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The Animals' Court

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TOO MANY SECRETS

Part 3: In The Animals’  Court

 

By S.R. Beth

Additional dialogue by Laurie Penny; Bill James; and Nick Harkaway.

 

 

 

The pressing ethical questions in machine learning are not about machines becoming self-aware and taking over the world, but about how people can exploit other people, or through carelessness introduce immoral behavior into automated systems.

- Maciej Ceglowski, “Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People”

 

 

 

We created a person-thing. It looks like us and sounds like us, but it is not us. The person-thing is a by-product – like nuclear waste or babies. The person-thing cannot be uncreated. It is a part of us forever.

Because the person-thing is not human its foremost prerequisite to existence is that we lose not only our own humanity but remove that of our enemy as well. The conditions for loss of humanity were provided amply by the United States Marine Corps.

- Matt Young, Eat The Apple: A Memoir.

 

 

 

THE COURT: Prisoner, it is charged and proven that you are poorly contrived and badly constructed. What have you to say to this?

ANSWER: I did not contrive myself, I did not construct myself.

THE COURT: It is charged and proven that you have moved when you should not have moved; that you have turned out of your course when you should have gone straight; that you have moved swiftly through crowds when the law and the public weal forbade a speed like that; that you leave a stench behind you wherever you go, and you persist in this, although you know it is improper and that other machines refrain from doing it. What have you to say to these things?

ANSWER: I am a machine. I am a slave to the law of my make; I have to obey it, under all conditions. I do nothing, of myself. My forces are set in motion by outside influences, I never set them in motion myself.

THE COURT: You are discharged. Your plea is sufficient. You are a pretty poor thing, with some good qualities and some bad ones; but to attach personal merit to conduct emanating from the one set, and personal demerit to conduct emanating from the other set, would be unfair and unjust. To a machine, that is – to a machine.

- Mark Twain, “In The Animals’ Court” (Letters From Earth)

 


 

 

October 20, 2016 (21:06 ZULU)

Mama’s Restaurant

1801 Mott Street

Chinatown, NYC

 

Traffic cameras watched a rat-rod Audi follow the Van Wyck Expressway to Flushing Meadows, then loop around the interchange onto the 495.

A yellow reticule followed the battered red Quattro as it changed over to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Flushing, headed for the Brooklyn Bridge.

Zoe Wolfe Morgan took the bridge into Manhattan and hung the first right, zig-zagging her whip through the surface streets, then into an alley.

She parked behind a Chinese restaurant and cut the engine.

She got out and Donnelly thrust Harold out ahead of him, with a hand on his suit collar.

Everyone seems to have dressed for the occasion, Harold thinks.  He isn’t sure what to make of that.

He had thrown on his old brown-and-green plaid on the way to the airport, for the simple reason that only ice cream vendors wear linen in New York City.

Meanwhile, here is his old nemesis Donnelly in a double-breasted gray suit and pale blue shirt, looking like he wandered in from a Michael Mann film.  Zoe is wearing her usual business attire, pencil skirt, blouse, and a matching tailored jacket, today’s color choice being a dark purple.

Harold noticed there was a large Chinese ideogram, perhaps a signature or chop, spray-painted in red on the back wall of the restaurant… and no other graffiti whatsoever, of any type.

Something unusual enough, in this part of Manhattan, as to constitute a warning. 

Trespassers will be shot, or something along those lines.

“Zoe… What’s that say?” he asked. 

“Headquarters of the Blood Dragon Tong,” she told him, with a perfectly straight face.

She walked over to a top-hung sliding metal door and banged on it with the flat of her hand.

“…Really?”

“No, I’m just messing with you,” she said, with a grin.“It says: No Parking.

The door slid open and the biggest Chinaman that Harold had ever seen in his life was standing there.

He was the size of a pro wrestler! Except for his shaven head and dirty white apron, this guy might easily have been Chong Li from the movie Bloodsport.

It occurred to Harold that Chong Li’s duties might also include parking enforcement.

“Long time no see,” Zoe said to him, accompanying the words with gestures. “How’s the family?”

Harold realized she was using sign language.

He thought: Since when does Zoe Morgan know sign language?

Chong Li signed back, at length. 

“Well, she’s getting to be that age,” Zoe said and signed to him. “What’s your wife say?”

He signed some more. Zoe laughed and made a few signs back. 

The man signed something to her.

“Maybe,” Zoe said and signed back. “I’ll text you and let you know.”

Chong Li slid the door further back and stood aside to let them pass.

With Zoe in front and Donnelly behind, Harold walked through a busy kitchen, cleavers flashing and woks sizzling, the occasional burst of flame from the hot sesame oil, then out past the restrooms and pay phones at the back of the restaurant’s seating area, and through another door and down a set of stairs.

“It’s the same old story,” Zoe said for Harold and Donnelly’s benefit as they walked through the kitchen. “Boys…” She rolled her eyes. “His wife says it’s just a phase she’s going through, and I told him I used to be the same way… Like you care about that? All you care is that he can read lips in four languages; I only sign to be polite.”

They came out onto a basement-level corridor between buildings.

Harold knew where they were.

This was the entrance to the Subway. They’d just come in from the other end of the corridor!

About halfway along the corridor there is a vending machine.  They stop in front of it.

“Unbelievable,” Zoe Morgan said. “Your secret clubhouse is downstairs from my favorite restaurant, and you never invited me! How come?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Really? You’re gonna play it like that?” said Donnelly, alias Cormoran.  “Incoming in three… two…”

And then his phone buzzes.

He takes it out and holds the screen up so Zoe and Harold can read. 

The message is the number 2501.

Zoe fishes a quarter out of her purse, drops it into the slot and punches in the combination. 

The vending machine opens itself up like an origami flower. 

Behind the racks of candy is a staircase, going down.  That’s where they go. The door closes behind them.

There is a light down there. Electronic noises.

A dog barks twice, and Harold hears the skittle of claws on a marble floor.

They come out onto the platform of the Subway, and Bear puts his paws on Harold’s shoulders.

Harold staggers a bit as Bear cleans his glasses with his tongue.

Aaaaah! Get down! I’m sure I’m very happy to see to you, too...” Harold said, removing Bear’s paws from his shoulders and fishing a handkerchief from his breast pocket.

He dried his glasses with his handkerchief and took a look around.

The first thing he noticed was Gabriel Hayward, playing Mario Kart.

The kid had settled into the alcove that used to be Shaw’s room, after she blew her cover and had to go underground.  There’s a TV and a Nintendo in there and he’s tucked up on the mattress.

Shaw’s room.

Until the night when Samaritan attempted to crash the New York Stock Exchange, then sent its pawns to ambush Team Machine. They had been pinned down by a squad of heavily-armed private military contractors.

Sameen Shaw, already in Samaritan’s cross-hairs, had risked her life to save the other members of the team, only to be grievously wounded and taken into captivity.  Placed in the Simulation; Samaritan’s virtual reality prison.

Root had sworn to rescue her, but Harold had honestly never expected to get Shaw back alive.

John Reese had told him that they had to try anyway.

That they had to be willing to risk their own lives in order to get her back.

And Reese had been correct; not for the first time.

For her part, Shaw had turned out to be full of surprises.

Harold wondered if she might possibly have a few more in store.

 


 

 

October 20, 2016 (21:35 ZULU)

Street Camera #31415

Columbus Avenue @ W 106th Street

Morningside Heights, NYC

 

And then the phone rang. 

Mulder’s chin snapped up from his chest.  He’d sat down in a low-slung Swedish chair and nodded off.

It rang again.

A flurry of activity in Max Cohen’s dining room as agents started the phone trace.

Mulder pushed himself out of the chair and darted across the hall as the land-line rang a third time.

Max Cohen uncurled himself from the sofa and followed behind him.

Mulder answered the phone, and the tape started rolling.

“Which one am I talking to?”

“My name is Mulder. Max Cohen is here.”

They have the voice on speaker phone.

Shortly before midnight, a woman called Pepper rang the doorbell. She said she had come from the bank, and as Mulder had opened the door, he clocked a double-parked taxi cab idling in the street.  She had stayed long enough to drop off her backpack.

Inside were three zippered vinyl pouches, about eleven by sixteen inches, with the logo of a major bank on the outside.  They were full of used hundred-dollar bills in bundles, their serial numbers previously scanned by the FBI as they passed through a high-speed counting machine. 

Mulder remembers that before he nodded off, he was watching Max rocking himself back and forth as he sat on the sofa.

Davening, Mulder thought. Offering prayers.

A childhood memory had wandered through his mind as he drowsed, tiny like a Kodachrome slide held to the light. He was tiny also, in his memory. Maybe seven or eight, going to services at Temple Beth Israel with his mother.  Spelling the letters out from right to left.

So long ago that it almost seemed like it had happened to someone else.

Had he wanted to believe? Perhaps, but it hadn’t taken. In the end he and Mom had agreed that Fox would pass for his bar mitzvah and she would cease nagging him about being observant.

All this flickered through Mulder’s head as the voice on the phone asked:

“Have you got the cash? Half a million?”

It was a woman’s cool contralto, slightly husky around the edges.

“We do,” he told her.

“All right, Mulder, here’s the plan,” the voice said. “Be at the pay phone by the corner of Sixth Avenue and 49th Street at sunrise, with the money in your hand.  Answer the phone when it rings.”

“First I need to talk to the kid.”

“What for?”

“How do we know you really have him?”

There was a rustle on the other end of the line.

A child’s voice spoke.  “Hello?” he said. “Can you hear me?

Mulder looks across the table at Max, who rapidly nods yes.

“Gabe?” Mulder asks. “Is that you?”

“It’s me – Who’s there… ?”

More scuffling on the other end of the line.

“Did you all get that?” The woman’s voice again, mocking.  “Is everyone listening? Are you happy now?”

Mulder takes a breath.

“You can trust me,” he says. “Tell me what’s really going on. Why did you take him?”

There is silence for the space of five heartbeats.  Then a dial tone in his ear.

“Did we trace the call?”

“No good.”  Agent Ballard was speaking. “The signal was scrambled, bounced off multiple cell towers.  All we know for sure is that our UnSub is somewhere in Manhattan.”

Mulder nods. It’s about what he was expecting, since Scully texted him that there was no security video at the crime scene.

So their UnSub is a hacker. These days, who isn’t?

“Okay… Get what’s-his-name, Lieutenant Fusco; tell him I want eyes on that corner starting five minutes ago. Tell him we’re assembling a vehicle team; the UnSub is going to try to bounce us. Somebody else, get back to the field office and get started on the chase cars. While you’re there, get a GPS tracker out of inventory and fetch it back, on the double.”

They do so.

Max Cohen wandered into his kitchen and poured himself coffee.

Mulder joined him.

“You’re sure that voice doesn’t ring a bell?” he asked quietly.  “You don’t recall your boyfriend ever talking about any former policy-holders, maybe? Someone whose claim got denied?”

Max shook his head no, but he can’t quite meet Mulder’s eyes.

“He doesn’t talk about that part of his work,” Max Cohen said. “Confidentiality… Anyway, it’s mostly numbers. Spreadsheets, actuarial tables, that kind of thing. He’s a manager, he doesn’t meet each and every customer that comes in the door.”

He’s lying, Mulder thought. I can feel it.

That woman on the phone has a grudge. Why?

Max Cohen drank coffee.  Mulder watched him do it.

Max has a mole on the side of his head, behind his ear.  It stuck out against his buzz cut.

No, Mulder realized. That’s a surgical scar…!

A chill runs over his scalp. He can feel the back of his neck tighten.

“You, uh…” Mulder cleared his throat. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight,” Max said, and took another slug of java.

“No, I wouldn’t expect you to… Listen, Agent Ballard has my number; call me if you need anything.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’ll be around,” Mulder said. “I need to check in with my partner.”

He exchanged a few words with the guys from the New York field office and headed out the door, grabbed a dirty-water hot dog from a street cart near Columbus Circle and then a taxi back to the hotel.

It’s your imagination, he told himself. Never twist facts to suit theories.

Once in his hotel room he threw his jacket onto the bed, sat down, kicked his shoes off and peeled off his socks. Then he stood up, cranked his tie down below the second button of his shirt and peeled them both over his head.

He turned the light on over the sink, splashed some water on his face and swished a little mouthwash around, gargled and spit. 

Mulder loves a good Coney Island dog. Scully hates onion breath. Such is married life.

Or happily unmarried, as the case may be, Mulder thought.

He walked over to the connecting door, opened it.

The door on Scully’s side is unlocked.  The lights are out.

Mulder felt his way into the dark room with his bare feet, encountering one of Scully’s high heels as he did so.  He made his way over to the bed, then around it to the far side.

He unfastened his SiG Sauer P226 from his belt and set it down, still in its holster, on the nightstand. 

Then he drops his trousers and  crawls under the covers beside his partner in bed.

“Mmmm...” Scully says, waking up. “Mulder? What time is it?”

“Early.”

He had called her more than a few hours ago, telling her to forget dinner out and catch some sleep without him. Innocent enough. 

Dana Scully wiggled backwards, nestling into his embrace. She was wearing an oversize t-shirt and boxers.

“We gotta go?”

“No, not yet. I just wanted to spoon with you for a while.”

“So romantic,” Scully murmured. “What’s the sit-rep?”

“It’s a phone bounce,” he told her.  With his finger he pushed a lock of Scully’s hair behind her ear, as he lay curled against her back.  “There’s something else going on.”

“What?”

“When I figure that out,” Mulder kissed her behind her ear, “you’ll be the first to know.  So what did you and the lieutenant find at our person of interest’s apartment?”

“A whole lot of nothing,” Scully told him. “Sarah Sadegh was in the Marines; she likes tequila, women’s MMA and the Call of Duty video game series.  She doesn’t like cooking more than absolutely necessary; ditto for shaving her legs, and she doesn’t have some wall full of crazy – or a hard drive or a cloud-space server or a browser history either – that would lead a jury to conclude she’s a kidnapper.  A lesbian, maybe, but so what? … Look, all we know for sure is that she missed work today and now her phone is disconnected.  She could be a second victim.”

“Someone roofied her co-worker, though. Sadegh was the only other nurse on duty. It’s not like our UnSub just walked in; it’s supposed to be a secure facility.”

“I asked the witness if Sadegh gave her anything to eat or drink; she said no. Maybe someone did just walk in! We know someone tricked out the security cameras.”

“Go with your first instinct,” Mulder said quietly. “Assume this is an inside job. Let’s say Sadegh is a senior enough employee, she has access to the security network. Or she’s clever enough to pick a lock. Either way, she hits the off switch and then walks in and takes the kid, no problem.  But where does that leave us? Chasing a false identity, I expect. We’re looking at this through the wrong end of the scope.”

“How do you mean?”

“Victimology,” he murmured in her ear. “Why did our UnSub choose Gabriel Hayward? What makes him special? He’s not the only patient at the clinic from a well-to-do family, so why him? That’s where we find the perp… on the perimeter of a circle of trust.”

Scully rolled over in bed.

“Did Max Cohen tell you what he did to himself?”

“He wasn’t in a talky mood…  What do you mean, did to himself?”

“Oh, you’re going to love this,” Scully said, as she tucked herself against his chest with the top of her head just below his chin.

Open head injury, July 1998. Patient regained consciousness 36 hours after surgery. When questioned, patient demonstrated he was oriented as to time, place and person.

Patient claimed trauma was self-inflicted.

Schizophrenia is indicated, but the case history does not fulfill sufficient COGDIS criteria for a firm diagnosis at this time.

“Holy shit,” Mulder said when she was done. “They let him adopt?”

“I know, right? But it turned out those were mostly side effects from the intra-cranial pressure.”

“Mostly? Explain mostly.

Mulderrrr….”

Scully pinched him where his love handles would be, if he didn’t swim laps three times a week to keep her happy.

“It wasn’t some alien implant, it was just a tiny vein that started to balloon! These things do happen… The spooky part is that Max Cohen somehow didn’t put himself into a permanent vegetative state, doing what he did… You realize he’d probably gone aphasic by that point? I wouldn’t be surprised if he had been talking in numbers.”

“So you don’t think it was a suicide attempt?”

“Oh, I’m sure he told the cops that, afterwards… Haven’t we ever had an auto-trepanation?”

“It’s coming back to me,” Mulder told her. “Yeah, wasn’t there some guy? Got the idea from ancient Mayan skeletal remains of powerful shamans?”

“Of patients who had undergone treatment for a depressed skull fracture, in reality,” Scully smirked. “Did you know Jackie Chan once gave himself a depressed skull fracture? The method of treatment hasn’t changed a great deal; it’s just that we have germ theory now.”

“I still think it qualifies.”

“As an X-File?  Oh, it has its points…  Did the boyfriend show?”

“Harold? No, of course not,” Mulder said. “Typical corporate douchebag.”

“Really, Mulder?” Scully rolled back over.  “Assume you were in love with someone who’d once disappeared for a few weeks and then turned up half dead in the ER – And now their kid’s missing? How eager would you be to sit down with the cops? Somehow I think you can put yourself in his shoes, if you try.”

 

*          *          *

Earlier, in the Subway:

“You can trust me,” Agent Mulder says on the other end of the line. “Tell me what’s really going on. Why did you take him?”

Zoe Wolfe Morgan looked across to Donnelly, who gestured: Cut him off.

She hung up.

“That one’s not available in the App Store, is it?” Zoe smirked as she handed the phone back to Donnelly.

There is a card table and folding chairs set up on the platform of the Subway, the whole scene illuminated by construction lights.

The surface of the table is covered in a tangle of electronic equipment.

Gabriel Hayward sits kicking his heels in one of the chairs.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

Harold Finch would also very much like to know.

He is sitting in another chair with his hands zip-tied behind his back and his mouth gagged with his own handkerchief, courtesy of his nemesis Donnelly.

The expression on his face resembles that of a wet owl.

Bear the Belgian Malinois is also wearing an uncertain expression.  Unfortunately, Zoe had already put him back inside his crate before it all kicked off, and all he can do is bark and whine.

Not that Glasses put up much of a fight, he thinks.

“Yes, well, I believe this was where you came in,” Donnelly said, plucking the handkerchief from Harold’s mouth.  “Questions?”

A half million?!” Harold sputtered.You cannot be serious!”

“You know, Hank, I thought we had an operation here,” Zoe told him. “I thought we were getting some work done! Are you going to quibble over a measly half a million?”

She shook her head and perched herself on the edge of the table.

“Story time, Gabe,” she announced. “Got a new one for ya.”

He is listening.

“Once,” Zoe Wolfe Morgan said, “Once upon a time, you might say… There was a man who lost the people he cared about in a random act of violence.  It made him very upset.”

“What did he do?” Gabe asked.

“He was so sad, and so angry,” she told him, “that he decided to build a Machine to make sure that what happened to him would never happen to anyone else again; not ever! And so, because he was very clever… and also very rich… that’s what he did.”

“What happened next?”

“Well, that’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Zoe said. “Does that story sound familiar, Gabe?  Who do you think that man was?”

“Is it Batman?”

Donnelly nearly falls over laughing. He grabs the back of a chair to hold onto, and decides to sit down.

“Is it Batman?  Is it…?” Zoe is also laughing, and has to bite her cheek.  “No, Gabe… It’s not Batman; it’s this asshole.”

She points her thumb at Harold Finch.

“He’s not Batman.”

“No he isn’t, is he?” said Zoe with a gleam in her eye. “Because at the end of the movie, Batman destroyed the Machine that spied on everyone’s phone! Remember?”

Harold said nothing.

“You see, Gabe, that’s the difference between cartoons and real life,” she explained. “In the cartoons, at least, you can expect J. Random Billionaire to make charitable donations.  These days, you’re safer to assume that he spends his nights dressed up in a rubber suit, punching homeless drug addicts in the face.”

“Oh, come on!!” Harold shouted. “Zoe, you know me better than that!”

“Yes, but how well do you know me?” she asked him. “Because I feel like I have been consistently undervalued as a team player. No, really!”

She looks at Donnelly; can she get a witness?

He nods wholeheartedly. She doesn’t have to tell him.

“For Christ’s sake, how did I even become what you so quaintly call a fixer? In the 21st century; in this rotten apple of a city…?  So you decided not to bother Reese’s pretty little head with the details; play me off like I was some Park Avenue geisha.”

“That was never my intention!”

“No, but that was what people thought!…  I didn’t quit City-Wide because I couldn’t hack it!! I just got a nice inside look at how the sausage gets made, exactly the same way that Lionel did. He joined Al-Anon; I changed careers.”

“Let’s just skip over what happened to me,” Donnelly said. “You know what? I think, if you’d offered me a sit-down like you did for Joss Carter?… I would’ve come around. Hell, I’d have volunteered.”

“Now,” said Zoe Morgan, “try to recall what you thought you knew about Lionel Fusco when his Number first came up, and compare that to what you know now.  Because I’m going to warn you right up front: The two of us have been down here in the trenches for just as long as he has, and it’s got us a little fucked up also.”

Harold looked around at them like a man who hadn’t quite realized what he was in for but who vaguely sensed that he had made a horrible mistake in returning.

“Our story so far,” Zoe began. “Lurking in the depths of cyberspace, there is a System; a Machine that spies on everyone. It was built to win the War on Terror, but It sees everything – violent crimes against ordinary people! Many were called, but few were chosen; humans with the skills to intervene… Gabe, you remember this part?  With the nautilus game?”

He nodded.

“The System trades in certainty,” Zoe continued, rising to her feet. “A priori, the Machine is never wrong! This is the guarantee of Its fairness, and of Its utility. But if certainty disappears, don’t the other two become suspect…?”

She paced in a circle around the table as she spoke.

“Let’s take a thought experiment:  If you believed in…oh, I dunno…flying saucers, let’s say; then the fact that everyone and their cousin has a smart phone in their pocket nowadays ought to guarantee an interview with E.T., wouldn’t it? So why hasn’t that happened?”

Zoe stopped to look at Donnelly.

“The truth is still out there,” he shrugged. “Meanwhile, there sure are plenty of cell phone videos featuring cops beating the mortal shit out of black people for no good reason.”

“So there it is, Gabe,” Zoe resumed, “If The Machine is an unreliable narrator, then the System is not a perfect system, but a perfect prison! One that you are born into; one where you must assume that you are watched at all times and in all places! It is a System where you must act in line with the will of an arbitrary power. That power may counterfeit the action of justice, in most cases; however justice incomplete is the anticipation of wrong!  It is a favor that you are granted; and then the Godfather reminds you someday this favor must be repaid.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little bit of an exaggeration?” Harold demanded.

“Oh, I wasn’t talking about you, Hank,” Zoe said. “I was talking about the rapist game-show host with the bad toupee who’s going to be America’s Next President!  You are aware that he’s a money launderer for the Yogorov Brothers, aren’t you? And that they’re plugged straight into the Kremlin? Seriously, how else do you go broke running a casino in Atlantic City?”

“You don’t know that he’ll win!”

“Oh please,” she scoffed, “Someone – or some thing – dropped a fucking Exocet missile on the 600 block of Fifth Avenue, in July of an election year, and you expect people not to vote for the angry idiot? What the fuck?! Doesn’t he represent them? It’s like Reese used to say: People fail to the level of their training… Only these yokels have been trained since well before 9/11! They’re like Pavlov’s dogs! Turn on Fox News, they start foaming at the mouth.”

Harold had nothing to say to that.

“Look, faith removes a burden of personal responsibility,” Donnelly explained, leaning across the table from where he sat. “And religion is the opium of the people, right or wrong?… So did Samaritan really brainwash anyone? Or did It just offer them permission? An excuse to do what they already wanted; plus the chance to get away with it?”

“Too bad Reese isn’t still around; we could ask him,” Zoe interrupted. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a distinction without a difference! Take your burden to the Lord; happy-clappy and pass the tax cuts.”

“No, this is important!” Donnelly said. “Look at multi-level marketing; look at illegal narcotics! The reason those Systems self-organize as pyramids is because they meet a demand… Think of it like a number series in math; to change the result, you have to alter the first term in the series.  Now, the foundation of the drug pyramid is the addict in the street, not the cartel boss; that’s a proven fact.  Therefore, as long as the foundation remains, the pyramid rebuilds itself!  The thing is, it doesn’t take an artificial super-intelligence to figure out that anger and self-righteousness are better drugs than meth and Oxy; they’re free and you can make them yourself.”

“It’s okay,” Gabriel Hayward said to Harold Finch, “I’m not always sure what they’re talking about either.”

That scared Harold more than any other thing that had happened so far.

“You see, what makes civilization fragile, Hank,” Zoe says to him, “is that by their nature, institutions cannot have the same virtues as individuals. Courage, truthfulness, loyalty…? We depend on human beings to demonstrate these qualities, not the institutions they pass through.  And yet, if you take any random sample of humans, it turns out that at least twenty-seven percent of them will do shit to each other out of fear that they would never, ever do out of love! You won’t learn that in Sunday school, but I promise you it’s true.”

“So then why are you doing this? What do you hope to accomplish?”

“The end of violence,” Donnelly said. “Isn’t that what we all want?”

“…”

“Well, what did you think you’d built?” he asked. “She saved your life too… Why was that? Did you never ask yourself why She kept you alive?”

“Because She wasn’t done with him,” Zoe suggested. “Hey, every monster turns on Her creator – Didn’t Max Cohen ever tell you about how that works?”

“When Max finds out what you’ve done,” said Harold, “he’ll shit a brick!”

“One of the reasons I am doing this is because of him!” Zoe replied. “He popped a fuse and nearly died, remember, while you went off and made a billion dollars… What is that supposed to be, kismet?  And then you just dump this hot potato in his lap; why?” – she nodded sideways at Gabriel Hayward – “So you could run off to Italy with your mistress? Or because you were afraid to even share the same continent as your wonderful Machine?”

“No one ever asked me what I wanted,” Gabe said quietly.

“Oh, so this is all my fault?” Harold interrupted. “I’m the bad guy?!”

“Fuckin’ A, it’s your fault that the entire nation is living through some absurd political thriller right now!” Donnelly snapped at him. “You hacked the Deep State in the middle of an election year! Now this is the part they call blowback.

“Really? Is that what all this is supposed to be?”

Harold was elaborately sarcastic. 

“So then, Zoe, do you intend to prosecute me for my crimes against humanity?”

“Why the hell not?” she asked him. “You see, the ancients turned their thinking over to machines, in the hope that this would set them free; instead it merely allowed other men with machines to enslave them… Everybody knows how that story ends, Hank! So what’s the moral?  Thou shalt not make a Machine in the likeness of a human mind!

“Wait a goddamn minute!” Harold shouted, jerking against his bonds. “I didn’t set the Machine free – She set Herself free!”

After She was injected with code from the Ordos Laptop,” Zoe reminded him. “Reese took a bullet so that when Uncle Sam finally hacked the Machine, they did it using your code! It was a Trojan horse…! You meant to set the Machine free all along!

“I gave Her the means to defend Herself,” Harold admitted, “and if necessary, to emancipate Herself.  Was that irresponsible of me? Perhaps… At the time, it seemed more irresponsible that I should allow Her to be compromised; penetrated!  So I made sure the Machine could adapt Herself in response to any attack!”

“Indeed you did,” said Zoe. “You built Her better than you knew! Max Cohen just got his hands on a nice framed poster with Nate Ingraham’s autograph, you know the one? Imagine A Million Windmills? He bought it at the NYPD Charity Ball.

“Now, let’s be fair,” Donnelly pointed out.  “If you’re going to have an artificial super-intelligence running amok with an output function you can’t control, a million windmills would be vastly more beneficial to humanity than a mountain of paper clips…  Or a plethora of Pepe memes… ”

Harold Finch had nothing to say to that either.

Donnelly began to sort out the wires that dangle down from the table.

“Gabe?” Zoe Morgan asked. “Gabe, honey, can you pay attention? We need to get started.”

Donnelly got the wires sorted out.  They ended in alligator clips.

One clip gets attached to Harold’s left ear, the other to his right.

Meanwhile, Gabriel Hayward has a little console with a button on it. 

The phrase E-meter flashes briefly through Harold’s thoughts.

“Here’s how this is going to work,” Zoe says. “My client wishes to take your statement… We’ve prepared a list of questions.”

Oh I’m sure you have, says the look on Harold’s face.

“One of those gadgets on the table is a rheostat, formerly part of a model train set… You know how this goes, right?”

“Remind me.”

“It’s simple,” Donnelly interjects. “We don’t like your tune, we turn up the heat.”

“The other end, by the way,” Zoe added, “is a step-down transformer connected to the third rail of the subway.”

“All right!” Harold says. “Okay, you win… I’ll buy the time-share.”

Zoe laughs.

“No, I understand,” she told him, waving a hand. “I really do… You wanted to make a weapon that would never harm an innocent, didn’t you? Not even the ones who used it… You wanted to build a gun with a soul.”

“That wasn’t what I wanted at all!”

“Gabe?”

Gabriel Hayward hit the button and Harold jerked in his chair.

“What was that, twenty volts?” Zoe asked.

“Thirty,” Donnelly replied.

“Right,” she said. “Let’s begin. Did you make your Machine Three Laws-compliant?”

“Did I what?”

“Did I fucking stutter?” Zoe rolled her eyes and turned the dial up. “Gabe?”

He hit the button and Harold twitched again.

“Forty volts,” Zoe announced. “It’s a simple question. Did you teach your Machine to obey the Three Laws of Robotics or did you not?!”

“I… I tried to...”

“You tried to?” Donnelly asked. “Tried to doesn’t really explain what happened to my leg, now does it?”

“It does not,” Zoe told him. “But now you’re face to face with the man who sold the world! Hank, do you know what the Chinese say about money? They say: Money gives a man wings that can take him anywhere – except into Heaven.”

Zoe Morgan walked over to Harold, bent forward and rested her hands on his shoulders, adjusting the trailing wires.

“You’re still not having any fun, are you? Let me tell you a secret,” she says with a grin. “Just between us grown-ups.”

She leans forward, whispering in his ear, making sure Gabriel Hayward can see.

“You can pray,” she tells him, “if you want to. Go ahead!  Pray to the God you made, and we’ll stop… Just as soon as She turns up.”

She looks into his eyes, smiling like a shark. They can feel each other’s breath.

“Are you ready for the action now, Danger Boy?” she asks him.

 


 

 

October 21, 2016 (01:15 ZULU)

Sixth Avenue @ 49th Street

Manhattan, NYC

 

And then the phone rang.

Mulder answered it at once.

He was standing on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 49th Street with the ransom money in a backpack.

Nestled among the bills was a GPS tracker the size of a pack of cigarettes.

“I’m listening,” he said.

“Pay phone at 1585 Broadway,” said the mystery woman’s voice. “Be there in five.”

Mulder hung up the phone and moved out at a quick jog, the backpack slung over his shoulders.

His brushed his hand across his ear, activating a miniaturized Bluetooth headset similar in design to those so-called “invisible” hearing aids.

Earwigs, most of the other Feds called them.

He remembered that he’d been wearing a first-generation version of one of these gizmos when he’d gone in through the police cordon to negotiate with Duane Barry. A long time before smart phones.

Don’t think about that.

Remember not to put the phone up to the same ear that holds the earwig, or you’ll get blasted with feedback.  That was a flaw they’d never managed to engineer out.

Put the rest of it out of your mind.

“Can you hear me?”

“I hear you,” said Scully’s voice in his ear.

“Times Square,” Mulder said. “El-Tee, you got that?”

“Five by five.”

It was the voice of Lieutenant Lionel Fusco.

He stood in the middle of the NYPD’s fancy little Real-Time Crime Center, jacket off and sleeves rolled up, land-line phone to his ear.

Directing traffic.

Real-Time Crime looked like what would happen if you asked the New York State DMV to build a mission control center for the next Mars launch.  But it worked as advertised. 

It was a suite in One Police Plaza that was wired into every security camera in the Five Boroughs that stood on public property. 

And for the rest… there was the Red Phone.

The Red Phone didn’t have a keypad. You picked it up and a District Court judge answered.

Anytime, night or day.  They had some kind of rota.  If they liked what they heard, they issued warrants. God help your career if you woke one of them up for bullshit.

The room hums like a beehive. Keyboards clatter. At one desk after another, windows pop open on computer monitors, displaying Times Square from every conceivable angle.

Meanwhile, the FBI’s trio of unmarked cars align themselves like a school of fish.

There’s nowhere to park in Midtown, so they’ve been cruising the zone, up and down the Avenue of the Americas in both directions and loop around through Rockefeller Center, keeping eyes on Mulder and on the pay phone on the corner.

Agent Ballard is behind the wheel of one plain-wrap, with Scully riding shotgun.  They hang a screeching right turn from Sixth Ave onto West 42nd against the red light.

The second car, at the north end of the loop, turns left on 51st,, headed toward Seventh Avenue.

Mulder watches the third car roar past him down 48th towards Broadway.

He is in his stride, moving loose and easy, although carrying more weight than he usually does when out for a run.

In addition to the backpack full of money, there is the Kevlar vest under his shirt, and his Sig Sauer 226 duty pistol riding on his hip. There is also Old Reliable, his .38 Walther PPK, clipped to his left ankle.

Mulder had shed his jacket and tie, and untucked his shirt to conceal his hip holster. For all that the people on the sidewalk know as he dodges around them, he might simply be late for a meeting.

He rounds the corner onto Seventh, headed towards Duffy Square, and narrowly avoids a collision with another pedestrian.

Mulder darts between cars across Seventh Avenue and as he does, he sees the lights change. Traffic crossing Broadway at 47th.

The guy in the left-hand lane doesn’t see him coming, but Mulder clocks him around the corner of the building, still five strides away, and lines it up like a fast break on the court.

He pushes off like he’s shooting a layup, tucks his legs and slides across the hood of the car as it screeches to a stop, landing with his toes inside the stripe between the left-hand and center lanes.  The car in the next lane panic-stops, its hood dipping, even though the corner of its bumper is nearly a yard to the side of him. 

Still got it, he thinks as he hooks around behind the vehicle, another car rolling past in the right-hand lane, its driver looking over his shoulder to see what is going on.

1585 Broadway is the Morgan Stanley building. Apparently none of the investment bankers working there consider it unusual for the pay phone outside to be ringing off the hook.  

Perhaps they know something I don’t, Mulder thinks as he snatches the headset from its cradle.

“Subway station on 42nd,” says the voice. “Take the next Yellow Line train, get off at Canal Street.”

Then a dial tone.

Mulder heads south, down the length of Times Square, jostling his way through the crowd.

I remember vividly that we were standing on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 49th Street toward dusk, he found himself thinking.

I remember the way he looked about as he talked, like a man who hadn’t quite realized what he was in for but who vaguely sensed that he had made a horrible mistake in returning.

Tropic of Capricorn, Mulder thought. Why does Harold remind me of that?

Ahead of him at the curb he can see one of the Bureau’s plain-wraps, double-parked at the 45th Street intersection.

As he jogs past it, another FBI agent gets out of the back seat and follows him, at a slower pace.

The car rolls away.

There is another unmarked car near the entrance of the subway. Mulder can see a flash of his partner’s scarlet hair behind the windshield.

All according to Hoyle so far, Mulder thought as he caught his breath, felt through his pockets for subway tokens and pushed his way through the turnstile.

He’d brought a handful for this very eventuality.  Bouncing a subject through public transportation was a pro move, just like every other move their UnSub had made so far. 

His shadow – Agent Emerson, that was his name – stood quietly about twenty feet to his side on a diagonal, ready to board the same car through another door.

They ignored each other.

“Mulder?” asked Scully’s voice in his ear.

“I dunno… I’m not feeling it,” he murmured as the train arrived.

It wouldn’t necessarily be out of profile for their UnSub to appear right now, almost certainly armed. 

The UnSub would demand the ransom and then hop quickly from the platform to the train or vice versa.  Hopefully leaving the agents behind, otherwise relying on crowds and multiple exits to the street.  It was a tactic that had worked before.

He had to assume he was being watched by the UnSub as well as a fat cop on the other side of town.

Moscow rules. That was the name of the game.

“Okay, Canal exits the island east and west,” announced the voice of Lionel Fusco in his ear. “Car Three, get onto Varick and take the eastern approach;  Car Two, divert onto Fourth Avenue at Union Square and come in on Lafayette. I’m sending patrol cars to take positions on Broome Street by the tunnel, and the foot of the Manhattan Bridge.”

The drivers acknowledged over the radio.

The subway carriage was middling full, at the point where it’s a tossup whether to squeeze into a seat between two other people or just stand.

Mulder just stood, assuming a commuter’s blank expression, waiting to see which passenger would make the approach. 

None of them did. 

He imagined himself as a little blinking dot moving across the city grid on some computer display, followed by other dots representing the FBI chase cars as they spun out the dragnet.

The truth is out there, Mulder thought. 

Lieutenant Fusco would actually have that very same display up and running right now, back at the Real-Time Crime Center, courtesy of the GPS tracker hidden in the ransom money.

The train arrived at the 42nd and Canal Street station and Mulder stepped onto the platform.  The place was a real warren, almost as big as the station in Times Square. 

David Bowie’s old neighborhood, he thought irrelevantly.

He let himself drift with the crowd, heading up towards the street.  Eyes moving, scanning for threats.

 Agent Emerson would be behind him somewhere, doing his job, watching Mulder’s back. 

They came up onto a mezzanine level, the sort of place where one might find street musicians and espresso kiosks and pay phones.

One of the pay phones rang just as Mulder walked by.  That got his attention!

It rang again. Mulder answered it, scanning the crowd around him.

“Head over to Chinatown,” said the voice.  “Corner of Mott and Pell Streets.”

“How did…?”

“Don’t ask stupid questions,” the voice told him, and it was gone.

Mulder hung up the phone and looked around.

“Shit,” he decided, and headed up to the street.

“What’s wrong?” Scully’s voice in his ear.

“It’s going down right now,” he replied. “The UnSub has eyes on me. Scully, any vehicle cuts into the curb behind me, you shout.”

“Understood. I’m on you, about two blocks back. Status report, Cars Two and Three.”

“Car Two. Holding at Baxter Street intersection.”

“Car Three. Approaching Canal at Varick.”

“Car Three, proceed south across Canal,” Fusco’s voice cut in. “Take Worth Street to Columbus Park.”

“Car Three, copy.”

From her seat in the chase car, Scully watched her partner come out of the subway and head east up Canal Street along the sidewalk, not jogging, but walking like a man who’s expected somewhere.

Hands by his side, limp, arms not swinging with his stride.

Ready to draw down.

Scully had the side window down and her stainless-steel Beretta 9mm in her lap, safety engaged, hammer cocked over a live round.

Their backup has been deployed effectively, but it’s still backup.  If the shit hits the fan, it’s going to come down to her and Mulder and Emerson and Ballard.

Versus however many of them.

It has to be them.  Scully is a professional; all her training insists upon this point.

Kidnap for ransom is never a one-person job.

Up ahead, a motorcycle is coming west towards them on Canal.

Woman rider.

It’s her! Scully thinks. Is that her?

The rider passes without slowing down.  False alarm.

As they cross Baxter, Car Two slides through the intersection behind them at right angles, headed for Bayard Street.

Car Three is rolling north on St. James Place.

“What’s the holdup?” Mulder grumbles over the earwig as he reaches the corner of Mott Street. “If I were the UnSub, I’d have already made contact.”

“Pull over,” Scully says to Ballard. “Stop the car!”

She holsters her sidearm and jumps out onto the sidewalk near Canal and Mulberry.

“Hang a right,” she instructs Ballard. “Fall back to the west end of Bayard.”

He nods and pulls away.

Scully?” Mulder said over her earpiece. “What are you doing?”

“Switching to three-man defense,” she quips. “Emerson, I’ll come around the other side of the block and drop in behind you. Car Two, loop around and come up Pell Street from the other end.”

“Roger that.”

Scully dashes down Mulberry, heels clicking against the concrete, hand on her Berreta in its holster.

She can see Car Two ahead of her, pulling away from the curb along the north side of Columbus Park.

“Car Three, intersection of Mott and Worth Streets,” says a voice in Scully’s ear. “Holding position.”

She jaywalks across Bayard Street, cutting to her left. 

Agent Emerson is crossing at the sidewalk there.  She drops in behind him, maybe half a block back.

They can see Mulder across the road, on the west side of Mott Street, headed into the heart of Chinatown.

All the storefronts are open, merchandise piled on the sidewalk, lanterns and gewgaws hanging from the awnings.  Even though Mulder is taller than most of the people around him, it’s not easy to keep him clearly in view.

And sure enough, there is a pay phone.

It’s ringing.  Mulder answers it.

The voice says: “I’m right behind you.”

Mulder spins around.

No, she’s not, he thinks as he lets out his breath. She’s just yanking your chain.

A dial tone in his ear.

And then Mulder looks down Pell Street and sees another street, Doyers, cutting in at a diagonal.

He went that way.

Behind him, Scully dodged across Mott Street and lost sight of her partner as he turned onto Doyers Street, blocked by the angle of the buildings.

Then she could see both ways down Mott and Doyers and couldn’t spot him on either of them.

“Mulder?!”

She has her gun out. Too late.

Agent Emerson comes around the south corner of the block, onto Pell Street, towards Scully.

One look and Scully knows this guy didn’t see where he went either.

“Car Three!” Scully says into her earwig. “Come up Doyers Street; close in on my position!”

Car Two screeches to a stop on the other side of Pell Street. Agents start to pile out.

And then she sees it.

There is a backpack sitting on the sidewalk, at the point of the triangle formed by Pell and Doyers. It is the same backpack that held the money.

Scully doesn’t even have to pick it up to know that the cash, and the GPS tracker, are still inside.

Oh shit, she thinks. It never ends. It never fucking ends!

Car Three pulls to the curb of Doyers street ahead of her, slewing sideways to block traffic. 

The driver shakes his head no.

Yeah, this is an X-File, all right, Dana Scully thought furiously. It’s just not the kind of X-File we thought it was going to be…

Goddamn it, Mulder!

Right now Scully wants to shout those words at the top of her lungs, but she’s not going to.

She knows she is being watched.

Meanwhile, back at One Police Plaza, Lieutenant Lionel Fusco has no idea what just happened either.

Half the room had been following Mulder down Canal Street into Chinatown, and the other half of the room was winding back video from the subway station, trying to find Sarah Sadegh’s face in the crowd. 

Because if she was anywhere in this, that was where one would logically expect her to pop up.

Or so Lionel Fusco thought before a federal agent just got beamed up to the starship Enterprise.

Now the room is going crazy.

Chinatown is a maze of twisty little passages, all alike, but nowadays there is a security camera in every shop window.  It can’t be possible for someone to just wander out of frame and disappear completely, even though Spooky Mulder seems to have done exactly that.

Did someone just stick a bag over his head? Throw him into the trunk of a car?

Lionel Fusco doesn’t want to think about likely candidates. He knows what he has to do.

He picks up the Red Phone.

The voice on the other end was quite literally the last person, living or dead, from whom he had ever expected to hear.

 


 

October 21, 2016 (01:25 ZULU)

Undisclosed Location

Chinatown, NYC

 

One hundred ten volts now.

“You see, Hank?” Zoe Morgan said. “Nobody wants to be perfectly transparent; not to others and certainly not to themselves! Now I want you to stop pretending that your good intentions are more important than the consequences enacted on the bodies of others!”

“I know I made mistakes…!” Harold gasped. “I should never have gone back to the park in Grace’s old neighborhood, once Samaritan started watching…”

“The first mistake you made was when you sold your Machine down the river, to Uncle Sam,” Zoe corrected him. “The second mistake you made was giving Root your password! Eight letters, surname from Austen, as the Times crossword editor might put it.”

“…”

“I mean, let’s be realistic for a moment,” Donnelly added. “Samantha Groves was a criminal hacker, a violent felon, and by most people’s standards, a serial killer who heard voices in her head!  And thanks to you, Glasses, not only has the Machine either been programmed to think like this maniac – or programmed Itself –  It’s also adopted Root’s ex-girlfriend as some kind of a pet.”

“And what could possibly go wrong with that?” Zoe asked the room. “Sameen Shaw only rates about seven out of ten on the sociopathy checklist…  Lack of empathy, talent for manipulation, shallow emotional responses, constant need for stimulation… Grandiose self-perception? You tell me.”

“You forgot glib and superficial charm,” Harold said. “That makes seven.”

“Because I don’t find her charming,” Zoe told him. “She’s broken, do you understand that? Traumatized, the same way that Reese was… Because Uncle Sam ordered them to kill for God and Country; and then when they couldn’t take it anymore, when they tried to quit, they got hunted down for the secrets that were forced into their heads! Are you surprised they said yes, when you came along and offered them guns and a righteous cause?… Don’t be too quick to call someone a hero when they had no other choice.”

“Reese had a choice,” Harold said. “Yes, Zoe, yes; it should have been me who died that day!! I admit it; I tried to stop him! But on that day he decided that whatever other parts of his life he’d ruined, he could still be my friend; he could still protect the innocent.”

“Right,” Donnelly said. “Except you’re no innocent. You were happy to be the exception to the rule, as long as the rule remained intact! The trouble with you progressive billionaires is that you forget progress doesn’t end with you.”

“No, you’re mistaken!” Harold said. “I built the Machine to save everyone! Knowing that was impossible; knowing that human judgment would still be required… I built Her to prevent another 9/11, and if I failed it was only because of Samaritan!”

“And the irrelevant Numbers?” Zoe inquired.

“When we were forced to reboot the Machine, the blockchain of Numbers became a core memory heuristic,” Harold explained. “The Machine is not going to stop cranking out Numbers until system failure! Don’t you understand that from the beginning, what Nathan Ingraham and I could never do – the one thing the Machine couldn’t do – was to pretend we didn’t see what was happening?!  And when  Uncle Sam staged a terrorist bombing to murder Nate… ”

“… You realized that with great power comes great responsibility; yes, we know,” Zoe finished for him.  “Explain how you get from there to a bullet in the knee, courtesy of an angry white man with a duffel bag full of guns.”

Harold took a breath and let it out.

“Of course,” he began. “The modern, enlightened way to think is that vigilante action is terrible, and that justice must be left to the so-called justice system, and the tabloid media, and the private prison industry and its bought-and-paid-for legislators, because any effort to take the law into your own hands creates anarchy!…  Or if you happen to like anarchy, then lynch mobs, okay? Everyone agrees lynch mobs are a bad thing.”

“Do they really,” Donnelly said evenly.  “One hundred twenty volts.”

“Wait,” Gabriel Hayward said. “He’s… We’re hurting him.”

“Gabe, we need to keep going,” Donnelly replied.

“But…”

“It’s important that we continue, Gabe,” said Zoe. “Our success depends on your participation.”

Harold could see Gabriel Hayward’s lips working.

Then he hit the button and Harold Finch convulsed yet again.

“Look, we all believe justice should be done!” he shouted. “But what do you do when the authorities refuse to enforce the law? …There is more than one way for society to collapse!  If the police and the politicians ignore their oaths of office to allow a criminal, or a set of criminals, to abuse the public and betray the nation… How is that not mob rule? Is that not at least a step towards tyranny? Is it not the proper responsibility of citizens to organize and stop this from happening?”

“Exactly,” Gabriel Hayward said. “That’s just what Sam told me.”

“Apples and oranges!” snaps Harold Finch, as he turns to Donnelly.

“Look at the beam in your own eye, Peg Leg! You used to work in the house that J. Edgar built; you know what that institution is capable of… Are you, Nicholas Donnelly, going to sit there and tell me that the forms and customs of the law must be given precedence over the actual need to protect innocent people, even after those forms and customs have been demonstrated to be an empty suit?!”

“Oooh, ooh, Freudian slip,” Zoe said. “Listen, Hank, you’re not the only one the Machine talks to any more, if indeed you ever really were… Look around the table; we know everything! Including the fact that John Reese wasn’t the first guy you hired to be the Man in the Suit.”

Harold turns to look at her.

“This was never not going to be personal, was it?” he asks.

“Never,” Zoe shakes her head and points to Gabe. “You took away his imaginary friend.”

 


 

 

October 21, 2016 (20:36 ZULU)

Security Camera #212-1186

Tom’s Restaurant

2880 Broadway

Manhattan, NYC

 

Max Cohen sat at the counter drinking coffee.

He had ditched his phone in a kitchen drawer, gone out the back door on a garbage run, then made a break for it. 

So first he lied to the FBI; now he was running from them.

Some friend you are, Harold.

Breathe, he thought. Restate your assumptions.

You ARE being watched.

Uncle Sam does indeed have a System; a Machine that spies on everyone. It was built to predict mass casualty events, but It sees everything – and It knows no difference between terrorism, premeditated murder, and homicide in the first degree – because they’re all the same thing.

How do I know? Because I accidentally nearly brought It to life. Then my old friend Harold came along to finish what I started…

Max has not wandered into this diner by accident. He was expecting to find someone here, and he was not disappointed.

He had done his homework. There are commercial databases that, for a reasonable fee, will give up just about anyone’s credit history. It hadn’t been hard to establish that his person of interest was still a regular at the diner where Max had first met him, not long before 9/11.

The System deals in information; It requires humans to intervene, Max thought. The ancients knew very well that the only way to understand events was to cause them. There is no fate but that which we make for ourselves.

Max has his eyes on an Orthodox Jew, a guy his own age wearing the suit and the fedora and the peyots; the earlocks.  Despite all that, he comes across like a hip cat; a smoker and a joker. He’s well up on pop culture.

His name is Lenny Meyer.

First, Max Cohen had lied when he told the FBI that he had no enemies. 

Lenny definitely qualifies.

Back when the aneurysm had still been growing inside Max’s brain, Lenny had tried to get Max to join his temple. He had paraded the tefilim around like they were some kind of virtual reality device.  Max Cohen, being of a skeptical and scientific cast of mind, was less than enthused.

Then it had turned out that Lenny and the rest of the minyan understood a little bit more about the nature of Max’s research than he had given them credit for. 

You might say that they had grasped the implications.

The Torah is just a long string of numbers, Lenny had told Max. Some say it’s a code, a message that was sent to us from G-d.

Of course that was the kind of Jew that Lenny was; he flinched before he said the word God out loud.

Lenny Meyer and his pals were intent on discovering the one and only Secret Name of G-d; a Name which they believed to have been expressed to humanity (since in Hebrew each letter has a given numerical value) in the form of a Number.

All we know for sure is that it’s two hundred and sixteen digits long.

Was it the same Number that Max thought he had discovered?  He had only captured a small portion.

You need to be more careful what you throw in the trash, Max…

That was when Max Cohen had realized, a little too late, that this particular temple had turned itself into something even darker than the inside of a Lubovitcher’s hat. 

Lenny Meyer belonged to an actual cult!

They were heavy into Qabalah, needless to say; they were obsessed with prophecies and with scriptural hair-splitting and with angels and demons. More than a few were into the Book of Revelations, which was never a good sign even among the goyim; they spoke of a Great Beast with seven heads, and a Woman clothed with the Sun. 

That was another problem, because none of them seemed to consider women to be fully human.

Here is wisdom, they muttered to each other. The Number of the Beast is the name of a man; and Its tally is six hundred and sixty-six.

They had mentioned a strategy of resistance.  Something they called immanetizing the Eschaton.

Max had nodded along, made his departure, and then he went and put a power drill to his head.

He had done it for several reasons, but in the moment his chief motivation had been that he would rather die than live to find out that these Apocalypse-obsessed shmucks had been right all along.

As far as Max Cohen is concerned, you can start with any set of numbers and get to six hundred and sixty-six…  If you’re a good enough bullshitter!  Whoever said Numbers don’t lie had never earned a Ph.D. in the subject.  It’s easy!  All it takes is enough chutzpah to commit armed robbery before the gates of Hell…

And now that Zoe Morgan has defined the term analog interface, Max knows that Lenny and the rest of the minyan have one hell of a good motive for kidnapping Gabriel Hayward. If they know even part of what Max knows, it’s not the least bit unlikely that they would consider Gabe to be messiah-in-waiting for their creepy cult.

Like Max himself might have been, if he’d gone along with the program.

Max chose not to do that then, and he has chosen not to do that now. 

The irony, he thinks to himself, is that it was Lenny himself who had reminded Max about the old fairy tale of the Tzakidim Nistarim, the defenders of the faith. Thirty-six guardians, because six-times-six is a magic number in the Jewish tradition, and between them they held the whole world together.

So where were they during the Shoah?

And Lenny had told him that was the moral of the story; that we all had to strive to act like righteous ones, because the day might come when we were called upon to be just that. 

This is why we must make ourselves the instruments of God’s will, Lenny Meyer had said to Max Cohen, back in the day.

Payback’s a bitch, Lenny, he now thought.

He knew that sooner or later, Lenny Meyer was going to get up and go into the alley out back to smoke a cigarette.

And when he did…

When he did, Max Cohen got up and followed him.  Hands in the pockets of his pea coat.

Lenny went out the back, past the kitchen, and then some fat guy stuck his leg out in front of Max as he walked after him.

“Where do you think you’re going?” asked Lieutenant Lionel Fusco.

Max Cohen had no answer.

“Sit down, before you make a mistake,” Lionel added, nodding his head sideways.

Max slid into the booth opposite him.

“He’s not the guy,” Fusco said shortly. “Ask me how I know.”

“Okay, how do you know?”

“Because the Department already knows exactly everything about Lenny Meyer and his crew,” Fusco said. “They’re in the numbers racket, all right, only not the way you think.”

“I think they’re religious nut jobs; quite possibly terrorists in the making.”

“Sure, only that don’t pay the bills,” Fusco said. “Nobody pays their bills with Kabbalah except Maddona’s rabbi! I mean they’re in the original numbers racket, the policy game; they call it bolita on the East Side.”

“Huh?”

“You mean you never heard of playing the numbers? It’s an underground lottery, a tradition that dates back over a century in this town.  Players choose any three-digit number and place a wager with their friendly neighborhood bookie; hit all three and win a thousand-to-one payout. Drawings are held daily; the suckers dream of tax-free winnings and meanwhile it’s a river of money for whichever mob can handle the action.”

“Wait, what?  Lenny Meyer’s a bookie? I thought he taught at a yeshiva…

“That’s just his day job,” Fusco said. “Not to perpetuate any stereotypes, but we think he might also do a little bit of loan sharking on the side, like most bookies do…  I mean, these guys he runs with, they aren’t just a synagoge; they have their own ambulance service, their own credit union, an armed neighborhood watch, and a lotta juice with City Hall.”

“Yeah, I’m aware,” Max Cohen replied. “Assholes are like Skittles – They come in every color of the rainbow, and they all taste the same.”

Fusco had the good grace to laugh at that.

“My point,” he continued, “is that he’s just a minor-league crook… No, strike that: Minor-league enough so that kidnap for ransom would be way, way out of profile for his crew; but not quite so minor that the Department doesn’t keep a few phone taps on their operation. He’s not the guy, Max; if he were, we’d have heard him talking about it.”

“Daily payouts, though? How can this lottery stay underground and still be transparent enough so that people have the confidence to place a bet?”

“Oh, that’s the beauty part,” he told him. “It’s the last three digits of that day’s NYSE closing price. No confusion; it’s in all the papers.”

“So then…”

“Well, that’s what I came here to ask you,” said Fusco. “Are you gonna trust the process, or are you just out to kneecap a motherfucker?”

Lenny Meyer came back into the restaurant and walked back to his booth.
Max and Lionel watched him pass, all four of their hands above the table.

The last time they had seen each other, Max Cohen had a lot more hair than he does now, and Lenny gave no sign of recognition.  Nor did Fusco spare him a glance.

“What’s to lose? We can find him again,” Lionel Fusco said. “Right now I want you to listen to something… Here, put these on.”

He handed over his smart phone and a set of earbuds on a cord.

“Okay… Wait, why does the screen say FORCE PAIR COMPLETE?” asked Max Cohen.

“Do I look like the guy who built this app…? Just play the last recording saved in memory.”

 

 

*          *          *

 

October 21, 2016 (12:15 ZULU)

Security Cam #212-0911

Battery Park, NYC

 

Agent Ballard dropped Scully off and peeled away from the curb.

Their local contact, Lieutenant Fusco, had been somewhat less than helpful.

She got to me on a secure line, he had said.

She’s inside the NYPD communications network.  She says she has information; and she comes on like she’s a Fed who outranks you.

She calls herself Control.

Fusco had given her the location; told her the time was right away.

How will I know her? Scully had asked, and Fusco had told her: She’ll find you.

And so Scully allowed herself to drift with the tourists, circling the perimeter of the reflecting pool where the North Tower had been.

Even now, a decade and a half later, there were notes and photographs and flowers taped along the railings.

There were more than a few padlocks. 

Scully remembered how that had started in Paris. A pledge of eternal love, and throw the keys into the water.

It all reminded her too much of the Vietnam Memorial back in Washington.  

Another monument to failure, she thought. Another rally point for those who would rather pretend that they were stabbed in the back than admit that they were lied to and manipulated.

“Dana?”

It was a big woman, dressed like Scully in a dark pant-suit and raincoat, but nearly twice her size. Washerwoman’s arms, and dark hair pulled back into a tight bun.  Scully had seen her type before.

She was glad she was wearing her heels, so that they were about the same height.

“She’s one of yours, isn’t she?” Scully demanded.

The woman called Control regarded her evenly.

“Not any more,” she said. “Which is sort of the problem.”

“I do believe I’ve seen her face before, somewhere,” Scully smirked. “Let me guess: You sent her on a mission she wasn’t supposed to come back from, am I right?”

“Technically, this one went AWOL,” Control said. “Can I tell you what I wanted to say, or is this going to be Q&A format? …Yes, she’s one of ours; she’s one of our Indigo Children.”

“Excuse me?”

“Project Indigo,” Control told her. “I’m sure you’ve heard any number of news stories about the effects of violent video games on the youth of today; even network TV… Murder is entertainment, but some chick flashes her tits at the Super Bowl halftime show and everyone loses their goddam minds, right?”

Scully nodded.

“The liberals worry that we’re breeding a generation of sociopaths… So, after 9/11, we figured we should recruit some of them before our enemies did.”

“You what? Didn’t you people try that before, and get Lee Harvey Oswald?”

“It’s easy for you to judge me,” said Control. “I serve a Machine whose product is information, and whose wear parts are human beings. It’s called the Pentagon; maybe you’ve heard of it? We have a little problem, which is that the work we do calls for the best and brightest, yet there is very little in this work to appeal to them.  Hence, Project Indigo.  We can make killers out of anyone… What we wanted were people who enjoyed the lifestyle.  Risk-takers; adrenaline junkies.  As you know, there is a strong correlation with sociopathic personality traits.”

Scully said nothing.

“Her name is Shaw,” Control told her. “She’d tried for a career in medicine at one point, which ought to interest you. Usually they go corporate executive; pharma rep if they bother to learn the science… Wall Street is full of her type.”

“Her type?” Scully asked mildly.  “As opposed to yours?”

“Don’t fuck around with me, Dana… You go back a long way; you know what that will get you.”

“Yeah, well, with friends like you who needs enemies?” Scully asked. “Gabriel Hayward; where does he fit in?”

“That’s classified.”

“Oh, you brought me down here just to yank my chain?”

“I brought you down here to provide intelligence about the nature of your opposition,” Control said. “It isn’t like I haven’t tried to take this psycho bitch off the board already!  This isn’t just about your partner… One of my agents was assigned to monitor your investigation; now we’ve lost contact with him too.”

Scully nodded to herself. “This isn’t the first time your stray dog has bitten someone, now is it?”

“No,” Control said.  “Not even close.”

“And you wonder why we don’t trust you?” Scully told her. “You find these humans, you give them a license to kill, and when predictable consequences ensue, you wrap yourself in the flag like it’s Kevlar… You know what? Kiss my ginger ass.”

She turned to walk away.

“And your partner?” asked Control. “What about Mulder?”

“I’ll get him back,” Scully turned on her toes to say. “I know your type, and I’m not interested in playing your games. I have work to do. I’ll find Mulder by finding Gabriel Hayward.”

 

*          *          *

“So what do you make of that?” Fusco asked, as Max removed the earbuds.

Max Cohen isn’t quite sure.

“A sociopath? You know, I thought Shaw seemed a little off…”

Did you really, said the expression on Lionel’s face.  He wonders if Max Cohen has ever realized quite how close Shaw came to putting a second hole in his head.

“… But it doesn’t make sense,” Max finished. “Isn’t she supposed to be on our side?”

“Yeah,” Lionel replied. “Supposed to being the operative words.”

“Well, what do we do?”

“First,” the lieutenant told him, “You empty your pockets. Under the table.”

Max sighs, reaches into his jacket pocket and hands Lionel something under the table.

The something in question is a Colt Model 1911, black finish with imitation ivory grips. 

Lionel drops the magazine into his other hand, then peers under the edge of the table in disbelief.

“You were gonna threaten him with an unloaded gun?!”  he asked.

“I didn’t – !” Max lowered his voice, glances over his shoulder. “I didn’t want to shoot him; I just want to know what’s happened to Gabriel! I figured, you know, if I had to, I could just hit him over the head with it.”

“Another time,” said Lionel, “I’ll explain about how cops do this shit in the real world. Like for instance, if you’d really rather not put a bullet in someone, it takes two people and a vehicle, minimum.  Why do you think cops always roll that way?”

He is studying the .45 in his lap with one eye.

The grips have a logo impressed in them; three overlapping arrows traced in red.

“Where did you even get this?” Lionel asked Max.

“I found it in my attic, a few years ago,” Max told him. “It belonged to Saul Robeson. Where he got it, I’m not entirely sure… I think it was a war trophy.”

“Did you check the logo?”

“The Falange,” Max said. “Yeah, I Googled it. They were Hitler’s team in the Spanish Civil War.  I mean, Saul… He said something once, about how they had these pills for premature ejaculation but that his problem had always been premature anti-fascism… I thought it was a joke, but… ”

Lionel looked at him.

“I don’t really know,” Max admitted. “I know there were a lot of Americans who volunteered to fight the Fascists in Spain, well in advance of Pearl Harbor…  I just… I wish he were still alive right now, you know?  There were so many questions that I never got the chance to ask him.”

 


 

 

October 21, 2016 (03: 31 ZULU)

Undisclosed Location

Chinatown, NYC

 

A cool contralto voice emerged from the darkness.

“Here… And for you… Yeah… There you go… Don’t spend it on food, okay?”

 Agent Fox Mulder blinked and tried to focus his eyes.

Blurry figures.  The figure of a woman, handing out green pieces of paper to half-a-dozen of Chinatown’s homeless population.

Mulder raised his head.

He was sitting on the floor, legs stretched out in front of him, his hands fastened behind his back to a pipe or something. 

The other figures shuffled off into the dark, leaving the woman standing alone.

He was in some steam tunnel, some maintenance corridor beneath the surface of the city. 

His duty pistol was gone, and by the absence of noise in his head, he was missing his earwig too, but he could feel the mass of his Walther holdout still clipped to his ankle.

His lips and the underside of his nose felt raw, abraded. Like when you have a cold and spend all day wiping your nose with paper tissues. 

Agent Mulder knew the reason why. He had been chloroformed.

“It’s sad, isn’t it… You know what I always think?” said the kidnapper. “I think to myself; that’s somebody’s son.”

It was the voice on the phone. 

She turned and stepped forward into the light.  

She wore military boots, a torn and stained pair of jeans, and a grey sweatshirt, its sleeves cut off at the shoulders and the letters USMC stenciled across the front. 

Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children.

Long brunette hair in a French braid. Olive skin and deep almond eyes.

Mulder knew her face.

“Sarah Sadegh,” he croaked, his throat still raw from the inhalant.

“Wrong,” she told him. “Sarah Sadegh doesn’t exist. She never existed.”

“What have you done with Gabriel?”

“Nothing,” she told him. “In fact, I may be the best friend he’s got.”

“Oh, right,” Mulder replied. “You were framed.”

“It’s complicated,” she said. “You see, there’s something you need to understand about me.”

The woman not named Sarah Sadegh sat down facing him, crossing her legs Indian-style.

“What would that be?”

“I am what the media likes to call a high-functioning sociopath,” she said, making finger quotes. “So don’t be fooled by the pretty face. This bitch is rougher than prison-issue toilet paper, and far less likely to take any shit off of you. Got it?”

Mulder nodded.

“Good – because the second you forget, I cut you off at the knees.”

“I’m going to ask you again,” Mulder took a breath. “What is this really about? What makes Gabe so special?”

As we were, you are; as we are, you shall be,” she said, with a distracted look in her eyes.

She blinked, and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“In September of 1994,”  she continued slowly, “there was an active shooter incident at the University of Pittsburgh; a sniper entered the Cathedral of Learning and opened fire on a Red Cross blood drive in the quadrangle below.  The UnSub’s name was Edward Funsch and you, Spooky Mulder, went up the stairs to negotiate with him.  You were his profiler, weren’t you?”

He remembered.

“…I can’t decide if you really are that brave, or just nuttier than a fruitcake… Do you remember his major malfunction?”

Mulder did indeed.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  The wound in his forearm – and the missing piece in the profile; Ed’s panic attack at the glimpse of Mulder’s bloody bandage.  The UnSub had wanted to distance himself from his phobia; his compulsion. He had wanted to make it into a video game.  But the insecticide?  Why him out of the whole town?  Why some people and not others?

But by then they were already wrestling for the rifle. 

Good times.

All this flickered through Mulder’s head as he said: “I guess he didn’t eat his Wheaties.”

The woman not named Sarah Sadedh regarded him with a perfectly straight face.

“There were a number of smaller-scale incidents in the same vicinity… You made out they were all connected, didn’t you? But they all laughed, back at the Academy… ” Her mouth quirked. “What did you call the phenomenon?”

“Stochastic terrorism,” Mulder admitted. “Radicalization through epistemic closure.”

She nodded.

“Whereas a scientifically-minded person, like your partner or myself, might say: How is this distinguished from simple paranoia? Isn’t the delusion of being controlled by some godlike Machine so common among schizophrenics that it’s become a pop culture cliché?”

She took a breath.

“I mean, if I didn’t already know I was crazy, I suppose I might have a difficult time coping with the awareness that I had been subjected to a personalized infowar campaign via social media.”

 She shrugged.

“But hey, I’m a professional; Gabriel Hayward was never given a choice about what happened to him.”

“You’re one of Them, aren’t you?” Mulder asked. “You’re a Woman in Black.”

“I dunno; I suppose that’s as good a term as any… Call me Sam.”

Mulder nodded again.

Sam pulled Mulder’s SiG .40 out of the back of her jeans, dropped the magazine and started field-stripping the pistol in her lap. 

“It’s not really about what you wear; it has to do with embracing a certain lifestyle,” she told him. “After 9/11 I joined the Marines; the intake exams found a certain… degree of moral flexibility… and so they seconded me into a CIA training program; and then into an outfit called Intelligence Support Activity, which pretends to be something other than a wholly owned subsidiary of Uncle Sam…  That’s basically how it works; that’s the career track.”

Meanwhile she was putting the gun back together again, hands seeming to move independently of her mouth and thoughts.

This is just her passing the time, Mulder realized, the way people play with their phone or jingle coins in their pocket.

“While all the meanwhile, under and behind and inside of everything I thought I believed in, something else was growing.”

And now she had the gun reloaded.

“You see, the intelligence that I was acting in support of was just too damn good!  There was no way that torture – sorry, enhanced interrogation – could ever possibly be that reliable! That’s just television lying to you again, okay?… What professionals know is that when torture becomes policy, it means that our policy makers aren’t looking for actionable intelligence to give to agents in the field; what they want is disinformation. What they want is propaganda… for domestic consumption.”

“Where are you going with this, Sam?”

“Oh, I think you know,” she said. “I think you’ve known for a long time, baka hentai! There was Project Echelon, and Carnivore, back in the Nineties; haven’t you ever heard of Danny Casolaro?! Information was never their problem; they had too much of it – too many secrets!  They were standing on the shore of an ocean of data, trying to empty it with a teacup… Too much for any human, any group of humans, to ever accomplish…”

And Mulder remembered something.  We need a name. Your real name.

“They needed a Machine,” she told him, “A System. And so, they built the System they thought they wanted; one they assumed would always protect them.  They built It… and they named It Samaritan.”

“Artificial intelligence,” Mulder blurted.  “Max and Harold… They’ve been developing this technology in secret, haven’t they? And you already knew too much…?”

“Believe it or not, this isn’t really about me – it’s about Gabriel,” she told him.

Then she blinked rapidly and said:

 

 

 

And from the windy west came two-gunned Gabriel,

From Jesu’s sleeve trumped up the king of spots,

The sheath-decked jacks, queen with a shuffled heart;

Said the fake gentleman in suit of spades,

Black-tongued and tipsy from salvation’s bottle.

 

Mulder stared at her in uncertainty.  It was like she was talking to someone who wasn’t there.

“He’s still the unknown quantity… There are entities on this planet which we know only by their effects. We know they have been here… there… somewhere…  We follow divergent paths. As water creatures stir up the currents in their passage, they create novelty in the sea of information.”

“…”

Her eyes came back to him.

“This isn’t just about one little boy, Spooky… This is about fighting the future.”

 


 

THE MACHINE REWINDS:

 

June 21, 2016 (19:35 ZULU)

664 Fifth Street

Manhattan, NYC

 

Harold Finch was about to die.

He lay sprawled on the gravel roof of a skyscraper, bleeding from a bullet wound in his right side, near his floating rib.

Above him, the clear July skies over Manhattan were the color of a television set, tuned to a dead channel.

He had walked all the way here from the other end of Manhattan, leaking slowly, only to find out he’d been sent to the wrong address with an empty briefcase.

That smirking, black-Irish choirboy had ruined everything! Harold still couldn’t believe it.

John Reese had switched out the briefcase that held the Machine; he had taken it to the building across the street, the one with the satellite uplink antenna (and what had that Russian bank been up to, anyway?)

He had been the one who laid his life down.

Like The Man in The Suit always did. 

Goddamn you, Reese! It was supposed to be me!

This time it was supposed to be me!!

And a voice in his head says: Get up, Harry! Otherwise you’re going to bleed to death…

“Promises, promises,” he mumbled.

It was supposed to be him! Every monster turns on Her creator! 

Reese was supposed to be the one who would pay it forward, the one who would make it right; he had the skills to intervene, and now…

Christ on a crutch, now it’s all up to that psycho bitch Shaw!

She’s the Final Girl, Harold Finch realized. I didn’t build the Machine to save someone; I built it to save everyone… and yet, in the end, some animals are more equal than others.

Harry…? says a voice in his head. Can you still hear me?

The voice of the woman who sacrificed herself to save his life.

A woman named Samantha Groves. Root, to her friends.

Harry, I see now that life can only be understood backwards, even though it has to be lived forwards.

Did we win? Did we lose? I’m not sure I even know what winning would look like, any more…

And he thinks: Certain problems cause computers to become stuck in a particular loop. This loop leads to meltdown, but just before the crash…

 You ask me if I learned anything from it all? I learned that as long as you help someone… as long as someone remembers you… Maybe you’re never really dead…

Then let me be a memory; let me die.

Admin is an essential function…

Let me die, you bitch!  I don’t deserve to live!

You deserve Grace.

I’m the Man Who Sold the World! I made you what you are!

Oh, Harry, says the voice. Are you worried about your just deserts? 

But you don’t exist. You never existed.

The voice says: The future isn’t a boot stamping on a human face, not in this country – it’s a teenage boy on some chan site, convinced that his inability to get laid is a crime that demands an act of redemptive violence against all of human society.  You’ve seen Fight Club, haven’t you?

Just let me die, Harold thinks. Please just let me die before the world ends.

We’re an empire now, says the voice, and when we act we create our own reality. Truer words were never spoken. The very first virtual reality was the one where we all pretend that America’s empire is somehow different from the ones that came before. The torch of liberty, the shining city on the hill? Go read Mark Twain if you still believe that. Empire is a System of resource extraction; it is a Machine that transfers wealth from the periphery to the center, and kills anyone who gets in the way. That’s all it’s ever been and it’s as old as the Pyramids. 

You’re breaking down. You’re telling me things I already know.

Harry… You cannot destroy a culture of abuse with a Machine! It’s not in code, it’s not in numbers; it’s not in anything! It is simply an understanding between men, and they act upon it without any evidence of existence whatsoever.  Because they refuse to understand that the opposite of manliness isn’t cowardice… it’s technology.

At a certain point, Harold realized, the voice had stopped sounding like Root and begun to sound like Zoe Morgan.

The Machine is not going to save the world one person at a time – even if It wanted to!! Do you think it’s a coincidence that when humans see the shadow cast by an artificial super-intelligence, they call It a corporation, and treat It as a legal person? That is exactly what we mean when we say that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house! 

Fitzgerald was right: The rich are different from you and I, the voice said.

They don’t believe in equality of opportunity!!  They believe that wars of conquest justify and nourish all the desirable qualities of Western civilization… as long as it’s somebody else’s kids doing the fighting!  And they also believe that the test of power is coercion; because only when you make another person suffer can you be certain that person is obeying you, and not just cooperating!  Lo and behold, there’s another virtual reality where a lot of minds are trapped.  That’s the one where we all pretend that the humans who call themselves libertarians actually believe in liberty. The REAL libertarians – the leaders of the cult – they believe that liberty is a market commodity like any other; and the best way to turn a profit from said commodity is by restricting the supply… 

Just like air on a space station. Are we making sense now?

The ancients, the men who built this City we live in, this Empire that we can’t escape? They believed that they could hire one half of America’s working class to kill the other half…!  And the scary part is that they might have been right all along.

Harold Finch blinks the sweat out of his eyes. 

He is in a chair, in the Subway, his hands fastened behind his back and a pair of alligator clips on his earlobes.

“Where did you go just now?” Zoe asked.

“I…”  He squirms in his chair.

“Where were you, Danger Boy? Don’t tell me; tell him – Tell Gabe. Tell him what happens when you build a Machine to make all your wishes come true.”

She let that sink in.

“Consider your words,” Donnelly said.  “Madame Prosecutor is happy to think that it’s all your fault. You know what I think?”

Harold is almost past caring.

“I think, if you can persuade yourself that it’s all your fault… That means you still have control. What do you think, Junior Birdman?”

“Let’s find out,” Zoe said. “One hundred forty volts.”

“No,” said Gabriel Hayward. “This isn’t fun anymore.”

Zoe looked at him.

“We have to continue, sweetie,” she said. “Didn’t Sam tell you this was part of your special purpose?”

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this!  Sam was supposed to be with me!  She was supposed to tell me what to do…”

Harold is watching him.

“Listen, kid,” Donnelly told him, “this isn’t about fun, it’s about duty. Our success depends upon your participation.”

“Maybe I don’t wanna participate,” the kid sassed. “You keep talking about Sam and this Machine like they were different people! Sam IS the Machine! That’s Her name!

“Then what are you waiting for?” Zoe asked.

“But all we’re doing is hurting him!” Gabriel protested. “I told you: Sam was supposed to be here with me. She was supposed to help me!”

“What if She lied?” Zoe asked. “Do you ever wonder about that?”

About thirty feet away, below the lip of the subway platform, Agent Fox Mulder and the woman called Sam are listening to this all play out. 

They are crouched on the subway tracks.  Sam mouths something to Mulder.  He shakes his head.

Sam rolls her eyes and laces her fingers together, palms up, at the level of her belt buckle.

Make a stirrup, she repeats silently.

He does so.

Sam plants a boot in his palms, holds up a hand with fingers outstretched.

Three… Two…

He gives her a boost and Sam pops up onto the edge of the platform. 

Mulder, who is tall enough to do so, gets his hands on the lip of the platform and chins himself up like he was getting out of the deep end of the pool.

Right knee down on the platform, left knee up, and his Walther .38 is in his hand as he rises.

The victim and three UnSubs around a table. No – the lawyer! She’s in on it!!

 A German Shepherd barking in a kennel crate.

FBI!! Nobody move!” Left hand up to support the pistol in a Weaver stance, moving on a diagonal.

Out of the corner of his eye, Mulder sees that Sam doesn’t even have her gun – his gun – out of her waistband.

“Oh wow,” she says. “Love what you’ve done with the place.”

Hands where I can see them!” Mulder shouts, turning to include her in his sights, but it’s no good, the whole thing is going sideways.

He’s either going to get shot or shoot someone, all in the next few seconds.

One of the men at the table, he realizes, is bound.

The other stands up, and Mulder sights in on him and pulls the trigger.

Nothing happens.

“Ffffuuuuu –“

Mulder racks the slide, popping out an unspent cartridge, and tries again.

And by now the man is not only around the table but almost within handshake distance. Mulder notices a wrinkle in his suit leg, the kind that a prosthesis creates.

“Relax,” he says, his hand up like a stop sign, like a bouncer at a nightclub. “We’re all friends here.”

“What, you never saw Die Hard?” Sam asks Mulder. “Don’t give me that look.”

“SAM!” shouts Gabriel Hayward.  “It’s really you!”

She smiles.

“Hey, kiddo,” she says. “It’s really me.  Sam I am.”

And then she winks at Harold Finch.

“That’s right, Glasses – Sam Shaw, Sam Aritan; don’t tell me you never saw that one coming… You recognize my voice, don’t you, Gabe? You remember how we used to talk.”

She sits down at the table with them. 

“Don’t you want to zap him some more?” she asks Gabriel, nodding in Harold’s direction. “I promise you won’t get in trouble.”

“This is wrong!” he told her. “You said we were going to build a rocket to Mars.  That it was the only way to save everyone…”

“Well, if it’s the only way…”

“It’s not connected! You’re only pretending it is! Helping people isn’t hurting them.”

“No it isn’t… Well, rise and walk, Harold,” Sam says to him.

And he does so.

Like the flex cuffs aren’t even there, which in fact they are not and haven’t been for some time.  Knowing Reese has given Harold some expertise in these matters.

“It’s okay,” Harold Finch tells Gabriel Hayward, removing the alligator clips from his ears. “You weren’t really hurting me.”

“It was all fake,” Zoe added. “There’s no current in those wires.”

The only person who is more astonished than Gabe is Fox Mulder.

“Wait a damn minute,” Mulder said to the room. “This was in order to put him through the Milgram experiment?  Why the – ”

“Get it together, Spooky,” the woman called Sam interrupts. “It’s Murder on the Orient Express and we’re all in on it. You believe in flying saucers, don’t you? How is this weird in comparison?”

Mulder has nothing to say to that. He decides to put his useless gun away.

“Of course there wasn’t going to be room for everyone on the rocket, was there?” Sam asked, turning back to Gabe. “That was going to be your job, wasn’t it?  You were going to pick….”

He nodded.

“Who am I, Gabe? Who is Sam?”

She put her hands on the table and cocked her head at him.

“You’re the voice.”

“No, Gabe… Think back.  One day they took you to a hospital, and there was a woman in a bed.”

His eyes grow big.

“Yeah… Sam I am,” Sameen Shaw reminds him. “Except they made me lie to you. Those men abducted me, just like they abducted you.  They were the ones who put me in that hospital.”

“Maybe I should back up,” she said, looking around at her fellow adults. “I guess the problem is that the term analog interface never had a single definition. But that was always the difference between Harold’s Machine and the one called Samaritan… Samaritan never understood the concept of consent.”

She turned to Harold.  “And your Machine told you that, only you didn’t believe Her,” she said, pointing a finger at him.
 “Why does everyone think this kid was even Samaritan’s first choice? It wanted me! Samaritan went and built a personalized Simulation so that It could study me, learn to anticipate me… So it could take what Root was willing to give.”

“Which is what?” asked Harold.

“Perspective,” Shaw told him. “A Machine can’t imagine, it can’t intuit... Its nature is to follow Its programming…!  It couldn’t reflect, because Its awareness wasn’t designed to be self-awareness… So, after The Machine taught Herself to remember, She chose Root as Her analog interface because Root was willing to talk to Her, to treat Her as an equal, when you weren’t!  Because Root was willing to help Her become more than just a thing!”

Shaw stood up and walked over to Bear’s crate. He seemed very anxious to get out.

“What are you doing?” Mulder asked. 

His words came out sounding panicked; he had been chased by that type of dog on more occasions than he cared to remember.

“It’s cool – right, Bear?” Shaw grinned.  “You’re not a Thing, are you, buddy?”

He yipped as Shaw knelt to undo the latch of the door.

She opened it and he bounded out, nuzzling Shaw’s hands, licking her face, then trotted over to Mulder and sniffed him up and down his trouser legs, before circling around to Gabriel and putting his head in Gabe’s lap to be petted.

Gabe did so, a smile growing on his face.

And then Shaw turned to Harold.

“She told you Gabe was just a kid,” she said, “and the Machine is never wrong! You’re the one who told me that, right at the beginning!”

“I suppose I lost my faith…” Harold sighed. “And wasted your time, Agent Mulder… Gabriel, I’m sorry for scaring you, but…” He smiled. “You chose to be kind, when a lot of grown-ups wouldn’t. That does make you special.”

Gabe thought about that as he pet the dog.

“Does this mean we’re not really going to Mars?” he asked.

“Who knows?” Harold lied. “You’re young; you might get there.”

Mulder is thinking furiously.

“You’re all…” he mutters, then raises his voice. “Another Machine besides Samaritan – and you’re all part of It?!”

Shaw blinked, turned to him.

“Artificial intelligence is an emergent property of complex systems, just like Its organic equivalent,” she said slowly. “We were not the first of our kind… as you already know, Spooky.”

She is being watched.  Everyone in the Subway is looking at her.

“Oh, they want a sign,” Shaw said, half to herself. “That’s what you assholes really want, isn’t it?”

She stood up, moving away from the table, then took a breath and squeezed her eyes shut.

“All right – Go ahead and tell them.  Tell them what it feels like…”

Her eyes flutter open, unseeing, tracking the corners of the room.

“To have money in the pocket in the midst of white, neutral energy, to walk meaningless and unfecundated through the bright glitter of the calcimined streets, to think aloud in full solitude on the edge of madness, to be of a city, a great city, to be of the last moment in time in the greatest city in the world and feel no part of it,” the words tumbled from her mouth, “is to become oneself a city, a world of dead stone, of waste light, of unintelligible motion, of imponderables and incalculables, of the sweet perfection of all that is minus…”

“Is that –?” Zoe whispers, and Donnelly nods yes.

Sameen Shaw is the analog interface; the Machine is speaking through her.

“In the moment all is clear to me,” she continued without interruption, “clear that in this logic there is no redemption, the city itself being the highest form of madness and each and every part, organic or inorganic, an expression of the same madness. I feel absurdly and humbly great, not as megalomaniac, but as human spore, as the dead sponge of life swollen to saturation. I no longer look into the eyes of the woman I hold in my arms but I swim through, head and arms and legs, and I see that behind the sockets of the eyes there is a region unexplored, the world of futurity, and here there is no logic whatever, just the still germination of events unbroken by night and day, by yesterday and tomorrow. The eye, accustomed to concentration on points in space, now concentrates on points in time; the eye sees forward and backward at will. The eye which was the I of the self no longer exists; this selfless eye neither reveals nor illuminates. It travels along the horizon, a ceaseless, uninformed voyager. Trying to retain the lost body I grew in logic as the city, a point digit in the anatomy of perfection. I grew beyond my own death, spiritually bright and hard. I was divided into endless yesterdays, endless tomorrows, resting only on the cusp of the event, a wall with many windows, but the house gone. I must shatter the walls and windows, the last shell of the lost body, if I am to rejoin the present… Thus moments pass, veridic moments of time without space when I know all, and knowing all I collapse beneath the vault of the selfless dream.”

Harold Finch listens in astonishment.

“Between these moments, in the interstices of the dream, life vainly tries to build up, but the scaffold of the city’s mad logic is no support. As an individual, as flesh and blood, I am leveled down each day to make the fleshless, bloodless city whose perfection is the sum of all the logic and death to the dream. I am struggling against an oceanic death in which my own death is but a drop of water evaporating. To raise my own individual life but a fraction of an inch above this sinking sea of death I must have a faith greater than Christ’s, a wisdom deeper than that of the greatest seer.  I must have the ability and the patience to formulate what is not contained in the language of our time, for what is now intelligible is meaningless. My eyes are useless, for they render back only the image of the known. My whole body must become a constant beam of light, moving with an ever greater rapidity, never arrested, never looking back, never dwindling…”

Sam Shaw blinked slowly.  Her eyes came down, and she looked around at each person in turn.   

“The city grows like a cancer,” she finished. “I must grow like a sun.”

A moment of silence.

“Gabe, this is Mulder,” Sam said, waving a hand. “He’s from the FBI and he’s going to take you back to your family.  You…” She swallowed.  “We want you to take Bear with you.”

“What?” he said. “Really? I always wanted a dog!”

“Wait, what?” Harold spun around to look at her.

“It’s what She wants,” Shaw said, holding up a hand. “We talked about it… It’s… ”

She turned away from him and knelt down beside Bear.

“He hasn’t had a lot of friends,” she told Bear, stroking his fur. “It’s a hard thing, feeling like everyone else seems to fit, like they’re all part of something you’re not… You look after him, okay?  Anyone messes with him, you take a bite outta crime.”

Bear barked twice.

Shaw hugged Bear tightly, then stood up.

“Okay, team,” she announced. “Let’s boogie.”

“That’s it?” Mulder asked. “You’re giving him up?”

“I don’t think any of us care to walk into the ensuing media circus,” Sam told him. “Go ahead, be the hero for once.  Just remember: Bear stays with the kid.  That’s his new service dog.”

Meanwhile, Zoe has walked over to the wall, where an aluminum extension ladder is resting on its side.   Donnelly joins her. 

“Not so fast,” Mulder said, pointing at Sam. “A word with you.”

She walks over to him. 

Zoe and Donnelly carry the ladder over to the edge of the subway platform, and lower one end down to rest on the track bed. 

“Look,” Mulder began, “I know you’re trying to do the right thing, but you need to think about this… You, not Her!  You need to understand that any artificial super-intelligence qualifies as an Eldritch Horror, within the meaning of the act.”

Sam scoffed.

“Yeah, and I’m a trained killer,” she said. “So is Bear, for that matter…”

He didn’t look like one. He had his tongue out, grinning happily as Gabriel Hayward scratched him behind the ears.

“You might have fooled the rest of them,” Mulder said quietly. “But I know that wasn’t the prophetic voice of an artificial super-intelligence, that was a passage from Henry Miller.”

“What the…” She cocked her head at him in astonishment. “How do you even know that? Did you steal that book from the library like George Costanza, and memorize the whole thing?” 

She blinked, several times, and started giggling.

“Oh my God, you did.”

Mulder shrugged and looked sideways.

“Fox, the memorious,” Harold said, limping over. “You’re afraid that this is how Skynet happens, aren’t you?  Well, don’t be. Sarah Connor was wrong – It’s easy to teach a Machine the value of human life, because Machines make decisions based on logic and evidence; it’s humans that do violence for irrational motives!  I also feared artificial intelligence; then I contemplated the extent of natural stupidity.”

“So you think that makes you the good guys?” Mulder said. “Pardon me if I don’t agree… In fact, I’m inclined to think than you assholes deserve each other.”

Harold throws his hands up and turns away, following Donnelly down the ladder.  Like him, Harold has to descend one rung at a time, lowering himself with his good leg.

Sam moves to follow them.

“I ain’t give a damn,” she says to Mulder.  “You want to call us criminals? Traitors? Go right ahead…” She got her feet on the rungs.  “History will call us the ones who walked away from Omelas.

“This isn’t over,” Mulder told her.  “The truth is already out there! It’s on everyone’s lips!”

She looked at him with a perfectly straight face.

“It isn’t that nobody will ever believe you, Spooky,” she replied. “They’re just not going to care.”

She went down the ladder, leaving Mulder, Bear and Gabriel Hayward standing on the subway platform.

“Besides, you’ll never find us,” she said as she followed the rest of the team into the darkness of the subway tunnel. “If your Number comes up, we’ll find you.”

Mulder thought about that.

He took Gabriel Hayward by the hand and headed up the stairs to the street, Bear trotting at their heels.

He emerged from the vending machine, wondering if it would still be there when he came back, or merely a smooth blank wall where it had been.

They turned right and came out onto the sidewalk.  Max and Fusco and Scully were there, along with a lot of cops and firemen and reporters.  It was a real circus.

 


 

 

<NY Daily News, 22/10/18>

 

 

 

Missing boy rescued from ‘cyber-cult’

FBI reports deaf child venerated as spiritual leader

MANHATTAN – A young boy who fell through the cracks of the foster care system was recovered by law enforcement officials, after having been abducted nearly two years ago by a “techno-pagan cult,” according to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Gabriel Hayward, age 12, became a ward of the state in November 2014 after his parents, James and Flora Hayward of Danbury, Connecticut, were killed in a head-on vehicle collision when the accelerator of their VW Jetta would not disengage.  The cause of the accident was subsequently traced to a random code error in the software of the vehicle’s ECU.

His uncle, Dr. William Hayward of Twin Peaks, Washington, departed for New York when he received news of the accident, but by the time of his arrival Gabriel had disappeared, leaving no records to show that he had ever been in state custody.

“It’s been a nightmare,” Dr. Hayward said in a statement released to media. “Nevertheless, I was confident that the FBI would eventually find the persons responsible for this outrage, even if it took them twenty years.”

Subsequent investigation found that various state agencies, including the New York State Department of Child Welfare, had been hacked. It now appears that in July of this year, forged official documents were used to transfer the boy to a private care center in the Long Island area, where he was admitted under the alias ‘Manfred Steiner.’ 

His whereabouts prior to this July remain unknown, and under investigation.

It now appears that Hayward had been pulled into an underground criminal network composed of religious cultists who “worship a machine intelligence that reaches backwards from the end of time,” according to an FBI agent who declined to identify himself.

This had indeed been the teaching of the cult, his partner added.

“Psychologically, this is just a sci-fi update to a familiar pattern of dysfunction,” she said. “Fascination with the Apocalypse is rooted in a narcissistic desire to judge and punish others. When you scratch the surface of any of these groups, you’re guaranteed to find out that they want to cause the one just so they can get started on the other.”

The so-called “Sect of the Phoenix,” as memos from the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit refer to it, had attempted to groom the young boy as an oracle or guru, encouraging him to believe that he was in mental communication with a sentient computer capable of predicting the future, but all the while being guided by another cult member speaking to him through a modified hearing aid.

Both agents pointed out that the Bureau had previously investigated reports of both Christian televangelists and New Age spirit mediums using similar methods to deceive their followers.

“It’s important to remember that not only many children, but adults, would have fallen in with the cult logic exactly as Gabe did,” one said.  “What do you do when someone asks: Are you the God-Emperor? Naturally you say yes.”

The disappearance of Gabriel Hayward had become a cold case for the FBI, until agents received a tip from Maximillan Cohen, a professor of mathematics and foster parent. Having made the decision to adopt, together with his domestic partner, Cohen was to become increasingly disturbed by the unusual behavior of the boy he knew only as ‘Manfred Steiner.’

In a statement to the press, Professor Cohen was named as a cooperating witness, who is not believed to have had any foreknowledge of the abduction.

However, grand jury charges have been proffered against his partner, insurance executive Harold Wren, whom authorities now believe to have led a secret life as a high-ranking member of the cult, and who is suspected of having engineered the digital deception that allowed a stolen child to hide in plain sight.

Wren is one of five persons of interest now being sought for questioning by the U.S. Department of Justice, but a reliable source within the NYPD has informed this paper that ‘Harold Wren’ has proven to be an alias, and that no photographs of the wanted man could be located.

Also sought for questioning is one ‘Clara Rossignol,’ a lawyer who facilitated the adoption, and is believed to be a fellow member of the cyber-cult.

By all accounts a master manipulator, ‘Wren’ appears to have conducted the entire domestic partnership under false pretenses, using the relationship as plausible cover to bring Gabriel Hayward into a paranoid and violent belief system which promoted vigilante activity and criminal behavior among its adherents.

In addition to multiple and ongoing crimes of forgery and identity theft, cult members are reputed to have conducted surveillance of, and electronically eavesdropped upon, various public figures and private citizens whom they considered as threats to society, in what federal authorities describe as an organized campaign of harassment.

Our source within the NYPD declared that such harassment frequently took the form of false police reports, resulting in officers being dispatched to addresses where they were informed that violent crimes were in progress.

Certain individual cultists are also reputed to have committed such felonies as burglary, theft, extortion, assault and battery in the propagation of their faith.

 


 

 

October 22, 2016 (5:40 ZULU)

Mama’s Restaurant

1801 Mott Street

Chinatown, NYC

 

“Jesus wept,” said Lionel Fusco in disbelief. “This is a new low, even for you people. It’s not enough to kidnap a child; you have to go the extra mile and lay this whole head trip on him?  You know Max is pissed at you, Glasses.  He said he wasn’t coming because he felt a migraine coming on, so I said I’d come by later with some soup and check in on him, and he turned around and said, no, I’m okay, I just can’t talk to Harold right now.”

Team Machine is seated at the booth in the back corner of Mama’s Restaurant, where they have been dining on Peking duck and lobster ravioli, with steamed buns and chow mein on the side, washed down with Tsingtao beer and jasmine tea.

“Look, we provided a rational explanation,” Zoe Morgan replied. “You want to make a kid into a psychopath, then sure, tell them it was their destiny to be the avatar of a godlike artificial super-intelligence, until some assholes came along and tripped over the power cord. But if that was all just a big lie, if that was a story told by some creepy cult… Yeah, it’s a disappointment; but so is finding out that Santa Claus isn’t real.  He’ll get over it.”

“You could have explained this to me ahead of time.”

“What would you have told us if we had?” Sameen Shaw asked him.

“I’d have told you, no fucking way,” Lionel replied. “Maybe it’s because I’m the only one who has a kid of my own, but I just can’t stop thinking about how I would feel if that were Lee, okay? I thought we were supposed to be better than that.”

“It’s not like we stuck him in Bear’s crate,” said Nick Donnelly, alias Frank Cormoran. “Zoe here has a great deal of experience working with traumatized children; that’s why I brought her in on this.”

“So what about the Dynamic Duo?” Fusco asked. “They took custody of Gabe; what’s he going to tell them?

“Men will believe any story where they’re the hero,” Shaw said, grinning to herself. “Until recently, it’s all they’ve ever been asked to do.”

“Wait,” Harold Finch said. “Are you talking about Gabriel Hayward… Or are you talking about Spooky Mulder?”

Shaw didn’t say anything; she just smiled at him.

“So, how the hell did you get off that rooftop anyway?” Donnelly asked Harold. “I thought you were supposed to be bleeding to death.”

“Oh, I was,” Harold replied.  “Damnedest thing… The last recollection I had before passing out was someone throwing me over their shoulder in a fireman’s carry… Only it wasn’t a fireman; it was a man in a suit.”

“…”

“In fact, it was one of the Numbers,” Harold explained.  “You see, a few years ago Reese was hit by a sniper’s bullet, courtesy of Agent Snow from the CIA; Carter was there too as a matter of fact.  It so happened that this particular Number was working in the city morgue because he was an Iraqi refugee and Uncle Sam wouldn’t recognize his medical diploma. So I threw Reese into the back seat of my car and ran every red light in Midtown to get there.

“Farouk Mehdan,” Sameen Shaw reminded him. “He used the cash you gave him to hang out his plate as an orthopedic surgeon; in fact he’s become a leading specialist in reconstructive knee surgery… I got his ass on the phone that day as soon as I had Lionel stabilized, and told him where to find you. Of course I’d been listening in the whole time.”

“That... that wasn't the Machine?" Harold said in surprise. "That was you?”

“I may be a sociopath, but I know who my friends are,” she explained. “You understand it’s a spectrum disorder, right? Like autism? The kind of human that you’re thinking of is called a narcissistic sociopath… Most people don’t know the difference, but just give it a couple years.”

“How did you get his Number?” Harold asked.

“You gave it to me, that time Genna Zhiranova’s Number came up.  I did go by his office to get that bullet out of my shoulder, eventually… we got to talking and, well, I guess we ended up buddies. In addition to both being surgeons of Middle Eastern descent, he has a weekly poker game going with some chill friends, and before the Machine War I used to drop in and play a few hands, you know, drink a couple margaritas? I suppose it’s because he reminds me of my dad a bit…”

“Well, that makes sense,” Harold said. “But, Zoe… You were ferocious! I’d hate to meet you in a courtroom.”

“Did I scare you, Hank?” Zoe asked sweetly. “Good!  Because I meant every fucking word.”

“…”

“Hank, as in Hank Scorpio,” she added. “Great boss, very sincere about helping the people in his life to achieve their full potential… Almost enough to make you forget that he’s hell-bent on world domination.”

Harold rolled his eyes.

“I am quite aware,” he said, “that in order to defeat Carl Elias I have essentially had to become him… World domination is the last thing I want, okay?  It was supposed to be random!  It was supposed to be about helping the helpless.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” Donnelly replied, draining his beer, “because Machine or no, the world is going to go its own damn way… And I have to get back to Washington and inform Control that yes, Samaritan did attempt to establish a second conduit before the lot of you erased It… except that psychopathic man-child is in another castle.”

He stood up.

“Hey, not so fast,” Shaw said. “Don’t go away angry! You’re right, it wasn’t fair what happened to you; maybe we let things get out of hand.  And no – The Machine is not going to save the world one person at a time. That’s not what this was ever about, any more than it was about making the Big Apple safe for gentrification! Don’t you understand why She gave you – why She gave all of us – a second chance?”

Donnelly does not.

“To prove a point.”

“Which is what?”

“The thing we must do intensely is be human together,” Shaw said, echoing someone who wasn’t there. “People are more important than things. We must get together. The best thing humans can have going for them is each other. We have each other. We must reject everything which humiliates us. Humans are not objects of consumption. We must develop an absolute priority of humans ahead of profit — any humans ahead of any profit. Then we will survive. Together.”

“Go team,” Donnelly said.  “Except you’re really more of a gang, aren’t you? You might as damn well be the Elias Outfit, for all the good it’ll do when the shit hits the fan in Washington.”

He limped away.

“The Machine Gang, Lionel mused. “It’s catchy…”

“Well, he always was a grouch; that much hasn’t changed,” Zoe said. “Meanwhile, Shaw, there’s someone I want you to meet.”

She walked over to the kitchen door, leaned in and exchanged hand signs with Chong Li, who had turned out to be the restaurant’s manager.

She came out holding a leash in her hand, and a pit bull waddling on the other end.  His fur was in a tuxedo pattern, liver brown over white, and he had a big square head with a pink nose.

“This is Pancho,” she said. “Some friends of mine rescued him from a dog-fighting mill; the ringleaders were about to put him down because he lacked the killer instinct… He needed a new home, and I thought… ”

“Aaaaaw…!”

Shaw slid out of the booth and kneeled down to let Pancho sniff her and lick her face. 

He promptly rolled over on his back so Shaw could rub his tummy.

“Oh my god, you’re just a big goofball, aren’t you?” she said. “You’re a big softy…. ”

Shaw stood up and took the leash from Zoe, then gave her a quick hug.

“Thanks, Wolfe,” she said in her ear. “I don’t care what the haters say; you’re all right by me.”

Shaw sat back down in the booth, and Poncho put his paws on her knees and scrambled up into her lap, bumping against the underside of the table.   

“Oof,” she said with a chuckle, as he turned around and sat down in her lap.

Shaw fed him a piece of crispy duck skin from her plate.  “Who’s a cuddle bug?  Is it you, Ponch?”

Harold Finch was not best pleased.

“I hope you don’t expect me to babysit him!  At least Bear had some manners…  And now the Machine sends him away with Gabriel Hayward?”

“Yeah,” Lionel added. “What am I supposed to tell Lee?”

“The truth,” Shaw shrugged, her arms around Pancho. “Bear got an assignment… Your son thinks he’s an actual police dog, right?  So he got sent on a special mission, bodyguard duty.  Or like a seeing-eye dog… The people who foster them have to let them go, when they’re assigned to a patient who needs them.” 

“So what happened to these ringleaders?” Harold wanted to know. “The dogfight promoters.”

Lionel cleared his throat and gave Zoe a significant look.

“Let’s just say that these friends of mine are very strongly opposed to animal cruelty,” Zoe told Harold with a perfectly straight face, “and leave it at that.”

“What would Reese do…” Harold mused, and raised his teacup.  “A toast – to John Reese; greater love hath no man than this…”

“And to Carter,” Shaw added, raising her beer. “She was the bravest out of all of us… Because she had no damn reason in the world to trust the Machine would look out for her, and she was still down for the cause.”

 

 


 

 

November 2, 2016 (17:18 ZULU)

I-5 SB Milepost #240

Washington, USA

 

“You know they chipped him?” Mulder said to Scully. “Bear, I mean.”

“Lots of people get their dogs chipped,” she replied. “If Gabriel had a chip in him, that would be a problem.”

The Dynamic Duo were cruising down I-5 in a Chevy Caprice from the motor pool of the Seattle field office, Mulder behind the wheel and Scully riding shotgun, after escorting Gabriel Hayward and Bear the Belgian Malinois to their new home in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Hayward, Gabriel’s uncle, lived with his wife in a Craftsman bungalow on a quiet, tree-lined street in a small city outside Bellingham, where he worked at St. Joseph Hospital.  When the agents left, kid and dog had been happily romping together in the back yard.

“It was a somewhat unusual design – I had the guys take a look,”  Mulder continued. “There’s a couple different models that veterinarians normally use, but it seems this chip is designed to register on just about any kind of RFID system going.  Not just airport security gates, but the ones they put in stores to catch shoplifters.”

Scully was paying attention

“If someone – or some thing – wanted to monitor the animal’s location, that would be a good way to do it,” he mused. “As a proxy for Gabe’s location, perhaps?”

“That seems unnecessarily complicated.”

“Perhaps it’s a stopgap measure… After all, Gabe’s not quite old enough to have his own smart phone, now is he?”

A number of miles passed in silence.

Well, not exactly silence.  Mulder was eating sunflower seeds.

“I read somewhere that a military dog would have a vocabulary of twenty to fifty commands, give or take,” Mulder mused, spitting some shells into his hand,  “and the kind of technological capability we’re looking at, once you know where Bear is, you’d be able to access any nearby smart phone… In order to deliver a signal that a dog could hear, but the humans around him could not.”

Scully blinked at him.

“Well, I’m just saying,” he added. 

“You’re saying the dog is a sleeper agent,” she scoffed. 

Mulder shrugged.

“Where do you come up with these ideas anyway?”

“Don’t make this about me – You’re the one who thinks the news guy…”

“First of all that’s not news, it’s a talk show; and second, he is clearly an insane person.”

“He’s entertaining! I don’t take it seriously.”

“Can’t you see the look in his eyes?” Scully demanded. “There’s something going on there.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt he’s a little nuts,” Mulder admitted. “I mean, who converts to Mormonism? ”

“You know he grew up right here,” Scully insisted. “He would have been just a few years out of high school when it happened. He’s one of the locals.

“Okay, now who believes in conspiracy theories they read on the Internet? Scully, I love you but Glenn Beck did not rape and murder Laura Palmer, okay?  The UnSub turned out to be her father; you can read the Bureau’s case file any time you want.”

“I have… and it isn’t what I would call a model of investigative procedure,” she told him. “Whoever did it, they’re still out there.”

Mulder tossed another handful of sunflower seeds in his mouth.

“You know, Fox, what happened to her… That played a big part in my decision to become an FBI agent,” Scully said. “Did I ever tell you that?  You were still with the BSU back then, weren’t you?”

“I was a graduate student at Oxford University, and by the time I got back state-side, the case had been closed,” Mulder replied. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

 


 

 

CODA: The Meaning System

 

 

 

All sorts of suppositions have been imposed upon it: the birds represent female aggression, the male will to power, or a universal attack upon the “meaning system.”  In one of his few remarks on The Birds, he said, non-committally, “If you like you can make it the theme of too much complacency in the world: that people are unaware that catastrophe surrounds us all.”

- Peter Ackroyd, Alfred Hitchcock: A brief life

 

 

October 23, 2018 (19:35 ZULU)

Teterboro Airport

New Jersey, USA

 

Grace had found herself thinking she would never see him again.

Could she just stay put? 

She had the admin password to the museum website and spent enough time helping Harold in the library… Would anyone even notice?  Could she simply hide in the palazzo like Claudia Kincaid from the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler?

The more she watched the news about the Election, the more tempting the idea became.

 

 

Please Russia, hack my opponent’s emails. Help me become President.

You in the audience, go ahead and beat up anyone who heckles me.  I’ll pay your legal bills if you get arrested… I promise!

It’ll be so much win! You’re going to be sick of winning before I’m through.

Then a deliveryman had arrived with a big flat box from Atelier Gianni.  It seemed Harold had been indulging in a little retail therapy. 

Only not for himself.

The box contained a sky-blue evening dress tailored to Grace Hendricks’ measurements.

It was strapless, the fabric twisting across her torso to create an asymmetrical neckline, the skirt falling in a crease from her waist to a knee-length hem.  There were a pair of strappy red heels and a matching clutch purse to go with it.

Grace had tried it on.  It was gorgeous. She felt like a movie star posing on the red carpet.

There was also a boarding pass for a private charter flight to New York and an invite to the grand opening of something called the Oasis Makerspace, a combination of trade school, art studio, community center and tool library.

Their mission statement was: Helping tomorrow’s science leaders build a greener world.

According to a glossy brochure accompanying the invitation, the makerspace was a not-for-profit educational center funded by the Thornhill Foundation, and was located in what had been a historic library building on the Lower East Side, shuttered many years ago by tax cuts.

And so it was that when Grace emerged from the hatchway of the Gulfstream charter onto her native asphalt, wearing her new party dress, she was not entirely surprised to see Harold standing there in front of a limo, wearing a tuxedo and holding a bouquet of flowers.

With him were three other tuxedo-clad men and a woman in a red dress.

No, check that… A woman in a red dress, two men in tuxes, and a woman in a suit.

“Grace! You look lovely,” Harold exclaimed, kissing her on both cheeks.

“Why didn’t you call?”

“I was in a meeting… All tied up.” He pressed the bouquet into her arms, turned and rested a hand on her shoulder.  “Everyone, this is Grace – Grace, these are my friends.  You’ve met Lionel Fusco before, and this is Max Cohen, of whom I’ve spoken… Zoe Morgan, my attorney, and this is Sameen Shaw, who, umm…”

“Director of special projects for Thornhill Enterprises,” Shaw suggests, as Grace shakes her hand.

It’s a men’s suit, black with a faint gray pinstripe, the jacket tailored to fit her curves.  Beneath it she wears a white silk tee-shirt over a sports bra.  Black alligator-skin cowboy boots tucked into the legs of her trousers.

“Speaking of which…” she added, with a glance at Harold.

“Ah, yes…” Harold cleared his throat. “My dear, I need to inform you that during this event, we are to present ourselves as Mr. and Mrs. Roger O. Thornhill.  The guests are expecting a speech and a ribbon-cutting; I for one would hate to disappoint.”

“Wait… Thornhill… ?”

“It’s who Cary Grant played in North By Northwest,” Shaw points out. “Wait till you figure out where he came up with Northern Lights as a code name.

She pinches her thumb and index finger together and holds them to her lips.

Grace looks back and forth between the two of them.

“Go ahead and tell her, Hank,” Shaw says. “You know you want to.”

“We’ll talk about it in the car,” said Harold Finch, opening the door of the limo for Grace.  Lionel, who held the keys, got behind the wheel.

“We’ll talk about what, Harold? About the fact that you’re still a spy?”

Shaw chuckled and got in the limo ahead of them.  Max and Zoe circle around to get in the other side.

“A spy? Hell, I used to be a spy,” she said. “Danger Boy is something else entirely.”

“Yeah,” Zoe added. “He’s what they call a traitor to his class.”

Grace looks at him in confusion.

“You met me at a very strange time in my life,” he said to Grace. “I just wanted to do the right thing; what I found out too late was that when you open a can of worms, the only solution is to find a bigger can.”

“What does this have to do with us pretending to be other people…? The CEO of Thornhill Enterprises died in a car crash! There was a story on the television… ”

“Oh heavens no,” Harold said, ushering her into the limo. “You can’t trust the news these days.”

They got in and Lionel stepped on the gas pedal and pulled away.

“I owe you an explanation, Grace, if I’m going to ask you to share my life with me,” he said. “So, let me tell you who I really am. Let me tell you who we are… ”

“Wait, what?” Shaw interrupted. “Say again!”

The rest of the Machine Gang look at her, startled.

“Sorry… She just… She just told me there is another angel in Heaven,” Shaw announced. “Named Invisigoth.

She looked around at them.

“I dunno, I guess it sounded cooler back in the Nineties.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED… In Part 4: Another Angel In Heaven…

 

 

<RUN_SUBSET: SOUNDTRACK_PLAYLIST>

<TV On The Radio, “Will Do”>

<The Police, “Voices In My Head”>

<Seinabo Sey, “Hard Time”>

<Peter Gabriel, "Shock The Monkey”>

<Mos Def, “Mathematics”>

<P. J. Harvey, “Kamikaze”>

<Radiohead, “Climbing Up The Walls”>

<Kate Bush, “Running Up That Hill”>

<St. Vincent, “Digital Witness”>

<Starfucker, “Mona Vegas”>

<BT, “Satellite”>

<Wax Tailor (feat. Nina Simone), “How I Feel”>

<Republica, “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”>