The Net Caster (Part Six)
There was no obvious sign of free food.
Of course there wasn’t. A Culinary district run by AI. The staff and their pals aren’t going to want left overs. There’s going to be no down and outs giving Joe a sob story at the back door and getting a bowl of goulash for their trouble. Maybe some louche bio tourist might help themselves to a pastry or wrap from one of the street stalls, but the couples and young families I saw wandering along the main boulevard and the winding side streets leading off it did not look particularly louche. I couldn’t afford to stand out.
The fragrances of food assailed my nostrils. (How do they manage to get it to blend so well with the lavender?) Quite apart from this torment, I realised I had made a mistake in my choice of destination. A tourist who bought nothing and went into no restaurant or café would stand out. A tourist who was actively avoiding other biologicals was just asking to be noticed.
I stopped on the corner of one of the side streets and looked at the vismaps. If I followed the boulevard down I would come to the Drama section. There would be nothing to eat, but there might be other possibilities, and I was keen to move away from the area where the taxi had dropped me.
I still had the Player and news Square from the stellarport. It took a while to update – when they say basic Player, they mean basic Player – and when it did I discovered I had been knocked off the top slot by a more recent murder. One of the people who ran the government Agency which employed me.
Now it was her pale face, almost transparent hair and watery blue eyes looking out at me from the Square. For a moment I wondered if they were going to try and pin that one on me too, but the Square said she had been killed by her own AI bodyguards.
I played the report through to the end. She was not a particularly controversial figure. The bodyguards were the standard two units provided to all policy making members of government agencies, AI and not bio to avoid any possibility of personal grudge or mental instability. They were escorting her home to her family farm in the Kraken system for her daughter’s birthday celebrations. They took her all the way to the farm and shot her in front of her family as she disembarked from her canoe.
I was not aware of any previous occasion on which any bio had been killed by any AI, never mind in such a brutal fashion.
I walked down the boulevard and looked at AI serving diners, selling food from street stalls, standing in the doors of restaurants and cafes, encouraging tourists to come in. The sounds of instruments and singing floated out of windows, and on several of the corners between the boulevard and the side streets smiling performers bent their arms to fiddles or accordions, ran sensitive fingers along silver flutes, or vocalised in impressive harmony to choruses of love and loss and redemption.
Clutching my black bag I thought, they could slaughter us all if they had a mind to, and the algorithmic net they had devised would never find a single trace of them.
And once again was jolted by the disconnect. AI could not have a mind to do anything. AI worked within the parameters of their programming, however sophisticated it was. No AI could cook a meal, act in a play, paint a picture, sing a song, perform oral sex or murder a bio without being programmed to do so.
But how long before bio’s started believing otherwise?
The two suns were now lower in the horizon, the blue of the sky beginning to soften. The days in the Aphrodite are shorter than those of most other systems, and I had heard that Cytherea in particular did not have much of a twilight: it was light, it was less light, and then it was dark. I had hopes for the cover of darkness.
Then I heard it behind me: a slow rumble, a distant roll like the thunder you never hear in the Aphrodite. The roll started to fragment into separate sounds: steps, voices. Dozens of steps and voices. Then hundreds.
I turned. In the fading light, what looked like the entire population of the Culinary section was coming down the boulevard towards me.
Not only me. Other people occupying the same stretch of boulevard also stared open mouthed at the oncoming mass.
‘What the fuck?’ said a young woman a few steps away.
I saw them then, the gold uniformed officers of the Unified Police, dozens of them walking alongside the crowd, marshalling the people, herding them irrevocably towards us.
Were they going to lynch me?
Was the spouty politician some sort of local hero? I tried to remember his system of origin. Kraken. I was sure the news Square had said Kraken. Certainly not Aphrodite. No Aphrodite politician would have bothered going all the way to the Klondike for a dirty weekend with an AI.
Or was Hamish Mansoorian some kind of underground icon?
I peered at the mob, trying to see if the individuals were bio or AI, not knowing which I was hoping for. As they got nearer I saw adults anxiously clutching children. Bio. There are no AI children. And bio adults are unlikely to bring their children to a lynching.
I turned back. A group of Unified officers, about twenty strong, was indicating for us to follow.
A young man beside me shouted, ‘What is it?’
A woman with the glittering diamond braid of seniority outlining her shoulders and beret stepped towards us. ‘I must ask you to follow the officers to the Drama section.’
‘Why?’ insisted the young man.
The woman looked as though she would prefer to be working in the Dune system, where the young man would already have been caught, restrained and sentenced for such effrontery.
She said, ‘Security measures, merely precautionary, for your safety.’
‘Precautionary against what?’ he demanded.
I waited for her to say, ‘Against the murderous net caster standing beside you’ but, teeth clenched and body rigid, she told him, ‘We have received information about a possible security issue in one of the restaurants.’
The young man turned to me. ‘It’s a bomb,’ he said. ‘It’s a fucking bomb, like in that StarMo. They’re trying to kill us.’ He faced the officer. ‘Tell me I’m wrong,’ he yelled. ‘Tell me the fucking bastard AI aren’t trying to murder us all.’
To be continued…