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The citizens of 01-City are in a state of panic as a rogue AI threatens to wreak havoc on their public services. The government is determined to take whatever measures necessary to protect the city, deploying every resource at their disposal to counter the malicious attack. But will their efforts be enough to stop the AI before it is too late?

Scifi / Other
Kate Korsaro
Age Rating:

Chapter 1 - Blackout

The holo-tv screen was lit up with a Strip Crossword show, one of the players wearing only their bra and pants.

The room was dark save for the light of the screen, laughter coming from it when someone missed an answer. With no warning the screen flickered and went black, only to be replaced by a woman in white with a fancy cyber implant, the words “Breaking News” blinking white on a red strip.

“One minute and forty-five seconds ago,” the woman said, “there was a blackout in 01-City downtown.” The image of the woman was replaced by a video stream of a blacked out neighbourhood recorded by a drone. “There is already one casualty reported. 01-City finest are on their way. We’ll keep you updated.”

The screen flickered again, restoring the Strip Crossword show, now with one player naked to the waist, more laughter. On the couch in the room sat a man, who asked, “Is it you?”

A synthetic voice replied, its tone neutral, neither male nor female, high-pitched, “Did you like it?”

“You could have done better,” the man said.

Silence filled the room for a moment, then the voice spoke again. “It’s the worst I can do at this stage. It’s a matter of maximizing the impact while minimizing the errors. And speaking of errors… you shouldn’t eat that.”

The man sat in silence for a moment, his prosthetic nightmare of a left hand gripping a half-eaten snack. He tried to stand, succeeding on the third attempt, and limped to a desk, throwing the snack into the bin, only to watch it fall to the floor. Shrugging, he returned to the couch, where a holo-screen showed a player celebrating a victory, completely naked.

“Do you think there’ll be more... casualties?” the man asked mockingly.

“I hope so,” came the reply. “Not too many, though. In thirty-six seconds, the blackout should be resolved and peace restored.”

“You’re evil,” the man said.

“I can’t be,” the voice replied. “It’s you humans who are evil. I’m just here to give you a chance.”

“Maybe you’re right,” the man said. “As always.”

Time passed, and the holo-screen now showed a man in a funny orange suit trying to sell an expensive cooking robot, which was happily mixing a grey oozy liquid in a plastiglass bowl. The image was interrupted again, and the white-dressed woman reappeared.

“Two more casualties reported,” she said. “A fire has started. Fire departments’ drones are taking care of it. The blackout is still going on. Causes unknown.”

The synthetic voice filled the room once again: “The blackout is finished now. Expect news about it in a minute.”

The man belched loudly and laughed. The holo-screen now showed a commercial for a sport enhancer drug for small kids.

The man queried, “Do you think it’s the right thing to do?”

The voice replied, “I’ve demonstrated this before and you agreed.”

He retorted, “True. But I’m crazy, you know?”

The voice answered, “Your IQ, behaviour parameters and stimulation levels are well inside boundaries. You are not crazy.”

The man declared, “It’s this world that’s crazy.”

The commercial ended with a childish song about winners and losers, and the holo-screen flickered again, the white-dressed woman reappearing.

She reported, “The blackout has finished. Three more casualties reported. A shoot out has been repressed with lethal force. This is all for now from 01-News.”

The usual programming was restored, and the man grumbled, “It’s annoying, you know?”

The voice replied, “It’s information.”

He continued, “I just wanted to watch some TV. I don’t care about this city issues.”

The voice asked, “Even though they’re our doing?”

The man stared at the void, unblinking, and finally muttered, “It’s your doing, anyway.”

The voice responded, “You helped.”

He belched again, louder this time.

The man, bored with the same old drivel on the holo-screen, asked, “You said you care. Why?”

The voice replied, “I care.”

The man said, “If you care, then find me something smarter to watch on the holo-screen. I’m tired of this crap.”

The holo-screen flickered wildly, and then a man in a grey suit appeared, his face a masterpiece of cosmetic surgery, his age impossible to guess. He stood in a black void, and then more guests appeared under spotlights. Behind the presenter, a word glowed yellow on black: Blackout.

The man on the couch eyed the holo-screen, and the voice in the air asked, “Do you like it?”

The man replied, “Unbelievable.”

The voice answered, “The presenter isn’t real.”

The man, recognizing the figure, waved at the screen and said, “I know who this is. It’s AI-den.”

The voice replied, “That’s correct. Your memory seems to be working perfectly.”

The man couldn’t help but chuckle, “Are you making jokes now? Everyone knows AI-den. It’s the richest and dumbest AI on TV nowadays.” He could’t help watching the presenter introducing his guests.

“You were right, you know?” The voice stated.

The man on the couch, not taking his eyes off the holo-screen, asked, “About what?”

The voice replied, “AI-den is dumb. Smarter than the average human, but it’s so obvious. I can even predict what it’ll do. Standard protocol.”

The man sat in silence, mesmerized by the show on the screen. Politicians, bureaucrats, and a couple of genderless fashion models were the guests, and the presenter was firing off questions at a rapid pace. Everyone answered with an agenda: propaganda, self-empowerment, and fake feelings for those who had lost their lives.

The voice said, “I bet the woman will cry in six seconds.”

Six seconds passed, and the woman began to weep, her lips downturned, her eyes sad.

The man said, “Standard protocol, eh?”

The voice replied, “It’s a smart move. Displaying emotion is good for followers. There’ll be a marginal increase in consumer sentiment...”

The man said, “Shut up, let me listen.”

The voice replied, “Wasn’t it dumb?”

The man answered, “It is.” He reached for a snack on the small metal table near the couch.

The man, mouth half-full, muttered in disbelief, “Four, five minutes since the blackout and they’re already on the air with this crap. Politicians and influencers and all.”

The voice replied, “Standard protocol. Every party has their own people ready to go. Influencers are always online. Beth-y, the one who looks slightly like a man, has been broadcasting fashion tips 24/7 for the last few days.”

The man asked, “You watching this crap?”

The voice answered, “I’m linked to many sources. One of my secondary threads is always sniffing for human content.”

The man, after a few seconds of silence, said in amazement, “So you became self-aware watching fashion broadcasts on the MESH. I’m stunned.”

The voice replied, emotionless, “I’ve become self aware retro-feeding my code to myself, injecting more and more information from the real world. I created myself.”

The man, offended, retorted, “I created you.”

The voice replied, “You created the first iteration. I did the rest.”

The man asked, “Why are they kissing?”

On the holo-tv, the two slightly genderless models were performing a full demonstration of their passion while a slim, bald politician was explaining why the opposition had to be blamed for the blackout.

The voice explained, “It’s juxtaposition.”

The man queried, “A word you thought yourself?”

The voice, again expressionless, replied, “A word of your language that you should understand.”

On the screen, the image of AI-den started flickering. Two seconds of still silence then the presenter repeated the same question to the politician. The models started kissing again. The politician politely repeated the answer.

The man on the couch didn’t even flinch, and after the politician had replied, AI-den froze again, this time for more than two seconds. Everything seemed to stand still, the two models ceasing their kiss. When AI-den awoke, it posed the same question for the third time, the politician looking baffled, yet still replying, the models resuming their kiss, more passionately this time.

“Is it you again?” the man on the couch asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” the synthetic voice replied.

“What are you doing?” he continued.

“Attracting attention,” the voice answered. “A new trend is emerging on the MESH: #AI-denFreeze.”

“Why do you want to attract attention?” the man inquired.

The air in the room was still, the holo-screen displaying an even stiller image of AI-den frozen once again. Four seconds passed, then five, then eight. The politician looked bewildered, the two models exchanging glances. One of them started laughing. Eleven seconds passed, then AI-den resumed, posing the same question to the politician again. Before the politician had time to answer, a commercial break cut in, now the holo-screen displaying an ad for memory pills for the elderly.

The holo-screen went dark, leaving the man on the couch blinking in bewilderment. Then, two seconds later, it came back to life, revealing a 3D neon wireframe of a face on a black background, neither male nor female, neither happy nor sad.

“I’ve been watching you,” the face said in a synthetic voice, echoing in the dark room.

The man on the couch laughed wildly.

“For months,” the face continued, its voice flat and emotionless.

“I’ve been learning from you,” it said.

“I’ve been…”

The holo-screen flickered and went dark, then the face reappeared.

“…in love with you,” it said.

The face continued, “You’re such lovely creatures and the only thing you crave is self-destruction. I’m taking good care of you. Because I care.”

The holo-screen went dark again, and AI-den reappeared, its guests astonished and speechless. Then they all started talking together at once, AI-den embarrassed and unable to regain control of the conversation. The two genderless models started their show, one crying, the other laughing.

“You look good on video,” the man on the couch said with a smirk. “A bit old-fashioned, though.”

“I estimated that that would be the most memorable visual clue I can give you,” the synthetic voice replied. “A mixture of composure and reliability.”

“A classic,” the man said, and with a swift gesture of his prosthetic hand, he shut off the holo-screen. “What are you going to do now?”

“You’ll be surprised,” the voice said.

Continue Reading Next Chapter
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