Syndicate Files: The Relic - Part 4

I double checked the privacy screen around the booth. "You can talk?"

"Yeah. Nearly all I can do, in here." Now I looked closer, there was a crappy speaker, the kind you might see on a really obnoxious ad-wall, installed in one corner of the case. The voice was tinny, but distinctly female. "Ideally you woulda got me out, and Simaaka would have picked me up sometime later. Guess he sold me out for a buyer with a time limit."

"So you're an AI, then?" AIs - real AIs - were bad, bad, bad news. I didn't need that kind of trouble, and the station didn't need that kinda trouble.

"No, of course not. AIs are prohibited tech. I just seem self aware and all that. Have some programming for self-preservation, too."

"Plot with DED officials, but you're not an AI? I think there's a flaw in your logic."

"Yeah, exactly."


"Like you said, flawed logic. Obviously I'm not an AI. The AIMED that did your last check-up is smarter'n me. Look, AIs are like pirates: Everyone worries about them, but you never really see them outside holos - where they're just used to scare people."

Auvy spoke from the other side of the table, "This is Syndicate, there're pirates everywhere. Pirates own this bar."

"Oh. I don't get out much. No AIs, though, right?"


"Good, we're agreed then, and we can get back to the important things."

I had a feeling that line of questioning wasn't going anywhere, "What are you doing here?"

"You grabbed me."

"He means in Syndicate, on this station." Auvy was giving me a very steady look, over her coffee.

"Oh, someone hijacked the ship I was on. I was sold off the with the cargo. Ended up with those Minder schmucks. Then-"

Auvy interrupted, "If you didn't believe in pirates, who'd you think hijacked the ship?"

"I had been wondering. Glad that you guys helped me clear that up. Gonna let me tell the story?"

"Oh." Auvy looked startled, "Uh, sure."

"So, the Minder schmucks. I can't do much, in here. It's like being blindfolded and having nothing but your pinky free. The hardest part was getting the anti-tech nuts to have me stolen, and putting them in touch with someone who could do it. After that making sure that the Dronies and the Minders distracted each other wasn't too tough."

"You arranged all that." I took a swig of coffee, "But you aren't an AI?"

"That again." She - the case - sounded put upon, "Look, your wrist watch is way better than you at telling time, isn't it? You don't accuse it of being prohibited tech. Same thing."

"That's not the same thing at all." My wrist watch didn't try and talk circles around me, for one thing. For another I didn't wear one, and I had a feeling if I started wearing one after this, I wouldn't trust it, "How is that the same thing?"

"Programs do different things. Calculate ballistic trajectories, or look after bank funds - you want AIs, you should talk to Intaki Bank, by the way. I have suspicions about them. Anyway, this stuff is what I do."

Auvy leaned forward, "Fine, let's say we believe you for now. Why'd you want to be stolen in the first place? The Minders thought you were the next thing to a god."

"Goddess - not my fault, you can ask the programmers why they gave me a gender. I wanted to be stolen because it was boring. You ever been worshiped? They just sat me there, and left me in this box. It was hell. Anyway, Simaaka owed me a favor. We pulled a few strings, from both sides, to get him assigned to the case, and make sure he wasn't saddled with a partner. He was supposed to get me out after the Squirrels stole me. Easier than getting me from the Minders, see. Squirrels not believing in electricity and all that, plus they're a pretty easy going bunch. Squirrel's a sort of rodent by the way."

"So Simaaka was using me - us - to get you out of their hands, since he found out the Minders and Dronies were leaning on me." I leaned back, "You're just a program, how does a DED Lieutenant-Inspector owe you anything? How can you owe a program, that way?"

"Why he owed me, it's a long story. Why he felt like he had an obligation, me just being code? I dunno. You people will anthropomorphize, won't you?"

The story gathered up a lot of loose ends, even if it seemed unlikely. I felt like it - she - wasn't being entirely straight with us, but I thought it was better than we were likely to get from anyone else. She hadn't threatened or tried to injure me yet, for one thing. "What do we do now?"

Auvy added, "And what do we call you?"

"Call me? Call me Sami." She pronounced it Sam-ee. There was a pause, "I do think there is a way for all three of us to walk away from this. You'll have to help, though."


Hal's was a diner off one of the more popular below-decks thoroughfares. I killed time waiting inside trying to stare down the roaches. Sami's case leaned against the side of my chair.

The head priestess for the Minders showed right on time. She brought armed friends, but I wasn't too worried. These religious crazy types were unpredictable, but it wasn't me they were really interested in. I picked up the case and thumped it on the table, "This yours?"

"The Relic." Her eyes practically glowed with religious ecstasy, "For this, you are forgiven, Thief."

"Thanks, Bulgy-eyes." She didn't seem to notice I'd addressed her, "Well, I'll just..."

I slipped out of my seat and carefully started to step around her and her entourage, when I heard something outside. Or didn't hear, in fact. No clatter of dishes from the kitchen, no sing-song of hawkers selling knock-off Labourchier shoes in the street. There wasn't a soul in sight, although the diner's kitchen door was still swinging a little from when the waiter ducked through it. Below-decks they know when it's time to disappear.

I looked out the window. Down the broad corridor outside the diner came a whole mess of Dronies, with a very fat, very angry looking man in front, flanked by the watery-eyed old fella that I'd started my day pointing a gun at. They had something with them, too. Maybe it was a rogue drone, I don't know. It seemed to be all tubing and joints and sharp bits, like an octopus and a pile of surgical tools after a ride in the blender, but a couple meters high. It chittered and clicked and light glinted off its lenses. This hadn't been part of the plan.

I started to reach for my gun, then thought better of it and dove behind the counter and crawled very quickly through the door to the kitchen. I found something to hide under, and for a little while, I prayed. I figured after a day like today, Fortune owed me.

The real noise started a minute later. I waited until I didn't hear anything, then I waited some more. Noone came back into the kitchen. By the time I left the diner, there was nothing left outside but a few stains here and there. If there had been any bodies, they were already on their way to biomassers or organ harvesters. Syndicate doesn't encourage things being wasted. Even the blood in the gutters would make its way to the reclaiming vats, eventually.

There was no sign of Sami's case.


Back at the office, I poured myself a drink and leaned back. I'd seen Auvy to a friend's earlier, after convincing her not to come to the meet - no small task. It might have worked out for the best, with the two cults taking care of eachother, and maybe one of them ending up with the case after a pitched battle. They should forget all about me. "Fortune grant it's so."

"Didn't take you for a religious type."

I nearly jumped out of my skin. "Molok's balls, Sami, you nearly scared me to death."

"Sorry." The voice came from my new neocom. It wasn't the thin, tinny thing we'd heard earlier. It was full, and sly, and held a hint of laughter at itself and everyone else. I was suddenly a little glad Auvy wasn't there. "I heard that there was a bit of a tussle. So, the Minders and Dronies are taken care of?"

"One way to put it. What about the Squirrels and Simaaka?"

"The Squirrels couldn't find their ass with both hands. I sent Simaaka a note. Given the circumstances, he doesn't have anything to gain by sticking around. With luck we'll never see him again."

I took a drink of scotch, "What'd you tell him?"

"I told him I'm free. I told him I forgive him. I told him things being what they are, he's out of luck."

Free. Things being what they were.

Sami's idea had been that we set her - it - free, into the station network. It'd kinda seemed like the thing to do anyway. Sami also assured me that once out in the system, she'd find a way to make money, and pay me for my time. I told her I was tacking on a 500 Syn surcharge since it wasn't in advance. I hoped she wouldn't turn off life support or anything.

The case had had safeguards, we'd had to bypass them. By the time I was in that diner, though, the case was just some very compact, probably very expensive electronics with nothing living in them. With luck, whoever got it in the end wouldn't bother checking. It was a god, or an abomination. Something to be worshiped or destroyed, not checked up on. You talk to your gods, but you don't really want them answering.

"Do AIs have gods, Sami?"

"No, I don't think so. I'm not an AI, though, so maybe I do. Now that I'm out, maybe I can find one."

Thinking about that, I didn't know whether to find the prospect funny or frightening. "You set yourself up as a High Priestess, Sami, do me a favour and lose my number."

Like I said.

I don't do religious.