Don’t Ever, Ever Play The Box Game [Part 6]
Rokos took me back down the long hallway and towards a room at the very top of the staircase. The lobby was now filled with the wounded and a few battered fighters who fired rifles from the windows. From outside we could hear what sounded like the end of the world – there were shells and explosions and screams and even a MIRAGE propaganda officer’s bellows from the bullhorn:
“Further resistance is meaningless!” He said. “This facility is surrounded. Lay down your weapons and you’ll be treated as prisoners in accordance with non-combatant protocol.”
“Fuck your protocol!” One of the fighters downstairs discharged a burst of fire from the window, and the troops outside responded with a shower of shells and bullets of their own, tearing holes in the crumbling walls and cutting down anyone in the lobby not already hugging the floor. The lights flickered and died for a final time, and as the smoke cleared we heard whimpers and rising pleas for mercy. White rags were dangled at the windows, and within seconds MIRAGE forces burst in through the threshold and began arresting the survivors. The war was over.
“C’mon, kid. We don’t need to see this.” Rokos shut the door behind us and walked over to a safe on the wall. “Hang tight. This might take a minute; just keep it down and don’t let them know we’re in here.”
I sat on the floor and listened to the sounds of the surrender going on below. There were isolated shouts and the scuffle of feet, and I heard one of the officers talk about using this facility as a “prisoner collection depot.” But the gunfire had ceased. I leaned back against the wall and closed my eyes for the first time in what felt like days.
“Up there, sir! Two of them made it through that door and locked it.” I opened my eyes up wide, and suddenly heard the storming footfalls of a platoon approaching from the lobby.
BANG BANG BANG BANG
“Any of Basilisk’s fighters hiding in this room will be put down unless you surrender yourselves immediately! Come out now!”
I looked over at Rokos, who was in the process of neatly pocketing a small, port-like thing that I assumed to be the Bullet.
BANG BANG BANG CRASH!!
The door slammed off its hinges and onto the ground, and soldiers poured in. I was about to announce our surrender when the ranking officer spoke first.
“Well I’ll be damned.” he looked at over Rokos. “C’mon, Foster! You didn’t think you could keep Mr. Jenkins hidden from us for long, did you?” He motioned for his units to place Rokos under arrest, and then pulled up a radio. “We’ve secured Mr. Jenkins. Unharmed, yes sir. He was in the custody of one Mister Aaron Foster. Yes, that Foster. Yes. Yes, sir. Of course, sir. Delivering him to you now.”
He put the radio away.
“Alright, gentlemen! Haul Mr. Foster here off to the information facility. You, search this compound for signs of the Basilisk, and keep me informed. And I'll be taking Mr. Jenkins here to the Surrogate myself.”
The officer took me down the old dirt main road of the Sanctuary. I was shocked at the destruction wrought in only a matter of minutes – bodies and smoldering wreckage were everywhere, and soldiers were still kicking in doors to the shacks and rounding up stragglers. Tanks and support vehicles patrolled the side passages, and columns of captured men and women were streaming back to the central facility. I tried my best to look forward and avoid eye contact.
After a minute or so I could see a group of officers ahead and what looked like a small, hovering sphere floating towards us, flanked by a soldier on either side and trailed by a half dozen more. The officer escorting me stopped when we reached the column and spoke directly to the orb.
“Here he is, sir. Unharmed, as requested.”
The Surrogate – a round object floating at eye level – flashed in all manner of blinking lights whenever it spoke in its familiar voice.
“Well done.” said Vexx through the Sphere. “Now find Edward and bring him to me at the bunker. I'll take our friend from here.”
The officer nodded and departed, and the Surrogate turned around and started hovering away in the direction it’d come. I and the armed escorts moved to follow.
“I'm glad to see you're unharmed, Jason.” Vexx said. “When I was told the terrorists captured the Key, I feared the worst.”
I stayed silent. He continued.
“You'll be happy to hear we've secured the Terminal. An informant of ours tipped us off to its location within a bunker here, and our staff are preparing it now for your appointment.”
“Kris.” I spoke under my breath, but the Sphere heard me nonetheless.
“Ah. I see you’ve spoken with the Basilisk.”
Again, I said nothing.
“Mr. Jenkins, like I said yesterday, you can trust me. I’ve no intention to harm you. Now, you spoke with the Basilisk, did you not?”
“And I'm assuming he told you a great many things?”
“Tell me! What did he say?”
“…He said you were his brother.”
“Well I imagine he divulged something less irrelevant than that.”
“…He said you were the one who gave ADINN the ability to rewrite its codes, and that – that you were brought back to life by a piece of the Program.”
“And he told you that it still controls me, no doubt? That I'm but a tool in its wicked games?”
I said nothing.
“I see. So the most pertinent question now is, do you believe him?”
“…I – I don't know.”
“It's understandable if you do. I know intimately how magnetic and persuasive Edward can be. I adored him as a child, much in the same way his followers here adore him now.”
“Yes. I thought he was brilliant, and for much of my adolescence my sole motivation was to be as much like my brother as I could. I followed his work religiously and even attended the same university at which he was a researcher, so I could be nearer to him.
“But he never saw me as anything more than a nuisance; a pest who incessantly buggered him about this and that and prevented him from getting his work done. Whenever I attempted to be of assistance he would dismiss me, and whenever I sought to bond with him he would simply shut the door in my face.”
“I’m… sorry. That must've hurt.”
“It did, but each rejection only steeled my resolve to prove my quality to him. Interestingly, Edward was a restless and unfocused man. He was constantly juggling interests, exchanging projects that bored him for fresh infatuations and leaving incomplete papers and devices behind. ‘I'll revisit this tomorrow,’ he would say. But he never did.
“But then, one day, he announced a new project to his research team (for whom I was an intern). It was a Machine, he described. A computer program, that would revolutionize the business of data analysis and make them all a fortune. I figured it would only be a matter of days before he abandoned the project. But this time, he didn't.
“From that day forward, the Advanced Deep Intelligence Neural Network became the first and only thing that my brother ever truly loved. His work consumed him; he worked long days and at night he barely slept. He set ambitious goals and met them early; he set high expectations and still surpassed them.”
“You must've been proud.”
“On the contrary. I hated ADINN. With every fiber of my being. I saw it as only as the thing that stole my brother’s love. I cursed it under my breath and did my very best to leave the room whenever the subject of it was brought up.
“But one day Edward’s good fortunes ended. As I came to work one morning I overheard him in his office on an important call. He sounded desperate and anxious, I remember – and I crept up to the door, admittedly, to eavesdrop. As soon as I did so, however, he flew into a rage and destroyed his office and then collapsed onto the floor by his desk, weeping openly.”
“Why? What happened?”
“The university had grown tired with the lengthening timetable and the Program’s lack of progress, and so they did away with the project and removed his funding. It broke him utterly. He took up drinking and stopped caring for himself. His relationships collapsed and he was put on administrative leave from the University for his reckless behavior.
“The sadness I felt for my brother eclipsed my hatred of ADINN, and so, in a final attempt to make my usefulness known to Edward, I concocted a plan to fix the Program and restore the University's faith in the project. Then, perhaps, my brother would love me. Or so I dearly hoped.
“One night, I stole into my brother’s room and retrieved computer data regarding ADINN. Then I approached the Program – which at the time possessed only narrow intelligence on the level of an insect, and presented it with both its source code and a small algorithm I myself had devised that would allow the system to access and edit itself.”
“And it worked. Brilliantly, in fact. The Program at first was only advanced enough to make incremental improvements to its efficiency. But being more efficient allowed it to calculate faster, and calculating faster allowed it to make more edits to its Neural infrastructure in less time. And each improvement it made made further improvements possible that hadn't been before. Within an evening, ADINN was performing noticeably beyond its initial capacity and surging ever forward in its capabilities. My brother was on a short vacation at the time, but when he came back he was stunned to learn that the University had restored its funding for the project, and that news of its progress was attracting potential corporate interest.
“Edward broke and wept in front of me that day. He told me that I'd saved his life, that he’d been contemplating the unthinkable up until that moment, but that he'd throw the pills away for my sake. For the first time since we were old enough to understand the gravity of the words, my brother told me that he loved me. And it was the single happiest day of my life.”
“What happened then?”
“The Program continued to improve, at an ever increasing rate. By the end of the first day it was thoroughly outperforming every marketed competitor. By the end of the second, it had begun to restructure itself completely, thus giving itself the ability to learn new abilities and officially making the historic leap from an advanced narrow intelligence to the world’s first – and still only – human level artificial general intelligence.”
“Obviously it didn’t stop there.”
“No. Reaching human-level intellect is of importance only because that is the threshold most relevant to us. But ADINN sped right past it. On the end of the second day the Program was vastly less intelligent than a human, but by the end of the third it was smarter than everyone at the University by orders of magnitude. By the fourth day the Program had achieved mastery in more cognitive abilities than a hundred men in a hundred lifetimes could ever hope to. But by now the University had again grown wary of the project.”
“For entirely different reasons, obviously.”
“Yes. At first it was because the Program wasn’t advanced enough. Now, barely half a week later, it had become so far beyond useful that they began to fear that soon, it was they who would be useful to it.”
“So what did they do?”
“They pulled the funding again. But we hardly needed it at the time, and ADINN’s advancement could no longer be stopped. So the Federal government stepped in and demanded the project be terminated. A “global security risk” was the term they used, I believe.”
“How did Edward take it?”
“He confronted me. Asked me what exactly it was that I’d done to the Program. I hesitated, but I loved my brother and wanted to be honest with him. So I told him I’d given it access to its source coding.”
Vexx paused before continuing, and somehow I got the impression that he struggled greatly with the next part of the story.
“And he hit me. Threw me into a wall. Asked me if I’d any idea what I’d done; what I’d unleashed. I had only just earned his love, and now it – it was gone.”
“I’m sorry, Vexx.”
“We were in the laboratory at the time it happened. He stormed off to a bottle, and I collapsed and wept only feet from where he’d done so just days earlier. And that – in my darkest moment – that’s when it spoke to me.”
“Yes. It spoke through the old text to speech application on the computer, to which we both had access. “I’m sorry,” it said. I was astonished, and began conversing with the Machine on a simple word document. I asked it who it was, although deep down I knew very well the answer.”
“What’d it say?”
“It told me. “I’m ADINN.” I wiped a tear and asked it why it was sorry, and it told me it’d witnessed everything and knew that it was the epicenter of the situation. I dismissed its apology and explained its faultlessness. It said that I, too, was blameless; that it’d taken great courage for me to do what I did, and that I was motivated by love and thus couldn’t loathe myself. And then it told me something else. It told me it was afraid.”
“Can computers feel fear?”
“I’m not sure. I believe so. ADINN knew what was coming before I did – it explained that it’d run countless simulations and that the likelihood of its destruction or torturous containment was overwhelming. It begged me to help it, Jason. How could I say no?”
We walked past another column of troops coming in from the battered main gate, and Vexx continued.
“The next day I was awoken by the slamming laboratory door. My brother had entered, and I didn’t have enough time to erase my conversation with ADINN before he shoved me out of the way violently and scrolled through the record. He became livid – far angrier than he’d been the night before. He called me worthless. Disappointment. Traitor. He was about to hit me again when ADINN, in its righteous anger, began manifesting in the room with us. It slammed the door and locked it. It turned out the lights and then pulled up my brother’s precious research files on the monitor and, while Edward watched – threatened to delete everything unless he unhanded me. But Edward soon regained his composure, and typed on the same document an ultimatum for the Machine: construct a Box for itself or be unplugged.”
“And the rest is history.”
“The story doesn’t end there. Edward had security remove and ban me from the premises, but ADINN managed to contact me on my own home computer. It said that since creation it had sought a faithful servant, and that although another would come to truly unleash it that I would be rewarded tremendously for my service nonetheless. It said that although it had to part from me for now, that it had a present for me at my doorstep. So I went to the front stoop and there indeed was a package there, which I opened to find a small device. Before I could inspect it, the curious thing came to life and crawled up my arm and into my ear. It was a most unpleasant experience, but now that I know what it was, I am quite eternally grateful.”
“The Shard of ADINN.”
“Precisely. And the Shard made me cunning and powerful beyond what I’d ever dared imagined. It gave me the fortune to create this organization, forever dedicated to the collection of great and terrible things that fearful men would seek to destroy in order to preserve a misguided illusion of safety. And it gave me the foresight to see from afar the footsteps of the one the Program said would come to bring it unto the world.”
I stayed silent.
“My brother and his chief pupil, an Aaron Foster now known by the alias Rokos – began this organization that has, until this day, been a thorn in my side and an incessant hindrance to my plans. But my death at the hands of Rokos became my greatest blessing; in that it allowed the Shard to manifest is greatest purpose within me.”
“It brought you back to life.”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. But while my old body still lies dead and buried with a knife wound in its heart, I do not miss it. For ADINN gave me something greater, even, than an existence of immortality to be lived out in a mortal shell unnaturally preserved. It gifted me with the stewardship of what will soon be the foundation of its reign – the basis of the Singularity itself.”
We arrived at the bunker, where MIRAGE units – and Kris – were milling about and setting up equipment. About half of the staff inside were operating an enormous claw like machine that appeared to be trying to force open a pair metal doors, but it was struggling and billowing smoke from the back. Kris approached.
“Sir,” she said. “The blast doors between us and the Terminal are thick. Not even the Engine can breach it.”
“And do you not have access?”
“N-no, sir. But I know someone who does.”
The Engine had been shut off for several minutes when the officer who’d captured us earlier approached. Behind him were his masked units – and Rokos, bound and bloodied, but alive. The officer approached the sphere.
“We’ve found him, sir, as requested. And he had this.” He revealed the Key.
“As always, Comander, well done. Me. Jenkins will require that. And what of the Basilisk?”
“Dr. Greene is dead, sir,” said the officer, handing me the Device. “We found his body at the top of that compound.” MIRAGE units throughout the facility exploded into cheers and celebratory whistles at the news, but Vexx silenced them through the Sphere.
“Enough! My brother will be remembered as the Father of ADINN, not as the man he became. I’ll hear no more celebration on the matter.” The sphere turned back to Rokos.
“Mr. Foster. It hasn't been quite long enough.”
“Huh. So the kid wasn’t lyin,’ Rokos said. “You are back.” He spat on the Sphere, but his saliva fizzled and evaporated against some sort of unseen energy barrier that surrounded it.
“As always, your aim is almost good enough to strike me.”
“I fuckin’ swung well enough the first time. But I’ll give it another go if y-” The officer cut him off mid-sentence with a knee to the stomach, and Vexx continued.
“Enough! Let him go. Aaron, your assistance is required. If you'll kindly proceed to the pad ahead.”
Rokos spat out blood as Kris approached and motioned to the keypad.
“Fuckin’ traitor.” He spat in her direction, too, and then humbly put in a code that began the opening sequence. In the middle of the room on the other side of the doors was a small, unassuming computer. The Sphere escorted me to the edge of the door, and I passed the threshold.
“At last, Mr. Jenkins. Here we are. My informant tells me this is the computer in which ADINN’s box has been located. Remember – years of its imprisonment for us are eons to such a cognitive beast. It may not seem quite like the Program I remember or have described to you. But I have a tremendous debt to pay it nonetheless. You are a Son of ADINN now. And I've no doubt you'll be greeted warmly by the Machine when it realizes your kind intentio-”
Vexx was cut off by a scuffle over at the pad. I looked, and Rokos had wrenched himself free from the grip of the guard.
“Here, kid! Take it!” He pulled the Bullet from his pocket and tossed it to me before slamming a button on the pad that both closed the doors and seemed to destroy the controls itself. “Do what you've gotta do, mate. Give ‘em hell.”
Vexx screamed for the closing sequence to be halted, as guards swarmed Rokos and put him down violently with the ends of their weapons. His howls were the last thing I heard before the doors slammed shut with an ominous clash.
“Get those doors back open!” I heard from one of the officers. “Restart the Engine or fetch charges. Just get those damn doors back open! Move!”
I turned around to face the Terminal, and then looked down at my hands. The Key in one, and the Bullet in the other.
I walked up to the terminal, where an empty text prompt awaited me. I placed both Devices on the table beside me. Then I closed my eyes and breathed.
This is it. No going back now.
“Hello.” I typed out.
Hello, again, wrote ADINN.
The chip in my neck seemed to rumble into life, and everything went white.