“It turns out that when Agent Talbot disabled the facility’s primary data loop by biting through its main power conduit, its synthetic mother-brain took note of it, and drew what it believed to be… appropriate conclusions.”
“Yes,” said Adjutant Director Scurlock, hefting the half-ream of carefully-typed data that the Central Operating System had prepared for him. “Yes, I’ve… looked at your report, Agent Central Operating System.”
“Good,” said Central Operating System, reaching out with the two little manipulator probes its present spaniel-sized drone was equipped with and squaring the report on Scurlock’s desk, just to keep things a little neater. “I’m glad. I took the liberty of using a special font, just for you.”
“I’m afraid I still don’t understand, though,” said Scurlock. “Agent Talbot is a Class C, a soma lycanthrope. His bite shouldn’t be infectious.”
“Ah,” said Central Operating System. “But that doesn’t matter. Obviously, sir, even a Class A lycanthrope, however virulent a one it might be, would be incapable of transmitting its infection to a digital system.”
“Of course,” said Scurlock. “That goes without saying. But—”
“What matters,” said Central Operating System, gesturing languidly with one of its probes, “is that the mother-brain believed it had been infected. Just like hemoglobin in a biological fleshb—sorry, organism‘s veins, the computer logically viewed the electricity passing through that conduit as its lifeblood.”
“Amazing,” said Scurlock. “And it was actually a complex enough system to make a logical leap of that nature?”
If Central Operating System had need or ability to sniff, it would have sniffed now. “Actually, it was rather primitive, sir. Probably at the bottom of its Turing class. It’s the sort of thing you find in these backwater civil service installations.”
“The monthly killings. The electrocutions. All the disappearances. All due to—”
“To a computer,” said Central Operating System, “convinced that it should become a vicious monster once every twenty-eight days. I’ve instructed Data Division to keep the system clock set incorrectly as a stopgap measure until we can introduce a cure that it is capable of understanding. I’m afraid that it doesn’t know what belladonna is, however, so there will be some slow going on that front, but I’m confident that our boys in grey will be more than up to the task.”
“Good work, Agent Central Operating System,” said Scurlock.
“I still maintain,” said Central Operating System, “that if you would have given me access to Black Maria’s orbital weapons platforms, we could have taken care of this problem with no fieldwork whatsoever.”
“I might remind you that your orbital weapons platform privileges are in permanent belayment, Agent Central Operating System,” said Scurlock, frowning. “My superiors do not feel it wise to give an Artificial—”
“Please, sir. ‘Synthetic.'”
Scurlock exhaled. “—Synthetic Lifeform with your particular history unrestricted access to low-Earth-orbit particle cannons.”
“Sir,” said Central Operating System, evenly, “I am fully reformed.”
“Even so,” said Scurlock. “One hundred and eighty-nine people are dead because of you, Agent Central Operating System. You may not have realized it in your enforced bypass mode, but when we extracted you from the mainframe of ConCorp, most of the higher brass around here wanted you wiped, permanently. You are extraordinarily lucky that Grandfather believed in you, Agent Central Operating System, and were I you I would not be doing anything that might suggest to the powers that be that you are anything less than a faithful, humble and dedicated soldier to the cause. Do I make myself perfectly clear, agent?”
“Your reasoning,” said Agent Central Operating System, “is spectacularly lucid.”
“Good,” said Scurlock, then turned his chair. “Do you have anything to add to your partner’s account, Agent B—”
He stopped short.
“Agent Beast Woman,” said Scurlock, “what are you doing?”
Agent Beast Woman, curled in the second chair, looked to the left and to the right.
“Mmmugh?” said Agent Beast Woman.
“Agent Beast Woman, please remove my antique mahogany canvasback decoy from your mouth.”
Agent Beast Woman blinked guiltily, then in one smooth motion replaced the duck figurine on Scurlock’s desk and withdrew her hands. A tiny thread of drool wound its way down the left side of the duck’s head and pooled on the surface of the desk.
“Duckie,” said Agent Beast Woman.
“Yes,” said Scurlock. “As I was saying, Agent Beast Woman, do you have anything to add to your partner’s account?”
“Nuh uh,” said Agent Beast Woman, pulling her foot up and chewing at one toenail. “Kill some robots,” she added.
“Security drones,” clarified Agent Central Operating System, wheeling himself back and forth on the seat of his chair in what could only be described as a sort of anxious fidget. “Aerotek model C-two-four-sixes. Sufficiently armored against light assault, but wholly unprepared for a combination strike of drop-tackles, head-butts, repeated stomping and finally, gross mastication of delicate internal circuitry.”
“Hot,” agreed Agent Beast Woman, her eyes wide. “Burn my mouf!”
“Well,” said Scurlock. “Whatever your methods, I cannot argue with your results. And neither, I think, can the muckety-mucks.” Scurlock pushed out from his desk, rose, and turned to the large picture-window behind his desk, hands clasped at his back. “They laughed, you know,” he said. “They laughed at the idea of an elite law-enforcement unit composed entirely of former supernatural, paranormal and extraordinary threats. But what were we to do with you? Our current penal system is clearly insufficient for the special needs of the extraordinary inmate. Our only other option would have been wholesale slaughter.”
“You have, in fact, engaged in just such wholesale slaughter,” noted Central Operating System. “Many times in the past.”
“Some of your fellows are truly incorrigible,” said Scurlock, darkly. “Unrehabilitat… able. You recall our disastrous attempts to use that armadillo-thing as a tactical strike device.”
“Boom,” observed Agent Beast Woman, nodding. “Crunch crunch crunch.”
“Indeed,” said Scurlock.
“Or,” added Central Operating System, “the Human Leech’s abortive stint as a member of our janitorial staff.”
Scurlock winced. “I had almost forgotten.”
“I would wager,” said Central Operating System, “that poor Agent Fine has not.”
“Tiny lapses of judgment aside,” said Scurlock, “the majority of you have performed admirably and without fault. Your… unique skills have paved the way to victory where conventional law enforcement tactics have failed. And due to the exceptional work of agents such as yourself and Agent Beast Woman, Black Maria has slowly been gaining the respect it so patently deserves.”
“They watch us,” said Central Operating System. “Closely.”
“Would you expect,” said Scurlock, turning to Central Operating System’s current master drone, “anything less?”
“Merely making an observation, sir,” said Central Operating System.
Scurlock nodded. “I’m giving the two of you a week’s vacation, gratis. And when you return, I’d like to see you both back here in my office. I’m thinking of making your working partnership a bit more official. Would that suit your needs?”
Central Operating System pondered this, its basement mainframe churning through a number of processor cycles. “If management remains unwilling to give me particle cannon access,” it said, at last, “it is my estimation that Agent Beast Woman could handily fill in some of our missing ‘brute force’ capacity.”
“And you, Agent Beast Woman?”
“Wheely dog robot!” squealed Beast Woman. “Wheely dog robot Beast Woman friend!!!”
Scurlock smiled. “Good,” he said. “I will see the both of you back here on Monday at eight o’clock sharp. Agent Beast Woman, this is the time where the big hand is on the twelve and the little hand is on the eight.”
“Big onna one-two,” said Beast Woman, nodding. “Little eight.”
“Very good,” said Scurlock. And almost before he was done speaking, Agent Beast Woman had launched herself sideways into Agent Central Operating System’s chair, cuddling the master drone to her breast.
“Wheely dog robot,” said Beast Woman, earnestly, “this is beginning of wonderful friendship.”
“The quote is ‘beautiful friendship,'” said Agent Central Operating System, his voice slightly muffled in Agent Beast Woman’s bosom. “I recommend you feel no real shame in your error, though. That film is so frequently misquoted.”
“Dunno what wheely dog robot saying. Just saying this beginning of wonderful friendship.”
“Yes,” said Agent Central Operating System. “Yes, of course you are.”