They had given up on that morning’s workout, and were changing back into street clothes.
“Ned, when did your AI wake up and start working independently?”
Ned had pulled on one sock and stopped for a moment with the other foot still bare. “I don’t think there was a single moment I can point to. There were a couple of little things over the past few weeks, but after I snagged that criminal database, it just took off. I was worried about whether it would choke on having to parse all that narrative, but I guess it found an approach that works.”
They continued dressing in silence for a few moments, then Ned spoke again. “I see two questions here. One, how are we going to protect our brother Franklin? Two, and probably connected, is how much can I tell my hacker buds. They’ve never pried into my work, but any time I ask them stuff, you can bet it tips them off about things.”
Tim thought for a moment. “Let’s stand on the principle that exposure can do no harm in the long run, but timing does matter. Ask them to give us a day or two before they try to use anything. If we try to give Franklin new and better versions of his current equipment, that will only make things worse, since our culprit or culprits would know about it and could block it. But if your buds can craft a little brother to your tablet, something like a cell phone that can use the field sensor technology to talk to his equipment, and maybe then link back to your AI, he’ll have a major advantage. I’m sure he won’t complain about that.”
Ned grinned, “Nor would I. Having a live tactical feed for AI would expand… I can’t even imagine all the sources AI could discover with an inside link to all the military and corporate stuff over there.”
Tim agreed. “Yeah, we could sure use that. Seems to me there are several different Coalition countries with people on the ground there. I’ll ask around and see who has the best privacy in their mail delivery system. Maybe we can get them to deliver to Franklin. I’ll tell the lab to get ready for a custom cell phone build. Let’s offer your buds an incentive to push out a sharp design quickly.”
Ned still didn’t have his shoes on, but grabbed the tablet and keyboard and got to work on it.
Tim turned at the door. “You stay on that for now. I’ll have to attend lots of closed door meetings over that attack. I think I know how I’m going to pass the buck and make the contractors fix their own insider threat.”
Once at work, it was as Tim had expected: The CEO of the contract outfit was called into the senate offices. Because of the rigmarole in formal procedures, there was a dead spot on the agenda and Tim was able to catch the CEO on a smoke break outside. God alone knew how many secret deals were made on that balcony. The man knew who Tim was, and nodded as he approached.
“Mr. Dalmer, I’m not thrilled seeing you under this much pressure. It can’t be much help to our troops or the construction project.”
“Well Tim, you tell me — how do we get past this and back on track?”
“I’m not in this for reputation or revenge; I want the bleeding to stop any way I can. I think you are quite competent to handle this without interference. I can’t stop the freight train in its tracks, but I believe I can give you an escape hatch before the senators order me to take a scalpel to your business.”
The CEO threw away his cigarette and faced Tim. “You’ve got my attention.”
“I have evidence that, by itself, won’t meet the official guidelines. I can share it with you. It says you or someone in your company is embezzling on the military contract. They invested quite a bit of small change in this attack, even to the point of tweaking the firmware to brick the crawlers.”
Dalmer’s eyes widened at that.
Tim went on. “Somebody wanted that whole team destroyed to trigger an emergency clause that would boost the contract and maybe boost their chances of scraping more. I have no illusions of perfect accountability. Nobody is going to miss a little graft here and there, but that was going too far. Give the senators a sacrificial lamb or two, but make damned sure this crap stops today.” Tim raised his a hand with the index finger extended. “Those men in the field matter to me.”
“Deal,” the man said firmly.
Tim turned to go, then stopped and added, “If you want some details on what I know already, tell me where to send it. You know how to get hold of me.”
As Tim walked away, the CEO turned to face the cool autumn wind one more time before turning and following him back inside.