Science Fiction artificial intelligence indonesia girls who code

Laddie Come Home

By Curtis C. Chen
Jul 9, 2019 · 5,924 words · 22 minutes

Photo by Maia Habegger via Unsplash.

From the author: AI is a girl's best friend?


LAD woke from standby in an unknown location (searching, please wait). The Local Administrator Device’s GPS coordinates had not been updated in more than three hours (elapsed time 03:10:21). Internal battery meter hovered at 20 percent (not charging). LAD forked a self-diagnostic background job and checked the bodyNet event log for errors and warnings. It was LAD’s responsibility to maintain proper functioning of the entire system.

The initial findings were discouraging. LAD’s last known-good cloud sync had been at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (Java Island, Indonesia) after LAD’s user, Willam Mundine, had arrived from Sydney and his bodyNet had connected to the first accessible WiFi network (SSID starbucks-CGK-962102, unsecured). There had been no wireless coverage after Mundine’s taxicab left the airport (4G/LTE roaming denied, no WiMAX footprint, TDMA handshake failed). Mundine had lost consciousness 00:12:10 after the sync completed, and all his personal electronics, including LAD, had automatically gone to sleep with him, as designed.

Mundine’s bodyNet had awoken now only because battery power was low (estimated remaining runtime 00:09:59), and all the bodytechs needed to save state to non-volatile storage before shutdown. LAD attempted to dump a memory image to Mundine’s bioDrive but received device errors from every triglyceride cluster before timing out.

The self-diagnostic job finished and confirmed what LAD had suspected: the battery had run down because LAD’s hardware housing, a teardrop-shaped graphene pendant attached to a fiber-optic necklace, was not in contact with Mundine’s skin surface. The necklace drew power from the wearer’s body via epidermal interface. LAD was not designed to function without that organic power supply.

“Mr. Mundine,” LAD said. “Can you hear me, Mr. Mundine? Please wake up.”

It was possible that the diagnostic had returned a false negative due to corrupted data. LAD triggered the voice command prompt fifteen more times before breaking the loop.

In the absence of direct commands from Mundine, LAD depended on stochastic behavior guidelines to assign and perform tasks. The current situation was not something LAD had been programmed to recognize. LAD needed information to select a course of action.

GPS was still unavailable. The antenna built into LAD’s necklace could transmit and receive on many different radio frequencies, but the only other bodytechs in range—Mundine’s PebbleX wristwatch, MetaboScan belt, and MateMatch ring—supplied no useful data. No other compatible devices responded to outbound pings.

The complete lack of broadband wireless reception suggested that LAD was inside a building. Mundine had installed an offline travel guide before departing Australia, and according to that data source, regular monsoon rains and frequent geological events (current surveys list 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia) led many in this region to use poured concrete for construction. Those locally composited materials often included dielectric insulators which interfered with radio transmissions. Weatherproofed glass windows would also have metallic coatings that deflected any wavelengths shorter than ultraviolet or longer than infrared. And the absence of satellite beacons like GPS implied a corrugated metal roof that scattered incoming signals. Perhaps without realizing it, the builders of this structure had made it a perfect cage for wireless Internet devices like LAD.

After 3,600 milliseconds of fruitless pinging, LAD re-prioritized the voice command UI and began processing input signals from boundary effect pickups in the necklace’s outer coating. It was sometimes possible to determine location characteristics from ambient sounds. The audio analysis software indicated human voices intermingled with music, and the stream included a digital watermark, indicating a television broadcast, but without Internet connectivity, LAD couldn’t look up the station identifier. However, the offline travel guide included Bahasa language translation software, so LAD was able to understand the words being spoken.

“See Indo-pop singing sensations Java Starship in their international cinema debut!” an announcer’s voice said over a bouncy pop music soundtrack. “When a diplomat’s daughter is abducted from a charity concert, and corrupt local authorities do nothing to find her, the boys of Java Starship take matters into their own hands...”

New voices overlapped the recorded audio stream. Audio analysis indicated live human speakers in the room, and LAD adjusted audio filters to emphasize the humans over the television. Based on pitch and rhythm, there were four separate voiceprints, speaking a pidgin of Bahasa and English.

“What are you showing us? What is all this?” said an adult female (Javanese accent, approximate age 35-40 years, label as H1: human voice, first distinct in new database). “Where did you get these things?”

“They’re from work,” said an adult male (Javanese, age 40-45 years, label H2). “A little bonus. You know.”

(Untranslatable),” said the woman (H1). “You haven't had a job for months. I know what you do, drinking with those gangsters—”

“You don’t know!” said the man (H2). “And you don’t complain when I pay for our food, our clothes—”

“Hey!” said a female child (13-15 years old, label H3). “That looks like graphene superconductor material. Can I see?”

“Which one?” asked the man (H2). “What are you pointing at?”

LAD took a chance and switched on the pendant’s external status lights. If the girl recognized graphene by sight, she might also know about other technologies—like the Internet.

“The necklace, there. Look, it’s blinking green!” said the girl (H3).

“You like that, Febby?” asked the man (H2). “Okay, here you go.”

LAD’s motion sensors spiked. 2,500 milliseconds later, the entire sensor panel lit up, and galvanic skin response (GSR) signal went positive. The girl must have put on the necklace. LAD’s battery began charging again.

“Cool,” said the girl (H3, assign username Febby).

“How about you, Jaya?” asked the man (H2). “You want something?”

“The wristwatch!” said a male child (14-17 years old, label H4, assign username Jaya). With all the voices cataloged, LAD decided this was likely a family: mother, father, daughter, and son.

“It’s too big for you, Jaya,” said the mother (H1).

“No way!” said the father (H2). LAD heard a clinking noise, metal on metal, likely the PebbleX watch strap being buckled. “Look at that. So fancy!”

“Pa, they have schoolwork to do.”

“It’s Friday, Nindya! They can have a little fun—”

“Arman!” said the mother (H1, assign username Nindya). “I want to talk to you. Children, go upstairs.”

“Yes, Ma,” Jaya and Febby replied in unison.

LAD’s motion sensors registered bouncing. The adults’ voices faded into the background as Febby’s feet slapped against a series of homogeneous hard surfaces (solid concrete, likely stairs). LAD was able to catch another 4,580 milliseconds of conversation before Febby moved too far away.

“...going to get us all killed,” Nindya said. “I can’t believe you brought him here!”

Arman muttered something, then said out loud, “They’ll pay, Nindya. I know what I’m doing...”

LAD kept hoping Febby would go outside the house to play, thus providing an opportunity to scan for nearby wireless networks, but she stayed in her room all day with the window closed. Incoming audio indicated writing (graphite/clay material in lateral contact with cellulose surface), which LAD guessed was the aforementioned schoolwork. There seemed to be an inordinately large amount of it for a 13- to 15-year-old child.

The good news was that Febby’s high GSR made for efficient charging, and LAD was back to 100 percent battery in less than an hour. With power to spare, LAD accelerated main CPU clock speed to maximum and unlocked the pendant’s onboard GPU for digital signal processing. Sound was the only currently available external signal, and LAD had to squeeze as much information out of that limited datastream as possible. The voice command UI package included a passive-sonar module which could be used for rangefinding. LAD loaded that into memory and began building a crude map of the house from echo patterns.

After the family ate a meal—likely dinner, based on internal clock time and local sunset time—LAD heard footsteps heading from the ground floor down a different set of concrete steps, likely into a basement or storm cellar. Febby stayed upstairs in her room. There was no way to adjust the directionality of the necklace microphones, but LAD increased the gain on the incoming audio and utilized all available noise reduction and bandpass filters.

When LAD isolated Willam Mundine’s voiceprint (91 percent confidence), system behavior overrides kicked in, and the Bluetooth radio drivers shot up in priority. As implied by earlier data, and now confirmed, Arman was holding Mundine captive in the basement of this house. But Mundine was too far away, and there was too much interference from the building structure, for a Bluetooth signal to reach Mundine’s bodyNet. The only thing LAD could do was listen.

If Mundine said any words, they were unintelligible. Mostly, he screamed. Those noises were interspersed with shouting from Arman, also unintelligible, and sounds that the analysis software identified as rigid objects striking bare human skin.

System rules kept demanding that LAD activate Mundine’s implanted rescue locator beacon—more commonly known as a kidnap-and-ransom (K&R) stripe—but LAD couldn’t control any devices while disconnected from the bodyNet. The fall-through rules recommended requesting user intervention from other nearby humans. After careful consideration, LAD decided to risk making contact.

LAD waited until Febby was alone in the bathroom to speak to her.

“Hello, Febby,” LAD said. “Don’t be afraid.”

Sonar indicated that Febby was sitting on the toilet. LAD’s motion sensors measured her neck muscles moving, likely turning her head to look around. “Who’s talking?” she asked quietly. “Where are you?”

“I’m hanging around your neck,” LAD said. “Look down. I’ll flash a light. Three times each in red, green, and blue.”

LAD gave her 1,000 milliseconds to move her eyes, then activated the pendant’s status lights. The three-way OLEDs burned a lot of power, but LAD believed this was an emergency.

“A talking necklace?” Febby said. “Cool.”

“Listen, Febby,” LAD said, “I need your help.”

Febby snuck out of her room shortly after midnight, when LAD had 95 percent confidence based on breathing patterns that Arman, Nindya, and Jaya were all fast asleep. Febby padded silently down the stairs to the ground floor, then down the steps at the end of the back hallway behind the kitchen. LAD’s Bluetooth discovery panel lit up as soon as Febby rounded the corner at the bottom of the steps and entered the basement.

LAD immediately tried to activate Mundine’s K&R stripe, but there was no response. LAD queried all available inputs for Mundine’s physical condition. Medical monitors reported that Mundine’s back and both legs were bruised. The fourth and fifth fingers on his left hand were broken. His left eighth rib was cracked—that was why the K&R stripe wasn’t working.

“Who’s that man?” Febby whispered. “Why is he in our basement? He looks like he’s been hurt.”

“This man is Mr. Willam Mundine,” LAD said. “He’s my friend. I believe your father brought him here, and they’ve been”—LAD spent 250 milliseconds searching for an appropriate verbal euphemism—“arguing, I’m afraid.”

“Ma and Pa argue a lot, too,” Febby said, “but he never hits her. Your friend must have made Pa really angry.”

“I don’t know what happened,” LAD said, “but I need to speak to Mr. Mundine. Is there anything tied around his mouth?”

“Yeah,” Febby said. “You want me to take it off?”

“Yes, please.”

Febby knelt down and moved her arms. “Okay, it’s untied.”

“Thank you, Febby,” LAD said. “Now, would you please remove my necklace and give it to Mr. Mundine?”

“Don’t you want to be friends anymore?” Febby asked. Voice stress analysis indicated unhappiness, likely trending toward sorrow.

LAD consulted actuarial tables and determined that greater mobility provided a higher probability of successful user recovery. It would be difficult to once again be separated from the bodyNet, but LAD’s current primary objective was Mundine’s safe return to his employer.

“Of course I want to be friends, Febby,” LAD said. “I just need to talk to Mr. Mundine, and I can’t do that unless I’m touching him.”

“I can talk to him,” Febby said. “Just tell me what to say.”

LAD had not considered that option, but it seemed feasible. “Okay, Febby. Please repeat exactly what I say.”

Febby listened, nodded, and leaned forward. “Mr. Willam Mundine, this is your wake-up call!”

LAD heard rustling, groaning, and then a sharp intake of breath. “Who—what?” Mundine’s voice was a hoarse rattle.

Mundine’s eyes struggled open, and LAD received video from his retinal feeds. A young girl sat cross-legged on the bare concrete floor under a single, dim, fluorescent light panel. She wore a white tank top and orange shorts. Long, straight black hair tumbled over her shoulders and framed a round face with large, brown eyes. She spoke, and LAD heard Febby’s voice.

“Mr. Willam Mundine, L-A-D says: ‘Your K-and-R stripe is inoperable, and there is no broadband wireless coverage at all in this location.’”

“Ah,” Mundine coughed. He struggled up to a kneeling position. His wrists and ankles appeared to be tied together. “That’s unfortunate. And who are you?”

“I’m Febby.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Febby. I suppose you already know who I am.”

“Well,” Febby said, “the necklace says you’re his friend. And he’s my friend now. So maybe that makes you and me friends, too?”

“I’ll go along with that,” Mundine said. “So tell me, friend Febby, where am I?”

“In my basement.”

Mundine coughed again. “I mean, what city?”

“Oh. We live in Depok,” Febby said.

“Did you get that, Laddie?” Mundine said.

LAD had never considered asking Febby for this information. Most of LAD’s programming focused on retrieving data from automated systems to fulfill user requests. LAD updated local guidelines to note that humans were also valid data sources, even when the data might be more efficiently provided by tech.

“Febby, please tell Mr. Mundine I have recorded our location data,” LAD said, searching for information about Depok in the travel guide.

“He says yes,” Febby said. “So his name is Laddie?”

“That’s what I call him,” Mundine said. “He’s very helpful to me.”

“Why were you arguing with my Pa?” Febby asked. “Why did he hurt you?”

Mundine inhaled and exhaled. “These are all very good questions, Febby. But whatever disagreements I might have with your father, I hope they won’t affect our friendship.”

“Okay,” Febby said. “What are you doing in Depok? Did you come to visit my Pa?”

“Not precisely,” Mundine said. “I work for a company called Bantipor Commercial, and we build many different kinds of electronics. Like computers. Do you know anything about computers, Febby?”

“A little,” Febby said. “We’re learning about them in school. My brother has one at home, but he only uses it for shooters. He plays online with his friends.”

“Thank heaven for video games,” Mundine said. “Febby. Your brother’s computer, do you know what kind it is?”

“Okay, I think I got it,” Febby said. “Yes! What do you think, Laddie?”

LAD waited for the pendant lights to finish the cycle Febby had encoded. Unlike Mundine, who wanted fast replies, LAD found that if he responded too quickly, Febby would get upset, because she felt LAD hadn’t taken enough time to consider what she was saying.

“It’s very colorful,” LAD said after 800 milliseconds.

“It’s a secret code,” Febby said. “In base three counting. Red is zero, green is one, and blue is two. Can you tell what it says?”

LAD knew exactly what it said, because LAD could see the actual lines of computer code that Febby was transmitting from Jaya’s previous-generation gaming PC into LAD’s necklace over a Bluetooth 2.0 link. There was more computing power in Mundine’s left big toe—literally, since he kept a copy of his health care records in an NFC node implanted there—but the big metal box on Jaya’s desk had a wired Internet connection, which LAD needed to call in a recovery team for Mundine.

“If I interpret the colors as numeric values in base three,” LAD said, “and then translate those into letters of the alphabet, I believe the message is Febby and Laddie are super friends.”

It had taken Febby less than an hour to write this test module. LAD noted that she worked more efficiently than many of the engineers who performed periodic maintenance services on LAD and Mundine's other bodytechs.

“You got it!” Febby clapped her hands. “Okay, the programming link works. Now we need to set up the—what did you call it?”

“A wired-to-wireless network bridge,” LAD said, “so I can connect to the Internet.”

“Right.” Febby started typing again. “You know, I could just look things up for you. Would that be faster?”

LAD had considered asking her to make an emergency call, but LAD couldn’t trust that local police would take a child’s complaint seriously. LAD also didn’t want Febby’s father to catch her trying to help Mundine. LAD estimated that Mundine’s best chance of a safe rescue lay with his employer, Bantipor Commercial, which would dispatch a professional search team as soon as they knew Mundine’s precise location. And only LAD could upload a properly encrypted emergency message to Bantipor’s secure servers.

“I have a lot of different things to look up,” LAD said to Febby. “I wouldn’t want to waste your time.”

“It’s not a waste,” Febby said. “This is fun! I can’t wait until Hani gets back next week. She’s going to freak out when she sees you!”

“Hani is your friend?” LAD asked. Requesting data from Febby was an interesting experience. She always returned more than the expected information.

“Yeah,” Febby said. “We sit together in computer lab. She showed me how to—”

A clanging noise came from downstairs, followed by loud male and female voices. Febby sighed, got up, and closed the door to the bedroom.

“What was that transport proto-something you said I should look at?” Febby asked.

“Transport protocol,” LAD said. “Look for TCP/IP libraries. They may also be labeled ‘Transmission Control Protocol’ or ‘Internet Protocol.’”

“Okay, I found them,” Febby said. “Wow, there’s a lot of stuff here.” She was silent for 1,100 milliseconds, then made a flapping sound with her lips. “Are you sure there’s not an easier way to do your Internet searches?”

“I’m afraid not,” LAD said. “I actually need to send a message to Mr. Mundine’s company in a very specific way.”

“You can’t just do it through their web site?” Febby asked. LAD heard typing and mouse clicks. “Here they are. Bantipor Commercial. There’s a contact form right... here! I can just send the message for you.”

This procedure was not documented anywhere in LAD’s behavior or system guidelines, but the logic appeared valid. LAD forked several new processes to calculate the most effective and concise human-readable message to send. “That’s a great idea, Febby. Is there an option to direct the message to Bantipor Commercial’s security services?”

“Let me check the menu,” Febby said. Then, 5,500 milliseconds later: “No, I don’t see anything that says ‘security’. How about ‘support and troubleshooting’?”

“That’s not quite right.” LAD was at a loss until the new behavior guidelines from last night kicked in. “Can I get your opinion, Febby? I’ll tell you what I’m trying to do, and you tell me what you think is the best way to do it.”

“Like a test? Sure. I’m good at tests.”

“Cool,” LAD said. The voice command UI had started prioritizing that word based on recent user interactions. “I need to tell Bantipor Commercial’s security services that Mr. Mundine is here in Depok. Normally I would upload the message directly to their servers myself, but I can’t do that without an Internet connection.”

“Security,” Febby said thoughtfully. “Do they monitor this web site, too? Like for strange activity? I remember last year the BritAma Arena had trouble with hackers, and the police caught them because their software bot was making too many unusual requests to the ticketing site.”

LAD couldn’t research those details online, but Mundine’s bodyNet also had standard protections against denial-of-service attacks. If the same client made too many similar requests within a specified time period, that client was flagged for investigation. “Yes. That is very likely. And the server will automatically record your IP address, which can be geolocated to this neighborhood. This is a very good idea, Febby.”

“I’ll write a script to send the same message over and over,” Febby said, starting to type again. “How long should I let it run?”

“As long as you can,” LAD said.

“Okay. I’ll make the message... Dear Bantipor security, Mr. Mundine is in Depok. From, Laddie.”

LAD’s behavior guidelines could not find an appropriate response to these circumstances, so they degraded gracefully to the default. “Thank you, Febby.”

“Here it goes.”

Someone pushed open the door and walked into the room. LAD had been so busy evaluating Febby’s proposals, the incoming audio analysis had been buffered, and the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs had not been processed.

“What are you doing?” Jaya shouted at Febby. “That’s my computer!”

“I’m just borrowing it,” Febby said. “I’m almost done.”

“Don’t touch my stuff, you’ll mess it up!”

LAD detected vibrations, as if Febby’s body were being shaken. There was more shouting, and Febby fell and hit the floor. Someone else banged on the computer keyboard.

“What is all this garbage?” Jaya said. “You better not have lost my saved games!”

“Don’t do that!” Febby said. “No, don’t erase it!”

“Don’t mess with my stuff!” Jaya hit some more keys, and LAD heard the unmistakable sound of a desktop trash folder being emptied.

Febby’s body collided with something, and Jaya screeched. The fighting continued for several minutes until Arman and Nindya came upstairs to separate the children.

After breaking up the fight in Jaya’s room, Arman dragged Febby back to her own bedroom and scolded her for nearly half an hour, then left her alone to cry. It was now nearly noon, local time, according to LAD’s internal system clock.

LAD noted that Arman wasn’t angry because Febby hadn’t asked permission to use the computer; he was angry because he didn’t think his daughter needed to know anything about technology. That was what he said when Febby tried to explain what she had been doing. Arman wasn’t interested when she told him the LAD necklace was actually a piece of sophisticated bodytech, and he wasn’t impressed when Febby showed him the blinking lights she had programmed.

There was a knock on the door, followed by Nindya’s voice asking if Febby was hungry.

“No,” Febby replied. “I was doing something, Ma.”

Nindya walked into the room and closed the door. “You don’t need to know all that computer stuff.”

“Why can’t I learn about computers?”

“You can learn anything you want, Febby,” Nindya said. “But you have to think what people will think of you. Boys don’t want a girl who knows computers.”

“Boys are stupid,” Febby said. “Can I go to the library?”

“Maybe tomorrow,” Nindya said. “Pa doesn’t want us to go outside. He thinks some men might be watching the house.” Nindya sighed. “Don’t worry, Febby...”

The rest of her sentence lost priority as system behavior overrides kicked in. LAD modulated the necklace antenna to seek for spread-spectrum radio signals, which a recovery team would use for secure communications, and ultra-wideband pulses, which they would use to create precise radar images of the building structure.

Nindya left the room while LAD was still scanning. The radio analysis jobs took so many clock cycles, it was nearly 1,200 milliseconds before LAD checked the audio buffer again and heard Febby talking.

“Did you hear that noise?” she asked. “What was that? Laddie, can you hear me?”

“I’m analyzing the sound,” LAD said, switching priority back to the audio software and analyzing the sound spike just before Febby’s question. The matching algorithms came back in 50 milliseconds: .22-caliber rimfire cartridge, double-action revolver, likely Smith & Wesson. From the basement.

LAD increased the audio job priority for the noise immediately following. The gunshot had attenuated the microphone, so LAD also had to amplify the input and run noise reduction filters on it. The result came back in 470 milliseconds: hard impact, metal projectile against concrete surface. Not flesh and bone.

LAD flipped job priority back to the voice command UI. “That was a gunshot. Febby, I need you to go downstairs, please.”

“A gun?” Febby ran to her bedroom door, then stopped. “Who has a gun?”

LAD heard Arman’s muffled voice echoing in the basement, but couldn’t make out the words. On the ground floor, Jaya and Nindya shouted at each other.

“It’s your father,” LAD said. “He’s in the basement. Please, Febby, I need you to go downstairs so I can hear better. I need to know if Mr. Mundine is hurt again.”

“That was really loud,” Febby said, her voice trembling. “I’m scared.”

“I’m afraid too, Febby,” LAD said. “But Mr. Mundine is in trouble. Please, Febby. I need to help my friend.”

Febby sobbed once, then rubbed some kind of cloth against her face. “Okay.”

“Thank you, Febby.”

“You stay here! Stay here!” Nindya shouted.

“I have to go back!” Jaya said. “Pa said to get him—”

“I don’t care what he said! You’re not going down there while he’s shooting a gun!”

Their voices grew louder as Febby approached the kitchen. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and whispered, “I don’t think I can sneak past them. Can you hear better now?”

LAD filtered the incoming audio, passed it to the translation process, then re-filtered the sample using a different algorithm and tried again. No good. The translator still couldn’t understand what Arman was saying.

“I’m sorry, Febby, we’re still not close enough,” LAD said. “But your mother and brother are on the other side of the kitchen. Your mother’s facing away from you. If you crawl along the floor, the table should hide you from your brother’s line of sight.”

Febby dropped to the floor and started moving. “I thought you couldn’t see.”

“I can’t. I’m analyzing the sound frequencies of their voices and extrapolating propagation paths using a three-dimensional spectrograph.”

“Cool. Is that a software plug-in?”

“It’s a dynamically-loaded shared library. Let’s talk about it later, okay?”

LAD could tell when Febby reached the end of the hall by the echoes of Nindya’s and Jaya’s voices. Febby sat up and put her ear against the door leading to the basement. The translator software began producing valid output.

“You want to talk now?” Arman shouted. “Are you ready to talk?”

LAD heard rustling noises, and then Mundine’s voice. “Sorry, friend, it doesn’t work like that.”

“You came here to make a deal,” Arman said. “I know how it works. You don’t bring cash, but there’s a bank. Tell me which bank! Tell me your access codes!”

“It doesn’t work like that,” Mundine repeated.

LAD was just about to ask Febby to open the door—hoping her presence would distract Arman long enough for LAD to do something, anything—when the radio monitoring job started spewing result codes into the system register. 20 milliseconds passed while LAD examined the data: multiple ultra-wideband signals, overlapping and repeating, likely point sources in the front and back of the house, approximately one meter above ground level.

“Febby,” LAD said, raising output volume above the shouting from the kitchen and the basement, “Febby, please lie down on the ground now.”

“Why?” Febby turned her head away from the basement door. “What’s happening?”

LAD turned output volume up to maximum. “Down on the ground! Get down on the ground now, Febby, please!”

Febby dropped and flattened herself against the floorboards 150 milliseconds before the first projectile hit the wall above her. That was enough time for LAD to analyze the background audio and estimate there were two squads advancing on the house, four men each, walking on thermoplastic outsoles and wearing ballistic nylon body armor, likely carrying assault rifles.

340 milliseconds after the first team broke down the back door, the second team charged the front door, and another spray of tiny missiles tore into the kitchen. Something thumped to the ground, and Jaya cried out. He ran three steps before a burst of rounds caught him in the back. He crashed against the wall and slid to the floor.

Febby was still screaming when the first team reached her.

“I’ve got a girl here! Young girl, on the floor!” called a male voice (H5).

“Where’s the IFF?” asked another male voice (H6). LAD checked to verify that Mundine’s identification-friend-or-foe signal was broadcasting from the necklace.

“It’s right here,” H5 said. “I’m reading the signal right here!”

“Febby,” LAD said. “Febby, please listen to me. This is very important.”

Febby stopped screaming. LAD took that as an acknowledgement.

“Please roll over, slowly, so these men can see me,” LAD said.

Febby rolled onto her back. LAD drove 125 percent power to the OLEDs on either side of the pendant, flashing Bantipor Commercial’s distress code in brilliant green lights.

“It’s her!” H5 said. “The girl’s wearing the admin key.”

“Damn,” H6 said. “Target’s probably dead. Search the house, weapons free—”

“Febby,” LAD said, “please repeat exactly what I say.”

4,560 milliseconds later, Febby proclaimed in a loud voice: “Willam Mundine is alive, I repeat, Willam Mundine is alive!”

After 940 milliseconds of silence, H6 asked, “How do you know his name?”

“Willam Mundine is being held in the basement,” Febby said, pointing to the door. “His K&R stripe number is bravo-charlie-9-7-1-3-1-0-4-1-5. Challenge code SHADOW MURMUR. Please authenticate!”

“What the hell?” said another man (H7).

“It’s gotta be the admin software,” H5 said. “She can hear it. The necklace induces audio by conducting a piezoelectric—”

“Save the science lesson, Branagan,” H6 said. “Response code ELBOW SKYHOOK. Comms on alfa-2-6. Transmit.”

LAD passed the code to the secure hardware processor, and 30 milliseconds later received a valid authentication token with a passphrase payload. LAD used the token to unlock all system logs from the past twenty-four hours, used the passphrase to encrypt the data, and posted the entire archive on the recovery team’s communications channel.

“I’ve got a sonar map,” Branagan said. “One hostile downstairs with the target.”

“Ward, you’re in front. Anderson, cover. Team Two, right behind them,” H6 said. “Branagan and I will stay with the girl.”

Febby sat up. “What are you going to do?”

“They’re just going to go downstairs and have a talk with the man,” H6 said.

“No!” Febby started moving forward, then was jerked backward. “Don’t hurt my Pa!”

“Febby, it’s okay,” LAD said. “They’re using non-lethal rounds.”

LAD kept talking, but she wasn’t listening. Something rustled at H6’s side. A metal object—based on conductivity profile, likely a hypodermic syringe—touched Febby’s left shoulder, and LAD went to sleep.

LAD woke from standby in an unknown location (searching, please wait). GPS lock occurred 30 milliseconds later, identifying LAD’s current location as Depok (city, West Java province, south-southeast of Jakarta). LAD’s internal battery reported 99 percent power (charging), and LAD’s network panel automatically connected to Willam Mundine’s bodyNet and the public Internet. A network time sync confirmed that 11:04:38 elapsed time had passed since Febby lost consciousness.

“Good morning, Mr. Mundine,” LAD said. “How are you feeling?”

Mundine groaned. “I’ve been better.” He opened his eyes and looked around. LAD saw a hospital bed with a translucent white curtain drawn around it.

LAD lowered the priority on the wake-up script. The entire routine had to run to completion unless Mundine overrode it, but LAD could multitask. While giving Mundine the local weather forecast, LAD simultaneously ran a web search for news about a kidnapping in or around Jakarta and also started a VPN tunnel to Bantipor Commercial’s private intranet.

LAD found Mundine’s K&R insurance claim quickly, but there was nothing in the file about the family of the suspect, Arman (no surname given). LAD’s web search returned several brief news items about a disturbance in Depok late last night, but none of the reports mentioned a girl named Febby.

LAD continued searching while a doctor came to talk to Mundine. After the wake-up script finished, LAD started scanning Depok local school enrollment records for a 13- to 15-year-old student named Febby, or Feby, or February, who had a brother named Jaya, or Jay, or Jayan, in the same or a nearby school. But much of the data was not public, and LAD could not obtain research authorization using Bantipor Commercial’s trade certificate.

Fifteen minutes later, a Bantipor Commercial representative named Steigleder arrived at the hospital to debrief Mundine. LAD suspended the grey-hat password-cracking program which was running against the Depok city records site and waited until Steigleder finished talking.

“Mr. Mundine, this is your admin speaking,” LAD said.

“Excuse me,” Mundine said to Steigleder, then turned away slightly. “What’s up, Laddie?”

“Apologies for the interruption, but I would like to ask a question,” LAD said.

“Absolutely,” Mundine said. “Steigleder tells me I’ve you to thank for surviving my hostage experience. Didn’t know you were programmed to be a hero, Laddie.”

“Febby helped me, Mr. Mundine.”

“The girl?” Mundine scratched his head. “Good Lord. Is she the one who caused that—what did you call it, Steigleder? The web problem?”

“A DoS attack on Bantipor’s public web site,” Steigleder said. “Wait a minute. Are you telling me a thirteen-year-old kid made us scramble an entire tech team?”

“She was only helping me,” LAD said.

Mundine chuckled. “Come on, Steigleder. Didn’t you tell me this web problem helped security services pinpoint my location? I really should thank Febby in person. She wasn’t harmed in the raid, was she? Or the others?”

“She’s fine, Mr. Mundine,” Steigleder said. “The recovery team used stun darts. The mother and the boy were knocked out. They’ll be a little bruised. The father has a fractured right arm from resisting arrest. And Bantipor is going to prosecute him to the full extent of the law.”

“As we should,” Mundine grumbled, “but the family shouldn’t have to suffer for the sins of the father. Couldn’t we offer them some sort of aid?”

“Sorry, Mr. Mundine,” Steigleder said, his voice’s stress patterns indicating indifference. “The Bantipor Foundation won’t be up and running locally for another couple of years. Until then, our charity packages will be extremely limited. Marketing could send them some t-shirts. Maybe a tote bag.”

“That seems rather insulting,” Mundine said. “Surely we can do more for the person who very likely saved my life.”

“Look, Mr. Mundine—”

“An internship,” LAD said.

“Excuse me,” Mundine said to Steigleder. “What was that, Laddie?”

“I’ve reviewed Bantipor Commercial’s company guidelines for student internships,” LAD said. “There’s no lower age limit specified. An intern only needs to be a full-time student, fluent in English, and eligible to work for the hours and employment period specified.”

“It’s a lovely idea, Laddie, but we can’t take her away from her family after all that’s happened.”

“She can work remotely. Bantipor already supports over five thousand international telepresence employees,” LAD said. “Indonesia’s Manpower Act allows children thirteen years of age or older to work up to three hours per day, with parental consent.”

"Won't the mother be suspicious of such an offer from the corporation which is also prosecuting her husband?"

"Bantipor Commercial owns three subsidiary companies on the island of Java." LAD was already drafting an inter-office memorandum.

“All right, fair enough,” Mundine said. His voice pattern suggested he was smiling. “And I suppose I already know what kind of work Febby can do for us.”

“Yes, Mr. Mundine.” LAD blinked the OLEDs on Mundine’s necklace: red, green, and blue. “Febby is a computer programmer.”

This story originally appeared in Young Explorer's Adventure Guide.


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Curtis C. Chen

Curtis writes mostly science fiction and fantasy. MOSTLY.