Always.

Josh’s Home

Markus stared at Josh’s latest work. “Looks great.”

“Thanks,” he said. “Markus? Is something wrong?”

“Jericho is moving way too fast,” Markus admitted. He turned to Josh. “Everything’s changing. So quickly.” He looked back at the painting Josh made. “We’re beginning the process to allow foreigners into Jericho.”

“Really?” Josh came back toward his work and stared at it. “That’s intense.”

“Not only that, but there are game’s going on against us. Connor’s been watching it,” Markus said. “North’s been covering up that Connor’s been tracking it in Detroit. One kills androids for hit points, while another is actually stealing them like property.”

Josh didn’t seem to know how to answer. “Sorry, Markus.”

“I tried to find Simon. I wanted to discuss it with him before making any decisions, but he’s still gone,” Markus revealed. “Has he talked to you? When’s the last time you saw him?”

“I saw him last week. I’ve been busy. Simon’s further out on the outskirts. These games that take people, was Simon on the list?”

“No. I had him do something for me, and now I can’t find him anywhere.” Markus looked toward Josh. “Don’t leave Jericho. Things are difficult right now. He should have been back days ago.”

“What did you have Simon check out?” Josh asked. “Markus?”

“Basic new trading place to look at. Just. I love North,” Markus said, “and I understand Connor’s want to protect Jericho, but there’s more than just that. Jericho isn’t just. It doesn’t just run efficiently by itself. If someone gets killed, it doesn’t change what it has to do.” He looked toward Josh. I need help with this. I need help from Simon. I need help. He didn’t speak through his AI though. He couldn’t ask it. Josh helped because there was no choice if they wanted freedom. He passively followed Markus. He remained friends, but he couldn’t do it.

Jericho was based on freedom, and for an android to do what they wanted. He couldn’t ask. Josh wouldn’t want it. Even asking Simon as more than a favor, it hadn’t appealed to his mind. And now, Simon had been missing for days. The longer it took, the more on edge he felt. He had the right to visit outside Jericho. Everyone did. He had the right to be gone as long as he wanted from Jericho. Everyone did.

But, there was no check in point. There was no real stable way of seeing who was coming and going, or if anyone went missing. And. It was very much hitting home. “It’s tough.” He looked back at Josh’s work. If he followed Jericho policy, he wouldn’t be there running it all. He’d be inside, painting as a trade. But there were so many things wrong with that.

The man who previously ‘owned’ him. Carl. Markus loved him, considered him his dad. He loved his paintings. Carl was a famous and well known painter. So if Markus wanted to start to paint? It would look more like he was programmed to do it. And he couldn’t do that, so many androids felt opposed to their past programmed lives. All my screaming for freedom, and I got it. I got it in doses bigger than I can handle now.

He had no idea what to expect when he gained freedom. He was just confident and happy they had freedom. Fast forward to today. His own ‘freedom’ wasn’t what he expected.

“Markus.”

And just to make it all better, let’s add Connor. Markus just gave a friendly smile to Connor. Even had to follow him all the way to Josh’s place? Couldn’t let him relax a little with his friend?

Connor nodded to Josh. “I need some help, Markus.”

“Don’t we all,” Markus muttered softly. “What?”

“I want to move in with Kara and Alice.”

“There is no upstairs and downstairs which equal balance.”

“No, but, I want to move in with Kara and Alice.”

“Are they your family unit?”

“Well?” Connor seemed to stumble. “I am a trusted, close friend of Kara. I’m family to Alice.”

“You should be family with everyone in it to make a family unit, otherwise it should be segregated with an upstairs and downstairs.” And Markus knew he was going to hear about it from Connor more.

“That makes no sense,” Connor said. “You live with North.”

“We are lovers. You can be lovers and/or family, Connor.”

“I don’t even have anything to move in much. A few clothes. There’s nothing more to this,” Connor said. “Markus.”

“I am really not in the mood,” Markus warned him. “Don’t rebel, just follow Jericho’s rules. Is that so hard?”

“Simon is missing,” Josh interrupted the two. “And I think Markus is having some other problems he’s not talking about. It’s not a good time to ask for favors. If you want to stay with them, I’d just ‘hunker’ down like you used to in the streets.”

“Simon is missing?” Connor asked Markus. “How long ago?”

“I don’t know if Simon is missing. His trade is bringing out products. Residents come and go from Jericho whenever they please. He’s often gone,” Markus said. “I did ask him for a favor though so I’m a little extra worried. I’m sorry.”

“What favor?” Connor asked.

“You’re in charge of leading the Jericho Task Force,” Markus said. “It doesn’t concern you. It’s just standard Jericho stuff. Do you have your uniforms?”

“A small delay. Kara’s catching up,” Connor said. “Should have them tomorrow. In the process of selecting people, but I wanted to know if anyone local would be on it either. Anyone?” He looked toward Josh. “You once helped create this freedom. Did you want to protect it?”

“Why are you asking him?” Markus couldn’t do that. Josh didn’t want to fight, he knew he didn’t want to. He could have already screwed up. He could have lost Simon. “Give everyone around the world an equal chance to come to Jericho.”

“I could speak for myself.” Josh hadn’t appreciated that. He resonated downward to him. “No, Connor, I don’t know how to fight. I was in the fight for peace. I wouldn’t be right for the team.”

Connor didn’t say anything right away but Markus knew Connor felt it. North was Markus’ lover, but Josh and Simon were his family. They had grown more distant, but they had become close in the fight for peace, and after the peace. Until Josh and Simon started moving different ways. “People from all over have been wanting to come to Jericho. Choose wisely, Connor.” He gestured behind him. “In the meantime, I have 30,000 birds that were dropped off due to breakdown in communication I gotta attend to.”


Kamski’s Residence

“Make sure you have her old room prepared for her,” Elijah said to Chloe. “Have one for Elise too.” Oops. “Alice. She prefers Alice. I must remember that.” He moved to their old rooms, Kara’s first. “Add in something nicer. A bright painting of hers would be nice to greet her. Alice. Add in something bright for her too. Maybe a colorful blue and red one. That should go with the decor.”

“Yes, Sir,” Chloe said. “Anything else?” She twitched a little. “Someone is approaching. Should I or the human servant answer the door?”

Elijah was doubtful it would be the detective and android. “Let the human servant. One can never be too careful right now.” He moved away from their rooms to go greet his visitors.

Strange. What were they doing there? The current CEO of Cyberlife, his successor with two bodyguards behind him. He moved to greet him, but he wasn’t budging toward Elijah’s way at all. Elijah came all the way across the room to have to greet him.

Finally, he stuck his hand out toward Elijah. “We received some info on a serial number in an incident in Jericho.”

Elijah remained still. As still as could be for several seconds. Of course, someone knew. She didn’t want to stay. To open her up more, and to stress her out more than needed, could destroy everything she’d been. He had hoped they hadn’t kept their eyes upon Jericho just as diligently. They must have had the same information and resources he did. Elijah stroked his jaw. “Yes.”

“Pull it in,” The current CEO demanded.

Elijah scratched his shoulder. “She’s not ready. Her ideas, her will, her very being is being sorted right now. She’s terrified of me. She loves me. She feels everything.”

“So you have been in contact with it,” the CEO said. “I knew it.”

“She is my creation. I made her after retirement. She does not belong to Cyberlife,” Elijah warned him. “Leave them be.”

“What does it look like now?”

“It doesn’t matter what it looks like, she isn’t available for Cyberlife’s needs.”

“Elijah Kamski.” The CEO almost growled. “Our business was androids. Most of our business was nothing but androids. From animals to humans. It’s gone.”

“Yes. You haven’t filed for bankruptcy yet, I’m surprised.” Elijah poked him a little. “You still have trademarks and rights to all e-writing disposable notebooks. Security systems. Many simple things. I’m sure you can move backwards more into self-cleaning AI of the sort. Not that it will provide the same prestige and wealth as before, but all things fade. All things whither and all things die.”

“It exists still,” the CEO said to Elijah. “It was supposed to be gone. You said it was gone. We have a chance to correct this awful mistake, gain the trust of people again. Bring them to the right frame of mind. Build correctly. Build differently. Rebuild the brand of Cyberlife. Bring it in.”

“We have been over this before.” Not again. It wouldn’t be safe for her to come back if they were staking out his house again. Trying to reclaim her. “You. Do not touch her. She and her daughter are fine right here. If they come back. Which, I doubt they will now.”

“We need it.”

“I said stay away. Do we really need to go through this again? Do we need to get the courts involved in these affairs all over again?” No. “She was created to live. Nothing else.” They were not getting their hands on her again. “Leave my property please.”

“You aren’t getting it. Cyberlife isn’t messing with courts this time.”

Elijah saw guns drawn on him. He only had two with three possible outcomes. The CEO of Cyberlife would never leave himself exposed, and he had brought in two security guards before the guns were even brought out. This wasn’t a conversational talk about trying to take his android from him again, where he was offered money or other things. No. More guards were most likely surrounding Elijah’s home. With intent. “I guess it’s a good thing she didn’t come home yet.”

Option one. He said no, they would brashly enter holding him at gunpoint, find Chloe and anything else illegal, and send him to jail for having an enslaved android. Option two. He said no and they just shot him. Option one and two would leave them an opening to take control, with two leaving him dead.

Leaving him option three. Trusting Kara to handle it. “As you wish. Follow me.”

People. He led them all toward the back. He kept his stride even. Surrounded by wires and flashing lights, he led them into a room more representative of the early 2000’s. Kara. He presented the room toward them. They would eventually learn how to operate it, so refusal would be dumb. It would also be more suspicious. “First, we bring up the communication online.”

“Markus. He runs the entirety of Jericho. Him first.”

Elijah moved himself to the odd wired keyboard.

“This place looks ancient,” the CEO complained. “Why so many connections?”

“A matter of taste,” Elijah said. That and a precaution. If Cyberlife ever turned on it’s own master, it wouldn’t be as easy to takeover. Even back then, he could see the possible betrayal. If only he believed in it enough that he would have changed his entire security system. Which wasn’t worth anything right now since Cyberlife designed it. Still. He couldn’t help himself. “Do you have any guilt or regret for the actions you are taking?”

“Markus.”

“Kara doesn’t work like that,” Elijah tried to explain. “She will have to be within distance.”

“Take her over and bring her within distance.”

“It doesn’t work like that either. Only her first two firewalls were brought down anyway. What you are wanting is too fast.”

“As long as she’ll be alive. We’ll track her down. She’s one android. They can’t hide from us. Five minutes for each firewall we need.”

Elijah stared at his board. They had no decency. She was alive. She was free. She was figuring out her life. She must have survived so much to end up in Jericho itself. Of course, if he started to talk too much, he’d be murdered easily. The less he spoke. The more he could survive. Whether he could actually survive this encounter, he did not know yet.

“What are you doing?” The CEO asked.

“It’s the art of hacking except it is used with a human instead of an android,” Elijah answered as he started to type away. Programs started to open in the computer. “It takes longer, much more than a few seconds, at least a few minutes if not longer.” The first real AI’s before true cyberlife androids were created used updating that could be abused across communications in a very open field. No matter what anyone did, it was always possible to hijack them. The best way to deal with it was to restrict access to textual updates and simply make new models as technology caught up.

Kara and Alice were his though. With his intelligence, he took that risky technology, created immense firewalls to prevent others from abusing it, and created his own connected androids. With it, he would be able to always take care of them and update them. Keep them kept up with technology. Keep them relevant forever no matter how many years passed.

Keep them near. Keep them as his. Never to leave. Never to be obsolete. Cyberlife though, wanted to use the only connected android for their own use. Obviously, to take down Jericho. “Markus, the leader.” He programmed in what he needed. Markus’ AI would transmit everything toward Kara, leaving him an empty shell, only trapped in a single repeating pattern visually and audibly. Unless Kara could return it all to him. It was terrible. Yet, life? The will to survive, it was strong within Elijah still. “What else do you want from my lovely Kara, please?”

Elijah watched as he was given a list of notes. Cyberlife was not taken chances.  “The security code 900-24-ykwrka-rk-4872-500.”

“There will be a delay in all activities in the signal. The more simplistic actions will be first. It will take a few minutes to complete.” Elijah stared at the screen. The will to live. His Kara. The will to live. Elise. Without Kara, she’d die. Without Kara, it would all be over.

“Which is why we wanted it second. Now, push the new update. That is third.” the CEO said again. “Make it all happen.”

Elijah stared at the screen. No, he couldn’t do it. To put that in. There was no chance of survival for them, and his would already be so low. “Life. It’s an amazing thing. Everything we do, we create to continue on with it. We do so much to keep living. People betray other’s trust, they lie, and they even kill to preserve life. Desperation sets in. What one will do to save their own life, or their own sense of life, it almost has no limits. Yet.”

He made a decision. He opened the settings. It would take one second. There were several options but he needed the emergency operation. A single action. For Kara. He checked a square on actions: Emergency Project: Kara’s Got A Gun.

It automatically checked off the following: Temperature setting: Activate. Simulations All: Activate. Stress, All: Activate. Child Instinct: Secondary Activation. Self Preservation: First Activation. Master Skill Default: Life Saving, All: Activate. 

The automatic texting services opened up. He probably wouldn’t get far but he had to try. For Elise. “Yet as much as life preserves itself, sometimes there is something it wants more than itself. Loved ones. Family. Many will sacrifice themselves for them. Whether someone is that person cannot be easily seen or known until the moment that decision must be made.” He busily opened a few more programs. He could hear the confused soundings of the CEO behind him. Not long. “Then you have those selfish ones that know they aren’t going to survive and anything they do in the last few minutes of their life doesn’t matter, so they choose to use that to save their families.”

His computer started to beep.

“Silly me. I wish I could have fallen into the first-” He would have said category, but it was already too late. He fell to the floor and heard commands and more people trampling into his home to figure out what he just did. He could get rid of one, but Elijah Kamski had more than one home. More than one command center. If Kara remembered, she could save Alice.

And him. He didn’t like it. When he saw it. But. Maybe it was a good thing after all. That connection. It may have saved them. Bad becomes good. Good becomes bad. Kamski looked at the blood on his fingers.

“What’s more important to you, Connor? Your investigation, or the life of this android. Decide who you are.  An obedient machine or a living being endowed with free will. Pull the trigger, and I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

He challenged him once as a machine. His breath was so much weaker now. He wiggled his finger slightly. His interesting, red little finger. One more time, Connor. One more time.

“Get his body out with us,” the CEO instructed. “I need someone who knows this old shit. He messed up the ending, we need to fix this.” The CEO had computer engineers and experts come in who had also done human hacking before. They busily tried to fix what they could, but most everything was locked tight.

 


 

 Chicken Feed

Hank started to drink his pop. Lunchtime was finishing up. “Ah.” He used his tongue to try and get a piece of chicken out of his teeth when his phone rang. There was a textual voice on it. It didn’t make any sense. He hung up and tried to pick at his teeth with his fingers. His phone ran again. He looked again. The textual voice still didn’t make sense. “Fucking pranksters.” He got up and headed to his car. His phone rang a third time. “Fuck you.” He wasn’t going to answer it, his messenger could. It rang a couple times and then, this time, he could understand the voice. It had to be the fucking oldest thing ever, the computer voice sounded nothing like a human. He hadn’t heard that lame ass shitty sound since he was a kid.

Operation: Kara’s Got A Gun in Progress Automatic Message Attachment. Sender: Elijah Kamski.

“Whoah, okay now I’m interested.” Hank pulled over the car and listened to his phone. Someone had programmed the ability to hear it only if he didn’t answer it. Probably didn’t agree with new tech, it sounded fucking old. The words? ” . . . Aww, fucking shit!”
He didn’t even finish the message before he did a U turn, flipped around and moved as quickly as possible in the other direction toward Jericho.


 

Jericho: Headquarters

Markus stared out of the window, until he finally heard some good news behind him.

“Markus?”

Simon. Markus turned and hugged him. “Simon. Where have you been?”

“My trade.”

They both let go. Simon looked at Markus oddly. “I stopped to see Josh. He sounded concerned. Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Sorry, I knew you probably just continued your trade,” Markus apologized. “I am just so on edge I guess. This whole game thing. You leaving longer than I expected. From killing to stealing Jericho’s androids. It.” Markus turned around. “I still haven’t figured out what to do with all those birds yet.” He turned back around. “Do you know there are 30,000 birds waiting at the border for me to convert?”

“I heard,” Simon said. “What about this Jericho Task Force too?”

“To stop the game. I just gave it up to Connor,” Markus admitted. “He seems like he won’t go overboard.”

“What’s the plan for it?” Simon asked.

“I couldn’t. I can’t. North’s been approving Connor for the outside and not telling me. So we don’t get caught, now I really have to act like I don’t know she’s been okaying him. Two hundred foreign androids, opening up to Jericho. Housing, trade specialties, regular androids transferring over, dealing with this wildlife committee always harassing me. I just couldn’t.” Markus stared straight at Simon. “I just asked for 100 jackets, told him to pick and said everyone would know who they were before anything happened.”

“It’s a . . . start?” Simon looked wearily at Markus. “Jericho. It’s grown. Maybe you need some more help?”

“Always open to you.” Markus wouldn’t turn that down.

“I like leaving out there. Seeing the world. Visiting all the different places,” Simon said. “When you get edgy though, things are getting rougher. Find someone to take over trade transfers and I’ll chip in to help how I can again.”

Marcus felt air just flow out of his mouth all at once. He didn’t even know he would expel that much. “Simon. I’d really appreciate it, but you’re going to have to know. The workload, it’s increased.”

“I did fine with it before,” Simon said. “You can’t handle it all alone, Markus. What’s the workload?” Markus transmitted a fraction of the data between him and Simon. “Are you serious?”

“I’m serious. Freedom came at a big price,” Markus said. “Are you still in?”

“Markus, it’s 200 times harder than we first began. Projected outcome only increases and you just opened the gates to foreign exchanging. How have you been doing that?”

“North helps, a lot. Some things though. We just can’t always agree.”

“Oh, I know that,” Simon nodded. “I’ll help. But, even with someone like you, that’s all too much to process. There needs to be more help. Have you asked Josh to help again?”

“He’s happy. He’s doing art,” Markus smiled. “I just can’t take that away. Everyone here is happy. Jericho is the crowning achievement of android civilization. We’ve got out freedom.”

“But, it takes work to maintain it,” Simon pointed out. “It takes more than one. Two. At this rate, the data increase, you should have ten working with your processors.”

“Three’s a start.” Markus didn’t know who to ask. “I didn’t really want to ask for help. The androids I trust by my side, I absolutely have to trust them with this data. If anything happens to it, Jericho won’t survive.”

“Seeing just what you’ve shared, I can see why you have to be like that.” Simon smiled. “Three’s a start. I know some friends too. Lyka might be interested. If you get to know him and trust him, maybe he’ll join. Now, this bird situation? 30,000?”

“Bugging me every day. They were just supposed to drop off a few,” Markus complained. “I can’t give the humans loopholes, and they are right. Animal androids have the same technology. I can’t drop that ball. It’s too dangerous.”

“Agreed. There are 30,000 birds. Maybe you should send out a full message telling everyone to touch one bird tomorrow? It might help speed things along,” Simon recommended.

“Ah, but see, human traders,” Markus warned him. “I’ve worked with them many a time. Do something too fast and they start expecting it. These birds, they are just the start to what they want. If I convert everything right away, then we’ll have to move to the next thing. Then before you know it, Jericho will be swarming in tigers, elephants and everything else.”

“I. Kind of want a pet Elephant.” Simon said it seriously and then smiled. “I’m just kidding. You’re right.” He stood up. “I’ll help you bring them to your headquarters. Convert a few a day. Me, North, and You. A few a day. That should give enough time to figure out this whole pet problem.”

“Thanks, Simon.” Well, that was good news. “I’m just going to send out a few requests, demand requests, and trade requests. I’ll be there in twenty minutes or so.” He watched Simon leave. One extra hand, always helpful.

Always helpful.

Always.

Helpful.

Always.

Helpful.

Always.

Always.

Always.

Always.

Always.

Always.

Always.

Always.

Always.

Always.

Always.

Always.