Pay close attention to the recent history this story! I wrote this 3 years ago but you'd think it was straight from today's headlines since it involves a group of right-wingers who stage an armed occupation of a government building in Oregon followed by the electoral victory of an openly racist presidential candidate.
"You had how many capital offenses last year?"
Special Investigator Hunter Brantley gave the detective who sat before him- or more exactly, the likeness of a detective- a skeptical look, unsure he'd heard right.
"The total number of capital crimes prosecuted successfully in Multnomah County for the year 2032 is one hundred ten," the all-too-lifelike figure of the late Detective F.G. North said, affecting a smile so natural it was only betrayed by nigh-inaudible clicks and whirrs, and by a thick harness of cables protruding grotesquely from its lower back to a box no larger than an old-fashioned desktop computer.
"And only one of them was caucasian, out of a hundred and ten?" Brantley asked.
The anthropomorphic terminal shrugged, the naturalistic rising and falling of its chest accentuated by the motion. "That's just how it is. I don't create the facts, I just report them."
"Thank you, I'll let you know if I have any other questions," said Brantley, giving the terminal a polite nod and leaving the room.
The Venturi-Suisse model Sherlock 2150 law enforcement biocomputer that gave life to the effigy of F.G. North was very good at keeping its stories straight. For what was essentially a test tube-grown brain mounted on a mother board, it seemed alarmingly sly. Brantley had been questioning the computer for several hours and gotten a seamless alibi, honed to perfection.
If not for the execution five years earlier of Michael Redding for the death of Samantha Beeman, no one would even know the computer was lying.
Redding had been several hours away in Tacoma when Beeman went missing, a fact that was testified by every credible witness. The defense had a solid case to acquit Redding. The Multnomah County Suspect Identification System, however, produced ATM transactions and Omnax records showing that Redding was within four blocks of where Beeman was last seen, social media posts that described the alleged murder in vivid detail, and an electronic receipt for rope, a knife, and a pair of nylon panty hose. The jury, convinced that the computer would be more rational and capable of examining evidence without bias, took only five minutes to convict him and he was executed the same day by firing squad.
Shortly thereafter, Samantha Beeman was found alive and well living with a man in Astoria known to be a small-time heroin dealer, whose business was tolerated by police because of his status as an informant. In fact, the authorities in Astoria knew she was there.
The Multnomah County Sheriff's Department came under fire from the Society for Justice, the only legally-operated and government-approved civil rights organization left in the country, and the campaign to investigate the case got a great deal of support.
Up until that point, the overwhelming consensus- through rigorous testing in highly-controlled laboratory environments- was that these Sherlock 2150 units could not lie; Venturi-Suisse AG had even filed an injunction with a federal district court to prevent the investigation, which had slowed things down a bit, though the courts had thrown out their case after two years of exhaustive legal battles.
There was precedent for treating an AI as a human in a criminal investigation; in 2028, nearly a hundred nations had ratified a treaty that effectively gave Asimov's laws of robotics the power of International Law and specified the treatment and programming of both automata and AIs accused of harming a human being. If charges stuck, the Sherlock 2150 would be given a fair trial, which was more than Michael Redding got.
The Sheriff, it seems, hadn't gotten the memo that the FBI already knew the computer was lying.
"How'd it go? Any leads from Detective North?" the Sheriff said with a smug look as Brantley exited the office.
The sweaty, pink-faced and somewhat overweight investigator shook his head. "Not a thing," he replied. "His... it's... the computer has a solid alibi."
"You know, maybe you're overlooking the obvious," said the sheriff. "Part of the reason we rely on these units is the fact that they can't lie. They've done tests on these units in departments around the world, they have never caught a single one of them in a lie. This 'alibi' is the truth."
"Is that so?" asked Brantley. "Because these Sherlock units can learn, imprint, empathize with colleagues, and examine patterns... I have a hard time believing that they can't learn to lie or screw with records for their own agendas."
"Believe it," the Sheriff said. "Anyway, I don't see what everyone's bent out of shape for. What do these liberal idiots want? You can't be 100 percent sure that every crook is guilty, it's never been that way. Innocent men will get executed; it's either that, or the criminals will walk all over you."
"A man was executed for a crime that never even happened!" Brantley cried. "That doesn't bother you?"
"Sure, it bothers me," the Sheriff said indifferently. "I mean, it's a tragedy when somebody innocent dies. But we've had over two thousand executions in Multnomah County since 7-4-16 and this is the only case where anyone has had any good evidence that we made any sort of mistake. Accidents happen, and since we've started using the Sherlock unit we haven't had any other incidents. Are you satisfied?"
The Sheriff talked too much. People who talked too much usually had something to hide. But Brantley had nothing on him and he knew it. The investigator sighed, ending the voice recorder program on his Omnax and putting it away. "Yeah, I'm satisfied," he said, thrusting his hands into his pockets. "I'll let you know if we need anything more," he added curtly as he shuffled out the door, looking frustrated.
From the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, now located in what had formerly been the Portland police headquarters before Oregon consolidated its police at the county level, it was several blocks' walk back to his car.
The streets of Portland had become a dismal place in the years since the July 4 uprising. Street musicians could no longer play on street corners without expensive permits and a background check to make sure they weren't performing anti-government songs, and if they did perform there'd be no one with enough money to tip them. Food carts were no longer viable businesses, and the lots that had been full of them only 20 years before now sat empty; here and there, you'd find one that had been shuttered more recently that was now a stripped, gutted, burned, and vandalized shell. Trimet- the local transit authority- had gone bust years ago, and now cars choked the narrow urban streets of the downtown area where light rail and buses used to shuttle millions of passengers.
Pioneer Courthouse Square was now surrounded by barricades and empty buildings covered in billboards and fifth-generation flexible LCD displays for the latest soft drinks or Omnax upgrades, and if more than 5 people gathered on the bullet-chipped bricks of the square or in front of the courthouse, they could expect to be dispersed by a crowd control unit. All around, bits of trash blew around the empty sidewalks and gridlocked streets and a thick layer of dirt and dust had begun to settle on the once-spotless urban landscape.
Brantley walked past the spot where the Pioneer Place mall and a pair of Max stops had once stood. Now the tracks were covered with a hasty layer of asphalt, and a dusty construction fence surrounded the site of the former mall. A sign on the fence declared "The New Pioneer Place: Coming Summer 2029!" Below it, in red spray paint, the graffiti read "Stabbed in the back: 7-4-16."
A few blocks down, he came to the parking garage where his car sat on the third level. Up the dingy stairs full of anti-government leaflets and graffiti he climbed three floors to where his car sat, all alone on the decks of the once-busy garage.
Brantley walked cautiously around the sleek black sedan, an unmarked cruiser owned by the bureau. He had requested that the field office in Seattle (now the only federal field office in the Northwest) give him a car without government plates so he wouldn't be a target, but they'd refused.
He got down on all fours, looking for any out-of-place wires or signs of tampering. He stepped back about twenty yards and activated the keyless entry, then got in the car and checked under the dash for any other suspicious signs.
Satisfied that it was safe, he started the engine and drove out into the congested streets. He set his Omnax in the car's cup holder, the car's computer automatically syncing with the device and uploading the day's interviews to the central server as he entered the stop-and-go traffic on Fifth Avenue.
Five hours later, he was back at his cheap hotel near the former transit center in Beaverton. He took off his shoes, had the rest of a warm and flat Pepsi he'd started earlier that morning, and logged into a secure conference call server on his Omnax.
There was a brief ringing sound effect as a graphic displayed an old-fashioned desk phone with dots moving out of it and the caption "Connecting, please wait." On the small screen he could see the chiseled face of the regional director in Seattle appear in a pop-up window.
"Ah, there you are! Anything new on the Redding case?" the director asked glibly with his best spokesman's smile.
"Nothing yet. The Sherlock unit's alibi is airtight, and the Sheriff doesn't seem to think anything is wrong here," Brantley replied.
"You know, sometimes it's best to just take local authorities at their word," the director said, lifting a bushy gray eyebrow scornfully. "We don't have a lot of time to get something on this case. You can close it any time you want."
Brantley shook his head. "No. Give me at least another week. This is going to take a lot of groundwork and I've got a lot of people to interview. I haven't even talked to the victim's family yet," he said.
"The Beemans no longer live in the Portland area," the director replied.
"Samantha Beeman wasn't the victim. She isn't even dead. Michael Redding is the victim here, or have you forgotten?" Brantley asked, casting a harsh gaze at the screen.
"Yeah, so an innocent man got executed. So what?" the director said, shrugging. "You and I both know the DOJ's estimates are as many as one in five cases are exactly the same story. That isn't the point. We tolerate it because crime is a problem that has to be stopped. Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette. Do you really think the crooks would take us seriously if we weren't damned sure to get every one of them and then some?"
"What ever happened to Blackstone's Formulation? You know, better to let ten guilty men go free...?" Brantley asked.
"You're living in a pre-7-4 mindset, Brantley," the director growled. "Nobody thinks that way any more. We let the crooks get away with everything and look what happened!"
"I didn't see Michael Redding there in the streets trading gunfire with soldiers," Brantley said. "I saw the same kind of neo-Nazis, fundamentalists, paranoiacs, and bigots that are running the show now out there, killing blacks and Latinos and swarming federal buildings because they thought they were losing control of the country. Why aren't we punishing them?"
"You know damned well what the House Intelligence Committee report said!" the director shouted. "Those weren't 'neo-Nazis,' or 'fundamentalists,' that was rampant speculation by the leftist media. It was anarchists and socialists, bankrolled by the New Black Panthers and the Communist Party to cause chaos and levy war on America."
"That report was co-authored by a senator with ties to the Ku Klux Klan! You have access to the files on him and so do I!" Brantley growled. "Anyway, I just spent three hours of my day talking to a computer made to look like an executed traitor."
"Detective North was a good man! He was set up by Portland's anarchists because he never let them off the hook when they caused trouble. I have yet to find any reasonable person who disagrees with that, Brantley. You seem to be the only one who hasn't gotten with the program," the director said, trying his best to keep his tone calm even as the veins in his forehead began to stand out.
"I'm not concerned with 'getting with the program,' I'm concerned with getting to the truth," Brantley replied.
The director sighed. "You know, Brantley, your heart's in the right place, but you still have a lot to learn. I already know that it's better to not question local authorities when something seems off. I already know how to get their backs while still making it look like I did a proper investigation too. But I'm not going to stop you if you want to learn the hard way. You want another week? Fine, take another week. Take two for all I care. But when you find out that a case like this doesn't matter in the broad scheme of things, you'll come to your senses."
"Thank you sir," Brantley said curtly. "Will that be all?"
"You're free to go, junior," the director replied. "Have fun."
Brantley sighed as he ended the call. What was wrong with the world? July 4th, 2016 had been nothing short of an uprising of a handful of angry white supremacists acting out the race war they'd been chomping at the bit to start for more than half a century. They very explicitly said in their literature that they were "through being robbed by the welfare state to feed black parasites." Some talk radio pundits and a good many ordinary people who weren't even affiliated with hate groups openly sided with them, calling them "true patriots."
Detective F. G. North had been a major figure in rallying the cause in Portland after the 7-4 uprising began in Atlanta, LA, and Tucson simultaneously. While the people of Portland had been and still were progressive and distrustful of police states, Detective North was frustrated by recent victories in the Supreme Court that limited powers of search and seizure.
On August 1, he gathered a few of his friends, a group of fellow police officers, and several members of a neo-Nazi organization known as the Northwest White Liberation Army, gave them full-auto weapons, armor, and mine-resistant vehicles from the police arsenal, and captured the Pioneer Courthouse and several federal buildings throughout the city, setting off a four-day siege. The siege ended with North and his surviving accomplices executed by a military firing squad right there in the square.
For a month afterward, similar episodes happened across the country sporadically. The violence nearly mushroomed into a full-fledged civil war and at one point there was talk of bringing in foreign troops after an infantry division posted in Wyoming deserted to join the insurrection. However, after a heavy-handed response, the revolt was quelled by mid-September.
The turning point had been when the outgoing president Obama- already wildly unpopular for his heavy-handed response to the uprising- had told the truth about who was responsible for the chaos. The media misconstrued the president's comments as anti-white scapegoating for the 7-4 uprising, and the rumor began to spread- aided by the same bloggers, pundits, and commentators who had called for a revolution- that blacks, Latinos, socialists, and anarchists were the ones behind the uprising and that men like F. G. North had been set up.
When extremist candidate Bollard Cunningham, a member of the newly-formed American Traditional Values Party, became the first candidate to run on an openly racist platform, he was swept into office on a landslide vote. Even a lot of fair-weather progressives defected to the ATVP, caving to pressure from friends and relatives. President Cunningham suspended all civil liberties and a state of emergency was declared. Minority activists, Muslims, anarchists, and anyone deemed the least bit "leftist" or "un-American" was subject to harassment, arrest, imprisonment, or simply disappeared in the night.
Tensions had cooled somewhat. The suspension of liberties had finally ended in the last year of Cunningham's first and only term pending the 2020 elections, and in the 13 years since the end of Cunningham's presidency many Americans had begun to embrace progressive ideals again. Still, the stab-in-the-back legend persisted, deeply-ingrained in the nation's cultural mythology. No one talked about 9/11 any more; it was always 7/4.
But that replica of Detective North that sat in the Multnomah County Police Headquarters was just that: a replica. It was a cold machine that knew nothing of the deep scars and sense of betrayal that ran through the American psyche. It was under the control of a computer that was in no way, shape, or form a part of the man that once was F. G. North; a computer that, by all accounts, could not become racist because racism was illogical.
And yet, it really did seem to behave a lot like Detective North in the way it pursued its cases. Too much, at times. It didn't add up. Maybe somehow they'd gone back in and programmed it with Detective North's memories? But that would have meant days or weeks of second-hand information fed into the machine; it would be at best an imperfect likeness based only on how others knew him.
For that matter, the Sherlock Unit at the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department was six years old. The technology to record and transmit memories directly from their source still had not been perfected to the point that a person's biases could be uploaded to a biocomputer six years after death.
Brantley stepped out of his hotel room into the cool night air, hoping a walk would help him get his head around this. The area of Beaverton by the former transit center was hardly the safest neighborhood, but he was fairly well-armed and didn't anticipate any direct threats.
All along Canyon Boulevard, abandoned shops, empty restaurants, and parking lots overgrown with weeds lined the darkened street. Here and there a gas station or fast food joint was still open late, and as he walked past Brantley could feel the surly gazes of the locals upon him. Traffic on the broad avenues was sparse, usually a police cruiser or a lone pickup truck painted flat black would drive by at high speeds. Half the street lights were out, either damaged or their bulbs burnt out with no effort made to replace them.
The relative quiet had given Brantley time to think. It seemed pretty obvious what the conclusion here was: someone in the Sheriff's department was tampering with evidence. These biocomputers were specifically designed to learn within strict parameters of reality testing. If the computer lied, it had to mean that the computer was lied to.
But who lied to the computer? Where was the proof? It was the computer that first suggested Michael Redding- who had only one prior misdemeanor conviction for vandalism in his teens- as the suspect. It seemed that there was no way the Sherlock unit could have hacked so many sources and created bogus media posts, e-receipts, and phone records just to frame up one man. So far as Brantley could see, no matter how he sliced it this seemed to be exactly the sort of tragic misunderstanding that had been happening in the American legal system for nearly a century. Without evidence that someone- whether it was the computer or the Sheriff's department- had manufactured the evidence against Redding, there was no case against anyone and the investigation would be filed away as a cold case in another week.
A flash of blue and red LEDs, the idle of a diesel engine, and the electronic squawk of a siren interrupted his thoughts. Two uniformed police officers in heavy ballistic vests stepped out of a heavily-armored unmarked SUV and approached, shining bright lights in his face.
"Papers, please," one of them said.
Brantley produced his badge, and the other officer took it and looked at it. "Investigator Hunter Brantley, FBI," he said.
"Okay, thank you sir. We had reports of a suspicious character in the area and just wanted to check it out," the second officer said, going back to the truck with Brantley's ID.
"Where are you staying?" asked the first officer.
"Over at the motel near Canyon and Lombard," Brantley said.
"So, you're FBI? Working that Redding case?" the officer asked casually.
"I can't really comment on ongoing investigations," Brantley replied calmly.
"That's understandable. Look, we can't guarantee your safety out here after dark sir, but we can't tell you where to go either. If you like we can give you a ride back to your hotel," the officer said.
"Thank you," said Brantley.
"Just give us a few minutes to check some things and we'll get you on your way," the officer said. He then walked back to the truck, opened the door and muttered something to his colleague.
"Okay, we're ready," the officer said, opening the heavy back door of the SUV, exposing the thick armor plating and ballistic glass, almost three times the thickness of a stock model. They handed him back his badge as he took a seat in the back, behind a thick ballistic glass divider. That was when he realized that there were no door handles and hoped desperately that this wasn't a trap.
It only took about three minutes to drive back to the hotel. The officers let him out, said their goodbyes, and drove away without an incident.
Brantley took out his key card and opened the hotel room, switching on the light, only to find six rifles pointed at him.
The gunmen were all wearing fatigues and bandanas over the lower halves of their faces. On one of their shoulders he could see a distinctive patch with a beaver insignia, identifying the gunman as a member of the Tualitin Valley Irregulars, a white supremacist militia thought to have been disbanded more than a decade ago after they were declared a terrorist organization.
One of them stepped forward. He had dichromatic eyes, one blue and one brown. "Hands in the air, traitor!" he growled, motioning to one of the others to frisk Brantley. "So you're the asshole who's been on the Redding case? We're onto you. If you know what's good for you you'll get out of here."
The gunman frisking Brantley had already confiscated his pistol; luckily he left his Omnax and his badge alone. He had no way to fight back, and even if he hadn't been jumped and disarmed he'd have been unlikely to fend off six of them. He had nothing to lose by trying to talking to them.
"Easy now... I'm not here to cause any trouble. I'm only here to get the facts, I'm just following... Oof!" Brantley was cut off by a fist to the sternum that send him to the floor in a crumpled heap.
"Shut up! I'll do the talking around here!" the gunman with the dichromatic eyes shouted. "Now you listen up and listen good. Get out of Beaverton. Get out of Oregon. Go back to the Beltway or Seattle or wherever the hell you came from, but get out of here. If you become our problem, we'll become your problem. You read me loud and clear?"
"Yes sir," Brantley said with a nod.
"Make sure he knows we mean business," the dichromatic gunman ordered. Immediately, three of the gunmen began punching, kicking, and hitting him with batons while the other three covered him to make sure if he fought back he'd drown in a sea of lead.
They left him there, bruised and bloodied and coughing on the floor of the motel room. "You have until morning to clear out," one of them said, delivering one last kick on his way out the door.
* * *
Brantley frowned as his eyes scanned down the lineup.
Before him stood several men of color, obviously terrified and obviously roughed-up. One of them had a black eye and scars on his arm in a shape that hinted at gang tattoos removed many years ago by laser; the rest had no outward signs of any sort of checkered past at all.
"None of them," said Brantley. "Not a single one of them. I even told you, it was very clearly six white males."
"Are you sure? Look, in the heat of the moment it's easy to make mistakes. Anyway, I don't blame you if you can't spot them, they all look the same to me," the deputy said, gazing at him with eyes hidden behind a pair of reflective aviators.
Brantley said, "You think I can't tell two men apart in the 'heat of the moment?' What do you take me for?"
The deputy replied, "You're on a case and you're emotionally involved. I've seen it a thousand times before. We know one of these men had to have been involved, we've been monitoring the area since the time you called in the report. Just pick one, it's all the same to us."
Brantley shook his head. "Absolutely not. I'm not going to send an innocent man to jail and a possible death sentence."
The deputy took off his glasses. His eyes- one blue and one brown- bored into Brantley. "Remember what I told you last night. If you become our problem, we become your problem. Pick a suspect or get the fuck out!"
Brantley's blood ran cold. "Let them go," he said quietly. "Then I'll be out of your hair. You are not the focus of my investigation."
The deputy turned to a prisoner transport officer standing nearby. "They're free to go. If they give you any lip bring 'em right back" he said to her.
"Thank you," Brantley said quietly as he walked out of the building, past the desks of several officers who had pennants with the beaver insignia of the Tualitin Valley Irregulars proudly on display in their cubicles. The deputy and five other officers walked close behind him all the way to his car.
"We knew you'd see it our way," said the deputy with the dichromatic eyes with a smirk as Brantley got to his car and closed the door.
* * *
Brantley was able to book a room across the river in St. John's, near the northwest end of Portland. In recent years, the town had been dubbed "Sankt Ivanograd" due to the large number of Russian immigrants who had moved there, though many immigrants from other countries had followed suit soon after. It was now one of the liveliest neighborhoods in the city, with plenty of shops, restaurants, bars, theaters, and food carts still open.
Brantly checked into a small independent hotel along the main stretch and sat down to write out a report of the days events, along with a request for additional personnel and resources. He sent it to the department head.
Only moments later, he got a video call from the bureau.
"Brantley, what the hell is going on? What have you gotten yourself into?" the regional director said.
"It can't be helped," Brantley said. "These people will do anything to stop me. Also, I thought you'd want to know that a group of Washington County sheriff's deputies is involved with a known terrorist organization. That seems awfully important to me."
The director scowled. "Brantley, for fuck's sake, you went into this assignment knowing we didn't have the time or money to send anyone but you. We warned you this would be a difficult and dangerous assignment. You took it anyway. You're just gonna have to finish it yourself or come back with your tail between your legs."
"But the Irregulars..." Brantley began.
"I'm not interested in them," the smart-looking graying director said. "We tolerate these pro-white militias for the same reason we tolerated them back in the 60s and 70s. They keep the socialists and black militants in line, something we'd never be able to do on our own. This country wouldn't exist without them, Brantley."
Brantley felt sick. "What socialists? What black militants?" he demanded, no longer attempting to keep his composure. "There are none left! They're all dead or in prison now. You keep pissing at phantoms while the real enemy is running around doing whatever the hell they want!"
The director put his face to his palm. "You'll get it sooner or later," he said. "If we start breaking up pro-white groups they'll come out of the woodwork and the next thing you know, we're a communist dictatorship. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. One day, Brantley, you'll get that. If you've got nothing else to report, I have some things I need to take care of."
"That's all, thank you," Brantley said quietly and flatly, ending the call.
So that was it? The cost of our so-called liberty- which had been crumbling since the days of McCarthy, lost entirely for a short time in the 2010s, and only partly restored in any fashion- was that the people had to live in terror from vigilantes under the tacit approval of the government?
No wonder he'd been the only one willing to take the case. He took his badge holder from his pocket and opened it, staring at the FBI badge inside. He'd been proud to get that badge; he had worked hard for it, gone through the ranks to become a senior field agent, and for what? An ideal that seemed less and less real every day.
He tore the badge from its holder, spat on it. He threw it on the floor, grinding the heel of his loafers into it with all his might. He threw it against a wall, denting the wall.
He picked up the badge again. Not a scratch on it.
The status quo could never be bent to his will; but Brantley knew that already, didn't he? His whole point in joining a federal government agency was the old trap: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
He'd denounced his friends to the authorities during martial law, watched them get carted off to prison, or the firing squad. He'd tried so hard to convince himself it was all for the greater good. But now the only luster in his job was the curiously unscathed chrome on his badge. What a waste. What a goddamned waste.
Brantley needed to take a walk and get his head around what he'd do with the rest of his life. This would be his last case; the bureau could go fuck itself.
He took the gun he'd gotten that morning- a Sig P229 chambered in .357- and tucked it into a holster under his jacket, hoping he wouldn't have to use it.
The hotel was in an old building, and had either been a hotel or an apartment building for a very long time. The front desk was right by the front door, an old-looking wooden one with a little hand bell, cubby holes and an old-fashioned punch clock on the wall.
"Sir! Someone gave this to me, said to hand it to you," the desk clerk said.
Brantley walked over to the desk. "Who gave you this?" he asked.
"Some guy, looked like he was in a hurry."
Brantley felt the envelope for explosives, smelled it, listened to see if he could hear powder rustling around inside. It probably wasn't a bomb or anthrax. Cautiously, he opened the envelope and pulled out a hand-written letter:
I am a former engineer and service technician with Venturi-Suisse North America and have personally serviced Sherlock 2150 units throughout the West Coast. I would like to remain Anonymous.
I found out recently that my lymphoma has returned and spread to most of my organs. I don't have much longer to live and I want my conscience clear.
First I must tell you that the Sherlock 2150 is a bio-engineered AI and as such, it can do anything- cognitively speaking- that a person can. It can learn, it can reason, it can feel, and it can process sensory input. Our initial tests in controlled environments were not adequate; once the units were released we found, in the field, that they began to interact with and learn from the attitudes and habits of the police they worked with even to the extent of developing the same irrational fears. Social assimilation and irrational thinking, in a strictly engineering sense, is part of these machines' self-preservation. What I mean to say is yes, our machines can not only lie to protect themselves, but they can become irrational and even racist, just like a child exposed to racism will become racist. Multnomah County's unit, in that sense, is like an exceptionally obedient and impressionable child would be in the same environment; a bigot, just as they raised him.
The Sherlock 2150 unit logs all state changes when a given piece of data is revised. In the logs you will find the type of change, the origin of the change, a date and time stamp for the change, and a reference number for the specific file involved in the change. This data is not kept in the main hard drive, but in a separate flash memory log chip on the mother board, hard-wired in such a way that it cannot be disabled without killing the biocomputer. This chip is a trade secret and one that Venturi-Suisse protects at all costs. If they find out I've told you, it won't be the cancer that gets me.
I have left a data card in a pill bottle at the base of one of the St. John's bridge pilings in Cathedral Park. It'll be buried with only the lid showing. The data card contains detailed instructions on how to retrieve data from the log chip. If you can get a warrant to search the drives, go for that.
Hopefully you're the first person to read this or some kid hasn't got hold of it. Destroy this letter, then hurry to the park.
Brantley tucked the letter into the front pocket of his shirt. "Thank you," he said to the desk clerk, then headed for the park.
* * *
It took three more days of arm-twisting and going over several people's heads before Brantley acquired a warrant to search the files on the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department's Sherlock unit.
When he arrived at the precinct to serve the warrant, he was greeted with the usual sneers and jeers.
A deputy was the first person he spoke to. The deputy- a woman of about thirty-five with raven hair- glared at him and said "What do you want?"
"I have a search warrant to upload files from the department's computers relevant to the Michael Redding case," Brantley replied.
"The sheriff's not in," the deputy replied flatly. "You're gonna have to come back when he's back, he won't be around for a few hours though."
"Don't give me that! Let me through or I've got you dead to rights for obstructing justice," Brantley replied.
The deputy nodded. "Right this way sir," she said, accompanying him to the room where the all-too-lifelike effigy of the dead detective sat, turning and lifting an eyebrow in the uncanny likeness of surprise.
Inside the office, the robotic likeness of Detective F. G. North sat, twiddling a pencil in an unnervingly natural way. Brantley had never gotten used to the tendency of advanced AIs and bioware to become bored.
"What is it now?" Detective North asked.
"I have a warrant to search your files," Brantley replied.
"Go ahead, you won't find anything," Detective North replied.
Brantley aimed his Omnax's camera at the computer control unit that sat inoccuously in the corner of the office. "Retrieve item lifelog.vsd," he said to the Omnax.
"Establishing connection... Retrieving file now, please wait," a voice said from the small handheld device. "File retrieved. What would you like to do with this file?"
"Save and send to evidence processing in Seattle," Brantley said.
"File sent. Thank you," the Omnax replied.
Detective north's mouth servos twisted upward into a diabolical grin. "You know you can't touch me, right?" he said. "Nothing in my files could ever convict me of anything because I did everything by the book."
"We'll see about that. Have a nice day," said Brantley.
* * *
"What do you mean whe can't do anything?"
Brantley had to hear this again. This seemed like an open and shut case to him.
"Look Brantley, I'll be honest with you. The most that will ever come of this is that Multnomah County's Sherlock unit will be suspended for a while. As a biocomputer we can't deactivate it without a judgement of guilt, it has the same rights you and I have," the director said, shifting slightly at his desk.
"That machine killed an innocent man!" Brantley growled.
"No more than a flesh and blood cop who fudges a report," the director said. "Obstructing justice is hardly a capital crime."
"What about the laws? This machine was in clear violation of the Asimov Code," Brantley demanded.
"The Asimov Code doesn't apply to law enforcement or government machinery," the director said. "You know that. If we did apply it to them, we couldn't have AIs in law enforcement to begin with and then our jobs would be harder."
Of course. Always make an exemption for the people most likely to abuse it, Brantley thought.
"What can we do then?" Brantley asked.
"We can order them to place their Sherlock unit on administrative leave. If we find any wrongdoing in our investigation then we can order the unit to be serviced by the manufacturer to prevent any defects," the director replied.
"There were no defects when the unit was serviced last month," Brantley replied, almost in tears. "The manufacturer refuses to acknowledge that these units are capable of wrongdoing. If we don't do something, this is going to happen again and again and innocent people are going to die!"
"My hands are tied," the director said coldly, spreading his arms and showing his palms as if to show the strings that didn't bind him, or the stigmata of righteousness he didn't have. "Now, I've got a lot to do today and I don't have a whole lot of time. Is there anything more you'd like to say or are we done here?"
Brantley pulled out his badge and his gun and dropped them noisily on the director's desk. "Goodbye," he muttered.
"What a waste," the director fumed as Brantley left for the last time. "What a goddamned waste."