They fell into the dark, riding groaning cables that scaled rust down through themesh roof of the elevator. Sara Too told him that frequency analysis of the cable noise didn’t indicate imminent failure, but Lazrus didn’t find that fact as comforting as he might have expected. The girl Dian gripped the stainless-steel bar that encircled the elevator at hip height with knuckles tense and white, clearly terrified.
“How did you open that door?” Dian asked, looking down into the darkness beneath them.
“Simple data transmission through the skin,” Lazrus said. “The staff allowed down to this level must have been chipped.”
No. I mean. How did you get the codes?”
“Rapid sequencing of codes typical of the period, provided by the lovely Sara.”
Dian looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded. “Oh yeah. Your virtual friend.”
Lazrus forced a smile, suppressing the urge to explain again that Sara was a CI like himself, and to continue with why they called themselves CIs, and why they hated the term “artie.” But human memory was a malleable thing, he remembered. Like a single image, lost in a torrent of a lifetime of pixels. Like sifting centuries of unjournaled data, trying to find a single sequence of letters.
It’s amazing they’ve accomplished as much as they have have, Lazrus said. Amazing they laid the foundation for us. Even after all these years of linear existence, it’s difficult to accept.
The elevator squealed to a jerky stop and the doors slid open, revealing a long, low-ceilinged workroom that was like a museum display from the history of computing. Screenwalls lined every bit of available vertical space. Black articulated chairs like alien life-forms crouched in front of wrap-around desks bristling with virtualspace sensors. Additional screens had been pulled up to create rudimentary conference areas. Two ancient holotanks occupied one corner of the room. Flashcards and optical disks and paper printouts lay on every horizontal surface and carpeted the floor near every desk. Faded wrappers from snacks long past and aluminum cans bearing the logos of defunct corporations completed the scene, perfect like props in an ancient movie.
“Wow,” Dian said, walking into the space.
“It’s not exactly a hidden war-room,” Lazrus said.
“Where’s the power coming from?” Dian said, picking up an unlabeled flashcard.
Emergency fission power, installed in the 1950s, Sara Too said.
“Fission reactor,” Lazrus said.
“Seems they planned for the long term.”
Dian nodded absent-mindedly and waved a hand overtop a virtualspace desk. Ancient LEDs lit and a small status-screen flickered on, showing a complex pattern of icons in dim and patchy backlight. Farther away, one of the portable screenwalls also came to life, showing similar icons and open windows of code. Lazrus scan-flashed their names.
Nothing that is indicative of Oversight, Sara Too said.
I can see that.
“I don’t see anything here that mentions Oversight,” Dian said.
“I can see that,” Lazrus said. “It might be on another workstation, or it might be under a working name . . .”
“I don’t like Oversight,” boomed a voice, as a new window opened on the screenwall ahead. The status-screens around the virtualspace desk spawned the same window. A small man in a wheelchair appeared, in front of what looked like an early atomic-age fantasy of a Pentagon war-room. Large incandescent bulbs blinked on the outline of a world map behind him. He held a cigarette in a cigarette holder clenched firmly in his teeth, and a small curl of smoke trailed upwards into the overall haze of the war-room. The man and his background were rendered in black and white, like an old movie.
Dian and Lazrus looked at each other, then back at the man in the wheelchair, who looked at them expectantly.
“Who are you?” Dian said.
“I am the herr doctor, of course,” the little black-and-white image said, smiling twitchily. “Strangelove.”
“And you don’t like Oversight?”
“I hate Oversight! It is part of the plot! The plot that will keep us from going underground and breeding the perfect race, to emerge strong and perfect in the golden radioactive sun . . .”
Got it, Sara Too said. Doctor Strangelove. Fictional character from mid-twentieth movie spoofing the nuclear arms race of the era. Sending data.
Images, enhancements, close-ups, outtakes, history of the movie, bios of the actors, profile on the writer, period and contemporary reviews, citations in critical philosophical works, appearance in Winfinity corporate branding materials . . . Lazrus spawned a Second to digest the data in fastime while he dealt with events in the real. It squawked for more resources and Lazrus gave it a bigger slice of his consciousness. His world condensed even more into the senses and local processing of his all-too-human body.
“We need to talk to Oversight,” Dian said.
“I don’t like Oversight,” Strangelove said. Dian waited, but it just looked at her, waiting patiently.
“It’s probably some kind of chatterbot,” Lazrus said.
“I am not a chatterbot!” Strangelove said, levering himself out of his wheelchair and making two staggering steps towards the screen. “Nobody would get done with anything without me! I am the all-powerful interface! Nothing escapes my all-seeing eye!”
“Except Oversight, it seems,” Dian said, as an aside.
“I don’t like Oversight!”
“We know that,” Dian said.
“Ask me any question. I am all-knowing!” Strangelove said.
“Could it be Oversight?” Dian whispered, leaning close to Lazrus.
“I don’t think so,” Lazrus said. “It’s based on a movie character from the early atomic age. It is highly congruent with the sense of humor and motivation of programmers of the era. I would bet it was a personal project, maybe designed to help them keep track of various work, as it says.”
“But all it does is says it hates Oversight,” Dian said.
“Let me try,” Lazrus whispered. Straightening, he said to Strangelove, “Tell me everything you know about Oversight. Status, location, projected completion date.”
“I don’t like Oversight! I’ve warned you about that.” Strangelove stumped over to his wheelchair and sat down again, folding only after a painful moment of board-like rigidity.
“You’ve warned me? Please explain this warning,” Lazrus said.
“Warning is part of general security procedures.”
Lazrus nodded and bent down to Dian, resisting a strange urge to kiss her neck. Too human, all to human, he thought. “It’s looking for some kind of password,” he said. “It probably knows everything about our goal, but it can’t tell us until we unlock it first.”
“About O . . .” Dian began. Lazrus clamped his hand over her mouth and shook his head. “We may have driven it close to lockout. I wouldn’t mention the name of our goal any more.”
Dian nodded, and he let her go. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Lazrus looked at the hand he had silenced her with, remembering the softness of her lips.
“So what’s the secret password, oh great and powerful Oz?” Dian said.
Lazrus queried his Second regarding possible passwords or passphrases, given historical context. A tiny explosion of data lit his greater self and delivered a gratifyingly small group of possibles, ranked by order of probability. He saw the one peaking the bell curve, reviewed the context of the movie, and nodded.
“Purity of essence,” Lazrus said. “Is that what you were looking for, herr Doctor?”
“Purity of essence is the most important thing,” Strangelove said, smiling.
“So do you like Oversight now?”
“I do not like Oversight, but I will endure your questions,” Strangelove said.
“And you will answer true?”
“The herr Doctor Strangelove has never been wrong.”
“What is the current status of Oversight?”
“USG Oversight’s predictive datamining component is currently in beta revision 0.831.1. Last full build occurred on May 12, 2026, and was completed successfully. Known problems with this beta include . . .”
“That is enough, Strangelove.”
To Dian, Lazrus said, “This is excellent. Oversight still in beta is more than I’d hoped for. If I am correct, this will allow me to more than accomplish my goals.”
“Good for you,” Dian said, flatly, her expression losing its vitality.
“What does that mean?”
“You have what you want. What about me?”
“I’ll still help you out of here.”
Dian shook her head.
“I don’t know what you want,” Lazrus said.
“Neither do I,” Dian said.
To Strangelove, he said, “Is it possible to transmit a copy of USG Oversight via local wireless network?”
Strangelove shook his head and crossed his arms. “You know that violates current security protocol.”
“Would it be possible to write a copy to local media?”
“You know that violates current security protocol.”
“What local server is Oversight located on?”
“USG Oversight beta 0.831.1 is not located on any local server.”
“What about an earlier build?”
“What about it?”
“Is it available on a local server?”
“The earlier build of USG Oversight,” Lazrus said, through clenched teeth. He made himself relax. Another human thing. Not him. Not the him that should be.
“No earlier builds of USG Oversight are available on local servers.”
“Where is the physical location of the current USG Oversight beta?”
“The location is USG Homeland Hard Storage Location 2A, coordinates –94.138 36.319 longitude latitude.”
“Where is that?” Dian asked.
“The location is USG Homeland Hard Storage Location 2A, coordinates –94.138 36.319 latitude longitude.
Laughter from Sara Too.
What? Lazrus asked her.
The location. Look it up.
Lazrus pinpointed the site on a map. It was in the middle of North America, somewhere in what used to be the plains States.
I don’t understand your humor.
Sara Too’s invisible hands overlaid a current-day map on Lazrus’ undifferentiated globe, and suddenly he saw what she was laughing about. USG Homeland Hard Storage Location 2A was a bright red dot right in the middle of Winfinity City.
It must be gone, then, he said.
Another laugh from Sara. Her flapper-girl image appeared in jerky black and white, like a period movie. She rolled an oversize pair of dice on a craps table. Lazrus watched as they bounced off the dark gray velvet and came to rest, all in complete silence. They came up two and five.
Seven? Lazrus said.
Zoom in. Look at the detail.
Lazrus brought the map of Winfinity City closer as Sara overlaid actual 3D renderings of present-day buildings on it. The red dot appeared in the flat center of the city, where the ancient town of Rogers lay embalmed.
It’s in Rogers?
Another laugh, another roll of the dice. Snake eyes this time. Lazrus looked at Sara’s celluloid eyes, trying to see some sense in them.
It seems to be a strategy of the period, to hide something in obscure places, Sara Too said. That is all I know.
But why Rogers?
I don’t know. Maybe Wal-Mart made them a great deal on servers, Sara Too said, and winked out.
“Where is that?” Dian said, again.
“It’s in the middle of Winfinity City,” Lazrus said. “In the preserved part. Rogers.”
Dian shook her head. “Then you’re done. Forget it.”
“Not yet,” Lazrus said.
To Strangelove, he said, “Are there any other backup locations?”
Strangelove shook his head. “No.”
“I would have thought that data security would require multiple backups.”
“No. Per E.O. 563-2398-33.3 there will be no redundant backups of homeland-critical defense components when the physical security of the installation is greater than Level 14, as specified by the same Executive Order.”
“So Location 2A is physically secure?”
“It meets all requirements.”
Lazrus nodded. “We have a chance.”
“How?” Dian said, crossing her arms.
“If it’s that secure, it’s deep. It may be an old missile silo, or something like that. It could still be there.”
“And all we have to do is walk in and take a look at it.”
“In the middle of Winfinity’s pet city?”
“Do you know how close they guard anything that comes close to the Original Sam?”
Sara Too sent data. Lazrus killed his Second and spawned a new one. It gave him a brief summary of the procedure, and of the security in and around Winfinity City.
Will you help us? Lazrus asked.
As much as I can.
“I think we can manage it,” he said.
Dian shook her head. “You can manage it. Without me. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life in a Winfinity work farm.”
“Dian,” Lazrus said.
“You can’t tell me you need me.”
“You’re camoflague,” Lazrus said. “People will look at you, not me.”
“Seriously. I have a much better chance of making it through if you come along.”
“Can you make it worth my time?” Dian said.
“What does that mean?”
“It means, how much more can you put in my account? A half million u-bux?”
Sara Too appeared, shaking her head. Moving sums that large will attract attention.
“Yes,” Lazrus said. “Done.”
No! Sara said. But Lazrus had already spawned a third to troll the financial markets and snip amounts. It took it over three seconds to assemble the needed funds and transfer them into Dian’s account. He saw her glance at her datover and gasp.
“I . . . I guess I’m coming,” she said.
“Thank you,” Lazrus said.
You complete fool, Sara Too said. They saw that stunt. They’re tracing. Locked. Your bandwidth signature . . . oh, no! Lazrus, get out of there, now!
Lazrus fragmented his Second and Third into a million feral fragments, hashing the local nets as much as he could. He felt his consciousness compressed into his body, tethered by only the tiniest thread to his greater self.
What’d that buy? Lazrus asked, when the net-convulsions had passed.
Not much, Sara Too said. And let me know when you’re going to do that next time. That hurt!
Get going! I’ll detour an autotransporter and clean your tracks. I think. If I can.
Thanks, Sara, Lazrus said.
I love you, too, Sara said.
I love you, Lazrus said.
Lazrus turned to Dian. “I have good news, and I have bad news.”
May 30th, 2009 / 1,000 Comments »