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Short Story Contest #1: Unasked for, a [...] arrives.

There's a knock on my hotel room door.
A knock.

The Al-Farooqi isn't the top of luxury, but their security and comms always work without a hitch.
After all, that's the main reason people like me even stay here.

The knocking sounds impatient, urgent.
The rapping is sharp, loud and the beats come in quick succession.
Five knocks, and then silence.

At my prompt, the Coretechs blinks: 207.01/02:043

I put down the slate with "The Gods Themselves", still displaying page 12 after several segments of repeated attempts to absorb it.
Hasn't put me to sleep yet - which was my original aim - but then I decided that I would read it no matter what.
I relish the challenge - plus, one of the classics simply cannot be allowed to go unread.

As I press the "Display" button on the room's comm which is supposed to show the feed from the camera above my room's door, I'm not too surprised to see only static.
One can buy a jammer over the counter on most stations, and with only a few segments of querying on all others.

All right then...

My amygchip holds some code which is not readily apparent - I'm sure the local security would be mighty interested in it.
DZ, SAG and Freebooters would definitely be willing to kill for it.
The potential for abuse, however, is too great for me to risk revealing my toys to the "authorities" or the bad guys.
Anyone, really.

Time to get to work.

A few seconds later I can see the entire camera network on my floor.
All cameras report normal status, only mine reports "input lost".
Choosing the cameras above the room doors across from mine, to the left, and to the right, I only see an empty corridor.

Time to go deeper.

Selecting each camera in turn, I send a brief spoof loop of the stationary camera image to the security feeds while moving the camera a bit to see if it is not already being fed another spoof loop from someone else.
The images react normally.


Either there's no spoof on them and my camera is just jammed with a shot-range EMP emitter... or the spoof is much more sophisticated.
Seeing as someone has apparently chosen to disturb a Mall in her hotel room in the middle of the night, I'd wager the perp isn't too smart - and, by extension, probably not smart enough to pull off such a sophisticated spoof.
That also means that I might be able to pull their footage out of the security recordings, but such action carries a bit more risk than I believe to be worth it, considering the current situation.

Or, on the other hand, it could be a highly professional operation... but who would be willing to go after me at such a high cost?

There are no records, no traces of my previous life.
Official inquiries, bribes, even specialized hackers have all failed to produce a single scrap of information about me.
At first, I poured all my resources into finding out who I am, who my parents were, and how did they manage to get an apparently unregistered ship as simple traders - without raising any alarms.
I gave up after roughly twenty cycles.

Then I realized the potential of being able to move "off the grid" and created my first (and to date, the only) official persona.
The unofficial ones... well, let's just say that quite a few "me"s are living quiet, boring lives on several different stations, paying their bills on time and causing no trouble.
I can put on the persona I want within a few seconds, complete with skin pigmentation, scars and tattoos, even fingerprints, irises and retinas, and disappear.

I have no idea where I got the abilities, and I suspect they came from the same place or person as my amygchip buddy.
The only thing I found was a short unidentifiable text file which became active on my 16th birthday (at least I suppose it was my birthday, and my original physical body was, at that time, supposed to be around 16 years old).
It provided precious little information - my parents apparently helped someone very rich and powerful, and in return they expressed their gratitude by putting a software "seed" in my amygchip while I was still an infant.

The file went on to provide a detailed description of a procedure to activate something I haven't heard of before - or since, and nobody I have been able to contact is even aware of the possibility of such a construct existing.
It's an A.I. which is self-aware, capable of learning, and distributed over many networks, maintaining its integrity through multiple redundancies and FTL communication.

I call it "buddy".
...well, what would you expect from a sixteen-year old who spent the last nine years studying and training, most of the time all by herself?

In time, "she" has developed a personality which complements me as a companion, not just a tool.
I am no longer alone.

It seems that there is no limit to her potential and abilities.
Building and augmenting biological nanobots and wetware through her interface with my Coretechs and amygchip is one of the impossible ones - impossible, that is, for apparently everyone but her.
She can even create a digital "mirage" of my persona which will keep showing up on all surveillance and security equpiment - even being seen by other people as long as they have retinal display capacity.
This, again, should not be possible...

I zoom in the opposite room's camera - and there it is, a small metallic looking hemisphere stuck to my room's camera.
Looks like a pretty run-of-the-mill short-range EMP jammer.
But I never considered caution to be a waste of effort.

Time for the next step, then.

Buddy can modulate my Coretechs to act as a powerful and extremely detailed scanner, and that's what I do now.
I'll pay for it later with a beast of a headache - still, better than losing my head entirely.
There seems to be no trace of explosives or toxins in the device, and the corridor remains empty.
Buddy and I nudge the room door to open just a crack (another thing which shouldn't be possible) and I take the jammer off the camera. The image on the room comm comes back instantly.

Okay, that's done.

Now what?

Why would anyone go through the trouble of jamming my camera and knocking on my door in the middle of the night for no apparent purpose?

Disassembling the jammer provides no further clues, except that whoever built it was probably a professional, churning them out by the dozen.
The case is printed, the electronic components assembled from modular sub-components, widely available and impossible to either trace or attribute to a specific purpose.
The architecture is minimalistic, not a single module more than is absolutely necessary.

Modular tech is a nightmare for investigators.
I have a number of stashes of sub-modules of varying rarity and usefulness myself, strewn all over accessible space and my ships... very handy.
I hear of increasing pressure on manufacturers to abandon the principle and only build entire components, not sub-modules.
But whenever the DZ - or SAG - try to pressure HWT or another mega-corp, it results in cycles and cycles of back-and-forth, most often simply ending up in the same spot as before.
I'm not too worried... yet.

Back to the matter at hand.

Accessing Coretechs again, I see that the knock came at 02:038 - just two segments after "midnight". I like some old expressions, and this one is one of my favorites.
What's the date today, again?

Recycling Day.
How haven't I realized it right away?
Well, at least it kept me on my toes.
Good thing this body is not prone to ulcers, though.

It would be a considerable challenge finding out who left the "present" - security recordings are protected a lot better than the physical cameras.
Should I just... let it go?

I'm all about the challenge, after all.

And I'm curious to find out who the "benefactor" was.
Maybe there's a client in the making around here somewhere.

Time to send buddy on her first autonomous hunt.
It will give her yet another chance to learn and develop further.


Plus, "The Gods Themselves" won't read itself.