THE PENALTIES OF PIRATING
Š 1991 by Jerry J. Davis Previously Published in Aboriginal Science Fiction Magazine Paco was on the forth floor, sitting beside the open window with his stolen infra-red shades strapped to his head, when there was a car wreck up the hill. A big black Ferrari tried to take the corner too fast and ended up with the corner of a 250 year old brick building buried halfway up into the hood. Paco muttered, “Whoa!” and climbed out the window and onto the fire escape, watching.
As the hapless driver was struggling to open his crumpled door, a blue IBM business limo came sliding to a stop beside it.
Men with guns piled out and opened fire on the man before he could make it out of the wreck. He dropped a black case onto the sidewalk and it popped open, and dozens of silvery disks spilled out. Most stopped within a few feet, but one came rolling down the hill like a wheel. Paco held his breath, watching. It rolled right down to the corner below him and dropped into a storm drain. One of the men came running down after it, and Paco slipped back into the window and out of sight.
The man below searched in vain, not finding the silvery disk.
He trudged back up the hill, where his comrades were gathering up the rest. They took the disks and the black case and drove away, leaving the Ferrari and the driver behind.
Paco jumped out the window and raced down the fire escape to the sidewalk, pulled the grate off the storm drain, and peered down into the murk with his ‘red shades set to full enhancement.
The disk gleamed like something made out of light itself. He grabbed it, shoved it deep into his coat pocket, and was back up on the forth floor in less than a minute.
Back up inside the apartment, Paco rinsed it off in the sink and took a good look at it under a light. It was a standard CD, no markings on it, and no serial number. He slipped it into a slot on his old VAX Banger and fired it up. Just as he’d thought, it was some coded computer program, a very large and sophisticated one by the looks of it. He used a hacker program to determine the decoding password and wrote it on a little label, and stuck it on the top side of the disk.
The next day he traded it to Melvin Chevaux for a gig of stolen slate RAM and a really wicked throwing knife. Three days later Chevaux sold it to Francisco the Fence for Ľ300 (New Dollars) and a stolen case of Everclear. Francisco the Fence passed it off for Ľ550 to Dano Sharks, the software pirate. Dano made a lot of noise, grumbling about the price, but turned right around and sold it for an even Ľ1000 to Leo Itoya, the insurance broker. Leo was pleased at the price, for he’d been looking for a cheap AI all week. It was for Lolita, his secretary.
Lolita had been complaining for two months straight that she needed some help around the office. An AI (artificial intelligence) program was not what she had in mind, she wanted Leo to hire her cousin, Wanda Lopez, because Wanda needed a job. Leo had another idea altogether. Dano Sharks had told him this AI was programmed as a business administrator, to take the initiative and to give orders. It was obviously some government thing, probably the same program that ran the welfare office. He was going to load it into his office computer and give it control. Lolita was going to be helping it, not the other way around.
The next evening, after Lolita had gone home, Leo sat down with a six-pack and his office computer to see if he could figure the new software out. He loaded it into his machine and typed in the code word, and it went all through his computer system checking everything out. Then it printed out a list of everything it found and then posed the question: WHAT IS MY GOAL?
“Smart program!” Leo said. He leaned forward and typed at the keyboard, YOUR GOAL IS TO MAKE MONEY SELLING LIFE INSURANCE.
WHAT IS LIFE INSURANCE? it asked.
“Oh jeeze, you mean I have to explain the entire concept of insurance to this thing?” Leo concentrated for a moment, then typed: LIFE INSURANCE IS A SERVICE WHICH PAYS THE CUSTOMER A LARGE
AMOUNT OF MONEY IF SOMEONE DIES.
HOW DOES THIS SERVICE OPERATE? it asked.
Leo sipped his beer. This really was an intelligent program.
WE SELL THE INSURANCE, he typed, AND THE CLIENT PAYS A CERTAIN
AMOUNT A MONTH. IF THE CLIENT DIES WHILE HE IS INSURED, HIS
BENEFACTOR IS PAID THE AMOUNT OF MONEY AGREED UPON IN THE
INSURANCE CONTRACT. Leo continued typing, going into details. The program grasped everything he told it, except one thing.
HOW DO YOU MAKE MONEY IF YOU HAVE TO EVENTUALLY PAY IT ALL
BACK? THERE APPEARS TO BE A FLAW IN YOUR SCHEME.
Leo laughed out loud. Bright program! Very intelligent. THE
WHOLE SCHEME DEPENDS UPON THE CLIENT NOT DYING WHILE BEING
INSURED. IT ALSO DEPENDS UPON A LARGE AND CONTINUOUSLY RENEWED
SOURCE OF NEW CLIENTS.
The program was still perplexed. IN ORDER FOR THE SCHEME TO
CONTINUE, AND FOR YOU TO MAKE MONEY, IT DEMANDS AN EXPONENTIAL
GROWTH. IT IS AN UNSTABLE AND UNREALISTIC SCHEME.
YES, IT IS. Leo was laughing as he typed this. BUT THAT’S NOT
OUR PROBLEM. WE ONLY SELL THE INSURANCE, WE’RE NOT THE COMPANY
THAT PAYS OFF THE BENEFICIARIES WHEN AN INSURED CLIENT DIES. WE
GET SALES COMMISSIONS FROM ABOUT TWO DOZEN INSURANCE COMPANIES. TO
MAKE MONEY, I HAVE TO SELL A LOT OF INSURANCE. THAT IS WHY I NEED
I UNDERSTAND. The two words glowed on the screen, and the program asked no more questions. The computer sat quiet, inert, like it was waiting for further instructions. Leo was wondering where he should go from there when suddenly the printer whirred and spit out a page:
FOR THE SCHEME LIFE INSURANCE SALES I WILL REQUIRE THE FOLLOWING: 64 TERABYTES ADDITIONAL DATA STORAGE
500 GIGABYTES IN ADDITIONAL RAM MODULES
1 ADDITIONAL PHONE LINE
1 VOX MODEM
ACCESS CODE TO COMPANY BANK ACCOUNT
IF YOU WISH I CAN BEGIN SEARCHING FOR THE LOWEST COST SOURCES OF
THE ABOVE ITEMS.
Leo gaped at the list. Vox modem? he thought. What’s wrong with the regular modem? Shaking his head, he reluctantly gave the program permission to order what it needed. After all, he’d just spent Ľ1000 on the program. It would be Ľ1000 wasted if it didn’t have what it needed to do its job.
When he reached his office the next morning he found two delivery trucks in front and an upset receptionist inside. The items the computer had ordered were already there, with a technician hooking them up, and Lolita was tearfully asking Leo why he was mad with her.
“What are you talking about?” he said.
Her pretty lower lip thrust up and trembling, she said, “This!” and confronted him with a computer-printed note and a paycheck. The computer had fired her and had printed out a severance check it was even signed.
“I didn’t tell the computer to fire you!” Leo exclaimed.
“Oh, yeah right. It did it on it’s own.”
“It did! I’ve got this new program “
“Spare me, Leo! If you can’t face me with the truth, that’s your problem. Don’t insult me with a stupid story about the computer doing it. How stupid do you think I am, anyway.”
“But Lolita “
Lolita angrily stuffed her check between her breasts and left. He followed her halfway down the block but she wouldn’t speak to him, so he gave up and returned to the office. He entered just as the technician was finishing with the computer. “Sign here, please,” he said to Leo.
Halfway through signing Leo noticed the price. “Six-thousand dollars!”
“Yeah, I thought it was a mistake too,” the technician said.
“But the company confirmed it, you got a great deal.”
“Great deal!? Six-thousand is a great deal?”
“For fourteen-thousand dollars worth of equipment, I’d say so!”
Leo finished signing and the technician left. Beside him, the printer began whirring and pages began slipping out. Leo picked one up and found it was a sales letter, very well written in an appealing style, addressed to someone whom he didn’t know. What startled him was that like on Lolita’s severance check his own signature was at the bottom. “What the hell is this?”
“I am assuming you are you are talking to me,” a female voice said. It was coming from the new vox modem. “During the evening while the phone rates were down, I accessed several nearby hospital data banks and compiled a list of people who are in outstanding health according to recent physical examinations. I am writing them a form letter and then will follow up with a phone call to secure an appointment. As appointments are made I will print out daily schedules for you to follow.”