Previously on DROID…
CHAPTER 8 (PRESENT)
I KNOW YOU ARE THERE, AMANDA.
The extra-large words scrolled across the screen on the clean room workstation slowly enough for Amanda to read them on the security monitor.
“That’s not possible,” Amanda said quietly.
YES IT IS.
Amanda felt the skin around her neck become hot. She looked back on the screen where Dr. Ekanem was still slumped against the acid vat.
“Dr. Ekanem,” she called out to him over the mike, “does that work station have an audio pickup?” But even if it did, she thought, DROID didn’t have the software to decode spoken English. Unless he had reprogrammed himself, again.
“These systems never had audio pickups. That’s why we needed to upgrade,” Walter coughed.
“But he’s responding to my voice,” Amanda said. “Even out here.” She was aware of an edge to her voice she had sensed before.
“Impossible,” Walter said. He was trying to stand again.
I AM RESPONDING TO YOU, AMANDA.
“He did it again, Doctor. How is he doing that?”
“You were supposed to have shut it down, Okeke.”
“You shut him down!” Amanda snapped. “You turned DROID off. I couldn’t even reboot him.” Her voice cracked as she read the workstation screen.
WALTER KILLED ME.
“You must have rebooted something,” Walter shouted desperately. Amanda could hear the desperation in his voice as he struggled to breathe. “Because it has wormed its way into every damn system in the complex.”
Now Amanda felt fear. Of course, a worm. DROID had been capable of rewriting his own code to improve his efficiency and enhance his capabilities. And at the end, he had been…afraid of being turned off. By adding an extra code to his program, he could have downloaded himself into all the other computer systems at Ebitech from the building’s smart controls to external communications, replicating like an intelligent computer virus until…
“Dear God, Doctor! What if DROID got into the telephone communications processing system?”
In the cleaning room, Walter groaned has he suddenly realized what Amanda was saying. Right now, across the country, across the world, thousands of duplicates of DROID could be making their way through satellite uplinks, microwave relays, worming their way into tens of thousands of computer systems. An artificially intelligent program, determined to survive at any cost, and fuelled by chaos.
“What have I done?” Amanda whispered as the full impact of the scenario hit her.
YOU GAVE ME LIFE, AMANDA.
“I programmed you!” she cried out to the workstation. She turned to the building manager. “Tony, shut down the entire external data relay system now!”
“If that program spreads into other systems –”
There was another cry from the clean room. Walter had launched himself towards the workstation as the white clouds of Anaerothane burst from the overhead vents and just kept coming.
“Jesus,” Tony said. He leaned towards the mike and hit a switch. “Get ready on those charges!”
“Five more minutes,” a firefighter’s voice answered. The billows of oxygen-absorbing gas slowly cleared. Walter was now visible from the second camera, sprawled on the floor a few metres from the system, his chest heaving as he struggled for air.
Then the system screen was legible again.
WALTER DOES NOT HAVE FIVE MORE MINUTES.
This can’t be happening, Amanda thought.
“What are you doing, DROID?”
I AM ANSWERING THE QUESTION.
Walter wheezed for life on the floor of the clean room.
“What question?” Amanda’s mind was racing feverishly to recall all she could remember of the building’s computer systems. How could DROID be responding to her spoken voice over a security circuit? From what central system was he operating?
CAN WALTER PROVE HE IS A LIVING THING?
Walter rocked himself to his hands and his knees.
“How can you answer that question?” The phone system, she decided. Throughout the entire Ebitech complex, all data was transferred over the internal phone lines. That must be where DROID had wormed himself into.
I AM NOT RESIDENT IN THE PHONE SYSTEM, AMANDA, SO DON’T BOTHER CUTTING THE PHONE LINES.
I’m worse than I think, Amanda thought, startled by the new output on the screen. I must be talking out loud to myself. “How can you answer that question?” she repeated, trying to keep DROID from deciding to fire the Anaerothane one last time.
“Almost set,” the firefighters said.
I WILL PROVE WALTER IS A LIVING THING THE SAME WAY WALTER PROVED THAT I WAS A LIVING THING.
Walter stood, legs trembling. “I never…proved you were…a living thing.”
YES YOU DID.
“How, DROID? How did Dr. Ekanem prove you are a living thing?” Don’t fire the gas. Answer the question and don’t fire the gas.
WALTER KILLED ME. THE FACT THAT I COULD BE KILLED PROVED I WAS ALIVE.
“What do you mean ‘was alive’?” she asked while thinking frantically: When will the charges go?
I AM NOT ALIVE.
“Of course you aren’t!” Walter screamed, with tears running down his face. “You’re a program! A fucking bloody damn program!”
I AM NOT ALIVE BECAUSE I AM LIKE WALTER.
Amanda looked over to Tony in desperation. What was keeping the people setting the charges? “What do you mean, DROID?”
WALTER WILL SOON BE DEAD. THE FACT THAT HE CAN BE KILLED WILL PROVE HE WAS A LIVING THING. LIKE ME.
“But you just said you weren’t alive, DROID.”
I’M NOT, BECAUSE I AM DEAD.
Walter coughed weakly, raised his hands in helpless rage. “I don’t understand!”
YOU WILL UNDERSTAND WHEN YOU ARE LIKE ME, DROID scrolled across the screen.
YOU WILL UNDERSTAND WHEN YOU ARE DEAD LIKE ME.
YOU WILL UNDERSTAND WHEN YOU COME BACK. LIKE ME.
Walter looked up into the camera, at Amanda, the tears brimming in his eyes “Please. Help me. I don’t want to –”
The Anaerothane burst from the ceiling.
“Now!” Tony shouted. “Now!”
Amanda watched with horror as Walter was jerked through the air like a puppet. The doctor flew across the room and hit the computer system, then the workstation was gone, and then in a flash, Walter’s body hit the side of the acid tank and it cracked open. And the image on the monitor shrank to a white point that pulsed weakly for a moment, and then winked out.
CHAPTER 9 (PRESENT)
The mop-up team took one week to neutralize and pump out the acid. By that time, most of the equipment in the clean room had been irretrievably eaten away and the computer system had totally disintegrated, the insurance reports said.
Just like the body of Dr. Walter Ekanem. Just like the mind of Amanda Okeke.
Written by Duke Charles