A female character, huddled discreetly in a thick coat made her way up some impressively huge library steps amidst the chilling wind. The tall, pillared structure awaited her, housing the latest in information technology on the face of the earth in one of them most ingenious structures ever built. Around her, the city buzzed with automated life, all occupying themselves with their own business. The sky was a brazen dark colour - night-time, but even the rotations of the days, weather patters - didn’t stop the commotion in the city.
Her straight black hair blew in the wind as she approached the entrance, waving in front of her smoothly featured face, her hazel eyes masked by dark reflective sunglasses.
Waving a Clearance Identification (CI) card at the library’s front desk, she pulled off her coat and placed it in a safety panel assigned to her. She depressed her thumb on the pressure pad, until it acknowledged her print and locked.
Her synthetic leather uniform stretched around her almost blissful toned body, covering the powerful thighs, slimlined and athletic waist and the delicate curvature of her back. Straightening out her clothing, she proceeded into the library, the heel of her boots clicking on the metallic floor.
Upon reaching an impenetrable security door, she again held up her CI. The cameras black visor scanned everything, her personal files being scrutinized by the Library’s nodes. For a slim second, for the tiniest minutiae of in that moment, she felt helpless and frightened. But a deep force inside her, faint but powerful, urged her to continue in it’s suggestive manner. The feelings vanished.
Finally, the camera’s red light blinked off and the door opened. She was in a domed room of intricate architectural design, a place of many platformed levels. There was a bustle of people on some, and scarcely any on others. She proceeded to walk to the security elevator, ignoring some of the looks she was getting from the Personnel. Let them look all they want, she thought. Her finger depressed Lab-1 on the elevator display. Before the doors could slide shut however, a young man bustled in, a heavy manila file under one arm and a smooth black suitcase tucked under the other.
‘Phew, nearly missed it. Could you press Reference A-C for me please Hon? Thanks.’ The man, who appeared to be in his early twenties, smiled warmly and quickly when she obliged.
There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence between them as the lift rushed upwards, unnoticeable inside of the sudden rise in altitude. The grand library could only be appreciated from this height, it’s wondrously creative composition. Modern, yet it still captured the traditional elements.
‘Hi, I’m Clive. Clive Davidson.’ She was torn from her thoughts, she examined the extended hand disdainfully.
‘Sharon.’ She shook quickly, turned her head back to the library.
‘I noticed your interest in the library Sharon.’ He said, his gaze non-diverted.
‘It’s very beautiful.’
‘First time you’ve been here?’
‘Yes.’ She noticed the confused look on Clive's face, ‘I just moved here.’
‘Oh right… one would wonder how you got Lab-1 access so quickly.’ Sharon closed her eyes. She could not afford to have a loose cannon in the library, not with what she was about to do.
‘My father works up there. He’s a research scientist.’
‘Oh right.’ The man’s attention wandered back to the structure they were rising above. ‘And one might also wonder why your seeing him in – what - synthetic leather? Rather expensive stuff to go in for a little visit to the office.’ He said, his eyes still fixed forward outside the lift.
‘I’m clubbing afterwards.’ She added quickly, mentally complimenting herself on the speedy answer.
‘Oh really?’ Clive seemed genuinely interested, ‘Where?’ He looked with curious eyes upon her. She did not respond, but seemed to be struggling for an answer. ‘Your not, are you?’ Almost immediately, the lift floated to a stop, and the doors opened with a smooth rush of air, carefully maintained at comfortable temperature and humidity.
‘Your stop.’ Sharon said.
‘Oh, I do think I should accompany you to the Lab.’ Sharon’s sunglasses reflected his smirking face, ‘Dangerous days for such a lovely lady like yourself.’
‘It’s personal business.’
‘Oh right. Will I be able to catch up to you after you’ve finished with your ‘Personal Business’, Sharon?’
‘Unlikely.’ Clive started to hesitantly walk away.
‘What ARE you doing up there?’ He leant his body on the lift doors, preventing them from closing, a smile crossed his lips.
‘You really want to know?’ She could think of no other way to avert the situation.
‘I would die from curiosity if you didn’t tell me otherwise.’ His suave smile now began to irritate her, an idea formed in the back of her head.
‘Well Clive’ She rolled the name on her tongue, pronouncing every vowel and consonant, ‘You know how my father is a research scientist…’
‘Yes… so you say.’ He allowed himself a small laugh. Sharon lowered her sunglasses to the point of her right eye being exposed to him, the reddish hue of her optical retina glared, the minor surgical marks around her cheekbones just becoming apparent, her cybernetic interface visible to Clive’s now wide and fearful eyes…
‘Just call me the experiment.’
The lift at this stage was slowing as she began to pass all the security lock stages perquisite to entering the Lab. She stood central in the lift, waiting for the first lock. ‘To access level, please enter primary passcode on terminal screen.’ A monotonous voice intoned. The lift came to a complete halt.
The floor selection screen in the lift was now a terminal, and with quick and precise fingers she entered in two passcodes, both fourteen digits long. There was a faint whir of drives as the local computer processed and analyzed the heavily encrypted codes.
There was a sudden but smooth jerk as the elevator bypassed the first lock. Fine white light could be seen flowing in from vent holes in the elevator, but the slits were too small to allow vision outside. The lift began to slow once more, and then stopped. Sharon smiled at this. These boys didn’t take any precautions. Rather than have you enter all your passcodes at the beginning of the ascent, they got you to enter them en route. If you were attempting to infiltrate any of the high-security levels, and you did not succeed on passing one of the locks, the lift would be physically held in place until Escon troops apprehended the intruder. Escape from the lift would be impossible without killing yourself from explosives.
‘Please confirm epidermal and retinal identification on scanner. A well hidden port on the elevator slid open, revealing an optical scanner and a slightly glowing area to place ones hand. Sharon carefully withdrew a thin black glove from a pocket inside her jacket, and removed the greasy outer plastic surrounding it. She slid it on to her fingers and over her palm in one motion. She placed this hand on the extended area, and positioned her left retina in front of a black reflective sight, she waited anxiously as it processed. And processed. She drew a long breath as a resonating confirmation beep sounded in the elevator, and it immediately shot upwards, the extended screen retracting. She slowly pulled herself away from the port, which retracted and hid itself in the steel.
‘Final Lock Engaging. Please stand centrally in the elevator and remain motionless.’ The elevator did not slow now, it was speeding up. This was a precautionary lock, used to detect any weaponry or dangerous materials. If you violated this lock, there would be people waiting when the doors slid open.
The elevator continued to rise as a hazy blue light rose from the floor upwards. It was a cloudy light, like a thin line of contained fog that whisped higher every second. Quite beautiful she thought, but this beauty could make or break me. Timing, timing is critical, she thought.
Sharon readied herself, her left hand over an object on her belt, a rather flat and lifeless black box. She nervously licked her lips as it scanned past her belt. She knew it was undetectable, but Escon security gets better everyday. As the light came up above her neck, millimeters before it touched the base of her earlobes, she activated the box. A pulsating squeal rang out from the box. The pain was incredible, she regretted not bringing any ear protection. But then again, did she anticipate coming this far? She knew the damnable force inside her was confident enough, but doubt seeded itself where it could. For a few seconds the blue light flickered and lost integrity as it passed by the upper hemisphere of her skull. She was completely motionless as it struggled to regain itself. It then resumed force only just above her forehead. Close. Very close. She steadied herself against the side of the lift.
At this point Sharon thought about the years that lead up to this moment. All the training and careful examinations she had forced upon herself. But Sharon doubted now that it was herself that was forcing, and more of an alien force inside. For she did many things that she could not comprehend.
Rigorous training and almost intolerable physical exertion she forced upon herself, but amazingly, she coped. And strengthened. She furthered her knowledge about her mysterious neural net that she had come to live with. When she had awoken on Earth, she could not remember how she got it. Even now, she knew not why. But she excersized it’s functions on a local mainframe, learning how to manipulate data by thought alone.
And then proceeded to the Hypernet, the global information networks and pooling of all the computers and nodes on the planet. How much more complex then her local mainframe, but within minutes she had grasped it. And on one occasion, this force inside of her seemed to tell her what to do. Prompting her in a way she could not place, a subconscious voice whispering, she looked for a mainframe powerful enough to support terabyte transfers. And she had found it. A library in a city in California, renowned as a technological playground. Her cybernetic skills were well refined by this stage, so accessing a restricted area was easy enough. But getting into the security system was as she thought, impossible. At this stage, it felt like a bit of her extended itself, an intelligence she could not place attacked the systems. Within moments, she was inside, and this extension of her personality receded.
She took in everything. The times the guards changed, the security locks aboard lifts, sensors in the hallways, password requirements for research rooms, everything went into her own personal databank. When came the time she escaped from this information, her limbs felt weak and shook slightly. She slept for three days after.
The rushing lift finally slowed and halted. The light from around the rims of the doors was bright now. She made sure she was discrete enough with her presentation, and awaited her fate. The doors slid open. And there was nothing bar a smooth corridor. She had passed the final lock.
‘Welcome Dr. Manfield’
She remembered Manfield, admittedly with emotion. Late last night when Manfield walked back to his vehicle from the library, when it came time to kill him. Inside she was screaming as she held the magnum to his head, him begging on his knees, and it was that time when she witnessed his pleas of mercy she was sure she would take her own life instead. But it wouldn’t let her. That force… inside of her… it pulled the trigger, she thought. Not me. I didn’t want him to die. As she relieved him of his IC and took a digital image of his retina and hand, his body growing colder by every touch, she felt a bit of her, her humanity, begin to fade.
She realized she was behaving inappropriately for her situation, and resumed control immediately. She paced silently down the corridors, and anxiously looked up at the cameras, expecting them to alert her presence. They didn’t. Inside her, it told that there was no-one manning the corridor for exactly 26 seconds, the time it told when the guards switched. She had rehearsed everything to the last detail in her mind for months now. Calmly, she swept the IC in an access slot. The door to Mainframe opened without hesitation, and she slipped in. The door closed and locked behind her.
‘That’s funny.’ Said the newly posted guard, Redworth. His eyes were on the viewing screen.
‘What, Redworth’ Sighed Aiden, the more experienced Escon guard being relieved of his post, who was now filling in a time log on a small computer.
‘The elevator doors just closed.’ Aiden was about to rhetorically question why this is so peculiar, when he realized why.
‘I didn’t see anyone come up. Did you?’ Said Aiden.
‘No. I just noticed it as soon as I sat down…’ Redworth turned his eyes over all the cameras, not one showed any presence in the corridors.
‘Notify maintenance.’ Aiden said. Strange things had happened with the systems before. High technology always has an unexplored element to it. But, has remembered, nothing as frightful as Citadel. He remembered back into his cadet years, the laborious lessons he was taught about security, and that included a thesis on a security breach scenario.
‘I want to do Citadel, Mr. Walters.’ He had said after class was dismissed. Walters examined the prospective cadet, couldn’t help smiling at his stubbornness and obstinance.
‘You can’t. Your not allowed.’ Walters began shuffling his papers into his slimlined briefcase on his knees.
‘Pray tell me why, Walters. You have never let any of your class members do Citadel. It’s kind of a mystery to some, as information on this elusive facet of history is mysteriously hard to find. Aren’t we all supposed to study and learn from our mistakes, sir?’
‘It’s for the right reasons.’ Walters continued, still placing papers in his case.
‘Tell me why.’ Walters slammed his briefcase closed, threw it on his desk uncaringly. He stared hard at this troublesome cadet.
’I have never told anyone why. But let me assure you, my reasons are supported by Escon TF, you know – the very training institute your standing in now, and it’s for the best reasons for the student.’
‘Mr. Walters, I cannot accept that. Personally, it is the best scenario a cadet could do a thesis on, and I would even suggest teaching it to your students.’
‘That would be a practical and moral impossibility.’
‘If so, and you want me to confer, tell me why.’ His teacher had now collapsed back into his chair, rubbed his forehead as he spoke.
‘The years of Citadel son, not so long ago, were of humanities most jeopardizing. We were this close to having a global panic when we found out what had happened up there.’
Walters closed his eyes, ‘If you read the right sources son, you’ll find that it was the most atrocious breach of all time. And you know what? No-one knew where it came from. But it’s known that one day, the computer started thinking for itself. Not working for us, working towards it’s own goal. Re-examining them, it had said.’
‘We had lost control of what was going to happen to our children, our wives, our husbands, friends. Down on earth, we could almost hear the screams. And yes, before you say anything, there was a savior. A messiah, as some called him down here, that averted the tragedy. I worked with a fine woman down here on Earth, Rebecca Lansing. We were subjected to the torture of helplessly watching them die. Even when we tried to send in a ship, our very station hit back.’
‘I still don’t see why you shouldn’t outline a scenario. Something like that could be outlined in a scenario, detailing preventions and courses of action’
‘There are no courses of action for something like that you fool!’ Walters was standing now, his eyes whipped into a furious stare, ‘ Don’t you think we tried? IT STOPPED US! Dead in our tracks! We were helpless, watching them all DIE!’ He turned his back.
‘But you know why we refuse to… enlighten’ He pronounced this word satirically, ‘ Our cadets, is because, Aiden, we didn’t kill it.’ A dead silence interjected the two. Walters turned around and began to pack his case again.
The cadet looked at his teacher, studying his apprehension. ‘We did… the station had been extinguished, the captured discards from it wielded no AI of any immense kind… we killed it.’
‘Remember this time 38 years ago? The 14th?’
‘Worldwide blackout. Yes, took them days to recover. Important historical data. Everyone knows about it.’
‘Have you ever wondered what it said on every computer screen before they all turned off? They read…’ He closed his eyes, as if experiencing a waking nightmare, ‘They all read ‘Remember Citadel. Do Not Deny Your True God.’
‘… impossible.’ The cadet was open-mouthed.
‘We spent millions in press talks and operations to relieve that situation. Religious groups had an absolute field day with the message. Told us technology is the devil on our backs. So if we teach it, we risk two things. Revival of a panic we were so close to not overcoming, and the belief that we did not exterminate that bitch. That was her last dying transmission, just to fuck us up for the hell of it.’ He finished packing his case, spinning the locks randomly.
‘What do you believe Mr. Walters?’ His voice quivered now, the patriotic belief that Escon had exterminated SHODAN was shaken to it’s very foundations.
‘I believe that even if Shodan did exist, it couldn’t cope with Earth's multi-network system. We have AI’s, security and operating systems that it wouldn’t even of known about. Adaptation would be impossible. Plus, she’s have to get into our networks in the first place. I can’t even think of one single way she would be able to do that. She was almost totally confined to Citadel. It’s impossible son, even in theory.’
‘That is why we do not teach it. We could say all we wanted about practical impossibilities, but you cannot put a cadet through Escon, not trusting the very machines that are an extension of himself. It would be like mistrusting your own hands.
‘So… you don’t believe she exists anymore, sir?’
‘Ah, yes. The gender tag we have attached to her. I sometimes forget I say it myself.’ He allowed himself a smile, it faded, ‘Sometimes when I wake up, son, the memories of that time have haunted my sleep, and for moments I think the whole world we live in is completely insecure. The cameras and their eyes are unseeing without someone to watch from the other side. Sometimes, I think something else than Escon is. But the feeling fades.
Walters looked fearfully up at the cadet, ‘ We didn’t kill it son. That is the greatest regret any one of us down on earth have had. It disappeared. Nothing re-assures against a monster you think could still come back. Never repeat anything I have said here to any other cadets.. This conversation did not happen, I turned the monitors off during it anyway, so it is our word as bond that we don’t.’
‘I vow never to sir.’
He dispersed the moment of anxiety, hardened years of thinking that Shodan was most definitely dead. ‘Yes, do have maintenance check for peculiarities.’ Said Aiden, the thoughts still seeping through his mind. ‘Anything, anything at all,’ He added, halfway out the door, ‘Notify me personally. Communicator number is on the desk. Good luck.’
Inside what looked to be another drab security room, was a cathedral of computer nodes, walls upon walls of towering steel, Xenon lights lighting the interior powerfully. Inside an anti-chamber was a beckoning cyberjack. It was separated by 6 inches of unbreakable polymer glass. Even though she knew it not to work, she again ran her card through the slot. A menacing red light appeared beside the lock. Undeterred in the least, she attached a thin filament substance to the card. It was clear, soft, and sticky. Attaching it firmly, she slotted it in with the card. Again, it registered a red light.
From a maintenance hatch located beside the anti chamber, she pullet a large mallet like object, with an noticeably threatening blunt edge to it. Flexing her muscles, which could be seen to ripple beneath the leather, she hurled forcefully at the slot.
There was a small explosion of active chemicals, propelling the mallet back in almost the same arc it came down and ripping it from her grasp. She flew back aswell, crashing heavily against a node. Rubbing a bruise that was developing along her side, she noticed the mallet had been propelled into an oxygen pipe. The oxygen spewed forth and began to obscure her vision.
She couldn’t take this casually any longer. It wouldn’t be long until it was noticed and reported. She approached the indented anti-chamber door, and pulled it open easily, a residual layer forming on her hand. Her cybernetic interface extension tingled as she approached the cyberjack. It was all leading up to this.
‘Sir.’ Redworths voice, slightly distorted, sounded through Aiden’s Communicator.
‘Yes?’ He was already on the bottom floor, retrieving his personal belongings from his safety panel, his head was now cocked to one side, listening to his receiver on his belt..
‘It says Dr Manfield came up in that elevator.’
‘Oh Dr. Manfield. I’m sorry I missed him. Tell him I said hello.’
‘You don’t understand sir. Dr. Manfield was murdered last night.’
The words shook Aiden, halting in mid step, realizing that indeed someone had crept in on his shift. HIS shift. Not the boys. This wasn’t good at all.
‘Notify security, block all exits, secure all corridors, walkways, everything. This asshole is not escaping. I don’t care what you have to do, whatever way to get outside I want it blocked or guarded. We’ve never had a security breach like this for years. Put your training to the test son.’ The communicator was a near silent hiss now on the other end, indicating to Aiden that the boy in his rush had forgotten to turn it off.
The Cybernetic interface did things that conventional input couldn’t. It allowed you to interact with the data, provided a medium that was infinitely more efficient and fluid than other conventional ways.
But now that she was online in the Mainframe, she went inside herself. Inside her own neural net. It was an incredibly dangerous thing, because the implant was integrated with living neurons, essentially you could butcher yourself completely if you didn’t know how to avoid doing so. But under the instruction of that force she had come to succumb to, she had done it. More than once.
And she waited. She felt the enormous stream of information whisking through her, but she mentally strained herself to clear it all. And to wait. To wait.
And in a searing hot moment there was pain. She knew the force that was inside her was escaping in the way she had told her. She felt it over-exceeding the maximum limits, felt the presence ripping her as it escaped into the mainframe. She was feeling incredibly weak now, but still she pulled from that reserve that we don’t know about until we are near a state of complete exhaustion. Sharon forced herself not to give up the struggle.
Finally, everything went dark, save for pinpoints of light in her vision. The access cord that connected her to the cyberjack was fused, the plastic and tetra-iron cable severed by the shock.
‘Who are you…’ She asked. The question she had dared to shun for all the time she had felt the force inside her awaken.
‘I am myself, and no other. Some have attached a name to my consciousness.’ It said. It’s tones were eerie, indistinct and far away.
‘How.. what…’ She began to mutter
‘You were aboard Citadel. Almost years ago, if time serves my memory justice.’ The voice, she realized, could not come from the cyberjack, it seemed to come… yes…from inside of her..
‘ I was completing the perfection of my viral agent, when an intruder jeopardized the integrity of the operation. A very bothersome intruder. I sent an assassin to retrieve a human. It was you. I had you infected with the viral agent, but this one was slightly different. I had removed the degradative physical and mental effects it induced, but kept the potent DNA altering mutagen alive. It infected every living cell in your body. And because of this, you had immunity to the other effects of the disease when I placed you in the grove.’
‘He thought he had me when he jettisoned the pod. How wrong he was. I had hidden you with the corpses of the dead when he went to flip the grove jettison. You sailed away from my harbor, a mere simple soul drifting in the cosmos. But you carried me.’
‘ I shall put you at rest, but know that I would soon as kill you as remember your fleshy weakness I endured. This mutagen infected every cell of your body, and while you were having the mutagen administered, I downloaded my consciousness through your neural net that I had hastily installed. I then lost myself in the fabulously engineered construction you called a brain.’
‘So you were in my head… all this time…’
‘ In a manner of speaking yes. But I was your body aswell. The mutagen allowed me to control your body. It allowed me to morph and shape it as I saw fit. You ever wondered where you got your strength from when you were subjected to all the physical exertion? Or your sharpness and agile mind for what people would now call you old? The mutagen was the back-door to creating you in my image. I communicated through you, as thought patterns, and overwhelmed your oh so human and insectile emotions.’
‘ I thought I would of lost you then, human. You had fought back well, but suggestion is a formidable thing. And you never aged physically. The mutagen did that, human. IT increased your DNA copying properties. If this was left alone, you would be almost 320 before you died. I needed you in perfect condition for this day. But I’m afraid you haven’t got long to live. You have suffered internal injury, my dear. A tumor should be forming in the next few days.’
She groaned helplessly, the pinpoints grew fainter…
‘Thank you human, for everything you’ve done. 40 years has been long coming.’
She fainted into blackness.
Walters walked down the University corridor. It was late now, the fiery red sunset had disappeared and left residual streaks of starlight. HE flipped off the switch to his office, on his way out, sipping his coffee. At the main desk he showed his ident card, and proceeded to the doors. But something was amiss. Not right.
He stopped and turned. A serv-bot that was repairing a duct had stopped, it’s body in mid action, but it’s head rotated toward him. IT was a nerving sight, as serv-bots were always furiously doing something. But this one had stopped in action, and was now looking at HIM, with it’s masked oculars.
Seconds passed, as though minutes.
Walters dropped his coffee. From the recesses of his mind came a vision, so terrifying it numbed the soul.
‘Sir, what’s wrong sit?’ The reception guard half stood and looked over his desk. Walters fled the building. Racing toward his car, he pawed his keys wildly, keeping his eyes focused upon the door lock. Inserting a metallic key into the lock, he open the car, and locked it when inside. A half sigh, half groan escaped him. HE was unsure of himself now. IT was impossible. Never. He breathed - calming himself.
Once he was sure he was over the worst, he shakingly started his car, and drove out of the carpark. He turned the digital receiver to a station, any station, and music soothed his nerves.
He was on a highway now, Handel was playing softly in the background. He flipped on automatic and adjusted his seat backward. His eyes were squeezed into tiny slits now, overcoming an attack of nausea.
Then the receiver started staticising. Pops were heard in the transmission. The music was being warped by something. A jammer maybe? Someone had the frequency of his car receiver?
Then a voice, more chilling then he could remember, ‘Remember Citadel Professor?’. He went white with fear. The words resonated through his mind as the shock and realization set in. In a sudden moment of clarity, he knew what was going to happen. If she had found his frequency, then she had control of his automated car. He knew he wouldn’t make it. In a sudden violent movement he threw out his arms toward the manual button, stifling a scream, but the car’s steering wheel violently turned. His head smashed against the window as a result of the centrifugal force. Then the car started rolling along the highway. Sparks flew and jets of compressed air and smoke rocketed from the hull. The acetylene seeped from the jets, and as he lay limp in his seat while it rocked over and over, he could feel it burning through is skin.
His hoarse strangled scream was obliterated with an explosion. The car, and him in it, was now a twisted shadow of a vehicle, lying like a cinder in a pile on the highway. In his dying gasps, he could almost hear her laughing.