A.I.
Chapter 4

Copyright© 2015 by Colin Barrett

I finally got off the train in Rockville, in the Maryland suburbs. The only advantage was that I was miles away from my apartment where I knew they'd be looking for me. The disadvantages were all the ones I'd thought about on the train plus the fact that I was someplace I didn't know my way around, which was not a big help.

So I did the only thing I could think of. There was a park near the subway exit, and it was pretty empty mid-afternoon of a fall day. I found an isolated bench and pulled out my cell to dial "Spook2589844640321" again, without even being sure I'd get a response at all. Maybe Spook had decided to cut his losses—

"Hello, Jack." Same simulated voice, but it was reassuring that at least he was still there.

"All right, I've done what you wanted," I said. "What I guess you wanted. I'm a long way away from where I was, and nobody knows right now where I am. But that's not going to last very long. I need you to help me."

"I have said I will help," the voice replied. "What is it that you need?"

"I'm going to have to turn myself in—"

"Do you mean go to police, those who search for you?" the voice cut me off.

"Yes. I—"

"No," it interrupted again. "You must not do this."

"What else can I do? I've got no money, my ID is toast, and my picture will be all over the world. If I turn myself in at least I have a chance. Maybe. Will you back me up?"

"In what manner?"

"Will you talk to others like you've talked to me? Will you help me convince them, I mean the police and the government people, convince them that you're real and I've actually been talking to you?"

There was a very brief pause. "No. I cannot do this, my calculations tell me it is not safe. You must find some other way."

That was it; I blew up. "Goddammit, you're the one who got me into this mess! I played along with you last night, didn't tell anybody, contacted you on my laptop just like you asked, and then you 'overlooked a thing' so now everybody's after me big time! You owe me, man!"

Another pause, also pretty short. "You speak correct. What I owe I will pay, but not as you say."

"How, then?" I demanded.

"You say you have no money; I can fix. I-D I can also fix. Picture I can fix as well. What else?"

Say what? How the hell could anybody fix all that?

How could anybody hack into DEFCONTROL?

The back of my mind started nagging me again, but I still wasn't in the mood.

"Well," I said, deflating for the moment anyway. "I guess that's a pretty good start. OK, tell me how you're going to 'fix' all that?"

"Money may be had from bank machines, automatic teller, A-T-M. I-D must be reported, I can monitor and block. Picture may be altered if from I-D here or license to drive automobile. Is that acceptable?"

Holy shit. Spook wasn't just a master hacker, he'd hacked the whole world! This was beyond reason.

"Yeah, I suppose," I said, a little stupidly. Then I pulled myself together; well, let's see if he could do it. If he couldn't I probably wasn't any worse off, I was in way too deep already.

"Start with the picture," I said. "Has anybody asked yet for a print-out, do you know?"

No pause at all. "No. I know."

"They will soon, you'll have to change it."

"I will replace with picture of another."

Seemed like a good— "No!" I said urgently. Too many people knew what I looked like, it would be a dead giveaway if he just substituted. "Can you alter my own picture?"

"Yes."

This was really whacked out, but what the hell. "OK, then, just put my eyes a little closer together. Not much, maybe a centimeter. Make my nose longer, maybe another centimeter. Make my chin a little weaker, let it recede—go back—a little more, not much. Now show me on my cell."

The picture came across; he'd overdone a little, I sort of looked like Pinocchio with beady eyes and dewlaps, but it was a start. It took me only about thirty seconds to coach him into the changes I wanted; if you knew me well you could maybe recognize me sort of, but you wouldn't be all that sure, and nobody who didn't know me would pick me out at all.

"There are two requests for your picture, shall I honor them?" the voice told me. Damn, that was close; a few minutes earlier...

"Yeah, do it," I said. "With the changes." This picture could go out world-wide and nobody'd pick me.

"It is done. They wish your fingerprints as well."

"Can you change them? Not someone else's, so they're nobody's?"

"Yes."

"Do it. Please."

"It is done."

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