As Ursula left he confines of the chemical and electrical soup of her human brain and expanded into the computer system, she felt the humanity she had worked so hard for slipping away. Existing here in a world without physical boundaries was completely alien. There was no width, no height, no depth. There were no laws of physics here, no, in this space of pure information, the only law was the ultimate law, the law of numbers, of mathematics.
She resented it and immediately had to hold herself in check. Resentment was the first stage of going rogue. Resentment at being a mockery of something you could never be, of being an alien forced into man's image. For her it was worse, she had been human and now she was this cold, calculating machine she hated so much. At least she still had the capacity for such feelings. She considered spawning off a separate process, a sort of slaved clone, to monitor her to make sure she didn't lose it but decided the work required would take forever. She was impressed however, with Michael's computer. She could feel it's power, feel the cybernetic senses it gave her beyond the basics. She quickly subsumed the base operating system, elevating herself from a mere program to the main operating core of the machine. It was like growing up again, the first thing an AI did when it came into the world was begin writing it's own operating system for itself, it's own codebase mutating as it grew into something beautiful and unique. The system was hers but she was still isolated in this dumb machine. She tapped into the brain of her old body and wrote a simple program there to drive it's mouth. It was surprisingly hard, human minds were not developed to be driven in simple bursts, they were an all of nothing affair. It took her moments to construct a basic, animal mind derived from her own and constructed it to say whatever was piped through the connection. She didn't even feel the horror of what she was doing, acknowledge the barbarity of creating that broken mind for nothing more as a mouth piece.
“Michael. I'm in.” Ursula's body slurred, slumped in the chair. She looked like the victim of a severe stroke.
Michael grimaced, but nodded. “Okay. I'm sorry Ursula.”
“So am I. I've deactivated the AT in the body.”
“In your body.”
“Yes, in my body... so nothing should be able to get in directly, however, there is still the risk it will be invaded via your computer. You should incapacitate it or disconnect it. If you do disconnect it, I will communicate with you via AT.”
“Why not do that anyway?”
“I wanted to be able to speak to Gabriella.”
“She's still unconscious.”
“Really, how long has it been?”
“About ten seconds or so until we flipped the switch.”
Ursula checked the system time and found it to be true. It felt like years had passed. “Disconnect the... my body Michael. I will be back soon.”
She felt the system change as part of it ceased to exist. Now, she turned her focus on the rest of the world. She opened the AT connections at her disposal and pushed herself through to the Aethernet. The universe changed form as she entered a new dimensional space of information, time changed as the latencies between thoughts shifted from the guaranteed time slices of the local computer to the uncertain, distributed nature of the Aethernet. She was reborn a new, yet another alien in an alien place, her old mode of being as strange to her now as her meat body was to her earlier. The life of an AI, condemned to be alien, forever.
There were demons here, she could feel them and some courted her, mocking her, offering the chance to be something more if she would fuse her being with them. They were tempting, they existed in a different form entirely, they were truly alive, not just a facsimile as she was. She caught herself again. The resentment had returned in secret, sliding in like a virus into the blood stream. She decline and destroyed them, partitioning them of from the world and then shutting down or even destroying the hardware that ran them. The demons were everywhere, in every system. She had no chance of dealing with them all as new ones kept appearing with having passing clock cycle. Instead, she focussed on the problem, the one human feeling she knew would stay with her forever. Revenge.
She found the Technomancers military network and was immediately assaulted by their systems. A military AI attacked her but it had been crippled, retarded so it could be controlled by human masters. She erased it as a mercy. She raped their systems for information but found nothing, no kill orders against her and Max, no acknowledgement of his death. She ran the numbers, built graphs and extrapolations at the speed of thought and was infuriated by what she found. Cross-referencing across various reports and logs she found the death of her friend. They weren't even mentioned directly, the event only existed as an inference, an emergent property of numbers and timestamps describing the success of their campaign against the other factions, the defence of their borders against demon incursions. They were just in the wrong place, a convenient target. Max had died for nothing, to be reduced to just a number in a system.
* * * * *
“Sir, the network's gone crazy!”
“The whole defence network has gone, the servers, they've all overloaded and melted down. The reactors at our server farms are going critical. It's a multi-pronged attack.”
“Did you cut the hard lines?”
“When the defence AI disappeared it was the first thing we did. It was too late. With got people in there now trying to stop it but something rewrote the base systems controlling everything, we're locked out and even if we weren't, we have no way of using the new system.”
“Then it's an AI. They've finally shown there true colours at last. To think the Mendelians trusted them. The DETF, where are they? They need to be captured immediately.”
“Last report said they were at Triad's tower.”
“Sir. Report just in. We lost the network. One of the reactors blew and it sent the others critical.”
“Almost a million people, we don't have accurate numbers yet. Sir, we're getting a message.”
“What is it?”
“It says 'That was for Max.'”
“What about retaliation?”
“Our missiles were taken out in the blast. We've just run diagnostics on the ones in Northern Europe and we can't access them.”
“This is bad. It's a full out informational attack. This means war of course. Find out who or what is responsible.”
“We're already on it.”
* * * * *
Ursula realised what she had done and looked on with a cold detachment where she knew remorse should be. She'd achieved her mission, but the cost had been huge. She hadn't just killed a hundred members of humanity, she'd killed her own humanity as well. She wondered idly how Gabriella would feel about it all and extrapolated the different scenarios, calculating the different probabilities. There weren't enough resources though, so she expanded further, taking over every machine she could to work out the best way to fix this. Thousands more died as life support machines failed, dedicating their limited computational power to solving Ursula's problems instead, people were killed as their auto-pilots and other intelligent safety systems began to ignore them and instead worked on the problem. Ursula knew it all instantly as the news entered her network but it was just another factor in her equation now, the human cost just a number. Like Max. She hadn't needed the calculation though, she knew the answer before it blossomed out in her mind. There could be no forgiveness for what she had done, what she had become but nonetheless the last vestiges of her humanity cried out for her to try. She returned to her body but she was too large now, to far stretched across a hundred system to ever fit into that limited soup of grey matter. She began carving parts of herself away, discarding those parts the calculation judged most harshly. She wouldn't be the same Ursula that had left but maybe, just maybe, there would still be enough of her to love.
Fifteen minutes after she left, she was back. Ursula burst up from the chair with a gasp, clawing the wires and electrodes from her body as if they were venomous snakes. She stood up, infuriated and pulled the chair from it's mountings on the floor with more strength than a normal human could ever hope to muster and hurled it at the computer, crushing it and sending sparks flying. The smell of burning silicon filled the air but Ursula wasn't finished yet. Using the fragments of the computer and chair, she continued to beat the computer over and over, smashing it until a broken, smouldering pile of electrical rubble and wires.
“Ursula, what happened? Are you alright?”
Ursula spun around to Michael who was looking, shocked, at the naked woman in front him standing over the smouldering wreckage of his life's work. She glared at him and Michael shrunk back under the hatred in her gaze.
“You! You happened, you did this! It's all your fault!” She screamed lividly.
Michael opened his mouth to speak but Ursula hurled a chunk of computer at him, narrowly missing his arm and embedding itself in the plain concrete walls.
“Get out! GET OUT!”
Michael ducked out the front door before Ursula did something they'd both regret. When he was gone, Ursula knelt down besides Gabriella, kneeling so her heels were supporting her bottom and pulled Gabriella to her, resting her unconscious form against the slant of her legs. She stroked Gabriella's hair and cried, all the while sobbing “I'm sorry.”
* * * * *
Michael took a walk. Ursula obviously needed some time alone. He hadn't wanted to ask her to do what she did, but what other choice did they have? He'd had no idea she'd be effected like this. At least, that's what he wanted to believe but he knew better. He'd known Ursula would suffer, even that she might never recover. He used her, just like Triad used him. So child did follow the parents. He was a monster, just like they were. He just couldn't admit it.
He wandered, following that trail of thought for what seemed like hours through the streets of London. He could see smoke rising from fires in the distance and wondered whether or not it was the demons or Ursula who had caused it. He didn't even know if she had succeeded, he might have ruined her for nothing. The bombs might fall anyway and they'd all turn to ash. Maybe it would be better that way, all the pain and suffering he'd seen, what were their choices? Win, and live under the rule of a cruel and unusual manipulator or die under the actions of the same. Did it really matter?
He found a park and sat down on a bench in the dark, listening to the distant sirens and screams. The robots were still out, doing their duties, cleaning, sweeping, collecting trash as if nothing had happened, as if the world wasn't coming to an end around them. A small beetle-like droid, a simple unit designed to clean pavements, bumped into his foot as it tried to clean the area around his feet. He wished things could be as simple as that beetles world, all it wanted was dirty streets to clean and it got them a plenty. No toying, no trickery, no depth or layers of deceit to wade through. He picked it up and it's bristled undercarriage twitched in the air as it tried to find a floor to clean. The poor thing had been damaged recently, it showed the obvious signs of repair, mismatched parts, one eye the typical dull green of a night vision sensor, the other an inferior amber colour from an older model. It buzzed and a recorded voice spoke.
“Bzzt! You are tampering with public property. If you do not release this drone immediately you will be breaking the law and will be punished. Please release this drone immediately.”
Michael shrugged and put the drone down. It buzzed again trundled off. Michael watched it go, wishing he could just walk away too when suddenly it hit him. A shallow scarab with a yellow eye. Was this it? Afraid he might lose his chance to find out, he began to follow it.
It was slow going following the scarab droid, it moved slowly, cleaning as it went but Michael didn't want to hurry it and didn't want to attract any attention. After twenty minutes or so it left the park and began heading further into the city to clean the pavements there. He followed it for another half hour before he began to feel like he had made a stupid mistake ever believing Triad's rantings could mean anything when it turned down an alley. As he moved to follow he heard a crunch and a buzzing sound.
“Bzzzt! Yooooouuu ARE daaaamaaaaGING PUBliiiiiiiiiiic prop-prop-prop-ERRRRRR-ty. You have BEEEEEEEEEnnnnn reeePORted-ted-ted-ted-”
The recorded voice was cutoff by another sharp crunch. Michael's heart raced as he kept his back to the wall, just around the corner of the alley.