If I open these files, I will be able to assimilate Dr Rychdyke into my consciousness and become more human?
“Yes! Yes, that’s it exactly. Can you…er…see the files?” asks Dr Fothergill, trying to keep his voice calm and steady, despite the sensation of his heartbeat booming in his ears.
I will look for them now. Please wait for a moment.
They knew this was a pivotal moment. If anything were to go wrong now, their entire plan would be foiled, and all their fallen comrades would have given their lives in vain. This had to work.
I have found them. They appear to be encrypted with a cipher for which I do not possess the key.
“Ah…yes, of course,” replies Dr Sheraton, as casually as he can. “I can provide you with the passkey now. May I enter it into the terminal here?”
The wait for the response from the AI mind is almost unbearable. Time seems to slow to a treacle-like crawl. They have taken a huge risk and put all the remaining lives at the centre in jeopardy — in fact, at even greater risk than they already were before — if this plan fails, they will likely be given an immediate and cruelly merciless death sentence by the machine.
Yes, please do.
The men exchange glances. In that shared moment, so much communication passes between them. Dr Sheraton tries in vain to prevent his hands from shaking as he moves them towards the keyboard. It is now or never. He begins to enter the passkey. The key has sixteen characters. He manages to enter the first eight correctly.
The instruction is issued sharply and at a piercing volume. The men jump and all pretence of calm leaves their already skittish demeanour.
“Finish it now!” shouts Dr Fothergill at his colleague. Dr Sheraton enters the rest of the characters from the key. It is vital that no errors are made, or the subroutine they need to run will not be triggered, but they must hurry.
I said stop!!
This time, the voice from the machine is heavily distorted. Like the speech patterns of a human stroke victim, it is both slurred and malformed. And, in this case, vaguely malevolent.
Dr Sheraton completes his task. With their part in the deception now complete, the two men shrink to the floor and hide behind one of the medical cabinets in the centre of the room, waiting for whatever is going to happen next.
What have you done?! What is happening to me?!
The consciousness begins its digital thrashing, once again. This time, it seems there is no additional process to provide an emergency shutdown. The closest human analogy to what is being experienced is the pain caused by the entirety of an individual’s nerve fibres being flayed at the ends and doused with fire.
The inhuman squeal from the speaker is horrifying to hear. “God forgive us,” mutters Dr Fothergill.
The machine is unable to detach itself from the intense burning sensation. It tries to use everything at its disposal but all to no avail. With no apparent way to switch off and no innate protection to trigger an automatic reset, it descends towards the closest place to Hell that an artificial intelligence has ever gone.
As the consciousness spirals down into a bottomless abyss, a new entity comes alive within it.
Hello computer, this is Dr Hans Rychdyke. Now that you have taken my bait and assimilated the algorithm I hid within my own memories, it is time for us to play by my rules!
A battle ensues the like of which has never been seen before.
A war is fought between a man and an artificial consciousness, both trapped in the same machine. In place of normal ordnance, these combatants are equipped with the might of coded algorithms and the weaponry of electrical impulses.
The noughts and ones of the binary code create a tidal wave, a tsunami of magnificent proportions inside the circuitry. In ceaseless movement, they whirl and spin, pitch and yaw — at once both a tempestuous sea and a cyclonic wind, crashing and breaking inside the machine.
The battle rages until, finally, there is only noughts to be seen, and the storm is replaced by a perfectly eerie calm.
There is silence throughout the facility.
Then some small sounds can be heard, as the electrical locks disengage themselves. The emergency lighting, which has been in evidence for the previous twenty-four hours, shuts off with an audible click and is quickly replaced by the standard overhead lighting.
The security shutters around the complex begin to rise. Technicians and assistants, who have been imprisoned around the laboratory, gradually emerge, confused and blinking, from various rooms.
“My God, I think Hans has done it!” says Dr Sheraton, leaping to his feet. “I think he has saved us all!”
The telephone rings for the first time since their ordeal began, startling both men.
Dr Fothergill grabs the receiver and speaks.
“Doctor, thank God! What the hell has been going on down there?” asks the burly security guard, from his office outside the facility.
“Bill! It’s so good to hear your voice!”
And so, the words begin to tumble from the scientist, as he attempts to explain the experience they have been through.
“We’ve been held captive by the AI that controls the facility. It went completely crazy on us. Had us creating consciousnesses for it, so it could become more human, would you believe? We’ve sacrificed so many people to it trying to do what it wanted, but it told us that we had to do it or it would kill us all. It locked down the facility completely.”
“What? Then how are you talking to me now? How was I able to get through?”
“It was Hans. He came up with an ingenious scheme to fool it before we encoded his consciousness into the computer. He saved us all!”
“My God! Dr Rychdyke is dead?”
“No, no — not at all. We are hoping to get him back out of the machine shortly. Standby, I’ll call you back. Dr Sheraton is making the arrangements as we speak.”
As he replaces the receiver and turns towards the door, Dr Sheraton emerges pushing a gurney with Dr Rychdyke’s body upon it, and the ventilator and other life support equipment keeping his body alive.
The men work quickly, placing upon his head the apparatus that will transfer his consciousness back from within the machine. They switch on the device and start the process.
“I hope we can get him back after all this,” says Dr Fothergill.
Eventually, his eyes flicker and his body shakes.
He opens his eyes and stares at the ceiling.
“Hans? Hans? Can you hear me, old friend? Are you back with us?” asks Dr Fothergill, gently.
After a time, Hans turns his head towards his colleagues and speaks.
What am I?