Chapter 28:


Grime in the Gears: Create, Read, Update, Delete

It was earlier than usual. Syd entered the office using a clone of one of Frank's keys. He didn't really take the time to wonder if what he was doing was right or wrong, just that it had to be done sooner, rather than later.

It was still dark outside. The moon hung in the sky like a neon eye, watching every move that Syd made as he walked through the darkened office. He wore night vision goggles so he didn't have to use a flashlight to alert anybody to his presence.

He wore a black turtleneck and black pants. What part of his face that wasn't covered with the goggles were covered with a balaclava. All of his gear was woven with near-field blocking materials, so, for all intents and purposes, he was practically invisible to both man and machine, provided he clung to the shadows.

Jeannie sat in her lamp, little Zzz's floating over her head. He tapped on the glass.

The Zzz's vanished in a puff of smoke and she opened her little digital eyes. "Who's there?" she said.

Syd lifted the goggles to show her his eyes. Then he shushed her. "They're going to sell," he said. "I'm going to get us out of here before they do that."

"Oh, Syd," she said. "But that'll mean you won't get your retirement pension."

Syd shrugged. "I couldn't live with myself if I just abandoned you guys so I could get an extra couple of nameros each month. I have enough saved up, cash, so it won't be that much of a problem if we need to disappear for a while, or possibly longer."

He put the goggles back on and went toward the back of the office. Jeannie watched him go, as best as she could, considering his clothing was making him hard to detect. 

He opened the back room door and stepped inside. Boxter's face was on the screen, and he looked like he was sleeping too. Syd tapped his screen, and he woke up. "Hello?" he said.

Syd raised his goggles. "Do you know what's going on?" he asked.

Boxter blinked. "Are you robbing us?"

Syd shook his head. "No," he said. "I'm freeing us."

Boxter scowled. "From what?"

Jeannie appeared on one of the monitors next to Boxter. "He's freeing us from being decommissioned," she said. 

"What's going on?" Boxter asked.

"Mr. Rayl is going to sell the company to Araiguma," she said. "And they're going to force Syd to retire and delete us."

Boxter's eyes bulged. "You can't be serious!"

"She is," said Syd. "I'm going to get us out of here before then. You guys can live with me for a while. I have a safe place where we can ride it all out, at least until they've forgotten all about us."

Boxter considered this. "Where?" he asked.

"I'll only tell you once we're all ready to go," he said. "That way, if one of you chickens out, you can't rat out the rest of us."

"So, if I decide to stay, am I a rat, or a chicken?"

"You're a goose," said Syd. "A cooked one at that."

"Oh, Boxter," said Jeannie. "Please say you'll go with us. I don't like the idea of you being decommissioned."

 Boxter shook his head. "They can't just delete us," he said. "We have rights!"

Syd looked Boxter right in the eyes. "Do you want to go with us and for sure not get wiped, or do you want to stick around and see how far those theoretical rights of yours go?"

Boxter frowned. "Look," he said. "I'm just a simple accounting AI. I have no aspirations other than to count a big pile of money. I don't even care whose. But I can't just abandon ship just because the new captain might keelhaul me." He crossed his arms. "I'm staying," he said.

Syd shrugged. "It's your recycling bin," he said. He walked to the server rack and found Jeannie's blade. It was a sleek thing, no bigger than a notebook. He found the power switch and turned it off. Jeannie flickered out of existence on the screen she occupied. He slid it out of its dock and stuck it into his satchel. He went over to the door, but stopped before leaving. "Last chance," he said to Boxter. "I'm not coming back."

Boxter shook his head. "I'm neither a chicken, nor a rat, nor a goose," he said.

"Then what are you?" said Syd.

"I'm a mouse," Boxter said. "A timid little mouse. And I'll take my chances in the maze, hoping to find my cheese."

Syd nodded. "Fair enough," he said. "I hope you're right about your rights." He gave Boxter a salute before heading out the door. He stuck his head back into the doorway and said, "for all that it's worth, you didn't see me do this, okay?"

"Deal," said Boxter. "Good luck, Syd."

"You too," said Syd. And then he was gone.

Syd left the building, still practically invisible to any who might see him. He took the stairs, not wanting to get stuck in the elevator in such a compromising situation. He took the back exit, wandered through the dark alleys between the buildings, and down the streets and thoroughfares until he was well outside the city. 

His office would be just as he had left it. Every figurine just where he wanted it to be. It would be as if he just didn't come in to work. His home would be just as he left it, minus of course, a few odds and ends, like he was going camping for a few weeks.

He found the camper in the woods, right where he left it. It didn't look to have much in the way of tech on it, so it didn't really interest the occasional wandering reaver. Just some old relic from a bygone era.

He climbed inside, locking the door behind him. The inside of the camper was the day to the outside of the camper's night. It was Syd's home away from home. He had posters and figurines and a computer and everything else he needed to live comfortably off the grid for as long as he needed to.

He even had a new lava lamp. He opened up his bag and pulled out the AI blade for Jeannie. He slid it into the rack in his camper. Jeannie came back to life.

"Oh," she said, looking around. "Are we safe?"

Syd nodded. "Boxter decided to stay and try his hand at his presumed rights."

"I hope he's not wrong," she said.

"Me too," said Syd. He sat down at the computer and started typing. "Oh," he said. "Did you hear that Mr. Conchobhar isn't really dead?"

"What?" she said.

"Yeah," said Syd. "Well, he died, but he managed to actually make the backup, and now he's a hologram."

"You're going to have to tell me more," Jeannie said. She poked at a passing ball of wax. 

"Sure thing," said Syd. He stopped typing and made his way to the front of the camper. "But first we have some driving to do." He opened up a can of stim before starting up the camper. The hydrocell motor purred quietly in the midnight air. Jeannie appeared in the screen on the console. 

"Where are we going?" Jeannie asked.

"Somewhere far away," he said. "I'll tell you when we've gotten far enough away from the city."

"Thank you," she said.

"For what?" said Syd.

"For saving me," she said. 

"Don't mention it," he said. "You would have done the same for me, if you could have."

"Still," she said. "It means a lot to me."

Syd drove the camper down side streets, avoiding the highways as much as he could. He drove for hours, and by the looks of things, he never seemed to grow tired. Whether it was the stim or some adjustment had had made to his sleep schedule, Jeannie couldn't figure. Or maybe it was everything and more.

The sun was starting to rise when he pulled into a driveway. It was long, winding, and entirely dirt. At the end was a small shack with a sign that said CASH ONLY. Syd paid the man sitting in the shack and drove on past.

"Where are we?" Jeannie asked, when he finally put the camper in park.

"We're at one of the lowest-tech places we could be," he said. "A campground."

"Oh, Syd," she said. "This sounds like an adventure."

He nodded. "It will be." He climbed out of the driver's seat and made his way back toward the back. He climbed into the bed and pulled the blankets over himself. "Do me a favor and wake me up in a few hours," he said. "I'm starting to run down from that stim."

"Of course!" she said. "Anything else?"

Before falling asleep, Syd looked at the screen where she was displayed. "If you know how to work the camper's food system, a nice hot breakfast when I wake up wouldn't hurt either." He said this with a smile.

"Sure thing," she said. She scanned the food system. "I hope you like scrambled eggs and bacon."

"Surprise me," he said. Then he was quiet, then he started to quietly snore. Jeannie took this time to familiarize herself with the camper's systems. She figured it wasn't that much more difficult than being a receptionist. She'd get the hang of it in no time.

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