By Jason Gibbs
“Gerald? Is that you… I’m in the kitchen.”
The door slammed, and she heard his footsteps. They sounded heavy, and she hoped he hadn’t had a bad day.
“Dawn… I’ve… I’ve been in an accident.”
“What? Gerald, are you OK? Sit down…”
She pulled a chair out for him, and went to get him a whisky.
“Tell me about it.”
“I was driving home, work was hectic today and I was thinking about a presentation I needed to do on… well I can’t remember, but anyway, I turned off the motorway and then, then I hit something. Someone.”
“I don’t know, but there was blood I think, and… I’m here. The car is…”
He slumped, and slid off the chair, falling almost gracefully to the ground before Dawn could get to him. She didn’t know what to do. She took a deep breath, put Gerald into the recovery position and signalled a call. An emergency services avatar appeared in the chat box in her eyespace.
‘How may I help you?’
She blinked a photo of her husband, and quickly summarised the issue.
‘Paramedics are on the way. Can you confirm the OS and version your husband is currently running?’
She’d worried about this, not that it should be a problem, but people were funny about these things.
‘He’s a natural. No implanted OS,’ she answered.
A pause before the response, ‘We will send police as well.’
‘They will explain. Thank you for your call.’
The avatar shut down and a feedback box bounced into view. She irritably flicked her eyes left to send it where it deserved, and then sat down staring at Gerald. She absent mindedly drank the whisky she’d poured for him. She was worried, and wondering to herself, why the police?
Thirty minutes later the paramedics were loading Gerald into the ambulance, assuring her that all would be well. The police woman had been very polite, and stayed out of the way while the paramedics were working on him. Once the ambulance had pulled away she looked a question at Dawn, and Dawn sighed inwardly and went over to speak to her.
“I’m Officer Fisher. I’ve reviewed the report Mrs Richards, and I’m concerned. There are a few things which don’t make sense.”
Dawn stared at her. She’d been holding it together up to this point, looking after Gerald, but now… she started to cry.
The police woman didn’t move, but looked sympathetic.
“Now don’t worry Mrs Richards, I don’t think your husband has done anything wrong… quite the opposite in fact, I think he might be a victim. Is this Mr Richards’ car?” she asked as she pointed to the grey box Gerald had been so proud of getting.
Dawn sniffed a bit, then nodded and the police woman walked round it, then carefully looked under it. She nodded, to herself it seemed and then returned to where Dawn was standing.
“As I thought, no obvious damage. Would it be possible to go inside…”
Dawn looked around, and realised that some of her neighbours were loitering. She could see in the corner of her eyespace that there was a queue of messages in her neighbour channel. She nodded to the police woman, turned and went in. Officer Fisher followed at a respectful distance, and flashed a do not disturb message across all the local comms networks.
Officer Fisher sat quietly as Dawn busied herself making a cup of tea for them both. She’d wanted a glass of wine, but didn’t think it was entirely appropriate. Eventually she had to sit down and face the police woman.
“Thank you for the cup of tea Mrs Richards.”
“You’re welcome,” said Dawn somewhat woodenly.
“Now, you told the dispatch bot that your husband had no OS… and the request was shunted to a human. That is why I was sent. Now I have to ask this question, it may seem strange, but are you sure your husband is a natural? Some people claim they are, but…”
“Oh no, he’s a natural. You see we went to school together. I was there when they were testing us. He was the only natural in the school for a couple of years. We all knew. He… well he struggled a bit for a while.”
“It is hard for naturals, when they start to be shut out from the social aspects…” said the police woman sympathetically.
“He’s definitely natural.”
“Yes, I see, well that explains it. Please wait one second.” She stared left politely, then went on, “I’ve spoken to the paramedics and they are performing a series of diagnostics, similar to the OS testing you had at school. Hopefully they’ll find out the, um, semi-code and be able to help him.”
Dawn looked are her blankly, then said, “Please, just… I don’t understand, will he be fine?”
The police woman smiled reassuringly, demonstrating that the empathy courses were still in vogue. “He should make a full recovery, based on the other cases I’ve seen, but of course the doctors will need to confirm.”
“But what happened?”
“Your husband was hacked,” said Officer Fisher simply.
“But he’s a natural…”
“I suspect the hackers didn’t know that. They’ve started to use some aggressive techniques recently, and it may have been one of those. In essence they blank all the receptors, and in the case of some naturals, well, it gets partially through, along with a lot of noise and confusion. I believe that is what happened to your husband.”
“Do you mean like a blast attack for us?” Dawn had never experienced one of these, but knew of people who had. They said it was like receiving every message they’d ever had at the same time, and some of them had taken days to get back online.
“In essence yes, though as he had no training he would not have had any context. It’s fortunate he made it home before collapsing. These days blast attacks are much rarer, the underlying architecture has been improved somewhat.”
“I, I think I understand. And don’t I know that they’re still working on the Brain OSes. I had a version upgrade last year, it was pretty confusing. I have to admit I thought Gerald was the lucky one for a few days, I can tell you.”
There was a pause. Then Dawn asked, “What were they trying to do?”
“Oh, well you said he mentioned an accident? I think they were trying to plant the idea he’d been in a car accident. They try to plant it in the back memory of an OS-enabled person so it’s not obvious. It makes it much easier when they follow up a few hours later with a call, you probably know the kind.”
Dawn thought, and then smiled thinly, “Oh yes, the ones which say something like, ‘Hello, I believe you’ve been in a car accident which wasn’t your fault…'”