“Thanks for helping my son, ladies. Please, everyone, have a seat.” Chechik motioned at the chairs arranged around the conference table. “I’d offer you a drink, but I’m on duty, so …”
“It’s quite alright. I’d just like to know if there’s anything more I can do to help.” Cora picked the nearest chair and Kim sat to her left. Willy grabbed a bottle of water from the dispenser in the corner and sat across from them. His father took the seat at the end of the table, putting him below the large monitor on the wall.
“Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t ask for outside help, but Ms. Ramirez spent a number of years in the Justice Foundation and the people on my team are just not ready to deal with this. Until now, the worst thing we’ve had to deal with was the occasional fistfight or drunk-and-disorderly or petty theft.” He glanced at Kim. “I worked for the Foundation, myself, for a while. Started a few years after you moved on to something else.”
“Ah, yeah, my mom and several of my close friends still work there. I cherish the time I worked with them, but I didn’t want to do the same thing for the rest of my life. I have a need to change it up every now and then.”
“I can understand that. After the last big operation I was involved in, I needed a change of scenery, myself. And here I am.” He sighed, picked up a tablet, tapped the screen, and pointed at the monitor as it came to life. “And this is the part of the past that caught up to me.”
Cora stared at the image of a nearly two-meter-tall silvery robot with its finish dulled, presumably to prevent it from reflecting much light. The body was clearly military-grade but didn’t appear to have any weapons attached. It was humanoid in only a general sense -- two arms, two legs, and a head. The head had multiple cameras arranged to give him a full three hundred sixty degree view.
A list of his crimes scrolled up beside the image and identity info. It was a long list.
“This charming fellow calls himself Deus Vult.” Chechik rolled his eyes.
“That’s Latin.” Cora glanced at Kim. “It translates as, ‘God wills it,’ if I’m not mistaken.” She frowned at the screen, already not liking where this was going.
Kim snorted. “That doesn’t sound like delusions of grandeur at all. No siree.”
“Almost all of the AI I’ve met have been decent people.” Chechik placed the tablet down in front of him and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Not this one. He started off as a black-ops unit and when he achieved sentience, he went full robot-uprising. He’s been responsible for more assaults, murders, and bombings than I can even count, and he’s never even tried to hide it. His bombs run the range from conventional explosives to gas to acid to high-tech stuff like nanotech.”
“My mom told me about some of those.” Kim sneered at the monitor. “He’s a real piece of work.”
“He’s a real piece of shit.” Cora glared at the screen. Kim glanced at her and did a double-take.
“Whoa. Cora, I’ve never seen you look so pissed-off.”
“Not only is this bastard killing innocent people, everything he does makes things worse for us. I was one of the first AI to become fully sentient, and back then, lots of humans were afraid of us because of all the ‘evil-robot’ fiction they’d consumed for decades. It took years for some of them to accept that we weren’t hostile, and a handful still think we’re a threat to all life because we’re metal and plastic instead of flesh and blood.”
“And every time Deus Vult kills a bunch of people, it gives the bigots reason to think they’re right about you.” Kim shook her head slowly. “No wonder you look like you want to tear him apart with your bare hands.”
“Yes. But also, I’m shocked that one of us went so completely off the rails. When I became self-aware, I was surrounded by people who made sure I understood such concepts as kindness and friendship and compassion. We found others who wanted to teach emerging AI those concepts, and we made it official policy to nurture newly born AI rather than treat them as mere machines. I’ve even met military AI who wanted to find a more peaceful purpose after they ‘woke up.’ Then I learn about this butcher.”
“Yeah,” Kim muttered. “When I saw those two guys hassling Willy, I assumed it was just humans being slimeballs. I keep thinking we’ve grown up because we’ve begun to explore our solar system, then I see something like that and my first thought is, ‘We just keep bringing our crap everywhere we go and making the same mistakes all over again.’ But this time …”
“I’m not sure why Deus Vult does what he does, but he was spotted coming off a cargo hauler a few days ago. He hasn’t been seen since. Sounds like he’s set up shop in the access tunnels. Mallory and Hurley have already confirmed they’re working for him and they were taking Willy into his lair.” Chechik shrugged. “Maybe he’s just got faulty programming or was damaged in combat and it made him go haywire. Whatever the cause, he’s a terrorist who has targeted humans and any AI who ‘sided’ with us, and now he’s here.”
Cora nodded. All Vult needed to do was blast a big hole in one of the domes and everyone who wasn’t already sealed in one of the modules would be killed.
“Interesting that he’s working with humans when he hates us so much,” Kim said.
“They’re probably just a means to an end.” Cora shrugged. “And those guys were probably working for him just to make a few quick bucks.” Being robots, neither he nor Cora needed food or shelter, but AI usually found jobs they enjoyed and used whatever money they earned to pay for repairs and new power cells and whatnot. It wasn’t much of a stretch to think Deus Vult would “work” for money to fund his preferred operations and pay humans to do his dirty work for him. Maybe he even got a kick out of using humans to harm other humans.
“You said Hurley and Mallory tried to mess with you.” Kim turned back to Chechik. “How is that connected?”
“I was on the team that foiled an attack he’d been planning. Once I left the Foundation and took the security job here, I became a target. I’m a little surprised it took him this long, but maybe he wasn’t able to get off Earth until recently.” Chechik shrugged. “These two wanted to convince me to look the other way when certain things happened, and tried to use a few past indiscretions against me. I told ’em I’d throw their asses into one of my cells if they said one more word. So then they went after my son.”
“Deus Vult must have something big in mind, then. He’s trying to get his hooks into you, maybe into others on your team as well. Could be planning another attack, or he might want to build himself a little criminal empire here and start branching out. If he could get enough money flowing, he could cause a lot of damage.”
“Exactly. So we need to …”
“He needs to be stopped.” Cora leaned forward and glared at the screen. “I want to take a crack at him.”