This time, it was the rain. Light, what we would call 'mizzling' rain here in the UK is not entirely uncommon in San Francisco, even during the period of drought, but it's never substantial in any way. This time I woke up on my first morning to rain, and I needed to use the wipers on the car on the journey into the office. Most unsettling in the bigger scheme of things to be able to hear substantial rain hitting the roof.
Still, it all adds to the excitement, and reminds you that even things that you expect to remain constant can change and bring unexpected results. I guess that's the joy and spice of life at work.
Here is part 3 of NAPE., in which we see more of the other person looking for the N.A.P.E., Mr Elk, and Roger learns that this is not going to be a simple search and retrieve job.
Roger closed his eyes and started breathing heavier than he thought as possible. He leaned back, and then turned towards Algernon. ‘I didn’t know you could run that fast.’
‘Well, some of our earlier models had distinct problems with their owners bashing them when their alarms went off, so they developed a version that could run fast enough that it didn’t matter. Of course, when they were caught they were usually...let’s just say they were no longer available for active service.’ Algernon furrowed his brow and then made a play at looking at his feet.
Roger hadn’t had Algernon very long, and was still getting used to him. There was no doubt that he was as useful as the shop assistant had suggested. Not only was he an above average alarm clock, he also became an invaluable personal organiser, secretary and, on occasion, his personal adviser. It took some getting used to a small alarm clock with arms and legs following you about. It was almost a cross between your worst nightmare of machines coming to life and your greatest dream of machines being self aware enough to do things for you without you having to specifically ask them to do anything.
Not all of the A.P.E. series of products were as successful though. In particular, Andrew, his answering machine had very bad attitude problem. He often didn’t take messages, and if he did, he would promptly forget about them and never pass on the details to Roger. Vince didn’t have an attitude problem, he seemed to be quite successfully short of a brain of any sort. You could ask Vince to record a vid-prog for you, but, most likely, he’d actually watch something else and just tell you what the other program was about.
To Roger, this wasn’t much of an advance in technology. Since the late twentieth century videos had been recording the wrong thing. It wasn’t until the last generation of that century that people actually started to watch they had wanted to record.
Aside from Algernon, Roger didn’t think much of the A.P.E. series at al. The Advanced Personality Emulator was temperamental, and it was only a glitch in the programming that produced something as worthwhile as his assistant. Still, he decided it probably wasn’t worth complaining or thinking about things too much. His current job was to find the new version, some twenty years in development. The reason for the delay was a major political issue for most of the modern world.
The original conception of the idea wasn’t anything new, but it took the event to really catapult everything forward and make a real difference to trying to create a new classification of artificial intelligence to help redress the balance in the lack of people to take on critical roles.
It had worked, but it created something of a problem. The production process had been rushed through and not all of the bugs had been removed from the system, with many of the early designs being based on a flawed model that exhibited certain problems. Many of these had never been ironed out and 20 years on, entire industries and companies and organisations were based on this flawed model. So many systems had been produced in that time that it seemed nearly impossible to remove them. The population of the world was now mostly composed of these units. Flawed or not, most people would be unable to live without these systems.
Roger looked across and Algernon and wondered how much he knew about his own history, or more correctly the inception of his conception. Pearl had just caught them up as Roger began to breathe normally again. ‘They’ve gone’, she said, ‘or at least stopped looking for us. We should be safe here for the moment.’
‘I still fail to see why they are following are us. We didn’t do anything wrong.’ said Algernon, looking at Roger with raised eyebrows.
‘Well, actually. The correct term is you didn’t. I did.’
‘What did you do?’
‘Took on this job. It’s unfortunate that I should be well known enough for everybody to know what I look like, otherwise I might have got away with it.’
‘Yes, but surely Elk can’t know about this already?’
‘It’s my guess he not only knows, but he’s probably out looking for it already, and with his ring of informants, he wont have any trouble finding the N.A.P.E at all. I doubt he’ll know how to catch him though.’ Well, that’s what Roger hoped anyway, This whole thing would be a lot easier if he knew even where to start.
In truth, his best guess was where they were heading now, the computer centre where N.A.P.E. had been born, if that was the right term. If nothing else, it would give him a little more information, and with any luck, he’d be able to use the computers there to give him some leads. However intelligent this new personality emulator program was, it was unlikely he was intelligent enough to hide his tracks through the net.
Julio laughed. The ‘hur-hur-hur’ wasn’t quite as imposing as he would have liked. He wasn’t the smartest of bodyguards, but then most hired hands never were. What he did know however was that it was his size that carried the effect. ‘He could probably say ‘I love you’ to someone and they’d take it as a threat.
The librarian wasn’t comfortable, size or otherwise, with Julio leaning on the front desk. Actually, she shouldn’t really have been there, but there were plenty of books to put back on shelves, and the historians would be back tomorrow to look for more rare pieces and nuggets of informant.
So much for the information superhighway, most people still preferred paper when they were reading the latest novel or referring to a textbook. ‘One day.’ someone had said, all this will be digitised. Instead of decreasing the use of paper though, it increased, as more people bought technical manuals to tell them how to use the machinery. Only the invention of the A.P.E.s had slowed the use of paper as they machines could now either tell you what to do, or just do it for you.
Marjorie collected her thoughts for moment before replying to the bulks earlier response. ‘The library is actually closed’ she said, pointing to the broken glass and metal lying on the floor.
“Then why are you here?”
“I didn’t expect you to be”
“So you broke in, yes?”
“Right, well you can jolly well break out again. Look at the mess you left behind.”
“Sorry.” Julio lowered is head, and then started to shuffle his feet like a schoolboy.
“I’ll clear it up for you.”
“No don’t bother. What did you want anyway?”
Julio found it was his turn to compose himself. The composure didn’t take anywhere near as long as the thinking required to form the next sentence. “I’ve come to steal that...” he pointed to the black screen behind the librarian, “Boss wants it.”
“Why?” said Marj, as she turned to look at the monitor. But before she could turn back, Julio had somehow managed to snatch the monitor and run out the door. ‘He wasn’t as daft as he sounded.’ She furrowed her brow, and then pressed the emergency button on the vidphone.
Julio carried the monitor proudly into Elks office, being very careful not to get mud on the bosses new, black, carpet. “I’ve got the ‘puter” he said to the chair.
Elk swivelled round and studied his bodyguard, then waved his hand in a superior ‘go away’ gesture.
“But I did what you said.”
“Well, yes, you did. Sort of. What you’ve got there is the monitor, what I need is the computer that goes with it.”
“Yes, indeed. No matter, he’s moved on anyway.”
“Where is he now?”, said Julio, almost dropping the monitor as he put it down. The relief on his face was obvious, but he wasn’t sure how he was going to hide this from his boss.
Sergeant Mildew picked up the phone. He listened to what the lady on the other end of line was saying to him, nodded and said ‘yes’ once or twice then put the phone down again.
He’d been an officer for close to thirty years and had seen everything. Well, that’s what most of the other officers thought anyway. He prided himself on the fact that he was unlikely to be flapped by anything, least of all the petty theft of a vid screen from the local library. On this occasion however he was worried. That phone call sounded suspiciously like Elks work and that meant trouble was brewing. He didn’t really want to get involved.
Still, he couldn’t let the man get away with everything.
Elk rubbed his hands expectantly, and then turned towards his new visitor.
‘I have some news sir.’
‘Well out with it man, we don’t have all day!’
‘Er, yes sir.’, the gentleman shifted nervously from one foot to the other. ‘Well, we found the N.A.P.E. again sir.’
‘Good, I’ll send Julio to get him right him away.’ Elk reached for the comlink.
‘Ah. Well.’ Alfred was looking even more nervous now. As one of the more intelligent among Elks men he prided himself to being to get out of almost every situation by just talking his way through the problem. Even he wouldn’t bet on his chances right now.
‘Lost him? How?’, Elk relaxed back in his chair, expecting a long explanation.
‘Well, he just disappeared. He was at the library…’
‘Yes we know’
‘...well, after that he visited pizza place, closely followed by a number of other smaller take-away outfits. He sort of hovered between them like he was looking for something, and then settled on a kebab house on 43rd.’
‘And then?’, Elk had leant forward now, resting his hands next to the control panel built into his desk.
‘Well, he just seemed to disappear. It’s almost as if he’d managed to switch himself off somehow..’
‘Yes Roger, the investigator working for the other side?’
‘Er...Roger, yes. Alfred flipped through his notes, shuffled them and then made a play of looking through them again. “I don’t seem to have that information with me sir. Could I?”
‘Yes, of course.’ said Elk with a syrupy grin.
Alfred turned and half-walked and half ran towards the oak door. As he got there he tried his best to open them quietly, before realising his boss’s earlier request to have a squeak put in the door. Once outside, with door closed, Alfred steeled himself a grin at having got of office without Elk having to push any buttons. Then he strolled towards his desk, catching a lump in the carpet with his left foot, he did a marvellous forward somersault before landing flat on his backside, his papers adding to the volcanic eruption effect as they floating to the floor around him.
This was not, he decided, a good day to be Elk’s aide.