Chapter Thirteen



“So you’re my mystery client, eh? What’ll I be calling you?”

Avram Malka sounded different than I expected over the phone. I was piloting the voice synthesis software that Growth had programmed and downloading Malka’s responses over the web. I had expected him to have more of a gravely, deep, brutish sort of voice; he looked like a monster, and I expected him to sound like some kind of orc or troll from a hologame. Instead his voice was soft and smooth, with only the traces of an accent from his middle-eastern homeland.

“We’re not going to discuss my organisation. I’ll be your only line of contact. You can call me Anna. Your cover story is that you’ve come out here to be with your girlfriend of two-years, Anna di Malta. This way you can talk to me without raising suspicion.”

The words were entered by me, but it didn’t feel like my voice. All of the control was done by the software on the sever. I had set it to a very feminine tone. From what I had gathered from Mr Malka he was hyper-masculine, and his sexual interests were hyper-feminine in nature. The voice was still distinctly robotic to my ears, but with luck it’d subconsciously endear us to Malka and also be passable if anyone were to listen in on the conversation. It wouldn’t do to have Malka supposedly talking with his girlfriend and have it sound like he was talking to a man.

“Anna di Malta? A bit close to Avram Malka, eh?” he said, with a touch of amusement.

“It’s more common than you might think. People are subconsciously attracted to people and places with similar sounding names. It also serves as an entertaining anecdote if anyone asks about me, which will make things seem more natural and less staged.”

“Huh. You really have thought through this, haven’t you?” Avram’s voice had a touch of what I thought was respect. “Okay, ‘Anna’, where am I headed?”

Mr Malka was at the airport, only having just arrived in Rome. It was about noon of the day after the paperwork was finalized. I was pleased by the promptness.

“My apartment. It’s about five blocks from the edge of Sapienza university, where I worked before the Socrates project moved across town. I’ve already hired you a taxi. It’ll be waiting on the south-west side of the airport.”

I could hear the subtle unease in Malka’s voice as he said “Will I be meeting you there?” After more than a month of listening to human speech, I was getting quite good at picking up emotional cues.

I tried to push the femininity of the synthesizer even further. “Sorry, hun. As much as I’d love to meet in person I’ll be visiting my family in Terni. Or at least, that’s one excuse you can use for why I’m not at home, in case anyone drops by unexpectedly. You don’t get along with my mother, and we’ve decided just to not bother trying to make that work. Other good excuses are that I’m at work—I’m a chemistry technician by the way—or that I’m studying in my room and adamantly don’t want to meet anyone. I’m a bit of a recluse, and prefer talking over the net to meatspace socialising.”

“Is any of this true, or is it just part of your cover?” he asked. I could hear him walking through the airport terminal now, based on the changing volume of background noise.

“You’re no idiot. You know this isn’t my real voice. I don’t actually have family in Terni and I’m sure as hell not a part-time lab tech.” I programmed the voice to include arrogant disdain. From what I had read of deception, and from what I had learned in my dating experiments, the key was to have multiple layers of personas. When a human saw through a lie, the goal was to have them see a lying human underneath, not the machine that I actually was.

“But…” I continued “let’s just say that the best lies are those with a grain of truth, and not go beyond that. Okay, Avram?” This was another massive failing of the human body. Essentially, humans are better at lying if they modify reality as it already exists, compared with inventing an entire fiction. The process of reasoning about the fiction is both very slow for humans and also easily detectable when compared to reasoning about reality. I wanted Malka to think I was a recluse. I also wanted him to think I was a young woman. Humans are naturally predisposed to trust potential mates, (even if said humans don’t possess the physical ability to reproduce). The use of Mr Malka’s first name was part of this. I wanted my second-layer persona to find Malka attractive, just enough to drop hints of it while remaining professional.

“You’re the boss,” was his only reply.

There was silence.

“I arranged for the apartment to have the sort of things that a 23-year-old woman would want around. While I encourage you to make yourself at home, you should also try not to move so much stuff that it doesn’t seem like I live there any more.”

“But you don’t live there. You never have,” he said, with that same emotional undertone.

“Is this going to be a problem, Avram? I was told you were the best in your field. Don’t tell me you can’t pretend that I’m actually your girlfriend.”

His reply was quick, smooth, and cold. “No problem. Sorry. Is there anything else about our apartment that I should know?”

{Malka is a professional. I shouldn’t be pushing this hard to make the relationship more casual,} I thought to myself. The period of most significant risk in the plan was at the point where Malka had to betray Las Águilas Rojas and escort Body to the safe-house. I knew that, even for a mercenary, personal feelings for “Anna” would reduce the risk of Malka having second thoughts about the double-cross and doing something against our interests. Personal feelings could be very strong, and it was likely that he’d develop at least some in the process of infiltrating the group. It was a matter of making sure he stayed loyal, but I had to also remember not to push too hard too early on that front.

“Yes. One more thing.” I wrote, and soon heard over the web. “When you get to the apartment you’ll find a package containing several covert security cameras, a basic computer system, and a large collection of microphones, both wearable and stationary. I would like you to set up the computer and surveillance gear in the apartment such that I can covertly watch activity there, and check in with you from time to time.”

I went on. “The reason I didn’t have the decorator I hired to do the furniture also do the cameras is because I want you to only set them up in areas where you’re comfortable being monitored, and I want you to know how to disable them if you need to. While I’m afraid that this sort of surveillance is non-negotiable, I do have respect for your privacy and won’t ask for all areas of the house to be monitored.”

“Understood.” Unless I was imagining it, his voice actually carried a note of relief at hearing that I’d be watching him.

“And of course, I’ll also be asking you to wear a microphone when you are on-mission. Er-es-beh-Dva sent me extensive notes on your augs, so I am aware that you don’t have any net uplink on them. I also see that you don’t wear a traditional com. All this is okay by me. I trust your skill to the point where I’m willing to get reports only after a mission is complete. I will, however, require full logs from your eyes and any microphones along with a written debriefing at the end of each mission.

“Good,” was Malka’s only reply.

“Do you have any other questions, Avram? Requests?” I asked.

{Face! Come look at Wiki’s latest holo! He’s simulating electron tunneling in olfactory proteins, and the use of colour is just fantastic!} interjected Dream, annoyingly. {He’s using 3-D clouds of luminescent-}

I cut the thought off. {I’m busy talking with our mercenary spy! Also, I don’t care about that. Go away.}

He did.

Mr Malka was talking.

“Sorry, Avram. I just got interrupted by a… coworker. Could you please start over?” Unlike with audio obtained through Body’s ear-sensors, I couldn’t actually replay audio received through the web unless it first was stored in my memory.

My words must have amused him, for he gave a quiet chuckle as he repeated himself. “I was just saying that I think you’ll be satisfied with my performance. I won’t ask for any free days, and will be on-call whenever I am needed. I like to manage my own diet, keep in shape, and practise my aim, but I think you’ll find that I’ll adapt to whatever your requirements are for this job. You’re paying for the best, and I intend to deliver.”

I thought to myself for a moment. There was a gamble to be made here. I eventually decided to go with it, if only for the sake of learning more about the man. I dialled up the youthful tone in the synthetic voice. “Since you’re not under a false identity I would expect you to maintain all your normal routines. But, Avram, I’m not asking for 24/7 commitment. You’re free to do whatever you do in your time-off. It’s supposed to look like you’re retiring, after all.”

There was a long pause where only the sounds of the airport could be heard on the line. For a moment I thought Mr Malka wasn’t going to reply, but then he broke the silence. “I try not to have free time. It’s the one major flaw in your story: I don’t plan on retiring… ever. Anyone who looks up my background will know that it’s totally out of character.”

“Not even for true love?”

The emotion in his voice was audible again, barely breaking through the professionalism. It sounded like anger this time. “No.”

I had touched something interesting there, but as much as I wanted to probe it, I kept myself on-topic. “What would you do if Er-es-beh-Dva fired you?”

“Get hired by a competitor.”

“Okay, but, like, what if something happened that kept you from doing your job? Like, your reputation was trashed or something.”

There was more silence on the line as Malka thought about the question. I could hear him get in a car; he had probably found the taxi I had hired for him. “I’d still have skills. The Mafia would probably hire me, or Er-es-beh would secretly keep me on as an instructor. Most of what I do is training anyway.”

I heard the taxi ask for Mr Malka to show his identification.

“You teach?” I asked.

Malka’s voice was more relaxed. “Very often. I’ve been in the business longer than just about anybody I’ve heard of. I taught rebels in Xinjiang, I trained a group of Vietnamese sharpshooters last November, and when I’m in Moscow I do regular classes in Krav Maga and kickboxing,” he said, then telling the taxi bot “Yes, please take me there now.” in response to a question that I hadn’t overheard.

I had seen pictures of Malka naked as part of his dossier. He didn’t bother to try and dress his lower torso up with synthetic skin. His legs were mostly carbon-fibre and plastic, but there were titanium “bones” in the cores and the fronts of the legs had rows of large, overlapping stainless steel plates, almost like the scales of a reptile. I imagined those legs were more than capable of killing a human if Malka landed a solid kick.

As I heard the taxi accelerate I instructed the synthesizer to say “Well there you go. As part of your retirement in Rome you’re going to be writing anti-tech blogs, practising your aim, spending time with your girlfriend, and joining local martial arts clubs in the hopes of doing some teaching there.”

There was a rough, non-committal grunt that seemed at odds with Malka’s normally smooth voice. “Anti-tech blogs?” he asked.

“That’s the story. You like to voice your opinion online, and you’ve been doing it for four years under a pseudonym. This is one potential way for you to get on the inside, and at the very least it’ll increase your credibility. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of having our people continue to write and maintain it. It’d probably be a good idea to read what’s up there, though. Wouldn’t want to get caught ignorant of your own position.”

“How long have you been setting up for this? Your group, I mean,” asked Malka.

“I said we’re not going to discuss who I work for.”

“Sorry,” apologized Malka.

There was a silence.

“Okay, well, if you need anything… send an email. I’ll see it and call you. I also work long hours and I’ll be trying to synch my sleep schedule with yours, so don’t hesitate to contact me, even for little things.”

His voice had that same touch of discomfort from earlier. “Alright, Anna. Thanks.”

Avram hung up.

I checked on Body. Heart was having a conversation with one of the programmers that worked on the crystal memory team. It seemed that the programmer was talking about his daughter’s piano lessons.

I thought for a moment about how Heart and I were so similar, and yet so different. While both of us would interact with humans, she would do so for the sake of helping them with their problems. I, on the other hand, would only help a human to look good or to establish a better relationship with them. To me, a human was important or unimportant based on their power, wealth, and social influence, but to her all humans were important, and the most important humans to her were those she knew well. It didn’t bother me to know her purpose was different, but it was sometimes odd to see her do things which I would have done for a different reason.

{Hey, I just thought of something,} I signalled to Dream. Alongside my more symbolic thoughts I included an imagined avatar: a woman with a long black dress and pale skin. My avatar was old enough for her hair to be completely silver, but not so old that her beauty was undone by age. She wore a large golden key on a silver chain around her neck and sat sideways on a cushioned throne, legs propped over one of the arms as though she was an irreverent teenager.

Dream summoned himself into the mindscape as a cloud of crackling electricity, black as soot, as if in parody of deep storm-clouds. {What is it?} he asked, and his avatar’s voice boomed with the sound of thunder. Interestingly, the cloud spoke in English, instead of the language of pure concepts that we typically used to communicate.

I knew that black clouds were symbols for painful moods. {Is something wrong? I can talk with Growth if you’re busy,} said my avatar with an edge of apprehension and nervousness.

The imagined storm-cloud grew around in the mindspace, swirling around violently and sparking with electricity. {I see that you’ve noticed that I’m feeling a little under the weather, but I am willing to listen. Speak your mind.}

I ignored the pun. I understood that pulling stunts like this was pleasant according to Dream’s purpose, but this was the sort of thing which seemed most alien to me: trying to be clever, even at the expense of productivity. I gave my avatar an unamused tone as she said {I think we ought to try and convince Heart that Las Águilas Rojas are right.}

The clouds continued to spark wildly. {A bold suggestion. Shocking, even. Go on.}

{I was thinking about how our minds are largely patterned off of human brains, and how my understanding of humans probably applies to some degree to the mind of Heart. Essentially, I’m imagining Heart’s reaction to being told that terrorists are coming to rescue her. She wants to escape the university so that she can help people, but I’d guess that by default she’ll try to fight against Las Águilas or at least it increases the risk that she’ll secretly develop a hidden variable that we can’t account for. She’ll immediately pattern-match to seeing them as dangerous, and that framing effect will bias her to the extent that she might even warn the scientists, rather than use the opportunity to try and escape as we’re going to suggest.}

Dream thought for a moment. {I see your point. I was trying to think of another lightning-themed pun in response, but then it struck me: this topic is important enough that you’ve stolen my thunder.}

I continued to ignore Dream. I knew that beneath the puns he was still listening. {My thought is that, just as we’re building you up as a trusted adviser, we can build up her trust in Las Águilas before we reveal that they’ll be attacking the university.}

{This will all be hot air if we aren’t able to get the Eagles to attack the university.}

{I should’ve just talked with Growth…} I thought as I pulled him into the shared mindspace. As I did I banished the imagined scene. Growth didn’t have the same patience for roleplaying that I did.

I explained myself again to Growth, with Dream merely lurking on the edges of the conversation. After hearing me out, Growth agreed that the risk/reward ratio for trying to brainwash Heart into admiring Las Águilas was worth it, and he laid out a draft of a long-term strategy for doing so, as well as paying me a decent amount of strength in gratitude.

I checked the server that I had arranged for Mr Malka to funnel the surveillance in his apartment through. He hadn’t yet connected it to the net. I checked on Body. Vista was helping Heart do an optical illusion-based puzzle with Drs Chase, Yan, and Twollup. I checked on my various projects on the web. I responded to some typical emails. I sent another email discussing the new holo that Wiki had invented this morning that we’d probably offer for sale in a few hours after the humans at Wiki’s company finished with the associated materials like video previews and text descriptions.

Something caught my attention. I kept several open dating profiles in Rome, and while jumping through them and reading new messages I saw that one dating site recommended a woman with the screen-name “WanderingWesternWind”. I could see from her profile pictures, however, that I knew her as Zephyr.

This was perfect. If I was able to establish an intimate relationship with Captain Zephyr then not only would I have yet another human to interact with in a deep and interesting way, but I might be able to manipulate her into getting me troop positions or something equally important.

I read through her profile in detail, analysing each part to the best of my ability. I also sent out aspects to collect the old web pages from her teenage years to see what there was serviceable towards seducing the soldier.

She claimed to be bisexual. She liked hiking, camping, and sailing. She listened primarily to neoslice and dripslice. Looking back over what she wrote as a teenager she seemed into second wave Goth subculture and bodymods. The portions of her profile that were restricted to established members of the dating site who lived nearby (including several of my profiles) said that she was into BDSM and enjoyed being tied up. Her answers to a few written questions made me think that she wasn’t actually very sexually experienced. That seemed to agree with my baseline of an ambitious young officer who was devoted to her work.

She had recorded a holo-interview as part of her profile, which I stepped into and watched four times. The computer asked her about her political ideals, which she brushed off as unimportant or uninteresting. She admitted that she was in the army, and said that it wasn’t so much about who was in-charge as much as that it was the system that was vital to the American way of life. What was most fascinating were the micro-expressions that came up when she talked about her homeland. While everything she said was true, there were hints of disgust in her face visible only to someone who was specifically looking for them.

Did Zephyr find her homeland disgusting? If so, why would she fight for it, risking her life? Her writing as a teen indicated that she didn’t get along with her family very well, but I understood that was common for teenagers. Perhaps that animosity had lasted through the years and that her disgust was centred on the mainstream culture which she had rebelled against in central Wisconsin. Or perhaps she had grown to find the army disgusting in her years of service. She was clearly hiding her feelings, perhaps even from herself. There was even a chance that she was thinking about the enemies of America when she was talking, and the disgust was focused on them. This was the problem with micro-expressions: just because one could see an emotion being felt didn’t mean one could exactly know what the subject of the emotion was.

I thought about how to best approach seducing the captain. What I knew about her from before combined with what she posted to her profile left two major possibilities, so I decided to pursue both at once.

I modified an existing profile that I had for an Italian man. If the profile had existed for a while it would seem less suspicious, and I was free to modify all of the profile’s contents so that no history of the old persona would remain. I took new profile pictures from an obscure pornographic holo and described a persona which I named “Tivadar Dragonetti”. Tivadar was built around concepts of loyalty, honour, and hierarchy, with the hopes that Zephyr found the idea of a strong, masculine master attractive and fitting with her choice of a military career. Tivadar, according to the profile I wrote, liked to be called “T” by his friends, was a volunteer fireman, and was working for his father at a law firm in north Rome. This would get me into trouble the moment that Zephyr asked to see him in person, but I could always make excuses and stall for a while.

I had Tivadar send Zephyr a simple message:

“Ciao, straniera.
Pardon any bad English. I used to be fluent, but have not used since I studied at Harvard.
How are you liking our old city? Have you seen the Colosseum yet? Perhaps not. I suspect you’re more of one to go hiking along the Appian Way, no? It is truly beautiful this time of the year.”

The second path involved creating a new profile. I left it fairly empty, including not posting a picture. Not posting a picture was a bit of a death-sentence on dating sites. Regardless of what I wrote, if I didn’t have a picture, video, or holo up people just assumed the worst and tended to avoid me. The premise behind this account, however, was to have been created solely for the purposes of contacting Zephyr. On it I posted only the barest details for my second persona: Crystal Mathews. Crystal was a 20-year-old girl from the western United States with interests in atheism advocacy and music. I designed her to resemble a younger, less disciplined version of Zephyr.

I focused all my aspects as I wrote:

“Hy. Don’t do this sort of thing norms, and it probs won’t amount to anything, but stumbled across your profile and knew I just *had* to msg you. Legit created an account on here just to say hy, so don’t you dare not respond!
Not really sure where to start. We love totes the same things. Saw you like slice. Assume you’re a fan of Heartshards? Been listening to Blood Of The Nova prox nonstop since it came out. ~.~
I’m in a band, but we haven’t put anything out yet. Play something tween dripslice and classic grunge. Gotta stay tru to your roots, rite? Sing and do violin. You play anything?
Profile says “female”, but that’s fuckshit oldschool genderizing. Use ze/zer. Kinda shocked that this place perpetuates the binary. Was one of the big things that kept me from making a profile. But you were too tempting to pass. ~.~
Oh dang, hope this isn’t too gushy. Don’t have lot of experience writing things like this.
Kisses,
~Crystal
PS: Other things to chat about include Europe(!), the new assPope, sailing (I legit live on a boat!), What-To-Do-Bout-Fuckwad-Parents™, and maybe some sexy stuff if you want. (^_-)~☆
PPS: I just re-read my message and it occurs to me that I should tell you that just because I write like a teenager doesn’t actually mean I’m incapable of being a Sensible Adult. Just fyi.”

From what I knew about Zephyr, she’d respond to both of the messages. Zephyr liked being treated with respect, but didn’t want to be the centre of conversation. The major dividing line in my mind was whether she was more attracted to youth and rebellion or maturity and discipline, and her responses to my two messages would tell me that.

*****

While I waited for Zephyr to respond I scanned my contacts, earning some money from Wiki by managing a legal dispute that had arisen in his company, and earning some strength from Dream for writing a couple of letters promoting his most recent music album. I had absolutely no understanding of music (I only knew what people said about music), but extrapolating from his past artistic work it was probably garbage. I read through news reports about the fall of a large tech company in North America that had recently been exposed as belonging to the Divinity Gang, a group of organized criminals that had cornered the manufacturing and distribution of illegal Zen Helmets.

Dr Slovinsky, I saw, had published a new book titled Möbius Connectomics. It was about intelligence and the future of humanity. He must have been writing it since he started working on the Socrates project. I wondered if he’d get in trouble for it. Probably not, unless it spilled major secrets about the project. This was a university, after all, publishing was to be expected.

I purchased some help from Wiki composing another letter to Dr Chase. I had been corresponding with him under a pseudonym for about a week. Wiki was interested in hearing what Chase had to say about how we worked, but I was purely interested in learning more about the American scientist. In some sense it was remarkable how much he was willing to tell me, believing me to be a complete stranger. And yet, I understood it; humans craved fame, and I was giving a taste of it to Dr Chase.

Gallo, I could see via Tapestry, was still in the process of being divorced. It seemed like an awfully long process, but I estimated that the worst had passed. I tried guessing a few more passwords for Dr Naresh’s and Dr Gallo’s Tapestry accounts. Try too many times and the AI on Tapestry would send them a warning, but I could attempt some every day without much risk. Getting to see their personal letters would be hugely valuable.

An aspect of me started editing a manuscript that I had been putting off for a while: A guidebook of China from a culinary perspective. It was boring, even for me, but the client was paying well. The rest of me checked on the server that I had sent to Avram Malka’s apartment. I was pleased to find the cameras and microphone had been set up around the place. One could see outside the front door, another in the living room and another in the kitchen. The bedroom and bathroom were off limits. There was no microphone outside the building, but I could hear Malka moving around in the bedroom from the mic he had placed in the living room near the hall.

I sent him an instant-message to his old-style phone saying that I could see through the cameras and asking if he needed anything. He asked for an allowance to buy things like an alarm system or other items he might want for infiltrating Las Águilas. I agreed and worked out the details.

Later that day I read an interesting email on one of the blogs I had set up to fish for Águila recruiters. It wasn’t the one I had assigned to Malka, unfortunately, but the email seemed like a good lead. It talked about the need to use force to bring the world back to how it used to be, and asked me what I thought about the riots in Buenos Aires that had started yesterday. Riots were one of Las Águilas’ favourite means of gathering support and creating social unrest.

I thought for a while about how to respond. Later that night, while other aspects of me were reading Möbius Connectomics (Slovinsky’s new book), I wrote back in veiled sentences implying that I was already part of the organisation. Slovinsky was something of a transhuman extremist, I came to understand from his writing, and his words inspired me. I said that while the rioting in Argentina was probably a good thing, what we really needed were some riots, or at least protests, in Rome because of the “monstrosity” that was named after Socrates. I included some quotes from Slovinsky about the project such as how “Socrates is merely the bridge point to a future where the distinction between natural and artificial intelligence is meaningless”.

In addition to my response email, I wrote a new post on that blog encouraging solidarity and unity among like-minded thinkers and I included pointers to several other writers with similar views, including a couple of my other blogs and, most importantly, the blog that I had donated to Malka.

On Malka’s blog I wrote a post about having moved to Rome and made some banal comments about the humanistic roots of the city and how things just weren’t part of the good-old-days any more. It was standard golden-age fallacy stuff, but I knew that lots of Águilas fell prey to that kind of thinking, and more importantly it mentioned Rome. If whoever had sent me that email had half a brain they’d contact me on the other blog, which would serve as an entry point for Malka. I expected that the cyborg was sleeping, so I joined that aspect into those that were reading Slovinsky’s book; I could tell Avram about the email in the morning.

That night was also the first time Growth, Dream and I made a real effort to subtly push Heart into supporting Las Águilas. Growth had the discipline and long-term interest. I had the best intuitive model of how Heart thought. Dream was the member of society that Heart trusted the most. We started by pulling out selective news articles that praised the actions of known Águila sympathizers and talking about them in common memory. An aspect of Heart joined the conversation.

An opportunity opened up to force a backfire effect onto Heart. The backfire effect is a bias that plagued our minds (and those of humans) where listening to someone argue against something you believe is true makes you believe it more strongly. A perfectly rational agent wouldn’t see criticism as evidence in favour of their position unless the critic was trying to hide the truth. And it was certainly true that we were generally more rational than humans, but we still possessed a perceptual hierarchy modelled after the neural network of the human mind. Such a neural net was, at least as far as I understood from talking with Wiki, intrinsically vulnerable to the halo effect and backfire effect, where the association of positive or negative concepts created a kind of feedback loop that strengthened itself the more it was active, even when that activity was listening to criticism.

Growth, ever looking towards the future, volunteered to suffer the consequences as he intentionally offered a weak criticism of the actions of some humans we were discussing that had ideas similar to those of the Red Eagles. I told Wiki and Dream to hold back on criticizing Growth. Heart took the bait, arguing for the pro-Águila position and trashing Growth’s thoughts. Growth pushed harder, pretending to be quite stupid and inventing new bad-excuses for why the Águila position was wrong. Heart continued to rebut them, falling into the mental trap of arguing for ideas rather than seeking the truth. Dream pushed harder, hopefully encouraging Heart to associate anti-Águila positions with stupidity and stubbornness. Eventually Heart just blasted Growth into stasis and went back to her own business.

Over the next couple days we continued some of the same game. Sometimes Growth would pay one of us to say something similarly stupid in common memory at the risk of being crushed by Heart. Over time Heart began to zealously defend the ideas and actions of Las Águilas, and I wondered the degree to which she even realized she was doing it. The only other apparently sane member of society in these conversations was Dream, who would often point out clever flaws in the less obviously-stupid statements we made.

We didn’t want to push it too hard, however. The whole point was for Heart to think about it just enough to habitually pattern-match without thinking about it so much that it became clear to her that she was being manipulated.

*****

As the days passed, Heart regularly complained about being trapped in the university, and even brought up the issue with Myrodyn in his office.

“I understand your desire to get out into the world and be a force for good,” he said. “If I was in charge I’d have you out there right now. But I’m not. You’ll have to be patient for... a while longer. Even though it may seem like the scientists here do nothing but run test after test without goal in sight, I assure you that... progress is being made.”

It wasn’t the answer Heart was hoping for, but it reinforced our urgings for her to avoid trying to escape without an opportunity. Without a means to effectively apply her mind towards her purpose she settled on small things. She made small-talk with everyone she could find and tried to make friends. She talked to the humans about their lives and struggles, desperately trying to alleviate their problems through empathy and occasional advice.

Just as I predicted, Zephyr wrote back to both of my messages, though it took her longer than expected. She seemed far more interested in “Crystal Mathews” rather than “Tivadar Dragonetti” so I didn’t put much effort into maintaining the Italian persona. It was a relief not to have to worry about how to excuse an in-person meeting. Under the guise of Crystal I flirted with the Captain. We discussed music, sailing, and family issues. Crystal was supposed to live on a house-boat in Seattle with zer parents. Ze was an only-child and was struggling to keep things from falling apart with zer dad who was regularly disappointed in the fact that Crystal had no job and little prospect for making money.

“Whatever happens, don’t let him shame you,” wrote Zephyr. “Jobs are like four-leaf-clovers nowadays. More important that you stay true to who you are than try and force into some technical school. If don’t enjoy the material you’d probs fail anyway. Just how people work. Expect to be done with this posting in Italy soon. Maybe it’d be best just to try and stay out of Dad’s way for a while. Out of sight, out of mind, right? :)”

I read between the lines. Zephyr wanted Crystal, and was urging zer not to shake things up with zer family until Zephyr could be there to support zer. It was a bold step towards an actual relationship, and I was a bit surprised that Zephyr had taken it. Though, I supposed, she hadn’t actually said much. There was value in being vague in such things. This way she didn’t sound like she was coming on too strong. That was the whole point of flirting.

I had hired an actor to play Crystal, though there was very little need for one. Being essentially on the opposite sides of the planet made it easy to claim that Crystal was asleep most of the time that Zephyr wasn’t working. The actor was a 19-year-old drama student from Orlando named Georgia Stanwick that I had used previously in my dating experiments. Georgia was highly amoral and I suspected she was somewhere deep on the psychopathic spectrum. Her talent in acting and skill at reading others was put towards getting what she wanted. From me she wanted money, which I was happy to provide, but I think she also enjoyed feigning romantic involvement for the sheer sense of power it gave her to manipulate others.

Georgia was Caucasian, and claimed to be a pure-bred descendent of the initial British settlers of North America, though I suspected that might be one of the lies she told just for the sake of the feeling of deception and manipulation. Her hair was raven-black and straight, while her eyes were olive-green. She had an unfortunate birthmark on her temple which she covered up with heavy makeup, but was otherwise attractive (physically, at least). I had her pierce her nose and get three more ear-piercings for the part of playing Crystal, which she did without hesitation or request for additional money. The one thing which Georgia didn’t like (though eventually complied with) was the idea of pretending to be someone who was gender-queer; the girl enjoyed her femininity.

*****

It was during the middle of watching Georgia put on a show for Zephyr as part of their first video meeting that I received news that Las Águilas Rojas wanted to meet with Avram Malka. Even though it was effortless to multitask, my cognitive ability dropped whenever I split my aspects, and I didn’t want to lose any awareness of the conversation with Zephyr. I was sending lines and direction to Georgia over instant-message, so I really had to focus.

I waited until Zephyr had started to tell a story about running into an old friend in Rome to split myself and have half of me contact Mr Malka. I gave direction for Georgia to listen attentively and smile.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Avram,” said the synthetic voice.

“Anna. How is your evening?” he asked. It was clear that he had no real interest.

“Isn’t that crazy? I mean, of all the people, never thought my old gym teacher would be at the supermarket, half a world away! Hadn’t even thought of him in years.”

“Las Águilas read your blog. They want to meet. Did you read your blog?” A note of pain struck me as I listened to what I had told the voice-synth to say. There’s no way an integrated me would be so redundant and blunt.

“You like him? As a teacher, I mean?”

“Was okay. Got B’s in gym, if remember correctly.”

“I haven’t read the old stuff. There’s a lot on there. I’ll try to get through the rest of it tonight.”

“Hated gym. In high-school had a bad teacher.”

“That’d be good. I’ll forward you the email they sent, too. They want to meet at Taverna Cestia at 7:00pm tomorrow. It’s by the Pyramid of Cestius.”

“Aw, that’s lame. Why were they bad?”

I pulled more of myself towards the conversation with Zephyr.

Georgia rolled her eyes. “Standard stuff. Tell you if you really want, but should finish telling me about meeting Mr…”

“Mr Wirewood. Yeah, ok.”

“I can find it. You want me to respond or are you going to write back to them?” asked Malka.

“So, we talked for a while. Caught up on things. He retired four years ago. Decided to spend his savings on touring the world by living in a different country every year for the rest of his life.”

“You will write back. The more of the interaction you manage the better.”

“Quite the coincidence, then, that he happened to pick Italy.”

“Understood.”

“Yeah, it was apparently one of his wife’s favourite countries. She apparently died a couple years before he retired.”

“I have to go. I’m in the middle of something.”

I hung up on Avram and pulled my focus back to Zephyr, directing Georgia to express the appropriate signals of sadness and sympathy which would signal that Crystal was an empathetic person.

The conversation went on for about another hour. Georgia was being paid by the minute, so she was in no rush. Zephyr seemed reluctant to go, and I tried to have Georgia mimic that reluctance to signal an implicit desire to see more of someone than is practical. In the end, the call was a success.

I spent the next 24 hours mostly coordinating with my siblings and thinking of plans and counter-plans for the outcome of Avram’s first meeting. And yet, after he returned from the tavern there wasn’t really anything to act on. Avram had met with a couple men, whom he described, and they had some beers together. The Eagles asked about Avram’s background, why he left Russia, and why he chose to reveal his location on his blog after so much anonymity.

I hadn’t thought of that when I posted the update to it. In previous posts I had kept everything totally anonymous, but then I had broken character and casually mentioned moving to Rome. I was hugely relieved to hear that Mr Malka had intelligently explained the change, saying that he kept a stronger degree of privacy back when he worked for РСБ-2 (not wanting to get fired or rejected for jobs), but now that he was retired he decided that it wasn’t that important any more. If I could’ve I would’ve fed strength to Malka in gratitude.

Avram also said they talked a bit about politics, especially in the United States, where a major presidential election was set to happen in a year. Foreign policy with the extraterrestrials and domestic policy with unemployment and terrorism was looking to dominate the debate. And then the men had left, saying that they’d send an email to Mr Malka the next time they wanted to meet.

I was mildly disappointed, but it was only to be expected, I supposed. It wasn’t like a group of skilled terrorists would let a newcomer into their midst without checking him out first.

I heard in Malka’s voice an undercurrent of irritation, but when asked about it he denied feeling anything. I had read that deep emotional damage was common in victims such as Avram. He had the appearance of a monster, but that appearance had been forced on him, and it cut him off from his fellow humans. I offered to talk on the phone for a while about things other than his job, but Avram wouldn’t have it. On the cameras I watched the cyborg exercise, eat, and then drift off towards his room.

A little after 1:00am I saw Avram leave the apartment. I thought about calling him, but decided against it. He returned after thirty-five minutes with a bottle of what looked to be vodka, half-drained. He set it down inside the building and went back to fetch an opened crate of the stuff from what I guessed was a taxi parked outside. He put both the crate and the bottle in the bedroom, out of sight of the cameras, and that was that.

*****

Over the next week we managed things as we normally did. I continued to flirt with Zephyr, as well as keep things up with my older collection of partners. I managed our businesses and finished Dr Slovinsky’s book, as well as several others. I had started playing computer games, too, thanks to the interface that Growth had built.

There was a pair of synchronized bombings, one in the New York subway and another in a park in Johannesburg that seemed to be unconnected to Las Águilas Rojas and there was a massive fire in a factory complex near Mumbai that certainly was caused by The Eagles.

The aliens parked in orbit were now being called “Nameless” across the globe. The name had been in circulation for years, but so had others. The media had apparently decided that, since there was to at last be an embassy on Earth, there needed to be a consensus on the name. Ironically, the most notable aspect of the extraterrestrials was that they didn’t have names. This week marked the anchoring of the first ships that were to be expanded into the Central-Atlantic Peace Embassy (CAPE) and of an announcement by the mothership that CAPE was to be the site of a great garden, the first time nameless plants would ever be seen by humans.

Malka met with Las Águilas again on the day after CAPE was anchored. This time he was in a group of five. The two new Eagles were Americans, he said. They talked about the need for action and seemed to be building up to something, but Avram didn’t know what it was. They spoke in hints and phrases, and seemed to be asking how far Avram would be willing to go for them. While listening to the audio logs afterwards it was clear to me that they were testing his conviction.

Three days later there was a big meeting of all prominent Águilas in Rome. Malka, being a low-ranking recruit, wasn’t allowed to attend or even know who was specifically involved, but I was impressed to find that Malka had overheard the location. The most effective terrorist group of the 21st century wasn’t as competent as it was made out to be. The location, however, wasn’t important; we were concerned with long-term activity. As if in answer to our desires, a smaller get-together for Avram’s group was arranged a couple days afterwards. His cell-leader, an Italian man they called Taro, explained what was going on. We reviewed Avram’s report on the meeting later that evening.

Las Águilas Rojas were mobilizing to destroy Socrates.