Untitled (Ehy)

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Green Rock Beach was that rarest of rarities: a perfect little spot that had somehow avoided being "discovered." Perhaps it was the name: a beach covered with green rocks didn't sound particularly appealing. But in fact the beach was perfect sand; the "green rock" was the grassy bluff overlooking the beach from a few hundred feet away. There were three cottages atop the bluff - real cottages, not the miniature mansions that the rich and ostentatious liked to call cottages. They were far enough apart from each other to give their owners privacy, far enough from town to be dark and quiet at night.

On this particular night it was dark, but not quiet. Hutch had chosen a stormy night - a night when security systems would be operating at their least effective. He didn't mind getting wet. He did mind getting caught.

He flicked off the headlights of his battered pickup just before rounding the turn that would take him into sight of the three cottages. Each of them was sure to have an android keeping watch on the premises, and if any of them were running the IPM Property Guard security program, it would notice an unexplained source of light even during a storm. IntelliServe Watchman wouldn't pose a threat - in a storm like this, it would reduce an android's watchfulness so it wouldn't go to alert over every lightning strike - and the android guardians were much more likely to be running Watchman than Property Guard. As usual, the better product was being beaten in the market by the one with better advertising. Still, it never hurt to be careful.

He pulled up near the first cottage, on the far side of a hedge. An android looking out the window could conceivably still spot the truck in a flash of lightning, but she'd need faster light compensation and better visual discriminators than most consumer bots had. He left the floats active so the truck's feet wouldn't leave a recognizable print in the mud. In this storm, he didn't have to worry about the engine hum being heard. He gathered his equipment and stepped out of the truck.

His boots splashed in the mud, and cold water drenched him almost immediately. The roar of the ocean made hearing impossible, even without the occasional rumble of thunder. But that all worked in Hutch's favor. He paused a moment to savor the wildness of nature, then got down to business.

The first thing he did was to walk around the cottage, looking in the windows. There were lights on inside, of course. That was just to scare off intruders dumber than Hutch. He knew there weren't any people there now, and wouldn't be for months. There'd be an android, maybe two, but that was fine. That was even the point.

There was an android, all right... and a very nice one at that. She stood in the living room, motionless, facing the wide picture window. Her straight blonde hair draped smoothly down just a few inches past her shoulders. It contrasted beautifully with the sky-blue cropped blouse she wore, exposing several inches of perfectly smooth artificial skin above her tight black jeans. Her face was oval and smooth, giving the impression of a girl about twenty years old. She stood with a patient smile on her full lips. Her right arm hung loosely at her side, while her left hand was just slightly outstretched. One long leg was posed just in front of the other - alluring without being excessively sexy.

Hutch recognized her immediately. An IPM Laurel, two years old. Model number EN-T-fifty-something. A companion model, not a dedicated guardian. That didn't mean she couldn't cause him trouble, but it did make things easier.

She didn't move. He waited. There was no hurry - nobody was going to come interrupt him. He needed to know more about her reactions, and he had plenty of time to find out. Rain flickered as it fell into the rectangle of light streaming from the picture window.

Lightning flashed. The android didn't move. That was good - she wasn't running Property Guard. If she had been, she would have looked around after the flash. So she was either running Watchman, or she was powered down completely.

He moved closer to the cottage, to the side wall. Along the way he reached down and picked up a handful of mud in his glove. He could see the android through a window there too, but she was facing the front window, so she wouldn't see him. Not until she turned, at least. Hutch squeezed around behind the bushes, pitch the glob of mud sideways against the window.

Counting seconds to himself, he waited. He knew what Watchman would make her do. She would immediately come out of standby - one second for an IPM - and look at the window he'd just hit. Three seconds to look for movement. Then she'd walk over and look out more carefully... there. Her silhouette cast by the living room light was clearly visible on the ground. She was active.

After fifteen seconds, the shadow turned and moved out of view. The alert would cause the android to begin a pattern of checking the whole cottage. She wouldn't come outside - especially in the rain - but he didn't know what her pattern would be or when she might look out which window. But in a little while - probably about ten minutes, for a cottage of this size - she would relax again and return to stand-by mode until something caught her attention again. He decided to wait fifteen minutes, just to be safe.

Now that he knew part of what he was facing, he could prepare his tools properly. He pulled out his hacked universal remote, and switched it on. He configured it for an IPM EN-T-5x series. He wished he knew if the Laurel was a low-fifties or high-fifties model - the control codes changed slightly with the 57. The decoder remote could figure it out on its own, of course, but it would take a few seconds, and that could--

There was something else moving out in the rain.

He resisted the urge to run - that would only draw attention to him. Hidden here behind the bushes he was about as invisible as he could be. He couldn't see what had caught his attention - it must be on the other side of the bush. He looked around, moving only slowly, until he spotted a blur of pale yellow. Blonde hair. The android.

It only took him a second to change plans. He didn't know why the android had come outside - no commercial security program he knew of for a companion android would make her do that - but she had, and if her eyes were good enough she'd see him in a moment. Would they be? It wasn't likely, but then, it wasn't likely she'd come outside. But if he tried to hack into her before setting up the signal jammer and didn't get lucky, she'd be able to send an alert before he could shut her down.

The blonde android looked around. She was facing his direction now. In the dark he was all but invisible, but if there was a lighting flash, a good pair of eyes would pick him out easily. He reached into his utility pouch with his left hand - his movement would have made him easier for a human or animal to spot, but android eyes worked differently. If she couldn't see him when he didn't move, she wouldn't see him if he did.

There was no lightning. His fingers closed on the little jamming pod. The android was only six or eight feet away, well within the jammer's range. He flicked it on with his left hand, then immediately pressed the "scan" button on the hacked remote with his right.

"Intruder! Stop immediately and leave the premises!" She had a pretty voice, Hutch observed, otherwise ignoring her calls. There was no chance of anyone hearing her over the storm. A yellow light flashed on the jammer, letting him that the android was trying to make contact with a phone service, but the jammer would prevent that, as long as she stayed within its fifteen-foot range. That would give the decoder time to find the right codes to deactivate her.

The android looked around wildly, trying to find him, but failing. He looked back and forth between the decoder and the android. The decoder was working, but it could take time - up to a minute, if he was unlucky. There was no way he could speed it up --

The android was moving! Walking briskly away from him - trying to get out of range of his decoder or jammer, and it would work, too. He cursed under his breath. There was nothing for it - he had to follow her. He couldn't let her get far enough from the jammer to get an emergency signal out. He extricated himself from the bushes, stood up, and followed the android, keeping the decoder pointed at her.

She was watchful, still trying to spot the source of the interference with her systems. It wasn't long before she turned around and saw him.

"Intruder! You are trespassing on private property!"

Yeah, yeah... the android couldn't hurt him; a companion android wasn't strong enough or fast enough to fight, and it wasn't going to scare him off. But for some reason, instead of fleeing or waiting, this one was coming toward him!

"I have already recorded your features and will provide them to the police..."

Surprised, it didn't even occur to him to back away from her. He had no idea what she was going to do now - no android he'd ever run into had behaved like this.

"The penalty for unauthorized tampering with..."

She reached out and grabbed the decoder right out of his hand just as a green light flashed on it. Finally snapping out of his astonishment, he jabbed the bright red "Off" button.

"The police have-- No--"

The android froze, her voice cutting off in mid-vowel. After a moment, her head tilted down just a few degrees, and her hand - still holding the decoder remote - dropped perhaps half an inch.

No matter how good its programming, a deactivated android is helpless.

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