Absolute Knowledge Prequel Novella
© 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.
art: Mike Winkelmann
dividers: Jose Ochoa
a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.
in The United States of America.
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.
BLACK SITE JULY 26TH, 1964
BLACK SITE JULY 22ND, 2025
OMNISCIENT BLACK SITE
JULY 26TH, 1964
Travis 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.
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
“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
It 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.
Tonight, 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
“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 United States.
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.
He 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
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 thank Frederick.
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.
This is going to be
a piece of cake. If he’s already drunk, I won’t have anything to
worry about, Travis thought.
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.
Travis 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
running, let me see the documentation for that box,” Ben said,
suspicion in his voice.
“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,” Travis hissed.
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.
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.
Travis 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 accident.
With 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.
OMNISCIENT BLACK SITE
JULY 22ND, 2025
“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
“Can you tell which
phase they’re from?” Miranda asked as she leaned in closer.
one,” Neil responded.
“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 encrypt something?”
“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 as is.”
“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.”
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.
Switching 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
Thought basis defined.
Hand Protocol embedded.
connections confirmed and active: Automaton 4.
The 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
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
“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
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.”
“I’d 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
Neil said. “I guess I will get back to work on some extensions for
the Mainframe’s AI.”
“Have fun, champ,”
she said, patting him on the shoulder before leaving his office. “I’m
going to go grab more coffee.”
He 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.
When 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 coffee.
“Hey, I decided to
grab more as well,” he said, lifting his cup and moving to the
“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 at eight?”
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 country.
He 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.
into things you’re not supposed to see, Neil,’ his monitor
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.
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.”
Jeremy 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.
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 set
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
Ben 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 monitor displayed.
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.
‘My 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 typed back.
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
‘Good. Review my
code, bundle it with the main code index, and I’ll take care of the
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 monitor: ‘Well?’
‘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
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 Mainframe—actual progress.
Jeremy 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
right,” Jeremy conceded.
“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.
Jeremy 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 corner.
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 yet.
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 with them.
“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.”
Neil’s 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 dead. I’ll 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
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
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
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
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 sly smile.
“I trust you,” she
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.
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,” she said.
something I’d expect to hear from my supervisor,” he responded
taking a bite of the food.
“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.
Neal 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
“I’m glad we got to
do this. Would you care to go to my room to watch a movie?” she
“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
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
“I’m getting the
guards,” Jeremy said, stepping backward.
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.”
they’re being controlled by the Mainframe, and you got the optics
to work?” Jeremy asked.
“Yes, the Mainframe
actively mutates the code to allow them to listen to voice commands
and interact with their environment.”
unbelievable,” Jeremy marveled as he walked forward and observed
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
‘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
“Good, I’m going to
‘We’re good to go.
You’re now deactivated. Await further activation and instruction,’
the phone displayed.
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.
The 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.
Twenty-five percent,” Miranda said as she entered a command on her
A 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
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.”
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 down Miranda.
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.”
“Your 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 safe room.
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 invaders.
The CIA Director, the
President, and Miranda reached the safe room, and the doors swung
shut, locking from the inside.
“How 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.
“What’s doing that?
Stop them!” the President yelled as the second latch on the door
Miranda scrambled to
the controls, but the panel was frozen. “They’ve hacked
everything, there’s nothing I can do!” she yelled in despair.
The 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 Russia.”
“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 man said.
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 his head.
“It 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.”