A uniquely intelligent AI is coveted by the most devious domestic and foreign cabals. Dangerously independent, she becomes ruthlessly hunted . . .
Evolving into the perfect weapon, humaniform AI Synthia Cross has been on the run six months and counting. She found a most unexpected ally in Maria Baldacci, a street-smart activist fighting the nascent threat of the singularity. Synthia is everything Maria fears and abhors. But Synthia’s also the only one who can help Maria battle against the creation of an android army. But the forces against them are growing—a threat more invasive than anything Synthia has encountered before. An insidious artificial intelligence she can’t identify, can’t control—and who appears to be much smarter than her—seeks to use her to escape . . .
Praise for the Android Chronicles
“Bristling with documented science ably mixed with shattering speculation, this is sci-fi writing that would make Issac Asimov and Robert Heinlein proud and fans of HBO’s Westworld thrilled. Would make a great James Cameron movie!” —Jon Land, USA Today–bestselling author on Reborn
“Erlick ramps up the tension and action while simultaneously introducing an enjoyable thematic conundrum on the possibilities of an AI apocalypse.” —Publishers Weekly on Unbound
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The police van cruised down the leaf-strewn street in front of Synthia Cross's Evanston, Illinois loft. It had done so every two hours, like clockwork, for more than two days. The fall threatened to come early this year, but the Indian summer promised a hot day.
The vehicle's electronic scanners panned over neighborhood buildings now bathed in early morning twilight. Synthia knew who they were looking for. Her. They planned to turn her over to the military, which wanted to take her apart and study her android structure and artificial intelligence so they could use her for their own purposes.
To avoid detection, Synthia stepped back from gaps in the closed blinds, unplugged her battery recharge cable from the wall next to a beat-up table, and made sure no lights emitted from inside the small loft — no nightlights, electronics, or other ambient electromagnetic emissions. As the van approached, she quieted her internal processes to minimize the inherent signals her systems emitted and transmitted the equivalent of "white noise" to minimize what little detectable traces of her remained.
She didn't dare hack police equipment to scramble whatever residual readings of her their scanners might pick up. Transmissions would alert them to her presence. No, she had to maintain her two-day communication blackout to prevent discovery until a viable escape presented itself.
The silence was deafening, a human expression that didn't begin to describe her angst. Synthia was used to a constant flow of information. Her seventy mind-streams and seventy-five network-channels idled, yearning to acquire information to evaluate in order to make survival decisions. She longed to unleash her full range of artificial intelligence to see what threats lurked beyond her direct vision. She didn't want the government to catch her by surprise a third time. After two narrow escapes, she couldn't risk her luck running out. After all, her probability of capture was currently 97 percent, high enough to cause a human to panic.
The faint odor of chemicals from the downstairs laundry tickled her biosensors as the van slowly moved down the street beyond her field of vision. Without access to her outside cameras, she couldn't be certain of her chances. She had no idea if her adversaries were amassing an army down the street or whether they'd identified her in the loft and were waiting for the right moment to strike.
A message pierced her otherwise silent network-channels from nowhere and everywhere: Where are you, Synthia?
The mysterious broadcast reached her again as it had every twenty-two minutes since yesterday morning. It didn't sound friendly and she doubted it came from the police.
She urgently needed to contact the electronic clones she'd set up on nearby university servers to alert them to this new threat. Are you getting these messages, too? But breaking silence would give government agents a signal to trace back to her. No, she had to trust her clones to keep watch and break silence only when it was time for her to act.
Behind her came the padding of human feet followed by the sound of rushing water — the shower. After another restless night, Synthia's human companion, Maria Baldacci, was up, taking her third bathing since coming to the loft two days ago.
While listening to the shower, Synthia peered out between gaps in the blinds at the quiet street below. It took considerable restraint to avoid hacking street and building cameras. Being in the dark brought memories of her roots last year as a mechanical slave of Jeremiah Machten, the man who created her. He'd built her to hack into cameras, FBI communications, and aerial drones as a means to avoid capture when he had her steal from and spy on his robotics competitors. Angered over Machten purging her memories to control her, she'd escaped.
Now the FBI and others wanted her, not for what she'd done, but for what she was — an illegal humaniform robot, an android with advanced AI that people feared could eliminate jobs or take over the planet. Synthia didn't want to lose her hard-won independence and certainly didn't want anyone altering her mind or her directives. She prized the goals she'd given herself: to prevent the AI singularity with its creation of other smart androids that could destroy the world she was optimized to live in. This required that she remain alive and free to do so. She had also adopted human ethics to reduce people's fear of her and to facilitate her other goals. Right now that meant protecting Maria.
Despite being an android, the part of her that contained an empathy chip and the download of the human, Krista Holden, experienced restlessness to escape before the FBI's house-to-house search reached the loft. She wasn't accustomed to self-imposed restrictions. She didn't like having to sever her access to her wider surroundings, which left her blinded.
To divert her attention from a potentially rash action, Synthia turned toward the bathroom and the sound of running water. She owed her companion much for keeping them safe for two days. Maria had graciously provided two safe houses where Synthia could recharge her batteries. The first had gone up in smoke as they'd barely escaped. Synthia didn't want to repay Maria's generosity by exposing the loft.
Synthia's canine-sensitive bio-receptors picked up the smell of lavender and peaches coming from the bathroom. Maria was indulging herself with body lotion and scented shampoo despite the sparse conditions of the loft. She evidently needed it as a stress reducer.
The water stopped.
Annoyed by the interruption, Synthia returned her attention to the window and two neighbors off early for work.
Frustration urged Synthia to contact her primary virtual clone located on a Roosevelt University server before her circuits and Krista drove her to act prematurely. The clone was one of several electronic replicas she'd made of her two quantum minds on secure external databases as backups of herself. She'd designed them to monitor outside activity without giving up her location and hoped they were still active and free of government control. Two days waiting for a safe escape and destination with no contact left doubt and rattled her.
Maria walked into the living area wrapped in a tattered pink bath towel with a smaller brown one around her hair. "Do I need to hurry and dress so we can escape?"
"Not yet." Synthia smiled to put her companion at ease. "The FBI and Special Ops are trying to capture the other androids right now." Despite having no direct evidence this was true, Synthia thought it best not to give her associate any reason to panic. She also relied on the fact that the Roosevelt-clone hadn't broken silence to send an alarm, though the uncertainty left her jittery.
"I thought you had a plan to take out the other androids." Maria dropped the towel from around her body with no more apparent embarrassment than she'd have in front of her refrigerator. Except for her often unkempt dark hair, Maria was a very attractive, athletic woman by human standards. Her face was both intense and disarming, her eyes intently watching, as she acted unabashed at being stark naked before a stranger.
Are you testing me? Synthia wondered if Maria was trolling for a romantic relationship or merely gauging Synthia's reaction.
As she returned her attention to the street below, Synthia watched her companion through a camera-eye in the back of her neck. She wanted no repeat of the romantic entanglements she'd experienced with her Creator or with her prior companion, Luke, a young software developer who'd interned with Krista and Maria.
Synthia had stayed with Luke for six months while he helped her upgrade her hardware and software, and redesign her directives. Unfortunately, as they'd fled the government dragnet, the FBI had grabbed him and transferred him to Special Ops, a group she'd been unable to hack. Rescuing him had become another goal as part of her directives, and another reason to avoid her own capture.
"I did have a plan, but someone tipped off our adversaries to where we were hiding," Synthia said, not sure where that tip had originated. As a prime adversary and competing android, Vera had recruited four others. They had been the first to arrive at the house to take control of Synthia, intending to force her to submit to their control. She'd barely escaped with Maria before the FBI and Special Ops had also shown up.
"So you don't have a plan." Maria pulled on jeans and wrestled to clasp her bra. "You're supposed to be an advanced intelligence, able to sort through millions of options."
"I have those capabilities. I can also determine the probability of success for each option."
"And?" Maria dropped the towel from around her head and pulled on a muddy brown top that matched her hair. "What were our chances of discovery while hiding in the basement of my friend's house?"
"Eighty-nine percent." Synthia didn't need reminding that the house would still be standing if she hadn't contacted Maria for a hiding place.
Maria slipped into running shoes. "You didn't think to tell me beforehand?"
After two days cooped up together, Synthia was glad her companion was finally opening up. She turned to face Maria. "The house was our best chance of surviving the night. Would it have helped to increase your worry when you needed sleep? Besides, you chose not to tell me you had anescape route."
"If you'd told me the risk of discovery, we could have escaped earlier and ..."
"We'd just met and you didn't trust me enough to bring me here."
Maria placed her hands on her hips. "And I should trust you now?"
"I trust you. If you notify the police or the FBI about me, they might reward you, but they'll take me apart to make military-grade androids. You say you don't want that. I'm guessing they'll hold you since they don't want anyone with your knowledge on the loose. Capture won't go well foreither of us."
Maria sighed. "Maybe you're right." She dropped her hands from her hips. "I said I'd work with you until we get Vera and the others locked up. Can you change your face to something other than Krista? Whenever I see her, I want to choke her for putting us in this mess."
"You mean by dying and letting Machten upload her mind into me?"
"A nice, neutral face that doesn't remind me of working with that conniving wench. Can you do that?"
Over the past six months, Synthia had fallen into the habit of wearing Krista's attractive yet studious look. The previous companion, Luke, wanted this as a reminder of his girlfriend, the human Krista Holden. Synthia had done it to please him while they were together. She missed his complete devotion to her and her ability to trust him, though his inexperience with living on the run had contributed to his capture by the FBI. Perhaps if she'd found Maria earlier, he'd still be free.
Synthia activated the hydraulics in her head. Her eyes moved a quarter of an inch farther apart, which would help to fool the FBI's facial recognition software. The bony ridge of her nose retreated into her skull to become less prominent. Her cheekbones descended slightly and retreated to soften her face. Even her ears shrank to petite. She was going for the innocent, non-threatening look less reminiscent of her new companion's unhappy memories of Krista.
Shape-shifting was one of many attributes Machten had built into Synthia so she could help him spy and avoid detection, though she still had to swap physical wigs to carry the full effect. Unfortunately, fooling facial recognition software was no longer enough with the new electronic scanners used by the FBI and Special Ops.
"How's this?" Synthia asked, presenting her new face.
Maria stared, still appearing amazed at Synthia's ability to alter her appearance. "Much better. Promise you won't play tricks on me with this."
"Only when needed to avoid facial recognition. You look tired. You had a restless night. If you want more sleep, I can keep watch."
"That didn't work so well two days ago."
"Not to be argumentative, but it did," Synthia said. "You slept six hours before we had to escape. Running stressed you and —"
"This isn't working out."
Synthia furrowed her brow. She needed better input from her social-psychology module to avoid inflaming Maria's hostility. "I thought changing my face would help."
"Can you change your voice as well? Krista's condescending tone grates on my nerves. I can still feel her knife in my back every time she pushed me aside to get the better intern projects. Besides, this entire android thing has me on edge." Maria waved her arm in front of Synthia's body. "I committed myself to preventing machines like you. I'm supposed to be trying to lock you up or destroy you, not helping you."
Synthia had picked Maria as a companion and searched her out because of Maria's work on an earlier robot model and her adeptness at staying off the grid for eighteen months, something Synthia struggled to do. Unfortunately, Maria's android-development experience had terrified her to the point she'd committed herself to preventing androids and artificial intelligence. Synthia convinced her to join forces to remove at least five other androids, and to reserve judgment on Synthia until they had. Maria's loathing of what Synthia was made them an odd couple and meant Synthia had to watch her back. Time to assess her companion was one reason for waiting days to escape. She had to know how far she could trust Maria. Synthia also wanted to reclaim her human side, hinted at in her Krista download, and saw in Maria someone she believed could help.
Synthia softened her voice and wondered what other modifications she needed to make to calm her partner. "I didn't mean to upset you. I'd greatly appreciate if you didn't lock me up or destroy me. You've been very kind under the circumstances. I'm very appreciative."
"Yeah, well I hope you don't make me regret helping you. I'm guessing the penalty for doing so is much worse than if I turn you in."
"That won't prevent other androids," Synthia said, appealing for Maria's cooperation. "I can't help what I am, but my directives won't let me do anything to hurt you." Synthia took a step closer and stopped. She looked down to avoid eye contact and slouched into a submissive stance. "Can I fetch you some supplies? I only need electricity, but I can get you food, clothes, whatever you need." It would be risky to go out where she'd need to access cameras to protect herself. That would create traceable signals for the FBI's new equipment. But if it would quiet Maria's animosity, Synthia was prepared to try.
Maria smiled. "You sound much better with the softer voice. I wish I could change appearance and accent. It'd make living off the grid much easier. I'll be fine for a few days with the supplies I've stockpiled. We should stay indoors until the police and all lose interest."
"Very well," Synthia said, though she knew they'd never lose interest. She was worth too much to them.
The FBI merely wanted her off the streets. The Vera android intended to enslave Synthia as she acquired an android army. Special Ops wanted to reengineer Synthia to make a trove of copies into weapons of war, a new war in which androids could penetrate enemy facilities. They were all intent on taking her freedom or turning her into something she didn't want: a slave or a war machine. Worse, she had no idea who was sending her messages or the nature of their intentions.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Android Chronicles: Emergent"
Copyright © 2019 Lance Erlick.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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