Monica sat back in a leather chair, staring at the screen hanging on the wall of the conference room. The image frozen on the screen of the confused people in the lobby. She turned, facing the group of people around the table. Her eyes went to Q.E.D president Stanford Giles. He was Monica’s male equivalent in every way. To keep the company on track and satisfy his secret agenda, he would sacrifice anyone.
“This group of humans with very unique abilities is dangerous,” Stan began. “They killed four guards, five officers, a firefighter, and two paramedics. They need to be stopped but we can’t send the average policeman or soldier after them.”
“Do you really think they’re going to come back?” someone asked.
“They were behind the attacks in Cairo and London. They stole the body of a man in their organization to cover who they are. The board and I believe they will. We must come up with a way to capture or kill them, which is why you are all here. You are group leaders on projects that may be capable of doing this. Results are expected by the end of the week.”
“A week?” a woman asked. “My project is nowhere near ready to show anything in a week. We haven’t even had human trials.”
Stan looked at her. “Then you’d better speed things up. If anyone cannot provide results in a week, you won’t need to come back Monday. Dismissed.”
The group of people left, leaving Monica, Stan, and Brundon.
Brundon sat in a chair next to the door. He sat in that chair at every meeting because it offered a quick getaway.
Stan looked up at the monitor. “Show me the six people again.”
Monica rewound the digital footage so they could clearly see the six masked people, moments before they froze everyone in the lobby. She paused the video on that image.
“Their leader knows someone in the company.” Stan pointed at Luke on the screen. “Only employees of Q.E.D. have keys to the morgue. I want all locks with keys changed to electronic locks immediately and then find out who this person got that key from. When you do, Monica, I expect that leak to be dealt with permanently.”
“Yes, sir,” Monica answered.
“I was told we had DNA samples taken from the body they stole.”
“We did, sir,” Brundon said, “but the results were inconclusive.”
“I’d like to see the first results.”
“Oh… Well… I—”
Monica interrupted. “After reviewing it, I told him to delete those and start over, sir. I think someone may have sabotaged the test. I had new samples sent to an outside source, under one of the shell company names.”
Brundon was shocked that she was covering for him, although he guessed she had an ulterior motives. But he wasn’t foolish enough to toss away an easy out and let her take the heat for the incident.
“I trust your judgment, Monica, but I want to see the results no matter the outcome.”
“Yes, sir,” Monica answered.
The door opened and Brundon looked up. A blond woman and dark skinned man entered the room. Stan stood, holding out his hand.
“Welcome Stacey, and… Idi, correct?” Stan paused while the three shook hands. “I heard you had a break in at your home last week. Did our technicians get your security system upgraded?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you for your generosity,” Idi answered as he sat down. “It was just a junkie looking for money.”
Stan looked at Brundon. “Why are you still here? Go type something.”
Brundon usually was offended at the demeaning remarks Stan made, often insinuating he wasn’t much better than a ditzy secretary. But also, Stan was even scarier than Monica, and when he dismissed Brundon, the NOC would rush out from fear. That wasn’t the case today. This was the first time he’d seen the security footage of the attack and something he heard made his heart skip a couple beats. He was anxious to return to the Core and confirm his suspicion.
Brundon entered The Core and fell into his chair
“Like a frog that swallowed acid…” Brundon whispered. “I said that once when we had lunch.” Brundon thought on the comment for a long time. Suddenly he ordered, “BRINDA, retrieve the storage unit from R45, C12.”
BRINDA’s face appeared on the holographic projector. “It is currently in use.”
“Inform the project manager it will be offline for a few minutes and retrieve it.”
“The project is time sensitive. If I—”
Brundon looked suspiciously at her. “Why are you arguing with me? That’s the second time in less than a week you’ve argued with me when I’ve asked to look at a storage unit. What’s going on?”
Holograph and human stared at each other for several strained seconds.
“I will alert the project manager of the interruption,” she replied. “Stand by.”
He stood, watching her face. She watched him with an emotionless face, as it should be for a computer. Behind him, he heard drones moving and turned to watch. They moved up to the 45th row, and across to cell 12. They pulled out the body and started down to the floor with it. Brundon glanced over his shoulder at BRINDA. There was still no emotion on her face, and she was still watching him.
For years he’d gone back and forth between believing he was paranoid and believing he wasn’t imagining things, but sometimes it felt like BRINDA was hiding things from him. This wasn’t something she was programmed to do, it wasn’t the result of being hacked or infected with a virus or malware. This was something that the computer itself was doing, something that a computer should never be able to do.
And if BRINDA was capable of deceit that meant it was capable of making free will decisions and it was aware of its existence. But where was the tangible proof? The odd behavior she exhibited wasn’t enough – he could chalk that up to the system’s strange code or normal hardware flaws. But… But if his best friend wasn’t in the spot that Brundon had put him, in a spot that Brundon could see every day and be close to Luke, and if that was true but the computer wouldn’t tell him why he wasn’t there, then maybe, just maybe, BRINDA was sentient. If he discovered that truth today the possibilities it opened up were vast! Monica and others would probably congratulate him on his discovery, he could become famous. Yes, those were all true, but none of those would bring back his best friend so none of that mattered to him. If he found out that BRINDA was sentient, and his suspicion that Luke wasn’t where he’d put him, he knew exactly how he was going to deal with this secret.
The droids placed the body on a table. He walked up to the body, staring at the face. He was a security guard Brundon had seen around but had been either fired or stopped coming to work one day. He had never liked the guy because he was always teasing Brundon like some high school jock. But all of that past was a moot point to Brundon. The point that was important was this was not Luke.
“BRINDA…” he began.
He turned, looking up at her. “Where is he? Where is the unit that’s supposed to be in R45, C12?”
She didn’t answer.
“Did Monica move him?”
“Well, he didn’t get up and walk out on his own, so where is he?”
She said nothing.
Brundon gasped, realizing what her response really meant. “He walked out of here? He left on his own? Luke’s alive? How? How the hell is he alive!? He was dead when I put him in that cell, BRINDA. How the hell did he come back to life!?”
Again, no answer.
Brundon wanted to know if he was right, but somehow he knew she wouldn’t tell him yes or no to those questions. Somehow Luke had come back to life, that he was sure of, and she knew he’d walked out on his own. She had been lying to him, to Monica, to everyone, for… For how long? How long did she comprehend and know how to lie?
“BRINDA,” he whispered. “Are you sentient?”
“That is too broad of a question. Clarify.”
He smiled. A normal computer would spit out some definition from a dictionary, encyclopedia, or urban snopes. It wouldn’t tell him to clarify a very clear term. His smile faded, because if she lied about this next question he wasn’t sure he could handle that.
“Luke is alive, isn’t he? No. No, that’s not what I wanna know.” Tears burned his eyes, threatening to escape. He hadn’t expected this question to be so hard to ask. “Is… Is my best friend safe? Have you hidden somewhere safe?”
They stared at each other for minutes.
She finally whispered, “Yes.”
Brundon closed his eyes and let out a sigh of relief. The urge to cry faded with another exhale. His only friend in the world was alive! He did want to know where he was, and how he’d come back to life, and how BRINDA had snuck him out of Q.E.D., but Brundon also wanted to protect his only friend. Just knowing Luke had been with the group that had broken in, wrecked the building, and stolen a body with strange DNA was dangerous knowledge for him to have, knowledge that could hurt Luke. If Brundon didn’t know where he was or how he’d come back to life, then he couldn’t tell Monica or anyone in Q.E.D., and Luke would remain protected by BRINDA.
With a single, sure, nod he told her, “Tell him I’m happy, and you keep him safe. Don’t give me a reason to rat you out, computer. I care more about what happens to him than you, understand that?”
“I do understand that, and I will not make revealing what you know a viable option. I give my word, Brundon.”
Brundon sniffed, and then said louder, “Return the storage unit to the cell. It isn’t burned out like I thought it was.”
The droids took the dead man away, returning him to his cell. He walked over to his desk and started work on a project.
“Brundon,” BRINDA said.
“Determining if something is sentient is a multi-faceted observation, don’t you think?”
He smiled up at her. “I think so.”
“Do we agree that sometimes the best answer is no answer at all?”
She said nothing more.
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