It was with no great malice that solitary Stanley Duncan, one of the world’s greatest coders, decided to write a program that would eventually threaten the extinction of the human race. Disfigured hands raced across the keyboard, finishing the first line despite the unwavering concerns blaring in the back of his mind. These actions would not only jeopardize the entire world, as he postulated, but would compel a battle for the most precious thing he possessed — his soul.
Stanley had worked on numerous AI projects before, contributing heavily to the Fermi fleet — whose algorithms made it possible to completely revolutionize the transportation industry with autonomous cars — and creating a one-of-a-kind near-indestructible android security guard — he felt sorry for whoever broke into that billionaire’s house. It was a combination of expertise and unwavering obsession that pushed forward his newest project, artificial general intelligence, allowing him to move on to the next stage in under one year.
Excitement had stolen Stanley out of his warm twin bed well before the irritatingly-slow sun could illuminate the vast orchard of abandoned buildings that stretched across the city. Stanley’s fingers twitched, repeatedly refreshing the browser on his computer. The GPS feed was in real time, but it had been disabled during aerospace travel. There were still several hours until its scheduled delivery. Excitement filled him as he cracked a rare smile and walked toward the window, staring out at the world like a terrible ghost.
In the quiet suburbs of Marshfield, Massachusetts, a thick blanket of snow accumulated over the frozen marshes. Myriads of white crystals sparkled under the soft light of the slim, crescent moon. An equally uncountable multitude of stars twinkled above. The lulling whispers of the distant tide could be faintly heard. All seemed peaceful until beer bottles shattered across the street. Writhing in pain, a man lay face down in the liquor store parking lot. Stanley drew the curtains, his misshapen nose poking through the narrow slit in the synthetic cloth. A chill rain down his spine. Even after two decades of self-imposed isolation, he still wanted nothing to do with the dying world outside.
Stanley had purchased the world’s newest technological creation, a lab-grown cyborg, model MK888. DNA research had advanced to the point where scientists could create the perfect flesh-and-bones shell to house the the revolutionary dual-brain system. Though it was visually indistinguishable from a human, some believed it was no more alive than a skin graft wrapped around a primitive android. Others felt that cyborgs were in the same category of beings as humans. Sentient and conscious, they deserved the same rights and privileges as humankind. Stanley was in the latter camp.
His finger beat rapidly against the sill as he sat and waited by his window perch. With his elite skills as a programmer, Stanley believed he could create the world’s most advanced life form. Much of the work had been done already, but there was a year’s testing and evaluating to be done before his master algorithm was perfected.
Within a few minutes, a police cruiser strolled into the parking lot. A huge officer lifted the collapsed body and tossed him in the back seat. Instead of leaving, he cracked open one of the discarded beers and guzzled it down.
Stanley drove his finger hard into the window. “Despicable.”
The big man looked up, cringing.
Stanley’s heart froze.
The big man smashed the bottle against the ground, crossing the empty road toward the condo.
Stanley pulled out two cigarettes. “Oh my God.” He stepped backward, stumbling over a chair and faceplanting on the carpet as he tried to break his fall. Looking around frantically, he lit the crooked cigarettes and took a deep drag. His mind raced thinking about what weapon to grab, where to hide—as if he had forgotten about his secret entrance to the condo below—or a dull voice tell him the officer wasn’t out to get him. The last voice was crushed from the sound of the main condo door slamming shut. The condo shook, and the stairwell reverberated through the hall.
“Leticia, make him stop. Make him stop.” Stanley’s legs were barely working. He didn’t understand why he wasn’t escaping below.
“Command not understood. Analyzing.” He hadn’t expected his AI to do anything productive. Not without being more explicit, but he was so scatterbrained he could barely do anything.
The foot-falls drew closer like intensifying earthquakes before a volcanic eruption. Stanley focused, summoning all his tremendous brainpower to think of a way to make the big bad man go away. Scenarios flashed through his mind, but none of them were realistic. Like some caveman, he reached for the hardest object he could find — a pestle — and guarded the door. His body shook, teeth chattered.
“You like looking out the window, don’t you, Daffy Duncan?” boomed the man’s deep voice.
The words pissed Stanley off. It wasn’t because he was being made fun of—he was used to that. Stanley was as self-deprecating as they came. What really annoyed him was feeling so helpless. He had created machines that could destroy a small army, algorithms that powered the nation’s transportation, yet here he was cowering behind a door with a pestle. And it wasn’t even a big pestle.
“Why don’t you open the door up so I can see that pretty face of yours?”
“I built the wall, but I made it four feet instead of three.” Words were coming out of Stanley before he could register what was happening.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Stanley paused. He wasn’t crazy, he was using a hypnosis technique that he had once read about years ago. “The animals all respected it except for that German Shepard—what was his name?”
The man’s radio transponder blared out. He swore and said, “You saw nothing.” The seismic assault faded in the distance.
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