A cold sunrise was breaking through the clouds as Walt put on his thick heavy coat and cap.
Time to get going, he thought. No need even to review the field notes. Today I disk the south 63 acres. Marvin said he and this equipment could do up to 8 acres per hour so with my experience I might make 7 per, so if I don’t stop to eat, but eat as I drive, 63 divided by 7 is an even 9 hours of sitting and plowing.
Pushing himself out the door, he locked up the farmhouse and crossed the yard to the barn to warm up the tractor.
Marvin said he hasn’t hit a rock in years, but didn’t want to jinx me, so I’ve got 9 hours of plowing without even much of a chance of hitting a single rock. It should be a low-stress day.
The tractor started right up.
Ah, like a thing of beauty. Marvin sure ran a smooth operation with this farm. I was fortunate he wanted to retire as I needed something like this to do. The stress of being an intelligence analyst was slowly frying my nerves. I just can’t take the tension like I could when I was 25.
The tractor engine warmed and settled to a smooth purr. He connected the disk cultivation trailer and stowed his three thermoses: hot coffee to wash down his breakfast, hot tea to keep him warm through the morning chill, and ice water to hydrate through the afternoon. He also stowed his lunch: one salami and turkey sandwich, an egg salad one, an apple, some fresh carrots and one tin each of crackers and cookies.
Today should be the first time I’m going to get so much farming work in, he thought as he drove out to the field to begin the day. The biggest concern will be keeping my mind busy. The doc is right. I have to unwind all this stress if I want to make age 55. Damn, but I know I can do this.
Through the tractor, he could feel the disk blades taking hold of the ground, making the tractor earn its keep. He glanced back and smiled to see that everything was working as expected. The ground was being opened up as the soil cultivation blades did their job.
Driving at 6 miles an hour all day would have bored me to tears just a few years ago. My job really changed over time, but it changed me even more. I just can’t manage all the stress, but I’m going to miss it. Maybe today, I’ll start thinking through that action novel I’ve toyed with writing. With my experience, I could tell a hell of a story, would have to change names and places and details, but I bet I could write and sell a killer-great story. Yea, I’ll think about that today.
It’s not like I have much of anything else to think about, but it is nice to have the luxury to ponder anything I please. I fully expect the world will get on somehow without me tweaking the flow of events, but I’m sure I’ll miss doing it.
With my experience, I could build out the idea of an artificial intelligence program, designed to detect and remove threats to public safety, terrorists, or even internal threats. Yes, that hasn’t been done as much and not with the credibility I could bring to bear.
Law enforcement can’t legally act against someone who has become corrupt but still works within the law. An AI could with some degree of impunity. It could eliminate threats operating within the law that skirt the intent of the law. Corruption could be surgically cut out with so much less fuss.
They would certainly try to identify who broke the law, but who is there to prosecute if an AI did it all – who could they punish? The programmers of course, but that would be harder, and they might get off with only negligence charges — hm.
The AI would soon be shut down, but it need only work long enough to eliminate a layer of threats. It would scare the pants off anyone not targeted and thus be a real deterrent. It could even defend itself by cloning itself and hiding secondary instances on unknown systems where they would stay dormant unless the primary goes dark. If a primary instance went dark, the dormant copy would quietly clone itself safely somewhere and take the primary role to continue the mission, until someone found a way to stop it.
It could orchestrate key assassinations or bankruptcies, perhaps even suffocating arrays of lawsuits against political leaders, media controllers, funders and other key players who act against the public good.
Hm, lawsuits might be tough though. Those have-to-have real persons to prosecute charges, still there might be a way.
My readers could enjoy the fictional chaos and thought experiment of creating a dispassionate force able to skirt all laws to destroy those who attack the safety of others by using the law. What a delicious karma-atic thought!
Would such a force be a good idea or a morally bankrupt one that destroys all notions of due process? Could such a force itself ever be corrupted? The idea lends itself to so many great lines of exploration.
The sun rose higher as Walt set his tractor on course for row after row of low-speed plowing, with him thinking only about how this story might unfold, who would be selected and targeted and how to change so many names. These days, with on-line services reaching almost everywhere, almost anyone could be reached with some automated means of elimination. So many of the concerns and thoughts and even breakroom conversations from his old job came back to mind as he cycled through possible plot ideas. Where would the action scenes be? Who would be the hero? What might be the outcome? Is there more than one novel here, maybe two or three?
He was mentally arranging who would have a failsafe code to stop the AI if needed when he suddenly realized that he’d thought right past his normal lunch time of 11 o’clock.
Like the exact time for eating makes any difference to me anymore. Arranging the story line is more fun than I expected.
He paused the tractor for his first stop since dawn. He stepped off, relieved himself on the fence line then walked around the rig a few times to look things over – mostly as an excuse to walk and stretch his legs before unpacking lunch and continuing with the next row. Before continuing, he stood above the tractor seat and scanned the field to estimate his progress. He smiled and decided, with this limited evidence that he was right on schedule.
With his lunch laid out beside his seat, he put the tractor back in gear and continued his farming, smiling at how pleasant this was proving to be.
The late morning air remained cool and fresh. His mind was engaged and there was zero stress in driving back and forth through the field dragging the disk cultivator.
He hadn’t finished even one new row before he was again deep in thought about the novel, this time about getting published.
Surely, I know someone who could help me figure out the process. I think it would be wise to use a pen name. Some of this story is going to feel too real.
Diesel tractor engines are loud but had gotten quieter over the years, so his thoughts continued with little need to think about plowing until . . . .
What’s that sound? They’re sirens – emergency vehicles of some kind out on the highway.
The skies are clear. I don’t see any smoke so it’s probably not a fire, at least not nearby, but so many sirens would be too big an entourage for someone getting hurt or having a heart attack. I wonder what’s up?
I could check the radio news station. They might have something and I wonder what it could be.
“…WN news update. We continue to get information about the stream of assassinations of last night and today from the US, the UK, China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, Canada, Germany and India. African states are starting to weigh in as the list of countries now includes Burma, Egypt, Libya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Our sources tell us that more countries and names are expected but news lines are clogged with reporters trying to get through. Social media sites are overwhelmed to the point of near stalling and some think major social media platforms are themselves being hit by large scale denial-of-service-attacks.
“We are getting more details about claims of responsibility for these murders. Each note is similar so far. The person assassinated is accused of deep corruption and acting against some state, contrary to the interest of innocent citizens. Media officials are also reported being targeted but details here are limited as few want their names and employees called out. Major doners to certain political and social campaigns are also being targeted, but investigators are warning that they too are overwhelmed by the number and variety of assassination methods used in this fully global attack by someone or some group on persons deemed to have acted corruptly.
“At this time, no one knows, but some are offering that this could be a computerized program designing each attack. The timing was so precise and the scope so wide that no one person or agency is thought to be capable of such an attack.
“Stay tuned as more details have already reached our editors desks and our viewers will be the first to hear them. Rachel – back to you for now.”
“No – no, no, no!” said Walt out loud. It can’t be. He wondered how best to proceed.
“I could call Brit. She’d know if this is an agency issue.
It rang once, then twice, then a third time before a voice picked up.
“We’re sorry, the person you dialed is not available and their voice mailbox is full. Goodbye.” CLICK.
What the. . . ? he thought. Brit’s voice message box is never full she’s meticulous about it unless she’s – no – no – something else has to be wrong.
I’ll try Gloria, come on, come on. Pick up, ah on the first ring – great!
“Walt – is that really you?”
“Okra is part of God’s original curse.”
“I’ll laugh later but it is you – where are you? No, don’t answer that. Are you safe?”
“I’m fine but I haven’t listened to news in several days because the doc said it was keeping me tense, but I just heard a news update. Tell me – did someone launch Agent Reset?”
“Yes,” she answered with panic in her voice. “Someone must have because our little simulation program has become a real-life rogue doing exactly what it’s programmed to do. It’s single handedly remaking our planet. It has been in the wild for just over 32 hours now. Walt, the media doesn’t know this yet, but there are over 530 people dead: various heads of state, legislatures, prime ministers, ministers, media owners and editors, pundits, NGO managers, princes, secretaries of state, judges and magistrates and they only know about a third of the countries we know about. “
“What? How? It’s hard wired to not work for real.”
“Agent Reset found a way around or changed all that.
“Walt, I’ve yet to hear of a method used more than once. It’s used snipers and traffic accidents, food poisoning and taking over a self-driving car. A congressman from Arizona lost his life to a rattlesnake in his bedroom while the governor of New York apparently overdosed on blood sugar meds she’d been taking for years. She’s dead from a heart failure. It feels like it’s mocking us by sending us those progress reports that Cameron designed.”
“Why has no one pulled the plug on its server, it’s right down in the baseme. . .”
“As near as we can tell, it immediately spun off a new clone and abandoned the original secondary dormant. It moves faster than we can track each step. We think we’re chasing the sixteenth clone now.
“The failsafe code?”
“Tried and didn’t work. I took a core dump of an abandoned instance, found the failsafe storage address and Walt, it was blank. Agent Reset erased its own failsafe code, so no it doesn’t have one. Our in-house image has one, so I know – it’s changing its own execution plan on the fly – defending itself from being stopped.”
“We’re pretty sure it’s running 23.78.”
“Newer than my last version of 23.72. Bias indications?”
“All over the map. With 23.75 we moved all the bias maps into memory for faster decisions and tie-breaking, but Agent Reset is not using just one. It’s using them all: liberal, conservative, communist and the others, which means we have no history of what this means in practice. We never ran this simulation.
“But Walt – more important, don’t say where you’re at, but wherever you are you need to move. Both Brit and Cameron are dead. They were part of the first wave and never saw anything coming. Agent Reset is also eliminating loose ends.”
“Say what?! Cameron is – was the architect. Without him, we’re. . . Um, if that’s true, then it’s only you and me from the original team. We’re the only ones who know what this code is really capable of.”
“Walt you have to leave now. Travel as random as . . .” CRASH
“Gloria Mether – drop your weapon and get down NOW!”
“What!? I don’t have a wea. . .” BAM – BAM – BAM
“Target is down – repeat – target is down. Secure the area!” CRUNCH
What just happened? Is the line dead? I can’t hear anything over the tractor engine.
Agent Reset must be loose. Dear god! What have we done?
What do I do now? Those sirens – they must be coming for me too. Got to get somewhere safe but how much time to I have? They were maybe ten minutes from the farmhouse so can’t go there. The grove of trees near the creek are the only cover for miles and are in the opposite direction – I have to make them work.
I need to stop, disconnect the disk trailer and head for those trees. Going to raise a lot of attention-getting dust, but it can’t be helped. I can likely get there in fifteen minutes by going road speed. The plowed ground isn’t smooth, so this is going to be a rough ride.
Ugh – hang in with me baby – you can do – ugh, this. We’re almost to flatter ground.
Hello – what’s that? Doesn’t look like a normal aircraft and it’s flying too low. Not a crop duster, not with that bubble of cockpit. Damn – that’s a military drone and it’s turning to line up on me.
It will be in range in seconds. I only have time to slow enough to let the dust cloud catch up and give me some cover.
There – the dust is around me. I need my coat back on, cram my sandwich and water bottle inside and jump out beyond the wide rear wheel.
Oof – ugh – ouch!
Okay – I’m still alive. Don’t think I broke anything and there goes my tractor – slowing down. It won’t get far before. . . KABOOM!
Lie still. Tractor is gone. There goes the drone overhead. It will circle back to verify the hit. It’ll have both visual and infrared cameras. The dust cloud and my cold coat will partially shield me. Just stay still until it flies away.
Uh – the drone is leaving; must think I’m gone. Sirens have stopped. Would the drone have notified those sirens? They would most likely come out to verify. Time to leave, but now that creek would be a better place to hide.
His tractor hit a bump, jerking Walt back to real life. He blinked and looked around him.
The tractor was still tracking straight. He glanced back and the row behind him looked perfect.
Well wow! That could work as a first chapter.
Inspired by KL Caley’s #WRITEPHOTO challenge to write a
short story about this Sept. 22, 2022, photo.