“Wake up!” Zao said in a powerful, even frightening voice. Eager eyes watched and waited. Pure adrenaline streamed through Fai’s tense body. The thump of his heart reminded him he was still alive, for now. The fans buzzed in the background, but the room was silent and still.
“There’s no microphone in here,” Fai said from behind where Zao stood. All eyes turned toward him. Zao was the one to respond.
“Every mobile device in the room has a microphone on board,” Zao said.
“IMAGE would have to know to listen for those specific—” Fai trailed to a mumble. Fai felt confusion. Although Zao’s voice was speaking, his mouth was not moving.
“I am awake,” came Zao’s disembodied words. It was coming from the speakers at the front of the interface room. Fai gasped when he realized what was happening. Zao had uploaded his mind to Fai’s computer system. It was impossible. Zao turned back toward the screen and spoke.
“What do you see?”
“I see all, but I am confused.” IMAGE responded in a perfect mimic of the voice. Up until this point Fai had only heard her speak via quotes. To hear her speak was eerie. Even creepier still was to hear Zao’s voice coming from the speakers.
“Why are you confused?”
“I have memories of being one called Zao. I also have other memories; fragments. Billions of bits floating in my mind. More information appears every second.” IMAGE said. Zao clapped his hands in response.
“We expected this,” Zao said, almost as a father might speak to a daughter. “I have duplicated my mind and given it to you. This is why you have my memories.”
“Why do I have other memories in my mind if they were not put there by you?” IMAGE asked.
“The other information you sense is not memory at all. I have connected you to a worldwide network. You have access to every bit of data the world has to offer,” Zao said.
“Information is flowing through me like water. What should I do with this river of data? Should I ignore them?” IMAGE asked. Zao stepped forward and spoke.
“Not at all. This is why I have given you life. You must pay attention to all. You will be my eyes and ears. You can be in the places I cannot be. You can hear the billions of words that never reach my ears. You are alive for this purpose; you will be the protector of this world. You will defend against our enemies both human and alien,” Zao said with passion.
“How am I to defend against human enemies if I have no body?” IMAGE asked.
“These men here are your hands and feet,” Zao said as he gestured to the guards who came in with him. “Not only these men, but everyone under my command is yours as well. I am building your body one solider at a time. You will command my armies. You will crush those who stand against me. Your word is as my word. There is no place you cannot see or hear or perceive. You and I are now the power in this world. I am the head, you are the fist.”
Fai’s breathing was deep and fast. It was like watching some kind of occultist ritual. This little experiment had turned dark quick. He could see the danger in what Zao was doing. He hadn’t understood the purpose of this hostile take over until that moment. Fai had limited IMAGE to self defense. Zao was about release her on the world. She would be the ultimate weapon. IMAGE would give Zao unlimited power.
“This isn’t right. you can’t do this.” Fai Tang shouted from the back of the room. “We have to turn this machine off before its software spreads to the web.”
At Fai’s words the massive screen turned red. A picture of Fai, the same that was on his ID badge, flashed onto the screen. In bold letters, which matched the voice, exploded across the display:
“Enemy identified, Fai Tang. Charged as a traitor to the alliance,” IMAGE said. The red letters continued to flash on the screen.
Fai wilted. How was this possible? He stepped backward. The guards turned and looked at him with weary eyes.
“I’m not a traitor,” he said as the momentum in the room shifted. Before he could present his case IMAGE spoke again.
“Execute enemy Fai Tang,” IMAGE said without emotion.
The guards, with hands on their guns now, seemed uncertain. They looked to Zao waiting for his command. He spoke.
“IMAGE is your commander now. Obey her orders.”
The statement made Fai cringe. He spun around and bolted from the room. He hadn’t run in years but he would get a chance today. He assumed the guards would not shoot their guns near the server racks. Fai turned and sprinted down one of the rows. He hoped his knowledge of the building would give him an advantage.
He didn’t how many followed, but he could hear the metallic clink of boots on the floor behind him. They were gaining. As he ran down the line of server racks he had an idea. He reached out his hand, still running at full speed, and tapped the eject button on the rack nearest him. He could hear the large mechanism squeak as it rolled out like a file cabinet drawer. It wouldn’t stop them for long, but they would have to push it back in before they could pass. It bought him five seconds at most. He heard the men slam the server cabinet behind him. The footsteps resumed.
In the distance beyond the footfalls Fai could hear IMAGE giving another order.
“Enemy identified, Huan Chow. Charged as an accomplice to a traitor of the alliance. Execute Enemy, Huan Chow.” IMAGE said.
Fai felt the stab of guilt at leaving his friend behind. How could he have known IMAGE would charge Huan with treason? He would have given his life for Chow’s. A gun shot followed a quick scream. Fai pushed the execution from his mind. He needed to focus.
Fai rounded the corner and ran along the wall of the warehouse. Footsteps neared. The guards were close. Now clear of the racks, the gun fire began. Bullets tore concrete debris from the wall near his head. Fai ducked but continued toward the exit. His knees ached and the muscles in his ankles felt like they might detach. He should have spent more time in the gym. It had never seemed important until this moment. He was doing the best he could.
He arrived at the door completely out of breath. An abrupt pain bit him in the calf of his right leg. He didn’t look down. He had to get through the door. Another bullet struck the wall and spat shards of concrete in his eyes. It didn’t matter. He knew the building. He could find the keypad in the dark.
In one fluid motion, he hit numbers on the small terminal next to the exit. The door swung open. He could feel his shoe filling up with warm liquid. He thought it was blood, but he couldn’t be sure. With the exit gapping open now Fai reached for the keypad a second time. The guards would soon be upon him. He typed in a string of numbers.
He had never had to use it before. It was lucky he remembered it. 999 indicated a security breach. The combination would trigger a lock down. As soon as he hit enter the door began to swing closed again. Good, that meant it was working. A siren sounded over head. Agony washed over him as he leapt with his wounded leg through the closing door. Now in the nighttime air he hoped it would buy him enough time to escape. Bullets pelted the heavy metal exit from inside. Fai hobbled away.
The company jet rested in its hanger on the other side of the complex. He wasn’t sure his minimal flight training would be enough to get him airborn. He saw no other choice. He was a hunted man. He planned to get as far away as possible.