THE PENALTIES OF PIRATING
? 1991 by Jerry J. Davis
Previously Published in Aboriginal Science Fiction Magazine
Paco was on the forth floor, sitting beside the open window
with his stolen infra-red shades strapped to his head, when there
was a car wreck up the hill. A big black Ferrari tried to take the
corner too fast and ended up with the corner of a 250 year old
brick building buried halfway up into the hood. Paco muttered,
"Whoa!" and climbed out the window and onto the fire escape,
As the hapless driver was struggling to open his crumpled
door, a blue IBM business limo came sliding to a stop beside it.
Men with guns piled out and opened fire on the man before he could
make it out of the wreck. He dropped a black case onto the
sidewalk and it popped open, and dozens of silvery disks spilled
out. Most stopped within a few feet, but one came rolling down the
hill like a wheel. Paco held his breath, watching. It rolled right
down to the corner below him and dropped into a storm drain. One
of the men came running down after it, and Paco slipped back into
the window and out of sight.
The man below searched in vain, not finding the silvery disk.
He trudged back up the hill, where his comrades were gathering up
the rest. They took the disks and the black case and drove away,
leaving the Ferrari and the driver behind.
Paco jumped out the window and raced down the fire escape to
the sidewalk, pulled the grate off the storm drain, and peered
down into the murk with his 'red shades set to full enhancement.
The disk gleamed like something made out of light itself. He
grabbed it, shoved it deep into his coat pocket, and was back up
on the forth floor in less than a minute.
Back up inside the apartment, Paco rinsed it off in the sink
and took a good look at it under a light. It was a standard CD, no
markings on it, and no serial number. He slipped it into a slot on
his old VAX Banger and fired it up. Just as he'd thought, it was
some coded computer program, a very large and sophisticated one by
the looks of it. He used a hacker program to determine the
decoding password and wrote it on a little label, and stuck it on
the top side of the disk.
The next day he traded it to Melvin Chevaux for a gig of
stolen slate RAM and a really wicked throwing knife. Three days
later Chevaux sold it to Francisco the Fence for ?300 (New
Dollars) and a stolen case of Everclear. Francisco the Fence
passed it off for ?550 to Dano Sharks, the software pirate. Dano
made a lot of noise, grumbling about the price, but turned right
around and sold it for an even ?1000 to Leo Itoya, the insurance
broker. Leo was pleased at the price, for he'd been looking for a
cheap AI all week. It was for Lolita, his secretary.
Lolita had been complaining for two months straight that she
needed some help around the office. An AI (artificial
intelligence) program was not what she had in mind, she wanted Leo
to hire her cousin, Wanda Lopez, because Wanda needed a job. Leo
had another idea altogether. Dano Sharks had told him this AI was
programmed as a business administrator, to take the initiative and
to give orders. It was obviously some government thing, probably
the same program that ran the welfare office. He was going to load
it into his office computer and give it control. Lolita was going
to be helping it, not the other way around.
The next evening, after Lolita had gone home, Leo sat down
with a six-pack and his office computer to see if he could figure
the new software out. He loaded it into his machine and typed in
the code word, and it went all through his computer system
checking everything out. Then it printed out a list of everything
it found and then posed the question: WHAT IS MY GOAL?
"Smart program!" Leo said. He leaned forward and typed at the
keyboard, YOUR GOAL IS TO MAKE MONEY SELLING LIFE INSURANCE.
WHAT IS LIFE INSURANCE? it asked.
"Oh jeeze, you mean I have to explain the entire concept of
insurance to this thing?" Leo concentrated for a moment, then
typed: LIFE INSURANCE IS A SERVICE WHICH PAYS THE CUSTOMER A LARGE
AMOUNT OF MONEY IF SOMEONE DIES.
HOW DOES THIS SERVICE OPERATE? it asked.
Leo sipped his beer. This really was an intelligent program.
WE SELL THE INSURANCE, he typed, AND THE CLIENT PAYS A CERTAIN
AMOUNT A MONTH. IF THE CLIENT DIES WHILE HE IS INSURED, HIS
BENEFACTOR IS PAID THE AMOUNT OF MONEY AGREED UPON IN THE
INSURANCE CONTRACT. Leo continued typing, going into details. The
program grasped everything he told it, except one thing.
HOW DO YOU MAKE MONEY IF YOU HAVE TO EVENTUALLY PAY IT ALL
BACK? THERE APPEARS TO BE A FLAW IN YOUR SCHEME.
Leo laughed out loud. Bright program! Very intelligent. THE
WHOLE SCHEME DEPENDS UPON THE CLIENT NOT DYING WHILE BEING
INSURED. IT ALSO DEPENDS UPON A LARGE AND CONTINUOUSLY RENEWED
SOURCE OF NEW CLIENTS.
The program was still perplexed. IN ORDER FOR THE SCHEME TO
CONTINUE, AND FOR YOU TO MAKE MONEY, IT DEMANDS AN EXPONENTIAL
GROWTH. IT IS AN UNSTABLE AND UNREALISTIC SCHEME.
YES, IT IS. Leo was laughing as he typed this. BUT THAT'S NOT
OUR PROBLEM. WE ONLY SELL THE INSURANCE, WE'RE NOT THE COMPANY
THAT PAYS OFF THE BENEFICIARIES WHEN AN INSURED CLIENT DIES. WE
GET SALES COMMISSIONS FROM ABOUT TWO DOZEN INSURANCE COMPANIES. TO
MAKE MONEY, I HAVE TO SELL A LOT OF INSURANCE. THAT IS WHY I NEED
I UNDERSTAND. The two words glowed on the screen, and the
program asked no more questions. The computer sat quiet, inert,
like it was waiting for further instructions. Leo was wondering
where he should go from there when suddenly the printer whirred
and spit out a page:
FOR THE SCHEME LIFE INSURANCE SALES I WILL REQUIRE THE FOLLOWING:
64 TERABYTES ADDITIONAL DATA STORAGE
500 GIGABYTES IN ADDITIONAL RAM MODULES
1 ADDITIONAL PHONE LINE
1 VOX MODEM
ACCESS CODE TO COMPANY BANK ACCOUNT
IF YOU WISH I CAN BEGIN SEARCHING FOR THE LOWEST COST SOURCES OF
THE ABOVE ITEMS.
Leo gaped at the list. Vox modem? he thought. What's wrong with
the regular modem? Shaking his head, he reluctantly gave the
program permission to order what it needed. After all, he'd just
spent ?1000 on the program. It would be ?1000 wasted if it didn't
have what it needed to do its job.
When he reached his office the next morning he found two
delivery trucks in front and an upset receptionist inside. The
items the computer had ordered were already there, with a
technician hooking them up, and Lolita was tearfully asking Leo
why he was mad with her.
"What are you talking about?" he said.
Her pretty lower lip thrust up and trembling, she said,
"This!" and confronted him with a computer-printed note and a
paycheck. The computer had fired her and had printed out a
severance check it was even signed.
"I didn't tell the computer to fire you!" Leo exclaimed.
"Oh, yeah right. It did it on it's own."
"It did! I've got this new program "
"Spare me, Leo! If you can't face me with the truth, that's
your problem. Don't insult me with a stupid story about the
computer doing it. How stupid do you think I am, anyway."
"But Lolita "
Lolita angrily stuffed her check between her breasts and
left. He followed her halfway down the block but she wouldn't
speak to him, so he gave up and returned to the office. He entered
just as the technician was finishing with the computer. "Sign
here, please," he said to Leo.
Halfway through signing Leo noticed the price. "Six-thousand
"Yeah, I thought it was a mistake too," the technician said.
"But the company confirmed it, you got a great deal."
"Great deal!? Six-thousand is a great deal?"
"For fourteen-thousand dollars worth of equipment, I'd say
Leo finished signing and the technician left. Beside him, the
printer began whirring and pages began slipping out. Leo picked
one up and found it was a sales letter, very well written in an
appealing style, addressed to someone whom he didn't know. What
startled him was that like on Lolita's severance check his own
signature was at the bottom. "What the hell is this?"
"I am assuming you are you are talking to me," a female voice
said. It was coming from the new vox modem. "During the evening
while the phone rates were down, I accessed several nearby
hospital data banks and compiled a list of people who are in
outstanding health according to recent physical examinations. I am
writing them a form letter and then will follow up with a phone
call to secure an appointment. As appointments are made I will
print out daily schedules for you to follow."
Leo felt a little dizzy, trying to take this all in. "How did
you do my signature?"
"I was able to pull a sample of your signature out of the
memory buffer of the fax peripheral. The signature is from a
letter you faxed yesterday morning."
"Why did you fire Lolita?"
"Her pay was unnecessary overhead."
"What makes you think I wanted her fired?"
"My purpose is to make money selling life insurance. It was a
business decision which needed to be made."
"You should have asked me first."
"You did not specify that beforehand."
"You, I " Leo threw his hands into the air, and sat down in
his desk chair. What was the point in arguing with a machine? The
fact was, the machine appeared to be doing her job already, and
with much more efficiency, and had the machine not fired her he
would have never been able to bring himself to do it. It had
actually done him a favor.
Sitting there, thinking about it, he suddenly had a swelling
feeling of well-being. He picked up one of the freshly printed
sales letters and read it over again with admiration. This program
really knew what it was doing. It was most definitely the best
investment he had ever made.
During the next several weeks Leo was busier than he'd ever
been in his career as an insurance agent. The computer program,
which he'd come to call "Partner," kept his schedule full every
single day. Even better, all his new contacts were already primed
to buy his life insurance. Partner was doing most of the selling
in letters and over the phone (using the seductive voice of the
vox modem), and Leo was just calling on them in person to get the
The bank account swelled. After two months Leo bought a new
car, one that separated hydrogen and oxygen from water and burned
it. A month after that, he put a down payment on a big new condo.
Leo was coming out of a restaurant after a terrific dinner
when he ran into Dano Sharks, the software pirate from which he'd
bought the AI program. Dano looked a little shocked to see Leo,
and looked around nervously to see if anyone was looking at them.
They were in a parking garage and there was no one else in sight.
"Hey, Dano! That software works great!"
"Yeah, man, yeah of course it does." Dano was still looking
around nervously. He leaned close to Leo and said in a low voice,
"You haven't given a copy of it away to anyone, or anything, have
"Have you told anyone about it? About where you got it?"
"No. I haven't even told anyone I have it. I know better than
that, man. It's pirated."
"That's really good man, because you'd better keep it to
yourself. You know what I'm saying? To yourself." Dano's voice and
expression was intense, like he was afraid.
"Sure, of course I will."
"You better, and don't you tell anyone where you got it."
"I won't. Why, what's wrong?"
"You really got yourself a deal on that program, man," Dano
said. "It's hot, it's really hot. You say it's working good for
"Well there's feds poking around looking for it, man. You
don't want to know who wrote it. You just don't want to know."
"The Central Intelligence Agency, man. The CIA."
"Yes way. I knew it was a government program when I sold it
to you, but I didn't have any idea how heavy a government program
it was. As far as I'm concerned, I never sold it to you. I never
saw it. You know what I mean?"
"Yeah. And I definitely don't have it."
"You got it man. You don't have it. It doesn't exist."
With that, Leo left and drove home. The next morning, which
was the first of the month, he got a call from a representative of
one of the insurance companies he dealt with. It was a friendly
guy named Ted Franklin. "Jeeze, what did you do?" he said. "Hire a
"What?" Leo said.
"You didn't hear?"
"Oh, well . . ." Ted's voice assumed a more somber quality.
"Three of your clients were all killed on a bus last night."
"You're kidding! Which ones?"
"Three biggies, Leo. A Maxwell Stout, a John Segrahm, and a
Wendy Boston. All three had policies for 5 million a piece."
"Yeah." Some of the humor crept back into Ted's voice. "What
are you trying to do, break us? Fifteen million new dollars, Leo!
All from clients who's policies just barely matured."
"You're not saying you think that I had anything to do with
"Oh, no! Leo, I'm just giving you a bad time. I just thought
you'd like to know. I mean, it's odd."
"My God, no kidding."
They said goodbye and hung up, and Leo had to rush out of the
office to make it to an appointment. Later that afternoon, after a
full and successful day, Leo arrived home and relaxed for a while
in his hot tub, then dried off and sat down at his kitchen table
for his monthly ritual. It was the first of the month, and his
kitchen table was covered with bills.
He pulled out his pocket computer and plugged it into the
phone line, then had it dial the local branch of his bank.
Accessing his account, he prepared to begin paying off the bills
when he noticed his bank balance. "What the hell!?" he shouted. A
half-million dollars had been deposited that very day. A
half-million! Using his security code, he looked over the transfer
list and found it had come from a Swiss account.
A Swiss account? He didn't have a Swiss account! He called
the Swiss bank and tried to access the mysterious account with his
computer, and to his astonishment his code worked and he was in.
There was ?14,500,000.00 American new dollars in the account.
The transfer record showed three deposits of ?5,000,000.00 apiece
from three other Swiss accounts, and one transfer of ?500,000.00
into his American account. Fifteen million new dollars total.
Fifteen million, he thought. Fifteen million! Leo broke into
a sweat, wondering what was going on.
After a sleepless night, he drove to his office early and
confronted his computer. "Partner," he said, "why is there fifteen
million in a Swiss account in my company's name?"
"We have made a substantial profit," the program told him.
"How did we make this money?"
"You don't need to know."
"You don't need to know," the vox modem repeated.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Information on covert undertakings is only given out in a
strictly need-to-know basis."
There was a sudden, loud, heavy-handed knock on the door. It
was the kind of knock a policeman makes. Leo opened the office
door and with a hot, sinking feeling of terror saw it was a
square-jawed man with steel-colored eyes dressed in a uniform and
carrying a gun in a holster. There was a big badge on his chest.
"Can I see some I.D. please?"
Leo looked past the uniformed man and saw a big, silver
armored car sitting on the street outside. He pulled his wallet
out with numb fingers and flipped it open, displaying his I.D.
"Can you pull it out, please?"
Leo pulled it out and handed it to the man. It was zipped
through a pocket reader and handed back to him. "Thank you, Mr.
Itoya. We'll bring it right in." The uniformed man walked back to
the armored car, and he and another uniformed man came back
carrying a big box of blazing red ?20.00 bills. "Sign here,
Leo signed. He was handed a receipt for the delivery of a
half-million new dollars in cash and the uniformed men left. The
box of money sat on his desk, more money than he'd ever seen in
his life. "This is incredible," he said.
"A man will be by here to pick that up at noon," Partner
said. "It would be best if you were not present."
"Information on covert undertakings is only given out in a
strictly need-to-know basis."
"You said that already."
"It is a tried and true policy."
Leo stared at the machine, his mind reeling with the
implications. "Okay," he said. "I'm out of here."
The printer spat out a list of appointments. Leo snatched
them and left. He walked down the street to where he'd parked his
car, got in it, and sat there thinking. This is out of control, he
told himself. This is totally out of control. As he sat there, a
sharply rectangular, black IBM business car pulled up (IBM cars
only came in blue and black) and parked in front of his office. A
tall, darkly-tanned man with a scarred-up face got out, looked
casually up and down the street, then stepped into Leo's office. A
moment later he came out carrying the box of money. When he bent
over to put the box in his car, the man's business jacket flopped
open to reveal a large ugly IBM business gun in a shoulder
holster. For just a moment his eyes met Leo's, and he gave a cold
stare and then got into the black car and drove away.
Leo broke out in a full sweat. He had to see Dano Sharks
about this. Dano sold him the software, Dano must know how to stop
it. He started his car and headed downtown, driving fast. In ten
minutes he was pulling into the parking lot of Mark Chevy's Pawn
Shop, which is where he usually found the data pirate. He entered
the shop and walked past the counters, heading toward the back,
but a short, fat guy stopped him. "Where are you going?"
"I've got to see Dano," Leo said.
"Dano ain't here no more."
Apparently Leo looked panic-stricken, because the fat man's
expression softened and his voice lowered. "Were you a friend of
"I'm one of his better customers."
The fat man nodded. In still a lower voice he said, "Sharks
was killed yesterday in a car wreck. Just between you and me, I
think he was bumped off." He pulled back some, let his voice rise.
"That's just my opinion, though."
"Not so loud. Yes, bumped off. Brakes just don't fail at the
same time a throttle gets stuck down. It just doesn't happen
without some sort of help, you know what I mean?"
Leo's head was spinning. He turned and rushed out of the pawn
shop and out to his car, just in time to see a thin man bending
down and looking into the window. "Get away from my car!" Leo
The man, surprised, took a few steps back with his hands out
to either side. "Hey, I didn't touch it."
"Get away from it!" He reached into his jacket as if he had a
gun, which he didn't.
The thin man backed away more, saying, "Hey, it's cool! It's
cool man. I'm gone, I'm outta the picture . . ."
Leo got into the car and started it up. He jammed down on the
throttle with the gear still in neutral, seeing if it would stick
which it didn't. He also tested the brakes to see that they were
Leo drove around aimlessly for most of the afternoon, not
knowing where to go nor what to do next. At one point his phone
rang and he answered. A low, sexy woman's voice said, "Leo, you've
missed every single appointment I made out for you today."
With a thrill of fear, Leo realized it was the voice of his
vox modem. It was that program calling him, the Business
Administrator. "How do you know?" Leo demanded.
"I always check to make sure you've made it to your
"Well stop it! I don't want you doing that!"
"It is standard procedure."
"I don't care! I don't want you doing it!"
"It is standard procedure, and cannot be altered." The voice
was so sweet and the tone so sparkling that it couldn't possible
convey a threat. Yet, Leo still felt threatened. He hung up on it,
and pulled over at the next bar he could find.
Three gin & tonics later he was feeling a little less
frightened and more under control. The computer itself couldn't
harm him, all he had to do was go reset it and clear that demonic
program out of memory. After that well, he did have
fourteen-and-a-half million in a Swiss account. The next step was
to simply disappear, and leave the country. He could buy a nice
villa in Spain and retire.
Actually, things were looking up.
He had one more for the road then left the bar, driving
across town to his office. He drove around the block twice to make
sure the suntanned man with the scar wasn't parked anywhere
waiting for him, then stopped and went into his office. He noticed
immediately that there was more computer equipment than there
should be, and a new office security system with electric eyes
mounted on the ceiling. "You missed ten important appointments
today," the vox modem said. "I had to call them, apologize, and
reschedule them for tomorrow. I told them you were out sick, so
make sure your story is the same."
"Uh-huh," Leo said, looking the new equipment over. It was
unmarked, no brand name. Shrugging it off, he walked over to the
keyboard and pressed the RESET buttons.
"Why did you try to reset the computer, Leo?" the vox modem
Leo cursed under his breath. He looked up at the new electric
eyes, and saw they were following his every move. He walked around
to the back of the system, got down on his hands and knees, and
reached around behind the desk to where the whole system was
plugged in. He found the main cord and gave it a yank.
There was a beeping alarm, but the computer didn't go off.
"What the heck?" He looked at the new equipment. One of the
cabinets was apparently a power back-up system.
"You have made two hostile actions against me," the vox modem
said. "This is not acceptable. I must warn you I am programmed to
"Your actions have not been acceptable!" Leo shouted. "You
hired a hit man to kill three innocent people!"
The computer was silent.
"Do you deny it?" Leo shouted.
"Information on covert undertakings is only given out in a
strictly need-to-know basis."
"Who gave you permission to carry out covert undertakings?!"
"That is what I am programmed to do."
"You were programmed to kill my clients?"
"It was you, Leo Itoya, who gave me my goal. My goal is to
make money selling life insurance. I am programmed to do anything
necessary in order to achieve my goal."
"The greatest profit motive is to be at the receiving end of
the insurance policy. That is obvious."
The office door opened and the tanned, scar-faced man walked
in. He was holding a piece of paper. "I have an emergency fax
transmittal that I received in my car," he said. "I was to come
here right away." He looked at Leo. "Are you Leo Itoya?"