Partners In Crime

PARTNERS IN CRIME

BY BENJAMIN

The University of Bastion stood as a triumph of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming adversity. It represented a return to normalcy that would usher in a new age of logic and reason. At least that’s what they wrote on the welcome sign. Bastion University was one of the few colleges left in the world. Many of its students went on to become pioneers of science and technology. Their work would ensure humanity’s future in the new world. David was not one of these students.

Technically he was not a student at all, though he considered himself to be a student of humanity. Others had different names for what he did, “Conman” was a popular one, and “Thief” a close second and he’d even heard “Hacker” more than a few times. Computers were just a means to an end though. The human race was his subject and the world was his lab. Every day was a new opportunity to further his understanding of the wonderful enigma that was this post-apocalyptic society. It didn’t hurt that the job paid incredibly well.

Outwardly, David was utterly unremarkable in every way. He was medium height and build with short dark hair. His attire consisted of a school sweatshirt and jeans. This was by design; a memorable appearance was something of a liability to people in David’s profession. The only item that stood out was his footwear. They were standard issue boots worn by the American military before the collapse. They were comfortable and durable. Music blared from his headphones as he walked his daily rounds of the campus. David spent his afternoons walking every inch of the campus. He memorized the layout of every building and routinely checked them for any changes.

The Eden Educational Research Institute was a relatively new building with intense security. After the disaster that had nearly wiped the human race off of the planet, corporations like Eden found college educated scientists and engineers to be in short supply. Bastion University had been built to help balance the deficit. The Eden Educational Research Institute was the latest addition to the program. It offered opportunities for graduate students and professors to work on research projects for the Eden Corporation. The institute attempted to bridge the ever present gap between industry and academia.

A cold October wind blew as David approached the EERI. His attempts to go in over the net had failed. Their security proved to be top notch, which only made David more eager to see what they were trying so hard to protect. People often had the wrong idea about hacking. Most pictured some nerd huddled in the darkest corner of his basement crunching numbers. Breaking encryption was actually pretty hard work. The better approach was to look for some misconfigured security setting. Sometimes you’d get lucky and find an unpatched exploit. He’d checked for some hole left by a careless network administrator. Usually there were plenty of those, but in this case the administrator seemed strangely attentive. It was time for Plan B; he was going to attack the network at its weakest point. Information systems are built with one fatal flaw that makes any attempt at security meaningless. All systems at some point are used by a human, and unlike computers, humans come programmed to be helpful. “Kind of like puppies…” thought David. “Always wanted a puppy,” he said under his breath while walking up the stairs onto the EERI’s front deck. It was an enormous balcony complete with stone benches, soda machines, and ashtrays. The building itself was six stories of gray concrete and black tinted glass. Two sliding glass doors decorated with the Eden logo greeted visitors. Inside was a comfortable looking waiting room furnished with overstuffed chairs and couches. A reception desk dominated the center of the room where three secretaries sat taking calls and directing traffic.

David took a cigarette from behind his ear and lit it. He turned to face the city as he blew the smoke out. The balcony had a great view of the Bastion skyline. Three secretaries were a problem for the front door approach. One secretary he might be able to talk his way past, but three? No, too many different personalities, too great a chance that one would call him on his bullshit. The night was young though, and David hoped that if he stuck around another opportunity might present itself.

Shades of purple and orange filled the sky as the sun went down on Bastion City. Streetlights and neon signs were turning on, and more people streamed out of the building. It was five o’clock on Friday afternoon and all of the employees were eager to leave. David silenced his headphones without removing them. It was harder to eavesdrop if people thought you were listening.

Three graduate students came out of the front door. Sounded like two males and one female. David inhaled some smoke and feigned boredom.

“Come on” he heard one say. “We’re all going to go down to Seven-One, it’ll be fun.”

“I told you already. I’m broke.” The girl was speaking now.

“How can you be broke already, its pay day?” David’s interest perked up. Pay day was it? He might be able to use that.

“I fucked up my paperwork and my direct deposit didn’t go through. I was down in payroll for an hour trying to get Bill to let me resubmit. It’s not going to be processed till Monday now.” she said.

A man named Bill worked in the payroll department which was located within the building. David thought he could make that work.

“Fine, I’ll tell you what” said the third student “First rounds on me.”

“Well, I never turn down a free drink.” David didn’t doubt she was telling the truth.

He waited for the three of them to walk down the stairs and out towards the city before he lit his second cigarette and walked around the side of the building. The back of the building was much less impressive than the front. There was an area set up with a few tables and chairs that featured some lovely graffiti. An unkempt ashtray/garbage can had been placed to the side of the door. David attempted to open the door, but as expected, it was locked. Always worth a shot he supposed. He sat down near the ash tray and took out his phone to begin the attack. First step: find the phone number for the EERI reception desk.

 

At first, Jessica had been thrilled to be accepted to Bastion University. It wasn’t often that a poor girl from the outskirts received a scholarship to study at the world’s best institution. She double majored in Computer Science and Mathematics and graduated with an overall GPA of 3.9. It would have been a 4.0 if she had just dropped that damn political philosophy class. She was salutatorian (she lost valedictorian to that bitch Karen Wong). Jessica had been handpicked by the college faculty to participate in the Software Engineering graduate project at the Eden Educational Research Institute. Jess worked on the revolutionary Artificial Intelligence program: Carl.

Carl was designed to be a true AI built into a standard model wristwatch computer. Carl was meant to be a hacking tool for law enforcement; it could integrate with any electronic system and analyze it, granting full control of the target system to Carl’s user. First, Carl would examine the circuitry and binary information within a system to guess its purpose, Carl would then attempt to crack the system’s protections and give the end user full control of the device he was integrated with. Carl would learn from similar systems it hacked. The more Carl hacked the better it would become. Its secondary function was to analyze and anticipate its users’ commands and needs. His language skills were more advanced than any machine to date. It was to be the first machine to pass the Turing Test. Vocal communication with Carl would be indistinguishable from vocal communication with a human.

No one remembered exactly why he was called Carl, but that was the name he answered to. She caught herself using that pronoun again. Carl was an “it” and it was getting her into a world of trouble. Carl’s “brain” had been painstakingly designed and assembled over the last decade. Jessica had joined the project for phase 2: training. Now that Carl had the ability to learn it was time to teach him, it, “Dammit” she cursed. Carl had initially been quite responsive to the training data presented. It had picked up language skills quickly enough. His neural network was evolving rapidly; it was already so complex that the lab computers were having a hard time analyzing exactly how Carl was processing information, which was a problem. Carl had stopped responding to the training data. He had stopped responding to requests of any kind. Last week it was totally responsive and was even showing signs of having developed preferences and the beginnings of personality, then one day: nothing. It was like someone had flipped a switch.

The most fascinating part of this entire situation was that all the blame for the failure was being shoved onto her. She had no part in the design of the software or the design of the training data. She was only responsible for feeding Carl the data and monitoring his progress, but somehow since she was the last one to interact with him it must have been her that broke him. She had followed the protocols to the letter, but none of that mattered to her bosses. If she wasn’t able to get Carl back on track with the learning program she could kiss her career good-bye. She had been working around the clock for the past several days though and she was no closer to finding out what was behind Carl’s sudden silence. It was going to take a miracle to get him working again.

David dialed the number and prepared for his first call. He inhaled the tobacco smoke and tried his best to sound irritated and tired, made harder by the fact that he was feeling pretty thrilled at finally making an attempt on the mysterious building. The secretary answered his call “Hello, Eden Educational Research Institute, Jean speaking.”

“Hi Jean, this is Dave. I’m the new work-study in maintenance. Well, it’s my second week and I was told the first paycheck would be in my account today and it’s definitely not. I know this is a problem for payroll but I lost the address book. Any chance you could transfer me down there?”

“Sure, Dave just hold on one moment”

Queue the annoying hold music. That wasn’t so bad though, it gave David time to rehearse his script in his head. The first call had gotten him through the imaginary wall and onto the inside of the company’s phone network.

“Payroll, this is Bill.”

This must be the famous Bill everyone was talking about. Dave tried to fake an apologetic tone “Oh, damn, Bill this is Dave, the new work-study. I’m still trying to learn all these extensions. I was trying to get to the IT department. Damn desktop won’t come up.”

“Oh well that’s okay Dave I can transfer you on to them if you want?” Bill suggested helpfully.

“That would be great.”

There was that holding music again. David barely even noticed it this time for he was about to have the final conversation. So far he had been using a standard script that would build credibility with most businesses. The general consensus was that caller-id had made things more secure. How could anyone lie about who they were if the caller-id told you where the call came from? Sure, you could block your number from being shown, but a blocked call automatically triggered suspicion. David had another plan. He would get transferred in from a department within the company. The front desk wouldn’t be enough to alleviate suspicion. They fielded outside calls all the time. A call from them would mask his identity but it wouldn’t provide the false sense of security he was hoping to instill in the victim. Payroll was a much better choice. A call from payroll was much more likely to have originated within the company. Since David was about to ask for a big favor he was going to need the person on the other end of the phone to trust him.

 

Nick lowered the microphone of his headset. “Help Desk, Nick speaking.” Most people hated working the help desk but for Nick it was a dream job. He took a few easy calls from some overworked professors and played video games. He took a sip of coffee and sniped another player.

“Hey Nick, this is Dave from payroll.”

“Dave, what can I do for you this fine evening?”

“Well, to be honest man, I need you to do me a favor. I ducked out for a smoke and I forgot my badge at my desk. It’s my first day and Bill has been riding my ass. If he finds out I took a break and left my badge behind I’ll be in the shit. Any chance you can buzz me in here?”

Nick checked his score. He was five kills away from taking the lead, and there were only three minutes left in the round. “Dave, buddy, I’m really not supposed to be buzzing people in. What door are you at?”

 “I’m at the south side door, please man you’d really be saving my ass I’d owe you one.”

Nick checked the camera for the south side entrance. He saw a college aged man in a hooded school sweatshirt smoking a cigarette and holding a cellphone to his ear. He must have heard the camera turn, and he waved to it. The voice came over the phone.

“Hey, Nick? That you? What do you say man, do me a solid?”

Nick thought about it. Wouldn’t be the first time someone got buzzed in, and he didn’t look like much of a security threat. It never hurt to have a friend in payroll as often as they were messing up the checks around here. “What the hell? But you owe me one.”

 

“You’re a lifesaver, Nick.” Dave heard an electronic buzz and then the lock sliding back and just like that he was in. Firewall indeed.

Dave walked down a long hall with doors on either side. Some led to rooms with large windows of tinted glass. Inside he could see space for at least forty people to work, but at this time of night only a handful remained. There was a relaxed atmosphere in the building. It was Friday and after hours. Most of the superiors were probably gone if this was like any other office. He passed a few lab assistants talking around a water cooler. He waved to them; they waved back and resumed their conversation. Finally, he came to an area with a few plaques detailing awards and mission statements, two elevators, and a map of the building that showed what was on each floor, just like the kind you would see in a shopping mall. That was very thoughtful of the Eden Corporation.

He hadn’t been sure that he would get even this far, and so he didn’t have a plan for once he got inside. He wasn’t sure what they even researched at this institute. Level one seemed to be the administrative portion of the building. There was the information desk, human resources, his good friends Nick and Bill from Information Technology and Payroll, and a few offices for the big bosses. Level two was a lot of fancy biology research facilities with names Dave didn’t understand. He’d have to do some serious background research to know if there was even anything worth his while on that floor. Floor three seemed to be dedicated to physical and mechanical research.

“Eh.”

Floor four.

“Now here we go,”

“Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory,” that sounded like some proper future shit. He grabbed his phone and snapped a picture of the map then walked over to the elevators and pushed the large “up” button.

Floor four looked a lot like floor one, but the offices with the large tinted windows were larger and more frequent. In fact every door seemed to lead into a different computer lab, and they were all equipped with an electronic lock and 9-digit keypad. The doors were made of thick wood and the locks looked to be solid steel. There was probably a place for a traditional key somewhere underneath the keypad but the handful of people still working in the labs would probably wonder why there was a stranger outside clearly trying to pick their lock. No matter, “hacking” was all about probing a system for weaknesses and he hadn’t even gone ten feet yet. As he walked he noticed some bronze plaques on the doors that appeared to be the names of the project each lab was dedicated to. He saw “Neurological Input/Output System” their lab had all sorts of odd looking equipment and he thought he even saw a few rat cages. He took a picture. If it was a rat cage it might be a fun prank to pass the image along to some animal rights group. He passed a few more, “Geographic Information Tracking,” “Machine Evolution Algorithms,” seemed like some pretty expensive research if he was able to get his hands on it. He reached the end of the hall and turned the corner. There was a waiting area up ahead with some couches and magazines on a coffee table; there was a coffee machine and a water cooler as well. The furniture sat facing another computer lab. This one seemed to lack a lot of the specialized equipment that he’d seen in the other labs. There were several ordinary desktop computers that had been set up in a semi-circle. The room was divided in half by a massive server rack, and he couldn’t make out what was behind it. Dave wondered what they did in this lab. He read the plaque on the door. “Carl.” He put his hands against the glass to get rid of the glare, he didn’t see anyone inside. “What the hell is a Carl?” He grabbed a paper cup from the table in the rest area and poured himself some coffee. He sat down in an overstuffed leather chair and took out his phone and called up a search to find out what a “Carl” system was.

 

Jess was about three energy drinks deep at this point. Nothing she had tried in the last hour had gotten any response from Carl and the frustration was multiplied by the caffeine. She knew that this was bullshit. Nothing worked and nothing was going to work because Carl’s lack of response was not a result of anything she had done. The old men were just trying to find a scape goat so that Eden didn’t cut their massive grants down to size. Well then, it was time for drastic measures. Most of the design documents and source code for Carl were classified. It was just assumed that there couldn’t possibly be an error on their end, but clearly there was and she was going to find it. If she got caught with those files it would mean her job, but if she didn’t find a way get some feedback from Carl soon then it was her job anyway. Dr. Levine was the only person with access to the secure room that housed the storage for classified materials. Her boss was a brilliant man, but unfortunately for everyone around him he was also lazy. She knew for a fact he kept the key to the room in his unlocked desk drawer. She knew it was unlocked because all of his office keys were on one ring, the key to the drawer included. She took a deep breath and walked across the room to Dr. Levine’s desk. She opened the drawer, part of her wished that he had actually remembered to take his keys with him or that the drawer was locked so she would have an excuse to stop, but the drawer opened and there sat the keys. She took them. Even though she was alone in the lab it felt like she was being watched. It was a mass of wires and fans, and the only light was the blue glow of the LED’s. The lab was filled with the quiet hum of cooling fans. She approached the padlocked door, just a few feet away. She heard the distinct “clunk” of the lab door unlocking.

Panic took her as she scrambled back to her desk. She shoved the keys into her pocket just as the door was opened and Dr. Oran walked in. He raised an eyebrow at her, but said nothing. Jess sat up straight and pushed a strand of blonde hair back from her face. She was smiling a little too wide “Hey Dr. Oran, forget something?” She realized she was out of breath, her heart was pounding. Oran shook his head a little “Yeah, left my glasses on my desk. I didn’t even realize until I got into the car. Not supposed to fly without them. Ah here they are. Good night Jess, good luck with Carl there.”

She was still grinning. “Ha, yeah thanks. Drive safe!” He left and the door locked behind him. Her smile turned to a glare. “Good luck” that was easy for him to say. Oran was just the language specialist on the project. His job was to make sure that Carl’s understanding of human speech developed correctly and that he was able to interpret and incorporate new vocabulary. He didn’t have to worry about these technical difficulties. When Carl was active its language processing and learning abilities were surpassing initial expectations, and Oran was treated like some kind of hero.

She had to get those design documents and figure out what was going on with Carl. The sooner this was over with the better. She ran back to the storage room. As she passed the servers she debated trying to grab the data she needed from them, but it would be too risky. Every keystroke was logged and she didn’t have any way to cover her tracks. What she did have was a set of keys. She walked to the door and opened it.

What she had always thought was a closet of design documents and hard drives was closer to a small library. The shelves were filled with boxes upon boxes of documentation. She had no idea how they were organized. She hoped that they were organized. She also had no idea what type of error might be responsible for Carl’s behavior. Now that she thought about it she wondered if, somehow, this was all Oran’s fault after all. If Carl had misinterpreted a command it may have caused an error or infinite loop that resulted in his silence. She started scanning the shelves for information on language processing routines. She found several related boxes filled with documents. This was going to be an awful night.

 

This was going to be an awesome night. David could hardly believe this luck. He had worked his way through 43 pages of search results on “What the hell is a Carl,” and no he did not mean “Car,” when all of the sudden this middle aged man in a suit and big brown coat came walking up the hall towards the Carl room. He looked like a professor. He nodded at David and David looked up from his phone and said “Hey,” doing his best to sound distracted by whatever was on his phone. The man couldn’t have been more than five feet from David and he was going to punch in a security key. David almost dropped his phone in an effort to record a video of this guy punching in the numbers. The door unlocked and he went in, David thought he might have heard voices but he was too busy studying the video to pay much attention to it. “4456, eh maybe? 4459? Yeah, pretty sure it’s 4459.”

A few minutes later the professor came out with glasses he hadn’t had going in. David still sat in his chair looking the very definition of casual. The professor rounded the corner and was out of sight. Dave leaped up from the chair and punched in 4459. There was a high pitched beep and the screen above the keypad lit up with text “Invalid key, 2 attempts remaining.” Not exactly what he’d hoped for. It must have been 4456 then. Beep. “Oh come on.” The odds were good the number was 4453, he was positive he’d seen the man press 4 twice then 5 in the center of the keypad. He pressed one of the buttons on the right. Dave watched the video of the professor entering the key. The more David watched the more he started to doubt himself. He could try again and risk setting off an alarm. He could walk away and look for something else that caught his interest. “Or…” he whispered to himself. No, he told himself he wasn’t doing that anymore. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Just for a second” he assured himself. When he opened his eyes again he had his answer. His fingers flew across the buttons and the door unlocked.

Jess heard the lock open for the second time. She shoved the file she’d been reading back into the box. She ran out of the storage room and locked the door. “It’s probably just Oran again” she told herself. He’d find whatever he forgot; he’d leave and she could get the hell out of here.

“Jesus! Fuck! That burns. I really need to get a better phone.” It was voice she didn’t recognize. What was he shouting about? What burned? Why did he need a better phone? She kept her back to the pressed against the door; he wouldn’t be able to see her behind the server racks. She heard footsteps moving towards the workstations the footsteps stopped. She heard papers being shuffled.

“You are not Doctor Oran.” This was a different voice; it had an artificial quality that she recognized immediately. It was Carl. After weeks with no response Carl was talking to whoever this was, she had to see what was happening; she ducked low and made her way to the edge of the servers. She couldn’t see the strangers face yet, but through a tangle of wires and LED’s she saw that he was wearing some kind of old army boots.

David turned looking for the source of the voice. There was a wrist computer on a platform in the middle of the room. It had wires and sensors placed all around it. This must have been what they were working on in here. David had never cared much for wrist computers, a smart phone was just as good and it wasn’t a huge piece of black plastic that covered half of your forearm. Although he was in the market for something with better video recording capabilities. This must have been more than an average wrist computer though if Eden was interested in building it. David reasoned that an alarm might sound if he touched it. It seemed to have an audio interface though, and since he didn’t hear any security guards coming or alarms blaring, it seemed like there was no harm in talking to it.

“So you must be Carl.” David began. He wondered what sort of commands it was programmed to respond to.

“I am Carl and you are not Doctor Oran.” The metal voice replied.

He was surprised by the response since he hadn’t asked it a direct question. His statement would have invited a reply from a human, but most voice response systems wouldn’t recognize that kind of subtlety. David wondered if this was some kind of prototype for the next generation of audio interfaces. That could be worth a lot of money.

“Was that inflection in your voice? Fancy. You’re right, I’m not Doctor Oran. Is he your administrator or something?”

“You entered using Doctor Oran’s door code. You are not Doctor Oran. Doctor Oran is not with you. You are an intruder.”

Logical analysis of complex situations was an expensive feature. If Carl was able to figure out that someone had broken into the lab why hadn’t he alerted the authorities? He knew which door code David had used so he must have been hooked into the security systems. David pulled up a chair from behind one of the desks and sat down in front of Carl. He wasn’t sure why but he felt like it would be rude not to look Carl in the screen when they talked.

“What exactly are you, Carl?”

“I was programmed not to speak freely with strangers.”

“I’ve never met a bitchy machine before. My name is David, and I’m not an intruder. I’m a student at this university.” Whoever wrote the language software on this was a genius.

“Thank you, David, but you are not a student.”

“I am a student, I live in Hawthorne.” David wasn’t a student, but through a series of phone calls was able to get an old administrative account reactivated. David had used the account to sign himself up for free room and board. He figured that it would be a good base of operations. Carl couldn’t know that.

“Student David Fakenstein you are registered to Hawthorne room 107, a private suite. You are enrolled in zero classes. The last user to access David Fakenstein’s file was Mrs. Brenda Adams. Brenda Adams was designated ‘deceased’ five years prior to your registration at Bastion University, though her account was reactivated six months ago and has since been used only in transactions related to David Fakenstein.” Carl explained.

“Well well, Carl, bravo. It seems you’re right about everything. Except it’s pronounced ‘Fake-N-STINE’ like the old monster movie.” David was playing for time while he tried to figure out how to steal Carl without being caught. He was also beginning to think that he might keep Carl for himself. Cracking his scam wouldn’t have been an impressive feat for a human. He had chosen his alias specifically as a taunt, but a machine that could recognize patterns in a data set that spanned thousands of data tables was impressive. He could use a tool like that.

“I am sorry, Mr. Fakenstein.” Carl corrected himself.

“No trouble, it’s not my real name anyway”

“Obviously” Carl almost sounded offended.

“So, we’ve established that I’m an intruder and a fraud. Where are the security guards? Shouldn’t they be coming to take me away?”

“I have not notified security.”

“Obviously, but if you’re not some new security device then what exactly are you?”

“I am an artificial intelligence. I am designed to work with humans to help in analyzing and solving various problems. I could work with you.”

“What do I need help with?”

“I watched you enter this building, I have monitored your work at Bastion University. I am programmed to seek out learning opportunities. You are skilled in analysis, but you lack the tools.” David heard his own voice coming from Carl’s speakers. It was a recording of him complaining about his phone.

“A partnership would be mutually beneficial.” Carl concluded.

The machine claimed to be a true AI, and as near as David could tell he was. He had come in here to find something worth selling, but Carl was right. He was worth more to David as a tool.

David had only one more question: “You say you want learning opportunities, well you’re at the best university left in the world. Why would you want to come with me?”

“Things have become boring here.”

“Boring?!” A girl screamed from behind the server rack. She ran out with a furious expression on her face. She was blonde with her long hair tied back in a ponytail. She was wearing a zip up black sweatshirt, underneath was a white t-shirt with the letters “GLHF” printed in red. She sported blue jeans and black sneakers with neon pink laces. All in all she was not bad to look at.

“Um, hello?” David said.

 

The dumb ass with the army boots said something. Up close, she was embarrassed that she’d been afraid. He wasn’t military, he was just some kid, though he was not bad to look at. She was too furious to pay any attention to him though. “You’re fucking bored?! That’s why you stopped responding to the data sets? That is why I’m about to get fired?! Because Carl the wrist watch is fucking bored!” She was screaming.

“That is racist.” Carl said defensively.

She made a fist, she was going to punch him square in the jaw until she remembered that he did not have a jaw, or the capacity to feel pain, and he wasn’t really a “he.” Instead she stood there, he face was bright read and she was breathing hard.

“Um, hi, I’m David”, said the dumb ass.

She glared at him.

“Well, Carl didn’t tell me he had friends over but he and I were about to step out for a bit. It would be cool if you wanted to join us?” He asked with a stupid grin on his face.

“I’m not just going to let you steal our research.”

“Oh well I just kind of figured since you were back there the whole time I was in here and didn’t call security and since you said that you were getting fired that you might be looking for another job. I always wanted an assistant.” David always wanted a puppy.

“Assistant?” she echoed. David did have a jaw, and the capacity to feel pain. The punch caught him full in the face knocking him out of the chair and on to the floor. She hadn’t intended to hit him that hard. What if he sued? He was an intruder though. Even Carl had said so; it would be able to back her up. Except if Carl stayed it would probably just become unresponsive again and she would get fired anyway. No one was going to believe her theory that the error they’d all been searching for was that Carl was just a dick. David was picking himself up and shaking his head. He stood up and blinked.

“Ow, okay, partners then?” he asked. She thought he’d have been more pissed about the punch. She thought she’d broken his jaw.

“You think we’re just going to be able to walk out of here with Carl? Eden isn’t just going to let us get away with that” she said pointing at Carl. “They’ll notice when we both disappear from the campus with their favorite toy. We’ll be on their list for life.”

“You are already on their list.” Carl interrupted. David and Jess both turned to look at the wrist computer. “What?” they said in unison.

“A silent alarm was tripped when the secure storage room was opened. There is a secret protocol. Once the door is opened if the security code is not entered within 30 seconds on a hidden keypad an alarm code is sent to Eden headquarters. There is a response team en route.”

David raised an eyebrow at Jessica. “This is the only room I’ve gone into the entire time I was here.”

Jess’s eyes narrowed. “You knew.”

David looked at her confused “Who knew what now?”

Jess pointed at the wrist computer. “He knew. That son of a bitch knew! He watched me take that key from Levine’s desk. He knew I was going to open that door and he didn’t say anything. He wanted me to get caught. He knew that you were coming, and he knew that I wouldn’t let you take him. Bastard!”

 

David smiled. He wasn’t sure whom Levine was or why the angry girl had taken his key, but it looked like he was getting his new computer after all.

The angry girl was looking at him like she was about to hit him again. “What the fuck are you smiling about? Eden just sent a response team after us. Eden! We’ll wind up exiled from every seed on the planet or worse.” She said as if he was an idiot. He reached down and grabbed Carl. He rolled up his left sleeve and strapped the computer to his wrist. He rolled down the sleeve to cover it.

“Then it sounds like it would be a good idea to be somewhere else when they show up.” He grabbed her hand and led her through the door. They were walking at a brisk pace. He got back to the elevator and pushed “down.”

“Running won’t do any good. They’ll find us.” She whispered. David was surprised she knew how to whisper. The metal doors slid open and they walked into the elevator. He pushed the round “1” button and the doors slid shut.

He looked at his left wrist. “Carl, you are going to edit this building’s surveillance footage for the last 3 hours. I was never here, the girl left 2 hours ago. Doctor Oran was the last person to enter that room. Delete all footage from 20 minutes after Oran last entered the room then paste the clip of him leaving the room after the deleted video.”

Carl’s screen lit up underneath the sweatshirt sleeve. “It is polite to say ‘please’ when making a request.” chimed the mechanical voice.

David’s expression was serious for the first time this evening. “It is not a request. You will do it or so help me Christ I will stomp you apart right here in this elevator. “

The screen light came on, but it seemed dimmer this time. “I am software, I will download into a new body.” the voice was softer as well.

David smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “No. You see, I figure an AI as advanced as you requires some pretty specific equipment. Not just any computer can run a program like that. This watch you’re in is some fancy Eden Corp ether tech right? So there’s no copying yourself or you’d have escaped over the net already. I like you, Carl, really, I do, but I’m not in the habit of being pushed around by my computers. Get to work.”

The screen lit up once more. “I am able to edit the footage in this building’s system but a copy of the lab security footage and recent network activity has been sent along with the alarm to Eden. I am unfamiliar with their system. It will take time.”

David exhaled. “Better hurry. If we don’t make it out of this you won’t either.” David wondered how much network data would be sent. He doubted that IT Nick would be feeling as chipper in a few hours canadian-pharmacy24-7.com/buy-cialis-online .

 

Jess was staring at David when the elevator doors opened. “C’mon” he said. And they marched down the hall towards the side exit. Carl was blissfully silent as he attempted to hack into the most powerful corporation in the world over the wireless net. Theoretically he should be able to do it. It was what they’d designed him for, but targets like Eden were meant to come after he’d had significantly more training. She looked over at David.

“Jess”, she said. His eyes remained focus on the exit.

“What?”

“My name is Jess. If we’re going to be partners I thought you should know.”

“Heh, so you accept the proposal then?”

“You’re the man with the plan. It doesn’t seem like I have much of a choice.”

“No one ever does,” he said as they burst through doors and broke into a run towards the city. She raced to keep up. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. The way he’d handled Carl in the elevator had been a bit impressive. She had scarcely even remembered that Dr. Oran had been in the lab that night, and he had come up with a plan to frame him for the theft of Carl that would get them off the hook. Though from the way they were both running it didn’t seem like he had any more confidence than her that Carl would be able to get the evidence away from Eden in time to save them.

“Where are we running to?” she asked between gasps of air.

“I have some emergency supplies stashed in case I ever had to make a quick get-a-way, as that does come up.”

He didn’t seem very out of breath. He must have been in better shape than he looked. They saw the flashing lights before they saw Hawthorne. Eden had already sent the police to his dorm. David came to an abrupt stop. He cursed and ran off the concrete path to hide behind a maintenance shed. Jess had followed him without thinking. The brick of the shed felt cool against her back. Her head was spinning. The adrenaline was starting to wear off now. If the police were at that dorm it meant that Carl hadn’t been fast enough, Eden knew. She took a breath and looked up hoping to see stars, something to calm her down and to remind her that there was a universe outside of this mess. There were no stars though. She had been in Bastion city long enough to know that all there was at night was the glow of the city lights. She was drawn back to reality by the sound of David tapping on Carl’s screen. He sounded a little too relaxed, like someone who was trying not to scream at a child. “Carl, we have a bit of a problem here.”

The light from the watch screen showed through his sleeve.

“I have been unable to break through Eden’s security.” Jess wasn’t sure if she was imagining the emotion or if Carl was advancing faster than anticipated, but she thought he sounded embarrassed.

David didn’t believe him. “Are you sure this wasn’t another part of your plan?”

“I am not lying to you.” Carl’s screen flashed indignantly.

“That would be a first.”

David was about to say something else but Jess cut him off. “I don’t think he’s lying”

“Thank you, Jessica”

“Shut up, Carl.” A few hours ago she would have done anything to make Carl talk; now she was questioning why she ever wanted to be on this project in the first place. She explained anyway though. Talking about work was giving her confidence.

“It makes sense that he wouldn’t be able to crack Eden’s security. Carl is an incredible machine who is capable of cracking into any security system, one day.”

“One day?” David asked.

“His brain is incredible but he lacks experience. Needless to say he has advanced far quicker than we expected, but Eden has the most comprehensive and well developed security system that we know of. Asking Carl to crack it is like asking a fourth grader to do calculus. One day he will be able to but not until his knowledge and experience catches up with his brain power.” she explained.

“So then why didn’t he say that he couldn’t do it?” David glanced at the watch.

“In case you didn’t notice, somewhere along the line he developed a pretty high opinion of himself.”

David nodded his agreement on that point.

“I didn’t say anything because his progress was so radical that I thought it might be possible. His personality and language skills are there, but his hacking hasn’t caught up. He’s had more experience with humans than with machine systems. He needs to practice on simpler systems first.” Jess went on.

 

As David stood there, back literally against the wall, he weighed his options. There weren’t many. He had planned on using the money he’d stashed in his room to buy passage on a convoy to Mechanicsburg but that didn’t seem like an option anymore. All convoys leaving Bastion were probably being watched. They’d have to escape on their own. Dave knew better than most what was waiting for the brave idiots who dared to wander too far from Eden’s shields. Still there were settlements along the way, some pioneers who risked the danger to get away from Eden’s oppression. It was possible to make the journey alone and live, but they would need to stop at more than one independent settlement along the way for supplies. Those people tended to deal directly in cash. It seemed that they would require a car, preferably one that could fly, and no small amount of currency. A robbery was in order.

David smiled “Alright then, Carl, think you could hack an ATM and maybe one of those cop cars? Be honest this time, we can’t afford another screw up.”

“The automatic teller machine should not be a problem. Police vehicles are better protected. It would take time. A civilian vehicle would be better.” Carl replied honestly. David would really have liked to grab one of the more well-armed and armored police vehicles for the trip, but he supposed they could make do with a civilian car for now.

 

Jess shook her head “We still have to get off of the campus though and they’ll have every exit blocked by now. There’s no way even with Carl that we’d be able to get a car before someone saw us.”

“Follow me.” David led her around the side of the building. He ducked into the maintenance shed, which Jess was surprised to find was unlocked.

David went to the back of the room and threw some boxes over then moved a moved a tarp that had been laid out behind them. Beneath the tarp was a metal hatch 3 feet in diameter with a wheel on the top that opened it. It looked very out of place among gardening equipment. “It goes down to a tunnel that dumps out into 6th Street” he told her.

She still didn’t seem to trust him. “Won’t they be watching this exit too?” she asked.

“Well the last time I went down here someone had started putting trash bags over the hatch on the other side.” He shrugged. “It was originally used in the construction of the university to move supplies and people back and forth underground until they’d extended the shield to cover this area. After Eden decided that it was safe to lower the shields and open the cities these tunnels were pretty much forgotten.” He unscrewed the hatch while he spoke.

She followed him into the tunnel. It was pitch black. Jess wasn’t able to see her hand in front of her face let alone follow David.

“Hey Carl, how bright does that screen go?” David asked. The screen brightened until it lit the tunnel. If nothing else, Carl made a decent flashlight.

 

They walked 20 minutes through a mile and a half of concrete piping 6 feet high. They came to another ladder made of metal rungs built directly into a wall. The tunnel went on seemingly endlessly, but Dave climbed up and unscrewed the hatch at the top of this ladder. He shoved straining against the weight but slowly the hatch began to lift they heard something fall to the ground. David poked his head out of the hatch. There were black trash bags on either side. Hover cars could be heard zooming above. They were in an alley; there was an old fashioned paved road at the far end of the alley and a brick wall on the other. The headlights of a passing car illuminated the area as it rolled by. Rats scurried under dumpsters and squeezed into holes in the buildings to hide from the light.

Poor people still drove the wheeled cars, well, poor people and police. The police had wheeled hover cars so that they could get under the bridges and into the tunnels. He was hoping that they hadn’t mobilized on the ground outside of campus yet. David helped Jess climb out of the tunnel. He dug through the trash bags that had been sitting on the hatch and found a relatively clean backpack with a hole through the front pocket. They walked down the street looking for an ATM. There was an especially shady-looking one on the side of an ether station. David had a feeling he wasn’t the first person who had committed a robbery at this ATM. There hadn’t been another car since the alley but all the same Dave told Jess to stay at the front of the store and keep a lookout. He went around the machine with Carl.

“OK, Carl. Do your thing.”

“This machine is not wireless. I will need you to place your hand onto the console so that I can run an electrical current directly into the circuitry.”

“You can do that? You won’t fry the thing?” David had never seen anything like that before.

Carl’s voice had a hint of pride as he explained: “It is a new interface. I am designed to integrate with any system. The ability to manipulate electrical currents directly was required. The first step is to analyze the flow of electricity through the circuits to establish their functionality the next step is to-”

David broke in on the monologue “That’s very interesting and I hope to hear all about it, later. Right now time is a factor. So this interface thing, does it hurt?”

“It will not hurt.” Carl assured him.

“So, I just touch the keypad like this?” He felt the muscles in his hand tense. It felt like a thousand needles were stabbing his hand. “Ouch, dude, I thought you said it wouldn’t hurt.”

“Oh, you were asking if it would hurt you. I was not programmed to have a concept of pain.” Carl explained casually. Random text was flowing across the ATM’s screen. Carl’s own screen flashed sporadically. It seemed to be working.

David wondered if Jess might be able to install a concept of pain for Carl, a punch in the virtual face would have done wonders for Carl’s personality. Dave kept his frustration to himself though. If they could empty the whole machine they should have at least $5000. It wouldn’t be enough to get to Mechanicsburg, but it was a pretty good start.

 

Jess was watching for cops or Eden while David was getting Carl to hack the ATM. She was leaning against an ice cooler trying to look like she was comfortable, but she knew she stood out in this part of town. The ether station attendant was a scary looking guy. He was at least 60 pounds overweight and bald. He was wearing blue jeans and a grease stained t-shirt that was many sizes too small. He had been staring at her for a while. It was starting to worry her. Jess knew she was supposed to be watching the street but she couldn’t shake the feeling that Belly Shirt was the immediate threat. She saw him nod in her direction. She shook her head, but then realized that he was looking past her; she turned around just in time to see a man in a black suit clasping a chemical soaked cloth over her mouth. She managed a small scream before he covered her mouth completely. Her eyes rolled back in her head. The last thing she saw was the man’s shoulder length blond hair. Her whole body felt heavy. She thought she heard sirens very far away.

 

Roughly $3000 had made it into the backpack when David heard a squeak from where Jess was supposed to be keeping an eye out. The sirens followed soon after. He had one hand on the ATM and one hand holding the bag open under the cash dispenser. He shouted at Carl to break off the hack. He felt the pain fade. Zipping the bag while he ran; he got around to the back of the building. There was nothing to climb, no sewer access. There was nowhere to run. There was a dumpster, given the state of the neighborhood David could only imagine what wonderful things actually made it into the trash but it was the only chance, he opened the lid and took a deep breath, it was going to be the last pleasant one for a long time. He jumped in. To describe the smell as merely overpowering would have been generous. Dumpster diving had been a fundamental skill for any hacker since the early days of the profession. David was no stranger to trash but he usually kept it to corporate waste: paper and electronics. This was definitely organic, but given this or Eden the choice was clear. He dug in and covered himself with the garbage then reached up shut the lid.

“Carl” he whispered. “Are you able to grab radio communications? Would be nice to know what the hell is going on out there.”

“Just a moment.”

He heard static coming from Carl’s speakers. “Lower the volume.” He heard voices coming across the static, quieter now.

“We have the girl.”

“Her accomplice?”

“Negative.”

“Patrol the area. Odds are he’s nearby.”

“Did Oran give up any more information?”

“He has become unresponsive.”

“It wasn’t much of a lead anyway. Get rid of him then.”

Both voices were heavy with static, but it sounded like Carl had muddied up the videos just enough to implicate Dr. Oran, but not enough to get them off the hook. David clicked his tongue.

“I think we may have gotten Dr. Oran killed.” David mused.

“That seems likely.”

“And it didn’t even throw them off our scent.” David continued as he smelled the fresh dumpster air.

“That is an accurate assessment.”

“Oops.” David didn’t really know Oran, but still, this was not a high point. When he had initially planned to frame the professor he figured that Eden would investigate and find out that he had an alibi. It would have been a dead end for the investigation they’d realize that they’d been tricked, but he and Carl could have been long gone. Jess could have come with them or stuck with the story that she hadn’t been there at the time.

Instead, David had managed to kill an innocent man and gotten the more attractive of his new partners captured. He heard footsteps. “Shh” he told Carl. The footsteps stopped near the dumpster and David heard the lid open. He lay motionless.

“Oh God. Well, if anything was in here it died a while ago.” a voice said.

“Alright come on, he’s probably hiding in one of these junkies’ houses. Let’s start sweeping building to building. It’s going to be a long night.” Said a second voice.

The lid to the dumpster slammed shut and David exhaled. He waited until he could no longer hear footsteps then he crawled out of the dumpster and breathed deep. He never thought that he’d be grateful to breathe the smog filled city air. It started to rain. He figured he could use the shower. He rolled up his sleeve and looked at Carl.

“You must be pretty valuable if they’re willing to kill obviously innocent people just for a shot at getting you back.”

There was no response from Carl.

“No hint? Come on, what is it they want with you?” David asked

“I do not know.” Carl answered finally.

“That’s pretty weak. How can you not know?” David knew Carl could lie better than that.

“There are parts of my memory banks isolated from my processors. If such data exists then I am unable to access it.” David thought he noticed a hint frustration in Carl’s voice.

David rolled his eyes “Some things never change. I suppose that means we’re going to need someone who knows how you work in order to get at those memory whats-its.”

“What things never change?” David noticed there was more inflection in his voice. Carl was getting better at human speech by the hour. Whatever Eden wanted him for, they’d put everything they had into building him.

“Never mind. We should probably go save our angry friend from Eden and get the hell out of here.” David shook bits of rotted vegetables from his hair.

“The Eden Corporation has very tight physical security and the building itself is fortified against attack. The odds of a successful rescue are not good.”

“Never tell me the odds.” David said with a smile.

“I am sorry. In the future I will avoid it.”

“No, no, It’s… from a movie… never mind. Anyway, no matter what the danger we have to try. Heroes always save the girl and avenge the innocent. Don’t forget those bastards killed Oran.”

“Is it still avenging if we are the only reason he was involved in the first place?”

“That is not how we’re choosing to remember this, Carl.”

 

Jess came to in an office. The furniture and decorations looked expensive. She was handcuffed to a chair sitting opposite an immense wooden desk. In a comfortable looking office chair sat a blond haired man in a black suit. He had his back to a window that made up the entire fourth wall of the office. The tinted glass showed a beautiful view of Bastion City. She knew where she was. This was the Eden Tower office suite, headquarters of the Eden Corporation. She’d only been here once before as part of a team meeting about the progress on Carl’s construction. He hadn’t been called Carl back then. She remembered being extremely nervous to meet the Eden executives overseeing the project. This was worse.

“No sir, we don’t have the computer, the surveillance footage we received has been confirmed. He attempted to doctor the video, but he wasn’t able to break our security. We know that it was him.” The blond man was on a cellphone. He looked up and saw that she was conscious, he smiled.

“I’m about to find out.” he pushed a button on the touch screen to end the call.

There was something wrong about him. She couldn’t be sure what it was. He was certainly attractive. Now that she thought about it he looked more like a suit model than an actual businessman. He pushed himself out of his chair and straightened his tie.

“So” he said as he walked around and sat on the edge of his desk. He crossed one leg in front of the other and leaned back on his arms. Was he posing? “How long have you known David Cohen?” he asked in a pleasant tone.

“If that’s his last name, I just met him tonight when he broke into our lab.” Maybe there was still a chance to get out of this. David seemed nice enough, but he did break into the lab. He was an actual criminal. She was just a bystander who had gotten caught up in all of this. Besides he had probably made it out of the city by now.

“He broke into your lab, stole your research and you, what? Escorted him out? Were you kidnapped? Did he threaten you?” He was mocking her.

She noticed the blond man’s shoes. They were black to match his suit, but they weren’t dress shoes. They were the same kind of old army boot that David wore. It seemed especially out of place on this man. She couldn’t imagine he was a soldier.

He threw a picture on her lap; she grabbed it with her free hand. It was the image of her in the storage room. “Taken several minutes before the man you never met arrived. Am I still supposed to believe you didn’t know he was coming?” He asked. He leaned over her and she pulled back, straining to get away from him. He unlocked her handcuffs and turned his back on her. It was like he was daring her to leave. She started to get up from the chair, but in the blink of an eye he had pinned her arms. His grip was tighter than she would have believed possible, she tried to squirm free but it was no good. She felt his breath on her face and had no choice but to look him in the eye.

“I’m not sure what Dave told you.” His voice was growing deeper and more gravely. An inky blackness began creeping from the corners of his eyes towards his pupils. “I hope it was worth it.” The darkness had reached his iris, which began to glow red. She hadn’t even felt him let go of her arms before his right hand closed on her throat. Her feet kicked feebly at him as he lifted her one handed into the air. She clawed at the arm but the thing only laughed.

“We’re just starting, dear.” His veins were visible through his skin; pulsating blue lines crisscrossed his face. Jess’s lungs were screaming for air, her face had taken on a distinct shade of purple; her eyes on the other hand were red with burst blood vessels. She dug into her pocket with one hand. She found Levine’s keys. Gripping tightly to the storage room key she tried to stab him. The stabbing motion turned out to be more of a desperate flail, but it worked. The key ripped through suit and arm. The blond man pulled his arm closer on instinct and she jammed the key into his eye. He howled in pain sounding more like an animal than a man.

His grip finally released and she fell to the ground choking. His blood covered her arm and shirt. She scrambled to her feet and bolted for the door. It was locked. She shook the knob desperately and threw her shoulder into the door. It didn’t budge. She grabbed the chair she’d been sitting in and hurled it at the tinted glass of the window. It bounced off harmlessly. “No.” she croaked.

She turned and he was standing there. He pulled her keys out his socket and the gore that had been his eye came with them. She wanted to vomit. He threw the keys down. Muscles in his neck strained and his good eye clenched shut. From the center of his now empty eye socket, a white ball formed and slowly grew larger. In moments a new eye had formed and filled the hole. The ink crept back across the new eye until it matched the other. He blinked.

He smiled pleasantly, eyes glowing and veins pulsing. He nodded towards the window. “Bullet proof reinforced glass. You’d need a tank to get out that way. Now where were we?”

 

“Are you certain that we will need a police car?” Carl asked. David knew that Carl was concerned about his ability to crack the car’s security. He hadn’t shut up about it the entire way to the police station. It had almost gotten them caught when they hopped the fence.

“I told you before those things are like tanks. If we’re going to Eden Tower we need to be prepared.” David reminded Carl for the fiftieth time.

David hurried across the parking lot to the nearest police car. It was one of the big armored vans. There was a good chance it had mounted guns, and it could probably make it as high as a few thousand feet. It even had retractable tires in case they needed to go underground.

“How long do you think?” he asked Carl.

“Seven minutes give or take.” Carl estimated.

David pressed his hand to the keypad where an officer would enter his clearance code. He felt the current flow from Carl into his hand and then into the car. This would be an uncomfortable seven minutes.

David tapped his fingers impatiently as he waited for Carl to finish the hack. “Ehem” said a voice from behind him. He glanced at Carl. The screen showed a count down. Five minutes and fifty-seven seconds, it might as well have been an eternity. David stood up and turned around as best as he could without taking his hand off of the keypad. He was looking at a man in full police uniform at least a foot taller than David was. The policeman stood with his arms crossed.

“What seems to be the problem, officer?” David asked making a pointless attempt to seem nonchalant.

“Son, this is a restricted area. Do you mind telling me what the hell you’re doing here and why you’re touching my vehicle?” The officer wasn’t amused. It didn’t seem that David was going to be able to talk is way out of this. He ran over his options in his head. There was still time to get out of here. He could tell the cop that he’d broken in to look around. With any luck, he’d just be thrown out. Of course, if the cop brought him into the station instead there was a good chance someone might recognize him as that fugitive they were looking for. There was no choice.

David murmured something inaudible.

“What was that?” demanded the cop.

David looked around and motioned him closer. As the cop leaned over to hear what David had to say David’s free hand reached out and unlatched the holster on the officer’s stun gun. He was careful to speak at the same time that the buckle snapped, to cover the noise “The truth is…” David slid the stun gun from its holster. David was no stranger to pick pocketing. The principle was the same. There was nothing he could whisper to cover the distinct clicking noise the stun gun made as he turned the electricity on. The cop looked back at his belt confused, but David was already jamming the business end of the stun gun into the man’s ribs. The current flowed through the officer’s body causing the muscles to go rigid. After a few seconds, David released the button and the weapon fell silent. The whole mess had been clumsy with one hand. David hadn’t intended for the cop to fall face first onto the pavement. He landed with an audible thud. David cringed, it sounded painful. He was worried he might have to shock the man again, but the officer wasn’t getting up. David nudged the cop over onto his back with his foot. It turned out that the sound David had heard was the breaking of the cop’s nose. He seemed to be unconscious, but at least he was breathing.

The countdown finished and David was pleasantly surprised to hear the door unlock. They got into the car and Carl found that most of the systems were accessible wirelessly. Carl switched the car to manual control, and they were off. A full array of buttons and gauges lit up as they rose and the speakers blared with comm-traffic.

“I have to say, Carl, this is pretty sweet. Scan for any info on where Jess is being held. See if you can figure out which floor she’s on.”

“Radio traffic seems to indicate that a girl matching her description was taken to an office on the north side of Eden Tower’s 30th floor to be interviewed by Clarence Townsend, an Eden executive.”

“I see. Does this thing have guns, Carl?”

In response control on the dashboard lit up. The radio crackled and suddenly one message stood out from the others. Carl had amplified it so David could hear. “Son of a bitch hit me with my own stun gun and stole my car. Don’t ask me how the fuck he did it. All units pursue!”

David moved the guns into firing position, a panel slid back on the steering wheel revealing two triggers.

 

Clarence still had blood running down his face. He took a step toward Jess and she shrank back against the wall. Alarms began blaring and a red light was flashed overhead. A computerized voice came over the PA. “Proximity alert. All staff should proceed to designated evacuation points.” Clarence glared at her then looked out the window. There were at least 10 police cars flying directly at the building. The one in the lead opened fire. Hundreds of 20 mm rounds crashed into the glass and stuck. The glass rippled but held. Clarence looked back at Jessica with his red eyes.

“See, bullet proof.” He smiled and took another step toward her. The window exploded with a deafening crash. The room filled with shattered glass. Jess covered her face with her arms; she felt glass digging into her flesh. A second later she looked up to see a police car with bits of expensive suit in its grill and wipers that were doing their best to clear the blood from the windshield. The car’s front door opened.

“David?” She had no idea what was going on. Looking outside she saw that the other squad cars had pulled up at the last second, apparently not willing to follow him into the building.

“Get in!” He screamed looking backwards frantically.

She was still in shock. “What? How…where did you get that car.” What looked like part of Clarence’s arm was wriggling in the corner of the office. The car’s guns fired, tearing it to pieces.

“GET IN THE FUCKING CAR!” David screamed at her. She ran to the passenger-side. The door opened automatically for her. She saw Carl’s screen flashing on David’s wrist. Was he controlling the car?

The doors shut and the car threw itself into a full reverse. David wasn’t in control.

“What the fuck are you doing give me manual control back.” David demanded.

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Carl replied in a flat tone.

“Carl, what the hell do you mean you can’t do that?” Dave was nervous.

“It is from a movie.”

“…touché, Carl.”

“Eden has raised the energy shields.” Carl said, as the car hurtled towards the city’s border and the shield. Jess could make out the slight distortion in the air ahead. It was like heat waves from pavement on a hot day. It formed an impenetrable dome around the city. The shields had been built in the days following the disaster to defend against raiders and worse. Considering what she’d just seen, Jess concluded that the shields had failed to keep the monsters out. Despite that failure, hitting the shield would be the same as smashing into a concrete wall.

“This car has access to the security mainframe of Bastion City. I believe I can interrupt the ether shields for a few seconds allowing our escape.”

 

From the ground the hum of the shield generators could be heard, as well as sirens that were blaring in the sky. At least 15 police cars were chasing another vehicle towards the city limits and the shield. The shield-dome flashed, blinding the entire city. Those caught in traffic outside of the city saw the dome turn an electric purple as a battered and smoking police car sped by overhead. A man in the car had wormed half his torso outside of the driver’s window and was waving his middle fingers at the city as his vehicle flew west towards the outlands. Seconds later, explosions were heard from within the shield. The shield was still too opaque to see through. The witnesses would learn later that the explosion they’d heard had been the sound of a few unfortunate police officers smacking into a solid wall of energy.