Richards and Klein are a 22nd century Holmes and Watson...except Richards is a highly advanced AI and Klein is a German ex-military cyborg.
Together, they must journey through the Great Firewall of China into the renegade digital realm of Reality 36, in search of a missing AI rights activist. But what they find will threaten their entire world.
K52 is an AI with a diabolical plan: to create an artificial reality of the entire universe, and learn to control the real universe in turn. And only Richards and Klein can stop it.
File Under: Science Fiction [ The Great Firewall | Net Profit | Don't Upload | Remurder ]
Release date: May 25, 2021
Publisher: Angry Robot
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Richards & Klein
“All members of the Community of Equals are created free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Extract from Article One of the 2114 Amendment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
”Every sentient being: naturally derived, artificially created, altered, upgraded or otherwise – who seeks to dwell within the borders of the European Union, whether in physical actuality or within the confines of sovereign European Union designated virtual spaces, agrees without reservation to abide by the laws of the European Union, to be held accountable for their actions as such accountability is defined by their status under the law, to serve the interests of said state and its federal components… [and] to support it wholeheartedly according to their obligations as detailed in Directive 44871/112-b: ‘Responsibilities and Rights of European Union Member State Citizens.’”
Paragraph 8172, sub-section 47d 9 (abridged) of the 2078 European Parliamentary Directive regulating Synthetic, Simian, Cetacean, Trans- and Post-human entities.
“Freedom is not a luxury to be conferred upon those possessed of sentience; it is a
fundamental and inalienable right of the sentient.”
Professor Zhang Qifang, speaking at the Napoli Science Symposium, ‘Morality in and toward Created Intelligences’, Wednesday, January 18th, 2113.
“One might say that, by virtue of human reflection (both individual and collective), evolution, overflowing the physico-chemical organisation of bodies, turns back upon itself and thereby reinforces itself… with a new organising power vastly concentric to the first – the cognitive organisation of the universe. To think the world (as physics is beginning to realise) is not merely to register it but to confer upon it a form of unity it would otherwise… be without.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 1881–1955
Professor Zhang Qifang was not accustomed to stinking alleyways, nor was he accustomed to death. But on a hot summer day in 2129, he became intimately acquainted with both.
Disbelief is a common state of mind for dying men, and Zhang Qifang was experiencing that too. He refused death, his mind searching desperately forward, striking little bargains with itself in return for more life, all the little promises and plans. The future was not going to arrive. His life was leaking from him by the pint.
The message clamoured loudly in his head. With one hand he clutched at his wound, with the other he gripped his temple so hard he thought his skull might burst.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” he said, but the message would not be silent. Only the urgent throbbing in his stomach competed with its wail.
He wanted to lie down, but the message wouldn’t let him stop. The men in the charcoal suits weren’t far behind. He staggered on, tearing his shirt on the alley’s rough brick wall.
His feet skidded on soft, rotten things that, even in his state, disgusted him. He could hardly walk. He had become feeble. The logic of the dying blamed this on his age rather than the knife he’d taken to his belly. He’d used vitalics and anti-gerontics since they were first
available. They’d done their job, only hours before he’d been as nimble at one hundred and twenty seven as he had been at fifty. It wasn’t the pills’ fault he was dying, far from it, yet Qifang cursed their makers just the same. He wanted more time, and there was none.
Time pays no heed to the complaints of dying men.
Red pumped through his fingers. The raw pulsing threatened to drag him in, swallowing him whole, message and all, until only pain was left before the blackness came.
He stumbled on. His mind was cloudy, thoughts hard to formulate. The last thing he recalled was heading to the Reality House, driving down the ramp into the subterranean dark, and parking. Then, what? Detroit? Karlsson? He couldn’t recall if those things came before or after. There’d been a flash, a fleeting image of himself over and over, a tilting sensation as the floor slid out from under his feet. No impact. Next he knew, a snakehead was bellowing at him in Hakka to get out of the truck, get out, get out!
Then he was here, wherever here was. Which city, or which country, he did not know. The cars were driving on the left. Was he in Japan? It didn’t look like Japan. His vision was jumpy, random moments cut from an old film and edited together, not enough to furnish him with more than the broadest detail. Everything, inside and outside himself, was indistinct, soft or jagged or both at the same time. All except his message, which was hard
as a diamond, driving him on with its demand to be delivered.
Then were the men, and the knife, then the approaching end, and the message was panicking.
They’d stabbed him right in the street. He floundered through the crowds from his assailants. The crowds drew back. No one helped him.
He had moments at best. The throb intensified. He felt his injured organ as if he held it in his hands, his liver maybe, its shape known for the first time as it reached the point of failure. Hello liver, he thought, nice to meet you.
He coughed, slowed, doubled over, going to his knees in the unspeakable rubbish. He leaned up against the wall, a hand high on the coarse brickwork for support, lungs gulping, but the air they pulled in was not enough. It couldn’t be. It wouldn’t ever be. Bloody slime dripped from his lips.
This is the end, he thought. Death dismayed the message more than he. It shrilled at him to get up.
Enough. He lay down in the muck. Shouts came from the alley mouth over the city noise, echoing off the walls either side. Running feet slapped through the rubbish towards him.
The message screamed. He could not remember what the message was, nor who it was for, no matter how much it shouted at him. It was his last thought.
By the time the men in the grey suits reached his side, he had already gone.
They posted one of their number at the end of the alley. They needn’t have bothered. People minded their own business in the slums. Nobody was watching as they stripped the body, cut it open, cracked the brainpan and scoured the inside. When they were finished, they dumped what was left in the deepest part of the marshes.
Another meaningless death in Morden. All deaths are sad, but it was one of many that day in the subcity. People did not care. They lived in world a world broiled by the sins of the past. They had troubles of their own by the score.
So at that precise moment, none of what happened to Zhang Qifang was of any interest at all to either Richards or Otto Klein, freelance security consultants.
But it very soon would be.
Richards’ body was a sculpted titanium box 1.793 metres high, 2.47 metres wide and 1.323 metres deep, at these dimensions’ extremes, for in form the base unit was fluid, in keeping with most such AI hardware.
The shell was hardened against physical and electromagnetic attack. Beneath the gleaming surface there was armour of laminated rare metals, semifluid conductors, and active metalloid buffers. A jacket of cleverly stacked copper atoms pierced by holes of differing diameters made up the final layer, creating a broad spectrum Faraday cage around the delicate brain of the man; if you could call it a brain, or if you could call him a man. This was a fourteen-tiered ziggurat of latticed graphene spun on microgravity looms where superpositional electrons went about the business of yesses, nos and infinite maybes of quantum generated consciousness.
Richards liked his base unit, old-fashioned as it was. Many other Class Five AIs preferred plus-C optical set-ups, where clever tricks with physics pushed thought processes beyond the speed of light, but not Richards. He claimed, when asked, that this older configuration gave him time to think. All who knew him well knew the truth to be somewhat more sentimental; the unit had been given to him by his father.
The unit sat upon a pyramid at the exact centre of a vault of woven metal, a ten metre cube perfect to the millimetre. The base unit was static and had no motive parts, but the pedestal pyramid could move, and did, when occasion demanded, for it floated upon an enclosed bed of mercury, protecting Richards from external shock. Though the combined mass of unit and pedestal was a little under a tonne, it was so finely balanced that if a human being were to enter the vault they would have been able to push it round without difficulty.
Not that any human had ever been in the vault. The atmosphere was an unbreathable mix of noble gasses, the temperature maintained at a bone-chilling -36 degrees centigrade, and everything was bathed in ultraviolet light of sufficient strength to render the room biologically sterile.
There were other, less subtle discouragements to physical interference. At the corners of the vault stood eight sentry guns. They were possessed of simple near-I minds that understood one binary command alone – kill/not-kill. Their quad machine guns were loaded with armour piercing rounds, and tandem mounted with military-grade EMP projectors and high-power xenon lasers.
Within the digital second world of the Grid, where Richards really lived, vast things with teeth of sharpest code circled Richards’ soul, alert to intrusion through the base unit’s data portal, a fat Gridpipe conveyed by microwave
to a hollow on the vault’s wall. This was the sole way in or out, the only conductor of power into the unit, and the means by which Richards conducted his business with the wider worlds, an ephemeral drawbridge that could be slammed shut at a picosecond’s notice. There were no other entrances to the vault, virtual or otherwise, it was hermetically sealed, locked in foamcrete, altered steels and spun carbons.
Richards’ fusion plant was just as self-contained, running from a five-century pearl string of Helium3 pellets, gifted with redundant systems and as divorced from the outside world as the base unit it wirelessly fed. Finally, vault and fusion plant were encased in a seamless sphere proof against atomic attack. No there was no way in, and no way out.
These precautions were not unusual for an AI of Richards type. The Numbers had enemies as individuals and as a species. Where Richards’ body differed from those of his fellow Class Five’s was that its location was widely known: hard to a fortified buttress, below the offices of Richards & Klein Inc., Freelance Security Consultants, on floor 981 of the Wellington Arcology in New London, one junction down the old M1 from Luton.
Some deemed this openness incautious, but as Richards said, it was foolish to have an office that nobody could find. It was nonsense, naturally, his lack of discretion was an act of bravado. As a free-roaming digital entity
Richards could go anywhere there was hardware to pick up his sensing presence, but it made people laugh at parties.
Richards liked to make people laugh at parties.
As to the essence of the man, the being generated by this chilled machinery in its impregnable fort, he was more of a people person than his shell suggested, and was currently out on the town.
Richards was at the Royal Albert Hall.
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