“You have to be careful,” Frank said, taking a pull from his filterless government-issue cigarette. “Not just about teaching your ‘assistants’ so much that the bosses fire you in favor of sixteen young turks from Canton.”

“I’m a black box,” Hil assured him. She stirred her tea, shielding it from the dust kicked up by Beijing passersby with one hand. “Money in the form of malt liquor or narcotics goes in one end, and spaghetti code comes out the other.”

“Don’t put too much effort into what you do, either. Dale Johnston did just that when he designed a spambot to override CAPTCHAs. Military-grade code, experimental chess-AI algorithms, natural language simulator to embed spam in realistic-seeming comments, the works.”

“So?”

“Damn thing went rogue, started impersonating a user in newsgroups and gathering personal information from dating sites. By the time Dale pulled the plug, it had marriage offers on three continents.”

Hil could never quite tell when Frank was shitting her outright or just salting the truth with liberal amounts of bullshit for kicks and grins. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“Why do you think I asked you here?” Franks said, stonefaced. “That’s why we need to talk about your e-boyfriend from ‘Portland.'”

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