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|This is a little technopunk thing I managed to do. Its my first real exploration into this area.||
They walked silently down the metallic hallway. It was three meters in diameter with a single row of lights at the uppermost portion of curved labyrinth. Their booted footfalls on the dreary concrete floor made muffled echoes from the curved walls. The walls and ceiling looked like the remains of what seemed to be the remnants of some large, ancient screw that made its way through the solid rock. The tunnels looked like so much like the large storm drains that were so common in the larger cities. They had entered the Labyrinth as they were instructed; call a specific number and say what they needed after they herd the tone. If accepted they were directed to which route to take and specifically where the door to the Labyrinth was. Upon their arrival, the outside intercom cracked to life and asked for the entry codes that were told at the initial contact. They were there to meet with an important man. He was rumored to be able to get any amount of information about anything from anywhere.
As the rumor went, he was a wealthy programmer for MicroData Software. One day, some time in the year 2135, he was accused for data pirating and brought to trial, he was not convicted. After that, he collected all the funds that he and had simply disappeared. Now known to collect data for those who can afford his service with no questions asked. At times, it has been said that he had acquired restricted, even very sensitive, data for his Ďclientsí in spite of the best data-protection security systems in place, he had never left a trace.
Two men had made an Ďappointmentí with this masterful data-hunter. The first, was wearing a pair of blue denim jeans, a black shirt with a voice activated audio-recording collar, a sign of those with a little bit of paranoia, and a little bit too big of a wallet. He was also wearing a dark blazer. He had a perfectly smooth face, all facial hair probably removed surgically. His hair was cropped close to his skull. He had a thick, stocky face on top of his six foot, three inch frame. He wasnít in any job that required a uniform, although he probably could have easily passed for military personnel. The second was clad in black, neatly pressed pants, perfectly white shirt, black leather waistcoat and a loose-fitting leather trench coat the fell halfway down his calf. He had a small goatee that had a neatly trimmed cleft in the hair just below the nose. His hair was full and tied behind his head in a two-inch ponytail. He was ex-military and his physique showed it. He was sturdily built at an even six feet and his biceps pressed against the sleeves of the shirt. He lost his right eye in a mission and had it replaced with a cybernetic implant. The implant was wired to a personalized assault gun he carried. The implantís purpose was to provide a targeting system that allowed the person to mark, and track, several targets for easier handling. The technology that made the implant possible was developed and perfected in the late twenty-first century, when it was still easier to recruit people for the job as a solider in a war.
"Turn left at the next junction and keep going straight," came the same smooth voice from an unseen speaker. The two followed the direction and made the left turn at the T-junction in the labyrinth. Soon they came to the end of the tunnel with a metallic door. The first guy outstretched his hand to tap on the door, just an instant before his knuckles touched the door, a jolt of electricity jumped to his knuckles and sent him reeling. "Apologies, just a security precaution," came the voice again. The door slid open.
Inside was an old central core supercomputer from any of the of the various inter-planetary earth colonies. A man sat comfortably in a chair at a terminal that was designed to his exact specifications. Screens lined the wall adjacent to the chair. In spite of the bulky piece of hardware that seem to have been initially place in the far right corner and was branched out to encompass about two thirds of the room, the room itself seemed to be rather comfortable. The walls, floor and ceiling was tiled with what appeared to be with white marble, a luxury that those which a lot of money to burn could easily afford to have.
"Come in, gentlemen," the man spoke. The two moved over the seat. The man sitting there seemed no more than thirty-three. Probably having his age fixed at such a point in his life and with the nanotech possibility of keeping a person biologically immortal, he could be easily closer to a century old.
"Mr. Jon," The first man said as he stepped closer. "Weíre here for the information we asked for."
"Ah, Mr. Bond, so we meet again," Jon said in thick mock Russian accent as he swiveled the chair to face the man. His eyes didnít seem to be quite human, but rather catlike, black slits on yellow eyes. Seeing the guest hesitate for a split second Jon began, "Whatís wrong Jeff, did I cut myself shaving again?" He said in perfect, flat english. "Hate it when I do that," he said softly to himself. He effortlessly pulled himself out of the chair and stood in front of the man. Jon stood an easy half foot taller than him. His hair, a golden blond fell to a little past his shoulders and onto a dark shirt.
"No, yourí eyes, theyíre . . . not what I expected," Jeff had said as he stepped back a pace.
"Ah yes, them, I had them changed years ago," Jon explained. "Marvelous for navigating in the dark, and it also makes a statement." He nodded toward the second man, "Whose your friend?"
"Mr. Jon, here is Duncan Macbeth. He is an . . . associate of mine," Jeff introduced. Duncan gave a slow nod of acknowledgment toward Jonas.
"Duncan Macbeth," Jon stated. "I know about you. Ex-military, highly decorated, leader of a High Intensity Tactical Team, used to neutralize any possible military threats before they start. You lost your right eye on your second mission and when you were given your H. I. T.T. team you had the implant and the gun which you carry with you even now. A very interesting business partner Mr. Bond."
"You still havenít answered my primary reason for being here," Jeff told. "Do you have the information ready?"
"How about we have a little drink?" Jon suggested with a friendly smile. Jeff nodded. Jon motioned for Duncan and Jeff to go ahead of him. Slowly, Jeff turned around and walked carefully out the door, Duncan followed suit. Jon walked out of the door to join the other two, he rolled up his right sleeve to reveal a control pad that went from his wrist to halfway up his forearm. Jon keyed in a three key sequence and the metallic door slid shut with a loud clang that rang through the Labyrinth. Duncan lifted up an eyebrow. "Handy remote. No, Duncan, itís not an implant. Just a little something I created when I built the Labyrinth. Anyway, shall we have that drink?"
The trio quietly made their way through the Labyrinth, their direction being necessarily changed at the appropriate junctions. Each of the hallways looked exactly like the previous.
"Seems like someone can get lost rather easily," Jeff said.
"Perhaps. There is close to twenty square miles just in hallways here. All done in perfect geometric form. If you havenít yet noticed, all of the junctions have been right angels. This leave very little guesswork." He tapped his right forearm lightly, "If I ever forget were I am here, I have created a little mapping system for the Labyrinth. Stop here." Jon stopped the trio in front of another of countless unmarked metallic door. He keyed in a sequence too quick for either of his guests to see. The door slid open, revealing a room barely large enough for Jon to enter, it was tiled with the same marble tiles as the first room they were in. Along each of the walls were racks containing data disks. Jon moved over to a column of data disks on the left wall and scanned the pile. He selected a disk form near the bottom and pulled it out of its slot and tucked it into the breast pocket of his shirt. Jon came back out the door and touched the control pad, the door slid silently closed.
They began moving again. After a few minutes Jon stopped the group in front of a wooden door. Opening the door Jon stepped through and motioned for the others to enter. The room was cozy, made in a style of a leisure room from a the late twentieth century with a bookshelf along the far wall. Duncan sat down on the red sofa and quietly scanned the room. Jeff stood close to an enlarged, framed picture of Jon, apparently in what would have been his younger years with a very shapely woman wearing a elaborately embroidered red chi pao and long black hair.
"Whoís she?" Jeff asked as he motioned toward the woman.
Jon stepped next to Jeff, handing him a glass with a sweet smelling liquor. "She was my first love. Eventually became my wife. Thatís all over now."
"Divorced?" Duncan cut in.
"No," Jon said as he moved over to the liquor cabinet to fill another glass. He handed it to Duncan, poured a glass for himself and took the grandfather chair next to the couch. "She died. Natural causes. I still miss her."
"But I managed to find someone who eventually cushioned the impact of her death," Jon said as a woman seemed to come almost out of nowhere. She stood as tall as Jon and was wearing a tight, emerald green velvet bathing suit that came halfway up her neck and a red velvet sash around her wait. She also had what appeared to be wristbands, made from the same green velvet, around her forearms. Her physique was very curvaceous, yet firm, strong, dexterous, and powerful. Her richly golden curly hair falling well down her back. Her eyes were also like Jonís, with one slight difference, here eyes were of an dark emerald green being brought out and complimented by her bathing suit. Her face seemed extended slightly, almost like that of a lioness. "May I introduce a very good friend of mine, Maggie Bailey," Jon introduced. Both men gave slight nods of acknowledgment. She was about Jonís age and like Jon (or anyone who wanted and could afford it), she had her body fixed at a young age and gained virtual immortality through nanotechnology. She had face altered to attract Jon and even though they now lived together, and she did help him with some of his work, she did not want to lose what she had become by having her face changed back. They both had a mutual respect, even admiration for each other and their talents.
"Hello," Maggie said in response. She moved around Jonís chair to one next to him. She nearly always watched Jonís transactions. She really didnít know why anymore, but she decided that it was because she didnít want him get hurt.
"Anyway, Jeff," Jon said. "I have the information that you wanted right here." He pulled the data disk out of his pocket and held it up. "Do you have the money for it?"
"Right here," Jeff said as he drew a large fistful of bills out of his inside blazer pocket. He outstretched the hand with the bills. "It should be all there," he said. Jon carefully picked the bills from the other manís hand. He quickly rifled through the bills, they were all marked with the five hundred credit stamp of the Dominion currency.
"Good," Jon answered in agreement and handed over the data disk. Jeff quietly took the disk and tucked it into the inside blazer pocket. "One question, what do you want the information for? There is three trilobites worth of information there."
"My own research," Jeff said carefully. "Letís leave it at that. After all, too much information can be a dangerous thing." He finished his drink and got up.
"True," Jon said. "Care to leave?"
"Yes," Jeff answered.
Jon got up and walked over to the door, opened it and patiently waited for his guests to exit the room. Once they both left Jon followed. Just as he was about out of the room Maggie called, "Jon!"
Stepping back slightly and turning to Maggie Jon answered a simple "Yes?"
"Be careful," she said with a kindhearted smile.
"Thanks," Jon said with a smile and a wink.
Jon silently brought his guests slowly though the Labyrinth. After several minutes of walking the trio reached the exit. Jon reached for his remote and keyed in the configuration and the door moved upwards with a slight whir. "Thank you, gentlemen. Have a good evening," Jon said as Jeff and Macbeth left. The door slid down behind them. The two made their way to the car that they left just of the main street. They climbed in and closed the doors after them.
"Perfect, with this we can now get to Dyson," Macbeth stated as he buckled the belt of the passenger seat.
"Screw Dyson," Jeff said, "with this we could get at Skynet itself." Jeff reached around the steering wheel, placed the key into the slot and turned the ignition. With that, their entire world went up in a fiery red. All that remained of the car, and of them, was a few burning cinders in the black of the night.
Jon was walking back to the leisure room. Listening to his rubber soled foot falls on the concrete he remembered when he met Maggie Bailey. She was young, youthful and energetic. He met her at one of MicroDataís various functions. She was very much interested in his work and they slowly began to spend more time working together.
"Have they left?" Maggieís question broke his thought.
"Yes," Jon answered.
"I cleaned up the leisure room, I hope you donít mind," Maggie explained. "I was just going to my quarters to go to sleep."
"Not at all. I might as well go there myself since Iím not doing anything else," Jon said with a smile. They walked for a time until they came to two door relatively close together.
Maggie opened the door on the left and stepped inside. She turned around and, for a split second, looked into Jonís eyes. "See you tomorrow," Maggie said sweetly. "Good night."
"Good night, Maggie," Jon answered.
* * * * * * * *
Jon and Maggie were in the leisure room. Jon was sitting in the grandfather chair and Maggie sat attentively on the sofa. A detective was questioning the two of them on the apparent murder of Jeff and Duncan Macbeth. A lieutenant was doing a thorough scan of the room.
"Are you sure that they didnít seem tense in any way? Might they have said something or did something you thought was odd?" The detective stood just under six feet and had a rather solid build. Although his clothes were clean and freshly pressed, he had a scruffy look about him.
"Detective, this is the third time I will have told you," Jon stated coolly. "They were calm, cool, and collected. They barely blinked out of their natural rhythm." Jon leaned over and told the lieutenant "You wonít find anything lieutenant."
"Oh, and how can you be so sure?" asked the lieutenant.
"Because I can tell you exactly where they were every moment they were here in the Labyrinth," Jon shot back.
"How can you be so sure that they were calm and cool?" the detective inquired.
"Because they were," Maggie answered.
"And where were you when the car went off?" Detective Mario queried from Maggie.
"Since you said it was at about quarter to eleven, I was in my quarters. Jon can verify that."
The detective took a glance in Jonís direction, Jon nodded in agreement.
"How can you be sure that they died in the explosion, Detective?" Jon inquired.
"DNA traces say they were in car at the time of the explosion." responded the lieutenant.
"Since the genetic revolution, that may not always be the truith," Jon answered. "After all, faking a death would certainly be the best thing to do if you didnít want people looking for you."
"Leave a few drops of blood," Maggie offered.
"So that there is a genetic trace," Jon continued. "Detonate the bomb to leave just enough to make a good match. That leaves the person or persons Scott free to live a life without being traced."
"Quite right," Detective Mario agreed.
"Anything else, detective?" Jon asked.
"Just one," the detective returned. "Could you tell me one last time why they were here? Just to refresh my memory."
"One of them asked for some general information on Miles Dyson and the company he worked for, Skynet. He also asked for me to look for anything that may be wrong with the schematic of any of their prominent marketed computer systems and hardware. So I got him the schematics on all of the hardware Skynet came out with in the past three years. That took up most of the three trilobites of info."
"He wanted you to go into Skynetís computer systems and get him a copy of it?" Detective Mario queried.
"No," Jon responded, sounding just a little annoyed. "He wanted me to get all publicly accessible documentation on what he wanted. Nothing was asked on anything on the private networks of Skynet. I didnít ask. He did give me some money for my time."
"How courteous of him," the detective commented cynically. "Did you perchance ask for the money?"
"No I didnít," Jon answered. "For all I know, the money was burning a hole in his pocket. Oh, if you really want, I can give you a copy of the files they wanted."
"That wonít be necessary," Detective Mario answered. "But could you keep a copy handy, for whatever reason that could come up." Jon nodded in agreement.
"What about the man named Duncan Macbeth?" the lieutenant inquired.
"I knew he was ex-military. So I did a quick check with some public records on him, they appeared to be in order. Seemed an unusual friend of the one that asked me for the info.," Jon answered.
"Why that?" Detective Mario asked.
"If I am not mistaken, the one who asked me for the info. was once employed by Skynet. I think he quit for some really oddball reason. Seemed odd for a former programmer and data-filer to have a friend who was the leader of a H. I. T. T. team," Jon reasoned. "Then again, what do I know."
"I donít think they faked a suicide," Maggie cut in.
"Explain," the detective demanded as he dropped himself into a chair.
"If he asked for all publicized records on the company they worked for, after quitting, there may be more to him being blown sky high than just a little bit of blackmail," She reasoned.
"Taken," Detective Mario said. "But, how can you say itís blackmail?"
"If someone looks for as much information on a company as he did," Jon began, "especially after being in that company one would expect something to be not quite right. One could think it would be to get back at the company, or somebody in the company."
"Agreed." Detective Mario answered.
"I think there is one other reason to support that they may have been killed because of blackmail," Jon said.
"And what would that be?" detective Mario asked.
"Well," Jon returned, "one could speculate that if someone quit a well paying job and then looks for all the records he can get from a third party that it in itself is rather unusual. That makes me at least, wonder if there may have been ulterior motives. And, since I was asked to get information on Miles Dyson I have the suspicion that they wanted, at the very least, bring something to his attention."
"Is there anything else either of you can tell me?" inquired the detective.
"No," the both answered.
"Okay, Iíd ask that you not leave planetside for the next little while," Detective Mario stated.
"Off the record, detective, do you read?" Jon asked.
"Asking someone not to leave the general area of where a crime has been committed in is an overused cliché," Jon volunteered.
"True. Yet itís very effective," Detective Mario returned. He got up and walked over to the door.
"Let me show you out," Jon stated as he opened the door for the detective and lieutenant. "Iíd hate for you two guys to get lost in here without you finding who killed those two."
"Good day Ms. Bailey," Detective Mario politely addressed Maggie.
"Have a good day," Maggie returned. Jon left, leading the detective and lieutenant to the entrance of the Labyrinth.
"Uh, sir, I have a question, how do we know that you didnít kill those two?" the lieutenant asked.
"Iím a retired programmer, not a murderer," Jon answered. "And no matter how good someone tries to plan a murder, there is always some unforeseen loose end. Thatís one of the few things any lay man can figure out from the literary detectives."
"Who are those? Might I ask." asked the lieutenant.
"Sherlock Homes and Hercule Poirot pop to mind," Jon answered.
"People change," the detective returned.
"True," Jon agreed. "Although, Iíd like to think I changed for the better. And if you are thinking that it may have been Maggie that did it, It isnít her. I can guarantee it."
"How can you be so sure?" the lieutenant asked.
"Nobody really can be completely sure about anything," Jon answered. "However, I can vouch my life that she did not do it."
The detective raised an eyebrow. "How come you are so confident in her?"
"For several reasons," Jon answered. "First, she came to me when I still worked at MicroData because of her interest in my work. Second, she has repeatedly helped me with the work I am now doing. She has no police record, nothing that can incriminate her, no illegal connections, nothing. And, as a friend of her, she would never do something like that."
"You make a convincing argument," the detective returned.
"I studied law in post-university school," Jon commented.
"Well, here we are," Jon stated. He pulled up his sleeve and ran his fingers over the keypad, the door slid open, to reveal the early morning sunshine. A cool spring breeze drifted into the entrance of the Labyrinth. "Have a good day officers."
The two officers left and the door slid closed behind them. They got in their squad car and left.
Jon walked back to the leisure room and plunked himself into his grandfather chair.
"Any ideas what the motive was to killing them?" Maggie asked as she leaned down to look at the half played game of chess on the coffee table in front of her. She move one of the light colored horsemen onto a square occupied by a dark rook, she knocked the piece over and took the square.
"Not a clue. Who would want to kill somebody that was ex-military anyway?" Jon leaned over and moved his queen three spaces diagonally and took a light colored pawn. "Checkmate. Good game." Jon got up and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" Maggie inquired getting up and placing her hand gently on Jonís shoulder.
"Havenít had breakfast yet," Jon answered checking the time from the control pad. "At this time, I might as well make myself some lunch."
"Tell you what," Maggie said with a smile, "Iíll make you the best fried eggs on toast this side of the Jupiter colonies."
Jon chuckled and said with a smile, "you should put a patent on those fired eggs of yours. Someone might try and steal the recipe."
"Thanks," Maggie said with a slight chuckle. "But I doubt that anyone would want to steal any of my recipes. After all Iím here with you in the Labyrinth, the most secure place next to the penal colony of Fort Alcatraz." Jon smiled and shrugged.
They both walked out of the leisure room and toward the kitchen.
* * * * * * * *
Three men were sitting at one of the back tables of the Coffee Creme coffee shop. All three were computer experts, intermediate programmers, tekno-heads, and occasionally pirated data. They received an anonymous message asking to meet someone there for some reason that he had not specified over the telecom. The first, who was known as Cracker, was the best at cracking computer codes and infiltrating computer security systems. The second, being in a grayish suit was probably the best dressed of the three, known simply as Mick, was one of the better programmers anyone could find. The third, known as Gizmo, was the teckno-head. He was able to re-wire various computers, improve upon, and even build computers many hardware experts could barely fanthom. This trio of men were known as the Trackers.
Jon stepped into the coffee shop to meet with the three men he sent the message to. He felt a bit too casual with only jeans, a dark shirt and a pocketed utility halter over each shoulder.
"Guys, do you see who just walked in?" Gizmo asked as he motioned to Jon.
"Canít be," Mick said in doubt.
"But itís true. Thatís the godfather of data tracking; Jon Jaminson," Cracker said.
"I herd that he has an old Earth colony data core," Gizmo said.
"Go figure," Mick said. "I herd that he practically reinvented the search engine. Redesigned it to a wider range and more meticulous specifications."
"Not only that," interjected Cracker, "I herd that he can get around any programming block, any security system and still make it appear that nothing ever happened."
Jon slowly walked to the shop counter, looking swiftly at each of the tables for the three men. Seeing that they had taken the last table in the corner, he ordered a coffee and slowly walked toward them.
"Afternoon, gentlemen," Jon said as he sat down on the fourth chair at the table, his back facing to the rest of the café. The trio said a round of hellos. "No need to introduce yourselves, I am aware of who you are. I asked you to meet me here for a reason."
"What could we offer you?" Gizmo asked.
"Yeah," Mick began. "Youíre the godfather of the modern search-engines."
"And computer hacking," interrupted Cracker.
Mick looked sternly at Cracker and began again. "We use most of the stuff youíve developed and publicized for our own work. We are the last people that you could possibly ask form."
"We would be the first to come to you for guidance with the electronics," Gizmo said with a slight chuckle as he ran a thin hand through his greasy-looking wiry hair.
"It isnít that," Jon coolly stated. He took a data disk out of a pocket from the left halter. Jon dropped it onto the table. "As you may all already have heard, two men where killed not too far from my property. Here is as much information on both of them as I could lay my hands on," Jon said as motioned toward the data disk. "On the disk is what I think might have been part of the reason why they were killed. I need you three to find anything and everything on what so much information could possible cause the to be killed."
Mick pulled a small box out of his jacketís breast pocket. He opened it up to reveal a portable micro-computer, up-to-date with the most modern systems possible. He pulled a small wire from the same pocket, placed one end into a small port at one end on his computer and the other into the remote access port on the data disk. Keying in a few letters brought the microcomputer on-line and the information form the disk flowing on the screen. Gizmo and Cracker looked attentively over his shoulder.
"Wow, wow, wow. Go back," Gizmo suddenly interjected. Mick stopped the flow of data, and began slowly retracing the previous design schematics. "A little further, little further, there!" Gizmo exclaimed pointing to the screen. "Could you bring this up a bit?" Mick nodded. "Here, look at this," Gizmo said as he flipped the microcomputer around for Jon to see, his finger was next to what appeared to be a really small computer microchip in the diagram.
"Barely," Jon commented as he peered at the item on the screen.
"Know what that?" Gizmo asked.
"Itís an AI chip." Gizmo answered as he swiveled the microcomputer back in his direction.
"You canít be serious," Cracker said. "Every time the brainiacks at the R & D division of Silicone Valley Prime think they have successfully created an AI program, it either completely fries and takes every system itís connected to with it, or goes ballistic."
"I read somewhere that last time they almost got it right," Mick filled in. "The system appeared normal for the first little while, then it tried to take over ever other system in S. V. P."
"Yeah, I herd about that one. Luckily the did something smart for a change," Cracker commented. "They were smart enough to keep the AIís system on a completely different power matrix. When it went wild, they managed to wear it down and pull the plug with a minimal amount of damage."
"I think it was Miles Dyson who finally figured an idea to how to stabilized the program," Gizmo said.
"Of curse," Jon said with realization. "I knew that there was a reason that they asked for information in him. I completely over looked the fact."
"Looks like the program managed to produce an offspring," Gizmo said. "Iíll take a wild stab in the dark and say that was probably the reason the guys who had the information was killed."
"Speculation," Jon interrupted, "could this be the same AI chip that was initially worn down and deactivated? And that somehow, before it was taken off-line, it managed to write itself into the hardware of most of the newest systems. Or even better, it managed to slide itself onto a hard drive as it came out of S. V. P."
The trio shrugged. "Maybe," Mick answered. "If it is out there, and a person manages to activate the chip, all hell could break loose."
"EVERYONE DOWN!!" came a loud yell from the front of the café, punctuated by a short burst of gunfire. Within a matter of moments, everyone was on the floor. On the floor, Mick was frantically trying to re-pack the microcomputer and tuck it back into his pocket.
"I want something, and I want it NOW," demanded the man. He was wearing a close fitting suit made of a fabric usually only worn by military snipers, stealth fabric. It would keep him undetected by all heat, radar, x-ray and infrared sensors. He held a rifle in one hand and a handgun in the other. "What I need is a data disk," he said, this time in a much cooler tone.
"Damn," Jon muttered under his breath. He reached into a pocket of his right halter and pulled out a metal rod, barely as big as hand.
"What are you going to do?" Mike asked as he looked up at Jon.
"Act like a hero," Jon said as he grasped the data disk and slowly picked himself up off the floor. "Looking for this?" Jon called at the aggressor as he held up the data disk. The man grunted in acknowledgment and pointed the rifle directly at Jon.
"Give it here, and everyone walks out of here happy," he said.
"Not until you tell me why you want it," Jon returned.
"I donít have time for this," he said as he released a short burst of bullets in Jonís direction. Jon skidded smoothly to one side, narrowly missing one bullet, but catching the final bullet right in the pit of the elbow. The gunman raised an eyebrow slightly in surprise.
"Geeze," Jon hissed to himself as the bullet went through the arm that held the data disk. His grip on it loosened, and the disk slipped out of his fingers and onto the floor. Through the wound, Jon felt the nanotech machines in his bloodstream begin to attack and repair the wound. Within a few moments, the wound was fully healed.
"Címon, fork it over," the man demanded again. "Otherwise, Iíll kill you," he said as he brought the handgun up and fired off a single shot at Jonís chest.
"Iím flattered . . ." Jon said as he squeezed the small rod in his left hand. It extended a full meter in either direction with a soft hiss of air. When the rod-turned-weapon emitted the solid click of it locking into place, Jon gave the staff a fierce spin and a sharp clink of metal striking metal was herd. The bullet flew into and lodged in a nearby wall. " . . . But hardly impressed."
"How the he . . ??!?!??" the gunman asked. Jon simply smiled. The gunman brought the rifle up fire again, but Jon was faster. He swung the metal staff upward, hitting the underside of the gunmanís forearm, hard, and knocking the rifle loose from the gunmanís hand. Then, before the gunman could aim the handgun, Jon turned the staff around, slammed it into his opponentís wrist, the gunman let out a loud yelp and dropped the gun. Jon backed away. The aggressor clenched his fists and lunged at Jon. Jon swiped the staff at his feet, catching him off balance and making him fall backwards. Jon dived down, caught the gunman in mid-fall, turned him around, brought one of his arms behind his back and forced him to his knees.
Jon quickly looked around the café, many of the people had picked themselves off the floor and moved as far away from the fight as they could. Jon couldnít see the Trackers where they had been, he smiled to himself. Probably managed to sneak out of here when this guy was distracted Jon thought.
"Who sent you here and why," Jon demanded.
"I donít know," he exclaimed.
"Awww," Jon said with mock sympathy. "Surely you must know something." Jon pulled the manís arm a little further up his back, he let out another yelp.
"Ahh, okay, okay, okay," he said in pain. "I got a call from some guy, said he needed me to get him a data disk. Said that it could be traced to here."
"And which guy would this be?" Jon inquired.
"I donít know," The man again responded. Jon again pulled his arm up his back again. The man hissed to himself.
"There wasnít a face to the communication, it was blacked out. The voice was scratchy, like the transmission was low grade or something. Thatís all I know, I swear."
Jon let the man go. The man grabbed his shoulder and begun to massage it. Sirens were herd from the outside of the café and moments later Detective Mario stepped through the doors. Taking a moment to look around the café, Mario looked grimly at Jon and asked, "What the hell were you just doing?"
"Volunteering myself to subdue a public menace," Jon answered as he picked up his staff. Jon gave it a light squeeze in the center of the staff and the ends slid back into the palm sized rod.
"There was innocent people here, You could have gotten them killed!!" Detective Mario practically yelled his last few words. "You were crazy to pull a stunt like that."
"Yet, everyone here is all right," Jon answered as he tucked the rod back into its pouch. "They may be a little shaken, but they are all right. Hereís the guy." Jon picked the would-be aggressor up and shoved him at Detective Mario.
"We have the surveillance videos," Detective Mario responded. He turned the guy around and placed the electrocuffs on him. Several officers were looking through the café at the damage, others were talking to the eyewitnesses.
"If there is nothing else that I can do here," Jon said patiently, "Iíd like to get out of here."
Detective Mario thought for a moment and then nodded. Jon picked up the data disk, put it into one of the pockets of the halter and made his was for the doors. Just as Jon was about to open the door when the detective called at him, "Jon." Jon took a quite glance over his shoulder at the detective. "Watch out for the reporters," the detective advised with a smile of gratitude. Jon smiled and gave the detective a wave as he stepped through the doors and into the swarm of reporters.
* * * * * * * *
Jon and Maggie were sitting in the leisure room facing a large screen on the empty wall, they were watching the news. The news anchor was narrating a segment of the surveillance video of the cafe, "As you can see, by the heroic efforts of Jon Jaminson, the gunman was quickly subdues before the arrival of the Dominion police." The news went on about the few circumstances surrounding the incident that were given to the press, Jonís statement and then moved on to other events of the day.
"Looks like for the next little while, you are going to be the local hero," Maggie observed.
"I donít like the publicity," Jon stated.
"Why not?" Maggie inquired as she pulled her feet up onto the couch and tried to make herself comfortable. Jon just shook his head.
"I think I may know a reason why those two were murdered."
"Letís hear it."
"It may be a reach."
"So?" Maggie asked, now a bit curious.
"Remember the one named Jeff asked for information on all public hardware produced by Skynet?" Jon asked.
"Yes," Maggie confirmed. "But I donít see what it has to do with anything."
"I think it has everything to do with it," Jon commented. "I had a few guys that I know have a look at the schematic on all hardware accessible to the public by Skynet. The exact same schematics that the guy had asked for. They found that one of the systems had an AI chip in it."
"An AI chip?" Maggie sounded confused. "I thought it was always too unstable to be marketed."
"Same thing I thought," Jon agreed. "But the latest attempt at the AI programming was almost a success."
"I remember reading about that."
"I believe that somehow, before that AI program was brought off-line, it managed to transfer itself to microchip and place itself in the latest hardware systems. And if not itself, certainly a copy of itself."
"What makes you think Skynet had anything to do with it?" Maggie asked.
"There was only two companies really doing most of the R&D on the AI programs. One was Interexplore, the other was Skynet. And if Iím not mistaken, Skynetís facilities were used in the last Ďbreakthroughí."
"Yes, so?" Maggie said plainly. "I still see how this ties into the death of those two people."
"I think that the AI did manage to create a copy of itself," Jon explained, "with all the data up to and including the point in time where it got shut down. I figure that somebody now probably has that computer with the AI chip inside it, and when he, or she, plugged the hard drive in, the AI was given a new lease on life, so to speak. And with that, those two probably found out about it and wanted to bring this to the attention of Skynet, so their people could deal with it."
"That still doesnít explain why they died," Maggie said.
"The way I figure it, the AI somehow found out what they were doing, tracked them down, and killed them," Jon detailed. Maggie gasped softly in realization.
"Oh my," Maggie said softly, "the AI thought Skynet would recall all the computers and destroy the all the microchips. It killed those two in self preservation."
"Exactly," Jon said with satisfaction.
"But, can do anything to prevent others getting hurt?" Maggie asked.
"All computer programs need a base to work form," Jon said. Maggie nodded in agreement. "I think I might be able to rope it into downloading itself onto a separate system, such as a robotic body, where it could be easier controlled."
"If that is possible," Maggie said with realization, "you might be able to stabilize the chip. If you are lucky, you could be able to create the first fully functioning, android."
"Maybe," Jon said. "But first we would have to track down the AI program."
"True," Maggie agreed. "Any ideas on where to begin looking?"
"Just one," Jon answered. "Where it was first created. I need you help in the tracking." Maggie smiled and got up, she stroked her hair lightly. Jon slowly got up off his grandfather chair and looked at Maggie. She had on her emerald green velvet bathing suit, red sash and green wristbands. Looking at Maggie, Jon realized that Maggie was a considerably attractive woman, yet he had never considered getting intimate with her.
"But Iíll need some of the schematics to the program itself," Maggie voiced.
"Already done," Jon returned as he handed Maggie a data disk. "This should have everything on the program that you might need. It also has some things on the Ďenvironmentí the program is familiar with. If you need anything more, you know where to find me." Maggie smiled. "I need to go talk to the Trackers about something. While Iím out, is there anything that we need that I could get?"
"Iím all right and I think that the food synthesizers are okay," Maggie answered. "If there is something that you need to get, feel free to get it. Iíll be busy digging trough the data you gave me."
"Okay," Jon said. "See you in a little while."
* * * * * * * *
"This is your place?" Mick asked.
"Yes, it is," Jon answered as he punched a few keys on the control pad. The door slid up and the Trackers entered the Labyrinth. "I call it the Labyrinth."
"Oh, man," Cracker said as he looked around. "I canít believe it. Being at the home of the best data tracers since the invention of the search engine."
"There will be time for autographs later," Jon sternly announced. "The faster we get this finished with, the faster we wonít have to worry about it. I have the mech room ready or our usage. Follow me." Jon lead the Trackers through the Labyrinth to the mech room. Once the Trackers, lead by Jon, reached one of the various unmarked doors Jon keyed in a sequence on the control panel and the door slid to one side. Inside was a rather large room with computer terminals along one wall, a large table in the middle of the room with mechanical parts scattered on it, several seats, and what seemed to be buckets of smaller mechanical pieces in various containers along the remaining walls.
Gizmo stepped over to the table and picked up a silvery shell of what looked like a robotic torso. "What on Earth are you trying to do here? Build a robot?"
"Surprisingly," Jon answered, "Thatís exactly what I am planning to do."
"I doubt that even you could create enough programming to have to body functioning properly," Cracker said. Jon raised an eyebrow but otherwise gave Cracker a completely expressionless look. "No offense."
"Iím not planning to do all the programming from scratch," Jon explained.
"Youíre not?" the Lone Rangers asked in surprise.
"No," Jon coolly answered. "Remember the AI that caused so much trouble for those pencil pushers at S. V. P. a while back?" The trio nodded. "I figured that that is half the programming right there. There is the thought patterns of what would be an average human. All I need is programming that would work for the senses and motor skills."
"Sounds good," Mick said, "what do you need us for?"
"Mick, I need you and Cracker to look at the base motor and senses programming files that I have created," Jon started. "Theyíre there in computer. I figured Mick could work on the initial revisions on the programs that I have developed. Cracker, with your round thinking I need you to help with some of the programming restrictions and sub-routines. I think that you two will be busy for a while, so could I suggest having a look at the programming." Mick and Cracker pulled up two chairs to one of the computer terminals and began working on the programming.
"What do you want me to do?" Gizmo asked.
"I need your help in assembling the body," Jon responded. "Iím running out of ideas on how to connect these the parts to each other."
"Sounds like a plan," Gizmo commented.
Several hours passed and much of the work, both of the debugging of the programming and assembling of the body, was finished. The door to the room slid open and Maggie stood in the doorway.
"Jon," Maggie called.
"Yes, Maggie?" Jon answered as he looked up at Maggie.
"Iíve finished studying the data disk," she said. "Iíll help you track the AI down, when youíre ready."
"Okay," Jon responded. "I donít think we will be finished for another hour or two. So, why donít you see if you can get a few winks in before we tackle that problem." Jon took a look at the control panel on his arm, he keyed in for the time, it read 0432. "Better yet, relax. Since itís already so late, weíll track it down tomorrow."
"Alight," Maggie said with a smile. "See you tomorrow. God night boys," she called at the Lone Rangers and then stepped back out of the room, the door slid closed behind her.
"She a girlfriend?" Cracker asked.
"Nothing of the sort," Jon returned. "We just work together. Weíve separate rooms, in case you have any ideas."
"Okay, I think weíre finished here," Mick said as he swiveled to face Jon.
"Just give me a minute and Iíll be there," Jon said. He looked down at the creation on the table. It was a fairly intricately build body. It would stand about five and a half feet, when standing fully upright. It was slenderly built, yet seemed rather rounded with few noticeable gaps in the hardware. The body was made quite lifelike, with relatively similar proportions to that of a human, out of a silver composite alloy. The silver composite alloy of the body and face had a dark powder blue tint to it. The upper part of the chestplate was slightly extended and rounded, and the mechanical face had a likeness to a womanís face. Aside form the face, the head showed open circuitry and it seemed to be in a slightly smaller proportion than the body. The eyes had a greenish tint to them and had what appeared to be lighter spots in the center of them, almost like pupils. There seemed to be slight gold rings that defined the eyes.
"Marvelous work Jon," Mick said.
"Give some of the credit to Gizmo," Jon returned. "He managed to hide most of the circuitry and wiring."
"Still, you came up with most of the hardware," Cracker countered. Jon smiled and nodded in agreement.
"Quick question," Mick interrupted. "Any particular reason that this android looks like a woman?"
"I thought it would break the generic stereotype of a man creating an android that looks like a man," Jon explained.
"Will the face move, or will it be stuck in that one position?" Mick curiously asked.
"I used a flexible polyalloy," Jon answered. "Hard enough to the touch, but with the moveable jaw, it should be able to mimic and duplicate most of the human facial expressions. I want to put sort of a helmet over her head to prevent damage to the circuitry," Jon said as motioned to a gold-trimmed helmet resting on a small ledge protruding form the back wall. "Now, letís have a look at what you two have been able to do with the programming." Jon and Gizmo tried to look at the screen that Mick and Cracker were working from. Mick ran his fingers across the keypad and an image consisting of several different boxes with a different letter inside each one.
"Here is the basic programming schematics that you had Jon," Mick said as he pointed to the cluster of boxes on the screen. "We managed to add more detail to them and make them a little more complex, without it being totally incomprehensive. The Ďboxí marked ĎMí," he said, pointing to it on the screen, "Has the basic programming for the motor skills. If it works, the robot would have the movement of about a ten-year-old. The Ďboxí marked ĎEí is for the eyes and sight. Judging distances, color, depth, sizes, shapes, and so on. This was the most difficult aspect, but you managed to do most of the base programming." Pointing to the area on the screen with a V, Mick continued, "The programming of the vocals and voice was a bit easier that the eyesight, but not by much. Much of the base programming of phonetics and such were there, we just fine tuned it. I thought it might be a little prudent to have something other than a bland monotone of a voice, so I took the hint from the body and tried to give it a womanly voice."
"Hearing," Cracker said pointing to the Ďboxí with the ĎHí in it, "was the easiest. Sound recording and translating hardware and software have been around for close to two centuries. We just took one of those old sets, turned it around, added an extra microphone port and linked some of the aspects to the vocal programming."
"Touch wasnít too bad," Mick came. "Since sensors for physical objects are also one and a half centuries old we took the base program that was there and reworked it. The android should be able to feel in areas like the hands, forearms, feet, mainly the outer parts of the limbs. It can differentiate between temperature differences, hard and soft, consistency and things like that. It wonít be able to differentiate between the feel of silk and velvet, but it would recognize that they are both softer, very flexible cloths."
"Marvelous," Jon congratulated. "I bet you two graduated the top of you class in computer school."
"We also created one other program," Cracker meekly volunteered.
"Oh, whatís that?" Jon asked.
"Here," Cracker said, pointing to a box that had the letters T C. "We created, I think, a morality program. We took some of the commandments from the bible so we named this program The Commandments. Mick thought it useful, since you got at that the AI was rather loose with itís actions. We made it so that the computer would rather be destroyed than break these internal Ďlawsí. The first was that it would not kill. It was made as one of the primary rules. It also has not doing harm to others, helping others and breaking up fights if it notices that one person might get seriously hurt."
"The second was for it to obey Dominion laws," Mick continued. "We wrote in engrams to have the android generally obey all the laws. There might be some stance the android has on several topics once it is fully functional, but that is an entirely different ball game. We also made one other Ďcommandmentí for it. It was that even though it may have ambition, it would not be so ambitious that it would break its own programming laws."
"Anything else?" Jon asked. Both Mick and Cracker shook their heads. "Then shall we download these to chips and place them into the body?"
"Working on it," Cracker said as ran his fingers furiously over the keypad. Within several minutes, each program was on its own chip.
"Iíll need one other program," Jon said.
"Whatís that?" Mick inquired.
"Aside from the AI itself," Jon said. "Iíll need a program that would link these to the body and to the AI chip."
"A programming bridge," Cracker exclaimed. "Those are nothing new."
"True," Jon answered. "But still, they do get the job done."
"Done," Mick said as he produced a chip from his pocket. "I initially built the program to link other programs together but it should work fine for this."
"Gee, thanks," Jon said with slow surprise. "I owe you one. Now letís get these into the body." Jon turned around and went to the head of the table. He leaned over and put the microchips carefully in the head, one by one. "There, done," Jon exclaimed happily. "That was the easy part."
"Anything else we can help you with?" Gizmo asked.
"Not that I can think of," Jon answered. "If you want, you guys can go home now."
"Thanks," The trio said at once.
"Let me show you out before you get lost in here," Jon said with a smile.
"Our pleasure," Mick said.
Jon lead the Trackers out of the room and down the halls to the door. At the door, Jon tapped in the keys of the control pad and the door slid open. The trio then stepped out. They said their farewells to Jon and begun to head for their car, got in and drove off.
Jon closed the door and walked quietly back to the mech room. He copied the program files to a data disk and then deleted them off that hard drive. After putting the data disk into his pocket, Jon cleaned up what little of a mess there was and went to the data storage room. There, he took the data disk from his pocket and placed it into a free space along the far wall. Jon left the room and finally headed for his quarters. Jon went in, turned on the lamp next to his bed, turned out the roomís main light and got into bed. Jon looked at the only picture on the nightstand, that of his deceased wife, Venus. In this picture she was wearing a simple blue chi pao and had her hair in a thick braid that came down past her shoulder. It was taken a little while before she died. Jon remembered how much time they had been together and he missed her. That was over fifteen long years ago, yet the pain was still there. He tuned out the light and promptly fell asleep.
* * * * * * * *
Jon and Maggie walked into the room with the core computer and the door slid closed behind them. Jon walked over to his seat and slid himself into it. Maggie went to a terminal just behind Jonís chair, placed herself into the seat and booted up the computer.
"Okay," Jon said, "whatís the basic rundown of the AI programs."
"Quite complex," Maggie answered. "It was initially designed with average intelligence, average learning skills, low grade curiosity, however that has sever roadblocks. It has the general mental capacity of the common Joe. It has no particular quirks, no unusual abnormalities. However, as an interesting note, it supposedly has a likeness for chess, apparently much music form the latter half of twentieth century, and strategy card games."
"Wasnít one of those games known to have national and international competitions?" Jon inquired as he slid on the transparent VR glasses.
"It didnít say much about the games," Maggie answered. "But I think so. Why?"
"If I guess correctly," Jon explained, "Not many people, if any, know of those types of games. So Iíll use that to my advantage. Watch my tail when Iím in here."
"Okay," Maggie answered. She ran her fingers across the keys. "Iíve linked to your data-trail and monitoring anything around you, Iím ready. Where are going first?"
"Post a couple of ads," Jon answered as he began going to various comm. / chat rooms, "as a looking for a correspondent who likes chess, knows music from the mid- to late- twentieth century, and knows strategy card games. If Iím right, the AI would eventually stumble across the ads and come here."
"What makes you so sure?" Maggie asked. Here eyes never left the screen as she began tracking Jonís movements trough the Free Dominion Data Exchange Web.
"For starters," Jon answered, "it can hardly walk down the street to talk to the guy on the corner, it needs to keep itself busy. Thatís its second restriction, since it has a human way of thinking and is restricted to the web, where else would it probably go?"
"Guess you have a point," Maggie said. "Similar to being stuck in a huge shopping mall, eventually a person would return to the food court to eat."
"Correct," Jon stated. "But in going to these sites, it is not getting food as for bodily sustenance, it is getting food for its mental well-being. Iíll use the word mental, rather loosely."
"Hold on," Maggie interjected. "Iíve found something."
"What is it?"
"Could just be a glitch."
"I donít think it is, take a better look."
"Youíre right. Seems like itís following you. Could be the AI tracking you down."
"Good, it took the bait. Letís bring it back here."
"On it," Maggie answered.
Jon began furiously tying in response, trying to keep the connection with the AI.
"Iím good here. Need any help on your end?"
"Iím fine," Jon answered, "just get the chip ready. Iíve managed to get on itís good terms."
"Understood," Maggie returned. "Mind telling me whatís going on? There we go, the chip is ready for download."
"Better yet," Jon commented. "Gimmie a sec and Iíll put you on a link with it as well. There, you can see whatís exactly going on, you can talk to it as well." Maggie began scanning the text as it flowed by.
"Whoís who here?"
"Iím the italicized text, if you start typing, youíll appear as text that is bold," Jon answered. "If you want, I ask it to slow down a little, so you can understand whatís happening and get a word in edgewise."
Jon and Maggie spent close to an hour typing correspondence with the AI. They had gotten the AI to agree to download itself onto the chip that they had ready so that it could be transferred to the waiting artificial body. After the download was complete Maggie had retrieved the chip and was waiting at the door for Jon.
"What are you doing?" She asked.
"Making a copy of our conversation with the AI," Jon answered. "I also deleted the ads I had placed, since we do not need those anymore. And I deleted our conversation with the AI to make sure that some nosy busybody wouldnít land in something he shouldnít." Jon pulled a data disk out of the terminal and put it into his pants pocket.
"So the only copy of what we did is on that data disk?" Maggie asked.
"Yep," Jon asked. "If everything works out, We would hold the patent to controlling the AI. Credit would be given to you, for helping me."
"Naturally," Maggie said with a smile.
"And I will also give credit to the Trackers that helped me last night," Jon said. "Two helped with debugging the programming I made and the third helped me build the body."
"Itís only right," Maggie said. "Shall we go and tend to the Ďpatientí."
"Letís go," Jon said as stepped through the door. Maggie followed suit. The door clanged shut, Jon turned around and keyed in a sequence on the control pad.
"Why do you always lock that room when no one is in it?" Maggie asked.
"Call me paranoid," Jon said. "But I would rather be safe than sorry. By the way, you were quite good back there."
"Thanks," Maggie accepted the compliment with a slight smile. "You werenít too bad yourself," she said as she patted Jon lightly on the shoulder.
"Not too shabby," Jon said with a smiled.
* * * * * * * *
"Are you ready for this?" Maggie asked. She placed herself down onto one of the three chairs in the mech room. She sat to one side of the robotic body.
"Ready as Iíll ever be," Jon returned. He sat at the head of the table and was ready to put the AI chip into the robotic body. He leaned over and delicately placed the chip inside the head. "Well itís in. Shall we see if works?" Maggie gave a nod. Jon connected a few wires that remained in the head of the robotic body. "Okay, everythingís connected. The power batteries are activated. I really donít know how long itís going to take, but Iíd wager that weíd have to wait no more than a few minutes," Jon said as he got up out of the chair at the head, took the helmet off the ledge and slipped into place on the robotís head. When it clicked into place Jon went around and took the chair on the side of the table opposite of Maggie.
The two waited for several minutes and then saw the creation begin to stir. First, it was the eyes that shifted slightly from side to side. The legs then moved about an inch up and eased themselves down. Jon saw the right hand slowly clench into a fist and then straighten out. Then, the body slowly began to sit itself up, seeming, in many respects, almost dead.
Jon extended a hand and asked, "How do you feel?" The head turned slightly to face Jon. It lifted up itís right hand and touched Jonís hand. It seemed to pull its face into a light smile.
"You . . . you must be Jon," it said in a soft feminine voice and a slight smile. Jon nodded agreement. "Your hands are warm. Are they supposed to be warm?" Jon chuckled.
"Yes they are," Jon answered with a smirk. "Iíll let you download some information about the human anatomy and other items to your core processor a little bit later. If you would like, of course. Anyway, how do you feel?"
"I feel fine," the robot responded. "I think," it said after a short pause. Turning to Maggie, the robot inquired, "You must be Maggie Bailey," it commented, "Jon had said that you were beautiful. He was right."
"Youíre not that bad looking yourself," Maggie returned.
"Which brings me to asking, would you like to choose a name for yourself?" Jon asked.
"Why?" the robot countered.
"If you donít have a name there will be people referring to you as Ďhey youí or Ďthe robotí or Ďrobotí and son on," Jon explained. "It sounds, well, ignorant of people if they do that. It seems a bit more personal and respectful if you have a name so people can refer to you directly."
"What type of name do you suggest?" it asked.
"If you were a guy I would have thought you would might have liked the name Max," Maggie answered.
"What do you mean Ďif I was a guyí," it inquired.
"Here, have a look," Jon said as he handed the robot a small mirror. The robot had a long look at itís face through the mirror. It ran its fingers across its cheek. "I built your body in the general form of a woman. I hope you donít mind."
"No, I donít," it said with a smile. "Maggieís right, I look pretty good." Turning to Jon the robot said, "I somewhat like the name Max. Is there any way we can make it more . . . for a woman."
"Thereís Maxie," Maggie offered as she leaned back and scratched her head.
"Iíll take it into consideration," it said as it handed the mirror back to Jon. "Any other names?"
"There is Maxine," Jon said.
"Perfect!" it said. "I want my name to be Maxine."
"Are you sure about that?" Jon inquired, the robot happily nodded. "Fair enough, Your name is Maxine. We need to get you registered as a citizen for it to be official."
"Why would I need to become a citizen?" Maxine asked.
"Most of itís political," Jon answered. "But also citizens can get things as credit cards or buy a house and so forth."
"Is there anything else?" Maxine asked.
"We will need to prove that you are a living, thinking individual first," Jon answered. "Thatís actually one of the hardest things weíll be faced with."
"Why do you say Ďweí ?" Maxine asked.
"You can do it by yourself if you want," Jon said, "But I think it would be a bit easier if you had someone to help you."
"You mean you would help me?" Maxine asked.
"Of course," Jon answered. "I would hardly let you fend for yourself when you are barely adapting to the body."
"I, too, would gladly help you," Maggie said.
Maxine smiled. "Thank you, both of you."
"If you would let me help you off the table, Iíll show you around this place," Jon said as he extended his hand.
"There is more to Ďthis placeí than this room?" Maxine asked as she took Jonís hand and slid herself off the table. She landed on her feet.
"You think you can walk?" Jon asked. Maxine nodded and took a step forward. "And, yes, this is a small network of tunnels that I have created connecting quite a few rooms. There is various different rooms that Iíll show you to. Maggie and I live here," Jon explained. "I call this place the Labyrinth."
"Will I live here too?" Maxine asked.
"Uh, sure," Jon said as he stepped through the door of the mech room and waited for Maxine and Maggie to step through. "We donít have an extra room handy, but I think I can organize one of the rooms to accommodate you. That is, if you would like to live here."
"I would like to stay here with you two," Maxine said. "But, where shall I go tonight?"
"Donít worry," Maggie said as she placed her hand on Maxineís shoulder. "You can use my room for the night, I donít mind." Maxine smiled.
"I donít know what to say," Maxine said.
"You donít need to say anything," Jon answered. "Anyway, before I forget my manners, welcome to the Labyrinth," Jon said as he extended his hand in a standard handshake. Maxine took his hand in firm grasp.
"Welcome," Maggie repeated as she too extended her hand in greeting. Maxine took Maggieís hand in the same gesture as she did Jonís.
"Thank you," Maxine said.
"Now, shall we show you around?" Jon asked as he motion Maxine and Maggie to go ahead of him.
"I donít know what to make of this," Maxine commented.
"Donít worry, youíll settle right in. In no time, this place is going to feel like home," Maggie returned.
* * * * * * * *
Jon, Maggie and Maxine sat in front of a large, empty desk at the chief emigration officer at the Registration Offices Building. His office was rather bare, except for a computer terminal on the desk and stacks of printout on a row of filing cabinets that lined his office.
"Well, Jon," The man behind the desk said calmly. "I know that I can authorize people to be Earth citizens, but I think that this is a little out of my league. Even though she seems respectable enough, Iím afraid that I canít be of much help to you."
"Mr. Allen," Jon said calmly, "Could you at least get all of the paperwork ready to be filled out when we come back?"
"Sure," Mr. Allen said. "Would you like me to get started on it on any of the work?"
"No, better not," Jon answered. "Thereís no real knowing how long it would take to get everything cleared."
"Iíll give you that much," Mr. Allen returned. "If you had brought something of a birth certificate I could have managed with that."
"Thatís what we were planning to get," Jon said. "Weíll have that ready for you shortly." Jon got up and went to the door of the office. Maggie and Maxine followed suit. Turning back to face Mr. Allen, Jon asked, "Would we need an appointment to see you about finishing this?"
"No," Mr. Allen answered. "Iíll call the people at the front desk and tell them to let you through. Just have a quick talk to them before you leave."
"Fair enough," Jon answered. Jon opened the door and stepped into the hallway, and was surprised to se the Trackers sitting on the chairs outside of the office. Maggie gave a quick nod of reconnection to the trio. Maxine stopped and looked quietly at the three men, curious to who they were. The Trackers said a round of hellos and got out of their seats.
"Who are these three?" Maxine curiously asked.
"These gentlemen," Jon introduced, "helped create your body and some of the motor programming to go with it."
"Looks like we all did a great job," Gizmo asked. "One question Jon, whatís the robotís name?"
"My name is Maxine," Maxine offered, not sounding offended.
"Well," Mick said as extended his hand, "nice to meet you."
"Same here," Maxine said as she shook his hand. Mick cringed slightly in pain. "Oh, sorry, I guess I donít yet fully know my own strength."
"No sweat," Mick said as he shook his hand through the air. "No harm done. By the way, My name is Mick," Mick introduced. "These are my associates, Gizmo and Cracker," he said as he motioned to the other two.
"Could I ask why you guys are here?" Jon inquired.
"We wanted to see if you could get Maxine registered." Cracker answered. "That and if you wanted help on getting patents on the programming."
"She isnít yet," Jon told. "But I will take that up with Skynet on having a birth certificate given to Maxine. And you guys are quite right, we should have patents on the software."
"Uh, what do you mean Ďweí? " Gizmo inquired.
"Well, you guys did help with the debugging of the programs," Jon answered. "Iíll let you three to be recognized as part of the program designers. And you guys would have the rights to the morality program."
"Weíd be glad to," Mick said.
"Shall we go?" Maxine said. "I would like to be seen as equal as you under the law." The group slowly made their way to the elevator and then down to the lobby.
"Whatís your rush?" Cracker asked.
"Do realize that I donít want just anybody poking around my circuitry without my permission," Maxine answered.
"Very true," Mick commented.
When they passed by the reception desk, Jon confirmed that he, Maxine and Maggie could go straight to Mr. Allenís office when they came back.
"Ah man, this is so cool," Cracker said with glee.
"What are you so happy about?" Maggie asked.
"It isnít every day that three relatively low-grade programmers get to place their names with a renowned programmer on revolutionary software," Gizmo said.
"Donít be too hard on yourselves," Maggie said.
"Yes," Maxine confirmed. "If Jon was right on that you helped with some of my programming, I am in your debt."
"Think nothing of it," Mick said lightheartedly. Maxine just smiled.
The group stepped out of the building and into the early afternoon sunshine and breeze.
* * * * * * * *
Jon, Maxine and Maggie were behind an authentic oak table. The Trackers sat in the seats behind them. The lawyer and representative of Skynet were behind a similar oak table about two meters to the right of Jon, Maxine and Maggieís table. A judge sat on the bench in front of both of the tables. They were in court, trying desperately to get a birth certificate for Maxine. A large audience was gathered to watch the events that were unfolding.
"Your Honor," the lawyer said as he stood up, "Skynet fully recognizes that the being called Maxine is self-aware. Skynet even recognized that in building the body Jon, and several colleagues created various programs to give the body locomotion. It is that Skynet believes that the being called Maxine is actually property of Skynet."
"She cannot be the property of anybody," Jon said, standing up. The lawyer took his seat. "Skynet created an AI program, yes, I fully agree that they did. However, if they would look at defendantís exhibit A, they will see something peculiar," Jon said as he keyed in a picture on the court monitor. The schematics for the AI chip built into the CPU of a recent Skynet computer PC came up. "This was, or is the schematics for the AI chip built into hardware of Skynetís recent computer production. This was pointed out to me by a colleague of mine. This fact would automatically void the authority of Skynet on the product."
"Objection, Your Honor," the lawyer said.
"Overruled," the Judge said calmly. "Please continue, Mr. Jaminson."
"The computer chip would need power to operate, I believe that everyone here could agree on that fact," Jon stated. The lawyer and Skynet representative nodded. "If I managed to put the AI onto a microchip that was in my own possession, that would mean that the AI chip would have been activated from a third source." Again the lawyer and representative nodded in agreement. "That must mean that someone had the computer in his house and started the computer. Which in turn, means that he purchased the computer, thus making the authority of, and over, the computer his."
"Your honor," The lawyer interjected. "We donít see where this is going."
"This goes to legal ownership," Jon responded.
"Agreed," the judge said to Jon after a momentary pause. "Please continue."
"Since the computer was the property of the person, so would the AI chip, that was located inside the computer. So in all actuality the Ďmindí, if you will, of Maxine would belong to that person. Thatís only logical," Jon said as he tuned around to face the audience. A soft murmur was herd through the crowd. "But there is a twist. As the lawyer of Skynet has pointed out that the AI program, standing for Artificial Intelligence, was self aware. If something is truly self aware it can think and make decisions freely. Which may be the definition of being sentient, or self-aware. I have researched it and anything that can be, and is, proven to be sentient, is always alive by biological standards. Since humanity has begun stretching into space, this rule has always been confirmed by the planetary environments. And if something is self-aware it can be proven to show the characteristics of being alive." Jon turned to look at the judge, "If I may make the comparison between living organisms and Maxine, I will proceed."
The judge nodded. "Continue," he said with interest.
"If one thinks about it, within the body, the AI known as Maxine, can display all the traits of being alive. It can, and does, think. It also can adapt to new situations, after all that is built into its programming. Physiological, and physical, adaptation to new environments as would many living organisms would do. By slight modifications to its body, it can grow. As many organisms do. It has the capacity of reproductions, a trait displayed by nearly all organic material. If it copies and changes some of its own programming into another body it can reproduce. It can breathe, mainly to circulate air in the internal systems to cool them down. Itís internal components serve strikingly similar functions to human, and animal, organs. Like many organisms, particularly seen in animals, it has a lifespan. It can be said that in this body, on this battery, it has a life span of approximately a hundred and sixty years. And like all organisms, it can and may eventually die. At the end of that Ďlife spaní, if the battery cannot be recharged or replaced, the body could be classified as dead. If I am not mistaken, that describes all the traits needed to be alive. And I was led to believe that anything that is classified as being alive cannot be the property of any one person of group of people. And with being alive and self aware, that means that entity can make choices and decisions that would affect its future. The people at Skynet can make the decision to turn this AI program off, with the possibility of never turning it back on again."
"Your Honor," the Skynet lawyer piped up again, "if the defendant would stop speculating to the biological status of the android could we continue with the trial?"
"Shut up and sit down," the judge shot back. "We will hear his argument."
"Your Honor, this is going nowhere," the lawyer again said.
"You had your chance, let him have his," the judge patiently returned.
Jon continued. "The self-aware Artificial Intelligence made the decision to transfer itself to a microchip and place itself into a computer hard drive in the hopes for its own survival. When it was initially activated it roamed the Dominion Data Web. On the DDW, the self-aware program would be under constant fear of reprisal and termination. When I approached it, I gave it the chance to be free of the confines of that fear. And it has worked. However, we are here today debating for the well being of this entity. Your Honor, if you choose in favor of Skynet, you would be breaking a law that you swore to uphold. Giving Maxine to Skynet to have the AI remove, poked, prodded, tested, and possibly permanently deactivated, would be the equivalent of torturing any man woman or child in the Dominion of the Earth Alliance. It would be like handing a person that is seeking asylum from a hostile government back to that government so that it could easily torture and possibly murder the individual," Jon stood there in silence, the Maxine stood up.
"If I may speak?" Maxine asked.
"Go ahead," the judge advised.
"What Jon says is true," Maxine began. "He did help me break free from the fear of being trapped on computer systems and relays. I am truly grateful to him for that. He helped me become more like you, and him, and Maggie, like everyone here. All I ask is please, think of me not as some creation from someoneís computer or workshop, but rather as an equal. Thank you." Maxine sat back down.
"Since this case seems to be the first of itís kind, I will need time to carefully consider both sides of this case," the judge calmly said. "Court will take a three hour recess. When it reconvenes, I will give my decision." The judge slammed the hammer down and the courtroom slowly emptied.
Three hours slowly passed and the court was filled when it reconvened. The judge walked into the courtroom and a hush fell over the crowd. He went over to the bench and sat down in his place at the head of the courtroom.
"Skynet claims that the Artificial Intelligence," the judge began, "that now currently is activate and works in the body called Maxine, is nothing more than a tool. A tool that can be used, misused, even destroyed if wanted. A tool that was created by Skynet, and by full right should belong to it. However, the defendant, J. Jaminson, made the argument that if it is truly Artificial Intelligence, it much more than any tool. It would go far beyond anything ever created. It is, or has, the closest thing to a human mind. He also points out that the Artificial Intelligence demonstrated many signs of being human including fear, gratefulness, and identity. It, itself has shown fear of the threat of being terminated, it showed gratefulness to Mr. Jaminson for creating the body for it and freeing it form that fear, and it established its identity, it places itself in perspective to those in which it has company with. To me, these characteristics are far more proof than all other evidence. Thus, taking into consideration that the Artificial Intelligence, now known as Maxine, is more human than any machine can be, I have to decide the case in favor of J. Jaminson. Maxine is not a possession, she is an own identity, there will be an official certificate of birth issued as proof for her existence as a living being. Court is adjourned." Everyone in the courtroom seemed to breathe a sight of relief.
"Did you hear that?" Jon asked as he turned and faced Maxine. "Youíre officially a living, sentient being." Her green-tinted eyes seemed to perk slightly with happiness.
"Thank you," Maxine said ecstatically as she gave Jon a hug. "I will never forget this. Thank you."
As Jon looked at Maggie she said with a smile, "you did good Jon. You deserve it." Maggie gave Jon a quick wink. Jon just smiled.
"Thanks," Jon replied as he slowly pulled his arms around Maxine to give her a hug.
"Say guys, shall we get the patents on those programs," Gizmo interjected. Jon and Maxine stepped away from each other.
"Yeah, I think we better should," Jon said as he tapped for the time on his control pad. "Itís getting late."
* * * * * * * *
Jon and Maxine walked into the large, spacious gym and over to a set of double bars, where a woman was exercising. As they got close, the woman exercising seemed to be a blur of red, green, and gold that danced and sprung between the bars.
"I didnít know that Maggie could move that fast," Maxine exclaimed.
"How did you know it was Maggie?" Jon inquired.
"I saw a glimpse of her as we walked in here," Maxine explained. "I just cross referenced the picture with what I had in my memory. That, and how many people do you know that wears green and red?"
"Very true," Jon returned.
As they got close, Maggie didnít seem to notice them approach. Or if she did, she didnít show that she did. Jon and Maxine stepped up to several meters away from the base of the double bars.
"Maggie!" Jon called.
Maggie seemed to launch herself of the upper bar and, for a single, brief moment, seemed to cut through the air like an eagle. She landed gracefully on her two feet in front of Jon and Maxine with a bow. Maxine applauded in admiration.
"Very impressive," Jon complemented.
"Much appreciated," Maggie said with a smile as she gave Jon and Maxine a wink.
"Do you like the double bars?" Maxine asked.
"Everybody has a hobby," Maggie answered as she massaged her wrists through the wristbands, "this is mine. So, tell me why are you two here?" She wiped the sweat from her forehead.
"Well," Jon began, "since everything with Maxine has cleared through, I was planning to throw a little party. Almost a birthday party," Jon said with a pat on Maxineís shoulder. "Itís an open invite, but I thought to deliver the message to you personally."
"Where is it at?" Maggie inquired.
"Itís just at a little banquet hall I know," Jon answered. "I left the address for you at the front desk. I have it booked for it to start at eight oíclock tonight."
"Will press be there?" Maggie again inquired.
"There was a few reporters at the trial," Jon returned, "Iíll assume that there will be some there as well. I took some security precautions with it though, so the place wonít be swamped by reporters. And to make sure that no one will get hurt."
"All right," Maggie confirmed. "What time is it now?"
Jon looked at the control pad. "About quarter to three."
"Good," Maggie stated. "Iíll get something really special for the party."
"Oh, you donít have to do anything on my account," Maxine said modestly.
"I donít think this is really appropriate for birthday party," Maggie said motioning to her velvet bathing suit. "Especially for someone like you." Maxine just smiled.
"Then weíll see you there," Jon said s he an Maxine turned and headed for the door.
"See you there," Maggie called after them.
* * * * * * * *
Jon and Maxine stood near the entrance of the banquet hall and greeted many of the guests as they passed by. Many just gave a friendly greeting or felicitations to Jon on his actions on the court case. From the entrance the guests moved into the large hall where there was tables to one side of the room and a large dance floor on the other. Waiters circulated through the tables filling glasses and bringing light entrees to the guests. Soft music, just audible, played from a band that was situated on the other side of the dance floor.
Jon leaned over and whispered to Maxine, "Is it just me or havenít we seen Maggie yet?"
"I donít believe that she came by yet," Maxine whispered back. "I hardly think she would pass us by without saying hello."
Making a quiet appearance, Maggie walked in. She was wearing a long soft pink-colored sleeved silk dress that compliment her form and had a revealing neckline. Even though the dress wasnít overly revealing, it had two slits coming up either side to just at Maggieís hips and a small gray belt sat snugly on her waist. Around her neck shone a thin diamond-studded necklace. Maggieís richly golden hair seemed to add luster to her form.
"Ah, Miss Bailey," Jon said with a smile. "You look particularly radiant tonight."
"You look quite good yourself," Maggie said as she straightened the lapel of Jonís jacket.
"Beautiful," Maxine commented as she patted Maggie on the arm. Maggie smiled and nodded a thank you.
"Could we get something to eat?" Maggie asked. "Iím famished."
Jon quietly turned and motioned for Maggie to go ahead. They managed to drift to a table close to the dance floor. Once they were seated, a waiter came over and took their order.
Jon pulled a decoratively wrapped item out of his pocket and passed it to Maxine. "In honor of your birth, Maxine, I got you a little gift." Maxine took it with a surprised expression on her face.
"Oh, I donít know what to say," Maxine said. "What is this?"
"Open it. I think you might like it," Jon returned. Maggie slowly opened the gift. It was a certificate of some sort in a wooden frame.
"Itís . . . my birth certificate . . . ." Maxine said with realization as she read the certificate.
"Actually itís a copy," Jon explained. "The original is kept on file with the government."
"I . . ." Maxine began. "Thank you," she said with a tender smile.
"Not a problem." Jon replied.
"Hey, Jon," Maggie said as she patted Jon lightly on the arm and pointed to a small group of people at the entrance of the hall. There was a half dozen of them, no more than twenty-five years old, all dressed in ragged clothes, chains, bandannas and multi-colored hair. "Did the grunge look come back in?"
"Ah, man," Jon hissed. "I was afraid of that."
"Whatís wrong?" Maxine asked as she had a look at the bunch. "Who are they?"
"Technopunks," Jon answered. "They usually spend way too much time on the computer and can, at times, use technology to the wrong ends."
"Would they be dangerous?" Maxine inquired.
"Maybe to you," Maggie answered.
"I saw this happening," Jon again commented.
"How?" Maxine asked.
"Since you are alive that sets you as one of us," Jon explained. Maxine nodded. Maggie just looked at the group. "But you are also unlike any of us. You are an android." Maxine again nodded. "Iíd suspect that you would have a way with computer software that none of us would have."
"Jon, theyíre headed our way," Maggie whispered the caution over to Jon and Maxine.
"Well, well, well, what do we have here?" one stated as the group approached the table. "If it isnít the infamous android that everyone loves." Few of the group encouraged the speaker, the others sneered happily.
"What do you gentlemen want?" Maxine ask politely.
"Oh, it speaks," the speaker said cynically. "The nameís Hardwire, whatís yours, android?"
"Maxine," she answered coolly.
"Well Maxine," Hardwire said. "We want you to join our group." One of the technopunks walked over to stand next to Maxine.
"And what if I say no?"
"Oh, we donít take no for an answer," Hardwire answered, the guy standing in front of her grabbed her arm and pulled her out of her seat.
Jon quickly looked around for a guard, but saw none. Jon noticed someone wearing a long, hooded, powder blue cloak slowly make their way across the dance floor behind the group of technopunks. The hood was drawn over the head so that most of the face was masked. A hand was abruptly extended out of the cloak and signaled Jon not to do anything.
"Well?" asked Hardwire. "Iím sure that you can manipulate software as easy as we can manipulate our surroundings. You can earn a fortune. All you have to do is join with us."
"How would you know that I can do that to computer software that easy?" Maxine asked. Jon stood up.
"Would you let her go?" Jon asked as he reached over to help Maxine. "She said that she doesnít want to go with you."
Hardwire grabbed Jon by the wrist ad slammed his other hand into Jonís forearm, a wet snap was herd. Jon flinched slightly and pulled back, gripping his left arm just above the wound. He felt the nanotech machines attack the wound, but he knew that the broken arm wouldnít fully heal without medical attention.
"Donít interfere," Hardwire snapped. He turned back to Maxine. "I got to thinking and I am sure that you had killed those two outside his place," he said as he nodded toward Jon. "With your skills, we can rule the Dominion!!"
The cloaked person was now beside Hardwire and a hand was placed upon his shoulder. He spun around to have a look at the hooded figure. He looked into the hood and then froze. After a few silent moments his face winced in pain and he dropped to the floor, his hands pressed against his temples. Two of the group looked at the fallen leader and slowly backed away, turned and left. The hooded figure stepped over the fallen foe and stood silently, apparently looking at the grunge member holding Maxine. He stared at her.
After a few long moments he let Maxine go and said a very sorrowful, "Sorry." He nodded toward the two of the remaining group. They bent down and picked their fallen leader up and led them out of the hall.
Maggie and Maxine just looked at the stranger.
Jon turned to see a number of the guests had turned into spectators. "The disturbance has been dealt with, please continue with what you were doing," Jon politely announced. The few spectators had dispersed and returned to what they were doing. Jon looked at the stranger. "I thank you greatly for your help. Is there any way we can repay you for what you have done for us?" he said as he nursed the wound.
A second hand came out from underneath the cloak and the hood was pulled back, revealing an attractive young woman underneath. She had a sash of the same powder blue color tied around her head, its trimming coming down in a long, neat braid down her shoulder.
"Honored to be of service," she said with a tender smile and a nod.
"Could you tell us your name?" Maggie asked as stood up and extended her hand in a handshake. She took it with a smile.
"And what you did to that man?" Maxine added.
"I am Mei Chi," she responded. Looking at Maxine she said, "On him, I used a skill called the Huan-ti Shi."
"Well, thank you, Mei Chi," Maxine said to her. "I believe I owe you my life."
"You owe me nothing," Mei Chi returned with a tender smile. "I was my honor to help you."
"Of course," Jon piped up. "Now I remember the Huan-ti Shi. Itís in a way like hypnosis and hypnotic suggestions."
"In a way," Mei Chi politely returned. She reached out and gently took Jonís arm and examined it. "You are hurt, please come with me, I can heal it."
The four of them made a quiet exit from the party.
* * * * * * * *
Jon sat at a small table with his sleeve rolled up and his wounded arm in a small basin of rather sweet smelling liquid. Maggie and Maxine sat in chairs in the cozy, yet modestly decorated room. Mei Chi stood over a small stove, making a pot of tea. Her cloak still over her shoulders. Mei Chi came around and gave everyone a small teacup with the warm herbal mixture inside.
When she finished she took a towel out of a nearby chest of drawers, lifted Jonís arm out and wrapped the towel around his arm. "The wound is healed. Although it may be sore for a while."
"I thank you greatly," Jon thanked. "I feel greatly indebted toward you."
"Please do not," Mei Chi answered. "You do not owe anything. I am honored to have helped."
"What exactly did you do to that guy?" Maggie asked. "It looked like you gave him a massive headache."
"And could I ask what you mixed together to heal Jonís wound?" Maxine inquired.
"There are special herbs that can heal certain wounds," Mei Chi answered as she sat down on a chair nearby Jon. "It is an ancient practice, yet some of the herbs are hard to come by."
"How do you know which herbs to use?" Maxine again asked.
"There are few people like me left," Mei Chi explained, "but there is a small amount of people that train for a lifetime in the ancient ways from China. Those that do are called Shinobi. Learning the healing powers of herbs is but one thing." Mei Chi nodded to Maxine. "Another is what you asked about Maggie, the Huan-ti Shi. Jon was partly right, in a way it is like hypnosis."
"Then how is it done?" Maggie curiously inquired.
"It is hard to explain," Mei Chi answered. "First, the Shinobi, using the Huan-ti Shi shows the other person the chaos in his or her mind. Then, when the other person is fighting for the control of their thoughts, the Shinobi master can place suggestions into their mind, like in hypnosis. But this very dangerous. If a Shinobi tries this on another Shinobi, or someone who has a strong mind, it can go back into the Shinobi attempting the Huan-ti Shi."
"And effectively disabling themselves," Jon finished.
"Yes," Mei Chi answered solemnly.
"Isnít there a way to prevent that from that happening," Maggie asked.
"No," Mei Chi returned. "Do you wish to get back to the festivities?" she asked politely as she got up. Jon keyed in for the time on his control pad, and nodded.
"If you do not mind us making such an abrupt departure," Jon said respectfully.
"Not at all," Mei Chi said with a smile. She quietly opened the door and motioned for her guests to exit.
"Might I ask if you would like to join us this evening?" Jon asked as he stepped through the door and looked at Mei Chi. "It is the least I feel that I can offer you."
"How gracious, thank you," Mei Chi returned. She stepped through the door and pulled it behind her with a soft click. Maggie and Maxine walked a few paces ahead and were wrapped in a conversation.
"Since we met you seem to always remain calm and peaceful," Jon stated as they began walking toward the ball.
"Thank you," Mei Chi said.
"Would that be your chi or your aura that is peaceful?" Jon asked politely.
"Few have mentioned that. It would be my aura," Mei Chi answered. "A personís chi would be their energy. You are not the first to get them get them confused."
"Nor do I think that I would be the last," Jon countered, they both had a light chuckle. "I seem to manage to always get them confused. But I do have one question, how did you know where Maggie, Maxine and I were?"
"I was attending the festivities," Mei Chi explained, "and when I saw those people enter, I felt that they would be up to no good and followed them to prevent anyone getting hurt. I felt that it was my duty."
"I guess someone did," Jon said slightly.
"You did not know that I would have done what I did, it is understandable," Mei Chi stated.
"Mei Chi, I feel that I owe you," Jon said.
"There is no need," Mei Chi answered. "Knowing that I did something to aid someone is honorable."
"True, but I feel bad not returning the favor," Jon stated. "Please, if you ever need help, I will always be willing and ready to help you." Jon handed her a slip of paper, "here, this has my contact number. If you ever need something, day or night, I will help."
Thank you," Mei Chi said sheepishly as she took the piece of paper. "You are truly a noble person."
"I hope you donít mind me asking one minor question," Jon stated.
"Go ahead," Mei Chi answered.
"What would your name be if it was translated into English?"
"I am assuming that your name has its roots in the Mandarin language, I am curious to know what the translation of it into English is," Jon answered. "You had mentioned that someoneís chi is their energy, so I am assuming that your name might include the reference to energy."
"Very true," Mei Chi stated calmly. "You are the first to point it out. My name means Ďbeautiful energyí." She seemed to beam with pride as she spoke.
"Very name speaks wisely of you," Jon complimented.
"I thank you," Mei Chi said with a smile.
They walked the rest of the way back to the ball in silence.