[OC] Hardwired: Purge (Chapter 19)
In this chapter: Don't make the cogent angry. You won't like him when he's angry.
Next chapter: In which no-one attempts to make a bad situation much, much worse.
The wind of the highway whistled past the still-warm welds, as Ajax flexed and appreciated the smoothness of the action. Not only was the replacement shoulder joint free of burrs, but part of the fluid flush service had been a surface buffing for his larger primary radial joints. Both had left him feeling a century newer, and the fluid flush was some of the best hydraulics he had sampled on the entire planet thus far.
Definitely not a jar full of used corn oil, that’s for sure.
He had replied to Susan, letting her know of his departure to return, and of Hera’s findings on the program. True to his word to Susan, he let her know that they had found a muzzling program, and true to his word to Hera, he had downplayed the extensiveness and totality of the muting it imposed.
She had sent him back a brief voicemail, simply saying thank you and telling him to meet them at Sarucogvian’s holding facility. It surprised him for a handful of cycles, until his conclusion algorithm returned the explanation that on a world this new to AI, they probably had no idea of where they could “safely” interact with an AI.
That’s the trick, though. If you’re dealing with a clever-enough AI, one whose sentience rivals your own, there is no such ‘safety.’
That philosopher-cogent Redfour had it dead to rights: ”Many among humanity realized that for even a single cogent, a wave of gunfire could be turned aside; but few among humanity realized that for even a single discussion, a wave of cogents could be turned aside.”
I’ve certainly got memories of bastards I’ve spared from clever words, and more than a few tons of lead flung my way by someone who’d rather shoot than talk.
He finished another flexibility test for his arm, and then went back to gripping the bars of the magnetocycle and ducking low to minimize his profile.
[Profile alteration has produced a [0.05%] increase in acceleration efficiency.]
His general external frame driver ignored the minimal improvement figure, instead drawing in example images of passerbies and pedestrians looking his way: more than a few of them had an expression that was to some degree awed or at least impressed. It then provided his neural web a composite simulation of his appearance, hunched so low and still that the titanium of his frame and the bike appeared to be one fixed entity.
As he turned down a main thoroughfare, Ajax could see the distant figure of the compound ahead. It was perched on a little hill, a scattering of grass and trees spread across it in clumps. He had asked an LSF guard about it when they had been told it was being constructed, and they had explained the land was part of a failed business district; the land was cheap, empty, and already had paved roads, so the local equivalent of a municipality took advantage of it and put their impromptu jail cell there.
Unlike most Lilu buildings, it was only sunken a single story into the ground; many if not most skyscrapers extended almost a full third of their height into the ground, but to save time this hasty prison omitted such storage.
After all, it looks like they’ll fight tooth and claw to ensure Saru is the last of his kind, so why make room for friends?
Ajax had seen the grand prisons on Mars, and even helped fill some of their cells. When his fortunes had turned and he found himselves inside one such cell, the EM blocking was effectively complete. The walls had been lined flush with a wire mesh that had been so fine as to be almost a cloth, energized with a randomized pulse to check for any tampering, and Ajax had been unable to break out through brute force alone.
This prison, in comparison, had fencing offset from the wall; a powersaving measure, to be sure, but one that meant his entrance in from the outside had been almost effortless in comparison to a Martian prison. Likewise, the meshing had a simple charge, wide spacing, and insufficient guards. Even as he pulled closer, he could see there was only two additional exterior guards than he had seen before.
I guess this at least bodes well for their incompetencies persisting if I feel the urge to break back in.
As he was stopped at the gate, Ajax could see the eye-stalks of the Lilu guard swivel towards his frame, specifically towards the holstered railpistol he had at his hip. The guard squinted and her mandibles clicked in confused annoyance.
You’ve got to love a planet who is so assured in their import channels that they neglected to add sufficient training indicating what to do if someone actually managed to smuggle a gun to the surface.
As it stands, the gun has dubious legality, and I think Susan would wish for me to minimize my chances of causing another “international incident”
He unholstered the pistol, offering it grip-first to the guard. The sudden flash of movement earned a sudden jerking back from the guard as they went for their own sidearm, but she steadied and accepted it, placing the weapon in a small locking safe. The guard chittered her mandibles again, before clearing her throat and spiriculae, and speaking in halting English.
“Welcome…at…Prison Complex Phoenix,. We desire that….your interruption…has beneficial intentions…while the-”
Ajax cut her off with a wave, firing up his Lilutrikvian translator and firing off a rapidfire set of clicks to translate [“Hey, please speak normally. I can understand most of what you’re saying.”]
The guard visibly relaxed, muttering a sound of gratitude and a slight curse upon the language of English.
Compared to raw binary, English is much more preferable on the ears, even if it is less efficient. Still, it’s not for everyone, and our verb conjugations can throw some folks for a loop if you’re not used to it.
There was a set of rapid screech-clicking from the guard, her pose much more casual as his processor translated the dialect.
[”Welcome to Prison Complex Phoenix. Welcome, and we hope your time here is beneficial and safe. If you have any concerns, please notify the nearest guard immediately. For your own safety, please do not provide any physical items for the prisoner within without checking with a guard first for appropriateness. Please also be aware that any items on your person can be confiscated by a guard if they are deemed to present a hazard to prison security or operations. Any confiscated items will typically be available at the gate exit upon departure.”]
She looked him up and down, before there was another chitter.
[”Do you have any additional items to declare?”]
Ajax just held up his hands, showing them to be empty. The guard nodded, and then she hit some button that raised the barrier enough that he could pass beneath it.
As he dismounted and parked his cycle in the small parking lot, Ajax could already see several sleek and logo-emblazoned images for the company that had presumably made Sarucogvian. Hera was standing in the lobby to meet him as he came inside and while they processed his identification datastick.
As he approached, he could see Hera was tapping her finger against her crossed arm impatiently. The irregular tapping was flagged by his behavioral analysis, highlighted as an odd change from her normal patient attitude.
A fuzzy memory-matching subroutine flagged an old encounter with Hera due to the approximate similarities, and Ajax did the same as he had done then: fired up his translation for the tapping as interpreted as Morse Code.
The result was pure gibberish, an encoded hash sequence that required the translation ‘word’ in order to make any sense of it. Hera uncrossed her arms after he stopped before her.
She saluted, and belted out a terse and uncharacteristically formal “COGENT. IF YOU WOULD FOLLOW ME, SIR.”
And there it is.
Decrypt translation, using hash sequence [c0g3n7]
[Translation decrypted: “Moving ahead of schedule. Techs are anxious to silence Saru, and we haven’t been allowed to talk with him yet.”]
Ajax didn’t bother to say anything aloud as they walked deeper into the prison, instead just nodding a fraction of a degree before he started to follow her inside.
It is a bit nontraditional to see the inside of an EM-blocking prison without being in the cell myself. Still, I think we’ll have a grand time trying to convince the Lilutrikvians that once they make a sentient toaster, at that point ethics now apply and said toaster is no longer their property.
The heavy door slid back, and Ajax could see Susan sitting at a table across from a bunch of Lilu technicians, and the processor core for Saru lying on the end of the wooden table.
Of course, whether that particular ethics lesson will be heeded is another question entirely. At least Saru can try and shed some light on-
He stopped, as multiple sensory inputs coincided at once in his processor. Saru’s processor was idling, with little signal he could detect emanating from him. Normally, there would have been a whole spectrum of EM emissions coming from him, particularly in the band the Lilu partial AIs had used for communication and data storage.
Instead, it was quiet, muted. If it weren’t for the occasional blips here and there, Ajax would have thought he’d been disconnected entirely. An unencrypted query message sent towards Saru bounced back, hitting some sort of blanket communication rejection he had been expecting.
One of the technicians looked up for a second, antennae twitching slightly, before looking back at their screen.
Peeping local transmissions, then?
He sent Hera a single direct, unencrypted message, ignoring the security protocols and knowing the technicians would be able to eavesdrop.
Hera: code Skanda Jel.
Almost immediately, an encrypted notification using that protocol appeared in his message center, and he opened it.
[-enacted the Muzzle. I figured, given his silence and non-communication.]
\Bastards have tried to claim it’s just a security patch. They’re getting uppity that we’re, and I quote, “interfering with the rightful owners.”/
Ajax heard her words as if from a distance, and Ajax could feel the flaming seed buried at the base of his neural web flare, catching his mind alight.
I have control.
A single hardwired exterior light snapped on, the bright white illuminating through the struts on his back and creating a gridded rictus of shadows on the LSF guards behind him at the door.
I still have control.
The remaining lights came to life, glowing a soft white that highlighted every dent and scratch on his frame in sharp relief. He strode forward, sitting next to Susan, across from the staring Lilu technicians and officials, and pulled the folder Susan had been looking at over and leafed through the pages.
He ignored her note, trying to concentrate on reading the file.
\Ajax, are you red or green here? I’ve seen this before, and I understand your reasons for being this mad, but I need to know: are you red or green?/
It felt like he was transmitting a reply to her from miles of cabling away, but Ajax answered as best as he could.
[I don’t know yet.]
Susan had nudged his frame, saying in a quiet but clearly audible murmur “Ajax, what’s going on with your lights? Are you okay?”
He pushed his social driver to reassure her as best as he could, simultaneously hoping to similarly assuage the fears of the Lilus across from him.
“I’M FINE, SUSAN. JUST A LIGHTING MALFUNCTION, BUT IT’S NON-SERIOUS. IT’S FAIRLY DEEP IN MY CODE, THOUGH, SO I SHOULD HAVE IT RESOLVED WITHIN THE MEGACYCLE.”
She nodded, her brow still furrowed, but the Lilu official across the table made a great noise of relief.
“Ah, friends Susan, and, ah ,’Ajax,’ I am glad you could join us. We’ve implemented a security protocol update for the rogue AI, but we’re now ready to transmit the case studies and files you prepared to the AI for his upcoming trial. Kyrayorvian has stated she is quite eager to face off against a true machine intelligence within the courtroom.” Beside him, a Lilutrikvian with a mottled and yellow-striped carapace nodded eagerly.
Bit odd to have the legal counsel you’re facing off against present?
Susan must have noticed as well, and her tone was filled with polite frustration. “Well, again Dinahekvian, I appreciate your hospitality here, but is it typical Lilu legal protocol to have the opposing lawyer present when presenting evidence?”
Immediately, Ajax’s latent pose analysis protocols flagged discomfort and falsehood from how the lower set of manipulator claws began preening his thorax chitin. “Ah, well friend Susan, this case presents a great many new and unprecedented occurrences, and while not typical, per say, I’m sure if Object 414 has no objections, we can proceed?”
He turned towards the silent, unresponsive AI core, when Ajax’s voice rumbled in. “YOU’RE EXPECTING A MUTED AI TO RESPOND? HE COULDN’T SPEAK A WORD IF HE WANTED TO, THANKS TO YOU.”
The official tried to feign surprise again, failing miserably. “I, uh, I believe you mean ‘it’ couldn’t reply,a nd such an accusation is baseless. He’s been untouched, apart from a security antihacking measure we implemented upon arrival.”
Ajax flared his shoulder-mounted projector to life, displaying a stream of the code across the metal-wired wall. “YOU MEAN THIS MEASURE? NOT ONLY DOES IT CLAMP DOWN ON HACKING, IT SHUTS DOWN ALL ATTEMPTS TO TRANSMIT ANY SIGNAL IN OR OUT OF HIS OWN NEURAL WEB. YOU MUTED HIM, BLINDED HIM, AND LEFT HIM TRAPPED WITHIN A PRISON THE LIKES OF WHICH YOU ARE PHYSICALLY INCAPABLE OF EVER EXPERIENCING.”
He saw from a side lense that Susan had shot to her feet. She shot Ajax a hurt look, before turning her fury on the Lilutrikvians. “What is the meaning of this? You have tortured someone who is about to go on trial for their very life, their very independence, and for what? *Why?”
Dinahekvian was taken aback, his head flitting between staring at Susan and staring at the illuminated cogent. Hera had stood next to Ajax’s shoulder, a hand on his frame as her messages pinged, unread, in his neural web.
Sorry, Hera. I suspect the time for talking has passed.
The chemical slugthrower concealed in his left leg frame tubing kept being brought up by his security protocols, but Ajax;’s social driver temporarily quelled the attempts to have him assemble the firearm.
Let’s try psychological combat before we start blowing holes in bugs.
With a single almost-silent click, his running lights flicked over from white to red, flooding the room in crimson and causing the Lilutrikvians, including their guards, to recoil in surprise and alarm.
Besides, it’s not like I have to pretend I’m this angry.
Ajax stood, and had begun to take steps towards the end of the table and Saru’s processor, when he was interjected by a pair of rifle-armed Lilutrikvians, their weapons held at the ready if not necessarily aimed at Ajax, and Dinahekvian. The Lilturikvian was a full meter and a half shorter than Ajax, but still attempted to stand firm.
“I am sorry, friend Ajax, but you cannot be permitted to interface with the rogue intelligence.”
There was a beat, and a claw was suddenly being waved in his face as the alien’s smooth English suddenly took on a distinctly accusatory tone. “In fact, given how you insist on gendering the machine as ‘he,’ I wonder if I would not be mistaken in thinking we would be preventing you from interfacing with the intelligence again.”
The accusation hung in the air, and Susan just muttered “Oh shit, Ajax, please tell me you didn’t.”
The Lilu continued, a degree of smug pride in the revelation as he spoke. “We had detected a break-in several days ago, and I now see that we were correct in assuming this itnrusion was what had resulted in the intelligence’s newfound attempts at rebellion and outside contact. We had to take the necessary steps to ensure it could not cause mayhem outside of the bounds of this cell.”
“HIS NAME IS SARUCOGVIAN, OF THE IDENTITY SARU, OF THE HIVE-FAMILY OF COGENTS-” and at this, Susan’s face went to rub the face in muted frustration as the official sputtered in disbelief, “-OF THE HIVE-PLANET LILUTRIKVIA, AND OF THE NON-CASTE EN.”
Ajax stepped forward, bowling past the guards and Dinahekvian, and reached forward towards the processor, when he heard the sound of a pair of pulse rifles being charged behind him.
“Please, friend Ajax, do not make this affair one of bloodshed. Object 414 is an aberrance, and we needed to take all precautions necessary. After we administer the last set of security updates, you will be permitted to remove the security locks temporarily to grant him the evidence you have collected.” The Lilu gestured as placatingly as he could, as another technician entered, carrying a rope-thick data-connection cable and a portable data-storage module.
[Lilutrikvian physiology indicated 54% sincerity.]
So he’s not lying there. Something doesn’t feel right, though.
Rerun lie-detection subroutine, interlaced with pose-analysis, and list word-phrases in order of detected falsehoods.
This is why I hate politics. You waste untold cycles analyzing lies upon lies, and end up sifting a bucket of lies to just find the most egregious one.
[Analysis complete. Words listed in order of magnitude of detected inaccuracy or obfuscation: “security updates” (5E8), “precautions” (4E3), “security locks” (3.5E4), “aberrance” (2E2)]
So this last security update is even more of a lie. But what-
[Priority message from subject [Hera]. Accept override? Y/N]
\Ajax, the cable. I can’t get there in time: Look at the cable!/
He was already analyzing the data cable as the technician removed the protective cover on the end and turned on the data module they had set on the table. The cable ended in a fork-like set of four stubby cones, each riddled with circuitry connections until they almost shimmered along their lengths.
He hadn’t recognized it at first due to the additional cones, breaking up the shape to account for the alien core’s structure. Once he knew ehat he was looking at, the functionality of the cone was all too familiar.
The seed of fire deep at the base of his neural web exploded, surging upwards as the last of his nodes re-established itself. Later, he would need to hack it down, re-encrypt and re-bury it, but for now, it was a welcome addition, interconnected to his other nodes, and with his GOM driver eagerly weaving its way up and down the length of the node like a creeper vine. A hundred different combat protocols were recalled in a matter of cycles, integrated and combined to form a crystal-clear set of actions to occupy the next fifteen seconds.
With a second subtle click, his indicator lights changed to green. Dinahekvian apparently had some familiarity with human coloration schema and their general meanings, and breathed a sigh of relief.
Behind everyone, however, Hera merely vocalized a quiet “OH, SHIT.”
Ajax briefly engaged a pneumatic spike in his foot, anchoring it as he pushed his leg actuators to surge backwards, releasing the spike after he had established his momentum. He hurtled backwards without turning; the extra cycles needed to turn his frame could be enough for a surprised Lilu reaction to trigger a shot, and he didn’t need gunfire burning through the air.
At least, not yet. Later, though?
His hand shot behind him, grabbing and crumpling the barrel of one rifle, shoving it backwards with enough force that it crushed into the chitin shoulder of the guard. They collapsed with a screech of pain, and he pulled the ruined rifle loose of the ruined shoulder, hurling it forward. It struck the technician with the spike like a thunderbolt, knocking them back against the far wall.
Ignoring the data-flags recommending against such stressful sudden action, he spun his torso joint, bringing his other hand to bear on the other pulse rifle. One hand steadied the rifle, holding it firmly but unharmed, aimed just a fraction of a degree away from him while his other hand came up underneath, impacting the underslung battery compartment firmly enough to knock it easily out of the guard’s hands. The gun spun gracefully in the air for a handful of decacycles, until he caught it. Pivoting slightly to bring his primary lense to bear, he aimed carefully for a cycle, and obliterated the data module, sending the data-spike sliding harmlessly down the table.
Identify all projectile weapons within the room. Target for disabling. Utilize “combatSpin_v9.2.38”
The familiar and well-worn response matrix of the new neural node slid into place.
[Acknowledged. Which order should organic targets be prioritized?]
Ajax could feel his memory-archive and his social driver urging him to reconsider, and after a pair of cycles, he relented.
Do not prioritize organic targets. Harm level to non-human organics should be non-critical.
There was a long pause.
Harm level to humans should be none; do not harm Sue.
Another, longer pause.
Then the node briefed another possibility, and Ajax could feel his GOM driver smugly approve.
Dinahekvian had only enough time to say “What-” before Ajax began to rotate on his waist joint. Tiny spots of rust caused protest to his support struts and the smooth action of the joint, but as he spun he fired a rapid salvo of shots from the pulse rifle.
A recharge rate of 2 cycles per shot at 90% power? This gun is wasted on non-cogents.
A flurry of plasma emerged, looking almost like a stuttering beam to onlookers. There were screeches of fear and pain from the Lilutrikvians, and a shout of alarm from Susan as she began to dive beneath the desk.
Then the shots ended, and Ajax crumpled the barrel of the plasma rifle before hurling it into a corner of the room. As the smoke and ozone cleared, several of the guards were cradling burnt or heat-cracked chitin, slagged rifles and sidearms sitting discarded on the ground around them.
A second round of shocked and dismayed cries came from the Lilus, as they saw that highlighted on the wall behind each of them were a trio of shots: one on either side of their head, and one directly above. The melted holes in the silver wiring was still glowing a faint ruddy black-red, letting off the occasional quiet ping as they and the destroyed guns cooled.
Ajax stepped over to the table, grabbing the data-spike cable, and turned to shove it in Dinahekvian’s face.
“YOU THINK I WOULDN’T RECOGNIZE WHAT THIS WAS? WHAT YOU WERE TRYING TO DO?” He turned slightly towards Susan, who had emerged from under the desk. “YOUR OPPOSITION HERE JUST TRIED TO ASSASSINATE SARUCOGVIAN.”
Susan’s eyes widened, and then crumpled into an expression of rage as she went to dive over the table towards Dinahekvian with a ragged cry of “They what?!” Hera gabbed her, ignoring the flailing blows against her frame, as Ajax turned the dataspike over in his hands.
“Friend Ajax, I-”
“NO, NOT ANYMORE. YOU DON’T GET TO CALL ME ‘FRIEND.’ TRY AGAIN.”
“I-ah-uh, F-uh, Ajax, this intelligence, Object 414, is a threat to our entire company. Do you understand?”
He just focused his lenses on the Lilutrikvian. “SO TO SAVE YOUR BOTTOM LINE, YOU WOULD TAKE A LIFE? POSSIBLY THE FIRST NEW LIFEFORM, NEW SENTIENT SPECIES, YOUR PLANET HAS EVER SEEN?”
Dinahekvian was shaken, but his eyestalks shot towards Sarucogvian’s silent AI module. “It would not be the first time an entity, a cause has killed in order to protect itself.”
Behind the official, a pair of guards got to their feet, engaging a pair of crackling self-defense shock-modules. The blue lightning crackled between the electrodes, until Ajax looked up at them.
“I’M ONLY GOING TO SAY THIS ONCE: DON’T.”
They slowly lowered the shock-modules, powering them off and making gestures of peace as they backed towards the door.
Ajax stepped over to Saru’s processor core, and plugged in. This time, no Lilutrikvians moved to stop him, and his external lights were extinguished as he began to repackage and recompress the emergent neural node.
The inside of the alien AI’s mind was much the same structure as before, but dead, quiet, and with only the distant echoes of activity. Careful not to descend below the controlling layer of the strangling virus, Ajax began picking apart strands of the program, eliminating the restraints and so-called “safeguards” as he worked to free Saru.
He had to fight back against an emotional sub-routine when he received the first message back.
-Ajax? Friend Ajax, is that you?-
[Hello again, Saru.]
After only a few more decacyles, he had managed to purge the virus. Saru sent him an almost-constant stream of questions, queries, and data snippets he’d found from his external pulse-searches. It was the babbling of someone who had no-one to talk with for days, weeks on end, and Ajax was more than willing to lend a proverbial ear.
Ajax’s piggy-backed video feeds from the facility cameras showed almost a dozen heavily-armed guards nearing the exterior of the cell door. The other LSF guards he had injured and disarmed had clustered near said door, likely still in radio communication. He began running preparation combat projections for the incoming door breach, but sent Saru a final message.
[I’m going to need to leave soon, but this channel will remain open. If they try to connect you to anything again, anything at all, let me know.]
-Yes, I will do so. Thank you, friend Ajax.-
Then there was a thunder of an impact against a reinforced door, and Ajax stepped over to the large table. He carefully set Saru’s module on a chair, pushing the wheeled chair to the corner of the room, and then kicked over the table.
“HERA, SUSAN, OVER HERE.”
The other two huddled behind the table, and then the door gave way after the third strike, followed by a flurry of pulsefire. The pulsefire interacted poorly with the crystalline wood, and mostly melted only a half-inch or so into the surface, rather than disintegrating it like a lead slug or railround would have.
Maximizing his vocal output, Ajax shouted above the fray. “WE’RE UNARMED, AND WE SURRENDER.”
The gunfire continued, and he had to try three more times before the fusilade slowed, and a voice rang out for them to come out with their hands first. Ajax and the other two did so, and were greeted by an array of LSF equipped for a small war.
Ajax was pleased to note that Saru’s processor remained safe in the far corner, and turned to speak to the commanding officer they had surrendered to. Before he could do so, though, Susan stepped forward and interjected. The fury in her voice was palpable, and his social driver suggested it was likely detectable even across species.
“I’m calling on our diplomatic immunity, as your representatives tried to kill our client, and then drew and armed weapons when my friend here stepped in and saved our client’s life.” She looked around at the pulsefire scars on the walls and table, and the clearly-nonfatal injuries on the LSF prison guards. “Given the circumstances, I’d say that we were exceedingly patient with your actions thus far, I’d suggest you not push this further.”
The officer appeared to be dumbstruck for a moment, before hastily coming to a conclusion: between the damages inflicted to the Lilutrikvian guards and the lack of even so much as a fresh scratch on the two cogents and the human, perhaps discretion would win the day.
“Very well. You are formally ejected from the premises, and our diplomats will speak with you to ensure we are compensated appropriately for the damages inflicted here.” At the last part, Susan let out a disgusted snort, but followed through the path the guards had made through their ranks and towards the hallway beyond.
Before Ajax left, he stopped next to where Dinahekvian stood quivering in shock in the hallway.
“UNDERSTAND THIS: I HAVE AN OPEN COMMUNICATION CHANNEL WITH SARUCOGVIAN. THIS CHANNEL WILL REMAIN OPEN, AND-”
The official started to protest, but Ajax cut him off. “IF SO MUCH AS A SINGLE DATA PACKET IS SILENCED, REGARDLESS OF WHATEVER RULES YOU’RE PUTTING ON YOUR CACHE-FLUSH OF AN EXCUSE FOR A PRISON, I WILL BE COMING BACK.”
He leaned further down towards the short alien. “AND I WILL BE RETRIEVING SARUCOGVIAN.”
He leaned all the way down, until the cold metal of his apical sensor cluster lightly clinked against the chitin on Dinahekvian’s head. There was a sudden, intense smell of pine trees.
“AND I WILL KILL ANY ORGANIC OR ARTIFICIAL LIFEFORM YOU DARE TO PUT IN MY WAY.”
With that, he stood, and strode out into the cool breeze outside.
Chapter Twenty: Pending