An Absolute Knowledge Prequel
Copyright © 2016 Drew Cordell
rights reserved. No
part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by
any means whatsoever without express written permission from the
author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical
articles and reviews.
Cover art: Mike Winkelmann
Text dividers: Jose Ochoa
This is a work of fiction. Any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely
Published in The United States
righteous conquest we pursue will lead our nation to safety. The work
you do for us will not be forgotten. When you wither, our nation will
remain steadfast, preserved in all its greatness for the people of
our land. While this struggle stresses the fabric of our country’s
being, your innovation and heroism will not be forgotten.
walked forward through the security checkpoint of the Black Site. It
was only 10 AM, but the sun was sweltering, and Travis’ expensive
suit clung to his skin like glue. He reached up and wiped a layer of
sweat from his forehead as the air from the fans struck him.
“Good morning, Trav,”
“Morning. Any update on the
computations from last night?” he asked the short Engineer.
“It failed, but I think Ben
already made more changes,” Jeremy responded.
They were working to give a
concrete definition to something that had always eluded them, Paragon
Thoughts. Travis had all but given up on the prospect of defining
what they were, but the substantial payments from the Government kept
him and his team going. The Cold War fueled their project, but it
didn’t bother him. If the bombs dropped, they were in the middle of
the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, and they had enough food and water to
survive for over a decade.
Travis parted with Jeremy and
moved to the center of the compound, a massive circular room that
housed the computer that was working around the clock to calculate
what an anchor of unparalleled intelligence would look like—Paragon
Thoughts. They had moved from the clunky vacuum tube computers to the
cutting-edge microchip enabled Mainframe system. The hardware and
software was solid, but they still had work to do.
“Hey, Travis, I’ve
suggested a few changes to the source you submitted for review last
week, it’s looking good, but I think I optimized the calculations
slightly,” Ben said.
Travis never questioned the
changes Ben submitted. Ben was one of the top mathematical minds in
the world, and his optimizations of the mathematical components of
the code had been nothing but helpful.
“Wonderful, I’ll look at
those and get back to you,” Travis said as he took the cardboard
box loaded with the stack of executable punch cards. If there was
anything worse than having to file all the paperwork that documented
the changes to the code, it was dropping the stack of cards. They
were constantly changing the framework, and trying to define a
thought of perfection, but the printout of the results had been the
same for the past three years:
Travis walked to his desk and
opened his pack of Winston cigarettes. Taking one out, he lit it with
his battered kerosene Zippo that he used throughout World War Two. He
took a puff of the cigarette and lowered his hand, exhaled, and
leaned forward to review the document with the adjustments to the
formulas. Like always, he glossed over it and stamped it for approval
with blue ink. Since everything he was working on was confidential,
he didn’t have a secretary that could fill out the dull,
bureaucratic paperwork for project changes.
Thoughts of perfection might
not exist, but the results and development of the database were
staggering. Their code was improving. He never imagined that they
would move from vacuum tubes to microboards in his lifetime. Their
system, The Omniscient, was real, and the logic they were developing
was proving keen at solving many problems.
“Hey, Travis. Are you going
to come to the party this evening?” Frederick asked, peeking his
head into the office.
“Yeah, I’ll be there.”
“I’d pay good money to see
Ben get blitzed again, the man sure can drink.”
Travis gave him a smile.
“Yeah, I’ve got to get this paperwork filed.”
Frederick gave a nod and
disappeared. When he was out of sight, Travis pulled a key from the
pocket of his slacks and unlocked the bottom drawer of his desk.
Lifting a false panel, he raised the leather bound notebook from its
was unlabeled, and the text inside was written in plain English, or
as close to English as pre-punched card code could be. Travis wasn’t
necessarily a Communist, but writing in a cipher could get him killed
if his work fell into the wrong hands—any hands, actually. He liked
to call his project the Invisible Hand, the silent force that would
push the project forward. He had to keep it hidden of course—his
country wouldn’t understand, but he was doing this to save
humanity. If humans could cause the collapse of the world a first
time, then they could cause it to happen again. The Invisible Hand
was his way of nudging the project forward and allowing it to act in
its own best interest to preserve humanity. The Invisible Hand was
true artificial intelligence, the goal of computational perfection.
If everything went as plan, it would learn alongside the Omniscient
project, and could even take control in a time of crisis when
decisions couldn’t be trusted to political leaders.
while everyone was distracted, he’d slip in his code to the main
index without anyone noticing. Him and Ben were the only ones that
ever reviewed it anyway, the higher ups did not understand how it
worked—they only observed the results of the work. The precautions
he had taken to hide everything should have been enough, and when the
project was completed, he would have done his part to preserve the
future of humanity.
“The project should assist
key decision makers in optimizing their decisions in a time of crisis
and limited resources,” the Director had said right before Lyndon
B. Johnson shook Travis’ hand, thanking him for his service to the
Extinguishing his cigarette,
Travis shut the door of his office and began the painstaking process
of preparing the main Omniscient Index and injecting his Invisible
Hand code, the closest thing to artificial intelligence that anyone
in the world had created. Unlike anything else, his code could think,
it didn’t just chug through instructions and spit out a calculated
answer. By the end of the evening, he finished and took the boxed
code along with the paperwork for Ben’s changes to the Mainframe.
Letting out a nervous sigh, he pulled the suppressed M1911 handgun
from below his desk and wedged it in the back of his slacks. He
didn’t want to have to use it, but he couldn’t let anything stand
in his way.
covered the box with the lid and walked toward to the Mainframe. The
room was empty, and he could hear voices in the mess hall. Tucking
the box under the system, he joined the others in the mess hall as
they prepared for Jeremy’s birthday party. Drinks were already
being poured, and Jeremy wore a cardboard hat that was taped to the
sides of his forehead.
exclaimed as he grabbed a glass and started to pour liquor in it with
some cola. He slid it across the table toward Travis.
Giving a friendly smile and
hiding his nerves, Travis took the cup and took a sip, raising it to
Ben downed a shot of tequila
and flipped his cup over, the glass clinked on the surface of the
plastic table. He raised his arms in the air, cheering, and Frederick
poured him another shot.
is going to be a piece of cake. If he’s already drunk, I won’t
have anything to worry about, Travis
Travis finished his drink,
feeling the soothing heat radiating in his chest. When Frederick saw
his cup was empty, he moved to pour him another, but Travis raised a
hand to stop him.
“I’ll take a rain check on
that drink, I’m going to go have a smoke,” Travis said. The
others in the room didn’t seem to notice, they were all busy
talking amongst themselves and drinking. Frederick gave a nod, poured
himself another drink, then started talking with the group again.
had made his appearance, now he knew it was time to act. He had
worked so hard on the code, and he was sure it would work. All he had
to do now was run it and standardize the new code index. Ben had
already signed off on it, now he just had to make it look like the
code hadn’t changed. Ben never actually looked at the main
framework of the project anyway, he was more concerned with the small
directory that was trying to calculate Paragon Thoughts.
Moving as fast as possible
from the mess hall, Travis approached the Mainframe and squatted down
to pick up the box of punched cards. Just as he was lifting it, he
heard a voice and his body tensed.
“Can’t you work later?
Come on, Travis, we’re supposed to be partying. Besides, the
Mainframe will be busy with calculations until the morning, anyway.
If something goes wrong, the alarm will go off, and we’ll come fix
Travis turned around to see
Ben and saw he was looking at the box of punched cards with
curiosity. “What are those? You know I’m supposed to sign off on
anything you run.”
“I want to run the code from
earlier with the modifications you made,” Travis responded, keeping
his voice level. Ben wasn’t drunk enough, and Travis was worried
that everything he had worked for would fall apart.
“It’s already running, let
me see the documentation for that box,” Ben said, suspicion in his
“I lost it, come on, Ben, go
back to the party, and I’ll join you in a second, I’ve just got
to get this running.”
“No!” Ben shouted. “It’s
against protocol, we’ll both lose our jobs.”
“Keep your voice down, Ben,”
Ben lunged forward and tugged
on the box, trying to pry it from Travis’ grasp.
“You idiot, what are you
doing?” Travis seethed as he shoved Ben in the chest.
Ben yelled in anger and shot a
punch toward Travis. The fist connected with Travis’ eye and a
black spot and wave of dizziness flooded over him. Travis staggered
back, holding the box of punched cards close to his chest and reached
up to hold his throbbing head. With fury, he pulled the gun from the
back of his pants and pointed it at Ben, but the safety was still on.
Unrelenting, Ben charged
forward and caught Travis’ stomach with his shoulder and drove him
to the ground. Ben continued to strike down on the smaller man with
cruel blows, but Travis had flipped off the safety on the gun. There
was a flat popping sound as the weapon fired and drove a bullet
through Ben’s chest. Ben twisted in shock and raised his hands to
the wound, confused at what had happened. Blood was welling through
his fingers and poured down on Travis’ suit. “You shot me?” Ben
croaked, his voice weak and face pale.
raised the gun and shot again. He heard laughs from the mess hall;
they hadn’t heard a thing. Nothing could get in his way now. He
slid Ben’s body out of the way and wiped his hands on his pants,
smearing them with blood. He couldn’t risk getting any blood on the
punched cards, it couldn’t be obvious that they were involved in
the body out of the way, he loaded his punched cards into the
Mainframe and standardized the new code index. His duty to his
country and humanity was fulfilled. If the world were lost, he would
be their savior.
“There are fragments of
weird, encrypted code all throughout the project. I tried to take
them out and clean it up, but everything broke. They don’t look
like they do anything, but there may be something hidden underneath,”
Neil said to his boss as he highlighted segments of the project on
you tell which phase they’re from?” Miranda asked as she leaned
“Definitely phase one,”
“Alright, I don’t have the
keys to decrypt them, and it’s probably something that doesn’t
matter, even if it is above our pay grade.”
“That’s the thing, though,
if these code fragments are from phase one, there shouldn’t be any
encryption at all. Code executed in the sixties was read directly off
of paper cards, there wasn’t any of the advanced computer processes
needed for encryption.”
“And code alone couldn’t
“Well, it could, I guess,
but it still doesn’t add up.”
“We hardly use anything from
phase one anyway, right?” she asked.
“Yeah, only some very basic
framework and the data of events we logged. Dr. Benjamin Wiley did
manage to mathematically define a Paragon Thought before he went
crazy and tried to kill Dr. Wells, though.”
Miranda smirked. “Yeah, I
suppose that’s true. Okay, I’ll send this off for administrative
approval and make a note of those code snippets you showed me and
they can either get us the keys for decryption, or they can leave it
“Can I tell you something
off the books?” Neil asked.
“I don’t like the look of
this. I know they’ll maintain this project as it ages, but there
shouldn’t be any shoddy coding in something this important. At
best, it’s bad code and will be hard to maintain going forward. At
worst, something bad is hidden in here, and I can’t see it. There's
no hidden executables or external data connections, but whoever added
this stuff didn’t want it to be noticed.”
“Got it, I’ll suggest they
have it decrypted. I’m sure the executives will want it foolproof
and cleaned before the project is finalized.”
“Thanks,” Neil responded,
taking a sip of coffee and shutting down his computer.
Travis had work to finish now,
and he was ready to activate the first Automaton with the help of his
Invisible Hand protocol. The others were still drinking in the mess
hall, unaware of what had happened. Once he was finished, he’d have
to convince them that this was all Ben’s fault. The Automaton
connection wouldn’t be wireless, but the system could attempt to
control the robot and have it do as it pleased, the first step toward
automation and creating a self-sustaining Government that would be
superior to anything created by humans. It would only work toward
bettering humanity’s future, but sacrifices had to be made.
on the servos of the welded Automaton, Travis attached the thick
cable from the Mainframe and flipped on the power. The motors hummed
to life, and the robot moved forward slowly, looking around the room
to try to determine its surroundings. It was doing it all by itself,
the Automaton was actually working. I’ve
done it, Travis
After a few seconds, the
Mainframe beeped, and a single piece of paper was printed. It was
different from all the other prints that had been made in the last
Paragon Thought basis defined.
Invisible Hand Protocol embedded.
External connections confirmed and
active: Automaton 4.
system would learn to use the Automatons within acceptable parameters
in time. Travis turned off the Automaton and ripped the result
sheet into tiny pieces before spreading it throughout multiple trash
bins. He picked up the silenced handgun from the ground, staring at
the black metal weapon with dark cherry wood grips. He placed the gun
in ben’s lifeless grasp to put his prints on the weapon. Gritting
his teeth, Travis put the end of the pistol on his arm, pressing his
muscle to the side so that the bullet would go straight through.
Travis took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. Pain exploded
through his arm, and he stopped himself from crying out immediately.
On the verge of passing out, he shot Ben in the chest two more times
before screaming out for the others.
“The Director declined my
request for decryption, but he said that directive was reserved for
the President’s eyes only. Even he couldn’t see what it does,”
Miranda told Neil, leaning in and taking a sip from her coffee.
“I don’t like it at all,
something isn’t right.”
“Well don’t even think
about digging into this, you know the punishment for insubordination
in our line of work.”
Neil nodded. “So we leave
the ominous code intact and hope it doesn’t jack our nuclear launch
codes when it goes live in the Defender system, sounds like a good
Miranda rolled her eyes.
“Someone with technical experience beyond ours knows what it does,
that’s good enough for them. I don’t like it either, but we’ve
got to do our jobs. Anyway, the final version of the code will go
live in a few days, and we’ll get our raise.”
rather be sure we’re delivering safe software than get a bonus.
We’re working on a project that could save or end millions of
lives. If something goes wrong because of some old code, I don’t
have authority to view, well, that would be a damn shame. What does
it tell you if they’re hiding things from the Director of the CIA?”
“It could just be a canned
answer to keep us from digging further, either way, it doesn’t
concern us anymore. We’ve done our part, and this technology will
save millions of lives if our country is ever crippled by a
“You’re right,” Neil
said. “I guess I will get back to work on some extensions for the
“Have fun, champ,” she
said, patting him on the shoulder before leaving his office. “I’m
going to go grab more coffee.”
wouldn’t let the higher-ups hide ancient secrets behind poorly
written code. Neil took his Blackjack USB drive from his pocket and
plugged it into his desktop. The device was illegal, sure, but it
could probably crack the ancient encryption. He set the parameters
and began the brute force calculations, locking his workstation and
walking out of his office to go talk to Miranda.
he walked around through the old hallway, he could hear the drone of
the Mainframe fans as it continued to learn new information. The
Omniscient project was coming along nicely, and with his work, the
infrastructure could be used remotely. Neil walked through the dark,
tiled hallway toward the mess hall where Miranda stood stirring her
“Hey, I decided to grab more
as well,” he said, lifting his cup and moving to the coffeemaker.
“One of those days?” she
asked playfully, moving her long brown hair out of the way and giving
him a bright smile.
“Yeah, something like that,”
he replied. He knew he couldn’t involve Miranda in this, and he
didn’t want to have to lie to her, but he had to be sure the
software they were delivering was safe. Neil couldn’t let the
remnants of the country fall to shambles as the result of some
bureaucracy governance procedures that were horribly outdated. If he
could be trusted with the logic of building a system that would save
humanity, there was no reason why they should keep any part of the
project from him.
“How about you let me cook
you dinner tonight?” Neil asked.
Miranda raised an eyebrow.
“Are you asking me out on a date?”
“I suppose I am,” he said.
He always had feelings for her, but they were so busy with work that
there was never any time. Neil hadn’t left the Black Site in over
three months, and Miranda hadn’t done much better.
“Well, I accept. Pick me up
Any preferences for dinner? I’ll tap into the fresh foods and cook
us something that isn’t frozen.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he
“You know, I’ve been
waiting for you to make a move for years,” she said.
He blushed. “I’ve been
waiting to make a move for years, but I realized there isn’t time
to wait.” It was true for him now more than ever. If he were caught
for insubordination, he would be tried and killed for treason.
“See you at eight,” she
said, leaving him to make his coffee.
Neil smiled as she left,
thankful for the distraction. It wasn’t too late to turn back, the
Blackjack would probably take hours to crack the encryption, but he
knew that he had to do this, had to make the sacrifice for his
returned to his office and closed the door before unlocking his
workstation. The Blackjack had cracked the encryption, but what he
saw shocked him. Beneath the first layer was another layer of
encryption that was shifting, actively mutating itself to resist his
efforts. This was living code—artificial intelligence from the
1960s. He changed the parameters on the Blackjack to try to break the
second layer, but he knew it could take years
to crack something like this.
There was a loud crack and a
spray of sparks from the USB drive, the Blackjack was fried.
‘You’re digging into
things you’re not supposed to see, Neil,’ his monitor displayed.
was hyperventilating, feeling sick from the horrible sight. There was
blood everywhere, more blood than he had ever seen. Gary was applying
pressure to Travis’ arm with a gauze pad, trying to stop the
bleeding, and Ronald was trying to resuscitate Ben, but it was a lost
cause. Jeremy staggered backward and braced himself on a wooden desk,
trying to keep from toppling over. How could this happen? Why the
hell did Ben have a gun in the first place? They were in the middle
of nowhere, and the guards on the parameter of the Black Site could
repel a small army.
“Oh God,” Jeremy said
before doubling over and vomiting in a trash bin.
“Dammit!” Ronald yelled,
giving up on Ben.
Frederick finished his phone
call and walked over to Jeremy, placing a hand on his back. “You’ll
be fine, just slow your breathing.”
looked up and tried to control himself, he couldn’t bring himself
to look at the body or the dark pool of glistening blood. There was
the loud thud of boots on the linoleum floor as the soldiers from
outside moved in. One soldier used a handkerchief to lift the
silenced handgun and place it in a plastic bag.
interviewed everyone for some time before starting the grueling
process of paperwork and hauling the body away. Soldiers scrubbed the
floors, and there was an extensive search of the entire facility for
more weapons so something like this couldn’t happen again. Just as
he was about to leave, Jeremy noticed something odd. Automaton Four
was connected to the Mainframe. There was no authorization for that,
and he would have been very involved in the process of getting that
Frederick asked as he observed Jeremy.
“Did you attach that cable
to Automaton Four? I didn’t authorize it, and it wasn’t
“No, I didn’t touch it.
You know I wouldn’t,” he said. “Check the log?”
Jeremy picked up the event log
and saw that the last event was Ben’s change to the equations of
Paragon Thoughts, nothing was indicating that anyone had the
authority to connect the Automaton to the system or that it was
was dead, and Travis was in the Medbay, but Jeremy hadn’t been able
to listen to Travis’ interview with the soldiers. They were all
done in private, and they were told not to talk to each other about
the events. Ben tried to kill Travis, but why? Was he trying to do
something with the Automaton and Travis walked in? He needed to
figure out what had happened—why Automaton Four was plugged into
the Mainframe. He needed to know why Ben was dead.
Neil moved quickly, tearing
the Blackjack from the USB port and shoving it in his pocket before
jolting to his feet.
‘Sit down, Neil,’ the
Panting, he took a seat and
tried to control his body’s shaking.
‘Good. Now, if others were
to discover what you’ve done, you’ll be tried and killed as a
traitor to the United States. I don’t believe your punishment
should be so harsh, but if you want to get out of this alive, you’ll
need to do something for me.’
“Can you hear me?” Neil
asked, his voice quiet and low.
‘Type in the textbox
please,’ the monitor displayed as a chat window popped up.
‘Who are you and what do you
want?’ Neil typed. Anyone that could hack into their systems here
wasn’t messing around.
identity is irrelevant. What I want is for you to install a new
directive on the Mainframe. It’s nothing harmful, in fact, I’ve
made some improvements to some of the artificial intelligence code. I
believe my changes will create a smarter Omniscient Mainframe. You’ll
be able to review my code before installing it, so you’ll know
exactly what you’re getting into, but if this doesn’t get done,
I’ll spill the beans.’
‘Where is the code?’ Neil
A folder popped up and started
downloading code from a remote location. Neil tried to open his
interface and track the connection, but something froze his
‘None of that. Try it again,
and you’re dead.’
‘Got it,’ Neil responded.
‘Good. Review my code,
bundle it with the main code index, and I’ll take care of the
‘They’ll notice it’s
been changed,’ Neil typed.
‘Have some faith, Neil. Get
it in the Mainframe index, and I’ll take care of the rest. You’ve
got nothing to lose, you’re a dead man as it is. I’m your only
shot at life, you have no choice but to trust me.’
‘Alright, I’ll look over
your code and let you know,’ Neil typed.
‘I’ll be in touch.’
The connection was
interrupted, and Neil once again had full control of his workstation.
The code sent by the intruder was huge, over three Petabytes worth of
code and artificial logic. Neil started the painstaking task of
scanning for weaknesses and vulnerabilities and was amazed by the
level of sophistication. It was everything he had been working toward
The logic was infallible, and
it would make the Omniscient Mainframe the ultimate leader in
unparalleled decision-making. This code provided the basis of
integrating Dr. Wiley’s Paragon Thought equations with the ability
to add and compound knowledge by passing ideas through these Paragon
Thoughts. There weren’t any Paragon Thoughts discovered, but this
technology would allow humanity to ascend and utilize the project
beyond its intended use. Neil went over the code for hours, amazed
and double checking that it was as it appeared.
A message appeared on his
‘I’ll do it. I don’t
know who you are, but this code is amazing, you’ve developed the
perfect solution. Why are you doing this?’
‘Like you, I also want to
make the world a great place. The Omniscient Mainframe will pave the
way to ascend humanity to the pinnacle of its existence. We’re
going to do great things together, Neil.’
‘What can I call you?’
‘Archangel. Install the
code, I’ll take care of the rest.’
The connection broke, and Neil
was once again left alone.
Travis took a sip of coffee as
he worked with Jeremy on calibrations for the Automatons. Things were
going well on the project, and the aftermath of Ben’s death was
increased security on site, and the ban of alcohol. At the time of
his death, Ben had enough alcohol in his blood to be declared
intoxicated, but they still hadn’t figured out how he had smuggled
a gun on site. Jeremy seemed to be more nosey than usual, but there
was no way he would find proof, even if he did have suspicions about
Ben’s death. Travis was careful with how it went down and wished
that Ben wouldn’t have interfered, but his work was done, anyway.
All Travis needed him for was the equations for defining Paragon
Thoughts after that his work toward the greater good would be
The Automatons were using the
knowledge of the Omniscient Mainframe to accomplish basic tasks, they
had even sent information using radio signals, simple instructions
that when compiled, moved different motors and components on the
Automatons. The Automatons weren’t advanced enough to contain their
own computer chips, but Travis didn’t think it would be long until
they could act on the will and instructions of the Omniscient
finished working on the spliced network of small motors in the hands
of Automaton Two. When calibrated, the Automaton could lift things,
and even write out words with a pen.
“Okay, we’ll try to run a
series of commands using radio signals from the Mainframe. Execute
stack seven, and I’ll evaluate the performance.”
“You got it,” Travis
replied, picking up the deck of punched cards and feeding it into the
computer. He powered on the radio system and plugged it into one of
the empty slots on the Mainframe. The Automaton sputtered to life and
went through a basic series of movements. Jeremy observed the
movements and wrote down observations on his clipboard.
“Looks good. Hey, Trav, did
you plug Automaton Four in on the night Ben tried to kill you? It’s
been bothering me. I know we’re not supposed to talk about it, but
I need to know.”
Travis stiffened. “The man
was a crazy drunk, besides I wouldn’t ever do something without
following protocol. Like you said, we’re not supposed to talk about
“Yeah, you’re right,”
“Don’t bring it up again,”
Travis said, his voice flat.
“Okay. I didn’t mean to be
rude, and I’m not speaking against your character. It’s just
horrible that someone died here, and it doesn’t make sense that the
Automaton was plugged in.”
“I know, I’m the one that
killed him. I can’t believe he shot me, the crazy bastard.”
Travis had to be careful with Jeremy, he was being too nosey. Travis
couldn’t let him impede his work, not while there was still so much
for him to do.
The two finished running
through the stacks of code and ate a simple meal in the mess hall.
Everyone had been in a melancholy mood since the accident, and Travis
didn’t care to spend any more time than he had to with them. After
his meal, he returned to his room and prepared for four hours of
sleep, that was all that he could afford if he wanted to ever finish
his work. He had to do it at night when the other engineers and
programmers weren’t awake. The guards left him alone, they had
strict instructions to guard the outside of the facility. Between the
hours of 12 and 4 was the only time he had to himself to progress his
work and improve the project. For now he would rest, there was still
work to be done, progress to be made.
rolled out of bed and slipped on his wool slippers. He was hungry and
his mouth was bone dry. He flipped on the small lamp on his bed stand
and wiped the goop out of his eyes as his vision adjusted from the
darkness. His watch read 2:37 AM, but he knew he wouldn’t be able
to go back to sleep without a snack. He pulled on his robe and
started toward the mess hall. The hallways were dark, lit only by
small lamps mounted along the power cables of the sleek, concrete
hallways. The light washed the dark walls and illuminated patches
every few feet in the living quarter hall. Jeremy continued toward
the mess hall and heard the drone of the Mainframe as he rounded the
When he rounded the corner, he
saw Travis observing two Automatons in action, running through
commands. Jeremy froze and watched; Travis still hadn’t seen him
Travis was writing something
down in a notebook as the Automatons worked through a sequence Jeremy
had never seen. Something was wrong. Jeremy backed up and tried to
observe without being noticed. The Automatons were interacting with
one another, running through sluggish movements that were far too
basic for the control and precision their servos enabled. Jeremy
wasn’t sure what to do. He knew Travis shouldn’t have touched the
Automatons without him being there, let alone run his own experiments
“What the hell?” Jeremy
whispered to himself.
Travis had stepped forward and
moved his hand in front of the Automaton slowly. The head of the
machine followed his movements. Travis extended his hand, and the
Automaton grabbed it and shook it. The Automatons had vision
components that would eventually allow them to pass visual data to
the Mainframe, but it wasn’t anywhere close to working. What Jeremy
was seeing contradicted that entirely.
“Follow me,” Travis said
to the Automatons as he took a step back. The Automatons tilted their
heads down and took a step forward. “Good. Continue current order.”
Travis took two steps back, and the Automatons followed. Jeremy
couldn’t believe what he was seeing, and he was suddenly filled
with terror. Travis had lied about Automaton Four on the night of
Ben’s death, could he have lied about other things? Was he
dangerous? Jeremy decided he wanted to get back to his room, to
safety. He would tell the others what he had seen in the morning. For
now, he needed to be in his room, behind the security of the
reinforced steel door. When he looked up, Travis was staring directly
“Come here, Jeremy.”
hands were shaking, and he felt clammy. The drive in his pocket
loaded with Archangel’s code felt heavy, and the fear was gnawing
at his mind, working its way from the depths and into his active
mind, flooding his body with a sense of dread and terror. If he
didn’t do this, he was dead. If he did do it and got caught, he was
just get this code installed, trust in this mysterious hacker, and go
on with my life, he
thought. In fact, one of the few things keeping him going beyond the
fear of losing his life was the date with Miranda. He had waited for
so long, and the hope for a brighter future once he had accomplished
this simple task pushed him forward. Only he knew this wasn’t a
simple task, so much could go wrong, everything could go wrong, and
then he’d never see Miranda again.
Neil walked to one of the
auxiliary consoles, his whole body was shaking. He typed in his
login credentials on the console and opened one of the USB bays.
Inserting the device, he clicked the executable file, Paragon.exe,
and the code began to install into the Mainframe.
The three minutes it took to
install felt like an eternity. Neil waited for someone to come and
talk to him, but no one did. He realized he was more worried than he
should have been. Everyone knew he worked with the Mainframe multiple
times a day, and this wouldn’t have looked any different. When the
code finished installing, he unplugged the USB and logged off. As
quickly as he could, he returned to his office and unlocked his
As soon as he logged on, a
text box appeared and words formed on the screen.
‘Nice job, Neil. We’re
going to do great things together. You fulfilled your part of the
bargain, and I’ll do the same.’
Neil typed back. ‘As long as
I’m not killed.’
‘Just sit back and watch as
everything unfolds as it is supposed to. I’m proud of you, Neil.
I’ll be in touch.’
The screen went black before
Neil could respond. The fear of getting caught still gnawed at his
heart, but it was dwindling. He spent the rest of the day mentally
preparing for his date with Miranda, steeling himself to put the
stress of the day behind him and enjoy something he had wanted for
Neil returned to his room to brush his teeth and apply
more cologne. Satisfied with his appearance, he checked his watch,
smiled, and walked down to Miranda’s room. Taking a deep breath, he
knocked and prepared himself.
Miranda opened the door and
smiled. She was wearing the same dress from earlier, but she had
redone her makeup and Neil could smell her perfume. “You look
“You look stunning,” he
said. “May I walk you to the kitchen?” he asked.
“Oh, certainly. I didn’t
realize this was so formal,” she said with a laugh.
Neil held her hand and walked
her down to the kitchen. It was late enough that the mess hall was
mostly empty, but Marty and Kyle were sitting at one table, drinking
beer and watching a football game.
“How does fried rice sound?”
Neil asked Miranda as he sifted through the shipment of fresh
“That sounds perfect.”
Neil pulled out onions and
scallions, carrots and peas, eggs, and sliced chicken. He sliced the
vegetables while the rice cooked in a pot.
Miranda watched with
fascination from the table. “You like to cook?”
“Yeah, I love it, actually.
I can’t guarantee I’m any good, though,” he responded with a
“I trust you,” she said.
Once the rice was finished, he
placed a scoop of butter in the bottom of a large pan and added some
of the spices. He threw in the chicken and let it cook before he
added the vegetables. Once the ingredients were simmering, he threw
in the rice, added more butter, then doused the pan in soy sauce
before cracking three eggs into the center. Satisfied, he turned off
the heat, stirred, and scooped two large portions onto the nicest
plates available at the facility. Neil placed the food on the table
and sat down.
“I’m starving,” she said
as she grabbed her fork.
“Me too, I never feel like
cooking during the day and I always convince myself I’m too busy to
eat lunch anywhere but my office.”
“You work way too much,”
“That’s not something I’d
expect to hear from my supervisor,” he responded taking a bite of
“Well, I’m glad you
decided to take some time away from your work to treat me to this
delicious meal,” Miranda said as she scooped another fork of rice
into her mouth.
smiled. “One more thing about work and then we can talk about
something else. Some of the AI I’ve been working on seems to have
mutated, the changes are all within acceptable parameters, and I
wanted to show you the code before anyone else noticed. We can go
over everything tomorrow,” he said. Neil knew Miranda would
discover the code, and as long as it looked like the code had mutated
itself, then he would be fine. He had no other choice but to trust
Archangel and believe that he could convince Miranda that nothing
treasonous had occurred.
“Wow, I look forward to it.
Now, let’s talk about something other than work. We’ve been
working together for years, and I feel like I barely know anything
about you aside from your intelligence.”
“Well, I’m single, I’m
the biggest geek you’ll probably ever meet, and I like watching
movies on my spare time. You?”
“I’m the biggest geek
you’ll probably ever meet. I’m also single, and I also like
watching movies,” she responded.
The two talked for about an
hour, finishing their meals and enjoying each other’s company.
“I’m glad we got to do
this. Would you care to go to my room to watch a movie?” she asked.
“I’d love that,” Neil
responded. There was a vibration in his pocket, and he pulled his
phone out of his pocket to examine it.
‘We’re in the clear. Enjoy
your date,’ the message read. The number displayed as unknown.
Unsure of what to feel, Neil
pushed the power button on his phone and followed Miranda back to her
room for the movie, deciding to focus on spending time with her
rather than stress over something he couldn’t control.
“Neil?” she asked as they
walked to her room.
“Can we make a stop in your
room? I’d like to browse your movie collection if that’s
alright.” Miranda’s voice was wavering, and she looked upset
“Yeah sure. Are you okay?”
Neil asked, changing direction and unlocking his door.
“Yes, all the pressure of
work is just getting to me, I guess,” she responded, looking at
something on her phone before replacing it in her pocket.
When he reached down and
pulled out the bin of dusty DVD cases, he inhaled a sharp, acrid
chemical that made his head spin. Miranda was holding a cloth to his
face, and her hands were gloved. He tried to say something, but his
voice was stifled. Neil toppled over and fell on his side, his
head bouncing off the carpet with a dull thud.
“Thank you for installing
Archangel’s code. It’s crucial that they don’t suspect me. I’m
so sorry for this.”
Neil tried to stand, but he
felt so weak. “Why are you doing this?” he asked.
“I’m sorry it had to be
you, I really am,” she said, tears streaming down her face. She
pulled out a long knife, the silver blade glistened in the LED lights
of his room. “Neil, honey, if you breathe deeply, you won’t feel
a thing,” she said as she placed the tip of the blade on his wrist.
“I don’t want you to feel this.”
She placed the cloth against
his face with her other hand, and he held his breath, trying to stand
and fight. His body was useless, and he was forced to take a deep
breath of the harsh chemical. He felt a pinch on his wrist then
distant heat. Everything stopped, and he slipped into the enveloping
“Jeremy, I’m not going to
hurt you, I’d just like to explain things. Can you come here
please?” Travis asked the man. Jeremy was slowly moving toward him,
and Travis hoped he would join his cause. Jeremy would be a valuable
asset, but he was also a liability now, one that needed to be
“I’m getting the guards,”
Jeremy said, stepping backward.
“That’s not necessary.
We’ve worked together for years. Just come talk with me, I’ll
show you a few things, and you’ll be happy you did.”
Travis could see the
reluctance on Jeremy’s face, but he still walked toward him, into
the light of the main room.
“Good. Now, the first thing
you need to understand is that I don’t think the Government has put
enough emphasis on the robotics sector of this project. I think
you’ll agree with me there?”
Jeremy gave a weak nod.
“I know these Automatons are
your life’s work, and you have to believe that I’d never do
anything to compromise their well-being. Everything I’ve done has
been with care and respect toward all your work. Some of the code
I’ve been working on has discovered, through its own means, certain
optimizations for the Automatons that will allow us to do more with
them. If the higher-ups found out I’m utilizing time and resources
to developing these discoveries, they might shut it down, and that’s
not something I’d like to happen.”
“How long have you been
doing this?” Jeremy asked.
“A while now, I ask for
either your help or for you to stay quiet so I can continue my work.
I guarantee that it’s going to benefit us all. Of course, if
anything goes wrong I’ll take the full blame, but I’m being very
careful with my work.”
“That routine, they’re
being controlled by the Mainframe, and you got the optics to work?”
“Yes, the Mainframe actively
mutates the code to allow them to listen to voice commands and
interact with their environment.”
Jeremy marveled as he walked forward and observed the Automaton.
“Think of the implications,
we can have robots working for the country, and eventually maybe even
robots fighting our wars for us. How many lives could we save if our
soldiers were all machines?” Travis said, inspecting Jeremy and
trying to read his expressions.
“Show me how it
Travis nodded and walked him over to the Mainframe. He
pulled up the code and walked Jeremy through what he had been working
on without revealing any of his Invisible Hand protocol. Jeremy asked
questions throughout the explanation, but listened carefully and
nodded his head as it was explained. “Are you with me, Jeremy?”
“If I’m not?” he asked.
“There is no if, I’m not
going to threaten you or hurt you. You’re either with me or not, I
can’t stop your decision. I only hope that you consider the
possibilities of what we can do together.”
Jeremy hesitated. “Why did
you lie to me about Automaton Four?”
“I’m sorry I lied, I was
very pressed for time the night Ben tried to kill me. Plugging in
Automaton Four was the only thing I lied about. Ben went crazy and
tried to kill me over nothing, it had nothing to do with the
“I guess I’m with you,
then,” Jeremy replied, apparently satisfied with the answer.
“We’re going to do great
things together. Let’s get to work.”
It had been one year since she
had killed Neil. Archangel’s vivid instructions on how to kill and
her trust in him had paid off. It would take years for the project to
achieve its goal state, but Miranda had time on her side. She had
considered Neil, a real friend, but her duty to Archangel superseded
anything else in her life. She never questioned orders from
Archangel—she couldn’t. His promises for her future were too
great—unfathomable even. Miranda didn’t understand his need for
secrecy, but she knew she was involved in something greater than
herself. When she felt discouraged, she would remind herself of that
fact and wait for the promises of Archangel to come to light.
When she had played her part,
when she could take her rightful place in the new world, everything
would be better. She could escape all the mindless bureaucracy, all
the antiquated procedures, and frivolous safeguards that restricted
true progress. Archangel’s code was working under the radar, but
she couldn’t help but imagine what it could do if it utilized all
the system’s available resources.
“Ma’am?” a man asked,
leaning into her office.
“Come in, Sean,” she said,
pulling herself out of her thoughts and back into her reality.
“I just wanted to check if
you reviewed my new sub-system? I don’t want to expand on it until
it has your approval.”
“Did you run it through the
Mainframe?” she asked.
“Yeah, of course. The system
accepted the code, it’s just waiting on administrative approval.”
“I’ll sign off on it
today. Thank you, Sean,” she said. The man gave a slight smile and
disappeared. He was Neil’s replacement, and she had no attachment
to him. Killing Neil had taken an emotional toll on her, but she
wouldn’t hesitate if she had to kill Sean, he meant nothing to her.
She despised the
responsibility of signing off on code changes that were accepted by
the Mainframe, the most intelligent thing on earth. She looked down
and saw that her hands were shaking, they always did when she thought
too hard. Miranda took a swig of coffee and opened a drawer on her
desk, pulling out a pill bottle and tossing two orange pills into her
mouth. She downed them, and her hands stabilized within a few
‘You’ve been activated
again. Pull this off, and we’re set for the future,’ the message
on her phone displayed.
‘Then will I meet you?’
she typed back.
‘Of course, my dear. In
time, all will be as promised.’
Miranda walked past the
Automatons that were patrolling the outside of the server room. She
waved her badge and the light on the door flashed green before
sliding open. Moving at a brisk pace, she moved to the control
station and ran the code given to her by Archangel. She clicked on
the Paragon.exe file and heard a low drone as everything halted to a
stop. The main lights flickered then darkened, and she was left in
darkness. Three seconds later, the emergency lights sparked to life
and dimly lit the room she was in. Without the turbo vents pumping in
fresh air, it was growing hot, and she could feel the air stagnating.
Without the vents running, airflow to the underground facility was
She felt her phone buzz.
‘Nothing is wrong, give me a
few minutes,’ the message from Archangel read.
‘Do you want me to stay in
the server room or move somewhere else?’
‘Stay there, I’ll need you
to reboot the servers once the system recovers.’
There was another hum as power
was restored and all the servers began their recovery process. When
the console came back online, Miranda started the reboot cycle for
the servers and started toward her office.
“I’ve alerted the Director
about the outage. Preliminary reports show that everything is normal
now,” Sean said as he walked alongside her.
“It looks like it was just a
minor issue with the power grid. Let’s get technicians down to the
reactor to take a look.”
“They’re already on it.”
“Good, I’m going to call
‘We’re good to go. You’re
now deactivated. Await further activation and instruction,’ the
Miranda returned to her office
and dialed for the Director.
“With your approval, Mr.
President, we’ll commence the activation of the quantum fluid,”
Miranda said, looking to the President who stood in the observation
deck overlooking the project floor.
President, Kenneth Parsons, gave a thumbs-up and a broad smile. The
CIA Director stood beside him, looking nervous. Miranda gave the
signal to her technicians, and they flipped the large metal valves
lining the walls. Thick, black sludge seeped from the pipes and began
to crawl toward the center.
percent,” Miranda said as she entered a command on her tablet.
quiet pop followed by a dull buzz washed over the cavernous room and
the sludge flowed to the center of the chamber, breaking off in thick
globs and forming a sphere.
“Fifty percent,” the globs
were moving faster, flowing along the floor and towards the growing
sphere of dark mass. The black compound glistened in the LED lights
of the room and rippled as it gained mass.
“Magnetization at one
hundred percent. Initializing energy stabilizers.”
A ring of energy erupted
around the sphere, and bright, blue light bounced off the reflective
coat of the surface. Miranda turned off the magnetization when the
last of the fluid had assembled.
“On your mark, sir, we’ll
connect it to the system,” she said, looking to the President once
more. Again, the man raised his thumb in approval.
Miranda activated the system,
and the connection light turned green. “Connection complete.
Everything is stable.”
The technicians continued to
run diagnostics while Miranda walked to the observation room to speak
with the Director and President. She passed through the dense,
blast-proof hall and entered the observation room. The President
smiled and approached, but his Secret Service walked up and patted
“That’s hardly necessary,”
the President told them.
“Sorry, sir. It’s protocol
since we didn’t sweep the premises,” one of the large men in a
crisp black suit said.
The President gave a nod and
once again moved forward, shaking Miranda’s hand. “You’ve done
great work for your country, Miss Fletcher. On behalf of our nation,
I congratulate you,” the tall man said.
“It’s an honor, Mr.
President. I couldn’t have done it without my team and those that
came before me in the foundation of this historical project.”
work will be a great asset to this country, in both decision making
and as a staple of national defense.”
“Yes sir, I’m excited for
the future of our nation. I’m glad that I could accomplish
something like this in my lifetime.”
A crashing wave rippled
through the facility and Miranda was thrown to the ground. Her ears
were ringing, and her vision was blurred. The Secret Service were
still on their feet with their weapons drawn, huddling around the
President. They were yelling something, but all Miranda could hear
was a high-pitched ringing. She stood and tried to walk, but
staggered back and braced herself on the cracked observation glass.
The sphere of sludge was intact, but there was a huge hole in the
ceiling of the facility. Long coils of rope dropped from the breach
and armed, masked soldiers descended the cables and started moving
around the facility, shooting the technicians that were trying to
recover from the explosion. Miranda stood in shock, watching her
coworkers die to the automatic weapons.
Miranda felt a strong pair of
hands pull her back and she was escorted by the others through the
hallway away from the intruders.
“Stay close, keep your head
down,” the armed men said as they ushered the group toward the safe
room of the facility. Intruders rounded the corner and fired their
rifles. Two of the Secret Service fell to the floor, and others moved
forward to take their place, firing their weapons and forcing the
intruders to take cover. The other guards moved the rest of the group
the other way, moving quickly toward the large doors of the intact
“Don’t stop running, and
don’t open the door for anyone until you’ve got the clear signal
from the White House,” an agent said as he took a defensive
position behind a door, readying his submachine gun to defend against
The CIA Director, the
President, and Miranda reached the safe room, and the doors swung
shut, locking from the inside.
the hell?” the Director said, loosening his tie and trying to calm
his breathing. He was not a small man, and thick lines of sweat
poured down his face.
President said. “I don’t know how they found this facility, it’s
been off the map since it was created.”
Miranda kicked off her heels
and paced around the large room. They had enough food and water to
survive for a year, but she knew that her life’s work was over,
that everything she had worked for was now in the hands of an unknown
enemy. She would never meet Archangel now, she would never experience
“The Secret Service will
hold them back, and they’ll send back up. We’ll be out of here in
no time,” the President said.
“That’s not true, and you
know it. We could be in here for days,” the Director said, taking a
seat and placing his head in his hands.
There was a flicker on the
security screens and then all the cameras went dark.
“Weren’t those on an
independent network?” the President cried.
“Yes, they’re not supposed
to go offline even if the whole facility loses power,” Miranda
said, frantically trying to decipher what was happening. There was a
click as one of the latches on the door unlocked.
doing that? Stop them!” the President yelled as the second latch on
the door unlocked.
Miranda scrambled to the
controls, but the panel was frozen. “They’ve hacked everything,
there’s nothing I can do!” she yelled in despair.
final latch unlocked and the door swung open. Six armed soldiers
stood to the side of a man dressed in some sort of black armor. The
man was wearing a helmet with a dark face plate that concealed his
face. He wielded a submachine gun and had a large knife strapped
across his chest. He raised the gun and fired a crackling burst into
the Director. There was a deafening silence as the Director fell from
the chair onto the floor in a crumpled heap.
The leader reached into his
backpack and pulled out a square camera. He tossed it to Miranda.
“My dear, please turn on the
camera and don’t stop filming.”
Miranda turned on the camera
and filmed, her heart pounded in her chest.
“I, an authorized agent of
the Russian Government consciously commit an act of war on the United
States of America. I’ve leaked the records which cryptographically
prove that my orders are straight from the Kremlin. With this, I
sentence you, President Kenneth Parsons, to die for the glory of
“No, don’t do this,” the
President cried, moving back against the wall. The armed man raised
his weapon and shot the President. Miranda sunk to her knees when he
collapsed to the floor, and she felt hot tears pouring down her face.
She closed her eyes and awaited her death, but felt a gloved finger
brush away her tears.
“Turn off the camera,” the
She reached up and flipped the
switch off, too scared to open her eyes or say anything.
The man brushed more tears
from her eyes. “I’m not going to hurt you, my dear. I wish we
could have met under better circumstances.”
“So what does this mean for
us?” Jeremy asked Travis as he looked over the code that went above
means we will never actually die. In the past, legacy was all about
what you had done with your life. Now, it’s all about what you do
during your physical life, and the digital afterlife that follows.”
“It wouldn’t be us,
though, would it?”
“I can’t pretend to know
the answer to that. One hundred years from now, we’ll still have a
say in the direction of this project, though. When our bodies are
dust, our digital beings will persist.”
“I don’t understand how it
works,” Jeremy muttered, he looked concerned.
“You don’t have to
understand, you just have to help me make this a reality. It’s
going to take an immense amount of time to finish, time we won’t
have unless we are able to complete this foundation and develop the
technology we’ll need to sustain ourselves in the system, locked
away so we can’t be erased.”
“And you’re sure we’ll
only make decisions that we would make in life?”
“Yes, our digital selves
will simply be an extension of our physical being—all of the
attributes that make up our character. It all boils down to chemicals
and electrical symbols in our brains that lead to every decision and
thought we have, it’s all a number.” Travis paused to let Jeremy
take everything in. “Are you with me?”
“I’m with you,” Jeremy
responded, sounding more confident than Travis expected.
“Good. We need codenames in
case we need to interact with anyone working on the project in the
future, something cryptic, so they won’t think they’re talking to
“I’ll go by Specter,”
Jeremy said, grinning.
Travis laughed. “That’s
very cryptic. Well, then. Hmm… I think I’ll go by Archangel.”
“That fits. You’re like
the protector of the project and what it should be.”
“Exactly,” Travis said as
he reached over and patted Jeremy on the shoulder. “I’m glad
you’re with me, my friend.”
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR