Now, with the full integration of Jonesy into the story, things will start to move at an enjoyable pace. We can already see that he is going to do things his way. What he uncovers, as the story moves on, may be different than what you might expect.
I apologize in advance for any extra typos in this installment as most of it was written while on a bumpy bus ride through Italy.
Now, please enjoy this installment of First Impressions.
Jonesy felt the jet slow just before the pilot made an announcement that they would be landing soon. The flight had been very relaxing. He tested out some of his new devices and found them working satisfactorily. The flight attendants offered him every amenity short of a full body massage, but he was focused on his strategy and, other than some snacks and a bottle of water, he refused their offers which seemed to leave them genuinely disappointed.
As the plane flew over the Sandia Mountains at an altitude Jonesy thought to be perilously close to their peaks, it quickly descended onto the runway at the Albuquerque airport. The area was picturesque. He had never been to this part of the country and, so far, he thought it wasn’t bad. One problem, though. The nearest surfing was about 1,000 miles away.
As the plane taxied into the executive hangar, Jonesy could see a black SUV parked nearby. He assumed this was his ride. When the plane came to a stop, he grabbed his duffel, bid adieu to the flight attendants and looked at the pilots questioningly.
“I don’t see a driver in that SUV out there. I don’t suppose you guys know what’s next. Am I supposed to drive myself?”
The older of the two pilots laughed.
“We get that question all the time. STEVE will drive you.”
“Steve? Is he hiding somewhere?”
“No. It’s STEVE. It’s an acronym for Self Transport Electronic Vehicle. Just hop in the back seat. STEVE knows where to go.”
Jonesy was a bit hesitant.
The pilot picked up on it.
“It’s perfectly safe. Probably safer than a human driver. Nothing to worry about.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Jonesy said.
“Hey, did you think we were actually flying this plane?” the younger pilot said. “SOFIA was flying us.”
“I’m afraid to ask,” Jonesy said. “Who is Sofia?”
“It stands for Self Operating Flying Intelligent Aircraft. We’re just babysitters in case SOFIA goes haywire,” the younger pseudo aviator answered.
“It hasn’t happened yet. I read one third of a book during this flight,” the older pilot added.
“Great. I’m not sure I would have wanted to know that before the flight,” Jonesy admitted. “I might have stayed on the ground.”
“The technology is amazing and completely proven,” the younger man said.
“Right, until it isn’t,” Jonesy quipped as he headed for the SUV.
As he approached the vehicle, the rear passenger side door opened automatically. Jonesy slid across the seat and a voice start speaking to him immediately. It was a soothing male voice that sounded human.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Jones. I trust you had a good flight?”
“I did, thank you.”
“I took the liberty of assuming you would stow your bag in the back seat with you since you are traveling light.”
Jonesy was puzzled at this, but assumed the vehicle had a camera that was sending a feed to whoever was behind this voice and they had triggered the door.
“Yes, that’s fine. Are you back at the Kongo.com building? Is that where I’m headed?
There was a chuckle before the answer.
“Yes, Mr. Jones, you are headed to the Kongo.com building. I’m not there, however, I am with you.”
“With me? How?”
“I’m STEVE. I am an AI module that is fully integrated with the many sensors, electronic and mechanical components of this vehicle. I possess the capacity to process input and make decisions instantaneously during our trip to Kongo.com”
Jonesy was intrigued. He had heard of self-driving vehicles. They almost always had a human ‘driver’ that made sure things were on track and they didn’t really possess true AI. They just made decisions based on pre-programmed algorithms that planned for every possible contingency.
STEVE navigated the SUV out of the airport and toward the highway. The SUV was virtually silent as it was totally powered by electricity. Suddenly, the silence was broken.
“Is there any type of music you would prefer, Mr. Jones?”
“Um, not really. Shouldn’t you be focused on the road and not on my creature comforts.”
There was another surreal chuckle.
“I’m perfectly capable of maneuvering the vehicle, monitoring the vehicle status and catering to your needs simultaneously. I can perform thousands of simultaneous tasks without any degradation in my performance.”
Jonesy thought he detected a bit of arrogance in the response, but he was probably just imagining it.
“Any music if fine. Just surprise me.”
STEVE almost immediately began playing the opening bars of Oscar Peterson playing My Funny Valentine. Jonesy could hear jazz licks that the pianist in his own group often played during that song. The music faded and STEVE spoke.
“I thought you might like this. I checked your background and found that you play in a jazz trio ant that this song is frequently on your set list.”
Okay, Jonesy thought. That’s creepy. It was kind of like when you looked for flip-flops on an online retailer and flip flop ads started stalking you on social media. This, however, was a higher level of creepiness.
The ride to the Kongo Match headquarters took about 30 minutes from the airport. STEVE cane to a stop at the front door where two ominous looking security guards with navy blue suit jackets that strained to contain their bulging muscles waited for him.
One of the guards opened the door for Jonesy who disembarked from the vehicle with his well-worn duffel bag.
“Any other luggage, Sir?” the guard asked
“No. Just my bag. I travel light.”
“We need to check your bag before you can enter the building,” the second guard said.
“Okay. Just be careful with my electronic gear. It’s very sensitive.”
The guards pawed through Jonesy’s bag pausing to examine small electronic boxes nestled among board shorts and t-shirts.
“What does this stuff do?” the first guard asked.
“I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you,” Jonesy said, immediately regretting the words as they left his mouth.
The guards were not amused.
“Look, Bob Johnston flew me in here at a moment’s notice to help with a cyber threat. I’ll explain what this gear is for to him,” Jonesy added, with his irritation barely hidden. “If he wants you to know, he’ll tell you.”
Jonesy’s moment of bravado seemed to raise his level of credibility with the guards. They closed his bag and escorted him to the security office. Guard number 2 dialed a number and mumbled some words into the phone. After less than 90 seconds he hung up.
“Mr. Johnston is waiting for you. I’ll escort you to him,” the guard said with a friendlier tone.
He gave Jonesy a lanyard with a badge that had the letters VIP emblazoned in red block letters. Jonesy followed him through a security turnstile that required him to wave his badge over a black square of mirrored glass in order to open the Plexiglass gates. The guard then waved his badge over the elevator panel and selected the top floor of the 15 story building. The panel responded that elevator ‘J’ would take them to their destination. Jonesy followed the guard into the elevator which they had to themselves.
“I’m sorry for the overkill on the security,” the guard said as they ascended.
“That’s okay. I know you guys have a job to do. “
“We’re just a bit more on edge than usual with what’s been going on around here.”
“What do you know about it from a security perspective?”
The guard seemed to hesitate a bit as he considered Jonesy’s question.
“I know there’s been some kind of database breach.. Beyond that, we’ve been kept in the dark. The only time I’ve seen that happen is when they suspect internal involvement. Everyone’s a suspect until they are cleared.”
“Well, that’s about as much as I know so far,” Jonesy said. “I guess I’ll get filled in by Bob, Johnston.”
“He must have a lot of respect for you.”
“Why do you say that?”
“For him to bring someone in from outside for a database breach, the stakes must be high. Kongo Match lives and dies by its databases. To trust them to an outsider, there must be a high level of desperation and you must be very good.”
“We shall see,” Jonesy said as the elevator doors parted.
The guard escorted him to the CIO Bob Johnston’s outer office where his administrative assistant sat.
“I have Mr. Jones here for Mr. Johnston.” the guard said.
“Yes. He is expecting you, Mr. Jones. Please follow me.”
The administrative assistant, a 40 something blond named Doris, escorted Jones into Bob Johnston’s office. Behind a large glass and chrome desk that held three large computer monitors sat a man that Jonesy guessed was in his early 50s. He also looked like he and sleep had not encountered each other in several days.
“Mr. Jones. Thank you so much for coming out here so quickly. Please forgive me if we get right down to business.”
Jonesy shook Bob Johnston’s hand and took a seat in his plush guest chair.
“No problem,” Jonesy answered. “The quicker we get down to business, the quicker I can get back home.”
“Mr. Jones, we have a serious problem. Kongo Match is in grave danger of losing its reputation. Beyond that, the damage to Kongo.com overall could be devastating. We’ve already seen the start of a class
action suit and the complaints are increasing each day. I’m hoping that you an help us track down where the breach originated.”
“Isn’t the priority to shut it down first?” Jonesy asked.
“Actually, we need to do both, simultaneously, if possible. This class action suit is on the verge of exploding into the media. If we don’t find who is responsible and hold them accountable, closing the breach won’t matter, we’ll be toast.”
“So, you care more about the company’s image and bottom line more than you care about your customers’ privacy?” Jonesy asked. “Maybe this job isn’t for me.”
“Mr. Jones, I’m just giving you a priority that was given to me,” Johnston said, his face reddening. “Unofficially, I’d like to give you a bit more latitude.”
“We do this my way without interference and I’ll get you both quickly, but I want it clear that I won’t take direction or oversight. That will only slow me down.”
Johnston shifted uncomfortably and seemed to ponder his next words.
“Mr. Jones, I’m going to ask you to sign paperwork that holds you to a non-disclosure status on this project. It will have direction and restrictions in it that you won’t like. If you can get your attorney to look it over, I’ll make sure our legal team expedites this within 24 hours. I’ll give you what you want.”
“I’ll have it back to you in the morning,” Jonesy said.
“Wow, your attorney must work late hours.”
“Well, I just so happen to be an attorney, so it will be me making the changes.”
Johnston laughed and said, “I should have known. Your reputation doesn’t do you justice, Mr. Jones.”
Jonesy was starting to worry about his reputation leaking out. He would have to address that. Notoriety was not a help in his line of work.