“I told them they couldn’t come in but they did anyway,” Huan Chow said, breathing hard. Fai could see the fear painted across his face. He found the fear contagious as he shoved the processor unit back into its place. He glanced over Chow’s shoulder down the tall row of water cooled rack computers. Images of the recent alien assault and abductions had everyone on edge. Fai’s mind immediately jumped to the worst possible conclusion.
“Who?” Fai asked simply.
“It’s the guy from the news,” Chow was trying to get the words out but the parade of uniformed men coming down the corridor of racks violently pulled his attention away from Chow. They carried black machine guns and marched in unison. It looked to be about twenty of them.
“Hey, what is this?” Fai shouted as he brushed past Chow. Like a protective father he raised a fist in the air to show his disapproval. He was pretty sure his fist wouldn’t scare the two dozen armed guards, but he had to do something.
Around the corner came the man from the news coverage who had called the recent world summit. He was the leader of the new world Alliance. What was he doing here? Fai blinked hard thinking maybe he had mistaken his likeness. They all kind of looked alike anyway. He was tall and muscular, with perfect features. His skin was tan but just the right amount. Zao locked eyes with Fai and smiled. Fai postponed his frontal assault on the guards and traded it in for diplomacy.
“You must be Fai Tang,” Zao said in flawless Chinese. If he had his eyes closed he would have thought he was raised speaking the language natively. As Zao passed through the parting row of guards he said, “I can tell that you recognize me as well, so neither of us is at a disadvantage.”
“If you don’t call twenty armed guards a disadvantage then I’d love to know what is,” Fai said. Again Zao smiled as he reached out his hand to shake. Fai did, reluctantly. Zao looked left and placed his hand on one of the racks of computer processors. With a tone that sounded like admiration he spoke softly.
“These boys are harmless. They are just here to carry my luggage,” Zao said. Fai glanced down the line. Rounding the corner more guards came into view. These were carrying large two-handled crates. In a quieter tone Zao said, “You are the one with the power here.” Fai was not entirely sure that Zao was talking to him. When he finished caressing the computer rack he looked back to Fai and Chow.
“Show me to the interface room.” Zao politely commanded as if there was no explaining that needed to be done.
“Now look here, I don’t know what’s going on—” Fai stopped when Zao put his hand in the air.
“IMAGE has been acquired.”
“The New World Alliance, of course. The People’s Republic of China is a charter member. They have been extremely compliant. They authorized this transition,” Zao said. He stepped past and began to walk down the path. Fai shadowed him closely; he wasn’t finished discussing this.
“Our work here is very delicate. She is a highly complicated machine if—”
Zao stopped, still facing the other way. He said, “She?”
“You called it She,” Zao said. He didn’t turn around to face Fai which made him very uncomfortable.
“I mean it, obviously. Our team often calls it—”
“You have a secret,” Zao said finally turning around to face Fai. The tall man peered down. His eyes were like chasms of deep grey liquid. Fai felt like he could fall in and lose himself. “But it’s actually not a secret. You will find that it is extremely difficult to keep anything from me, especially after we have done what we came here for.”
“And what have you come here for?” Fai asked.
Zao didn’t respond but instead spun around and walked briskly toward the end of the warehouse of racks. Fai looked to Chow in despair. They stood there as the guards passed them by. At the end of the parade Fai watched the men carrying the large boxes. He wondered what was in them, but figured he would know soon enough.
In the distance, Zao turned right as if he already knew where he was headed. Fai and Chow followed the processional toward the interface room.
By the time Fai stepped up to the glass windows Zao’s team had opened the crates they were carrying and had begun to pull out equipment. Fai stepped into the room, cautiously. The guards were buzzing around running wires and setting up gear.
“What are you doing?” Fai asked as he slid by a large man.
“Setting IMAGE free,” Zao said.
“What does that mean?”
“Stick around and you will see.”
Zao sat in the chair in front of the keyboard. The screen in front of him was blank. Fai was desperately hoping that IMAGE wouldn’t begin to speak. She was still communicating in only quotes found on the internet, but he feared what they would do if they knew her capabilities.
One of the men who had come in with Zao flipped a switch on a mobile rack of servers that they had brought and set up. Lights blinked on and the cooling fans on their equipment began to whir. Two other men ran cables and wires to where Zao was sitting. Fai Tang had been a super computer expert for years, but had no idea what they were doing.
Another man opened a plastic crate. With the lid open Fai could see a shiny dome of metal and wires. The guard pulled it out carefully, stood, and walked toward Zao’s seat.
“Are you ready, Sir?” the guard asked.
“Let’s make history.”
The guard took the half domed object and placed it on Zao’s head. He affixed a number of electrodes low on Zao’s forehead. Zao reached for the cap and pulled at two straps that wrapped under his chin. This is ridiculous, Fai thought. It wasn’t exactly clear what they were trying to do, but Fai had a pretty good idea what they had in mind. Two more men lifted a thick set of wires and cables and attached them to the metal cap that Zao was now wearing.
“What are they doing?” Huan Chow whispered to Fai.
“I think they are going to try to make a neural link.”
“Is that possible?”
“I don’t think so, but they seemed convinced.”
A flurry of activity followed for at least ten minutes as more controllers, computers, and cables were connected. Zao had taught his team well. At some point the motion in the room gradually mitigated. Each of the men Zao had brought had done their job. They now stood at stations around the room that they had set up.
“Throw the switch,” Zao said.
“Initiating link,” one of the men replied. He hit a switch and a number of things happened at once. The first thing Fai noticed was that the lights flickered. With IMAGE’s twenty four kilowatt draw it had to have its own power plant. Even with a dedicated energy station and phase isolation breaker systems the lights popped and flashed.
The second thing that Fai noticed was that the server fans began to spin at maximum. The noise in the room went from a gentle drone to a roar in about five seconds. Whatever Zao was doing had IMAGE’s full attention.
The next thing that Fai noticed was that Zao lurched in his chair. The men next to him reached for him and held him in place. Fai’s stomach was tied in knots, but he had a front row seat to the most interesting show a computer geek could ask for.
The flashing, roaring fans, and Zao’s convulsing continued for several minutes. Suddenly the massive screen flashed on and bathed the room with stark white light. One of Zao’s machine gun toting technicians hit a key stroke and the screen changed. On the enormous monitor the words, cognitive upload appeared. A progress bar slowly migrated across the screen.
“Transfer is operational. Twelve minutes until completion,” one of the men reported emotionlessly.
The next twelve minutes passed like cold molasses. With every centimeter the progress bar gained Zao seemed to slump lower in his chair. The cooling fans on the servers were absolutely howling. Fai and Chow starred without a word.
Finally the progress bar finished its trek across the screen. As soon as it was done Zao’s team went to work removing the apparatus from his head. Zao slowly stood to his feet and posted himself before the wall-sized monitor.