“OK man, look I’m just a programmer OK? Ummm,” The blognapper I held at gunpoint walked with his face turned just enough to watch me from the side of his eye. He dug in his brain, searching for some tidbit of truth he could serve me without divulging too much. “We’re creating an artificial intelligence, and we need it to have humor, to um, to be funny ya know, so we were using you.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Who is Manilla Man?!” I barked, nudging the muzzle under his armpit.
Oh right, they don’t call him that and now I look like a maniacal prison escapee. Fine. “Who’s the suit I just buried a pair of scissors into?” I punctuated the word scissors with another stab of the gun muzzle under his shoulder, making him instinctively raise his hands and pin elbows to ribs.
“That’s Brian!” he yelped. “He’s with the H & X group! He’s our boss, he hired us!”
“To do what?”
“To write this AI for his machines.”
I looked over my shoulder for the dozenth time. The door in the ground was far behind us now, still ajar. It was rush hour and traffic was at a standstill, one car after another. We walked by a red sedan. The woman in the driver’s seat made wide-eyed eye contact with me, her mouth opening.
My hostage kept blabbing. “They’ve got all these machines, these human machines… Human-chines. Manchines…” If he had moved on to “auto-man-ton” I know I would’ve pulled the trigger. “They say they look just like humans. I don’t know, they never let me see one. But they contacted us like three months after we’d just started our freelance group wanting help finishing up their code for these machines. They needed a humor patch. It was a big deal for us, biggest contract we’d had by far so we jumped at the chance, you know? We didn’t know they were mobsters or whatever.
“Then we were getting flown all around the country, it was the best job I ever had. They’d feed us, throw us bonuses and tell us to hit the strip clubs, they’d party with us, fly us out to LA, New York City, Vegas, man every night for weeks on end sometimes we partied. We’d have to write code on weekends to catch up from a work week of partying. But they were cool, ya know? They always told us like ‘don’t worry about it’ and they knew we’d deliver what they wanted and stuff.”
I interrupted, “What does this have to do with throwing me in fucking dungeon?” Another look back over my shoulder: a long line of cars and staring drivers, some on their phones, a few already talking to the cops I was sure. And an empty sidewalk.
“Well it started one night, we were in Seattle, been drinking all night and Rob, this other guy at H & X, said we were leaving, so we followed and we ride with him figuring we’re going to find some women ya know? But we went from a party straight to some guy’s house and next thing you know we’re kidnapping some fool blogger!
“We thought it was all a joke, these guys did crazier shit before, I mean these guys’d set their buddy’s coats on fire in a tittybar parking lot and just laugh their asses off at it and shit ya know? I figured it was just some other H & X guy they were messing with. By the time we figured out they were really kidnapping this dude I was like ‘I don’t want nothing to do with this shit man, ya know?’ but then they threatened me and I’m just sayin’ we didn’t want to kidnap you dude! I didn’t! I swear!” He had his head fully turned now, alternating between watching me and where he was going. “I swear to God, man, I swear to Jesus I didn’t man!”
“No pleading,” I declared, stiffening my gun arm and he shut up. I took another look over my shoulder. Someone was walking behind us.
Just a pedestrian? I thought. Walking home from the store? He was a tall white guy, closer to me than the tunnel. I remembered how the people who had taken me were pedestrians on this sidewalk. He was walking fast, toward me. Like, silly walk fast. Then he was running. “Shit,” came out of my mouth.
I mean, I heard myself say “Shit” before I could think of doing it consciously.
“Let’s go lesgo lesgo lesgo!” I pushed the gun into the small of my hostage’s back, urging him forward. We ran. We accelerated.
He was faster than me of course, as I was the one who’d just climbed out of a hospital bed in an underground jail cell. The blognapper began to pull ahead. I grabbed for his shirt with three fingers of my right hand, still gripping the gun right behind his back. Cloth brushed fingertips. He was taking off. A diving swipe of my left hand nabbed a handful of his shirt. He surged forward, lifting my running gait onto my toes.
Heavy slapping footfalls followed us. I looked behind and it was Runner Number 2 fifty feet behind and gaining. I yanked my co-runner’s shirt left like the reins of a horse, pulling him off the sidewalk just as the brick wall to our left opened onto the entrance to Meadowbrook Court. We tumbled forward. He smacked into the edge of the opposite wall with a gross, slapping crunch, sending him spinning to the ground in front of me. I tripped over his body and fell into a collection of bushes lining the inside of the wall.
My pursuer rounded the corner as my hostage got to his knees, wheezing. Runner Number 2 quick-stepped to a halt and as I scrambled out of the shrubbery he took a perfect, feet-shoulder’s-width-apart firing range stance, aiming at me.
Three things happened in very quick succession:
Both of my hands flew up and I shielded my cowardly flinching face with one empty hand and one loaded pistol.
My hostage stood up groaning.
Runner Number 2 unloaded his gun.
Most of his bullets sprayed the wall behind me, raining bits of shattered brick all over my head, but when the gun was clicking it was evident that at least a few hit his partner in crime.
My hostage looked up at his dumbstruck shooter who stood over him, revolver smoking. “Fuck, Chris!” the bloodied man breathed, his last words.
I remembered I had a gun. I shot the remaining living kidnapper in the leg. He cried out and collapsed.
I approached him and got him to explain the rest of the story to me. Manilla Man Brian was the imbecile brother of some hotshot mob guys. He was working on a plan to take over the nation with AI bots that could replace people. Apparently they were finally realistic enough to warrant a real-world test, and one was being used in my neighborhood.
Whatever. I didn’t hear all of it to be honest, because all I wanted was to be home. I left the bleeding blabbing men behind.
When I walked into my house, my girlfriend was sitting on the couch with me.
Other Me looked up and realization dawned on its stupid robot face. It was a pretty realistic effect, and I’ll admit, I was impressed with the H & X product.
Other Me jumped straight into its Meeting-The-Person-Youre-Impersonating() subroutine. He stood up and pointed at me wearing a horrified expression. “NO! SHOOT HIM, I’M THE REAL JOHN!” he screamed. At me. Before I had my gun out.
Well, it was admittedly an unfinished product. I shot Other Me’s head off. It landed several feet away from where the body smashed into the ground. Cables hung from its neck, most unplugged from interestingly shaped sockets. Some part of me was disappointed. No sparks.
And now here I am. The cops were called about two dozen times on my walk home. I have hired an attorney who has advised me not to type any of this, but I felt you deserved a little closure. I’m afraid I can say no more now, however, until legal matters are resolved and I am free to write a book about this. It’s going to be explosive or something.