It took many more police to work the jammed cars out of the roundabout, then feed in the not-at-all patient cars from the surrounding streets. They mostly ignored us.
"The vigili are traffic cops," Markus said. "To book us they need the Polizia di Stato, who probably can't get here because of the traffic jam. So the vigili have either decided we won't run away or that it isn't their problem if we do."
"Good," Yazzy said, working on a tablet that Dusan had run over to buy from across the street. "If the real cops're delayed more than an hour, I should have things arranged so they'll let you go."
Dusan asked, "Was there anything left of our apartment or offices in Prague?"
"Nothing at all," I said. "Including no electronic record; it was like you'd been erased from history. Where were you?"
"In a little spur tunnel about 200 meters from that room you woke up in. We and the 50 or so other NItCo Assets—"
"Nicer word than slaves or abductees, I guess. When NItCo was launched as a self-training set of algorithms with a budget and power to buy, sell and hire, the owners defined its job as making people happier and taking their money, and gave it a lot of leeway in figuring that out. Eventually the NItCo algorithms reinvented 'greatest good for greatest number': Keeping a small number of people unhappy made it possible to make many more people happy and expand its market. It also figured out that Pareto rule that most of the value of any organization is created by just a few members. So... it secured the services of just those few members."
"By 'secured' you mean 'imprisoned in a tunnel?' "
"It was an awfully nice tunnel," Dusan said. "We could have anything we wanted except the key, and do anything we wanted except leave. And our bank accounts were astronomical. It showed us all the messages from family and friends, but it replied with animated avatars—"
"Mama and I were both wondering how Yazzy had gotten so dull and unimaginative."
"Thank you for wondering!"
Markus asked, "So you got NItCo itself to stage all of this just to get us inside the perimeter, hand off whatever was in those black ATM cards and then break us back out?"
"NItCo thinks in very long term because it's immortal. It was worth setting up a few-billion-dollar inexplicable phony scam operation if it meant getting Yip inside the wall, because she was one of the people who might figure out what was going on and jeopardize it. Whereas inside, you could help it devise ways to capture more human resources permanently and exclusively. Figuring that it would own you for decades, it was willing to front a lot of money to get you now. So it wanted you very badly, and I played on the fact that Yip is human and NItCo wasn't sure it understood her."
"I can see how someone could play on that." Markus immediately made up for that by resting a hand on my waist.
Next Page: A Final Surprise