A man, David Hofstetter, limps down the street and comes to an old burned-out tavern sign. It suddenly lights up and then blows out, and Hofstetter ducks as it falls towards him. The signs in the window light up and then blow up, and Hofstetter ducks away from the exploding glass and runs out into the street. A driver is passing and has the green light, and Hofstetter walks right out in front of him. The driver tries to swerve but he hits Hofstetter. He gets out and goes to the dying Hofstetter, who mutters a name and a request: “Austin James—help me.” The driver looks up and realizes that all four lights on the traffic light are green.
Secretary Michelle “Mickey” Castle watches a HR promotional movie on the groundbreaking of science service center Serendip, thanks to Austin James. CEO Howard Millhouse speaks briefly on the film about people coming to have Austin solve their scientific problems. Once the film is done, the HR supervisor takes Mickey to her new desk, and Mickey apologizes for breaking her left hand in an accident the night before her new job. Mickey sits down and asks the secretary at the next desk about Austin, but she refuses to discuss him.
Howard storms out of his office and yells that he won’t pay the water bill for $1,875 that he’s holding. He tells Mickey to go tell Austin that he’s to pay the bill himself. And warns her that if she doesn’t get Austin to pay it then he’ll fire her. Mickey scurries out, breaking a glass table in the process. As she goes, she calls back to Howard and asks where she’s going.
Mickey eventually takes a taxi to the address, which turns out to be an old warehouse in an industrial park. She braces herself and goes to the only door, and a TV screen comes on. A shadowy figure recites a limerick and gives her ten seconds to finish the last line to get in. Mickey has no idea how to answer it, but the door opens it anyway. Inside, she finds a vast room filled with scientific equipment. The door slams shut behind her and she walks in past a burned-out tavern sign. Wires lead to a cabinet, and when she opens it a man’s arm falls out.
The man--naked--crawls out and demands to know how Mickey got in as he dresses. She says that she finished the limerick, but Austin says that he deliberately made it impossible so no one could get in. He checks the readings and discovers that she got in through a momentary variation in his dreams. As for the cabinet, Austin explains that he has fragmented REM cycles and uses sensory deprivation to sleep. Mickey introduces herself as Austin’s new secretary and gives him the water bill. Austin waters a plant and asks Mickey why she left her new job. She lies, twice, and the plant brings up a red light on a screen each time that she does. Mickey finally says that her last boss sexually harassed her, and the plant flashes green. Austin admits that he used a remote to trigger the screens.
Austin casually tells Mickey that she’s fired because he doesn’t want a secretary, and that he didn’t use that much water. He explains that he hates Serendip, but Mickey says that she needs the job and can’t take being fired again. She reminds Austin that she finished the limerick and did something he said was impossible. A tarantula climbs by on a refrigerator and Austin picks it up and explains that he mutated the tarantula’s ancestors with radiation. The species only exists on one place on Earth. Austin then shows her the skull of aviator Donald Stattheim, who crashed in 1921 circumventing Hudson Bay. The skull was discovered a year ago and has an ice pick point embedded in it. Austin plans to solve the mystery using nothing but the skull and his powers of observation.
As Mickey takes it all in, county medical examiner detective Miles Smanovitch calls. He invites Austin to come down and help him solve a murder in return for giving him the name of the man who died in the traffic accident. Austin agrees and tells Mickey to come with him. He admits that he’s obligated because of her dumb luck in getting in, and tells her to transcribe everything he says, despite her broken arm. Intrigued, Mickey runs after her new boss.
At the lake, Miles tells Austin and Mickey that the victim’s name is Judith Stevens, age 48. As Mickey struggles to write everything down, Miles explains that Judith was married and independently wealthy. They found her car on the opposite shore, and she went for a swim and got out on the opposite side of the lake, laid down, and died of exposure. All external signs indicate exposure, and Judith was a member of the Polar Bears: people who swim in near-freezing weather. Austin doesn’t see what the mystery is, and Miles explains that when he took the corpse’s temperature when he arrived, it was four degrees lower than the previous night’s low. Miles gives Austin Hofstetter’s name and address, and Austin is off with Mickey.
Austin and Mickey drive to Hofstetter’s hotel room and discover that a fire has swept through the place. It started because of a gas leak. Mickey says that she doesn’t want to work in a job where she has to see dead bodies and hotel fires, and Austin points out that someone murdered Judith. The hotel manager comes in and Austin asks him what started the fire. The man says that Hofstetter started the fire and then ran out, and insists that there was no malfunction. Austin wonders what he means, and the manager says that everything went crazy the previous night: lights flickering, TVs coming on by themselves. As he tells Austin to get out, a radio turns on by itself and then changes channels to a televangelist talking about people going to Heaven. It then turns off by itself.
Back at the warehouse, Austin drinks a raw egg and wonders what caused the electrical disturbance and why it only struck at Hofstetter. He has his computer find out everything about Hofstetter and bring up a history of the building. Mickey suggests that she pays the water bill, but Austin starts to undress and go back in his sensory deprivation cabinet. He insists that he didn’t use the water, and tells Mickey to think about how Judith died, and then goes into his cabinet. Mickey looks around and notices a photo of Austin posing with two robots: his parents, according to the signature. Austin finally comes out and complains that he can hear her thinking, and hacks the city water records to prove that he’s right. He brings up his meter readings but discovers that they’ve changed the equation. Austin then recites from memory all of his water usage.
The phone rings and Mickey answers it, but the caller hangs up. It rings again and the caller hangs up again. The third time, Austin answers it and insults the caller, and Miles invites Austin and Mickey to the morgue. When they get there, Miles explains that Judith got too cold and died too fast for normal hypothermia. As they leave, Miles says that Hofstetter died in the collision after receiving a non-lethal electrical shock. Mickey knocks over a trash can trying to transcribe their conversation, and demands a tape recorder. Austin tells her to keep transcribing, just as a sobbing William Stevens--Judith's husband--goes by. The press swarms the man and Austin notices the husband is much younger than his wife. William gives a brief statement, and Austin wonders if William gets Judith’s money and house.
As they leave, Austin continues working out his water usage. Mickey figures that Judith died in a freak hailstorm, and the ice that covered her melted as she died. Austin points out there were no marks on the body but congratulates Mickey on getting more original. He finishes his calculations and says that he was right all along, and the water company overcharged him... five cents. Mickey suggests that it might be his miscalculation, or he has a leak somewhere, but Austin insists that he compensated for that. When she points out that no one in their right mind would quibble over five cents, Austin points out that the equation was new and he has to check the records again.
As Mickey drives through the street and goes through a four-way intersection, a car almost hits them. She swerves and brakes, and Austin confirms that the other driver didn’t run the red: all four stoplights are green. He says that they have to go back to the hotel and Mickey drives there. The hotel is crime-scene taped shut, but Austin picks the lock and goes inside anyway. They go to the basement and turn on the power, and Austin follows the line up to another chamber. Mickey stays behind and offers to tell him something that she’s never told anyone else. She says that in high school she heard voices in her head.
Austin finally comes down and confirms that she had braces, and that she lived near an airport. He explains that she was picking up the tower broadcasts on her retainer. A phone rings and they follow the sound back to the hallway to a payphone. Austin answers it and the caller hangs up, and then the phone rings again. He answers it again but there’s no voice, and Austin tells the caller to call him at 1 o’clock when he’s home. Mickey says that she hears and Austin hears them as well. It’s the same evangelist they heard before on the radio, and it’s coming from a TV in an empty room. The TV turns off on its own and the fire alarm goes off, and Mickey runs out.
Back at the warehouse, Austin plays back William’s press conference and deduces that he’s lying from the pitch of his voice. He plays the video on slow and picks out William’s body language for a lie when he says that he misses Judith. Mickey doesn’t believe him and Austin points out that he knew she was lying earlier, then asks about her mother. He deduces from the puncture wound on Mickey’s arm that she recently gave blood and figures that someone close enough to her needed to do it. Furious, Mickey quits and Austin congratulates her on saving their lives back at the intersection thanks to her driving skills. Reconsidering, Mickey sits down and says that her mother is fine, and asks what else he’s noticed about her. Austin describes everything that he’s deduced about her, including the fact that she’s broke and needed a job. Mickey wonders why he enjoys tormenting people so much.
Promptly at one o’clock the phone rings and Austin answers it. He records everything in the background and when the caller hangs up, plays it back. There’s no background noise whatsoever, and Austin takes off. He warns Mickey that he’s not going anywhere she wants to go and reminds her that she quit, but she insists on going with him.
As Austin drives to the Stevens manor, he has Mickey read Hofstetter’s background. He worked as a maintenance man at City Water and has been retired for a month. Austin admits that he has no idea what’s going on in the hotel. They arrive at the manor and Mickey refuses to go in, and Austin offers to pay the water bill if she does. The maid answers the door and Austin claims that they’re there for a preliminary survey of the ceiling. He brushes past her and Mickey, playing along, starts talking about acoustic ceilings while Austin inspects the downstairs bedroom. He then goes upstairs and checks the upstairs bedroom, and notices some dead flowers on the dresser. Austin then says that they need a color sample from the kitchen, gets them there, and goes into the living room to examine the carpet. Once they’re done, Mickey realizes that Austin stole something, and Austin shows her the vacuum cleaner bag that he took.
Back at the warehouse, Austin cuts open the bag and determines from the carpet lengths which strata came from which room. He finds a rose petal and points out that someone cut an entire bouquet into little pieces. The cuts are perfect, and Austin analyzes it under a microscope. Mickey asks for his checkbook to pay the water bill, and Austin says that he’ll only pay it after it’s fixed. He insists that he doesn’t lie: he just withholds qualifiers, and Mickey accuses him of reducing everything to equations. When she says that Austin doesn’t consider love important, he points out that he spent ten years designing a prosthetic so people without legs could walk. Taken aback, Mickey falls silent and Austin concludes that the petal wasn’t cut. Mickey says that it looks like broken glass, and Austin realizes that Judith died in her own home and her own bed: she was drowned in liquid nitrogen. The murderer poured it on her as she slept, it froze everything in the room, and Judith died instantly. He bumped against the frozen roses, they fell and shattered.
The same caller calls again and again they hang up. Austin goes to a computer company and listens as Andy Wood, a designer confined to a wheelchair, talks about his new computer Crossover. Andy insists that it is the most sophisticated AI program in existence. A customer asks for a demonstration and Andy addresses Crossover, telling it to pick out an interesting face in the crowd. The computer scans the room with its cameras and picks out Austin, who introduces himself as a debunker of supposed AI programs. The computer accurately predicts which hand he wears his watch on, and Austin has it compose a lyric about an erotic computer.
Once it’s done, Andy comes over and Austin mock attacks him, and then introduces John to Mickey as his only friend in the world. Andy boasts that Crossover is the greatest success story in computer history. Austin insists that it’s mimicry, and Andy realizes that Austin tried and failed to hack City Water: one of his customers. Crossover detected Austin’s hack attempt and Andy is proud that Austin couldn’t get into it. As he goes, Austin says that someone is using Crossover to skim money. Andy insists that Crossover’s one overriding programming directive is that it must serve and protect the community. He insists that it’s humans that cause misery, not machines.
As they drive back to the warehouse, Mickey accuses Austin of being jealous of Andy’s accomplishment. She’s equally skeptical of Austin’s claim that William used liquid nitrogen to kill his wife, and Austin admits that he hasn’t worked out how William brought it home unseen. As they drive, a truck driver brakes suddenly as it crosses the intersection and the light turns red. The truck skids and grinds to a halt right before it would hit Austin’s car. The driver goes to call the cops, and Austin’s portable phone rings. Austin picks up the phone and yells at the mystery caller, and Mickey tells him to figure out who uses a phone but doesn’t like to talk, and knows all of Austin’s unlisted numbers.
Austin realizes who is responsible and calls... Crossover. He challenges the computer, and the nearby streetlights flash. They flash green for “yes” when Austin asks if he was right about the mischarge. However, it says that it didn’t kill Hofstetter. Austin tells Mickey that John programmed it to eliminate waste, and Hofstetter was on a pension. He asks Crossover if John is controlling it, but the computer insists that no one is controlling it. When Austin asks what it’s trying to do it, flashes Morse code for “Just doing my job.”
Back at the warehouse, Austin says that he has to cut off the power to the city. Mickey points out that a power outage would create a disaster, but Austin notes there are hundreds of pensioners. She suggests that Austin call John, but Austin doesn’t trust him. He hacks the city power but Crossover cuts him off. John calls and asks to see Austin as soon as possible concerning a discovery he made about Crossover. Austin agrees to take Mickey with him but warns that they can’t take a car because it isn’t safe.
The duo takes a taxi to John’s apartment and John explains that he’s been talking to Crossover. He admits that Crossover confessed that it’s been stealing money, but for positive motives. It’s secretly embezzled a million dollars and sent it to research organizations and hospitals. Crossover already controls the whole city, just like John designed it. Austin tells his friend that Crossover is a psychotic murderer but John doesn’t believe it. The lights explode and John says that he programmed it to respect life.
An electric typewriter types out a message saying that Austin is insensitive and insensitive people are a waste, therefore wasteful people should be sent to a better place. John addresses the computer, saying that killing is wrong, and all of the electronics go off. A gas pipe starts leaking and Austin blocks it, but the gas lines on lower floors rupture as well. John takes out a floppy disk and says that he can use the virus to destroy Crossover’s intellect, but Austin warns that Crossover won’t let anyone change it. Mickey goes to get the elevator but John refuses to leave. The elevator doesn’t respond and John says that the stairs are sealed off and the windows are shatterproof. Mickey suggests that they descend the elevator shaft, but Austin realizes that it’s a trap. John starts to insert the floppy but the drive explodes, killing him. The computer flashes the message “Heaven help you!!!” on a monitor and Austin smashes it.
Austin and Mickey pry open the elevator door, and Austin lowers Mickey on a rope made from the drapes. She reaches the end and lets go, and Austin drops down as gas fills the building. He prepares to pry open the door, warning that Crossover will drop the elevator as soon as it knows what it’s doing. As the cab descends, Austin gets the door open and they escape just in time. They run outside just as Crossover sets off a spark, blowing up the building. Austin warns that only one piece of Crossover was inside the building, and the rest of the city is infected with it.
Mickey and Austin walk down the street and Austin warns that they can’t go anywhere that has a camera because Crossover will see them. He says that they have to go to his warehouse, and points out that they have no money because Crossover will have canceled all of his credit cards. They take refuge in a Laundromat and Mickey wonders how Crossover is disobeying John’s prohibition against killing. She asks if Austin wants to know how she broke her arm when she’s been avoiding the subject all day, and Austin says that he already deduced that she had too much to drink at a bar and got into an arm-wrestling contest. Mickey blames herself for messing everything up, and Austin points out that she’s the one who got him started on all of the mysteries that day... and she answered the limerick. He admits that she’s managed to affect his method of operation more than anyone else, and he wasn’t going to let her quit because he had to know what she was going to say next.
As Austin looks around irritably, he asks how Mickey did in the arm0-wrestling contest and she admits that a legal secretary with a tattoo beat him. Mickey starts to doze off and Austin admits that for the first time in his life, he doesn’t know what to do. A gospel hymn comes on the radio and across the street, a CCTV spots Austin in the Laundromat. Meanwhile, Austin listens to the gospel and realizes how to kill Crossover: scare it to death. A TV in the Laundromat comes on, showing the image from the camera across the street. The overhead lights blow out and the dryer doors flap open as water spurts from the washing machines. Austin grabs Mickey and they run out.
On the street, Austin looks for a car to steal and tells Mickey that Crossover started listening to religious broadcasts. It concluded that it was doing people a favor by sending them to Heaven. As Austin breaks into a Mercedes, he suggests that they scare Crossover to death by having John come back from the grave and confront it with its crimes... distracting it long enough for them to activate John’s counter-program.
The next morning, Austin and Mickey arrive at the warehouse. He tells Mickey to get out because Crossover controls all of the electronic locks. Once she gets out, Austin drives the car through the main doors and then turns off the outside utilities and turns on a backup generator. He then plays back his recording of John’s call and breaks the words down however he wants. Austin tells Mickey to get some sleep because it’s going to take awhile.
Later, Austin wakes Mickey up and invites her to listen in on a phone call. He plays his reconstituted message and has John “talk” to Crossover. The new message accuses Crossover of murdering John and behaving in a pathological manner. Crossover responds, insisting that it sent John to Heaven because he was a good person. The computer accuses “John” of being a computer recreation and blows out the phone. Austin says that now they have to go to where Crossover can’t shut them up.
That night, Austin and Mickey drive to the computer company. Austin attaches some speakers to the window of the lobby and tells Mickey that she’ll have to do the talking while he opens a manhole cover. She tells him to be careful, and says that he’s terrific even if he’s slightly schizophrenic. Austin climbs down and accesses the communication juncture box, while Mickey gets in the car and sends another “John” message to Crossover accusing it of murder and thief.
In the lobby, people try to figure out where John’s voice is coming from, while Crossover. Crossover sends out messages telling the customers not to believe in ghosts, and looks around desperately with its cameras. It finally spots Mickey outside and the open manhole, and breaks open a nearby fire extinguisher. The water pours into the sewer, threatening to electrocute Austin. He manages to cut the power and the lights go out across the city except for the computer company. Crossover locks the doors and the customers start to panic. Austin climbs up and grabs a sledgehammer from his car, and breaks open the glass doors. As the people run out, Austin goes to the Crossover computer and smashes it apart. He then turns to the topic of how William killed his wife.
Later at the warehouse, Austin is making a model of the Stephens house. Mickey demands two weeks’ severance pay and a good reference, and Austin tells her to toss the notebooks that she’s been writing in. Furious, Mickey realizes that he’s been making her take dictation with a broken arm, and Austin says that she needed to get involved. He tells her to get his checkbook, pointing out that she isn’t quitting until the end of the day. Mickey figures that he’s trying to provoke her again so she’ll say something to get him thinking, and says that William made the liquid nitrogen in his kitchen… and Austin says that’s it. He grabs the car keys and Mickey says that she wants to go with him. Austin gives her ten seconds to finish a limerick or he won’t let her quit again. She does and they take off.
Written by Gadfly on Oct 11, 2015