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 Frank