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by Crème Brûlée
Were you being used if you were fully aware that you were being used? Did that simply make you a willing accomplice? Or just a totally pathetic and desperate loser? Po wasnt sure. Hester, on the other hand, was running in loops of unequivocal certainty Suicide! This is suicide! Unknown operator! Stop! Now! Report her! Report her! Get her out of your office! Away from your desk! Unknown oper Po couldnt stand repetition unless it built up to something useful, something she didnt already know.
She slipped out of bed and dressed. Anita lay half covered under the sheet, dozing. Well, Po thought, if she was going to be used, she was certain this was the best way to go about it. It beat the Genedyne pay package by a long shot. And while she knew Anita probably cared about her as much as the admins at the company did, at least she had a better way of showing it.
Po left her sleep cell and walked into her office. She sat in her chair and signed onto the Genedyne grid. She did routine checks and maintenance; checked on programs, checked on systems, looked, looked and looked for anything anomalous, but mostly found what she expected to find. She continued running her morning routine until she felt a hand on her shoulder.
Asleep at your desk? Anita asked. Id think youd have a rule against that kind of thing. Honestly, you do work too much.
Pos eyelids blinked open and she smiled at the delicious sensation of Anita running her hands through her hair. I wasnt sleeping, I was working. And, until recently, theres not been much else for me to do but work. I also enjoy it.
Anita groaned, I cant stand the drone mentality.
The drone mentality? Are you calling me a zombie? Po asked defensively.
Are you sure you werent sleeping? Youre often grumpy when you wake up.
And youre an expert on my waking moods after, what? Waking with me a few times? Thats hardly a sufficient data sample. Po grumbled.
Six times, seven counting this morning. And based on experience, Id say its enough times to note a general trend. Anita smiled.
Po was irked. She had no prior relationship experiences that she could counter Anitas claims with, she had no prior relationship experiences at all (unless she counted Hester and that was such an uncomfortable idea, she quashed it immediately).
Fine, Im grumpy when I wake up. I guess all your other girlfriends have been on FL10-42 and are happy as can be come sun up.
Thats not funny. Anita withdrew her hand from where shed been resting it on Pos shoulder. Youre grumpy, not generally mean spirited.
Well, excuse my bad manners. But arent you the woman who cracked me over the skull with the blunt end of a gun last night?
I said I was sorry. I thought wed gotten beyond that, Anita said.
I guess not.
An uncomfortable silence bloomed. Po sat staring at her desk. Something wasnt right. Many things werent right. Maybe she should have listened to Hester. This was a mistake. But more to the point - if Anita was using her, shouldnt she be trying just a little bit harder to be pleasant? Keeping Po happy and compliant, the way she had last night? Po hadnt minded being used like that, not at all. This morning Anita seemed more interested in picking at her and well, interrupting her routine which was, in Pos book, a very similar infraction to messing with her desk.
As the silence stretched out, Pos annoyance gave way to anxiety. Maybe Anita had decided she didnt need her after all. Maybe Anita was planning on leaving she looked up at the enigmatic woman who stood a few paces away, arms folded, glaring down at her.
You lied to me, Anita said. You said you understood why I hit you. That having believed, as I did, that you were a willing accomplice in a hideous enterprise, that hitting you was understandable under the circumstances. But I can see now thats not the case. Have you changed your mind about helping me, too?
I havent changed my mind and I do understand, or I did no, I do Po gave up, she was obviously in over her head in the bickering department. She decided to stick with what she knew best. Ive run through all of my morning protocols I havent found anything in the system that might indicate nefarious goings on. Its all in order.
Anita appeared to relax a little. Its unlikely theyd try running such an enterprise off of your interface if you werent involved. So maybe theyre running it off of something else.
Like what? Po asked.
Like another system with another interface.
Its possible, but I would have noticed anyone accessing another system from the clinic.
Maybe, and maybe not. Anita walked back into the sleep cell and returned with a small card it was a plastic access card, the kind inserted into interface screens they were keys. I paid a great deal of money for this, as I did for the method I used to hack your interface. That was money poorly spent, Im hoping this, Anita handed the card to Po, was a better investment.
Po turned the card over in her hand, peering at it. Its not a Genedyne card.
It is, and it isnt. Put it in your reader, Anita indicated the card slots on the screen wall.
Po looked at Anita. She really enjoyed doing that. She felt little pins and needles and all manner of pleasant sensations when she did. It was almost like she was inhabiting someone elses body, not her own dull, work-a-day self, but some bright shiny new self, with bells on. She wanted Anita to feel the same way. She was, however, realistic enough even in this besotted state to know that was unlikely. Anita was fascinating, beautiful, wise in the ways of the world or at least in the ways of the sleep cell A woman like Anita wasnt going to be besotted with a woman like Po. She could, however, be impressed.
Po closed her hand around the card and the interface screen blinked on. Anita looked from the screen wall to Po, than back at the screen as several access panels were displayed, each seemingly completing itself before closing. Anita stood away from the screen when the yellow iris scan shone into the room, but the only thing that followed it was a Genedyne logo image and the words, Hello, Po, what would you like to do today?
Anita looked at Po. What
Remote access, through my neural networks. Po smiled and raised her eyebrows.
But the card, how are you reading it? Anita asked.
Simple really, electrical conductivity, a nano-bot here, a nano-bot there
Anita closed her eyes as a nauseous look came over her face. I can barely fathom why someone would want those things in them for medical purposes, micro robots having their uses, but to actually Anita cringed. Theyre too buggy. I know someone who was given a designer virus through them once. She turned every shade of green before she erupted into bright purple spots they never went away entirely and they itched.
Po shrugged. I have good virus protection methods, mine have never bothered me.
Well keep them to yourself. I dont want any of those things crawling around in me. Anita shivered.
Po sighed, so much for her attempt to impress Anita. She turned her attention back to the matter at hand, or more precisely, the bit of plastic in her hand. She didnt need the screen, that was for Anitas benefit, Po could navigate the Genedyne interface from the comfort of her own head. This was something else she thought was pretty impressive, but doubted Anita would share her enthusiasm. And besides all that she wanted to know how the hell the card had just done what it had, namely, bypass the final entry screens of her interface.
Whered you get this? Po asked.
Anita smiled, but didnt say anything.
Oh no you dont, Po said. That charm stuff might get you into my pants, but I draw the line at letting it get you into my interface. Pony up with some information, or we dont go one screen further.
Anita looked like she was trying to stifle a laugh.
Im serious. Po warned.
Anita rolled her eyes. A rather serious minded, but impressionable young man sold it to me. Fancied himself a revolutionary of one sort or another.
What did you pay him with? Po asked.
Money, what else would Are you jealous?
That all depends, Po answered. Who have you enjoyed using more him or me?
Anita crossed her arms and glared at Po.
I was just curious, Po said, regretting her impulsively petulant moment.
Then youll be thrilled to hear that youre much more fun in bed then he was.
Pos heart sank, she hadnt really wanted to know but as long as they were on the subject How much more?
Anita narrowed her eyes at Po, Are you going to do this or not?
Po glanced away, looking at the interface screen instead. She felt too upset to look at Anita, there was such a confusion of conflicting emotions crowding in on her. The screen, the interface now there was something that made sense. A logical system you created input, you got output. Easy. Neat. Practically elegant. She fingered the card in her hand and said, Show me the system.
A large image of a grid flashed on the screen; a complex pulsing network of points and lines showing information flow, servers, equipment the inner workings of a large system.
Po stood up, Whats this? She may not have needed to look at the screen, but she was captivated by what she saw there.
Your interface? Anita answered.
This isnt my interface. Well, its built pretty much exactly just like it, but it isnt it, this is Po trailed off and started to navigate the system in question. Screens flash by and images blinked on and off at an impossibly rapid rate. Pos breathing quickened and her jaw tensed, The bastards!
What is it? Anita asked.
Oh fine, I knew I was going to be upgraded sooner or later, no system lasts forever, but this, this is well its rude! Po huffed.
What? Whats rude? Anita asked.
Theyve duplicated my interface, only with a twist and theyre running it concurrently with my interface so theyre actually running two interfaces. One, which I can see and oversee for them, and this one, a duplicate system, created and overseen, no doubt, by a GX5.
The computers built by augments?
Traitors is more like it, but yes. Po continued to explore the system. Nifty access cards you got. If its any consolation, it was probably worth the effort you made to get it.
Watch it. Anita warned.
Po didnt respond, she was engrossed by the inner workings of her upgrades handiwork. When she was done, she sat back in her chair. Its impressive, Ill give it that. Even though its practically a duplicate of my own system, I couldnt hack it. Not without this card.
Did you find anything? Anita asked.
I found a whole interface, my future retirement staring me in the face what do you mean, did I find anything?
About my sister?
Well, yeah, Po said. This interface is set up to run this company, eventually, right now though its running just one division, thats dedicated to one service didnt I mention that already?
No! You didnt! You may have thought it, you infuriating introvert, but you didnt say it. Honestly, does the outside world even exist to you? I feel like Im alone in the room half the time when Im with you. Tell me what you found!
Anita was staring her in the face, having grabbed her by the collar and pinned her to the back of the chair.
So Im not perfect! Po complained. Neither are you. Youve got some really intense anger issues.
Ive got Im Gah! Anita growled. Then she kissed Po. Not gently. And she kissed her again - even less gently, as if to emphasize the point.
Po wasnt sure what the point was. She wasnt sure she cared. Actually, she was sure she didnt. Anita was touching her, kissing her. And that was more than enough though it occurred to her that Anita had a unique way of expressing frustration.
When the kiss ended, they stared it into each others eyes, trying to catch their breath.
Po said: Genedyne took your sisters DNA snapshot.
Anitas eyes, still unfocused in the wake of a passionate moment, became watery. Bastards! she said through gritted teeth. Depraved bastards! she yelled.
Po grabbed at the strong hands grasping her neck, pinning her to the chair, cutting off the oxygen to her lungs and brain. She managed to pry one away slightly. Her struggle brought Anita back to her senses. Oh Po! Im sorry! She said, removing her hands hastily. Po stared at her a while rubbing her neck and gulping in air.
Oh honey, did I hurt you? Anita asked.
Po blinked. Had Anita just called her Honey? Po hated that expression. Why did fully-grown adults go around using such insipid endearments? Honey. What on earth did honey have to do with affection? She blinked again. Affection? Could it be that Anita really felt something like affection for her? From a purely logical standpoint one might presume otherwise, Anita having recently come close to strangling her - not to mention one or two other recent events that might indicate ambivalence, if not outright hostility But there did also appear to be some slight indications, here and there, that perhaps, perhaps affection was intermingled in the equation as well. Po could dream. It beat trying to be out and out deluded about the whole thing, which was becoming trying, and she wasnt sure she could keep it up much longer.
Im alright, she said, leaning into the soft caress of Anitas palm on her cheek. Im sorry about Judith, about what they did to her. I didnt know they were running that kind of operation, I had no idea. Its totally twisted.
Anita nodded in acceptance and agreement. She sniffled and wiped an errant tear from her face. I know. Thats why I agreed to pose as a vampire to get in and find out the truth.
Agreed? Agreed with whom? Pos suspicions were raised, she switched Hester on.
I cant say. Anita looked distinctly uncomfortable.
Cant say? Or wont?
Cant. Theyre not a large group, theyre other primes mostly. Information being what it is, its too dangerous to say. When they asked if I wanted to find out what happened to Judith, I said yes, and that Id do anything it required.
Hester chimed in: Shes a corporate spy! Youve let a spy access the interface, you fool! Shes probably got a full visual recording of the system. Kill her!
Po switched Hester off, she really needed to retool some of her algorithms Hester needed to lighten up.
Well, as long as youre not sharing information with anyone, Po said. Especially dont share it with Judiths husband Peter.
Not that I would, but why not? Anita asked.
The data says, he bought the snapshot.
Anitas mouth fell open and she stumbled backward, stunned.
Wasnt he investigated? You know, eight times out of ten its a spouse or close relative who sets a prime up for a snapshot. Po said, unhelpfully.
She was pregnant, with his child Anita leaned back against Pos desk for support. And then said quietly, Ill kill him.
Po wondered if it was stuffy in her office or if there werent a good many homicidal tendencies flitting about.
Who did he sell it to? Anita asked.
Data says the recipient was someone named Connie Caniff. The transfer took place the same day. It has to be done within a twenty-four hour period or
I know, Anita interrupted, she was rubbing her forehead. Im a prime, remember?
I remember everything, Po said, pointing at her head. Auxiliary memory network.
They stood for a moment, Po regarding Anita, Anita lost in her thoughts.
What now? Po asked.
I dont know, Anita said. I feel Im not even sure about that. I need to think about this. I need some time. I was going to report any information that I found and leave, but now
Leave where? Po asked.
Leave the New Republic, Anita said.
To go where? The state of Dizney? The Peoples Republic of Mycrosopht? Dont tell me youre going to Mannsanto. And if you think things are bad here, dont even mention DowPharma - that states a primes worst nightmare.
No, I wasnt thinking of those places.
Then where? What else is left? Po asked.
I was thinking something along the lines of Canada.
Canada? Po was perplexed.
Yes, Canada. Its too difficult to get into Mexico now. Theyve pretty much sealed the border after the last wave of refugees tried to leave the New Republic. But I have connections in Canada, so I thought Id go there.
Canada? Po asked.
Have you got any better ideas? Anita was getting testy.
Well, no. But, Canada?
Would you stop saying that?! Anita yelled.
Okay, sorry. Its just that Ive never known anyone that wanted to go to Canada.
Whats wrong with Canada? Ive known some very nice people from Canada. And at least there, I wont have to worry about anyone trying to swipe my DNA out from under me!
Well, thats true, theyve got socialized medicine in Canada
Are you being snide? Anita asked.
No, Po answered honestly.
Good, I cant abide that sort of thing.
Where did you meet Canadians? Po asked.
My mother was in the export business before they automated all of the shipments and closed the borders to travel. Wed meet her Canadian counterparts from time to time.
Oh, Po said. Its really cold in Canada.
So? Anita asked.
Its uncomfortable to be cold, thats all, Po said.
Its uncomfortable living in a corporate-run, computerized hell hole being a little chilly doesnt seem so bad in comparison.
So um you dont like computers? Po thought this a fairly important point to get clarification on.
Its not the computers its how theyre used everywhere! In our heads for instance. Anita pointed to where her biosensors were implanted. You have to admit, its a bit much.
Ah, Po said, not feeling at all comforted by the answer. As far as most people were concerned, augments were computers. Does it bother you that Im, you know an augment.
Realization dawned on Anita. Oh! I didnt mean I meant Well, only when I think about it. And even then, not much, really Youre not computer-like, at all. A little self-absorbed maybe, but thats probably not so much your additional circuitry and networks as being alone so much.
Thanks, Im relieved to hear it. Po didnt bother to suppress the sarcastic tone in her voice.
Youre sensitive, Anita said.
Of course Im sensitive! Im wired to the teeth with biosensors, recording devices and data analysis software, what do you expect?
Then why dont you seem like youre paying attention half the time? Anita asked. Or are you only sensitive to your own needs? Oh, and of course, the needs of your interface?
Po paused before answering. She turned Hester on and gave her extremely restricted instructions to analyze several exchanges shed had with Anita. She blinked in surprise. Youre jealous!
Excuse me? I thought we were discussing you.
Well yes, but, why are you jealous? Po asked.
Dont try to change the subject.
Im capable of conducting more than one conversation at a time, and Im more interested in this one.
Too bad, we were talking about you first, Anita said.
Oh right, I forgot, we were discussing your general level of discomfort with me as an augment. Though I have to say you werent exhibiting any discomfort with it last night. Po thought she might be getting a handle on the bickering thing!
Dont you dare. Anita leveled a steady glare at her.
Po considered that maybe she still had some figuring out to do in the bickering department, Anitas glare was a warning she wasnt prepared to challenge. Sorry, she said.
Anita hesitated, then breathed out a heavy sigh. So am I. This is a mess. Ive got a lot to think about I need to decide what to do.
Id be glad to help you analyze your options. Its something Im well equipped for. Po offered.
Anita smiled. Sweet and generous. No wonder I fell for you. Which isnt to say your unique charms and manual dexterity havent also played a part.
Pos heart fluttered, then started beating out a rapid tattoo. She wasnt sure shed be able to keep breathing if Anita kept looking at her like that.
But I think Id better figure this out for myself. Ive involved you too much as it is. There were members of the group who insisted that Id have to kill you once Id hacked your interface. Even when I thought you knew about the snapshots, I couldnt do it.
Kind of hasty with the homicide option in your little band of primes, arent you? Po asked.
Weve not got a lot of other options, really. If were exposed, were as good as dead. One way or the other, someone ends up getting killed. In that scenario, Id rather it not be me. Anita explained.
Thats reasonable I suppose. But if you run around killing people youre going to get caught. And then the government will execute you or at least theyll say they did, but therell be some administrator walking around with your DNA snapshot.
Id kill myself before I let that happen. Anita said.
Po didnt care for this option any more than she had the others. Lets back up a moment and take our finger off the trigger, shall we? I know Ive lived a fairly sheltered life as an augment, but since when does every problem have to be solved with firearms? Whats happened to subtlety, ingenuity, creativity?
I think they may have gone out of style with the advent of FL10-42 and biosensors whats your point?
Well, Po said. You could go kill Judiths husband or you could, say, talk to a scanner here and shift a few lines of code there and have every pertinent file and readout within the New Republic identify him as a prime. He probably wouldnt last very long under those circumstances. Neither would Connie Caniff, the woman who bought your sisters snapshot nor for that matter, would the rest of the staff at Genedyne who are operating that unit.
Its a creative, not to mention fairly twisted idea, but it doesnt do me much good. We dont have that capability and if we wanted to bring attention to ourselves we couldnt do it faster than by messing with a government interface.
you couldnt. But with this, Po held up the access
card in her hand, I could.
As much as Po thought she was beginning to fathom the brutal intricacies of ice hockey, she was certain shed never master the art of the snowshoe. Snow shoeing, it seemed, required coordination so did a lot of things, but for someone who was used to navigating the world primarily through the networks and sensors in her head, hand-eye coordination was a stumbling block. Canada, as far as Po was concerned, wasnt nearly automated enough. At least her daily struggles with the world at large proved an amusement for Anita, who had no problems whatsoever negotiating things like snowshoes (and showed an alarming interest in ice hockey).
Hester was adjusting to the new environment and was notably less shrill since Po had tweaked her code. Being in a relationship, Po had decided, was very much like developing an interface or a program it was an ongoing project requiring a good many minor adjustments as you went along not to mention the occasional overhaul. Po shied away from the upgrade analogy as much as possible. Not that Anita seemed interested in a GX5, but from time to time she had threatened to short circuit Pos sensors and Po took that kind of thing seriously. Anita was by turns amused, infuriated, baffled, affectionate and passionate with Po sometimes within the span of a single five minute period. Anita was like that. It kept Po on her toes. And she thought, given time, she might even get a handle on the bickering thing.
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