Ah. In that case there is a man-shaped hole of nothingness three meters in front of you. Oh, there go your stress levels again."
The man's suit was no sharp statement of fashion, it was all blocky chunks and exposed armor that shone like mirrors, perfectly recreating the background and keeping the man invisible while motionless. When he burst from the corner the mirror plates flickered and the perfect camouflage failed, and if Ms. Proust hadn't had a quarter second warning he would have caught her flat footed.
As it was, two bullets erupt from the man's gun and slam into her chest and inch from her left lapel. The systems in her suit absorb the impact enough that the blows don't even knock the wind form her, and her own firearm talks back in kind. Two of her own rounds ping off his chest and head but he barely reacts as well.
The camouflage systems drop and the assailant's full armor is revealed as he stows his gun and moves towards her quickly, hands up. Ms. Proust steps in confidently and the internal hydraulics sing as they clash.
The assailant attempts to down her with a throw, grasping her lapels and sweeping at her legs with his own to topple her to the ground. A quick repositioning of her footing blocks the sweep and she thrusts his arms off her by bringing them up and between his. In the same movement she traps his left arm between her bicep and her body and slams her foot into his left knee. There is a popping sound, and the man reels back, catching her on the temple with his gauntleted hand.
She stumbles, stunned, and Wehrmacht takes over the hydraulic system to keep her on her feet and backpedal away from the killer, who had thrown a second fist. "I believe our assailant is using combat Sambo, Emma. Quite a nicely broken throw, by the way."
Ms. Proust shakes her head to clear the sparks and says, "Where did he go?"
"Hmm?" Wehrmacht replies. "Oh, he went through the wall. Killed three spiders to do so."
Ms. Proust grimaces, as there is now a hole and the man is running. His camouflage panels are evidently fragile as there are a few broken and missing from where she had hit him so that it appears that several black spots are moving through the air on their own. He is moving quickly but limping on his left leg, and as Ms. Proust takes to her heels after him Wehrmacht states congenially, "I believe we will catch him within one hundred yards at the rate he is going."
Ms. Proust, in fact, catches him within ninety-nine. He turns and she drives her shoulder into him, bearing him to the ground with a tumble. They roll apart and Ms. Proust leaps to her feet at the same time he does.
He drops into some sort of stance and Wehrmacht says in her ear, "Here, watch this. I've just studied Sambo and I believe I can counter his fighting techniques."
Unbidden, the AI takes over her suit's hydraulics and steps forward. The man steps in to meet her as she yells, "Wait!", and drops to all fours, his leg sweeping out and catching her at the ankles. She hits the ground, the hydraulics spinning her to take the fall like she is on a dojo mat, and Wehrmacht's hold on her hydraulics loosens just in time for the man's booted foot to drive down onto her abdomen.
The protective systems in Ms. Proust's suit are designed to stop projectiles going over a certain speed, and the stomp hits her at almost full force. The air whooshes out of her lungs, but she rolls, clambering to one knee in expectance of another assault, but the camouflaged man is sprinting away again.
"Oh, he seems to be trained in capoeira, as well. I did not take that into account," muses the AI. "Also, I believe the man has an extraction team incoming if the helicopter is an evidence."
The helicopter is nearly silent and a rope trails from the bottom, dragging the ground less than ten yards from the assailant. The man leaps twenty feet, his own hydraulics singing, and clambers up the rope. Ms. Proust charges as the helicopter lifts, and she says, "Wehrmacht, target the end of the rope, get me on the helicopter!"
She runs closer and the familiar stiffening of hydraulics comes as Wehrmacht takes over, leaping with more grace and accuracy than she could have herself. It appears for a moment that she will miss the rope entirely before a stray wind snaps it up into her hand. She is holding the last six inches, and one hand over the other takes her higher after the man as the ground falls away.
The man on the rope above her glances down and does a double take. He shakes his head and draws a knife from a sheathe at his side, and begins sawing through the rope.
"I feel I should warn you that we will not reach him in time and that we will not survive this fall unaided," Wehrmacht says. "Well, you won't at least, but I believe that the use of 'we' incorporates trust, don't you?"
The rope snaps, and the assailant gives her a little wave as gravity takes over. "Wehrmacht, prep long fall contingencies to fire on my mark."
"Prepped," remarks the AI. Very small jets all over the front of the suit warm up, burning the cloth that lays over it. They are designed to fire once, yards from the ground to reduce the falling person's speed and make nearly any fall survivable.
"On my mark, Wehrmacht. Ten, nine-"
She is cut off by the AI, who states, "Scans of the ground below show that your mark will be in error, Emma. I will calculate my own and fire accordingly."
"No, Wehrmacht, fire on my mark!" Ms. Proust states firmly.
"Negative," replies the AI congenially. "Firing in five, four-"
It is the AI's turn to be cut off as Ms. Proust states all in one breath, "Wehrmacht AI shutoff three two Epsilon seven, fire long fall NOW!"
The jets blast and Emma Proust slams into the pond. It's not very deep and Ms. Proust's shoulder dislocates as it drives into the mud below. She kicks off the bottom, one arm useless, and she kicks to the edge of the pond. She hauls herself up with one arm and lays on her back, her legs trailing in the water.
Her breaths are ragged, and she is pretty sure a rib is jutting into her left lung. "Wehrmacht AI, come online."
There is a pause, and Wehrmacht states, "Ah. It appears I did not factor in the water when I scanned the ground, and I took the depression of the water to be a natural dip in the yard."
Ms. Proust doesn't say anything, merely focussing on breathing, and Wehrmacht says, somewhat sheepishly, "You have three broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder, among other bruises and contusions. Would you like me to administer aid until backup arrives?"
"Please," Ms. Proust hisses.
"This will hurt." Ms. Proust screams as her shoulder is driven back into its socket in the exact same moment that the suit hardens around the injured ribs. Her world washes with black and she barely manages to cling to consciousness.
She says something in German that calls into question the legitimacy of the birth of the world in general, but she can breath normally now.
"Er, Emma," starts Wehrmacht. "It occurs to me that several missteps were made. By me, specifically. Er. I feel that an apology is in order. So I do."
"Wehrmacht, do you know what all the AI I've trained with always immediately have?" Ms. Proust asks. "They're all arrogant. They're smart, but they lack common sense. That's part of the training, Wehrmacht. Breaking you of the habit of arrogance." She sighs. "Although, usually it's done with less risk to me. Wehrmacht AI shutoff three two Epsilon seven."
The AI's presence fades, and Ms. Proust keys her radio. "Simulation over. Come and pick me the hell up, you bastard."
The helicopter circles back, and the man hanging from beneath says, "Another success, Ms. Proust?"
"No thanks to you, you jackass. You cut the rope," she says accusingly.
"I had full confidence in your survival," answers the man, the lead of the AI Training team for Couture Inc. "Although I believe a bonus to your usual pay is in order. It will be deposited along with your standard hazard pay."
"Peachy," Ms. Proust answers. "Next time you get to host the baby AI. And hurry up, my ribs are killing me."