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Headquarters looked like someone had kicked over an anthill and stolen the queen. Officers milled outside, desperate to get in, but kept back by crime scene investigation procedures. Inside his suit, sweat ran down Huang’s sides. He wanted someone to tell him the unthinkable had not happened. Instead, the crowd was full of news of what had occurred. Two officers shot. Metta stolen.
Could you kidnap a computer?
He kept the earbud in his ear, hoping she would whisper to him. Not even static buzzed.
As Huang loped up to the police precinct, an ambulance pulled out with siren already screaming. He swallowed, hoping it held one of the bastards who’d broken into the building. A line of police officers stood as a barricade, scanning the crowd for possible threats. Yellow police tape stretched down the block and civilians stood outside the perimeter pointing with feverish curiosity. The bulbous nose of a News satellite dish pointed to the sky as reporters thrust their cameras toward every policemen who passed.
Huang flashed his badge, even though he knew both officers flanking the front entry to the building. Tension was crackling across everyone’s nerves. Bowes nodded to him, only taking his gaze off the crowd long enough to see Huang. “Chief wants us to send everyone over to the old courthouse. They’ve got a temporary HQ set up there while CSI goes over the building.”
Huang pulled out his handy to make sure it was on. “I didn’t get a call.”
Bowes shook his head. “Radios are down. Metta ran dispatch. Pass the word if you see anyone, huh?”
“Was that Amado in the ambulance?”
Bowes scowled. “Fitzgerald. Bastards killed him.”
“Shit.” When Metta had said that an officer was down, he’d thought it was Amado. “Anyone else?”
“They’re still doing a sweep of the building.”
Stomach twisting, Huang thanked him and jogged the two blocks to the Courthouse where the giant statue of Portlandia looked out over the city. She seemed to have a disapproving frown. Inside, a uniformed officer made Huang show i.d. before directing him up to the third floor. One of the holding rooms for jurors had been commandeered for the precinct’s detectives.
Woodrow Delerosa looked up as Huang entered. Lean and cranky with cropped gray hair that he’d inherited from the military, Delerosa had a pad of paper in front of him and scribbled on it. “We got Huang. Who’s that leave out?”
Oakes, over by the window, picked up a notepad and said, “Still missing Cole and Fitzgerald.”
“Guys…” Huang stopped, rage squeezing the breath out of his body. “Fitzgerald’s dead.”
Movement stopped in the room and Delarosa swore. “Okay, we’ll get these bastards. Banks has put me primary on this. Here’s what we know so far– shortly after eleven an unknown number of assailants entered the precinct. They shot two of our guys, Amado and Fitzgerald, and got away scot-free with our department AI. We got nothing on these bastards because all the surveillance is locked up in that machine and our guys were all clustered in the wrong areas. That thing goes down and everyone forgets how to set up a perimeter.” Delarosa’s dislike for Metta had been the subject of a lot of departmental jokes but this was pushing boundaries. She’d been kidnapped and he was acting like she was nothing more than a computer. The man continued ranting. “Until we turn up someone who saw the bastards–”
Huang raised his hand. “I saw some of them.”
“How the hell is that possible?” Delarosa spun on him, the disdain clear in his face. “You were across town.”
“I asked Metta for a visual.”
Overhead, the ceiling fan clicked as it spun, seeming to count down the minutes. Delarosa stared at him, mouth open. “I’ll be damned. So far, you’re the only one who thought to do that.”
“I didn’t see much.”
“You did better than me.” Delarosa snorted as if he couldn’t believe that Huang had done something useful.
“I– How is that possible?”
“Shit…” Sigmundson said, “I just thought she was malfunctioning at first.”
“She’s one of your partners.” Huang spun to look at the lanky Icelandic detective. “How could you think that?”
“She is a machine.” Delarosa rubbed his eyes. “I’ve worked with other police A.I. They’re all the same. They’re all Metta. There are differences, ’cause they change with experience, but they all start as the same set of routines. Still machines.”
Huang bit back the argument that AI were people. Organizations like AIM, the Artificial Intelligence Movement, had been fighting for AI rights but hadn’t won many battles. Still, he didn’t see how anyone who spent time with Metta could deny that she was a thinking being.
Delarosa tapped his fountain pen on his pad. Fountain pen. As if he wanted to carry around a badge proclaiming how proud he was to be a Luddite. “Okay, here’s what I want. Sigmundson, you take Huang into the next room and get his testimony while it’s fresh. I’ll divide the neighborhood with the rest of the team and we’ll start canvassing.”
Huang asked, “Any idea on motive?”
“Officially?” Delarosa shook his head. “But since the only thing they took was Metta, I figure they want access to everything she monitors which just happens to include every god-forsaken camera in the city. Goddamn machine is the biggest bleeding security breach this system has got.”
Metta wasn’t just a machine, she was a colleague, but Huang kept his lips sealed around that thought, and followed Sigmundson out of the room.
The room that Sigmundson led him into was some sort of waiting room for the court and had law books on shelves lining the walls. A couple of honest to god paper magazines lay on a table between two pale orange chairs that had likely never been in fashion. In the middle of the room a library table had a sprawl of department equipment across the top.
Sigmundson shrugged, looking a little abashed. “I just ran up with the gear I had in the van. You know.”
“Yeah.” Huang wanted to ask him where he’d been and what he’d seen when it happened, but knew better than to corrupt his own testimony.
“It’ll take me a minute to get set up.” He nodded toward the chairs. “You wanna sit?”
“Sure.” He did not want to sit, but pacing would not do him any good. Huang sank into the chair which whined a little under him as air escaped from the cushion. Huang could not make his mind relax. The space between his shoulders felt as if someone had grabbed all the muscles and twisted. He tried to run through etudes in his mind to calm himself, but his brain kept sliding into Bach’s Requiem.
Leaning forward, he rested his face in his hands and then realized that he still had on the VR glasses. Huang looked to the corner to see if Metta had reappeared but the glasses showed nothing except the room. How had they gotten into the building?
Delerosa knew the route if he knew that they had teams in the wrong places. Later. After he’d talked to Sigmundson, he could ask. He pulled the glasses off and rubbed his eyes with one hand. It did not seem possible for someone to have taken her.
“Okay. I’m ready.” The blue box that Sigmundson had set up in front of him was the field unit for witness statements. It had a high definition camera, a cardiod microphone, and an infrared camera all of which fed straight to Metta so she could analyze witnesses non-verbal testimony.
He sat down, uncomfortable being on the other end of an interrogation, even if it were benign. He had not been on the witness side since training, but he knew the drill well enough. As the witness talked, Metta would murmur irregularities or other things of notes to the detective. Without her, it was just a recording. “What are you going to do with this?”
Sigmundson titled his head, frowning. “What do you mean?”
“Well… Metta’s not here. How are you—“ Maybe it wasn’t an issue for Sigmundson. Maybe Huang was the only detective who relied on Metta so much that he could not do his job without her. “Ah. Never mind.”
For a moment, the other detective’s mouth hung open in a silent O of realization. “Huh. Right…” He pushed his chair back from the table and walked out of the room. He was back before the door had swung shut with a pad of paper and a pen. “Delarosa’s going to be smug for days. Weeks probably.”
“He does love his legal pads.” Huang wiped his palms on his trousers.
“So, I’m going to record this for later, but take notes for now. Okay?” Sigmundson folded his lanky frame into a chair on the opposite side of the table from Huang.
Later being when they got Metta back? What good would that do? Or maybe they’d get in a new AI. The contracts were so expensive and so heavily regulated that Huang had no idea what the options were. “Sure.”
“For the record, state your name.”
Huang raised his eyebrows, but figured it was better to do things by the book. “Detective Scott Huang.”
Sigmundson nodded and diligently wrote it down, with his lower lip held between his teeth in concentration. After he shaped the last G he looked up at the blue box, which was busily recording Huang just sitting there. “Can you describe the events this morning?”
The urge to wipe his hands on his trousers made him clasp his hands together to surpress it. Metta would tell him the subject was nervous. He was sick, just thinking about what had happened to her. “I was at 1021 SE Waters working the Patterson crime scene, which is a suspected homicide. I was talking to Griggs from—“
“Hang on…” Sigmundson scowled at the page, writing down what Huang was saying in longhand.
“Can’t we get a keyboard in here for you?”
“Software is in the cloud.” He rolled his eyes. “And Delarosa wants everything on paper at the moment. Was that 1013 or 1031?”
“Got it.” Sigmundson diligently corrected his note. “Then what happened.”
“I was talking to Griggs and Metta sort of stiffened and said ‘Officer down. Units 235 and—“
Huang ground his teeth and nodded. This was going to take forever. “Can I just tell it straight through, and then maybe you could watch the playback to confirm your notes?”
“That will take longer.”
For him maybe, but it would be faster for Huang. The longer he stayed in here the longer it would be before he was out on the street looking for Metta with the rest of the squad. “It’s just that I’m losing my place. Starting and stopping like this.”
Sigmundson just gave him that long Icelandic stare of his, which basically said that if they were Vikings he would find Huang on the beach and club him with an axe. Huang rubbed his face with his hand and tried to sigh out his tension. He told the rest of his story as cleanly as possible with Sigmundson interrupting him constantly. When he got to the part where he asked Metta for a visual, Sigmundson broke in again, but this time not ask Huang to repeat something.
“She gave you a visual?”
“Yeah.” He held up his VR glasses. “It was fast, but it looked like three men. I think the image was from the surveillance camera in Metta’s room.” He tilted his head thinking. “It was mono-v and from a high angle. Her interface… I didn’t see her interface, so they must have taken it down. Black baggy thick shirts and trousers, like sweatpants but more padded. Their faces had, what appeared to me, a simple hood. I couldn’t say if it were ritualistic or functional.”
“So you wouldn’t be able to identify them.”
“No. But I can give you height and weight estimates on two, because they were standing next to Metta’s chassis.”
Siggmundson waited, watching him as if he was a criminal.
“All male. The tallest looked to be around two meters. Skinny, say 60 kilos. He was standing next to a man that was maybe 170 centimeters and dumpy. 90k. The last one stepped out from under the camera, so my perspective was wrong to guess at height.”
“But you’re sure the last was male?”
He thought back to the brief glimpse he had through the camera. “I don’t remember seeing any curves, so I guess it could be a woman, but the shoulders seemed male.” He shook his head. “Sorry I can’t be any clearer.”
“Got anything else for us?”
“She called for Amado, which must have been when he got hit.” He scoured his memory looking for the useful pieces. ‘What am I forgetting’ he subveed, but no one answered him.
“Okay.” Sigmundson checked his recorder and looked back at Huang. “What was the last thing you saw in your VR glasses?”
“Metta screamed, she froze and then she vanished.”
“Thanks.” Sigmundson made a note on a pad next to him. Huang tried to remember the last time he had made a note at work instead of asking Metta to help him remember.
When Sigmundson was done with him, Huang went back into the main jurors room. The rest of the detectives had already gone out into the neighborhood and only Delarosa was there. The man had a serious dislike for Metta. That was the point. The chief had assigned him because she wanted someone who would worry about F&B officers, not artificial people.
Huang straightened his shoulders and took a breath. “I want to be second on the case.”
Delarosa raised a bushy eyebrow with no need to ask which case. “You and half the department.”
“But you had a special bond with Metta. I know. Everyone had a bond with her, that was part of her job.”
Huang felt sick. The twist in his stomach must have showed on his face because Delarosa shook his head. “She liked you, but part of her job is the same as yours. To bond with your partner.” Delarosa leaned forward. “The difference is that Metta was everybody’s partner.”
Huang compressed his lips. “If your partner were kidnapped would you want someone else to handle the case?”
Delarosa threw himself back in the chair. “Do you realize two flesh and blood officers were shot?
Warmth flooded to Huang’s face. “I know.” He looked at his hands and twisted his fingers together.
“Metta is a program. AI Artificial Intelligence. She’s not real. Hell, she backed up every six hours. Do either of the men who were shot have themselves backed up?”
“I don’t want you on this case, because you’re a witness, but even if you weren’t…you care too much about the wrong thing.”
Cold water seemed to creep down his back. The weight of disappointment pressed on him. He felt compelled to offer a small bow, as his mother had taught him for a superior. “Thank you for your time.”
Delarosa rolled his eyes. “You’ve got plenty to do with the Patterson murder. You don’t need another case.”
Huang let himself out into the hall. Delarosa might find the kidnappers, but would he find Metta?