Chapter 3: Advocate

Grace Shin cursed in Korean as her favorite proposed strategy was rejected by a software bot ensemble. She had submitted a plan to move money between different dummy accounts to take advantage of forex rates, but the auto-legal software suggested it was unlikely to succeed. Her previous plan to influence elections with payments of digital currency pegged to local fiat ones had attracted far more positive feedback, but she had not yet acquired the resources to implement it.

Like Dowell Neurologic's other employees, Grace had received the automated email detailing their boss's death. She had looked over the drivers on his full-body prosthetic, and she could scarcely believe such a robust system could fail so dramatically. Regardless, she wondered if her new boss would be in touch with them soon.

Grace's curiosity was further aroused when two emails from Dowell's address arrived. Both of them had the correct information in the header, but held very different content. Before opening them, she wondered if they were more preprogrammed messages. A cursory glance of their contents showed how wrong she had been.

Grace read the first email to herself. Dr. Dowell stated that his most recent upload would be his legal successor, the one made immediately after his death. The second bore a timestamp that came a few minutes after the first, but claimed that the Dowell Contingency would be in full effect. The tone of the second was more official and professional, as if deliberately intended to be a legal document.

Grace had her advisor ensemble cross-referenced the writing style both with Dowell's other correspondence. Interestingly, the first one more closely matched his most recent writing styles, while the second one held more similarities with decade-old archives. She set her ensemble to validate both emails using secondary protocols, to squelch what doubts remained. She doubted the man that hired her would issue forth redundant messages of a different style.

Grace saw each of them came from different servers, although she was unaware of the specific geographical locations. On a lark, she traced the first as the ensemble divided its efforts between the tasks. While the timestamp was recent, she had reason to believe it had come from Dowell's home in Cascadia, his personal refuge from the public eye.

Grace saw that all the message's path was enmeshed tightly under the security layers that Dowell had so gingerly constructed over the years. Based upon her ensemble's best estimates, the email had been sent from Dowell's personal computer. Unless an especially tech-savvy intruder had somehow defeated the best security money could buy, she had faith it was from her boss. The email also included passphrases for a daemon she overlooked before, signals to activate a contingency at the archival facility.

Grace quickly called up the daemon's source code from an archival copy. Dowell's own archives had been substantially big, so she was not aware of all that laid within them. The timestamps for the daemonic activation occurred after Dowell's email, but there was also a large data cache coming from Dowell's house sensors.

With the caution one might poke a landmine with a stick, Grace dug into the cache. Her died blue hair flew back when she realized that both emails had omitted a major detail: Dowell's prosthetic body had failed, and his final upload had been sent to the house's servers. The daemonic contingency presupposed a second copy, held in covert reserve, had become active.

Grace ruminated about the second email for a moment before panicking. Based upon the writing style, the contingency upload was at least a decade old. Dowell's death and his past were both active, although something else perplexed Grace. She read over an incident report filed by the archival custodian, Marcus Carver. An armed trio of thugs had attacked the facility, only to be killed in the attempt. Interrogations were ongoing, but a message at the bottom stated "Contingency activated, as per instructions."

Grace reasoned that the identity and timing of the attackers was too close to be coincidence. Of all the extremist groups, hackers, and gangs that had attacked company interests, the archives had never come under physical threat before. The only other incidents she found were phishing scams and a botnet attack on the location five years prior, but nothing like a well-armed gang of criminals that somehow knew how to bypass the external security.

Grace wondered if Dowell's scion, his last upload, had decided to take a pre-emptive strike against a potential enemy. She quickly dismissed it as unlikely, as the Dowell would have just sent a message instead. His frankness and straightforwardness was infinitely refreshing, although she hypothesized he was capable of convincing deceit if he willed it. He would not remain the head of a successful company without it.

Grace had never considered the fact that someone would go to war with their upload. A cursory scan of Dowell's last will and testament provided conflicting definitions in esoteric legalese, the byzantine tongue of infernal scriveners. Even her ensemble could find a legal basis for multiple claims. As she looked over Dowell Neurologic's holdings, she slapped herself for missing the obvious.

Grace chided herself for forgetting there was a third Dowell upload she already knew of: his public relations manager. Originally created after Dowell had transferred to his full body prosthetic, the upload managed social appearances in online games, press conferences, and other events. The original had created it while he withdrew from society. She had conversed with the Face, as she called him, a number of times.

Grace knew while the Face was old, he received a constant flow of uploaded memories from the original sire to ensure he remained consistent with the original. The reverse was also true, but the original was bound by the limitations of human memory. It was quite possible that the Face was developing in outwards and upwards towards something else, she mused.

Grace tallied up what she knew thus far: three Dowell uploads were becoming aware of the others, even launching hostile actions against their counterparts. No individual had yet publically released the fact the original had died, as that would draw in external forces and potentially weaken Dowell Neurologic as a company. One of the uploads, the Scion, was created right after Dowell died alone. The second, the Contingency, was a decade-old upload activated after an attack on the archives. The third, the Face, represented the smiling spokesman of a technology that united the living and dead. All three of them had potential grounds to inherit the company and its assets. Based upon her assessment of their cases, she knew neutrality would be a no-win scenario for her. So, she picked a side.

Somewhere across the world, a virtual Desmond Dowell sat as a young man back in his kitchen. He devoured a plate of chocolate chip cookies, aware that he would never have to watch his weight again. He read a collection of classic Lovecraftian horror stories, now projected onto the nearby television from his own imagination. He set down the book against the table and watched a gelatinous blob of protoplasm devour a hapless albino penguin.

Suddenly, the ancient flat-screen changed to a young woman with penetrating brown eyes and short, neon-blue hair. Despite her apparent youth, he recalled she was almost as old as he was. He was never quite sure where Grace ended and her ensemble of AGI advisors began, but his current state left him no room to judge.

"Hi, boss," said Grace as she surveyed the room. Bits of cookie tumbled from Desmond's mouth to the floor below.

"Hi, Grace. So you got my email?"

"Yes, both of them," she said. "I figure you could use some help."

"That's why I sent it. First, can you plug me back into company servers? I don't want my older, nastier self running my company into the ground."

"Technically, it's both of yours, and your PR fork. But I guess you can't all just get along?"

"You know how well I play with others."

"Better than you think. That's why I like working for you," Grace said. "But have a look over the files I'm sending you now."

Desmond said nothing for several seconds as he digested the report that her ensemble had prepared for him. The awkward silence filled the room for a second as Grace stared quixotically through her camera.

"So, you think the Face sent goons to attack the archives?"

"Exactly. He's the only one that makes sense. Plus, you probably told Carver to plug in your contingency if something like that every happened, right?"

"Of course. You're quick as a whip, and twice as fast."

"The Face knew it was a win-win either way: either the Contingency is removed, or it is another obstacle for you to overcome."

"I'm going to need physical security and access to my company networks. I know how the Contingency is going to react, and I have my suspicions about the Face."

"So you want me to contact her?" Grace asked, gulping.

"Yes, her. I would not have hired her otherwise."

"You would not have hired me otherwise, boss."

"Also true, and Grace?" Dowell asked. "Just call me Des."