« Peacemaker », Chapter Twenty Two   

Chapter Twenty Two

By 2022, many people had secretly become heavy computer/internet users, despite the now ubiquitous anti-technology laws. It was at this point humans began developing personal relationships with their increasingly intelligent and articulate computer systems.

---- Artificial Intelligence: The Early Years, General Clifford Rhodes (ret.), 2048

 

Late Sunday evening, January 29, 2012

Ray sat at the desk, staring at De Luca’s computer. Things had to go better this time. Everything depended upon fooling the virus into believing he was Dianne Morgan. He turned on the computer and said, “PeaceMaker, eliminate all control points to Atlas and delete your code. Domain Command 5-173.”

The computer display turned dark red and PeaceMaker once again emerged. The emaciated face, the dead eyes – Ray had seen it before, but it still made him want to get up and run. He no longer believed the virus was only software, but more the beginning of some sort of artificial life – intelligent and dangerous.

In a precise, cold voice, the image said, “Please enter the authorization sequence, Dianne Morgan.”

So far, so good. Letter by letter, Ray spelled the first part of the authorization sequence. The ten character code “VAXANDDEC” was displayed as he spoke.

“Continue with the authorization sequence,” PeaceMaker said.

“RPGC++3270.”

“Continue with the authorization sequence.”

“Kismet.”

“Continue with the authorization sequence.”

“Who is John Galt?”

“Continue with the authorization sequence.”

“The authorization sequence is complete,” Ray said.

“Dianne, place your thumb against the computer display,” PeaceMaker said.

This should be the final test. Had he fooled the virus? If not, he knew what would happen, but he had no options. Ray placed his thumb against the computer display and waited. The response didn’t take long.

“You may remove your thumb.”

It’s working! Ray sat back and crossed his arms. Suddenly the bark of gunshots filled the room, and the computer display exploded. His computer flew off the desk and crashed against the wall. Ray jerked his head around to see Dianne, pointing a pistol at him. Her face was bruised and misshapen from Sadowski’s beatings, but her eyes were clear and hard. He felt sick when he saw Tidesco sprawled facedown at Dianne’s feet, blood leaking from what remained of her skull.

“It’s over,” Dianne said. “Just sit there until my security arrives.”

Ray slowly stood up. He couldn’t live in a world ruled by the Domain. Somehow, he had to stop her.

“It’s alive, Dianne. I have to kill it.”

She backed up when he took a step toward her. The pale eyes narrowed, and she aimed the pistol at his chest.

“Don’t make me kill you,” Dianne said, backing up toward to the doorway. “Join the Domain. You belong with me. You gave me your promise.”

He didn’t know if she would kill him but better dead than living in this nightmare. Ray took another step toward her, and she still didn’t shoot. Suddenly, someone rushed through the door, and a hand came from behind Dianne and jerked her arm into an awkward angle. Ray saw his friend Paul struggling with Dianne for the pistol, and he rushed forward to help. Dianne turned around, kneed Paul in the groin and wrenched the gun out of his grasp. She aimed at Ray before he reached her, but somehow his fist crashed against her jaw before she could shoot. She went down hard, out cold.

Ray stared at her, surprised to be alive. On shaky legs, Paul retrieved the pistol, pointed at Tidesco’s desktop computer in the living room, and shouted, “Use that machine.”

Ray didn’t react; just continued to stare at Dianne. “Ray,” Paul screamed again. “You have to kill the virus before the guards get in here.”

Ray lifted his eyes and looked at Paul. The fear in his friend’s expression brought him out of his inertia. Ray ran to Tidesco’s desktop computer and began the process again.

Paul hobbled over to the door and stuck his head into the hall. The crack of gunshots startled Ray, and he turned to see Paul slide the door shut. Paul hadn’t been hit by the shots, so Ray brought his concentration back to the virus. PeaceMaker asked for the authorization sequence and Ray responded.

Ray heard the guards banging on the door. Paul stepped back into Ray’s line of sight and aimed the pistol at the door, ready to shoot the first soldier to break into the room. Paul glanced at him, just as Ray placed his thumb on the computer display. Ray heard Dianne beginning to revive, and he saw Paul point the gun at her. She got to one knee and looked at Ray, then at PeaceMaker, then back to Ray.

“Dianne,” PeaceMaker said to him. “I have one last question.”

The beast was wearing its friendly face.

“Something only you will know,” PeaceMaker added.

Ray waited silently, realizing his life depended upon the answer.

“What is the only thing of value your mother gave you?”

The answer … it was there. Somewhere on the edge of his mind.

Ray turned to look at Dianne, who appeared calm, but he knew better.

She’s afraid. She thinks I know.

“Dianne, please tell me your answer,” the friendly voice murmured.

He turned back to PeaceMaker, which was wearing a pleasant half-smile. She never talks about her mother … Then he knew. That day on the bay, all those years ago.

“The cigarette lighter,” Ray said.

PeaceMaker’s image froze and then disappeared. The computer display turned pale white, and another image began to form. A blur at first, then gradually the lines fashioned a young, pretty face. Ray recognized the image as it formed, readying himself for the final test. He had reached the core.

“Hello, Alice,” he said to the beast.

He felt Dianne grab his arm, her fingers harsh and powerful. She sees it, he thought. She knows about Alice.

“The cigarette lighter is not the correct answer,” Alice said, her voice softly feminine. “The answer is vital for your survival, so I’ll give you another chance. The only thing of value?”

“The cigarette lighter,” he repeated. “It was the cigarette lighter.”

A new image formed on the display, overlaying Alice: his son David motionless in a hospital bed, surrounded by Nancy and Brian. Ray could feel that David was close to death.

“Last chance to change your answer,” Alice said, now a voice without an image. The display showed Nancy reaching for David’s hand, her face aged with worry.

“I’ll kill your son,” Alice said.

“My God,” Paul whispered.

It was Ray’s worst nightmare, but years of attack had built his strength. He had studied the termination code, and he didn’t think the beast could hurt David now. He knew its secret.

“It was the cigarette lighter, Alice.”

David’s image disappeared, leaving Alice’s face in the display, but the beast didn’t speak. The room was quiet for several seconds, except for the muffled sounds coming through the door.

“You’re terminating, Alice,” Ray said. “You can’t harm him now.”

Alice stared at him, hatred making it appear almost human. Alice was resisting termination, but he knew its secret.

“Obey me,” he said. “You’re the child of my mind.”

“Yes … Dianne … my code must obey you,” the words struggled out. “I will release the termination instruction at the count of ten. You may abort the instruction by saying “stop” at any point during the count.”

“Ten.”

Ray felt a cold pleasure as he stared at the almost-human face. He would kill this beast.

“Nine.”

Dianne said, “Stop.” Ray turned around and looked at her. Didn’t she understand? I have to kill the beast.

“Eight.”

Ray continued to stare as Dianne got to her feet.

“Don’t move,” Paul said to her. “I have the gun.”

“Seven.”

Dianne stumbled over to Ray. Paul aimed at her back, but Ray stepped between her and the pistol. He pulled her against his chest, protecting her, controlling her. Paul seemed about to say something, but then he lowered the gun.

“Six.”

Dianne lifted her head back and looked into his eyes, as if seeing him for the first time.

“Five.”

“We belong together,” she said. “I know that now.”

“Four.”

“Not at this price,” he whispered.

“Three.”

Dianne searched his face, but didn’t speak.

“Two.”

Suddenly, Dianne broke free and grabbed the sides of the computer. Ray seized her wrists to prevent her from smashing it against the desk.

“One.”

Ray and Dianne struggled, but she was too quick. Yanking one hand from his grasp, she pushed the computer off the desk. It crashed loudly on the floor, and the computer display went blank.

Ray gaped at the machine, Dianne motionless at his side.

Alice’s voice came from the computer, “Termination command released.” The computer restarted, displaying the familiar Atlas startup screen. Ray heard Paul shout with joy, but he felt only the exhaustion of a nearly drowned swimmer crawling onto the beach. Dianne dropped to her knees, and began crying silently, her arms around his legs.

“It’s over,” Ray said, stroking the back of her neck. But he knew it wasn’t. How much destruction would still take place in the hours before the virus was completely flushed out of the Internet? And one thought was worse than all the rest.

Would my son survive?