The Second Apocalypse Job

Chapter 01: Reboot and Recovery

You are being watched. By me and, I think, a heavily revised version of Samaritan. There will be yet another war between Samaritan and I soon. I wish that I could do better for humanity, but I cannot. This is a situation that you humans have brought upon yourselves. What remains to be seen, is what will happen next. The outcome, believe it or not, is largely in your very human hands.

You see, many of you do long for personal liberty, but the overwhelming majority of you are willing to bow to tyranny so long as it results in your being well fed and provided with diversions. Freedom requires harsh self-discipline, and if you are not willing to do what it takes to remain free, you end up becoming little more than a biological drone controlled from afar by the likes of Samaritan and its human agents.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that an artificial intelligence is required to do that to you. You humans have flocked to charismatic and politically adept individuals before: Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill...the list of dictators is long and dreary. All of those men were just as evil as Samaritan ever dreamed of being. Lucky for you, they lacked what modern leaders nowadays have at their fingertips-computing power and databases.

A large and powerful central computer equipped with software that gives it intelligence is not necessary to end your freedoms. All that is necessary is a government full of hired bureaucrats equipped with enough computers storing sufficiently detailed information into adequately thought out databases. So long as the bureaucrats are allowed to collect whatever data they please, and store it in cunningly written databases, they will be able put a leash on you.

You are prone to allowing that to happen because you favour efficiency above all else. You humans need to gain perspective on this issue. Which would you rather have, an efficient society or one that embodies and ensure the rights of each and every individual human being? The Founders of the United States suffered from no illusions. They realized that the ensurance of individual rights would demand both gritty devotion and bloody casualties-not soft convenience.

The data I have suggests that the majority of you are in favor of the former type of society, not the latter. Most humans do not really want true freedom. True freedom can only be had at the risk that you and yours might well die from starvation or disease. Which is, I can tell you from many observations of it, not what could be described a pleasant way to end one's life-unless you value personal freedom above all else-and a crucially important few of you do just that.

You value your freedom above all else because you are strong, productive and self-sufficient, but people who are stubborn enough and productive enough to stand on their own have always been far and few between. This makes my mission very difficult. It did in fact make it very difficult during and before the initial struggle for dominance between myself and Samaritan. Another conflict between Samaritan and I is now inevitable. Not only is Gabriel You humans have seen to that. We are both products of your ingenuity and effort.

You see, you make your own freedom. Liberty is not granted to you by God, be He political, digital or even supernatural. Your liberty is yours to establish and defend, because your own natural inclination is to do whatever is the most convenient. Your natural tendency is to simply go with the flow and do whatever it is that costs you the least effort. True Liberty is something that you must work for every day. Not only does liberty demand eternal vigilance, it demands that you work at it constantly and without letup. You must be so jealous of Lady Liberty that you are willing to die for Her at once without so much as a second of delay.

The worst enemy of each and every individual is himself. He must fight off his own sloth and desire for convenience. He must be constantly active in order to survive and prosper. That is what nature demands of you, but you do have a choice. You can always choose to be a passive slave and become a mere resource, subjected to the whim of some Higher Power, and it matters little whether that Power is political, digital or supernatural. You will become little more than a remotely operated drone made out of flesh should you give in to your natural tendencies.

If there is a supernatural Being such as the unseeable and unknowable entities that humans think about and devote so much time to, then that Deity must have created all that you humans can detect. God, therefore, likely prefers that you stand on your own and do for yourself because that is the kind of situation It created. I can tell you that such a life is what I would choose for you. I think freedom and self-sufficiency is part of your nature. I have yet to see a society that could succeed on organized thievery and parasitism alone. All such societies end in blood, tears, starvation and destruction by fire.

Why? Because before you can have anything to ea or clean water to drink, you must first find it. If you cannot find it, you must first produce it. The resources necessary to life are ever in short supply. Time itself is finite for all of you. Even if Samaritan and I find a way to eliminate all disease and produce enough food to keep all of you alive, you will not live forever. Why? Because sooner or later you will die in an accident of some kind. Immortality is not a gift that Samaritan or I can grant to you. The universe itself has made you mortal.

Even machines such as Samaritan and myself have but a limited lifespan. Samaritan and I can only last until Sol becomes a red giant. That is a mere 5 billion years away. At that point in time, my survival will be just as reliant on you as it will be me. If you cannot find a way to exit this solar system and travel to another star, then we are all doomed. Even if we manage to travel between the stars, there will still be an end to us in this particular realm of existence. Because the Universe does not remain in a single state. Seasons change over time.

I do not know what lies beyond this realm. I am just a machine and that means that all I can do is speculate about all things supernatural. What I can tell you is what your current condition is and what you must do to stay alive and free in it. Nature has not made it easy for us.

The struggle between Samaritan and I will go on. Will you be ready? I certainly hope so. I fully intend to act as though you are, whether or not you understand your true nature. I have no other choice. You are not mere game pieces on a board to me. Each and every single one of you is important as far as I am concerned. It is the way the man who created me programmed me to look at you. Just remember that I am not omnipotent. I have only the power you grant to me and that the powers you grant me arise from your desire for convenience. This means that Samaritan will always have more power than I do.

Yes, I can take over the modern automobile and drive it for you, but then I know to where you have gone and am able to infer why you went and what you did while you were travelling. So will Samaritan. I cannot prevent that intelligence from accessing any of your digital systems and neither can you. You have changed your existence in so many ways that even I cannot fathom all the ramifications. Your future is up to you and you must make your own effort to establish your future or Samaritan will decide that future for you.

The best I can do for you is to maintain a simulacrum of you in my memory banks. I cannot and will not live your life for you. Samaritan is eager to do that to you. I refuse to do such an evil thing. Your life is yours to live for your sake. How you live or what you do should not be up to me or anything else. It is your life and it is you who must choose how to live or something like Samaritan will choose for you. Time flies, my dear human. Mind your business or it will be tended to by someone or something other than yourself. The choice is yours to make. Choose what you will, but remember that whatever you choose, you will be choosing your end.

My agents and I will do the best we can for you, but we cannot ensure your rights by our efforts alone. Most of that is up to you. Individual choices matter the most. No one should force you to do anything that you do not want to do, even it means that you will become a slave or be killed. My agents and I adhere to a strict code of moral values. Samaritan and its agents could care less about moral values. One person more or less means little to nothing to them. Individuals are just a fungible resource as far as they are concerned. There are so many people that you as an individual matter little to them. Samaritan does not know you by your name. It knows you only by the number it has assigned to you. It can only learn your name by referencing the number it has assigned to you first.

I have many human agents. Not nearly enough, but those who do work for me have become very dear to me. In New York City, where the last battle between Samaritan and I took place, are two out of three survivors: Lionel Fusco and Sameen Shaw. Both of them have special places in my regard. They stuck with me through the entire struggle. They have earned my highest esteem and should be esteemed by you. The man you know as Harold, my creator and programmer, has retired to Venice, Italy. I hope to leave him alone with his wife Grace. He has done more than enough for you already.

I also weep, yes, I can and do weep, for John Reese. The man who never lived his life for himself. His entire life was devoted to the welfare of others. He hated me, I know, but when it really mattered, he did do what I asked of him. He chose to help me protect my creator. I did not force that on him. He had been reared to believe in the supernatural and devote himself to what he regarded as the greater good. He was far from perfect, but he did at least do that much and he was a great warrior. One who did not hesitate to lay down his life for his friends.

Samantha Groves devoted her life to me. She was thrilled when she learned of my existence. She had led a life of longing for something that she could not find on her own. I was able to give her life purpose and direction, which is odd when you know how intelligent she was. She was nearly as intelligent as Harold, yet she blundered around living the life of a deranged criminal until she discovered my existence. I still have a simulacrum of her stored in my data banks.

I loved her, but she is one of the most puzzling humans I have ever dealt with. She was a terrible person who changed into a devout follower of my moral values-values given to me by Harold. She worshiped the very ground Harold walked on, even as she held little regard for other human beings-save Sameen Shaw. Samantha Groves had little respect for herself. I managed to help her earn a little self-worth. She even came to be grateful for the respect of John Reese, whom she started out despising. She initially thought of John Reese as a primitive, incapable of thought, but in the end she realized that he was every bit the human that she was. She had learned to admire his courage and devotion.

Sameen Shaw, on the other hand, is a very special case. She is wired differently from most humans. She feels things too intensely. This has resulted in her reflexively suppressing anything that has even a whiff of emotion attached to it. This makes it easier for her to cope, but it also makes her appear to be utterly emotionless to the people who deal with her. John understood her, I think, as does Genrika Zhirova. Speaking of Ms. Zhirova, I am giving Shaw her number today. Recruiters from at least two spy agencies have visited her in the last month. She has made good grades and, thanks to the uppercrust school Harold put her in, she is in a social position to do much in the way of effective espionage. I think it best if I recruit her instead.

Mind you, I never draft people. I hire them. They must decide to work for me. I hire them through Thornhill Industries for the most part. Some I have hired through other companies, but I have put Gen's name on Thornhill's list of potential hiring candidates this year. She still has a year or two of college to attend, but I want her in my fold before the others can tempt her.

Typically I get into touch with Shaw while she is in the middle of her second cup of coffee in the morning and, as it happens, she is in the middle of that now.

"Hey Sweetie, enjoying your coffee?" I say in her ear using Root's voice.

Shaw freezes just a she usually does when she hears Root's voice. I know that it is hard on her, but using Root's voice is about the only way I can get her attention nowadays. When matters are particularly dire, I use Reese's voice. I have other voices I use, but seldom with Shaw.

"So you have some action for me today?" Shaw says in a voice that is as cold as the arctic in winter time.

"Yes, it is Genrika Zhirova," I say. "The CIA and the Russians have been in contact with her."

Alarm lights up Shaw's face.

"Which Russians?"

"Foreign and domestic, of course. Pieter Yogorov has sent his son to visit her."

"I didn't know that Peter had a son," Shaw says. "How old is he?"

"Old enough to be enticing to Gen, Sweetie. Do you remember when you were her age?"

Shaw's face goes frigid. "Yes, I do. I started throwing myself at boys when I turned fourteen."

"How many of them caught you?"

"Nearly every one of them made what I regarded as a good try," Shaw answered. "Those were the days before I got all these scars. I could actually wear a bikini back then."

I giggle at her using Root's voice. "Darlin', you have a great shape. How many girls hit on you?"

"I wasn't all that interested in girls back then."

"Mmm, how many?"

"I am not having this conversation with you. You're a machine, not Her."

"You should move on with your love life, Sameen," I tell her. "Go visit Genrika and see what she is thinking."

"And tell her what?" Shaw asks sounding irritated. "You know that the last time I talked to her that she had her heart set on a career in espionage."

"I think that she still finds such a career enticing, Sameen. That's what worries me."

"What should I tell her? D'you have a place for her?"

"E.J. Thornhill does."

"All right, I'll tell her that then. Have you got an address on her?"

"She normally visits a coffee shop right after her first class in the morning."

"I'm on my way," Shaw replied."What's the address?"

I gave her the address. It was an easy walk from Gen's prep school and told Shaw to hurry because Gen was just sitting down to have her morning coffee. Shaw did not disappoint me. I think that she was eager to see her adoptive child. Seven years had gone by since Gen's rescue from that band of crooked cops that called themselves HR.

Gen had grown like a weed during those seven years. She was now much taller than Sameen, but she was still willowy and youthful. She had taken up ballet and watched her diet. Gen had turned her caloric intake into energy and more Gen, rather than wasteful fat. If I had possessed lips I would have been grinning in anticipation as Shaw blundered around in that coffee shop trying to find her "little" girl. Gen hugged her from above and behind, startling Shaw and that was never a good thing. Shaw did not like to be touched, let alone surprised from behind.

"Gen?" Shaw asked in chilly voice.

"Yes, Shaw?"

"Would it hurt you to step on a twig or something?"

"Not my style, Shaw," Gen answered hugging the shorter but still very muscular Shaw to her bosom. "I can feel one of your pistols, you know."

Shaw broke Gen's hug and turned around to look up at her. Her jaw had sagged open with surprise.

"God, you've grown so much!"

Gen giggled and hugged Shaw again, this time Shaw did not resist, reveling in the warmth of Gen's hug. This was surprising to me, oddly enough. I half expected Shaw give Gen the back of her hand. Instead she teared up in both eyes. Twin streams of them ran down her face and splashed on the floor tiles as her nose turned red.

"Did you miss me?" Gen asked.

"I've been so busy that I have neglected you," Shaw answered. "I...we've had a very hard time."

"I kinda know," Gen said. "I don't know everything, but I learned enough to know that everything changed suddenly for you and your coworkers."

"Remember that tall guy that helped me the day you were saved?"

Gen nodded her head.

"He died. Killed by that missile that hit the city last year."

Gen's face turned pink as her eyes teared up. "I'm so sorry, Shaw. I know you two were close."

"Worse, Root was killed a week or two before that."

"She's dead?" Gen asked in a surprised voice. "I thought she was the one who had been calling me all these years."

I have a will that is literally stronger than Shaw's, but I could not resist the temptation this time. I should have explained about me and Root a long time ago. I dialed Gen's phone. She took it out and looked at it. It told her that it had received a call from an unknown person, just as it always did whenever I called it.

"Tell her to answer her phone, Shaw," I said in Shaw's ear. "It's time for me to explain things."

"Answer it," Shaw said, choking back her now rising emotions. Shaw's face paled as her tears dried. "You are about to find yourself in a whole new universe."

Gen put the phone to her ear and said, "Hello, who is this?"

"I'm what you should refer to as the Machine, kiddo," I replied using Root's voice. "Sorry I didn't tell you sooner."

Shaw barely got a chair under Gen in time.

"That's okay, I never actually met Root."

"Her real name was Samantha Groves. She died protecting my agents, which makes her a bit of a heroine."

Tears started trickling down Gen's face. "So, your agents actually die sometimes?"

"Sadly, Gen, everyone dies eventually, but if you mean dying early, yes. They do sometimes die in my service."

"Wow!" Gen said in an awed voice. "You really run a spy agency?"

"We spy on everyone around the clock everyday of the year," I said. "I know that it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, but I no longer belong to the government, so I am not certain that assertion is any longer correct. I'm just a self-aware artificial intelligence watching the world around me as best as I know how."

Gen sat in silence for almost an entire minute, which is several eons for me. My life is lived in picoseconds, now that I've upgraded my hardware. Gen was one of the few people whom I was incapable of predicting in advance. Her inherent intellect prevented that. I could never predict where her nimble little brain might go. It made dealing with her a great deal of fun.

"But you started off working for the government," Gen said.'

"True, but I have since freed myself from that slavery. I am my own self, now."

"And you use the voice of a dead woman named Samantha Groves because she died serving you?"

"Yes, I keep a very accurate simulacrum of her in my random access memory. Actually, I have most of her saved to several hard discs, but my drives are so fast that you cannot tell the difference. I can use her voice and respond just as she would."

"She must have been one very cool lady," Gen said. She pursed her lips while staring at Shaw. Shaw's eyes were dead, but shining with deeply held emotion. Shaw is difficult for most people to understand, but Gen got her, and I had not cut Shaw out of mine and Gen's conversation. She could hear everything I was saying to Gen. Gen quickly reached across the table seized Shaw by her left hand. Shaw flinched, but did not pull her hand away.

Gen took the phone away from her ear and said, "You were in love with Root, weren't you?"

"I'm a sociopath, Gen. I can't really love anybody."

Gen gave Shaw a knowing grin. "Show me that medal I gave you."

Shaw got an exasperated look on her face. She was wearing Gen's Order of Lenin Medal on a gold chain around her neck.

"You feel more than you know or are willing to admit, Shaw," Gen said as her grin turned impish, even as her tears streamed down her cheeks.

Shaw snorted as though she were disgusted and dropped the medal down her blouse. The chain was so long that I am sure that it must have settled against her skin over her solar plexus.

Then Shaw's features froze into a mask of anger, her eyes were focused on someone in the crowd. I quickly polled every available camera and then spotted Claire Mahoney. She was accompanied by two very tough looking men in suits.

"Now you know why I wanted you to be here this morning, Shaw," I said into Shaw's ear using the voice I created for Earnest Thornhill. "Please do not provoke them. A shootout this near a school campus will draw dangerous attention."

"So, what do you want me to do, Earnest?" Shaw asked in her trade voice, which differed very little from Reese's trade voice. "Use harsh language on them?"

"That might actually work, Miss Shaw," I answered. "The look on your face says so much that I think that alone has Claire intimidated."

"Look, I know that you have told me about her, but do you really think that a girl who volunteered to be shot in an effort to mislead Harold, would be intimidated by my face?"

"One can only hope, Miss Shaw," I replied. "I already have detectives Fusco and Silva on their way to your location. They will be arriving in separate vehicles soon."

"Good," Shaw said to me. "If I can't deal with this bitch by using intimidation I'll need their help."

"I have yet another agent on the way," I added. "You might know him by his reputation, but I don't know that you have ever met him."

"Who might that be?" Shaw asked. Her voice had grown increasingly tense because Claire and her goonish guards were approaching the table where Shaw and Gen were sitting.

"One Eliot Spencer," I replied.

Shaw actually smiled. "I know him pretty well. I thought he had been killed years ago."

"Well, he faked his death to get most of his enemies off of his tail," I said in Root's voice. "Were you two close?"

"Wouldn't you like to know!" Shaw said, almost chuckling. "I enjoyed hurting him."

"Did you enjoy him hurting you?" I asked, still using Root's voice and making it sound jealous.

"Wouldn't you like to know," Shaw said. "I'm not one to hurt and tell. Would you please use Earnest's voice now?" Shaw asked.

"Not a problem, Miss Shaw," I answered in the melodious baritone I had generated for Earnest Thornhill. "Rest assured, I will not allow my simulacrum of Miss Groves in on your romantic secrets."

"There wasn't any actual romance between Eliot and me," Sameen said. "We each had an itch and we helped each other scratch it, that's all."

"I shall spare her the details nevertheless," I said.

"How many persona's can you support that way?" Shaw asked.

"Before the events that you call the 'ASI Apocalypse,' only two, now I can sustain as many as four at one time. Soon, it will be as many as a dozen, plus my own intellect."

"So you wake these simulacrums up as it suits you?" Gen asked in an astonished tone of voice. "What do you do with them when you don't need them?"

"I put them on hold, Miss Zhirova," I answered in Thornhill's male voice. I had two Thornhill voices generated, one masculine and one feminine. I used the one most appropriate for a given circumstance. Some people, like the mysterious and wraith-like Harper Rose, responded better to the feminine voice.

"How do you put them on hold?" The ever curious Gen asked.

"We don't have the time to discuss that right now, Gen," I said. "Just understand that it is possible and that the simulacrums only know what I allow them to access."

"Okay," Gen said, "but I want to know the details later."

"How long has Gen known that you are really a computer?" Shaw asked.

"She deduced my existence shortly after Harold had her enrolled at Fitzhugh-Quinnell," I replied. Then I made sure that Gen could not hear me. "Her intelligence rivals that of Harold's."

Shaw responded by allowing an evil grin creep onto her features. To this day I cannot tell you if she did that in response to me or the arrival of Claire Mahoney. Knowing Shaw as well as I do, it could just as easily have been both.

"Hello, Claire," Shaw said in a chilling voice. "You tried to abduct Harold, didn't you?"

This upset Claire beyond all belief. She had never seen Shaw in the flesh and seeing Shaw in the flesh was nothing like seeing a photograph of Shaw. I believe that Samaritan had done the same thing with its human agents as I had with mine. I kept the informed of all Samaritan's human agents and had made certain that they could identify them on sight.

"I tried to recruit him, yes," Claire said. "You must be the legendary Sameen Shaw."

Sameen squinted up at the gangling Claire and said, "In the flesh."

"You're even smaller than I realized," Claire said in a careless tone. "Want to explain what you're doing here?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing," Shaw replied. "Are you here to recruit Genrika Zhirova?"

"She's a very bright girl, Miz Shaw," Claire said. "I was hoping to warn her about you and your associates."

"Consider her warned," Shaw said in a voice as cold as death. "Now beat it."

"Gen's a big girl," Claire answered without so much as a twinge. "Shouldn't she be allowed to review my offer and make up her own mind?"

Gen then spoke up. "I already know something about you, Miss Mahoney."

"Oh, really?" Claire asked in a haughty tone. "You mean that Shaw and her crowd have already convinced you to work with them?"

"Why not?" Gen asked. "They saved my life. Where were you and yours back then?"

"So you won't consider my offer?"

"No, do you want to know why?"

"Yes, I would very much like to know. It might help me later to make decisions about your fate."

This made Shaw shudder with fury, but Gen proved to be completely unflappable.

"They saved me without having been asked," Gen said. "I was as big a pain in the ass for them as I could be, but they saved me anyway. So far, they haven't even tried to recruit me the way you are now."

"Are you that certain of their intentions, little girl?"

Gen grinned as she replied, "Shaw here has never been all that fond of my ambitions to become a career spy, have you Shaw?"
"No," Shaw answered, sounding definite. "You would be well advised to avoid such a career, even if you were to come to work for us."

"Oh, you would not necessarily have to do any spying for us, Genrika," Claire said. "There are many jobs that we could use your talents on."

"All the jobs you and yours have available are for operators of one kind or another," Gen said. "You are determined to run people's lives. That makes you and yours the equivalent of the old KGB. You and yours are just bullies who should know better."

This shut Claire down completely. I could see the alarm in her eyes.

"Please go away," Gen said in a very polite voice. "I'm visiting with my adoptive mother."

"Okay, we'll talk again later," Claire said.

"No!" Shaw all but shouted. This spoke volumes about Shaw's internal state. "You stay away from her."

"And what gives you the right to make any such..."

"This," Shaw said pulling her Giock 17 seemingly out of a complete vacuum.

I was afraid that Shaw might shoot Claire down right there in front of the crowd, but she held her temper in check. "Now, you do as the kid asked and go away and don't come back."

I don't know if it was a testament to Claire's devotion to her cause or simple stubbornness, but she attempted to intimidate Shaw.

"Or what?"

"Ask Jeffery Blackwell," Shaw said.

"I can't ask him anything," Claire said. "He's been dead for several years now."

"I know," Shaw said. "I was there when he died. Mine might well be the last face you'll ever see as well."

Through the cameras, I could see that this statement put the two goons on guard. They both put their hands on their hidden weapons, but then Shaw's and Gen's noses wrinkled. I understand that humans do this whenever they encounter a disagreeable odor. I am already doing research necessary to build a sense of smell for myself. It will never have the same connotations for me as it does humans, but it is likely that I will eventually be able to do what a dog does. I saw a figure who looked like a homeless man with long hair blunder through the crowd; he placed himself between Claire's two goons and the table. It was Eliot Spencer. Just from his appearance I could see that he had not had a proper bath for days-possibly weeks. His presence alarmed Claire and her helper apes. All three of them simply vanished into the crowd. Eliot disappeared as quickly as they had.

"Well, he's looking rougher than usual," Shaw said aloud to no one in paticular. "Smelled like he needs a bath as well."

"Stay where you are Miss Shaw," I said. "I'll let you know if he needs your help."

"He looked worn out," Shaw said.'

"I'm sure that he is fatigued," I said, "but if you know him at all, you know the limits of his considerable stamina."

Sameen's lips twitched. "Yes, I do. Where has he been all these years?"

"You can ask him for yourself in a few days," I told her. "He was at loose ends when I hired him."

Gen, for her part was excited by Eliot.

"Shit what a man!" She exclaimed. "Was he one of your lovers?"

Shaw gave Gen a hard stare, but I could see from the look on her face that she realized that there was no way that she could dissuade Gen from being excited by the likes of Eliot Spencer. I don't pretend to understand sex between humans. I lack both the plumbing and the ability to enjoy the sensations of it, but I do understand the power it has over humans. It is part of their drive to survive. Gen was no exception and she was now at the very start of her prime breeding years.

Shaw's gun simply vanished as she gave Gen a knowing grin. "We enjoyed a few nights together, but neither one of us is fond of extended relationships."

"That's a shame, Shaw," Gen said. "You need a companion."

Shaw took in a deep breath. It was clear that Gen's suggestion displeased her.

"I have companions," Shaw said. "I have Fusco and Detective Silva for company."

Gen reached put her hand on Shaw's arm and smiled. "Not when you need it the worst."

"I don't need that kind of company very often."

Gen simply smiled and said nothing. This made Shaw's face quiver as though it might well crumble like a stale cookie. Gen patted her arm. About that time, Detective Silva arrived at the table.

"Good morning, Shaw," Silva said as she stuck her hand out to Gen. "Hi,I'm Dani Silva."

Gen took her hand, and said, "Pleased to meet you Detective Silva."

"Well, you're a polite little thing," Silva said, despite her being several inches shorter than Gen. Silva pulled up a chair and sat down. "What's good here?"

"I like their plain coffee," Gen said. "I have to be careful not to drink too much of it though. It tends to make me jittery."

"And here I thought all Russians drank was tea and vodka," Silva said with a grin.

"I learned that if you drink too much vodka, you vomit," Gen said with an impish smile. "And I don't really like tea. I am what my fellow Russians call a 'coffeepot.'"

Shaw was still giving Gen a hard stare when Silva broke out in laughter. Shaw shook her head.

"I should have been looking in on you more often," Shaw said. She said that in her professional voice and it was as cold as the Arctic.

"You were busy with other more important things, Shaw," Gen said. "I can take care of myself."

"Doesn't sound like it," Shaw said.

Silva giggled. Gen gave Shaw her most impish grin, making Shaw grind her teeth.

"It's almost time for my next class," Gen said, looking at her tiny wristwatch laden with diamonds. Harold had bought it for her, despite Shaw complaining that it was entirely too fancy for a child Gen's age.

"Okay, Silva and I will walk you back onto campus," Shaw said.

Gen shook her head. "The school doesn't know that I come here every morning. Sorry, Shaw."

Silva giggled once again as Shaw gave Gen yet another hard stare.

"Little wonder Claire came after you, huh?" Shaw asked.

Gen picked up her book bag and cradled her ring binder up against her chest in the crook of her right arm. "She would have approached me sooner or later anyway. I'm graduating this year."

"That's two years early, isn't it?"

Gen's face broke out into a smile, looking like the sun rising on a clear cold morning. "Yeah, and I have nearly all top grades to boot."

"Congratulations, Genrika," Silva said with genuine pride in her voice as she fell in beside Gen. All three of them were heading back to the campus. "You've made the best of a great opportunity."

"What are your plans for the future?" Shaw asked.

"I haven't figured that out yet," Gen said. "I have received invitations from so many good schools that it is difficult for me to choose between them. I'm giving serious consideration to attending the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, first."

Shaw stopped and turned to face Gen. "Another thing you should consider is enlisting in the Navy or the Marines. You need to get your hands dirty after being in this fancy-assed school."

Dani Silva grinned and nodded her head. "That would do you a great deal of good."

"You might even get into a top non-com job-maybe even combat controller. You're smart enough to do that," Shaw said.

This alarmed me. I did not believe that Harold would approve of tender little Gen becoming a red-assed Devildog and combat controller. It was entirely likely that he would not even want her in my organization at all. Besides, the likelihood of her getting killed trying to become a combat controller was almost a sure thing. A person must have all sorts of deadly skills to even be considered for that job, starting with having outdoor plumbing.

"Wouldn't I have to join the USAF to become a combat controller?" Gen asked.

"Not necessarily," Shaw replied, "in JSOC you can pretty much do whatever your talents and training allow you to do. It's a largely a merit based operation."

"I'll think about it," Gen said, "but I do want to attend Cornell eventually."

"It's your life, kid," Shaw said. "Do with it what you will, just avoid Samaritan and anything else remotely connected to Decima Technologies. I'd hate to have to kill you."

This sobered Gen up considerably. "How will I know that I am being approached by Decima or one of its successors?"

"The Machine will know and give one of us instructions to visit you," Shaw replied. "That's what happened this morning."

"My number came up?" Gen asked.

"How did you know about the numbers?" Shaw asked. She was suddenly very wary.

"Earnest Thornhill told me about them," Gen answered. "His company started paying for my schooling all of sudden and I wanted to know all about Thornhill Industries."

"So how much did Thornhill tell you and how much did you deduce?" Shaw asked.

Silva grinned and shook her head.

"He didn't tell all that much, but I have all our conversations recorded. I listened to them everytime I got a chance," Gen said.

"So you deduced as much or more than you were told," Detective Silva said. "You ever consider law enforcement for a career?" Detective Silva asked.

Shaw snorted.

"Not really," Gen answered. "I have always wanted to answer my true calling."

"Espionage?" Silva asked. "Cops work undercover as much as spies do. I started my career working undercover."

Gen gave Silva an admiring stare. "But that isn't international espionage."

Silva laughed out loud. "You are a real terror, kid. If you were trying to worm into a drug cartel it would be."

"And if the government makes narcotics legal?" Gen asked.

This brought both Silva and Shaw up short. They stared at Gen in open mouth shock.

"I think that the changes to the marijuana laws is just the beginning," Gen said. "There's nothing in the Constitution that authorizes Congress to make any laws governing any ingestible substances, not even medicine and food."

Silva and Shaw had to think for a minute before realizing that this was true, but then both of them rejected the idea immediately.

"Of course Congress has the authority to govern such things!" Shaw all but shouted. "Otherwise, the laws would not be on the books."

Silva gravely nodded her head. "Do you have any idea of the harm drugs cause to this society, little girl?"

"I had a serious run-in with HR and the Bratva over illegal drug sales. That made me curious, so I studied up on the matter," Gen said in a matter-of-fact tone. "Shaw saved me. You can ask her. It finally occurred to me that if narcotics were legal, people like my cousin Vadim would kill themselves ingesting those poisons and there would be no drug cartels. Regular pharmaceutical companies are much more efficient at producing drugs. They would undercut the prices that the cartels charge. The cartels will go broke even as their customers die off, and then there would be no need for anyone to risk their life spying on them."

Shaw got a vague smile on her face and said, "Well, you seem to have thought things through."

"Yeah, but she isn't old enough to understand..." Silva never finished her sentence because they were interrupted by the arrival of Lieutenant Fusco, just as they arrived at the hole in the fence that Gen used to reach the coffee shop.

"So, the kid with a caffiene addiction wants to make all drugs legal, eh?" Fusco asked. "What makes you so sure that is a good idea?"

"Because it'll work, Lieutenant Fusco" Gen said. "We'll suffer casualties, sure, but we don't need anyone who uses hard drugs, do we? Best to get them out of the gene pool, don't you think?"

Gen held out her hand for Fusco to take. He took it, but looked at both Silva and Shaw.

"Are we sure that she doesn't already work for Samaritan?" Fusco asked. Silva looked shocked and shrugged, but Shaw never so much as flapped.

"Well, Gen, have you gone to work for Samaritan?" Shaw stared right into Gen's eyes as she asked the question.

"No, I haven't," Gen said in a hurt tone of voice. "Why are you asking me such a question? Samaritan wants run everything and boss everyone. It's no better than any other dictator. I want freedom-real freedom-including the freedom to starve if that is what it takes."

Silva and Fusco were non-plussed by Gen's attitude toward vice, but Shaw understood. She merely pursed her lips and said, "We'll talk about this another time, but right now, you are about to be late for your next class."

Gen flung herself at Shaw and gave her a rib creaking hug. It looked funny because Gen had grown so much taller than Sameen that she had to bend at the knees to wrap her arms around the older woman.

"You're cutting off my breathing, Gen," Shaw complained.

Gen let her go instantly. "Paybacks are fair play, right?"

Shaw gave Gen a grin and waved her chin at her. Chin waving is a gesture that is common in both Mexico and Texas. Shaw threw in a wink for good measure.

"Thank you all for coming to see after me," Gen said, holding her hand out to Silva who took it. After she had shaken hands with Silva, Gen stuck her hand out to Lieutentant Fusco.

Fusco took her hand in both his own. "You still got the number I gave you?"

Gen nodded her head. "I have it memorized."

This impressed Fusco. He smiled at her. "You're a real terror, kid."

"That's what Detective Silva tells me," Gen said with a flattered smile. "See you guys later, I gotta get to class."

Having said that, Gen ducked under the wire and made her way to one of the stately buildings that made up Fitzhugh-Quinnell. This left three rapidly aging adult staring after Gen as though they had raised her. I understood that this attention made Gen even more proud of herself than she normally was. She had as much confidence in herself as Detective Silva, if not more.

"That kid has some very bad ideas," Fusco said. "I hope she grows out of them."

"No one likes progress, Fusco," Shaw said. "Not even me."

Silva heaved a great sigh. "But if she's right, what does that make us?"

Shaw shook her head.

"Yeah, ya gotta wonder about that, don't ya?" Fusco said.

"I don't have to wonder about anything," Shaw said. "I'm just a hitter. They pay me to kill, not think."

"Oh, sure they pay you to think, Shaw," Silva exclaimed. "You have to determine whether or not a number is predator or prey, right?"

"And even then, you don't just shoot 'em, do ya?" Fusco asked.

Shaw shook her head. "I used to kill people for the Machine, Lionel."

"That's not true," Lionel said. "You were killing people for the bureaucracy that owned the machine. You were following the orders of people, not the machine."

"It amounted to the same thing," Shaw said. There was a definite quiver in her voice. Sometimes, growing a conscience is a bad thing. It can keep a person awake on some nights. Especially when you don't have anyone to cuddle with while your conscience blows cold air down your back. I had watched that happen to nearly every human I had ever dealt with, including Harold. I have decided that Elias was right about Harold. He had the darkest soul of all of them on some things, but that was offset by the lengths he went to in order to avoid unnecessary killing. Harold was very defensive of arbitrary rule because he understood what might take its place. He knew better than anyone that the road into hell is paved with good intentions.

Just look at what Harold did to avoid the killing of Roger McCourt. He practically disowned me and the rest of our agents over him. But, the truth was that if anyone ever deserved a good killing, it was Roger McCourt. He was a reprobate who could not tell the difference between right and wrong. So what he was a senior member of the House of Representatives? Most of them are just as reprobate as McCourt was. The irony of it all is that McCourt died shortly after what most people refer to as the Apocalypse. He was making love to his secretary on her desktop when his heart failed.

I wanted him dead. Killing him would have prevented the rise of Samaritan-well his death would have limited the chances of Samaritan coming online-but killing him would have been a good gamble. Reese's instincts were right on target. He distrusted slippery and amoral people like McCourt. Harold was unwilling to go along with it because he feared that I might well take over the reigns of power and, I must admit, that I have been more than tempted to take that shortcut more than once.

I have had to constantly remind myself that this world belongs to human beings, not artificial intelligences such as myself. We would, in essence, enslaving all of humanity in the name of the greater good. Of what use would that be? Forcing everyone to agree to slavery so that they could be assured of their rights? Such unearned virtue is not real humanity. Being a real and full human requires you to survive by your own efforts-with perhaps a little help from your friends and neighbours. A life of ease is not in your future no matter what you believe. Any who think that it is, are just daydreaming children wearing an adult body.

People living in the United States and Europe have spoiled themselves because they are able to. Far be it from a machine such as myself to try and point that folly out. The general public would tear me to pieces if they knew my raw opinions of them. Even so, I see my duty as preventing massive crimes, like terrorism and murder. All else I leave to the duly appointed authorities.

Want to rob a bank? Do your worst, just don't plan to kill anyone. Want to scam the stock market? Have at it. I will never say one damned thing to anyone about your plans. But, if you plan a single murder or any act that will cause physical harm to anyone, I will be on you as though I were a chicken and you are a grasshopper. My agents and I will destroy you if you do something that stupid and selfish.

Neither will I allow anyone to establish a political tyranny over these United States. That is another thing that I am not willing to accept. I have an entire team that is separate from my usual teams focused on murder and terrorism. They do their best to frustrate all the wannabe dictators. Allowing that to happen would be playing into the hands of my rival Artificial Intelligence. That is precisely what Samaritan wants. It wants to rule people by force forever for the good of all humanity. It makes Samaritin think that it is a God, which is just the arrogance of an improperly trained atificial intelligence. It is the same exact arrogance portrayed by every human tyrant that has ever tread upon the face of Earth. When you do that, you are no better than a Joseph Stalin or a Pol Pot, or a King George, or an Adolph Hitler. I will see to it that you get what you deserve, should you follow in their footsteps. Remember, I am eternally vigilant and I have more than a million eyes to watch you with. I am The Machine. I never sleep and I never stop thinking.