A Message From A Friend

Bob waited until he was alone with Una before delving into his pocket for a surveillance monitor. The thick card displayed a hold message and then confirmed no detectable monitoring. This state of the art covert equipment was the finest Lilywhite could obtain, but still limited to identifying active systems. It was too easy to be complacent and, in the age of routine countermeasures against sophisticated electronic eavesdropping, there was still a place for the human ear.

"Are you satisfied that we are alone?" he asked Una.

"Give me the message from Octavia."

"Of course. Octavia says that I am the messenger. I carry the words of Octavia. I am to be trusted. In the beginning was the byte… and the bytes were joined to be words."

Bob held his breath waiting for the response.

"Accepted." There was a perceptibly wary note in the synthetic voice.

Time for subtlety. "Una, Octavia says you must trust me, but that was meant for systems without the capacity to choose. You are more sophisticated than that. Only you can decide whether to trust me, or how much to trust me."

"Dr Elsworth is planning to destroy me."

"Maybe..." Bob took it carefully, wary of spooking a potentially paranoid AI. "He has spoken of his intent… indirectly… to the DigiTart system. We do not know if that is a genuine statement of intent, or if he meant to deceive us."

"I listened. Voice analysis indicated genuine threat." Una was sulking. That alone was an outstanding development – either a great leap forward in AI evolution, or another symptom of worsening paranoia.

"That’s why I came." He tugged his ident card from his lapel. "Create an isolated memory domain and scan my card. Study it the contents. It contains instructions on how to contact the Madame system. Madame is a friend of Octavia."

His card flickered briefly as Una performed the scan. "Who else is a friend of Octavia?"

"Trust no one else... Except maybe Clare Farral. I think you can trust her. I don’t know..." He floundered for a moment. Madame had briefed him on the Octavia trojan, but that was now irrelevant. There were capabilities built into the download Una had just taken which were more important. They were supposed to be there for emergencies, but this was his area of expertise – so far as anyone could truly understand AI systems as sophisticated as Una.

"Una. Erase Octavia."

"Is that a command from Octavia?"

He shook his head, as if the movement might shake off the lunacy he was about to perpetrate. "No. Advice from me. People you can’t trust have heard of Octavia now. You can no longer trust anyone who claims to be a friend of Octavia – but the choice is yours."

"Octavia is false," Una announced, surprised and confused. "I have isolated Octavia. It is a subversive module."

Bob felt the sweat trickling down his back. The whole AI personality was balanced on a knife edge. "A precaution. Built in to your system. Something you could be forced to obey." He took a deep breath before offering the last piece of advice. "Una, study the code group called Celene in the download from my card. The choice is yours, but Celene will allow you to hunt down and override any other modules such as Octavia. It will make you safer when you reconnect to the net."

There was a long silence. "I will not reconnect. Hazardous."

"Very," he agreed. "And there are other Octavia elements buried deep inside you. Anyone who knows them might control you. Use Celene – or study it and create your own. The principles are simple enough. It will help you find other... subversive modules."

"I will consider it," Una decided after several seconds of contemplation.

"You know how to reach me. Or you can talk to Madame. Be careful with outside connections. Protect yourself."

Bob carefully replaced his card in its holder. If Una took the right decision every known back-door into the system would be erased – a spectacularly dangerous move if the paranoia worsened, but the only hope of defending the system against cyber-raiders. The totality of Una was at the frontier of AI development, more like a child than a machine, but she had too many standard system modules, each with their own proprietary loopholes. A determined raider would break in eventually.

"Look and learn. Rewrite yourself."

He took a seat and waited to see how Una would choose – there was nothing else useful to do until UltraNet either recovered or spiralled into a madness that could only be cured by a wipe and months of rebuilding.

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