“No! Not at all!” Atom protested.
Well of course, it’d say that. I wanted to say, or bluetooth her, but Atom would hear it either way.
“Everyone ready? Password for my network is:…”
“Alright Stop!” I held up my hand.
“What is it now?”
“I have to insist everyone turn off their wireless access before hooking up to Atom.”
Atom made his grumbling noise again.
Kitty looked at me like I was insisting everyone put on a lifejacket before the bus drove over a bridge. “Why?”
“Because I don’t want Atom getting a message back to its owners telling them where we are. I’ve already fought off one cyborg assassin and I’d rather not let his cousins know where to find us.”
“I’d never do…” Atom started.
Without looking I held my hand up at Atom’s netpad. “I don’t believe you.”
Kitty looked up for a second and disabled her access in her Neupro. “Alright, bluetooth only. Let’s do this.”
Kitty let us inside her virtual office for this conversation, an artificial reality domain inside her Neupro. They were popular with hard working office and artistic types, two demographics that don’t normally agree on anything. This is because when you’re inside the computer in your own head the thought ‘I need to click on that icon’ does the clicking for you. So tasks like writing, programming and data entry take a lot less time out of your day.
Kitty’s virtual office looked like the dingy hideout of a comic book super-villain. Spotlights that illuminated the critical areas like the cheesy wall-sized super computer, the workshop with the partially disassembled robot pieces and the dojo with the moth-eaten tatami mats and punching bag. Bordering the spotlight’s illumination was impenetrable blackness. Kitty was either trying to make the place look a lot bigger or a lot smaller than it really was.
With genuine affection I said. “Nice place.” I never touched my own virtual office so it was still on the default ‘noir detective’ theme, but if I ever did I could do worse than take my cues from Kitty’s décor.
Atom was staring up at the stupidly-large monitor for the computer. The display was divided into a dozen live-streams from all over Kitty’s apartment building. Her surveillance was extensive, but appeared limited only to the public areas.
That reassured the hell out of me. This was an early-warning system, not a blackmail network.
Atom turned from the monitors and its little puppet-mouth fell open in a smile. Only the painted facial expression subtly changing stopped it from being super-creepy.
Then out of nowhere the loudest (and shrillest) female voice I’d ever heard split the air from somewhere behind me.
“Over here you guys!”
I whipped my head around, my hand on my pistol, only to see… what looked like a black Uncle Sam dressed for a Rambo sequel and a living rainbow bouncy-ball with googly-eyes and a pink bow, removing any possible doubt as to which of them spoke.
Uncle Jim Rambo was casually leaning against the lair’s gritty wall with his arms crossed. The bouncy ball looked like she couldn’t roll over and go to sleep casually. She constantly bounced and rolled about like a hyperactive squirrel was trying to get out.
Kitty took Atom by the hand and led it over to her friends. “Well, here it is: The world’s first truly sentient artificial intelligence. His name is ‘Atom.’”
“It.” Tachi corrected again as he moved around her to join the circle.
The ball thing squealed with delight and floated over to Atom for a closer look. “Oh my God. You’re the real thing aren’t you?”
“Yes” Atom said, painting a puzzled expression on its face. It reached out to touch her.
I raised my hand to speak. “Sorry if this seems a little off-topic but who the fuck are you two?”
Black Rambo pushed off the wall and offered me a friendly hand and an easy smile. “We’re friends of Kitty’s from the Jay. I’m Patriot Rap, from Flint, Michigan.”
“And I’m Super Moe-Moe Ball! It is so good to meet you all.” She said like she was pacing out the words with a karaoke ball.
“Alright.” I pointed a finger at PR. “You I get, political statement, fight the power. What the fuck is her go?”
Patriot Rap chuckled. “Why Super Moe-Moe ball? You ever find out I’ll buy you a beer.”
Tachi stepped forward and shook PR’s hand as well. “And you can call us Dust and Tachi. We worked with your associate Noodles to steal Atom here from Silicon Dreams.”
“We know.” Moe-Moe bounced. “We helped him out with that job. I lent him my Little Green Men application.”
“And I gave him a hand with research and leg work.” PR added.
“That’s how J. Random hacker works.” Kitty took over. “Members cut each other in on gigs when they need an extra pair of hands. We also share programs and expertise. For the right price that is, we aren’t Star Trek.”
Tachi took a cautious breath. “Then you already knew about Atom?”
Kitty shook her head. “We knew Noodles was on something big, but we never suspected it was this big.”
Oh good. Noodles did understand what ‘operational security’ means.
Moe-Moe lowered herself to Atom’s height. “How are you doing little-guy?”
Atom smiled and reached out to touch Super Moe-Moe ball. He giggled. “You’re all tickly.”
Moe-Moe giggled back. “Thank you.”
I had tremendous difficulty reconciling the programmer of the incredibly useful ‘little green men’ app with the bloody bouncy ball in front of me. This was the bleeding edge of hacker talent?
PR strode over to Atom as well and knelt down to speak to him. “Hey Atom, what was it like at Silicon Dreams? What did they have you doing?”
“Mostly data comprehension and dissemination.” He rattled off with a shrug.
“Really?” Kitty asked. “They built a super-advanced artificial intelligence just to read stuff and tell people about it?”
“Well in detail they wanted me to be able to absorb mass amounts of data and then relay that data with various degrees of complexity, tailoring the level of detail based on what I knew about the intended audience.”