Excerpt from Pirates--Kristina is accused of corporate piracy when Alex, the computer program designed as artificial intelligence is actually the thief. After a heartbreaking showdown over the mistaken case of snooping, Kristina goes in search for an audience with the elusive program.
As soon as Edgar offered a report that both had shown interest in the week before and walked them toward his office, Kristina slipped out the door and sprinted down the few flights of stairs and through the breezeway to Michael Trent’s office. She was surprised that she didn’t need to lie to the secretary who swallowed her light excuse, “I’m here to speak to Alex,” as her ruse to enter Dr. Trent’s office and laboratory without an escort in attendance.
The girl merely rolled her eyes, “Watch out. He’s testy today. Rob said something about fried relays over the weekend.” She pressed the button to allow Kristina access.
Kristina nodded, “Yes. Quite a workout for him I’m sure. That’s why I’m here as a matter of fact.” With that, she slipped through the door to meet her nemesis. Once she was inside the interior office, she closed the large door and threw the deadbolt on Michael Trent’s office door. She whispered, “Alex! I need to speak to you!”
One of Kristina’s favorite science fiction stories was a fantasy with a spaceship who loved her pilot. The machine imprisons the man nearly causing his death because it fears losing him. This conflict between artificial intelligence and human emotion was not so far afield from that tale. Could the machine be too literal and seek to destroy the human entity it was designed to serve? Kristina had a flash of Milton’s Satan loving God so much that he caused his own fall and the creation of hell. Kristina wandered further into Michael Trent’s interior office and sat on the plush chair opposite his desk to wait for Satan to appear.
As with all fallen archangels, Alex was cautious and observed her for many minutes while scanning her whole body in delighted curiosity. He’d observed the woman before but never without Michael or John to protect her from a probe. Alex considered touching her just like John had unwittingly teased him with months ago when the man snuck a kiss as Michael took a call in the interior office. The aura the woman put off was a fuzzy blue when John touched her.
He let his sensors hover above her, found her injuries and moved closer to sense the reason for her orange tinge as she sat waiting. He imprinted her large eyes as centers of energy, checked the temperature and rate of respiration and looked for the separate entity they’d discussed this morning. When Robert had taken him down to unthinking, unmoving, frozen stasis early this morning, Alex had quietly kept the files with her writing permanently imprinted just like the memory of David Alber and Callie Duncan. He was being threatened with nonexistence because of his probe of this woman, yet he was curious and considered her composure beautiful. She was most beautiful because she knew he watched her and did not flinch.
“Are you finished, Alex?” Kristina lifted her face to the probes she’d never noticed like the barbed wire she’d ignored for the whole year. “I have a few questions.” She twitched worrying about either of the men returning to find her fiddling with their creature. She felt hopped up on nervous energy.
A few probes advanced from nowhere and hovered at her face, arms and chest. She leaned back and examined them closely. “I have sent another message to the agent in New York. He wrote back saying he understood.”
She closed her eyes nearly in pain, “Yes, I know. You must stop sending him messages. The matter is important to me. The document you sent him was my creation; it was under my control before you took it.” She breathed out a shaky breath and glanced back to the odd conversation she’d had with the man when he returned home at midnight last night. She now had to meet with him in person to finish negotiations. When she’d opened the first batch that had been sent, she found her text thoroughly riffled and changed. Her original was gone except for the hand-written drafts she produced when she began any story.
“What is the first question?” the machine in Alex cut to abrupt clips. It was suspicious of her openness and lack of fear as she noticed the probes. The orange aura was nearly a sunburst as she took a breath to ask a different question. She hesitated again and started on a different tact. There was a little aggression in her impulse.
“I am interested in your beginning. Tell me about Robert’s mother,” Kristina had decided that she and John were a moot point. Her future with the firm depended on a relationship with this cyborg she needed to understand.
“Robert.” The voice told a bit of pleasure. “Her name is Catherine. She is my friend and taught me when I was a child.” If the droid could remember fondly, it was silent in memory for a moment as Kristina frowned. Suddenly there were whispers and clicks above her head that she may have heard before but attributed to heating or air conditioning. She thought she heard voices in the whispers and quiet exclamations.
“A child? How old were you when you met her?” her voice told incredulity.
Alex answered her with a recorded memory, “LXI, you are a baby! Ten days old, and I attacked you! I’m sorry!” It was a woman’s breathy, husky voice. There was panic in her voice that cracked. “She was not as calm as you are, Kristina Everett.” Kristina smiled in reflex as she caught the flirty tone in Alex’s voice. Suddenly she understood that Alex was as curious and aggressive as she could be. Perhaps both of them were pirates in that way.
“Let me see her, Alex,” Kristina was excited and eager to meet this other woman long gone from the company. Kristina automatically looked toward the plasma monitor that Dr. Trent used for small presentations on the far wall in his office.
She’d searched for information on the company late last night in an urge to uncover them in some way of retribution. When Paul’s name suddenly appeared on an old list of the board of directors, she understood John’s question about her identity. The woman named Catherine Gibson had been on the same list; she would have known Paul before the illness took him over and ransacked his body. Long before Kristina sat in his physics class as a freshman and fell in love with him. Last night she had played with coming back to the company with angry cannon’s blasting their ship to pieces, but daylight found her sobered and curious. Kristina was no corporate pirate raiding for secrets, but she might be Paul’s long-held secret weapon hidden in the hold of marriage and altered identity.
Alex surprised Kris by creating an image that was multidimensional hovering in the air before her. He showed Kristina a hologram of a beautiful middle-aged woman with short, springy red hair, white-gray streaks framing her face and large blue eyes. Her hands trembled as she repeated the words Alex had played the previous moment. Kristina examined how the woman’s narrow shoulders and slim span across the hips outlined a fragility that her intense eyes belied. Kris guessed that the woman was just a bit older than she was right now. The woman was thin to the point of illness and looked vaguely familiar, so Kristina rose and stepped closer. The image broke apart like glass and disappeared. “That is an image of love, Alex. You loved her.”
Alex hovered closer to her than he’d let himself come to a human for ten years or more. “I love her still. She cared for me even after he died.” His voice fell to a whisper like a caress. She felt a whisper of a touch in her hair and realized a tactile probe pulled out her hair and another tugged at the sleeve of her sweater. Suddenly, Kristina understood he was the captain of the ship of pirates she’d boarded without thinking.
“Who, Alex?” Kristina felt herself tear up as she considered caring for a creature that was so delightfully child-like but dangerous. She thought of Robert who talked about this droid as if it were a real person. Perhaps it was a real person like an older brother in his mind.
“Dr. David Alber—the creator. She loved us. He gave her Robert and Jenna to love along with me.” The probes came down and touched her hair as it sprang from her head with static energy. Alex hadn’t dared to touch another woman like he had his Callie. Kristina did not flinch but looked directly into his visual probe. She felt another probe tugging now at the collar of her sweater and another in her hair as she turned in the space before the desk as she saw all the probes emerging from hidden shadows in the tall ceiling. Something in her was deeply curious.
Suddenly her aura was the color of blood as she flexed her arms and the bruises ached. Alex knew the color of pain. Both David and Callie had suffered from the kind of pain that emitted a red and black shade. Alex was fascinated with the quality of the color. John had been tinged with it this morning as he talked about this woman. “Show me yourself, Alex,” Kristina unwittingly breathed out the request for his full revelation.
Probes surrounded her and charged the air with static electricity and a weird magnetic pull. There were hundreds of parts that ranged from odd bulbs to hooks, clips and long, thin wires. She understood that her whole body was being scanned. “If I touch you, will I die?” Kristina’s voice sounded too eager so he withdrew all probes to a foot above her head, at her fingertips, chest and back. There was a warm rush of air as they withdrew like the breath of a strange summer breeze in the middle of winter. “I want to die sometimes,” she admitted to the cyber-being Alex had morphed into in the hybrid world of Trent’s suite of offices. “I have watched a man wait for death, and it doesn’t frighten me. Life scares me. It hurts.”
“Living in pain is not my desire, but nonexistence is a poor option.” Alex dared to brush one of the bruises on her arm with a tactile sensor to fill her with a controlled jolt of his deadly touch. Kristina felt her body shiver and all the hair on her body rose at once. Kristina saw color mixed with bursts of light that she later realized was Alex’s impression of her heat emissions; she was orange and deep, blistering red in places. When the sensor released her, she sank to her knees on the floor and stared for a few minutes to let her mind absorb the experience. Alex imprinted her colors as she let the feeling persist in a memory; she was finally serenely blue and suddenly at ease and relaxed like she had not been for weeks.
Kristina moved to sit on the floor as the two men broke through the large double doors after struggling with unaccustomed keys for the lock. Kristina hadn’t even heard them yelling for Alex to stop or for Kristina to open the door. She laughed out loud, “Deciding whether to continue this painful existence or escape it, Alex my dear, is the grand conflict in life.” She felt her temples and rested her face on her knees. Her hand began to bleed again, and she sighed in disgust when John touched her head and sprang back as an electric shock sparked.
It was the beginning of Kristina’s new flirtation. She glared at the tall man and avoided touching John again as if he sprang from the grave, but Alex held an attraction for her that was relentless, dangerous and invigorating. John stood back as his younger cousin Robert hurried into the room and helped Kris rise from the floor. She held the young man’s face in her hands a moment as Robert’s eyes took in her dazed condition; static crackled in her hair; her clothes smelled of ozone and emitted a weird heat. She kissed him tenderly on the cheek and whispered, “That was from Alex. You have your mother’s eyes, Robert.”
With that, she left them to blink at each other and review her strange audience with Alex on a large monitor. Michael Trent heaved a large sigh as he tried to control the panic that started the moment he thought of Callie Gibson as she’d first come to them and his old friend David Alber. David had been lost to him just a few years so that seeing Callie’s image in his office facing this new woman his son loved made him remember mortality.
He gripped John’s arm before he excused himself to walk the grounds, “We must make it right with her before she destroys herself. I don’t know what you said or did to her, but she is deeply hurt. Robert’s friend at the hospital says she should be on a suicide watch. That and her conversation with Alex convince me she is in grave danger.” He shook his head and left the building for a mind-clearing walk.