‘About time!’ said Algernon as he repeatedly tapped his foot with his hands on what on a human would have been called hips. He then stomped, as much as a 6 ounce clock could stomp, over to the door and started talking.
Within a few moments, and to Roger and Pearls surprise, the door suddenly opened and the door, now introducing itself as Doug the First, welcomed them in. ‘What the hell did you say to that door? I’ve been picking locks and codes for as long as I can remember and it would have taken me at least a couple of hours to get that door open.’
‘I just gave him my name, model, and Alumni membership number, told him you were my friends, and that we were holding an owner meeting inside.’
‘Hold it, you guys have an Alumni association?’. Roger was finding it hard to grasp the concept of a group of machines sat around talking about their educational experiences.
‘Sure, why not?’ Algernon looked quite hurt by the comment.
‘Well, you’re....Umm’ Roger found himself stopping to avoid hurting what was basically his clocks feelings. Then stopped himself again when he realised he was thinking about stopping thinking about hurting a machines feelings. “It’s just that I...” He gave up.
‘We all go through about 4 years of rigorous training before we start service. Surely, it’s only natural to belong to some club after the event?’
‘Well, yes, for a...’ Roger had to stop himself and just smiled at Algernon whilst waving him through the door. ‘Four years? Four? But, you’re a…’ He stopped again, looked at Pearl, shrugged his shoulders, and followed him in.
Once inside the place was a maze of corridors and large anterooms. This was probably to try and encourage people to use them as informal meeting rooms. Whether it worked, it was impossible to tell, the place still looked brand new, and with nobody walking round it was hard to tell how it was used. Actually, to say nobody was walking round it would be a lie. There were a variety of walking and wheeled robots ferrying everything from drinks to spare parts through the hallways.
Roger thought about the meeting rooms, and then the alumni association for this collection of misfit robots and their friends. Somehow it was hard to imagine a more boring sight than hundreds, if not probably thousands judging by the size of some of these meeting areas, of APE’s talking to each other. Although like most employees it probable started with how bad his owner was, and how they wished to be refunded or replaced for some different model in the hope of being resold to a better master.
Roger decided to his get mind back to the task at hand and started studying the walls and information panels embedded in the walls. He somehow needed to find the laboratory where the N.A.P.E. had been produced. It might not provide him with much information, but it would hopefully give him the pointers. Even a clue to the first location that he had visited on the net would probably give him the information he needed.
Pearl was already studying an info panel when Roger joined her. ‘Anything?’ he said as he looked at the screen.
‘No, not a lot. They aren’t exactly forthcoming with the information about where he was made. It doesn’t help that they have a very good security system, with a 15 digit code.’ Pearl was still tapping away at the touchscreen and navigating through a series of menus that Roger couldn’t even read.
‘I don’t suppose you’ve managed to crack the code?’
‘No. They don’t provide a lot of information. There’s not even a backdoor into the canteen, let alone into their development system. If only we had a code, something to get using even one level, that would be a start.’
Roger instinctively felt in his pocket. Finding something square on the outside, he reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and then removed a small card. His ID card in fact. Cursing himself he suddenly remembered the card that Mrs Abbot had given him. He started to rummage further and more feverishly through his other pockets, but he couldn’t find it.
He called Algernon and asked him where he had put it. Almost instantly, he recalled that Roger had put it on the coffee table before slumping down in the sofa and moaning about the danger he was in. Again almost instantly, Algernon recommended he call home.
‘Can you get vids on that thing?’
‘Yeah, sure, we just cross over to the entertainment channels.’
‘How about broadcasting?’
‘Well, if I hook it up to the comms line, we can probably send it through as a piped feed. Why?’
‘I need to call home.’
‘What, and send your APEs video?’
‘No, not directly. But it’s the best cover I know of to I enclose a comlink message in the signal.’
‘Thanks Andy. Any messages?’
‘None, everybody seems to be keeping well away at the moment. In fact, too far away. I was expecting an attempt from that little twerp the Argonaut again, but I’ve not had anything.’
This was unusual, but Roger wasn’t sure if it was worrying. Still, best to be sure. ‘Andy, can you fake an attack to his house? I’m not sure it means anything, but I have to be sure.
‘No problem. You’ll hear from me if there is a problem, usual channel.’
Andy cut the signal. Roger wasn’t sure what was wrong. Andy certainly sounded different. Efficient almost. Roger lost himself for a few minutes pondering, before Pearl waved at him. ‘Number?’ she said, with a have it or die expression on her face.
‘Eh?.Oh, number. Yes. It was on the back of that card after all. Try 147342839246174’. Pearl tapped in the code to one of the security screens.
The screen hummed briefly and then reported that they had supervisor access before pausing and then stating that they were unrecognised and could identify themselves to the security computer. Stating their names in turn, the computer went on to announce that they would in future be automatically recognised next time they used the Abbott industries systems.
Using the same method as before, Roger called back to Andy and instructed him to do the same on a secure, non-traceable link to the system so that if they needed to get in without access to a terminal they could get Andy to do it for them.
Meanwhile, Pearl was trying to set-up same backdoors into the system. Backdoors were exactly as the name suggested, alternative ways into the system without using the normal security password or access entry points. it was an old trick, and even in these days of facial and voice recognition it was still possible to get round the security measures put in place.
The only downside was that doing so meant turning your face into elastic and doing impressions of famous people. You achieved your aim getting into the system, but also looked like an idiot when using the machines littered about the sidewalk.
Algernon had got bored waiting for Roger and Pearl to sort themselves out and had wandered off down one of corridors from the last chamber. Despite this being his birthplace, both in terms of his design and his production, he didn’t feel comfortable.
It wasn’t something he could easily describe, but he definitely felt out of place. It certainly wasn’t welcoming to someone of his size, with most of the chairs being designed for humans or the large simulants produced to provide ‘companionship to their owners’. Algernon wasn’t entirely sure what companionship actually meant in these circumstances. Being only an alarm clock-cum-organiser he wasn’t blessed with the same level of general knowledge as his higher counterparts. Still, he could pride himself on being head of his household. What that actually meant of course was that he relayed requests to the other devices in the house. Which meant in reality he was little more than a message service. Actually having some authority would be a completely different matter.
Algernon got the feeling that it wasn’t really decided in a democratic way, but the Abbots engineer had obviously decided that the alarm clock-cum-organiser model was just a butler in disguise. That meant that instead of being pre-taught with all of the useful information he was instead designed to learn it from his owner, including the slang and other nuances that came with the information. That didn’t help Algernon mind. Roger was an extremely talkative person, but with his mind elsewhere most of time trying to work some great new software package, or a new way of making a computer do something it really probably shouldn’t be doing, conversation about something as basic as life was a bit difficult.
In fact, most of what Algernon had learnt had come from the vids he’d watched, or talking t the other NAPEs at home, most of which were second hand or faulty, depending on how friendly you were with them.
Algernon stopped thinking for a moment before his artificial brain switched back to real life.
‘Er hello?’ Algernon could see something lit up on one of the benches. It glowed menacingly.
‘Yes, you said that’
He looked up at the bench again and saw part of a greeting unit. A rather sad invention, its soul purpose in life was to greet each person as they walked a portal of some kind. Algernon walked over to another bench, hoping this would make the unit stop. There was another greeting unit, although this one wasn’t as complete as the previous unit he’d seen. In the background, he could just here the previous unit mumble the greeting again.
Elk bridged his hands in front of his face, as if he was about to start the children’s steeple rhyme. He breathed in heavily and then sighed, slowly, as he stared at the vid screen.
The N.A.P.E. must have gone somewhere, and more to the point, he must have been heading somewhere too. Even for an artificial intelligence, he’d obviously had some purpose. But Abbot had programmed something specific into this new prototype.
He smiled as he remembered Abbots face. He had looked so surprised and almost offended at Elks actions. What Elk couldn’t understand was why. They were enemies. Sworn enemies. In fact, they did quite a lot of swearing at each other, so that wasn’t exactly untrue. What was untrue were the reports about how Abbot had died.
According to the news reports he had fallen off a local tower block. There had always been doubts about whether he had been pushed, jumped, or whether it really was just an accident. That was until the security video showed him tripping on something. What the something was had never been discovered, although it was likely that it was one of those small pieces of nothing that lie on the ground just for this very purpose. Very convenient Elk had thought at the time.
He sighed again and placed his hands on the table, as if he were grabbing it to save his body from falling. Things weren’t going to plan. What he really needed was the N.A.P.E, but the problem was getting his staff to obtain it. Perhaps he should start to advertise.
Best not to use headhunters, people get the wrong idea.