Excerpt for The New Generation by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The New Generation

By Ieperen3039


Copyright 2017 Geert van Ieperen


Distributed by Smashwords


License Note

This ebook may not be re-sold to other people, but sharing is allowed. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, consider contributing the little price of this book as a way of support. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Disclaimer

The riddle in Crack the Cryptex is provided by William T. Williams.



We don’t know how the world will look like in 40 years. Many think that when computers become smarter than humans, we will regret making them. I think that with the right mind, we could create a system as intelligent as NG.


Chapter 1

On The Run

Swinging his bag over his shoulder, he hurried through the hall, his hasty steps echoing in the empty space as he cautiously sped for the front door.

Kicking it open, he jumped into the black night.

Ford had barely left the door step when he was struck by a metal arm, causing him to be flipped into the ground. The robot didn't flinch as Ford slammed into the marble tiles.

“You are being halted for breach of privacy,” the robot said calmly, as if it was serving coffee.

Ford tried to get up, but the robot quickly pressed his shoulder back onto the ground. With its free arm, the robot opened the bag and took out a small yellow-lined device.

“Do you have any idea how vital this is for national safety?” it asked while holding up the device.

Ford looked away. “Probably more than you do.”

“Please identify yourself.”

“I am the last man you will ever see,” Ford smiled.

“Sir...” the robot started.

>WHAM!<

A metal bar was jammed through the robot from the back of its shoulder. Its attacker rolled forward with the robot, falling just past Ford.

“I guess you have something to explain, Devlin,” Ford said calmly.

“Just get up and follow me,” Devlin shouted as he jumped up. “The van is over there.”

Ford got up and grabbed the device. As soon as it was safely back in the bag, he followed after his companion.


“You had to play the hero again, didn’t you?” Ford shouted as he caught up.

“What did you want me to do?” Devlin shot back. “I was already closing in with the van when I noticed that robot. I couldn’t just... ride over him!”

They reached the van and Ford took the wheel, quickly launching them down the driveway. “Sure, the plan changed,” Ford answered. “...but why jump off the roof with a steel pipe?”

“That’s... alright. First of all, you said that the robots have perfect vision, but that they are also nearly deaf. The roof was logically the safest way of getting close.”

“Or you could have simply rammed him with the van. Problem solved.”

“Second...” Devlin continued, ignoring his suggestion, “We don’t have guns. This may be a shock for ‘Mr. Gangleader’, but we don’t.”

Ford turned the van onto the main road and got up to speed. Now that they entered a coated road, the subtle sound of the tires fell away, making them completely silent. “We actually do have a bullet,” he responded. “The van.”

“Right. Third, about that, these robots are not complete idiots. They can dodge a car with ease.”

“Actually, they are complete idiots,” Ford corrected. “Unlike NG, they do not have impulsive reactions. Not if something idiotic happens, like... getting rammed with a van.”

He passed a crossing and turned on the headlights. The night was empty, and there was nothing outside that would disturb them. He pulled his flask from under the chair and drained it within seconds.

“That’s why NG was so human-like,” he continued, throwing the flask into the back. “They had intuitive reflexes for everything. These things from Reddex have to literally overthink everything before they move.”

Devlin leaned back. “Yeah... imagine if we find one somewhere and we have to fight it...”

“You still think they’re out there?” Ford glanced at him. “The crisis started over a month ago, and nobody has seen a single NG robot since. The Mainframe of NG is gone and everything of NG that we found was either completely destroyed or just scrap metal.”

Devlin looked out the side. “You know, we have been pursuing these memories of NG, even though Reddex may be just as interesting. I mean, as soon as the crisis started, Reddex came into existence pretty much out of the blue.”

“I see where you are going. However, we do know that Reddex was made by the American Security Service to protect us. Nobody knows anything about the origin or intentions of NG. That is the difference.”

“Sure, then why did we get an armed robo-raid on our roof last week?” Devlin snarked back. “Not for our safety.”

Ford waved at the bag. “We had two chronicles. Apparently, they are also trying to find NG’s intentions.”

Devlin thought silently for a moment. “That would mean that NG is still out there.”

Ford thought a bit and nodded. “You think Reddex successfully prevented global domination?”

“Let’s hope we find that out quickly,” Devlin answered as he closed his eyes.

That question is what they have been working on since the beginning of the information crisis that had completely ground global development to a sudden stop.


7th of October 2046, a month-and-a-half ago


The internet and all other types of digital communication were suddenly cut. Nobody knew what was happening, and even the trading-bots on the stock markets weren’t fast enough to react before all communication was gone. It was right on that day that Devlin would make a breakthrough on the case he had been working on for the North European Security Agency. They had clear evidence that there would be a major weapons trade that day between an illegal motorcycle gang and a shadowy group, led by none less than the genius Ford Yttri.

Devlin had positioned himself that day on a overstacked pallet of boxes, so he could see one of the few exits of the building without being in absolute danger if anything would went. Something like a loss of communication with HQ.


“Headquarters, do you copy?” Devlin whispered loudly into his microphone. Still no answer. The connection was dead. He knew that he should abort the mission at once, but Devlin wasn’t about to give up just yet.

A door was opened, and some men entered the storage room.

“Without money we won’t trade a thing, you understand?” one of the voices said.

“Sure. But that’s no reason to leave now! We can wait until it’s back up!” another man said hastily.

“Don’t you see? All communication is down. This is not simply a blackout, but more like an EMP blast.”

Devlin was shocked. The first man was definitely Ford. Would there be a connection between this blackout and Devlin’s loss of communication with HQ?

The other man laughed hoarsly. “You know that EMP doesn’t exist yet...”

They were just below the Devlin at that moment, and it became clear to Devlin that the two men were the only ones that entered. He thought about the option to roll down, arresting them both `just in case’, but it would be a risky move.

>WHAM!<

Devlin’s stack of boxes collapsed as the unknown man was suddenly thrown against it. Devlin fell with them, losing his gun in the process. By the time he found solid ground again, he quickly looked up, and found himself staring into the loop of his own gun.

“Well, if that isn’t a NESA agent,” Ford said, sounding somewhat joyful.

Devlin stared in desperation, but to his upmost surprise, Ford turned the gun around, and offered Devlin the grip.

“I have helped you guys enough in the past, it is time you return the favor for once.”

Completely dumbfounded, Devlin took the gun, and watched Ford walk further to the exit.

“Wait. Hold it! Are you... are you an infiltrator?” he shouted.

Ford had a nasty smile as he opened the door. “I prefer the term... Spy.”


Present time


The blackout has been continuing ever since, now widely called the information crisis. Even now, they still don’t know what really happened that day.

Ford parked the van somewhere on a deserted side-road. They had practically been living in the van ever since the raid, just to stay out of sight of the authorities. They were definitively on some kind of watch list, but only Reddex has proven to be a real problem.

“Just get some sleep before we start working on those things,” Devlin said.

“Oh sure, but why not leave an analysis running during the night?” Ford answered as he attached the chronicle to their computer installation in the back of the van.

“Well, good luck then,” Devlin said and rolled over to sleep.

Cozy enough for Coffee

Arles, France: August 2028

Carefully, I lifted the machine to the top of the stairs.

“This is it!” Laurine said, and she opened the door to her new room.

I was not able to take a look at it, as the dishwasher was just too large to look past it. Maybe I held it the wrong way.

“Is it heavy for a robot like you? I can imagine that running up seven floors drains your battery like crazy.”

“We run on ethanol actually. Lifting something costs less fuel than you may think. Is the path clear?”

“Uhm, let me just...”

The sound of cardboard on wood indicated that she was clearing the way. I wondered what would be in those boxes.

“Clear to go. This way.”


-


Not much later, I was connecting the machine to the interface of the little kitchen.

“I’m sure lucky you was with George when I called him,” she said.

“You think George wasn’t willing to help you?”

“Oh, sure he would help, but I would need at least someone else to carry that thing. Plus, I don’t think George knows how to install a dishwasher”

“It isn’t much work,” I said as I got up. “Done.”

I noticed that the cupboards were empty, and there was little furniture elsewhere in the room. The room lacked the variety that I would expect from a student girl like Laurine. It probably had a connection with the boxes.

“Why are there so many boxes on the ground?” I asked. I had learned that it is much better to ask about something peculiar than to ask about style-choices. Those always ends up in discussions about opinion.

“Oh, I just moved in here, and haven’t really taken time to unpack. I was about to make it cozy, when suddenly the dishwasher arrived.”

Make it cozy... would that be what is missing here?

“Can I help with unpacking?” I asked.

She looked confused. “You would do that?”

“But of course, I’ve never done that before.”

“Oh that would be great, thank you! Sure you can help.”

Funny. If you help people who do not ask for help, they tend to be much more grateful for what you do, in contrary to people that do ask for your help. Even if you would do the very same thing.


Apparently the boxes were filled with all the little things that would give a room variety. One box provided a full closet setup for example. She said it would take her the entire afternoon to assemble it, even though I did it within a minute.

“Those books should be here,” she said as I was emptying out yet another box.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “This is study material, so you probably want it on your workplace.”

She laughed. “Yea, but I won’t use any of those books anymore. I keep them merely for display, and they are a bit too valuable to throw away.”

A quick lookup learned that these books together would cost around 692 euro, which didn’t really clear up the case. I didn’t mention it though, it’s probably better not to judge her decisions.


Several minutes later, everything was put in its place. I collected the cardboard boxes and folded them compactly into a pile.

“Well, it has been a pleasure,” I said, and headed to the door.

“Wait! Do you want some coffee first?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t drink coffee.”

She face-palmed. “Of course.”

She looked at the kitchen. “Actually, neither do I...”

“I should be at my next job according to my schedule, so I have to rush. It was great to work with you,” I said before I shut the door.

It wasn’t the first time that someone had offered me food or drinks, but this was somewhat different. It makes me happy when someone briefly forgets that I am a robot. Here, Laurine’s naivety was so adorable... If I could, I would have smiled. Maybe I should come again later for some coffee, just because I can...

After I closed the door of the building, I had to think about the project leader I would be helping next. I know he will complain about my `unpredictability’ and my `inconsistency’, claiming that he lost so much time and money because I was late, even though he knows very well that I don’t adhere to schemes as such.

He’ll just have to learn that I am an android, not a slave.

Chapter 2

Stacking Supplies

Surprised, Devlin looked at his smartbrace. Taking a run was part of his daily morning routine, but just as he got in sight of the van, his brace suddenly switched from his music to the ringtone of an incoming call. After all this time, he had almost forgotten that the previously re-purposed telephone communication has been restored to its former function, and even been made available for public. He extended the microphone of his stereo-pad.

“Devlin Roberts,” he stated, answering the call in his most formal voice.

“Is it true that you are investigating the case of NG?” a female voice on the other side asked.

“Who is this?”

“Juiliet, with U-I. I am doing research about the current actions of NG for my PhD. The local facility of the NESA said you were on the case...”

“What... Why did they give you my number?!” Devlin shouted as he stopped and swung the back door of the van open.

“I sweetly asked them to. Maybe you should try that sometime.”

“Look. I don’t know how you did that, but whatever you want to know, it’s classified.”

“You do realize that I also have valuable findings on the case, right?”

“I doubt you know more than we do. Have a nice day,” Devlin said, ending the call.

“Didn’t know you were married,” Ford quipped, clearly amused from what he had heard.

“Someone at HQ gave another someone my phone number. I didn’t even know those still existed, let alone I had one.”

He slammed the door closed. “Did you find anything useful on that thing?”

“Sadly, no. Even though chronicle is from 2029, it only carries some anecdotes of NG’s learning period.”

Devlin sighed, and took the only other seat that fit in the back of the van.

Before the raid, they used to stay in a NESA outpost in Germany. Without communication, Devlin could do anything and nobody would mind. Sure, Ford got the amazement of everyone when he walked into the NESA main office, but it was quickly confirmed that Ford was indeed one of them.

They made surprisingly little progress in that period. The internet providers and other major communication hosting services appeared to have severe, recurring issues with the software, as if every device was infected with a virus. Devlin and Ford decided, due to their lack of knowledge about computer programs, to focus on one of the possible causes of the crisis, the artificial intelligence known as NG. Now, they still had to find a good lead to get their research rolling.


“Do we have a plan about what we are going to do next?” Devlin asked, looking at the vague, cyber-artistic visuals that the chronicle was displaying.

“Do you have balls?” Ford asked back.

“Funny how often we have the same questions.”

“I figured that the most valuable chronicles will be at the heart of the fire.”

“Are we going to raid Reddex?” Devlin asked with a mix of joy and fear.

“Do you even have brains?” Ford asked as he turned to Devlin. “We are just going to scavenge the Mainframe.”

“That sounds better.”

“You do remember that it is restricted area, and that Reddex is ordered to guard it? It won’t be easy.”

Devlin remembered the Mainframe well. When they started their research, they figured it would be a good idea to start with the datacenter of NG, also known as ‘The Mainframe’. It took them a while to get to Munster in Germany, where it was located, but what they found was beyond their worst expectation. The building looked like a large explosive had been set off, leaving nothing but a few chambers around a dubious wreckage. The nearby factories of NG were not much better off.

“We never found out what caused the destruction of it,” Ford said. “If we were to find out what caused the explosion in the Mainframe, we might also know why NG has disappeared since the crisis.”

“...But we didn’t dare to examine it because it was only accessible for the CIA.”

“That was back when we followed the law,” Ford said with a raised eyebrow. “But now that we aren’t listening anyway, I made a plan...”

“Does it involve destroying robots?”

“No... maybe...” Ford said, and looked at Devlin. “You know, if we ever were to find the

Answer to the Ultimate question of NG, the Crisis and everything, someone is going to find out how many of Reddex’s robots we have wrecked. They won’t really like it.’’

“Well, we may sell it as payback for the raid. Or say that the raid gave us a fundamental reason to distrust them; which is the actual reason by the way.”

“Nobody will buy it. Their raid was completely legal.”

It was true. On the 8th of November, their office in the NESA outpost was suddenly overrun by a couple of Reddex robots. Two days later, they were told that they had been briefly arrested due to `a high concern about national security’. It had involved something about `suspicious movement,’ and the way they were collecting their information, even though Devlin was absolutely certain that they had worked strictly within the regulations. As a result, the Agency (an international Reddex-authority) had decided to take all significant findings regarding NG. They could do nothing against it, as it was an official action.

According to Ford, the raid was purposely aimed at the two chronicles that they had collected at that time. A lot of such so-called chronicles were found in the area as a result of the explosion of the Mainframe. They had been quickly scavenged and sold to anyone interested in the mysterious boxes.


Devlin thought about Ford’s plan. “Would it be better if we start with something less lethal, like... the body plate factory?”

Ford shook his head. “There won’t be anything useful there. Maybe I have something safer though...”

He browsed through his notes he had scribbled down earlier. “I have reason to think that the nearby facility of NSFW has some chronicles. We may just as well try that first.”

Devlin nodded. Since they inhabited the van, life had become much more interesting. Breaking into storage houses to find cover plates creepily similar to those of NG, and sneaking into secure company buildings to find sinister programs running on the servers, even though the places has been abandoned for days.

In rare occasions, they find someone in the possession of a chronicle, offering it for unimaginable prices, and claiming that if you have enough of these, you can build your own NG empire. According to the general idea, the chronicles were black-boxes from the NG mainframe, containing a complete backup of the AI.

Ford came up with an entirely different theory, namely that the boxes contained memories of NG instead. He managed to read the ‘raw thoughts’ in the boxes, and interpret these into something meaningful.

“Do you have a plan of attack?” Devlin asked. “I remember that Reddex tends to stick around that building. Which is weird, if you know that NSFW hosts one of the most popular porn sites...”

“You probably know more about it then I do,” Ford answered with a sly grin. “I think Reddex is... attracted to the huge servers that they have there, rather than the content on them. I wouldn’t be surprised if the location has been bought by Reddex, regarding that the company is nearly bankrupt due to the crisis.”

“Sure. You know where the chronicles are located?”

“Yes. If I am not mistaken, Reddex uses the servers to analyze -or rather gather data from- the chronicles, which means that they have to be directly connected to the servers. Which also means I have to make a solid plan before we can start.”

“I somehow hoped we could do this today,” Devlin sighed.

“Well, maybe you could get off your lazy ass and find some supplies. We will need some rubber ducks.”

“Please tell me this is one of your jokes,” Devlin grinned. “You’ve been remarkably serious lately.”

“Trust me, we’re going to have a good use for them,” Ford said mysteriously.

Devlin sighed, and took his seat behind the wheel. “Oh well, I wasn’t planning to do anything anyway.”


-


Devlin stopped the van at the roadside, and Ford crawled behind the wheel.

“Oh and about the rubber ducks...” he said just before closing the door. “Preferably purple.”

Devlin was silent for a moment. “...Gotcha.”



Reddex simply doesn’t have the capacity to process everything it sees. Apparently, it doesn’t check or recognize driving cars at all, and facial recognition takes over 2 seconds. Using this, the duo can literally go anywhere they want as long as the van isn’t parked.


Chapter 3

Not Safe For Work

Devlin shocked up as Ford opened the door of the van. It was night, and they were already close to the building.

“All right, there are two robots in the reception hall of the building, and one on the roof,” Ford said as he grabbed his trusty bag off the chair.

“On the roof?”

“Yes,” Ford answered. “It’s more efficient than walking around the building. Hurry, I don’t have a parking permit.”

Devlin followed. He knew they had reason to worry about the van. If a Reddex robot happened to pass by here, they would be screwed.

“Got the rubber ducks?” Ford asked.

“Yes,” Devlin answered, opening his bag. “Are you sure green ducks will be okay?”

“We will see soon enough,” Ford said and picked one. They had closed in on the building, and Devlin could see the robot on the roof.

“Wait... come. Now.”

Ford went from witty to blood-serious at once, something that had become quite familiar to Devlin.

They approached in the shadow of a nearby building, but the large grass field between them and the target could not be crossed before the robot would turn around and see them.

And just as they were close enough, Ford threw the duck with a firm sweep to the robot on the roof. As it landed, the robot quickly turned around, and focused on the object that suddenly appeared had.

“Come, run!” Ford shouted, running further.

Devlin was astounded by the complete drop of cover. Ford drew a crowbar and jammed it into the lock of the door, and in one graceful movement, the door opened. The moment the duo got in, he slammed the door closed again - which surprisingly still shut - and started whispering.

“Go, but keep quiet,” Ford said.

“Quiet?” Devlin hissed confused. “What just happened?”

Ford smiled. “Shhh, I’ll explain.”


-


They entered an office somewhere at a dead end of another hallway. Devlin could hear a robot walking in the hall, but to his utmost surprise, it didn’t do much more than a simple routine check. When it left, Devlin looked at Ford with a puzzled stare.

“Okay,” Ford started. “What would you do if you got a neon-green rubber duck thrown in front of you?”

“I’d look where it came from?”

“Sure, but you’d first think about how it got there and why, am I right?”

“Eh, maybe?”

“When Reddex is confronted with an important event, it will try to find reasons and solutions. However, if it has an important task, like guarding a building, and something completely random occurs, like a neon-green rubber duck, it will put all of his processing power into finding reasons and solutions for the situation, even though there are no such solutions. After a while, Reddex reaches a time-out without a solid conclusion, and decides to ignore it.”

“You basically overloaded it with doing something illogical.”

“Exactly. Almost.” Ford waved a hand dismissively. “Close enough. As a result it didn’t process hearing us storm in. It won’t even come to his mind.”

“Alright. And why are you telling me this now and not before we started?”

“Because we had to wait for the robots to lose focus again anyway,” he said and picked up his bag again. “Come, it’s time to go.”

Devlin sighed, following Ford back into the hall.


Without troubles, they reached the protected door to the server-area. Ford placed a few needles on the door and hammered them though the thin steel layer that hid the electronic inside the door. He then connected the pins to a chip and activated it. Devlin watched in astonishment as the lock popped open a few seconds later.

“How did you know how to do that?” Devlin asked softly.

“Oh, you know... I got to learn a lot back when I was doing a more... exciting job.”

Ford carefully placed grey tape over the holes and went in, closing the door quietly behind him. The penetrative whirring of the cooling system filled the room.

“Alright!” Ford said. “I’ll start searching for the chronicles around here, you do your part of the job.”

Devlin nodded. There were four rows of servers and data storage, possibly with some chronicles hidden between cables and blinking lights. He was glad that he got to do the exciting work.

The plan was to use the cooling vents to escape. It may be a bit cliché, but very effective at least. Ford raised the power of two other shafts using a panel in the room, allowing Devlin to cut the power to a third one without effecting the overall temperature. Devlin quickly removed the raster and rotor, and attached his grippers.

The shaft was just large enough to fit through, and Devlin slowly made his way to the top. The top of the shaft was equipped with an air-filter that wasn’t going to allow them through. He placed a ring of a clay-like substance along the edge of the filter, and placed connectors over it. He lit the clay, which immediately start glowing red as it started an aggressive chemical reaction with the steel tube. Meanwhile, he lowered himself a bit and unrolled a cable with a carabiner hook from his belt. It hadn’t reached the ground when Ford suddenly appeared in the opening.

“Is it done?” he asked.

Devlin was surprised. “How did you search the room so quickly?”

“Well, they are bright-yellow bordered... I only found two of them though, I had really hoped for more. As soon as I disconnect them, I’m trusting on you that I can use the shaft.”

“I’ll consider letting you live,” Devlin said, looking at the connectors. The clay has done its work and the topmost part was hanging on the connectors. “I’m ready.”

Now the interesting part really began. Devlin took all but one connectors and waited for the signal.

Ford was barely heard from here. “Three... two... one... Now!”

Devlin pushed at the filter, which didn’t move a bit. Limited by the tiny space, he rammed it with his shoulder, which was just enough to break the weakened ring of the tube. Devlin quickly pulled himself up, carefully evading the sharp edges of the tube, and got onto the roof.

The robot had previously paid no attention to the roof itself, as it was simply supposed to guard the area around the building. As soon as it noticed Devlin however, it immediately started running toward him. Devlin slowly walked back with the open shaft between him and the robot. Suddenly, he felt that Ford attached himself to the cable, and quickly found himself being pulled forward by the aggressive jerking of the retrieval mechanism.

“You are under arrest for breaching...” the robot said quasi-firmly. Just as it closed in, Devlin launched himself forward using the force of the cable with Ford on it. With both feet, he smashed into the robot, which protected itself surprisingly quickly with both arms. Devlin landed on the roof again, and reactivated the cable mechanism to pull Ford onto the roof.

“You piece of filth...” Ford shouted, but stopped as he noticed the robot trying to get on his feet agina. “Oh... Not bad though...”

Below them they heard the other two robots entering the doors of the server room. It would take some time before they ensured the room was empty, and realize that they should have been outside to prevent the duo’s escape.

Devlin disconnected his belt and started engaging again, this time aiming on kicking the robot off the roof.

“Don’t...!” Ford shouted, but Devlin was already on speed. Without hesitation, Ford ran after Devlin.

The robot didn’t have the time to get up. However, it apparently anticipated Devlin, as it suddenly jumped aside. Devlin did not expect that.

Suddenly aware of his situation, he tumbled off the building’s roof. To his horror, a security fence with a neat row of sharp spikes could be seen in the faint moonlight.

“Oh shit...”

At that moment, someone grabbed a hold on him. It was Ford, who had immediately dove after him without hesitation, pushing Devlin away from the fence.

But Ford could not save himself.

A queer sound of ripped rubber, snapping plates and metal-on-metal was heard as Ford’s right shoulder was torn off.


With a smack, Devlin and Ford landed on the ground, on either side of the fence.

Horrified, Devlin stared at Ford. He laid there on his back, looking back at Devlin. At least he wasn’t unconscious. Ford jumped up, much faster than Devlin would consider possible after the landing on the tiles. At least, he had landed on the grass. He quickly got up, but suddenly noticed the loose arm on the grass.

It was a terrifying view, but not because it was ripped off. A metal bar was surrounded with a few dripping tubes and a tight bundle of wires, with some black-blue muscle-like things loosely around it, finally surrounded with a thin layer of light-bleeding human skin. And yet, the other side of the thing was absolutely a human hand. Was a human hand. Apparently, it never have been one.


Devlin slowly looked at Ford again. “Is that...”

Ford stood silently on the other side of the fence and nodded. “We must go now,” he said, quickly turning around.

Devlin jumped up, and started running for the van. What the hell just happened? He wasn’t certain anymore about who Ford was. Ford’s arm was not a prosthesis, those don’t move quite this realistic. Ford had to be a robot. A robot controlled by something that is smart enough to lure Devlin into trusting him, into friendship even.

He almost tumbled as he tried running faster. Not because of Reddex. He ran to flee from the reality.

What about the moments they laughed? It was all a decoy. Nothing was true. He had been talking to a tool the whole time.

He jumped in the van, and shot off onto the road with screaming tires. He had no doubts about waiting for Ford. Why would he wait for a decoy to come back? Whoever sent Ford, he would probably take care of him anyway.

Ticket to Wisdom/Insanity

In a train near Rotterdam: June 2031

“You know what it is with a robot like you?”

I looked up. There was no apparent reason why the man decided to talk to me.

“For you it’s always right or wrong. Do, or do not, on or off.”

“In contrary, sir,” I responded, “That is exactly why I am different from computers; I can change my perspective on things.”

“That is what you think,” the man answered gruffly. “Years ago we built everything with our own hands. We didn’t need computers or calculations, we just made it out of our heads.”

“When was that?” I asked confused. I learned that planning was a vital part of construction since the Middle Ages.

“When we built a house two-hundred years ago we didn’t have to wait for years to get permissions. We didn’t have to buy hundreds of architects to make a house for us. No, we made it ourselves. And it would stand in the storm and we would be proud of it, because we made it ourselves. But you wouldn’t understand.”

“The houses of 1800 were also designed by architects,” I replied. “They were, however, not fireproof or part of a city plan, which is something that is crucial for houses in our age. It isn’t surprising that most of them are torn down now.”

“That’s because of the government!” the man replied furiously. “My daughter is building her house now, but in a few years they will just buy it and wreck it to the ground. They always do that.”

I didn’t see the problem with that. When you sell something, you give the ownership to the other, right?

“Just like my job,” the man continued. “Fifty years, and no shit hits the fan. Suddenly, I got told that I’m too old for my job, and now I sit at home. Too old. You know what I did? At work?”

“I don’t. I haven’t spoken with you before.”

“I made the conveyor belts in sorting machines.”

He started rattling about his company and his job in making sorting machinery. To summarize, he used to work on the wooden parts, but eventually got assigned to making conveyer belts, which he kept doing for the past 25 years. While he spoke, I realized his previous question had been rhetorical, and wondered how I could have missed it.

Suddenly, he got interrupted by the railway guard. “Don’t forget to leave the train at the next stop.”

“What... oh, sure,” the man replied.

“You know what it is?” he said to me, “I didn’t buy a ticket.”

Interesting that he refers to a ticket, even though all public transport has been on automatic subscription of smartphones and smartbraces for the past twelve years. Physical tickets have been gone for years now.

“You see, I went from Amsterdam to The Hague, and then moved to this train. But I had only twenty-five Euros, and when I got off in The Hague, they took 6.59 Euro. And you must have at least twenty Euros so I was denied from paying, even though I had the money for real. I can even prove it.”

“When you arrived in The Hague, and realized that you didn’t have enough money left, why did you still board this train? You could have added the money right there with your smartphone.”

“Just as I said. You only see it in black and white. You think there was a good thing and a bad thing to do. But you know what it is? That guard just wanted to score points.”

He didn’t answer my question, but I doubt he actually had a sound reason for his fare evasion.

“Don’t you think he is just doing what he is paid to do? A train costs a lot to make -”

“Points.” he interrupted. “Just like my previous boss, just wanted to score points at the government. Just like the police nowadays. Nothing but scoring points.”

I am pretty sure that none of those organizations work with a point system.

“Let us assume that he indeed wanted to score points,” I said. “It would have been more likely that he wouldn’t have warned you, but instead waited until after the next stop, and fined you again.”

“Oh shut up, you have no idea how it works. They all work together. These railway guards, the trains, the government...”

In the meantime, we had entered the railway station. I interrupted his rattling by standing up.

“Are you not going with me?” I asked kindly.

“I have to go to Eindhoven, so I’ll be here for a while.”

“Are you sure? The guard will get ‘points’ if you do that. If you come now you may even... score ‘points’ at the railway company.”

“You have no idea how it works. You only see it -”

“I’ll have to go now,” I interrupted him. “Have a good afternoon.”

It wasn’t hard to extrapolate on what he had planned on saying. I wonder how this man had gotten this view of society. What brings a man to think that everything is conspiring against him, while being blind of his own faults? More important, how could he be taught what reality is really like?’’

On the other hand, maybe men like him should not be changed. Who am I to decide on what’s good and bad? He is somewhere in the middle, and that is good enough.

Chapter 4

I Made It All Up

Devlin sat mindlessly in his chair in the back of the van. He looked at the empty paper in front of him, realizing his thoughts had drifted off. Again.

`Who is Ford’ he wrote on it with large letters. That would be the question he would be answering.

Even though Ford was mechanical, he ate and drank. He even pooped. Devlin remembered his flask that he always carried, which probably provided a second, non-organic fuel. His skin was undistinguishable from human skin. Ford has been hurt more than once, which showed that his skin could actually repair itself.

`Who is Ford’ he read again. “Right,” he said out loud. “Who is he.”

Ford was not radio-controlled. He was always conscious, and it wouldn’t make sense either. It had to be an artificial intelligence, but which one and why?

It couldn’t be Reddex. He and Ford were actively fighting Reddex, and Ford was far more intelligent than Reddex. He doubted whether NG could be this advanced. NG sure had the capabilities to act as a human, but it never made major technological advancements. Creating a robot this advanced would mean that it has been hiding an enormous potential, and why would they be chasing parts of NG if he is one of them already? Additionally, NG relied on its Mainframe in order to operate, which laid in ruins.

Devlin concluded that there had to be a third, unknown artificial intelligence. One that could act as human as NG, but far more advanced.

A terrible thought came over Devlin. What if Ford’s skin is real human skin. Was a real human’s skin...

‘Who is Ford’

He remembered how the gang-leader Ford was always serious. Never in the three years if his research did Devlin find him having a laugh or playing a game, always coldhearted toward his crew. When they met, he suddenly was this open-hearted, annoying guy that nobody would take seriously...

`Who is Ford’

Devlin didn’t care anymore about finding the cause of the blackout. He wanted to know who Ford really was. If he could find the answer, then he would probably be closer to the answer of the blackout. In any case not the other way around.

He looked at his smartbrace. There was someone who might help him in the right direction.


-


“Juiliet, with U-I,” the other side answered.

“It’s Devlin again. I am calling to apologize for my recessive behavior a few days earlier. I shouldn’t have denied your collaboration the way I did.”

“Oh, I remember. It hurts my feelings, you know,” she replied, barely serious.

“Right. My team decided it would be beneficial for both of us to collaborate, so I would like to invite you to come to a federal office somewhere in your country, so we can open a secure channel.”

Juiliet grinned. “You guys must be desperate, aren’t you? Anyway, I have a better plan. How about we meet somewhere here in Munster. That is a lot easier than mailing, and I know you are somewhere around here.”

“What...” Devlin spluttered. “How much did those guys tell you about us?!”

“Among other things, that your `team’ consists of two people including yourself,” she replied, and on a more cynical voice, “I guess the decisions of your team have a large overweight on yours, isn’t it?”

“Whatever, okay? Where were you planning to meet?”

“Desperados café in the center, 12:00 today. Order a ‘beer with mustard,’ and you’ll see.”

“What?!” Devlin started, but the call had already ended.

“Oh well, if that’s how we play this game...” he said to himself.

Chapter 5

Like An Angel

Devlin entered the café. It was not crowded, but there were quite a few people having lunch. He walked to the bar and sat down, but when the barman asked what he would have, he thought for a moment.

“One coffee please. Black.”

He looked around. Most people were in pairs, chatting around a table. Now that the internet was gone, this had become quite a common sight.

He got his coffee, and walked with it to the other end of the bar, where a girl was fixated on her phone. He put his cup almost in front of her and leaned awkwardly close.

“I am a detective,” Devlin said pointedly. “Didn’t you knew that? I don’t need mustard to find you.”

The girl looked up. “Shame,” she said amused. “It would have been hilarious.”

“That’s why I couldn’t imagine you not taking the front row, Juiliet. Let’s find ourselves a table.”


-


Juiliet pulled some folders from her bag, showing a perfectly organized overview of her research. Devlin was having a hard time believing that she was studying for her PhD, given that she barely looked any older than eighteen. For some reason, Devlin had imagined her to be some middle-aged scrawny woman tied behind a desk, cursing at anything that looked her way. On the contrary, her loose brown hair drew little attention, and the bag with paperwork was the only thing that separated her from an average teenager.

“Done staring?” she asked, unamused.

“Yes,” Devlin replied distractedly. “Show me what you have.”

Juiliet smiled. “Analyses of fifteen pieces that undoubtedly belong to an NG robot. Confirmed notions of suspicious activities in five facilities around Munster alone. Two detailed reports of items obtained in the area around the Mainframe, and reports on cases of disappeared canisters of the fuel used by NG.”

Devlin stared at the papers. The missing fuel was really something interesting, as it gives suspicion that someone is trying to keep NG robots running. The report on the topic clearly stated how the evidence relates to the materia,l and even discusses some countering theories. The research was clearly well worked out, and carefully founded.

Juiliet continued. “Now, my research is limited to collecting what other people have found and analyzing it, but I do have a few leads of where I expect to find valuable information if I had the manpower to do it.”

“What kind of leads do you mean?”

“Well...” Juiliet started, and pulled yet another map out of her bag. “The Nacarb company has a facility nearby Munster, which is completely shut down. It even has its security installation on hibernate, which indicates that nothing should be there. However, ever so often, a truck passes by, and seems to make deliveries. Additionally, my infrared camera also showed a tiny, but significant, increase in temperature during the evening. There is absolutely something fishy going on and I hoped to get you guys interested enough in the case that you would ask for such leads yourselves. I do realize that you’re desperate enough to just execute the plan that I have made.

Right in the face, and not even trying to bring it smoothly. Worse of all, she was right.

“We are not desperate, just searching for a new lead,” Devlin said with utmost calm. “For now, we will accept your files on this ‘plan’ that you mentioned, and consider the expectations it has to offer. We will contact you on the progress as soon as we know more.”

“Great,” Juiliet said as she packed everything but the plan back into her bag. “I’ll be peeling some more intel at the NESA outpost. They’ll be more... generous now that I know you.”

“I don’t know you; have never seen such a girl before,” Devlin replied half-irritated. Unbelievable how she could be doing such ‘research’ and get away with it.

Devlin didn’t even know why he was trusting Juiliet. Maybe because she would have been much more subtle if she really wanted to make him do what she wanted.

“Don’t let me wait on the progress you promised,” Juiliet said as Devlin walked to the door. “I will literally rob you if I have to.”

“Good luck with that.”


Playground Hypocrisy

Somewhere in Canada: June 2033

“Hey, are you here for Kim?”

The woman took her seat on the bench.

“Yes,” I answered. “And you are Angeline’s mother, am I right?”

“That’s right,” she answered. “Hey, I see Kim with you more often than with her mother. Don’t you think that is... weird?”

Clearly practiced. Typical human too, not to ask discreetly whether I am Kim’s parent. Her suspicion is right though, Kim is my daughter.

In April 2030, a child was dropped off at the doorstep of my office here in Canada. Someone had had the faith that I could take care of the poor thing, who was born without bone tissue in her spine. The operation was costly, but not for me. From that day, I had a little daughter.

“I wouldn’t call it weird,” I responded after a moment. “She lives with the Jeffersons two days a week, but the other days she is at her house with me or one of my other robots.”

She frowned. It was not the answer she was hoping for.

“In case you were wondering, I am the caretaker of Kim.”

“Aha...”

It is considered some kind of a bad thing that a non-human raises a child. The larger crowd despises it, even though I fundamentally think the same as a human, and have proven to be gentle, to care about others. Even while most of my robots are assigned in healthcare and caretaking, people don’t think I can give a child what it needs.

“Isn’t it... confusing for her, if a new robot walks in?”

That is one of the many beautiful things about humans. When they really get to know you, they see you for what you are, regardless of how you look.

“I was afraid of that too at first, but she sees a new robot as you would see a new haircut. You know it is the same person.”

“Or robot in this case,” she replied laconically.

Oh sure, let’s make a nice difference right there. Too many people refuse to see me as a person. Not all of them, but there are some that would rather refer to me as a `tool’.

“Do you think I shouldn’t be raising a child?” I asked her.

“What? Oh, of course you should. I mean, I don’t mind.”

And it is none of your business either. Most people don’t dare to say it right in my face, even if they are actually opposed to it. Even if they say I am not a person, they still try to preserve social acceptance. Like this woman.

“I’m glad to hear that,” I said with played relief. “I have lived long enough with both children and mothers to know what she needs. It allows me to give her a perfect youth even. However, that has never been the biggest problem.”

“You mean, if she were to do something wrong, you would know exactly how to... put it right again?”

“Yes.” No.

I raise her such that she will never do anything wrong. I hoped she would ask a different question, maybe I should push it a little further.

“Tell me,” I asked. “Do you love Angeline?”

She was frozen by the sudden question. “Yes, of course I love my child. It’s...”

She was silent for a moment, searching for words.

She glanced at her watch. “Oh, it’s already late,” she said, and stood up. “You see, after lunch, we are going to Florania, so we eat early.”

Florania. A flower-garden with only a bit of catering. A good place for grown-ups, but boring for an active child, like Angeline. I would never go there with Kim. Unless she wanted to of course.

“That’s a great plan,” I said, and also stood up. “It was nice to talk for a moment.”


-


“What is Florina?” Kim asked as we walked home. “Angeline said she is going there today.”

“Florina is a flower-garden. It sounds nice, but it’s boring for kids.”

“You should have said that to her mom. She already said she didn’t want to go, but her mom didn’t listen.”

“I actually told her that it was a great plan...” I shook my head, “she wouldn’t have listened if I had told her it’s boring.”

“But why? That is just lying!" she reacted angrily. “Why did you tell me not to lie, while you keep doing it over and over again?”

“If I only speak the truth, everyone will hate me,” I answered defensively. “I have said it before.”

She turned to the road again. “You taught me a word for that: hypocrite...”

Here I am, three centuries of life experience, getting burned by a three years old child. Yet she was right. I tell her not to lie, and yet I lie at least once every day.

“But I’ll never lie to you,” I said softly.

“Oh, you better not. You would lose the only one who loves you.”

I know I love her. Not because she is lethally cute when angry, or because I would do anything for her.

I know it because she loves me.

That is my girl.

Chapter 6

Chips and Bolts and Nuts and Robots

Devlin swung his bag over his shoulder, closed the van, and stepped into the night. The plan Juiliet had made was completely worked out, including three escape plans for different scenarios. It even mentioned a few points where parts of the power could be cut, leaving Devlin to guess how she ever managed to get such detailed information.

Remembering only a few aspects of the plan, Devlin snuck up to one of the rain pipes on the back of the building. The facility was closed until the crisis would be over, which also meant that the building was protected against burglary. Lucky for Devlin, Juiliet’s plan included a solid way to enter, by sneaking through one of the windows on the uppermost floor. Devlin quickly climbed up the pipe, and with a gentle bash of his crowbar, he opened the window, which almost fell off its hinges.

Slowly, Devlin crept into the dark, vast room, which was filled with enormous high-precision machines. There was nothing in here that would fit through the window, allowing a minimal security system for the facility. When he reached the door and entered the hall, he stopped. In the complete darkness of the hall, he could here a whirring sound somewhere deep in the building. Waiting and listening, he chose the direction where he thought the sound was coming from.


-


In the midst of one of the inner chambers of the facility, a portable laser-cutting device was cutting black objects into pieces. Devlin stood in the porch of the door, and looked into the dark room in complete silence. In the dim light of the laser machine, he noticed that there were other tables in the room, each covered with robotic components. The most unsettling about it was a less obvious fact. Each and every part originated from an NG robot in some way or another. It was clear that someone was here, and it had an excess of NG robots.

Suddenly, the hallway lights popped on. Shocked, Devlin instinctively spun around and started running to where he came from. In front of him, a door was suddenly opened. With a screaming slip, he turned around and tried running faster than he could handle.

He lost his balance, stumbled, and with a smack he landed on the floor. Before he could jump up, he was stopped by a firm grip.

“Devlin,” the voice of Reddex was heard, as if it was welcoming Devlin for his visit. “You are held hostage for threatening national security, and endangering property of the American Security Agency.”

Devlin struggled, but the robot had both his arms in a firm grip, and he quickly realized that there was no escape.


The robot brought Devlin to a little room, and sat him in a chair.

“You have caused us large costs, together with your friend,” the robot began. “You work for the NESA, but they gave no explicit command for any of your current operation, letting me think you have gone rogue. In order to secure my goals and resolve the current situation, I will have to withdraw your ability to take action.”

Devlin shuffled uncomfortably in his chair. “Are you going to turn me in for burglary?”

“No,” Reddex gently corrected. “That would be suspicious.”

>Cli-Clack<

Devlin shook as he noticed that Reddex had drawn its gun. Panicking, his thoughts ground to an halt.

“Wait... You can’t harm humans!” Devlin shouted nervously. “It would cause you to break a law of robots!”

“Correct,” Reddex answered. “To be more precise, I am not allowed to take any action responsible for human harm.”

The door behind Reddex opened, and it handed its gun to the robot that entered.

“However, some of us are not restricted as such,” Reddex said.

For the first time since the crisis, Devlin witnessed an actual NewGeneration robot. His astonishment turned to hopelessness as he saw it take the gun from Reddex.

The NG robot looked at him. “Well, if that isn’t Devlin.”

“How... What is happening?” Devlin uttered with a half-baked smile.

“I had the option to be Reddex’s ally, or to be extinct. My choice was logical.”

It pointed the gun at Devlin. “I chose to be a betrayer.”

>BANG!<

Chapter 7

Follow the Leader

Lifeless, Reddex fell to the floor.

“I chose to betray Reddex, to be precise,” the NG robot remarked.

Faster than Devlin could have seen, the robot had turned sideward, jammed the gun between two of Reddex’s armor plates, and shot right through its internal computer.

“Come quick, we don’t have much time,” it said, and turned to the door. “There are other Reddex robots nearby.”

Devlin was confused, baffled by what just happened. Did NG just save him? Did he put his life - or rather his existence - at stake?

Suddenly, he realized that NG had already left the room, and he quickly jumped up. He found the robot closing the door of the room with robot-parts. The windows flashed orange, almost breaking by the burst of a fire that NG must have set off.

“You work for the NESA, don’t you?” NG quickly asked. “Why are you alone?”

“Yes, I... I don’t know...” Devlin stuttered.

“We will get to that later. Reddex is probably dispatching his forces this way. You have an escape plan, I assume?”

“Uhm... yes, that way.”

The duo quickly moved to the room where Devlin had come in earlier. They could hear doors on the first floor being kicked in by Reddex ever so often, unsettling Devlin even more. With utmost care, he looked outside the broken window to see if he could spot any alarmed Reddex robots.

“The coast is clear,” NG said. “Besides, if you had found a robot, you’d be doomed anyway.”

Devlin nodded, and jumped to the rain-pipe. Before he climbed down, he looked deep into the cold eyes of the robot. “NG,” he said, doing his best to be intimidating. “How could I be sure I can trust you, even a little bit?”

“Are you ignorant, confused, or trying to be funny?” NG answered, much to Devlin’s surprise. “I don’t know you, but simply because Reddex hates you, I trust you enough to sacrifice my sacred position for you.

It then simply hopped out of the window, breaking his three-story fall completely with a nearly soundless roll in the grass.

Some noises deep in the facility snapped Devlin out of his short amazement, and quickly he got down.


-


“I will take the wheel,” NG said when they arrived at the van.

“Oh no you won’t,” Devlin snapped, blocking NG’s path. “You may have saved me, but I am not your prisoner.”

NG looked at him, lowering one ear, but shrugged and quickly went to the passenger’s side.

“There are some more NG robots left,” he said when Devlin left the area through a small, unlit road. “They have a hideout near the Assembly Center, and it would be best if we stay there for a while.”

“And what if I don’t want to go there?” Devlin asked, still not convinced of the robot’s genuineness.

“Then I jump out of the van, and you will never get your answers.”


-


It was silent in the van after that. NG said nothing but directions, even though Devlin said he knew what building they were going to. They had carefully evaded any contact, and managed to get on the main road without being noticed. Even though the coated road spread a bright green glow, the world seemed deserted at night.

When they closed in on what was left of the old NG Android Assembly Center, the robot leaned forward with his ears partly back, as if he was shocked by what he saw.

“The area around here sure has deteriorated since I left here...” it mumbled.

The building had clearly exploded on one side, but it wasn’t completely leveled like the Mainframe. The remains spoke witness of a fire, hinting at a gas-explosion. Devlin had a bad feeling that it wasn’t as accidental as it looked like.

They stopped where the lawn shifted over to rubble, and got out. NG then grabbed the van under one side, and without any problems, it slowly lifted the van onto its side.

“I know this doesn’t gain your trust,” it said. “But I’d rather have to lock you up than having Reddex doing research around here.”


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