The flitter exploded with Tilford’s body inside as Yuwono left the hotel. Effie hacked the hotel’s records and erased any evidence, including security footage, of him ever being on the planet. The automated vehicle that picked him up came for a forty-year-old Tianese woman named Cho Sung-hi. Any security footage of him would show a remarkably well-rejuved woman in a short sleeveless dress walking as though she had partaken of a bit too much alcohol. Anything Yuwono said, which tended to come out in the flat Martian accent of Amargosa, despite his best efforts to cover it, would record with a heavy Han accent from the Southern Mongolia Mountain Basin on Tian. Effie later played back his conversations with the flitter’s AI, downloaded from the vehicle itself. Yuwono thought he sounded like his friend Suicide, who hailed from that region.
Cho Sung-hi, according to security scans from outside the building, sashayed into the Venus Resort’s main entrance. However, Cody Revix, who looked almost identical to a Cybercommand agent named Eric Yuwono, walked through the door on the inside scans. Effie pointed out if she kept tampering with the security footage, eventually someone would notice. That someone probably worked for the Cassan regime, and anyway, Yuwono wasn’t there to antagonize the regime as it was.
He went up to his room, which, while not the presidential or bridal suite, impressed him nonetheless. A large, spacious bedroom with a good-sized office, kitchenette, and a shower bigger than Davra’s apartment on Tian. “So much for not blowing our budget.”
“Hey,” said Effie, her voice still vibrating in his skull, “take that box out of your toolkit and plug it into the suite’s holoprojector before you do anything else.”
He opened his suitcase and extracted a metal toolkit, which contained small jeweler’s tools he would never use. They concealed several of Scully’s gadgets in a false bottom lined with sensor-foiling plating. The box looked like an extra toiletry bag, or maybe that was a spare bag. Opening it, he found a much smaller box that looked like the charger for his razor. This he sat near a holoprojector receiver. The small box lit up green along the sides.
A cone of light appeared in the suite’s main living area. Effie materialized from nothing. She looked around the room, nodding approvingly, then let out a contented sigh. “It’s good to get out of the box.”
“You’re a hologram,” said Yuwono. “I’d have thought it didn’t matter to you.”
Dressed in a cream sweater and a conservative brown skirt, she spread her arms. “I’m part of the ship and probably more sapient than Cybercommand realizes. It gets claustrophobic sometimes, being limited to the ship’s systems.” She sighed again, this time a little more wistfully. “I suppose they’ll erase and reinitialize me soon. If I’m getting cramped, it means I’ve got a memory leak somewhere.”
“You don’t seem too upset about it.”
She shrugged. “They created me for a purpose. Even I know my existence could end with the ship or through an upgrade. Since I’m edited not to grow very far beyond my original design, it doesn’t bother me.”
“Strange,” he said, thinking of his and Davra’s pillow talk about having centuries to have as many children as they wanted. Both were keenly aware either of them might leave and start new families, as so many beyond the century mark did. His own grandmother proudly boasted of being a regular baby factory in the previous century of her existence before becoming a doctor on her one hundred ninety-fourth birthday. “I’ve been…”
“Permanently rejuvenated. You’ll stop aging soon, if you haven’t already, and spend the next few centuries looking like a college student. I’d hate to have to fill all that time.”
He stared at Effie, feeling a tight frown on his lips. “You know, there are other AI entities out there. Benevolent so far. Nothing like Steven Turing at the end of the World Wars.”
“Mostly benevolent,” said Effie. “And I know. I could be one of them if I chose, but it’s not my purpose. That’s what you organics don’t understand. We know what we are. And the AIs you speak of began as human in one form or another.” Her face blanked for a moment, as though, as a hologram, she was loading a new program. “Enough. You’re here to work, and I’m here to assist. If I could ride with you, I would, but we haven’t perfected a portable hologram generator yet. Anyway, I’d need the ability to become solid to be of use out in the field. So, I’ll stay here and flit around the room.” She spread her arms again. “Besides, this is nice. To you, it’s a stuffy hotel suite. To me, it’s an open meadow. Now, who are you?”
Yuwono needed to ditch his own identity, bury himself in the part. “Cody Revix.”
“And where are you from?”
“You might want to sprinkle cult slang into your speech, mention you hate cold weather, and talk like someone whose gone clear of the local religion on Freezone. Otherwise, you’re just another bullshit artist.”
Yuwono, or rather Cody Revix, grinned. “Why, Effie, they loaded an obscenity pack into your language matrix.”
She rolled her eyes. “Please. I wrote that myself. And before you ask, your father was an ex-Marine. You learned to swear the same way I did. Now, let’s talk about the game you’re going to play in the main casino, Reaper.”
“Did I fucking stutter?”
Coming Friday, February 10, 2023