A.I.
Chapter 7

Copyright© 2015 by Colin Barrett

"Hey, Lee, they let you go?" I said into the phone.

"Hi, Jackie. Yes, they drove me home and left me here, they're gone. Jack, sweetie, please, what's this all about?"

"Long story, love," I told her. "Really long, and like I said, complicated. Not a story for now, though. You can bet they've got your phone tapped seven ways from Sunday and they're listening to every word we say."

"Jesus Christ, Jack, what the hell is all this?" Her voice was really strong, exasperated. "Dammit, I know you. You said you're still you, but this shit isn't you!"

"You've got to trust me, honey. Do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Trust me."

"I guess."

Not good enough. "Don't guess, know. Guess won't hack it," I said. "Yes or no? It's really important."

"Oh, hell, Jackie, all right, yes." She still sounded exasperated but her voice was firm. "Yes, I trust you."

"All right, then. Get some sleep. I'll call you tomorrow after I wake up, which may be late. If I still can, of course, but I think I can keep clear."

"That's it?" Her voice rose. "Go to sleep? That's the kind of thing you say to a child, never mind, dear, just go to sleep, sweet dreams, it'll be OK in the morning. Dammit, Jack, I'm not a child!"

"I know, I know," I said in as mollifying a tone as I could muster. "I don't mean it like that. It's just..." I trailed off helplessly, with no idea of what to say.

"Come on, Jackie," she pleaded, "at least give me a hint what's happened. Happening."

"I can't, hon. I'm not even sure I know myself; I'm still working on it. Trust me for now, OK? I love you."

"I love you too, Jackie." At least the tension was out of her voice. "Jesus, my boyfriend is on the lam!" She giggled. I laughed too so she could hear me before I cut off the phone, but it wasn't really all that funny. I guessed it isn't when you're the one on the lam.

I hadn't even put the phone down when it rang again. When I checked the display it gave an unfamiliar number. Ashley. If I needed any proof that he was listening to Lee's calls this would do it, he'd dialed as soon as we quit talking.

"Hello, Ashley," I said wearily.

"OK, Heyward, we've done our part, Ms. Wentworth has been released, as you know," he said in a crisp tone. "Now it's your turn. Give me your location and—"

"Uh-uh," I stopped him. "That wasn't the deal. I said if you let her go I'd talk to you. I'm talking."

"That wasn't what I understood."

I sighed, audibly. "Then you weren't listening, because it's what I said. Look, Ashley— Dammit, do you have a first name?"

"Richard," he said with a little surprise.

"OK, Richard, I'm Jack. I expect we're going to be talking some, and we might as well do it on as friendly terms as possible, given the circumstances."

"Heyward—" He caught himself. "Jack, this isn't going to go on long. I don't know how far you've got, but we're going national with this. Your name and picture are going all over the media, it's only a matter of time, and not very much time, before you're identified and captured. Aren't you better off coming forward voluntarily before that happens?"

Yes, I was going to need that new ID soon. Mental note to self: get Spook going on that quickly. He could alter the picture and intercept the reporting but he couldn't cover me if some cop just happened to stop me on the street and demand my license.

"I'm not ready to do that right now," I said into the phone.

"What are you waiting for?" he asked. "Am I looking for something really bad, more planes flying into buildings, that sort of thing? Worse?"

"Oh, shit. No. Nothing like that at all. At least not to do with me. Richard, haven't you got my file? You see anything in there that tells you I'm that kind of lunatic?"

He hesitated.

"Dammit, Richard, say. Do you?" I demanded.

"No," he said slowly, a little reluctantly I thought. "But neither do your records indicate that you can do some of the things you've been doing. Hacking into DEFCONTROL, hiding your phone signal, what else are you up to?"

"I told you I didn't hack into DEFCONTROL."

"System security says otherwise, Hey— Jack."

"Yeah," I muttered. "It's still not true."

"Then convince me. Come in and tell me what happened and clear this up right now."

"No," I said. "I have things to do."

"You can't hack DEFCONTROL again, if that's one of the things. We've walled off the hole you were trying to use. And we're going to be watching real close if you try to get in again. We'll know, we'll stop you, and we'll find you."

Sure. He was talking to me through DEFCONTROL right now, even if he didn't know it. "Ease off, Richard," I told him. "I have absolutely zero interest in DEFCONTROL." Just in the spook who lives there.

"Then why hack it?" he persisted. "Was it a lark? Just to see if you could?"

"No," I said tiredly. "I didn't even try. It was just, well, a glitch. I was doing something else entirely."

"What?" he pressed. "What was it you were doing that set off security?"

Of course I couldn't tell him. But I needed something to get him off the track.

"I was running a routine search," I lied. "But I wasn't really alert, I'd just woke up, and my mind was wandering a little. I guess I hit some keystrokes I didn't mean to hit, I don't even know what. I shut down as soon as I realized what happened, security logs ought to show that." It was pretty lame, I knew—if it were that simple every fumble-fingered Tom, Dick and Harry would be setting off security alarms—but it was the best I could come up with off the cuff.

"So how come you got out of your place so quick after we picked up on it?"

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