Showing the Way
rating: +14+x

« Programmed to Receive | Faraway Voices Hub (TBA) | In the Master's Chambers (TBA) »


"Missing."

Both men fell silent as Janice leveled her unbelieving gaze at each of them in turn.

"You lost an AI."

"Well, uh, see … " Leroy started but trailed off when Director Wilson cleared his throat.

"Let us be clear here, Dr. Bell," the older man said, looking not at Janice but at the image of Isanna Yamaguchi on the screen. "We are not yet at a juncture to assign or assume blame, if indeed there is any to be handed out. We are in an emergency situation. There is some small amount of time available to us before said situation goes critical, yes, but it is only after that time that, for good or for ill, fingers need to be pointed. Do you understand?"

Janice had to bite down on the sharp retort that had risen to her tongue. Taking a measured breath, she stared hard at the side of the assistant director's head and said, "No, I don't. But … fine, that may be because I still don't have all the facts. So give them to me."

With a grateful nod, Wilson pointed up at the screen. The image of Director Yamaguchi - or rather, Janice reminded herself, the image that the Yamaguchi AI was using as an avatar - expanded and began to move. The background had become the trappings of an office, and the AI had been joined by four other people. They were presumably actual humans given they were all wearing augmented reality glasses so they could see and interact with the avatar standing among them.

Wilson was one of the humans in the silent video clip. Janice didn't recognize the others, but given their style of dress and the way they were gesturing to each other, she easily figured they were other members of the site's administration. They were certainly pleased with themselves in a way that visibly pegged them as people in power. The AI, for its part, smiled pleasantly and participated in the conversation only sparingly.

"She is the culmination of five years worth of work," Wilson said. "Specifically created and bred for this facility. For all intents and purposes, she is Site-3408. Of course, since she and so much else here is experimental, I do have final say on all decisions should I choose to exercise it, and I am, for now, the 'public' face of the site when it comes to dealing with other parts of the Foundation. But I've mostly just been rubber-stamping her work. Since the opening of this facility, she truly has been the site director, and I merely her assistant. Everything was going fine.

"Then, two weeks ago, she stopped talking to us. Eventually we went into the system to look for her, draw her out, and check her coding, but it was simply gone."

"So who's running the show now?" Janice asked.

"We, uh, we think that she still is," Leroy told her with a mystified shrug. "The computers act like her files never even existed, but somehow all of the things she used to do are still getting done. Er, sort of. Anyway, I've tried tracing the commands back to their source, but after a certain point I start getting nothing but error messages. Weird ones, like, ones that aren't in any of the documentation."

"For example?"

"Um, just word salad, mostly. Though some of it does sound like it could be for real, like the one I got that said there was a complex personality default in the upper buffers."

"Hmm. And what did you mean things are 'sort of' getting done?"

Wilson leaned forward. "Orders still come down for the janitors to clean, the security systems to scan, and the administrative AI to file paperwork, but there have been several instances where they'll be told to dump trash in the middle of an office, or turn the security plating off when it's not supposed to be, or put in requisitions for a metric ton of jellybeans. And then there are things like this."

With a flick of his wrist, Wilson caused the icon for a text file to appear in his hand. He pulled at its edges to make it unfold into a piece of paper, which he then handed to Janice. She took the weightless document from him and began to read.

"What the hell is this?" she asked after she had finished. "Some kind of brochure?"

"It is the official documentation for SCP-3408. Thankfully there wasn't an anomaly officially given that designation yet, so it was easy enough to isolate from the rest of the system, but … " The assistant director shifted uncomfortably and gestured to Leroy.

"We've been trying to get rid of it," the technician said, "but nothing's worked so far. If we delete it, it just goes back up again. If we change it, the changes get reverted. If we lock the document out from outside changes, they happen anyway. I've tried everything I could think of, honest, but … well, yeah. And things like this have been popping up all over the place around here."

Janice frowned at the document. "Huh. It kinda reminds me of those TV ads that got out a little while back."

"Yes, and that's one of the things we're most afraid of," said Wilson. "That this may be some kind of outside attack by a particularly clever anomalous hacker, perhaps even the same one responsible for the advertisements."

"Okay," Janice said with a huff as she stood up from her seat. The strange document dematerialized as she tossed it to one side and turned to face the men. "Alright, so that is pretty strange. I'm convinced that y'all have a real mystery on your hands. But what I really need to know before I help you out is … why me?"

"Beg pardon?"

"Why me?" she repeated, throwing her hands up. "I've done a little bit of work with AI, yeah, but what you've got here sounds way out of my area. Why don't you call up the AIAD, get Kappa-10 over here to check it out? This is all their stuff anyway, right?"

Leroy squirmed in his seat. Wilson stood up, walked over to the stage, and leaned against it while pursing his lips.

"And if I were to tell you that it wasn't?"

Janice crossed her arms. "Then I wouldn't exactly be too surprised," she said. "So, not only did you code up your own little family of AI, you don't want the official Foundation department that deals with artificial intelligence to know about it. I'm also guessing that, aside from a select few members of certain councils and committees, you don't want anyone else to find out about it either. How am I doing so far?"

Director Wilson's smile was strained.

"Right, so you called me in instead," she continued. "Made sure I didn't know what I was getting into, probably told my site director that you had something way more mundane going on with your computers, and hoped I'd be on board with whatever shady dealing you've got going on here. Hoped I would know enough or would be able to learn enough in time to put a big ol' Band-Aid on the problem before you found yourself ass-deep in alligators. Does that sound about right?"

"Fifty thousand."

"Please."

"Seventy-five thousand."

Janice paused, stared up at the back wall for a moment, then let out a sharp breath.

"Okay," she said. "Let's do this. Where is Yamaguchi's original mainframe? We might as well begin at the beginning."

"It's in her office. The director was a bit sentimental in that regard, believe it or not. Mr. McAllister will lead you there."

The doctor raised a sardonic eyebrow. "Not going to join us on our little excursion, assistant director?"

"I'm afraid not," Wilson said with an offhand shrug. "While you are working on the problem directly, I still have to maintain damage control. I'll give you as much time to work as I can while Mr. McAllister provides you with whatever resources we have at our disposal to help you in achieving your goal. Good luck to both of you."

Janice stared after the retreating man's back for a few moments, then turned to find Leroy had stood up and was hovering next to her, adam's apple bobbing nervously in his throat.

"So, ah, if you'll unlock your phone for me, I can get the AR apps on there," he said, holding out his hand. "I can do it while we're on our way. It's no problem, really."

After fulfilling his request, she followed Leroy out of the room and into the wide hallway as he tapped away at the phone screens, holding one in each hand. He seemed to ignore everything else around him as he worked, not even bothering to look up as he made one turn after the other. She was somewhat impressed at how thoroughly he had memorized the site's floor plan until arrows suddenly popped up on the floor and started sliding ahead of them.

Of course, she thought with a mental sigh. Why bother memorizing things when you've got a computer to do it for you?

Dr. Janice Bell liked computers. It wasn't too far from the point to say that she loved computers, both working with them and using them for recreational pursuits. They could absolutely enhance one's quality of life, be used as teaching aids and make things both safer and easier for humans. It was why she had worked so long and hard at getting her PhD in Computer Science, to help expand the capability of computers to aid humanity in its ever-expanding evolution.

But as usual, the problem was people. So often they either tried to shut computers out of their lives completely or let computers do all their thinking for them. Neither side seemed to realize that computers were a tool, not a demon out to get them or a substitute for their own brain. Seeing that Leroy fell into one of the two camps lowered her estimation of the man even further than before.

Her thoughts were interrupted as they stepped into an elevator and Leroy handed her phone back before pressing the button for the top floor. "Sorry about taking so long," he said, lopsided grin on his face. "You should be all set up now. You're on the default settings still, but you can change them up however you like."

She muttered a quick thanks and looked at her screen to find three new icons had been added, labeled AR Settings, SCiPNet AR, and AuG Portal. The contents of the first two were obvious, but she couldn't quite conceive what the third could be. She considered asking her guide but decided it would be something she would explore herself at a later date.

In the meantime, she opened up the settings and started familiarizing herself with the layout. Her time doing so ended up being limited, however, as the elevator ride was over in just a few moments, and the two of them were back to following the ghostly arrows directing them through the halls.

To Janice's surprise, one of the site's two janitors happened to be in one of those hallways. A mostly nondescript man wearing the usual blue jumpsuit and pushing a floor buffer ahead of him, but definitely human and not a Roomba.

"What are the odds?" she mumbled to herself.

Leroy must have heard her, because his head snapped up and around until he focused in on the approaching janitor. "Huh? Oh. Oh!" He chuckled a bit, then motioned at Janice to lift her glasses.

Confused but game to see what he was playing at, she reached up and slid the AR lenses onto her forehead. Along with all of the other AR displays in the hall, the janitor himself disappeared. In his place was a humanoid robotic framework, pushing the buffer along like everything was perfectly normal. It even lifted a finger in greeting and said, "McAllister, Doctor," as it passed by.

Janice moved her glasses back down, and the illusion of a human janitor slid back into place. The AI it represented ignored them as it continued on its way.

"I don't even know why I'm bothering to be surprised at this point," she said, shaking her head.

"Well, it is pretty neat," said Leroy. "It's one of the designs we kinda, uh, borrowed from the AIAD crew. I think we improved on it, though. Anyway, here we are!"

The hallway ended, opening up into a wide reception area. Behind the centrally-located desk sat a young woman who was busy typing away at the air until she noticed their approach. With a concise gesture, she swept her personal display to the side and sat up straight in her chair.

"Hello, Mr. McAllister. How can I help you today?"

"Hey, Nance. We're here to see Director Yamaguchi," he responded. "If that's okay."

The administrative assistant tilted her head slightly to one side, causing her blonde hair to bob a bit. "I'm afraid she's not in at the moment."

"Ah, yes, we know, but we need to see her anyway."

"Certainly, Mr. McAllister!" Pulling her display back over, she pressed a short sequence of invisible keys. "Go on in whenever you're ready."

Leroy nodded gratefully and started walking around the desk, then stopped short when he noticed Janice wasn't following him. Looking over his shoulder, he could see that the doctor was leaning over the desk, staring intently at the assistant's face. Nance, for her part, had returned to her work, completely ignoring the scrutiny.

"Dr. Bell?"

Janice tapped a finger on the desk thoughtfully. "Sorry, can you give me just a second? I'm just trying to see if I can tell the difference between the real people and the AI just by looking."

The assistant's eyes refocused on the real world for a moment as she smiled and pointed at an orange stripe running along the bottom of her ID badge. "Orange for AI, green for human," she said with a wink.

"Oh. You're … very well detailed."

The blonde AI's professional smile widened into a genuine grin. "Thank you, Dr. Bell," she said, "but I'm afraid I don't date co-workers."

Janice looked up at Leroy with an expression of exasperated resignation.

"It's true, she doesn't," the technician told her. "I've tried."

"Amusing," said Janice, her voice dripping with non-amusement. She breezed past Nance and Leroy, pushing through the door into the director's office. "Let's get to work, shall we?"


« Programmed to Receive | Faraway Voices Hub (TBA) | In the Master's Chambers (TBA) »

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License