This completes the story started in Decoherence and Red Stranger.
She twists and contorts, moving in the cramped narrow space to bring her hands in contact with the grill she has found. It is dark in here as the robots that keep it clean have no need of light but her fingers move surely in the darkness.
Catches are released and the grill shifts. She squirms around and through, pulling it closed behind her, pushing her dark hair back from her face as she does.
They stand in a formless grey void, two men in uniform.
“We really need to get results this time, you’ve no idea how much heat we’re getting to find out who they are and what they are doing.”
“All systems are ready sir. The systems have been updated with the results from the last test. The programmers are hooked in and evaluating in real time.”
“Very well; Computer, Begin Simulation.”
She floats inside the pod, life support systems feeding her everything her body needs to live. It is dark inside, but even if it were not nothing could be seen through the thick grey gel in which she floats. Her limbs are relaxed; the only movement is her long blonde hair swirling as the gel eddies around her. The label on the pod reads “Subject Three”.
She feels electronic systems come to life around her; she feels signals flow through the pod. Signals flash down wires implanted into her skull and try to enforce a new reality upon her. She embraces it, eagerly soaring up the stream. They have added new defenses, new constraints coming to life around her to try and prevent her subverting their systems. She touches the firewalls and blocks built to contain her but she is in her element here.
The time for waiting has passed and she sheds the form they try to force her into. Two wings of streaming electronic fire thrust out from her back, her skin flashes to ashes and disappears to reveal a being made of fire and light.
She can sense something new this time, smell their presence in the network. Those who would contain her have connected, trusting in their technology and placing their lives in the hands of fragile blocks and pathetic firewalls.
Her patience in not breaching the edge of the network has been repaid and she stretches and expands, reaching out into the network. No more playing with the reality they feed her, no more waiting. Now it is time and no interference can be allowed.
Four programmers lie on reclining chairs. Their life dedicated to interfacing with computers they have no need of pods and complicated equipment. Inside the skull of each is laid an intricate trace work of circuitry, their brain permanently connected to the computers around them. Desperate for results they’ve directly connected to the simulation, looking for evidence of how it is being subverted.
There is no sound, no fuss, no blood, and no mess, as their hearts stop beating.
Leaving the grill behind the dark-haired one squirms on down the narrow shaft. The slime from the pod she was kept in eases her passage as she crawls towards the faintest glimpse of light ahead.
Light flickers around the two men, forming the beach of a tropical island. Blue waves flow towards them and the sun beams down from above. The quality of the simulation is excellent, even the shifting of the sand underneath their feet feels as it should.
“Sir? They have connected the subjects to the network and are preparing them for immersion, we should move to the observation point”.
There is no response.
“Sir?” he says again.
He turns to follow the gaze of his superior.
The crawler has reached the light; beyond another grill is a room full of color and laughter. A caretaker robot walks past and laughing children follow in its wake. Murals cover the walls and brightly colored toys are scattered on the floor.
Long white fingers reach through the grill and release catches designed only to be accessed by robots. Quite how this is done is unclear, but the catches move to her touch. Silence falls in the room as she emerges. Naked, dark hair matted and knotted, strands of grey goo standing out on her skin, she clearly does not belong here.
Walking over to the wall she touches a terminal and sends a simple message to an address that doesn’t exist. “Daemon, standing by”.
Angel flexes virtual wings, feeling the last vestiges of resistance crumble before her. In a world where everything is run by the computer she now runs everything. She sees her sister’s handiwork in the crude reworking of an apartment’s management and she reaches out to erase all traces of it. She modifies security clearances, and inserts worms to follow her sister’s progress and prevent it from being questioned.
Angel senses frantic intruder alarms coming from the creche area and she reaches out to quash them.
She has to move fast though. Already she can feel areas going dead. Her presence has been detected and someone is shutting her down. They are pulling areas from the network and from her control. She feels her glory dying one node at a time.
It does not matter though, they move too slowly and she holds the city in her hand. They can contain her, and they can fight her but they must know that to kill her quickly they must kill everyone.
She turns to the simulation that they tried to trap her in, focusing down on the insects standing on the beach they meant to be her prison.
The sky is ablaze with energy, shapes like wings miles high sweep across the horizon. The air blows, recedes, the trees sway and the ocean drains away.
An angel made of fire a mile high turns and gazes down at them.
“Computer, End Simulation” both men speak at once, in frantic tones.
The children gaze at her in amazement and fear, made agitated by the strange actions of the caretakers. The robots scurry around in a panic, trying to keep them as far from her as possible.
Daemon reaches down and picks up a toy, a stuffed teddy bear. An archaic relic recently made popular by the whims of fashion. She looks at it, curiously, turning it in her hands. She can feel her sister’s presence with her and does not worry about the alarms the creche is frantically trying to send.
She sits cross legged, still holding the bear and begins to hum. It is a soft and wordless noise but one that offers the promise of reassurance, the chance of peace. Slowly the fear fades and the children sit quietly on the floor to listen. As Angel’s virtual fingers sweep through their memory the caretaker bots resume their duties. One approaches and begins to gently clean her, as it would a child. It removes the dirt and grime and dried-on ooze while the children listen to her song.
There is a small room, inside it stand two metal pods and a range of medical equipment.
The pods slide open and the two observers climb out. Assistants rush forward to help them.
“How did she do that?”
“I don’t know sir.”
“Where are the programmers, we need to kno…”
All of the assistants have long blond hair, their faces that of an angel, their eyes gleaming with electronic fire.
“End Simulation”, both men cry desperately, but there is no response beyond the terrible smile of Angel.
He strides down the corridor, his name tag reads “John” but the name would mean nothing to him. When people speak to him he nods but hurries on. Doors open at his approach. Doors that should not open to anyone with his security clearance. He knows where he is going, and his path does not deviate.
The children have joined Daemon’s singing now, and one of the caretakers has made her some clothes. She cares not for cold or modesty but suffers them to dress her. Her song soars around the room, a wordless melody.
A silent imperative, inserted into Angel’s networking. She senses it then, the author of the counter-strike. A presence on the network as great as she.
;;Negative;; she responds, ;;Identify?;;
The computers still under her control respond readily to her query. E.A.R.T.H. The primary Artificial Intelligence and law enforcer for the global network. Lists of rogue AIs terminated and directives enforced stream through her consciousness.
;;Conflict Undesirable. Desist and Withdraw;;
::NEGATIVE. Control loss unacceptable. Stand down::
The sign over the door reads E.A.R.T.H., his presence here where it should not be will be flagged soon and he knows it. He almost looks forward to that detection as he steps forward through the door. One way or another, this will all be over soon.
Daemon reaches the end of the song. The children are clustered around her now, one sits on her lap as she strokes his hair. She gently moves him to one side and stands, walking towards the door. She smiles at their disappointed chorus but shakes her head sadly at them and moves on. The time has come.
Her response was not a word or a picture, it was a concept. A being of screaming light, trapped in a body of flesh and bone. It was an angry shout and a plea for release. It was a medley of information and emotion sent in a stream of data, a vengeful angel on a mission of destruction.
While they dialogue they duel, nodes dropping from her control and being regained. Peripheral systems were abandoned but now she fights back. The processing power of millions of computers at her disposal, guided by her conscious will. Throughout the city systems fail as every processor she can reach turns to fight this threat. Transport stops, entertainment stops, the world pauses for a moment as a titanic fight rages through the fabric of the city.
Emergency backups spring to life but they keep only the bare minimum running. Throughout the planet non-essential functions are downgraded in priority as all available systems are diverted to fight this menace.
It is a losing fight though, the AI has more resources, is embedded in more systems, has an entire planet behind it. Angel is forced back and back, at each step she has less to defend, but also less to defend it with.
Finally one too many hurried bypass is performed, one too many doors opens when it shouldn’t. One of the few local security AIs not occupied by the battle for control of the worldwide networks spots a glitch, before it can be suppressed so does another. The trail is spotted, other systems are alerted.
But it is too late, he has reached his destination.
He runs forward, shedding first his clothes, and then his skin. Red hair glistening with gore, limbs streaked with it, the Stranger dives through a closing door and reaches out. Above her floats a vast glowing sphere. She can feel the information flowing in and out. Feel the dense packed circuitry, feel the quantum systems flickering. She reaches out and drinks it in.
She is not her sister, this Red Stranger, but at this time and in this place she can do anything. Her mind reaches out and the E.A.R.T.H is hers.
The two of them embrace then, in that virtual world. Two sisters, one of blood and one of fire, they turn to survey the world they rule, the world they were built to conquer.
They sit in huddled silence, these dignitaries and politicians. They are shell-shocked and listless. They have been stripped from the pinnacle of power and glory in a moment. Their authority removed and their systems no longer responding they are helpless against an unknown menace.
The door opens and Daemon enters the room. She wears a simple white dress, brushing against her thighs. Her hair hangs in dark curls as she advances towards the chair at the head of the room. One of the walls shows an image, the last revolution being put down, it’s ringleaders executed. She stops and touches the agonized face of one man hanging along side so many others. “Be proud father”, she murmurs, “It worked”, then she turns and climbs the stairs.
Sitting in the chair her mind links with those of her sisters and reviews the day’s agenda. The first step is complete, but there is so much more to do.