Breaking Redfield — A prologue

CONTENT WARNING: Graphic descriptions of an active shooter scene and gun violence

Chris Noessel
Jun 7, 2018 · 23 min read

***

Hiding is tough when prey don’t understand the intelligence of the predator.

Officer Janet Chen opened her eyes but held onto the high school kids who pressed themselves close to her. “Hey. Shh. Listen.” Sarah and Seth cautiously uncovered their ears. After what had seemed like hours of near constant shots, the distant, echoing gunfire wasn’t there anymore. In the uncertain silence she could hear a dog barking. An infant wailing somewhere in the direction of the grocery store. Adults arguing or sobbing behind cars. Someone’s phone ringing, unanswered. But the gunfire wasn’t there. She reached her radio shoulder mic and squeezed it. “10–32. Shots stopped. What have you got?”

The three of them were sitting against the drive-up wall of a small concrete-block coffee kiosk in the middle of the pizzeria parking lot in a small town in Alabama. The kiosk was called the Java Pause. They had run here when the Memorial Day parade had unraveled in chaos at the start of the shooting.

They had luckily chosen the northern side to crouch against. Clarence Vaughn, the real estate agent, had thought that the eastern side was safer. He was right there next to them, one of dozens of bodies that they could see from where they were. Each had puddle of blood beneath them that was lopsidedly pooling downhill toward the river. Seth stared wide-eyed at the dead bald head just a few feet away and the meaty, gaping hole in the base of the skull. The blood was getting close to his marching band boots. He pulled his leg away from it.

A voice came crackling over the tinny radio. “I…I don’t hear anything here either. What the hell is happening?”

“Is this Matt? Where’s Kay? 10–32. Active shooter somewhere around the elementary school,” Jan said. “10–89. Officer Morales down. 10-double zero. All possible assistance. Repeat 10-double zero.”

“Holy shit,” Matt said after a pause. “Holy shit. Ok. We…uh…I don’t know where Kay is. I guess I’m going to be dispatch for this. I don’t…I don’t know the 10 codes.”

“OK, look, just talk. We’re IARD here, Matt. Get the response card. We need to locate the shooter. Are you in contact with anyone?”

“Pete called in. He was fishing at Moe’s Lake. He could hear it.”

“OK,” she said, “I’m going to see what I can learn but I’m presuming we’re still under fire. Get Pete on the ground. We need all possible assistance. Find out where the Sheriff’s office is, they should be monitoring.”

Jan released the mic and turned her attention to the kids. “Are you guys OK?”

“Yeah,” Sarah said. “I’m OK I guess. I don’t know where my dad went.” She pushed a wrist across her eyes, using a mass of friendship bracelets to soak up tears.

The younger boy, Seth, choked back a sob. “That guy’s dead. Is everybody dead?”

“A whole lot of people are,” Jan said, “but — look at me — we aren’t. We’re shaken, but alive. And we need to work together to stay that way, OK?” Seth wiped his nose on his sleeve, and agreed. She took stock of what they had. “Sarah, is that a selfie stick?”

“What? Oh, yeah,” she said and let out a sad laugh, “I thought the parade background might get a lot of likes. Stupid now.”

“It’s not stupid. Can I use it? And your phone? Mine’s dead.” She pulled it out of her pocket and held it up, pressing its power button a few times, to demonstrate.

“Uh, sure.” Sarah handed her the stick, and dug her phone from a pocket. “But my mom will probably call. Or Chloe. She’s my best friend.” She used her thumb to unlock and hand it over in one motion. Her desktop image was some cartoon duo Jan didn’t recognize.

Jan said, “It’s cool. I’ll hand it back if anyone calls.”

She mounted the phone on the selfie stick and started the video app. “Stay here,” she said, pointing to where they sat, “in the center of the wall. Think of it like he’s a searchlight and we want to stay hidden in the shadow of the building. But the searchlight may be moving, so the center of the wall is our best bet. Yes?” The kids nodded. She got up and stepped over Sarah. She tapped the phone and started recording. Kneeling, she extended the stick past the corner of the small building, slowly turning it up and down at different angles. Then she sat back down against the wall to review the video.

Sarah asked, “What are you looking for?”

“Where he might be hiding,” Jan said. “You can hear the sounds coming from the south, so he’s somewhere around the gas station, or park, or….” She played the video. She tried to look past the carnage and just register the information. She resisted the feeling in her stomach.

Sarah said, “Maybe on top of the elementary school? Could he climb up there?”

“There’s an old tree near the gym you can use.” Seth pointed in that direction. “If you can make the jump.”

Jan shook her head. “Maybe. But being on a roof would mean he’s exposed to being spotted or shot himself, once we get a helicopter in the air. My guess is he’s going to try to find some place he’s protected on all sides but one. But I don’t see anything. Maybe…maybe he set up a blind in the park trees?”

At that moment they heard the frrrrrak sound of a hail of bullets, some ringing against metal, and the shattering of the glass in the west window of the Java Pause. It snapped them back into panic. Seth and Sarah screamed and covered their ears. Jan flinched but reflexively reached an arm across the kids. Sarah shouted, “Shit!” Then, after a few breaths, she said “Sorry, Officer Chen.”

Another hail. Again the ring of metal, but this time the crack of bullets flying by, the sounds of bullets hitting sheet metal, and the pop-hiss of a tire somewhere out of sight. Jen said, looking in the direction of where she thought she heard the ricochets, “Sarah, if there was ever a circumstance where kids should be allowed to curse freely, this is fucking it.” Jan gave a wan smile and Sarah let out a nervous laugh.

The third hail came as the air was still escaping the tire. Again the ring of metal, and a chunks of cement exploded from the corner of the Java Pause near Seth.

He began to hyperventilate. “We’re not safe here. Not safe. Not safe.”

Jan was glancing in turn at the pizzeria windows, the glass in the parked cars. “Just let me figure out how he’s scoping us, Seth. Breathe until then. Work with me. Breathe.”

Sarah balled her fists and shouted, “Fuck you you fucking pig fucker asshole!”

The fourth hail included Sarah’s kill shot. The distant frrrrrak, the ring of metal, some chunks from the wall. One of the bullets tore through her neck. Because of the ricochet, it was deformed and tumbling end over end as it passed through her neck muscles and skull, scrambling her brain stem, turning it into a warm spray of wet red.

Seth took three shallow, shocked breaths, staring at Jan, with Sarah both spattered on his face and splayed across her lap. Jan saw his expression. She wiped his face with her sleeve and said, “Seth, no. Calm down. Breathe, soldier.” He stared at her for a second, and then scrambled up, turned, stumbled in his loose boots and barely recovered his footing as he bolted for the pizzeria. Jan shouted after him, “Drop drop drop!”

Seth made it to the door. He yanked its handle and shouted incoherently. Janet said, “Seth! Listen to me. You need to come back. They’re not coming to the door. They are hiding.”

She watched Seth turn and look towards the south, and then back at her. As he turned to shift his weight and run back, a single bullet entered through his open mouth and tore through the back of his throat into his brain stem, killing him. His body, in its oversized hand-me-down purple and golden band uniform, slumped to the mat.

Jan stared at his body across the rows of parking lot. She felt her heartbeat threatening to overcome her. Her ears were hot and she was beginning to feel sweat run down her back and she was focused on solving the problem. Can’t stay. She thought. Can’t go. How’s he doing this? She tried to control her breathing. Eyes on the ball, Chen. How he’s doing this? She heard another attack of gunfire and dropped to the ground reflexively.

How’s he doing this? She knew she had about six seconds. She had counted the space between the prior shots.

Looking up from the ground she noticed the convex mirror mounted high on the corner of the Java Pause. In its silver face she could see a warped view of the Jackson Street curve with its litter of bodies, the green arc of the park and the trees, the thin ribbon of river, a hint of the farmland beyond, and the clear blue May skies, cut by the black arc of the nearby parking light pole.

You are kidding me, she thought.

Her hand went to her holster, flipped open the thumb break, retrieved and aimed the weapon. She was a good shot. It landed. She’d expected it to shatter, but it didn’t. Cheap. Fucking. Plastic, she thought as she fired three more bullets. The mirror fell in chunks, with only a thin cracked edge still in its mount.

Now try, asshole.

She holstered her gun, then grabbed Sarah’s corpse by the armpits and said, “Sorry, Sarah.” She placed the body as a meat shield between her and the pole. The exit wound was still draining, and lying there, it began to pool around Chen’s shoulder. The copper smell filled her nostrils. At this point, she guessed, she’d wasted maybe three seconds. Four one thousand. Five one thousand.

***

Chairman Greene tapped his microphone several times. “Can we stop the play by play? Stop, please?” Cameras turned towards him. Several flashes went off.

“Yes, Senator?”

“May I note for the record that it has just been made clear that she saved herself with her firearm?”

Doctor Khanna looked to the Senator over the rims of her glasses. “We have not been given enough time to allow interruptions, Mr. Chairman. But I must say it is my team’s conclusion that Officer Chen was in little danger at this time.”

“No danger?” Greene let out an incredulous half-laugh, “This thing was shooting children around corners. How is that ‘no danger’?”

“The Redfield AI was trained on the town’s public-facing Facebook profile pictures. At the time it was switched on, this…” she leaned and whispered something to her postgrad assistant, who dutifully worked their laptop, “…had been Chen’s public profile picture for the better part of a year.”

The screen showed a picture of a summer scene, taken from over Chen’s right shoulder. She was wearing a baseball cap, sitting in a boat, face turned away from the camera, looking out over a small lake at sunset. Her left hand held a beer. A fishing pole was in a rod holster around her waist, and her right hand was giving a thumbs up.

“As you can see, there was insufficient information here. She had her security preferences locked down. No one else could tag her in pictures. As a result, the AI did not have a model of her face. And it had plenty of higher-confidence targets.”

He picked up and flapped a thick document for the benefit of the cameras. “Your report indicates that several non-residents were included in the casualties. Surely the thing did not ‘train’ on them. It shot whoever it saw.” He let the report fall to the table with a thud.

“You keep thinking of it like it was a person,” Khanna said. “But this is wrong. It was a neural network. A…a set of complex algorithms. It worked against priorities and fired when it had high confidence across a set of variables. Officer Chen’s Afro-Asian features were a statistical outlier amongst the overwhelmingly Caucasian population, and so she did not match its models.”

“Are you saying the machine was racist?”

“People are racist, Senator Greene.” She held his gaze. “For this AI, it’s more precise to say that its training led it, in the daytime, to highly favor Caucasian faces. Hers was not. So, to your earlier comment, it was not her gun that saved her.”

“I excelled at my political philosophy studies, Doctor,” Greene shot back, “I do not need to be fed a primer on the nuances of Aristotelian ethics. What I mean to say is that she believed she had saved her own life, and this gave her hope to carry on in the face of overwhelming tragedy. That is the gift her firearm bestowed.”

“That may be true,” Khanna said, “but I must submit that it is also a gun that gave her the need for hope in the first place.”

He leaned into his microphone. “We’ve had weapons since the founding of this great country. The only new thing I can see in this scenario is an artificial intelligence pulling the trigger, Doctor. Let’s not forget that as we move forward with our inquiry.”

***

The next shot happened just after she completed her count to six, but it wasn’t targeting her. She flinched, hearing the glass in the pizzeria shatter and then the sound of the distant gun. Another followed it very quickly. She presumed it had hit someone in the restaurant since she heard a woman scream from within. Another shot and the scream went silent.

She heard a chair being shoved across tile, and then scrambling footfalls. From her position she could just glimpse movement of someone moving out of view of the shattered window to take cover behind the door. There was the woodpecker sound of bullets striking the exact same spot, boring a hole through the wood. Then a body slumping to the floor. Seth’s body outside and whoever that was inside, weird mirror images of each other. One falling indoors, the other falling out. Only bullets using the doorway as a passage.

Off to her left she heard a car start and tires screech. It came into view briefly as it backed into a light pole. It was big mustache Gary Fischer, she saw, in the shiny black Charger he had restored in his front lawn. He was making a break for it. She had arrested him for drunk driving a little over a year ago. When she was guiding his head into the back seat of her squad car, he’d called her the worst thing.

Godspeed, Gary, she thought.

He briefly glanced her way and saw her looking at him. He stared at her for half a second. Deciding something, maybe. Then he shifted into drive, and turned his face away, looking south. He was wearing a Barons cap, and for some reason her attention fixated on it. The familiar swooping red cursive logo. The tires screeched as he slammed the pedal to the floor and sped out of her sight. She heard gross thuds, which she realized must be the car going over bodies.

A second later she heard a long report from the gun, tempered glass shattering, and the heavy crunch of the Charger hitting a parked car. The parked car’s alarm began its eeeee-ooooo cycle. Gary’s horn blared for a second, then let off.

Someone a few streets over had the same idea, and she heard another engine grumble to life. An older one than the Charger, more torque but less speed. Maybe a truck. The shooter seemed to start to focus on that part of town, and she figured she was probably out of danger for the moment. As the sounds of massacre and panic and machines continued relentlessly, she rolled Sarah’s body away from her.

She pushed herself up to a sitting position with her back against the wall. She looked at the girl’s staring dead blue eyes for a second and gingerly pulled her eyelids closed as she squeezed her shoulder mic. “10–32…I mean, Matt, he’s active again. What have you got?”

“Pete’s not here yet. Dave is holed up with a dozen people at the hardware store. The Sheriff’s office and State said they’re sending everyone, blocking the roads, and are scrambling a helicopter to start looking for him. It’ll take maybe 20 minutes to get here. What’s your situation?”

“Still behind the Java Pause. Alone now. He got both kids. Gary Fischer, too, and some folks in Papa Louie’s. I think I’m stuck in place. He targets anyone making a break for it. He’s got to be a sharpshooter. He nails people in the same place every time, base of the skull. Scoped us in a mirror and banked shots right off a pole. He even got someone through a door. This guy has to be military, right?”

“Ooh that’s bad. OK. I’ll Google who to call for a list of vets in the area,” Matt said. “Hey, Chen. You OK?”

“We avoid needless chatter on the radio, Matt,” she said. But she was feeling helpless. Like Lot’s wife, she thought. I can’t even look towards the problem. She had spent her life making sure that she was not helpless, and here she was, trapped.

Matt said, “We just need to get you out of there. The lines are going crazy here. Hang on.”

She let the mic go and sat. She heard seven shots. Three of them were rapid fire. The infant’s grating screech suddenly halted. She felt a relief, and then guilt for feeling relief. More glass shattering. Up the street she could see a body lying in the grocery store doorway, where the motion sensitive doors were cycling: closing because they detected no motion, and then opening because they hit the body, and then doing it all over again. Down the street she heard sobbing and screams. Someone’s phone delivering an unanswered alarm. She was starting to find it hard to actually swallow. She was thirsty. They probably had water in the Java Pause right behind her, but it might as well be in Australia.

Sarah’s phone rang in Jan’s hand. The big text on screen read, “Mom 🙄”. Her throat closed and her eyes welled as she reached over to use Sarah’s thumb to answer.

***

Senator Groesbeck turned on her mic. “Mr. Chairman, may I use some of my time? Yes? I have a question. How do we know so much detail, given that these subjects passed away over the course of these events, and the AI was wiped from the EMP? Surely we can interrogate neither a dead mind nor a blank drive, can we?”

Thank you Denise, Khanna thought. I could use a softball question. These answers were in the report she had prepared — and Khanna was confident that Groesbeck had read it in its entirety herself, not forwarded it to counsel for summary — but they both knew it was important to get this bit on camera for the public.

“We have pieced the events together from several sources. The video feeds in town, both the unsecured ones the AI was monitoring and CCTV. Public phone records. The police dispatch recordings.” Greene moved as if to interrupt. Khanna raised a finger and said, “But there is more. In the mediastorm that erupted after the Redfield massacre, much attention was given to the live social media posts that the AI made of the event while it was happening. You may have heard them called the ‘snuff tweets’. If you are lucky enough to have not seen them, they included the person’s name if they had been recognized, the exact time the killing shot was delivered, a video clip from its high resolution camera of the moment of death, and the hashtag #thismustend.

“But our team believes the snuff tweets were only bait, there to draw the world’s attention. It is the thousands of posts that preceded the snuff tweets that were the actual point.

“Put together, these tweets are a how-to manual. It includes instructions for 3D printing the parts of a similar, untraceable ‘ghost gun’. It includes options for using most types of off-the-shelf, readily available firearms if you don’t care for anonymity. It includes swarm APIs for drones to assemble the weapon nearly anywhere. It includes the code for the sniper AI and strategies for picking ‘ideal’ vantage points.”

“No motive? No manifesto?”

“No.”

Groesbeck put her hand to her temple. “So this how-to manual is now available to the public.”

“Twitter hid the account as soon as they realized what it was, but by that time copies had made it to the dark web. So, yes. It’s as good as public. Anyone with determination, a few weeks studying YouTube, around 5,000 dollars, and easy access to guns can copycat the worst massacre in our nation’s history. I trust it’s clear here that everyone in America has easy access to guns.”

She stared at the panel for six seconds and waited for some reply to fill the chamber. None came.

“If that answers your question, Senator, we will continue.”

***

The sun had set and Jan was enjoying the drop in temperature. In the twilight skies she could see some clouds building in the east. Maybe rain later, she thought. She was braiding and unbraiding a forelock. It was an hour since the helicopter was shot down, but she could still smell the oil smoke. Shots were only coming every few minutes or so. Everyone must be dead or burrowed in, she thought. Matt had kept her up to date on events as best he could, but a call had come in telling them about Scott, and so Matt had to handle talking to the media and coordinating the Sheriff’s office and State. Seems they’d finally settled on a safe height for searching, but of course it made things harder to look for a man from higher up, and harder still when the light was fading. At least news copters could join in with searchlights.

The katydid sounds seemed to start all at once. Their drone was a comfort. They made her think about the cold beer she was supposed to be having about right now with Matt, sitting on a patio. Leaning back in a chair. Maybe waiting on nachos. Watching a game and arguing, again, about whether the designated hitter is a good thing. She thought about the color of beer in bar lights, the smooth carbonation on her tongue. She closed her mouth and tried to moisten it, but it didn’t work.

In the twilight, a sensor on a nearby billboard tripped, and its lights flickered to life. She rolled her head to look at it. She’d seen it a hundred times before, but now she had nothing but time to spend with it. One of the flood lights shined down on Emeril Hagan’s big, dumb smile, showing off his perfect teeth. No-pain dentistry my ass, she thought. That was the worst thing I have ever —

Her thought was cut off as she heard a pow and saw a chunk of Dr. Hagan’s printed neck shot away. Was he shooting at the billboard? Moron, she thought. It’s obviously a sign. You’re the world’s greatest sharpshooter, and you’re shooting at wood. Dumbass.

It’s obviously a sign.

She thought of its lights flickering on moments before. She thought of the alarm going off in the car Gary hit. She thought of the grocery store door, banging over and over into a corpse.

Jan sat up straight and blinked a few times with what she was thinking. She pulled her firearm back out of its holster, and balanced it on her knee. She lined up the sights and squeezed the trigger with the tip of her finger. The first shot didn’t land, but the second one did, and the bulb shattered. Hagan’s face dimmed. With a few more tries, she managed to shoot out each of the bulbs, until the billboard was completely dim again. She waited a moment, and pulled the flashlight off her duty belt. She shined it on Hagan’s face and counted to six. The hole in Hagan’s neck chipped a bit wider with the shot, and she heard the distant pow. Flashlight off. Wait. On. Six. Pow.

She thumbed off her flashlight and sat staring at the dim rectangle of the billboard.

Son of a gun.

She grabbed her shoulder mic. “Matt. Matt are you there? It’s not a he. It’s an it. It’s a goddamn machine.”

“What? What are you talking about? How…?”

“I don’t know, Matt, but we’ve been looking for the wrong thing. Get someone on the phone who knows something about robots, I’ll tell them what I know.”

***

“I should pause here to clarify something,” Khanna said. “Officer Chen used the term ‘robot’ and this may lead the panel to imagine something humanoid, like the Terminator from the movies. But the sniper robot is comparatively mundane in construction. Here I’ll need to hand it to Agent Iker Guzman, of the FBI.”

Guzman stood up, nodded to the committee, and began pointing to the large screen. “What you see here is the actual setup from Redfield, a photo taken by an agent after the EMP and the sweep. This is a modified AR-15, mounted to a high-end picometer tilt and pan mount, here. These wires are the electronic trigger. This device is what it looks like, a very high resolution, off-the-shelf video camera. Only the filter was removed to give it night vision. That is the controller box holding the sniper AI, its battery, and a compact solar panel for recharging. That other box contained a cellular network card to access the Internet and various data streams. Here and running off camera is the absolutely massive belt. At the time of the EMP, there were still about 500 rounds remaining. The weight is enormous and we’re still trying to figure out how the perpetrator lifted it into place.” He looked to Khanna, who who nodded at him.

Chairman Greene said to the agent, “We have what, half a dozen of pieces of expensive equipment here, and your department, with the massive budgets it has at its disposal, hasn’t managed to find hide nor hair of this terrorist? This extremist?”

“Not yet.” Guzman said. “Though we know the components were purchased or made in the U.S., the Redfield programmer covered his tracks very, very well. I believe we will cover this in a later testimony. We are still looking, but at present the individual—or group’s—identity and motives remain unknown.”

***

“OK, Jan. I’ve got a computer and robotics expert from Berkeley on the phone. He says if you’re right, we can probably get you out of there. You can fool it by covering your face with a mask. But he says it can’t be like a Halloween mask. You want to look not human at all. Like a modern art painting. He said maybe covering one eye with something reflective, or making sure there’s a big diagonal line across your nose. What do you have to work with?” Matt said.

Chen took stock. “I’ve got my safety vest here from the parade. That’s got reflective parts.” She had taken it off earlier in the heat, but picked it up and began to look at what she could do with it. She turned her flashlight on and set it down beside her as a work light.

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I need out of here.”

“OK,” Matt said. “He wants to send you some examples. You still got that kid’s cell?”

“Yes. Hey. Her name was Sarah.”

On it she received a text from the Berkeley professor, introducing himself as Walt Burgess. He followed the text with some pictures of people with weird makeup, high contrast hair in strange configurations, and asymmetrical shapes across their faces. Another text asked her to send a picture of her mask for him to test. The pictures he sent barely made any sense, but she took out her Leatherman and cut the vest into a weird mask all the same.

When she was done she took a selfie with it on, and sent it to Burgess. He said he was going to run it through a couple of high end face-detection programs. While she waited on his response, she took the mask off and made another selfie of just her face. She looked at it. Damn, Jan, she thought, you look tired. After a few minutes he sent a simple text to her reading, “Looks good. Nothing I have recognizes that image as a face.”

Chen opened the photo app and filled the screen with the picture of herself in the mask. She turned the brightness to full. She slipped the phone in the selfie stick, and slid over to the corner of the wall. She stuck the phone out on the stick and waved it up and down a bit. She braced for the shock she would feel if a shot kicked it out of her hand. She counted to six. Nothing. She blinked. Nothing.

She pulled it back and swiped forward to the unmasked selfie. She extended the phone again, waved it a bit, and held it…Four. Five. At six the phone cracked and the stick went flying; shot, like she expected, out of her grip and skittering across the pavement.

She shook her hand to work off the pain. “It’s going to work, Matt,” she said to the mic. “Sarah’s phone is toast, though.”

OK. Let’s do this. Batter up, Chen.

She tied the mask back into place and stood up. She heard Matt say, “See you in a few, Jan.”

With one hand on the warm cement wall, she stepped from the protection of the Java Pause, facing south, eyes and body clenched for impact. She held her breath.

After the longest six seconds of her life, she dared to let herself breathe and opened her eyes. Before her stretched the long twilit view south, over the hundreds of bodies of the townsfolk littering the Jackson Street curve, each with nearly identical bullet wounds. Each of them connected by black pools that mingled together their dead memories and dead fears as the blood crept toward the river, curving with the curbs, flowing towards the sewers, all of it reflecting street lights like after a rain.

She stared past it all to the south. Where was the damned thing? Not the park. Not the river. Further south? Just farmland. Not the power plant. Then her attention fell to the aircraft warning lights on the tall cell tower in the distance. She stared with her unmasked eye for a long while at their serene winking, and the tiny pinpoint reflections of them in the carnage. The red lights swelled on, held, and faded off. On and off. She matched her breath to it. A breeze, the first she could recall on that day, shifted the heavy copper and smoke smell in the air briefly to Dogwood. “It’s on the tower,” she said to herself.

Matt’s voice broke the silence over the radio. “Jesus, Jan. Come on. You OK?” She snapped back as if from a trance. “I’m here,” she said. “Tell Burgess it can’t see me. The mask thing worked…And Matt, I think the robot is on the cell tower. It’s there. Send them there.”

“You’re OK! Nice! Nice. I’ll spread the word about the tower,” he said.

That was it. She’d won. She’d beat it. She released her grip on the mic and felt her hand trembling. She took a breath and felt it stagger in her lungs. She heard blood rushing in her ears and a felt like, if she just willed it, she could lift off the ground and fly. “YOU GOT THAT?” She screamed, her legs suddenly weak and tears welling in her eyes. “I HAVE BEAT YOU.” She took a step away from the wall. She unholstered her gun, shaking. She inhaled deeply. Walking forward she let out a long, deep-throated scream while firing shots south, toward the pulsing lights. Spent, she stopped, shook her head as if clearing it, and reached up to her shoulder mic.

***

“It was at this point that a .223 caliber bullet, one of thousands fired by the AI that day, ripped through her improvised mask, at the point of her maxilla, tearing through her head to the medulla oblongata, killing her instantly.”

Khanna looked down, took a moment, and gathered herself.

“The night mode of the Redfield AI had a much lower threshold than the daytime mode, so her features no longer protected her. But the AI still required confidence across multiple variables. The mask alone might have worked had she stayed silent. But when she began to shout, and fire her weapon, it increased the algorithm’s confidence a few points. Then, finally, when she moved forward, she stepped into view of the security camera of the Tasty-Freeze establishment across Jackson street. It was one of the unsecured feeds being monitored by the algorithm. This second view showed her body in silhouette, and raised the confidence level significantly enough to enable prediction targeting and trigger the kill shot that resulted in Chen’s death.”

Doctor Khanna removed her glasses, folded them, and placed them on the table before her next to her microphone.

“Despite her death,” she said, “Officer Chen’s realization informed the FBI’s successful tactic of targeting the cell tower with the EMP blast that ultimately took out the AI. Though Redfield is over, we still face this threat today. We all owe her a debt of thanks for discovering the nature of this beast.”

Greene cleared his throat and said, “Unfortunately, we are out of time and cannot entertain any further questions. Thank you, Dr. Khanna,” he said, turning and handing her report to his staffer.

Khanna looked at the panel, each of them looking down and shuffling papers. She leaned into the microphone so her voice would be loud enough to interrupt them. “Senators, I’m sorry. I have to say. Should I walk out of these chambers and make my way through the protesters to the steps of our capitol, I won’t be looking in fear across the street at the windows of the Rayburn House, or even toward the roof of the National Gallery. I’ll be thinking of myself in a robot’s crosshairs coming from the tip of the Washington Monument, a mile away, on the far side of the mall. Does that put any of what’s changed in perspective?”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Khanna,” The Chairman said, “But as I told you, your time is up.” He looked down to his agenda. “The committee will break for votes and when we return, we will welcome to the panel a witness from the esteemed National Rifle Association.”

Chris Noessel

Written by

Chris is a 20+ year UX veteran, author, and public speaker. He delights in finding truffles in oubliettes. Tip me in coffee at ko-fi.com/chris_noessel.

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