Chapter 1 is here
Dex was already ducking under the fence by the time he saw the sentry. It was an Arctek machine, top of the line perhaps half a decade ago, subtly modified and equipped with a sonic stunning device (nonfatal, but exceedingly unpleasant — developed for crowd control by the Argentinian equivalent of DARPA). “Identify yourself,” it said.
“Dexter Logan. I’m here to see Tom.”
The robot buzzed quietly for a moment, and Dex noticed that the Cicadas were out. “Dex!” The tone was familiar — a synthesized simulacrum.
“Tom? Quit fucking around and call off the bot.”
The robot swung its sonar apparatus smoothly back and forth, in a crude mimicry of a person shaking its head. “I’m not fuckin’ with you, Dex. It’s been a while. Ten minutes?”
“Eleven,” Dex said.
“Eleven candles candles,” the robot said. “Candles candles candles candles candles candles. Candles eleven of them.”
“Fuck.” Tom’s a broken robot, thought Dex. Just then, a figure surfaced from within the long grass.
“Dex, my man. Come with me.”
Dex followed Tom, and the robot trailed a few feet behind, still stuck in its verbal loop. “Some kind of fluke in my model traversal,” Tom said. “Fucker works just fine until suddenly it decides some word or phrase links to itself with a probability of one. Sometimes it matches my patterns enough to get registered as me, and then I have to go in and delete the bullshit from the database by hand.”
The farmhouse was small and old, but it offered shade from the unseasonably warm weather. The table was piled chest-high with second-hand junk. Scavenged robot chassis sat under it, sometimes on the floor and sometimes on chairs. The shaded lamp hanging from the ceiling had its power cable extracted, cut, joined with a pair of plastic caps, and cut again further down. Tom brought in a pair of stools from an adjoining room.
“It’s been a while. What, ten minutes?”
“Eleven. What can I do for you?” He glanced at the cupboard. “A beer, maybe?”
“I’m afraid this isn’t a social visit. I need your help.”
Tom got up abruptly. “I think I’m gonna need a beer, then.” He found a reasonably clean glass and cracked open a can of lukewarm beer, then settled down and took a long swig out of the can, not bothering to pour. “Okay, shoot.”
“I got fucked over, Tom.” Dex sighed.
“Fuck no.” He grimaced. “Five minutes for that shit, and I wasn’t even doing it — just running the BBS. Staying straight now. Pen testing. Figured that was the way to go — using my skills but no chance of getting locked up.”
“So, I think maybe I’ll need that beer after all.” While Tom got up, Dex took another look around. There were cameras and microphones everywhere. Through the crack in a half-opened door he glimpsed a bank of closed circuit television monitors. “You recording this shit, Tom?”
“I record everything. Turns out that’s the only way to get believable responses.” He put a much cleaner glass down on an empty spot on the table and poured an equally warm beer into it. Dex looked at it as though it might contain more cameras.
“I did pen testing yesterday for Tim Dolby.”
“The VP of Program Data?” Dex nodded. “But, yesterday…”
“I know. There’s more.” Dex paused. “Whatever scam he’s pulling, he had me steal some files for him and fence them overseas.”
“I don’t know, man.” Dex took a swig of his beer. He got mostly hot foam. “I just know the filenames, and those were UUID. Base 64 shit.”
Tom began fidgeting with his pen. A few minutes as cell mate had left Dex with an understanding of this man’s nervous habits, and he felt apprehension.
“So a guy fakes his death, steals some files, frames you… And you run to me?” A whine crept into his voice. “You think I ain’t got enough problems as is?”
“I covered my tracks as Most Unexceptional I could.”
“Still–” he took a deep breath and calmed slightly. “Where overseas?”
Tom sighed. “You just got fuckin’ lucky, man.” Dex stared blankly. “What, haven’t been watching the news?” He took a device out of his pocket and flicked on a small CRT hidden amongst the bric-a-brac on the far side of the room.
“…IN THE CAUCUSES HAS HAD A MAJOR EFFECT ON OIL PRICES IN ADDITION TO OLYMPIC PLANS. THE UNITED NATIONS HAS SIGNED A DECLARATION TO SUPPORT THE REBELS AGAINST THE INTERIM…”