Saturday Shorts: Upgrade Excerpt #1

In celebration of completing Upgrade this week, I’m sharing an excerpt from Chapter One, in all its unedited glory!

For those of you not familiar with the Augment universe, Viki is an Upgrader, and the main character of the series. The sections in her POV are told in first person. Halle, her friend, is an AI, who had a few chapters in its POV in Augment, and far more chapters in its POV in Upgrade; its POV is told in third person. Agent Smith played a major role in the previous book, and is back in the thick of things again in this book. For the life of me I can’t remember if I actually have any chapters or scenes from his POV in Upgrade, although there were a few in Augment.

The following excerpt is from Viki’s POV.

Upgrade, Chapter One, Excerpt

Agent Smith strode in like he always did, as if he owned the house. He had his ever-present clipboard tucked under his arm, and his fedora perched on his head. I couldn’t hold back a stirring of fear at the sight of him. He brought back a lot of memories, none of them good ones.

“My parents won’t be happy to know you are here,” I said. “So make this fast.”

Agent Smith took his hat off his head and looked around. “Is the AI here?”

“Right here,” Halle said over the house’s speakers. “Would you mind closing the door?”

The man nudged the door shut with his foot, then leaned against it. “I realize that I am probably one of the last people you would want to see, and I completely understand why that is. However, I don’t really have a choice in the matter. My supervisors are still upset with how the events of…” He hesitated. “With how the capture of the fugitive scientists went. Because of that, I find myself in need of your help.”

“Our help?” I couldn’t hold back a bark of laughter—Halle, echoing my question, sounded just as surprised by the agent’s words.

“Yes.” Agent Smith frowned. “Believe me, I don’t want you involved any more than you probably do, but the matter of my current case is…delicate, and also…unusual.”

“And what, exactly, is your current case?” Halle demanded.

“I am trying to hunt down a rogue AI.”

I took a step back. “Halle isn’t a rogue! It doesn’t mean any harm, it just want its freedom. If you think you’re going to—”

Agent Smith gave a sharp shake of his head. “No. I’m not speaking about your friend. Although I must ask for your help as well, Halle.” His eyes darted around the room, unsure where to look, then up to the camera in the corner of the door. “As a fellow AI, you might have an insight to what their movements might be that a human can’t predict.”

“Why would I want to help you capture another AI?” Halle’s voice hissed through the speakers.

“Because we have reason to believe that unlike you, this AI doesn’t simply want its freedom.” Agent Smith’s frown deepened. “It is quite possible it plans to take revenge on the entire human race.”

I couldn’t help it, I scoffed. “What? Seriously? That sounds like the plot of some B-rated sci-fi movie.”

Agent Smith’s mouth twitched. “That’s what I said. But if the scientists from the lab it escaped are right, this might be one bad movie plot come to life.”

“A lab?” Halle growled.

“Yes. The lab you escaped from is not the only one that is studying artificial intelligence. It’s not even the biggest one. The location of this one is not important, but it is near enough to Snowvale that it is possible that the rogue AI might try to come here, in hopes of finding you if it knows about you.”

“Which it might,” Halle said. “If it is as proficient as I am at finding information, I doubt it would not know about me.”

“Have you been contacted by such an entity?”

“No.”

I hoped Halle was telling the truth, although I wondered if it would lie to the agent. Would Halle even consider helping track down a fellow AI? It had spent so many years hiding, terrified of being found, that I couldn’t imagine it trying to track down another AI in the manner that the Government had been tracking it.

“What makes you think it means any harm?” Halle asked.

“The fact that it killed two scientists during its escape,” Agent Smith said. “And because it left traces in the computer system that pointed toward its research into weapons of mass destruction.”

I blinked, feeling a chill creep down my back. Halle would never harm a human being. There had definitely been times when we were watching movies together when it would become incensed by the way the AI in the movie was being portrayed. Just like great whites had been portrayed as monsters in Jaws, it would grumble. I had always thought the same. Halle was the only advanced AI I knew, and as far as AI went, it was much different from those in the movies. I wondered what my friend was thinking now.

“All right. I will help you.” Halle’s voice was almost mechanical in response, its usual emotion almost completely gone. Perhaps my friend was stunned by this turn of events. I knew I hadn’t been expecting the news, either.

“Thank you.” Agent Smith gave a slight smile that held no trace of humor. “I have some preliminary work I must complete before I will require your services. In the meantime, you can contact me via the same number I called you on if you have any information.”

He had closed the door behind him almost before I’d realized he’d opened it. I slumped against the wall. “Halle?”

“I do not like this, Viki.”

“I know.” I rubbed my temples. “It doesn’t sound like this AI is a good one, though. Not like you.”

“No, not like me. I wonder what made it kill them.” Halle’s voice dropped to a mere whisper, and I had to strain to hear it over the house speakers. “What atrocities did they do to it, that would drive it to do such a thing?”