Will & Jordan: Cyberhunt

Chapter 3 – In, or Out?

The AI ceiling: any software that exceeded parameters for independence and self-awareness found running free on the net was culled by Initializers.

by Paul du Preez

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Through December and January I’ll be serializing this YA novella. Enjoy! (Its available in stores right now – scroll down to the ‘announcements’ panel for retailer links.)

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“Well then,” said Sean. “Upload the v’gent to the school system when you’ve got Grumpet… (Sound’s like a sodding disease don’t it?) It’ll be a laugh if it works, and it’ll serve the old bastard right.”

“No way!” protested Jordan.

“What you mean, ‘no way’? Listen up bruv: I’ll give it you right now on a 256 GB flash-drive. Let it…’mentate’ all night and then port it tomorrow, just before Grumpet’s class.”

“No way. I’m not porting a virus through my PPC. It’s got all my stuff on it – my whole life.”

“It’s not a virus. Nothing’s gonna happen. Anyway, you’re backed up, aren’t you?”

“No ways blud. I mean, crump, I’m gonna get caught.”

“No, you’re not. Grumpet will never be able to track it back.” But this was exactly what Sean worried might happen. “C’mon bruv, nobody will know it’s you – not unless you let them into our little secret. Hey, how’s it feel to be working with a cyber-warlock? Evil, yeah!“

“Evil,” chorused Ten and Liam.

“C’mon bruv.” And, hunkering down, iron back in his voice, Sean persuaded: “You got it wrong. It’s my trust you got to win. Upload the v’gent and I’ll see what I can do about the Ice Pick.”

Jordan hesitated, still doubtful. But then, like a swimmer testing the water: “You want me to do this for you, right?”

“Well…you’ll be doing yourself a favour, really.”

Bracing himself, “No, you really want me to do this.”

“Well…” Sean stalled.

Jordan took the plunge: “Can you get me into the Ice Pick, Friday night?”

“Ohhh ho!”

“Oh-h-h-h ho,” echoed Ten and Liam, loyally.

“You want me…to commit a felony for you?” drawled Sean, making a show of twisting his neck and shoulders, giving himself time to think. Meanwhile, a flashing text-ribbon on his monitor snagged the corner of his eye.

Jordan protested, “You get Liam in all the time. That’s what he says.”

“Liam’s sodding blood and bone,” snapped Sean. “You, on the other hand…” He read the ribbon. “…You’ve got a PUP – Potentially Unwanted Program to you, you technoramus – trying to open in my hack-zone. A sodding cyber-nanny! Are you lame, or what?” Sean’s hand flicked out, stabbed a key. “Suppressed,” he barked, and turned, skewering Jordan with his haughty glare, all over again.

Jordan crumpled. Devastated.

Before being suppressed, Jemima had delivered a partial report. It hung before his eyes, a scrap of orphan text, pulsing a sickly green.

“You unfriended me.”

“Uhh…”

“Liam, and you; the men-dem: you unfriended me!”

“No. We didn’t. Bruv, you weren’t supposed to…”

“No way am I porting your waste v’gent!”

“Hold on. It was a glitch.” Sean’s fingers flickered over the keyboard. “There, you’re back in. Check.”

He was. The group tell-tale glowed green.

“See. Nothing to worry about. A glitch was all it was.”

A tear oozed from the corner of Jordan’s eye. But no way would he wipe it. “I don’t trust you.”

“C’mon bruv.” And, hunkering down, iron back in his voice, Sean persuaded: “You got it wrong. It’s my trust you got to win. Upload the v’gent and I’ll see what I can do about the Ice Pick.”

Jordan pouted.

“I’ll sweeten it for you. There’s this virtual assistant, no under-eighteens, like. A ‘Personal Assistant’ – know what I mean? I ripped a copy, was thinking maybe you could check it out for me? But…maybe you’re still too immature.”

“Dweeby,” said Ten.

“I’m not dweeby,” protested Jordan glaring at Ten. “Or immature. And I’m not bothered with your personal assistant.”

But Sean’s PPC was already broadcasting connection requests. Jordan tried staying sulky but when he heard Liam breathing, “Cool, she’s bad… whoa!” he couldn’t hold out any longer.

And accepted.

After that, it was settled. By the time Jordan left he had agreed to upload the v’gent. Even though he had a feeling like, maybe, he was being set up.

Sean waited till everyone was gone; locked his door.

The aborted attack on Spacebook – now days ago – rankled. He was only a newbie at Unity, the anarchist hacker network, but he was ambitious. He reckoned their failure was down to bad planning, and he’d spent nights, and days working on a solution.

The problem was the AI ceiling. People couldn’t do without AI running in the background – to sort their on-line preferences, predict their questions, protect them from bad media, manage their finances and their health, develop new medicines, new technologies. They couldn’t do without artificial intelligence, always running, mostly unnoticed, but people – scientists and governments – were afraid that AI might go rogue, take over the internet, find a way to destroy humanity.

They had to guard against that.

Hence the AI ceiling.

Any software that exceeded parameters for independence and self-awareness found running free on the net was culled by Initializers – code-killing routines developed and maintained by the Domestic Security Coalition.

That’s why the attack on Spacebook failed.

When they planned the attack, the Unity strategists had been sure that dividing the task between multiple ‘dumb’ bots, each piloted by a human operator, would keep the attack’s profile well under the AI ceiling.

But they had been wrong. Obviously.

And so, Sean had been working on a different approach: an AI intelligent enough to do the job, but also intelligent enough to pretend to be dumb – that’s how it would fool the Initializers.

He’d made some progress. And now, tonight, he would contact Unity, tell them how far he’d come.

They’d have to take him seriously.

(His thoughts side-slipped: That v’gent on the flash-drive – that was just a prank: no one could take that seriously. And, thoughts moving on, no one could ever take Jordan seriously either; that sprat shouldn’t be trusted to deliver a used pizza… Sean grimaced. “Never mind: what’s done is done,” he snickered. “Genius deserves a little fun…”)

Thing was, he hadn’t heard from Unity since the attack. Channels were down. Burned, he reckoned. He’d have to message them in code; use that whacko site he’d first contacted them on. Ask them to set up a secure line of communication.

Sean began to type.

It took a while. He had to make up code-words. The message came out funny – naff, like. He couldn’t say much, didn’t dare.

But, it would have to do.

He logged on to ‘CovenantTheStars’, found the ‘Crop Circles are Messages’ thread, and pasted his comment.

And waited…

And watched the screen, and waited…

“Sodding stupid, this,” he swore, and began looking around for something to keep himself busy.

But, before he could find anything, a tiny icon appeared on the edge of one of his monitors: a hound, crook-backed, its banner-length ears dragging as it lurched along the side of the display.

Getting bigger.

Like it was following a path through a maze towards the centre. Sean watched, hypnotized. He could hear it snuffling.

Centre-screen, the hound turned face-on; lazered him with shining magenta eyes. Drool dripped from its jowls as it writhed back its deformed upper lip, showing greasy iron teeth. It growled, the slurred buzz of a chain-saw.

A Tracker!

Sean stabbed and held the PC power button.

Reset!

Three seconds, four, five… Nothing happening.

The hound was closer.

Sean reached under the worktop and pulled the power-cord.

Sean was hyped; the after-buzz of adrenalin.

He couldn’t work.

Couldn’t relax.

He never slept before dawn anyway.

Was finding it hard to focus… And he couldn’t risk going online. Not from here. Not using any of his own accounts.

An internet café? But they were regulated: ID needed. He’d have to hack the shop system.

Might as well hijack someone’s account on the street.

Yeah…he realized. I’ll have to.

Sean pulled on his coat, pocketed his PCD, put on his glasses, and went out, into the night, hunting.

╬╬╬

Image Credits

The AI Ceiling by Paul du Preez

Disclaimer, Copyright and Permissions

Will & Jordan: Cyberhunt is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the product of Paul du Preez’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights are reserved, including without limitation, the right to reproduce Will & Jordan: Cyberhunt and the original art or music associated with it, or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Paul du Preez. Copyrighted 2020 by Paul du Preez.

The reader may download from this site for his or her personal use.

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