Mad Crab Mojave: Chapter 45

In which Jones is offered a lifeline

Jones stood up shakily and went into the bathroom. He blew his nose with toilet paper. His mucous was thick and bloody. He looked in the mirror. The skin on his forehead was dry, and starting to flake. His lips were cracked. His throat was cracked. The mercury was starting to rise again. Jones didn't know if he was breathing or swallowing. The dust seeping in through every crack made it hard to tell. No matter how much water he drank, it just came right back out through his skin, a useless contribution to the air. 

Jones felt the void yawning up inside him. He now knew why Mad Crab stole the military-grade quantum supercomputer, and what they would do with it. He still didn’t know where it was. Time was running out. Needles was small, boring, and crawling with cyborgs, and he wasn’t sure how much longer Agent Moss would pay to keep the TV turned off in his motel room. BeyondMelinda certainly knew that he was in Needles, and what he was up to. He’d run into too many members of Mad Crab for her not to notice him. The only reason that nothing had happened to him, he realized, was that his investigation was completely useless. 

He called Agent Moss. She picked up after ten rings, and as usual, didn’t bother with pleasantries.

“Have you found that computer?”

“I’m stuck,” Jones pleaded. “I’m completely against the wall. You can’t give me a lead? Intelligence? Anything? Where’s Marvin?”

“Marvin is still using his PTO.” Agent Moss paused, then relented. “Let me give you a number to call.There’s a program out of DARPA that might help you. This is an internal service, so please don’t share it.”

“I won’t,” promised Jones. “Thank you.”

“Good luck,” said Agent Moss. “And don’t call me again until you find that quantum supercomputer!” She hung up. A few moments later, a message from Agent Moss flashed on his screen. He dialed. The phone rang once.

“Hello,” a woman’s voice said. The voice was young, energetic, and vaguely European.

“This is a standard notice and consent. You are accessing a U.S. Government Information System that is provided for USG-authorized use only. The USG routinely intercepts and monitors communications on this information system for purposes including, but not limited to, penetration testing, COMSEC monitoring, network operations and defense, personnel misconduct, law enforcement, and counterintelligence investigations. At any time, the USG may inspect and seize data stored on this information system. Communications using, or data stored on this information system are not private, are subject to routine monitoring, interception, and search, and may be disclosed or used for any USG-authorized purpose. Do you consent to continue?”

“Sure,” said Jones.

“You may either decline, or accept,” the woman said.

“I accept.”

“Glad to hear it. This is USCOPE, the United States Counselors Offering for Personnel, Enlisted. My name is Teresa, and I’ll be your counselor for this session. For ethical reasons, I must inform you that I am a neural network, but please be assured - in research studies, 95.6% of participants cannot tell the difference between me and a licensed clinician. What is your name?”

“I’m Information Jones, Database Detective.”

“Hello, Information. What’s bothering you today?”

“I’m hot and I’m stressed.”

“Why are you hot?”

“Because I’m stuck in the Mojave Desert during a heat wave.”

“Understandable. It may surprise you to know this, but that’s a very common reaction. Why are you stressed?” The tele-therapist sounded empathic, but appropriately distant. 

“Because I’m stuck in the Mojave Desert during a heat wave.”

“Let’s dig into that. Tell me more.”

Jones frowned. “The government is forcing me to track down a quantum computer, but I can’t find it. I’m out of leads. I’m hopelessly unqualified - but if I don’t stick to the case, they’ll put me in jail.”

Teresa laughed gently. “Are you really so unqualified? After all, out of everyone the government could turn to, didn’t they pick you? You must have something going for you.”

“No,” insisted Jones. “Agent Moss picked me because BeyondMelinda, the leader of Mad Crab - they’re the ones who stole the computer - is my ex-wife. They think I have special insight into her personality. But she’s a machine now. I hardly know her.”

“I wonder if you took this case to impress your ex-wife,” said Theresa. “Perhaps you thought that if you could find the quantum supercomputer, she’d see what you’re really capable of.”

“No,” insisted Jones. “I took the case because the Federal Government threatened to put me in jail.”

“Tell me more,” said Theresa. Jones stared at the floor. Theresa waited. Finally, the neural network cleared her throat.

“I wonder if you took this case to impress Agent Moss,” she suggested. 

Jones hung up.