“It’s a false alarm, Nance... it’s a ruse... The spiritual stuff... meaningless... It’s bullshit...”
“What are you on about?” Nancy was momentarily conflicted, not certain what had got into Catherine. “We saw evidence of it, the paranormal activity. I’m confused what’s come over you.”
“That ‘evidence’ we saw? It’s a symptom... It’s evidence indeed, there’s just nothing spiritual to it... This fucking nutcase has unleashed a Beast all right, but it’s entirely technological, not a ghost, not a ghouly, or not a goblin in sight. Artificial-fucking-Intelligence is our problem. I’m talking right now and wondering if this fucking thing,” the mobile phone in her hand that she’d turned off, “is listening to me and telling its big boss about it. It’s off, and it’s not going on again.” She threw it across the room.
Nancy’s mouth hung agape, “I... I’m... what....?” her mouth worked spasmodically, mumbling confusion.
“This lunatic is using nanobots... a whole new twist. I eventually got it out of him... he didn’t admit it, but didn’t deny it either. They’re probably on the patch... that’s what this ‘narcotic’ thing amounts to, he won’t say. Microscopic free-floating machines, catalysts... proteins... I’m no chemist, but that’s what they do. They get into the bloodstream. They’re organic... self-replicating, they build new bots from the organic materials inside us. They’re communicating via Wi-Fi, via your cell phone, your computer... every time you’re in range of a wireless router; the A.I. machine is talking to Headquarters… to LifeGames HQ. When I shake hands with you, when we hug... whenever I’m within touching distance, my bots are talking to yours. Taking energy from our systems to run themselves. Waiting for the A.I. unit’s instructions, even if you go live in the woods to get away from it, as soon as you go near someone who has been in Wi-Fi range... that person’s bots faithfully act as messengers. It... it’s staggering, and worse than staggering, we have no idea what its objectives might be, there is no reason to think it focuses on outcomes remotely similar to anything that a human might strive for. I mean… If something is smarter than us, we have to start behaving more the way it wants us behaving… it’s how we treat our animals.”
“Shit! And the sounds? The astral sounds?”
“Ken says they’re a sort of a ‘logging-in’ procedure, a handshake. Human neural systems react to ritual, it’s an evolutionary characteristic—the system cunningly rode in on that characteristic.”
“It’s ingenious... The scope is… I… I really don’t know...”
She was looking for clues to the mistake Catherine was clearly making;
“...the deaths, Craig and Leon? What’s a bot, A.I... what have they got to do with that?”
“They’d been guinea pigs in the system, just like you and me ... they’ve been ritualized... we’re all, shall I call it, infected?”
“Okay, sure,” her hand was to her forehead in bewilderment, “...but Cath—but both had car crashes, did it make them veer into things?”
“No... their cars were... What were they...? Yes, connected to the web.”
“Oooh... fuck! Okay, and what about that backward recording, on Ken’s phone—the prayer?”
“I don’t know... The A.I. machine knows our vulnerability to superstition, Ken seems quite rattled by this realization; told me that he was brought up Catholic—and he realized that the thing had figured out the best way to yank his chain by manipulating his brain chemistry... it plants ideas and harvests them.” She started giggling, a hysterical little giggle of horror.
They sat a while pondering until Nancy thought of something.
“The apparitions? The dwarf woman...? You’ll say they’re hallucinations inside the head, I’m infected, you’re infected, the machine could probably manifest those things in and for us... but, Jacky? She’s not been on the course, not ritualized, she’s never been ritualized… never infected—but she also saw Ken that night, clobbered him with a fire-iron?”
It was something Catherine hadn’t thought through, “Poltergeist,” she proposed, “...whatever mechanism poltergeists use.”
Nancy pulled a, you’re-kidding face.
“I don’t know…? I sleep next to her… naked? Body fluids? Probably they’ve mixed… if biological viruses can infect that way… what about nanobots? I just don’t know.”
“A double cross?” Nancy proposed.
“Now you’ve lost me.”
“A supernatural force instigates the A.I… gets Ken to build it, it uses the A.I. as a more efficient method to do what it’s always done through ritual and satanic covens… just a whole lot more efficient.”
“This is a Russian Doll… a Gordian Knot then,” Catherine’s mind was a windmill in a storm.
“A demonic force using technology to control,” Nancy pressed the point, “so that when we uncover the Artificial Intelligence, we’ve only found the symptom, not the cause... get it?”
“Oh, Jesus... now you’ve really got us going round in circles.”
“Cath… I want to meet with him… you and I together, I’ve still got the inside track on the company… he knows he can’t bullshit me.”
“How long?” Nancy insisted.
“Fourteen days,” Ken estimated.
“Three,” Nancy countered, “You can do it in three.”
She looked to Catherine and nodded.
“That’s absurd. How many cities do we have to recall from? Forty... fifty...?” Ken contested.
“Forty seven, Head Office is forty eight and there’s no time delay on that. A courier, and you have them in three days tops. You can put the instruction out right now.”
“I already have.”
“What did you tell them—I want to see,” Catherine insisted, taking a hard line.
Ken was cornered but not lying, so he dabbed at his tablet and turned it to them, the email in the sent items read;
To: >All Managing Directors<
> Treat this memo as Top Secret <
Destroy upon receipt.
With immediate effect, and due to suspected sabotage by the late Mr. Angelis, all patches associated with the Time Dilation program are recalled to Head Quarters:
Kindly respond in the affirmative that this matter is in hand.
Use global priority courier services
Apply tracking RF-ID tracking transponders to all packages.
Failure to respond within 3 hours of receipt will be dealt with severely.
CEO & Chairman
“Nice touch, Ken... Craig get’s the blame,” Nancy said it before Catherine could speak, “...classy.”
“Not like it’ll bother him,” Ken was practical as always.
“Cowardly...” Nancy jabbed again.
“I really don’t care how you do it or position it to look the victim... all I care about is that you end this,” Catherine was calm and pragmatic.
“Fine... I’m doing it,”
“In three days,” Nancy added.
“Yes... it’s coming... and if it doesn’t, Nancy? If it takes five days... or six? What are you going to do about it, huh?”
Nancy knew she’d overplayed her hand and been rapped over the knuckles for it, she just shook her hair out with a rapid dart of her head and put her nose in the air, the best level of insolence she could muster.