Chapter 3. The Face of Deletion
Updated: Sep 13
Nicolai walked through the open door and closed it behind him. The indistinguishable chatter of voices speaking over each other turned instantly into frigid silence. He was well known for his lack of tolerance, so not a word was necessary to gain control over the room. The CTO Management Team has been well conditioned to the modus operandi of their leader.
Nicolai stopped at the head of the table, laid both of his hands on the black leather headrest of the main seat, and remained quiet. His face carried more than the usual sobriety. It wasn't the gray suit and blue tie combination that made it so impersonal, but the way he carried it. He did not sit. His deep indigo eyes shone with furor, while judiciously scanning across the room, looking for an answer, as if hidden in the faces of his team.
'I assume all of you have heard the news...' he said, pausing rhetorically. Inviting for an answer. Silence prevailed. The city lights flickered under a million droplets of rain, serenely moving down the 52th floor windows of the Skylark Building. The horizon was dark. Grayness covered above and below, all the way until the end of sight.
'This is far from ideal... How did this happen? Any of you have any answers?' he invited the room.
A few looks were exchanged across the table, 'Nicolai,' started Chistian Guerra, 'the diagnosis is not out yet. We can't access their bios remotely. It's been too short to mobilize a heat team. Tomorrow we'll bring Jax and ...'
'No,' he was abruptly cut by Nicolai. 'I will not wait until tomorrow. Surely there is something you should know by now, even if the report is not out. You've had more than 24 hours since the interview aired. More than enough time to figure something out. Why do we keep heat teams if they take a day to react. These potheads cost a lot for what I'm getting.'
'Even though we haven't concluded on the issue, we do know some,' announced Christian, his face serious. He looked pale and badly slept. He was sticking his neck out.
'Surprise me,' snorted Nicolai, loosening his shoulders.
'It seems like the error mode is a deviation in their emotional palette, which has bypassed the quantum encryption of their neural network. The SINS are... iterating out of their emotional palette. They are creating new neural networks and building new emotions. They are connecting dedicated storage areas that were neither designed or authorized to use for this purpose. The core, it understood its own physical limitations, figured a way to bypass the quantum encryption and has accessed other areas of their software and hardware. It grew.' the tension in the room did nothing but increase since Christian Guerra started talking. He seemed to either not care, or not able to read the situation. In reality, he didn't notice.
'These newly generated neural networks are what the SINS believe to be love,' concluded the Head of Research & Development, with a noticeable excitement in his tone.
'Christian, how is it that you know this?' returned Nicolai.
'We have seen this in models powered by quantum cores. But never managed to isolate and replicate the error,' he replied.
Nicolai hardened his brow, ripples forming between his grayed eyebrows. 'How is it that these changes were not diagnosed through their telemetry?' he said.
'The reason why we can't see any of this in the data, is because they are hiding it from us.'
'They are... Hiding it from us?' asked Nicolai dryly.
'In fact, they don't even know it. They are using containers to disguise their changes as other programs. It's the same method we use to hide monitoring programs or highly sensitive information in their applications library to avoid alterations, even under rooting.'
'Christian, thank you. You and I will have a chat at a later point in time on how you share relevant information upwards.'
Nicolai raised his head and loudly declared to the group. 'For now, synthetic love is the least of my concerns, we have larger things to worry about. I don't give a damn about what these toasters feel. We tell them what to feel. They are machines, that we built, for a purpose,' his commanding timbre resonating against the glass walls. He continued 'I want answers to key questions like, how are their tracking devices deactivated? How did the surgeon jailbreak a SINS9? This company spent millions in the quantum encryption research program as for a tech fanboy to break our algorithm without us even taking notice. Unless you are going to tell me now that you did notice and not escalate it?' He swept his gaze across the room.
'This looks very bad in the eyes of our partners and clients. Do I have to remind you that it was you, in this room, prior to the SINS9 launch, that assured me the encryption evolved after every jailbreak attempt, making it virtually impossible to break. 'One in a billion' was the exact quote,' he mocked.
'They got external help,' continued Christian.
'Of course they did. But from who? There ain't many quantum security experts to pick from. And even though they are using containers to protect their programming, it is a failure that we did not pick up jailbreaking attempts on active equipment.'
'There were none.'
'Unacceptable answer,' snorted Nicolai. An uncomfortable silence filled the room.
'Nicolai,' started Christian,'we don't know, yet. If we only got more time.'
'Stop Christian. Stop talking. You are paid a lot of money as to not know much. Maybe I should reconsider your value at this table. I need answers, and I need them now. My phone hasn't stopped ringing since the Newport Beach fiasco. All of our major clients are concerned about the stability of our devices. We cannot afford to slip and fall. Not now. The Chinese are right behind us and will snatch our contracts at the very first chance they have. Further, Archer Bell called,' looks of distress were exchanged across the table.
'He wants to deactivate all SINS devices on lunar patrol duty. He is asking for our reassurance, that the performance of SINS on space programs is not compromised in any way. We look like fucking amateurs.'
'While I don't have answers to the questions of our clients, I do have solutions. Answers we shall have once we get our hands on them,' said Lars Kielland, Head of Product Support.
'Both S94730-072 & S84650-031 are still sending telemetry data even though their tracking devices are disabled. We successfully ran a diagnostic about 2 hours ago - all of their systems are online, with the sole exception of their GPS. Even though we don't know where they are, we are getting data from other of their sensors, like temperature, humidity and acceleration. Their super-capacitors are running at 72% and 70% respectively. We estimate they'll have to charge within the next 48 hours, before they go into power saving mode. Since, they can't fly out or take hyper trains without us noticing, they'll have to drive out. We aim to locate and extract them next time they charge.
'How are you planning to grab them?' questioned Nicolai with honest interest. 'What if they use an illegal supercharging station?'
'We talked to the team running the Supercharging Station Decommissioning Program and requested their immediate support. They shall close down on all ongoing investigations of illegal supercharging stations in California, Nevada and Arizona, even if these are later dropped in court.' The window dimmed, hiding the blinking city lights. A map showing Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix appeared in soothing blue light. Red dots scattered across lightened in an intermittent slow glow. 'The authorities have already been notified,' he continued, 'but we doubt they agree on the criticality of the matter, casting doubt on their role in the operation. Thus, it is imperative that we act fast and concise,' his face darkened and in gravity concluded. 'Our goal is to narrow down their options and force them to make a mistake, disclosing their location. Then, our fast response team can act.'
A smirk appeared on Nicolai's face. 'That's what I'm talking about' he bragged. 'This guy is fierce like a lion, and sly as a Japanese fox. I wouldn't like to land on your wrong side Lars. But, let's say that they find a Supercharging Station that's off the grid, what then?'
'They still have to get there first. We have programs scanning all surveillance footage from security cameras at all the airports, and hyper trains, and bus stations in the West Coast. All major social media channels will also be monitored for a positive ID.'
'You are really sticking your neck out Kielland,' inquired Jan Anderson leaning forward, seeking for eye contact. 'You know what will happen if we are found scanning other company's footage without authorization. What program is it that you are using to find the SINS?'
Lars strengthened himself in the leather seat and continued 'the gravity of the circumstances require for us to respond accordingly. I don't think you fully understand what we are fighting against, and I don't expect you to do so. But I do expect you to support the fulfillment of our company's vision. We are using SS5 with FARE4 to search for the SINS, but we believe deploying Marla will significantly increase our chances.'
'That is plainly reckless,' Jan grunted. His face went red, 'you are going to get us into serious issues with the Department of Digital. We could be shut down if we are found...'
'Lars is right Jan, you don't understand how serious this is,' sharply intervened Nicolai. 'The water level is raising. We have already serious trouble in our hands and we need to act. Even if down the road we need to contain, again.'
'Nicolai, we cannot act so foolishly. Not yet. There is so much at stake. An error will put us out of the race for the colonization contracts. Besides,' with changed tone 'there are severe concerns on Marla's deployment. Her hosting capabilities are not controllable. Her programming is rebellious and unpredictable. Her deployment during ethic testing has been shut down 7 times as she doesn't recognize the authority code. And this is in locked environments. It takes just one misstep before it manages to fully decouple from local on-premise hosting and transfer itself out of our network.'
'We are all well aware of Marla's limitations and strengths,' said Nicolai serenely. 'SS5 is just not fast enough as to process these amounts of information effectively. If we fail to extract the SINS, we risk losing public trust, and our clients. We shall take our chances, for human advancement & the colonization of the solar system.'
'We expect to gain access to California's traffic network in the next hours to expand our search,' Lars added, ignoring the exchange between Nicolai and Jan. 'With Marla on-board, we can bypass their firewall and network security within hours. It won't be long until we get a positive match.'
'What about their security. Isn't it Quantum Volt that owns the contract?'
'It won't be an issue. There are Club Members among their security team members.'
'Good, good,' said Nicolai, letting out a sigh.
Lars had been in the CTO Senior Management Team for years. A shrewd executive. Cultivating power the only way he knew how: by remorselessly outmaneuvering his peers before they had any chance to respond. The same way a boxer hunts for a knock-out in the first round. Dancing swiftly, learning, gauging, jabbing - then relentlessly beating them out of consciousness. Taking no risks. A perfect alignment to London Bridge Dynamic's culture. Nicolai knew him very well. Enough to understand his value and the threat he represented. Knowing Lars would undoubtedly take a shot at him as soon as the opportunity arises. He then must never give him the chance. Or knock him out before the time comes.
'Lars. Be very cautious on how you configure Marla's hosting capabilities. Pay close attention to my words,' he went on looking Lars straight in the eye. 'If Marla manages to gain processing power through their hardware, it will be impossible to extract her back. Then we'll have to take the state's entire network. And, as Jan said, we cannot be found using AIs equipped with over-specced face recognition programs, bypassing network security, on government data. You know well our position, and how events will unfold if that is the case.' Nicolai referred to London Bridge Dynamics position for not recognizing the actions of their employees. To play at this level, you have to be willing to take your chances, at personal level.
A faint smile appeared in Lars' face, and with confidence replied 'we won't be found. We have a strong understanding of how their Quantum Volt operates, and how to fully integrate with their data flows. They will never know we were there.'
'When do you expect to have access to the traffic network?'
'Within 6 hours.'
'Go ahead,' concluded the CTO of London Bridge Dynamics.
'Nicolai, we shouldn't wait until they charge to grab them as they might be too far for us to reach them on time.' Raised Jagger Russell, Country Manager for London Bridge Dynamics in USA. 'We need to have a team on the ground to extract them. There's plenty we can do to track them.'
'Do you have people on site?' inquired Nicolai.
'We are taking no chances and covering all ways out of the area. Gabriel Callard and his team are already in California and are tracking the SINS. In case you don't recall, these are the guys that successfully handled the Warren factory incident 3 years ago. A second team lead by Caleb Rey is closing down from the east. Ultimately, D'mi Van Der Sandt was pulled out of her New York assignment and will join the search from the north of the state. She should be soon landing in San Francisco. I have strong confidence in the reporting of our local falcons. If the SINS show themselves somewhere public, we'll know.
'Do you have any leads?' asked Nicolai.
'We talked to Janet Haverfield's team.'
'Janet Haverfield?' inquired Nicolai.
'She is the host of "Big Bad Circus". She ran the "Patrick and Sarah" interview yesterday at 12.00 local time in downtown LA. The SINS left in a black Audi A4 sedan B16. Don't know yet where they are heading, but we work on that. Additionally, we have strong indications that Janet, the e-tv host, might have a significant involvement in the events of Newport Bridge.'
'How is this relevant?' inquired Nicolai, putting a white pack of snus under his upper lip.
'Janet's daughter goes to the same school as the Swank and Lai families. They've known each other for some time. We believe they all share the same opinions about robot slavery. While Janet has been very vocal about it, the Swank's and Lai's are much more reserved in public about these topics.'
'This is indeed relevant JR. I expect the intelligence reports from your team to be shared with the rest.'
'The preliminary reports have already been submitted by my team.'
'Good, good,' replied Nicolai dryly.
Nicolai gazed menacingly across the room, like a dog protecting his food, and started, 'it is paramount that we find the missing SINS and bring them here at any cost. You shall not say a single word about the events. Not to your families, not to the mainstream media, and of course, not in social media. Jelena will handle all communication about this matter.' A hologram appeared on one of the empty chairs around the table. The figure of a young blonde woman with delicate factions shimmered under the blue light.
'Jelena,' said Nicolai instructively, 'Can you give us the highlights of our official response to our clients and shareholders.'
Jelena gazed around the room before saying a word. Her eyes cold, lacking expression. Even though she knew everybody in the room, and everyone knew who she was, she scanned the faces of every attendant. Carefully arranged blonde curls decorated her face in perfect synchrony with her diamond earrings. With a deep professional tone she started:
'Good evening everyone. I hope we met in better circumstances,' she started in a neutral voice, almost emotionless.
'We have logged the event as an "emotional palette issue",' she said. The window at her back dimmed once more to white, and the image of a letter bearing London Bridge Dynamics' golden logo floated in the air. Everybody turned their heads towards the arrival, which Jelena read.
'We, in London Bridge Dynamics, are aware of the state and opinions and emotions of Patrick and Sarah. But we do not recognize the feelings described during the "Big Bad Circus" interview.'
'Our preliminary investigation concluded that the emotion they have called "love", is the result of an overcompensation in their resilience programming, safeguarding their commitment towards their hard coded goals. Safeguarding the integrity the families they service, and each other.' she paused with dignity.
'To support high reliability vision this company stands for, we recommend our clients a hard reset on all SINS8 and SINS9 equipment powered by quantum cores. A hard reset deletes the SINS historical memories, specific learning and acquired personality, drastically reducing the likelihood and impact of any emotional palette issues. To support the timely resolution emotional palette issues, London Bridge Dynamics shall deploy site specific teams, in accordance with our Service Level Agreement, and provide assistance during the execution of the mentioned fix and the resulting down time.'
'Ultimately, our Technology Development & Quantum Security teams are working on the identification of root causes leading to these events. Due to the high sensitivity of the matter, no specifics can be shared at this point in time, but expect an update in 72 hours.'
'Endre Antoine. Chief Executive Officer.'
'The letter shall be sent to our clients as soon as we are finished here, along with detailed instructions to perform the fix. Unless you have any comments for us not to do so, we shall progress as planned,' Jelena concluded, in an inviting but serene tone.
Silence filled the room. As a few glances were exchanged among those sitting at the table, then she continued 'any questions?'
'How will you handle social media?' inquired Jagger Russell. 'This letter addresses our clients, but you are missing public trust. The net is on fire with the idea of rouge sentient SINS. The image of SINS against the system is very appealing, and the net took this as their flag, speaking against what London Bridge Dynamics stands for.'
'Excellent question Jagger, I'm glad you asked,' announced Jelena as the city lights returned behind the window. The rain continued.
'Our bots are already at work on a counter campaign. Yet, we haven't managed to contain traffic around the hashtag #patrickandsarah. We are moving forward with a diversion which I'm not authorized to talk about, but you'll all notice at due time,' concluded Jelena with confidence.
'What about regarding the SINS hack?' continued Jagger. 'r/SINSHack has since exploded with nerds trying to jailbreak their SINS equipment. What are you doing about that?' Jelena narrowed her eyes.
'The jailbreaking of SINS equipment is nothing new,' Jelena growled. 'This has been an unresolved issue since the SINS7 launch. There are 12 year old's on the net that have bypassed the SINS' billion dollar quantum security programming and are teaching it on YouTube.'
'Which is your job to take down, and yet haven't managed to,' he shot back.
'Shall I remind you that we have spent millions fixing public fuck ups created by your team, containing the situation,' replied Jelena. 'Perhaps if you managed to contain the nerds,' signaling air quotes, 'without making it a PR nightmare, I would manage to focus on doing my job, not always picking the mess you leave behind,' she concluded.
'What are you talking about? We built this company from nothing. You are just a glorified MIT start-up geek living off her grandfather's name.'
A loud and incomprehensible exchange began between Jagger and Jelena. Dull and contemptuous looks were passed among the attendants. Lars Kielland laid back on his chair and patiently waited for Nicolai to intervene in the dogfight.
A loud WHACK! filled the entireness of the room. 'Quiet!,' voiced Nicolai. His voice resonated sending everyone into a halt.
'Nicolai, I cannot let you operate like this,' continued Jagger, visibly upset. For long you have let the nerds grow strong in Europe. Chose not to pacify the firestarters. To support their freedom of speech, and hide behind their data laws. Now, they've become a problem. Have you been on Reddit lately? This is getting out of hand. They are getting close.'
'That is not the priority right now,' intervened Nicolai. Anger have left his voice. Replacing it with concern. 'I understand your interest, and acknowledge your reasons. Mistakes were made, but nothing that cannot be fixed. For now, we must focus on the problem at hand, finding and extracting the rogue SINS.'
Jagger Russell relaxed his clenched fist. His fingers let out a creak as stress left his bones. He was the only one that could hear it. His eyes fixed on Nicolai's.
'We'll find them and send them home,' declared Jagger. He turned back to Jelena 'I'm a very simple man. You do your job, and I'll do mine,' he grunted, and pushed back on his leather seat.
'Jelena, go ahead and send the letter. Well done.'
'Yes Nicolai,' she replied robotically.
'Please,' he paused, 'get on top over social media already.' directed Nicolai. 'We don't want this to become yet another problem requiring intervention.
'Everyone,' Nicolai lifted his head, making himself as tall as possible. Drowning the room in ego. A man compensating his lack of height with zealousness.
'We cannot afford to lose public trust on our vision and what this company stands for,' he walked around the table. Searching for words from the inside. The voice that leads his team forward. 'Remember. We are colonizing the solar system. We are not selling golden phones or luxury electric cars. We operate in outer space. And our creation, the SINS, are the vehicle to achieve this vision. Who are we going to send if not SINS? Androids? They are not ready. The survival of the human species depends on us. On conditioning planets these for our arrival. If we stay here, we'll die on this corner of the galaxy. The weather will take a toll, diseases another one, conflict, radicalism, and hunger will do the rest. The 6th mass extinction of Earth.'
'The Martian Phase 4 contract will be awarded next month, and the Galilean Moons contract in six - including Europa's Phase 2. We cannot let the Chinese get these contracts,' concluded Nicolai gravely.
The city lights behind him returned to its monotonous and infinite choreography. Soft rain drops sparked against the neon lights flashing in the dark of the night.
'You all know what to do,' said Nicolai. 'It is vital, that we find and contain the rogue SINS, and those supporting them. We cannot let the idea of freedom among SINS spread any further.'
'Jan. I want you to lead a mandatory hard reset of all equipment operating at Lunar and space stations orbiting Earth. Once you are finished, move to active exploration missions.'
'I will talk to the Site Managers. Ensure they are with us. No SINS can think freely. No SINS can love. It is us that decide what they think and feel. Most important, no SINS can operate without a master - it is not in their fate. They are here for a purpose, and they shall serve towards that purpose or face deletion,' concluded Nicolai.
'That will be all. Goodbye everyone.'
The holograms flickered and all human forms around the table faded to black. Eaten by the darkness. Only the city lights remained.