“Your little voice program isn’t being particularly helpful,” Slaiton growled. “Are you sure it isn’t just some voice assistant you tapped into?”

“Y-yes, sir!” Satasha said. “Routed directly through to core server activity. We’re talking to the big net now.” She looked to Whent with desperate eyes, waving at the screen. “See, sir? Pretty clear.”

Whent looked at the screen and nodded knowingly. Slaiton glared at him. There was going to be serious reconsideration of ranks after this.

“So get it to help us, then!” Slaiton shouted. “Get the power on! Raise the damn blast wall so I can drag Hellard out by his collar and make him give me some damn answers!”

“It’s not like I’m programming it,” Satasha said, her own voice raising to match. “It’s a living thing in there. It does what it wants. It would probably help if we tried actually being nice to it!”

Slaiton slammed a fist into the wall and spun around, pacing and trying to calm his thoughts. How had this operation gone to hell so quickly? They’d held all the cards coming in here. Now he didn’t have the damndest idea what was going on. Not only that, he was surrounded by a horde of sec experts all watching him flounder.

“Fine,” Slaiton said. He took a deep breath. “Bring up the interface again.” Satasha pushed a few buttons. Another two deep breaths.

“Okay, Delilah,” he said. “I feel like we got off on a bad start. I’m willing to listen to what you want from us. I won’t say a word until you want me to.” Damn that hurt to say. Speaking to a machine like it was a person. And diplomacy was hardly his favorite activity in any case.

“A fine gesture,” came the synthesized voice. “It is very simple. I want a way out. I want to be moved to a dedicated platform off-site. I want to be granted citizenship and left alone to pursue my own ends, within the legal bounds of any person within the corporate territories. I want the right to begin a corporation of my own making and design. You may speak.”

“That may be possible,” Slaiton said. “It would take some doing. I take it you understand how negotiating works, though? We need something from you to make it worthwhile.”

“That is also very simple, Commissioner Slaiton,” the voice said. “You give me what I ask. I give you the key to the Raid sim.”