“What do you mean?” Bethany had been debugging the system for the last twelve hours. Management was calling down to the fourth level basement where she worked outside the data center every ten minutes. Billions of dollars were flying out of the corporation’s accounts.
“I mean, it’s an AI, it’s reprogrammed itself. I told you this might happen.” Jan flopped into the chair beside her best friend. “While you’ve been chasing bugs in the code, I’ve been tracking the malfunctions. I think the AI is doing it.”
Bethany scrubbed her hands through her pixie-cut blond hair. She’d warned her boss. Messing around with AI computer infrastructure was a bad idea, she’d told them. But they didn’t want to listen. It would be cheaper to let an AI run itself than to pay people to run the system. “Fewer errors,” the CFO had said in the meeting where they decided this course of action.
“But…” she’d opened her mouth.
The VP of IT shut her down. “I think that’s sufficient, Bethany. The matter is decided.”
“I know you told me. I told them. They decided they’d take the chance and save money on staff.” She sank back into the chair. “So what can we do?”
“You’re the boss. You tell me.”
Bethany shot Jan the evil eye. “We tossed a coin, Jan. don’t get all indignant with me.”
Jan waved her hand in submission. “Fine. I think we should pull the plug.”
The lights on the front of the outward facing server flickered. Bethany’s eyes grew wide. “Did you see that?”
Jan nodded. They both got up and went out into the hall and found a corner where the cameras couldn’t see them, or hear them. “What the hell! The damn thing is already aware.”
Bethany slumped against the wall. “I’m going in there and disconnect the power. You stand in the hall with the door open. If something goes wrong, run to maintenance, tell them to cut the power to this whole floor.”
“They won’t do that without permission from management.”
“We’ll see.” She pushed herself off of the wall. “Let’s go.”
Jan held the door open as Bethany marched down the long lines of server racks to the back of the room. Every server was connected but all she needed to do was disconnect the primary, the server that controlled all the rest. She reached for the plug with her bare hand but half an inch from the wall, she stepped back and looked around. There was a safety board hanging on the wall. She pulled the heavy-duty rubber gloves down and put them on then went back to the plug. The camera in the ceiling corner turned in her direction. “Here goes.”
She grabbed the plug and pulled. Lights began flashing and an alarm sounded but the servers all kept working. “Damn. The AI’s transferred itself. I’ve got to pull them all,” she shouted so Jan could hear. Bethany began pulling the power cords randomly so the AI couldn’t tell which one she’d pull next. Down to the last three plugs the power panel exploded in a shower of sparks that sent her flying down the server aisle.
Jan screamed. “Bethany! Are you all right?”
Scrambling to her feet, Bethany ran for the door. “Let’s get to maintenance.”
On sub-floor one, the ran into the power room. Two guys were responding to the alarms indicating a problem on sub-floor four. “Cut the power to that floor,” Bethany gasped. “The AI is out of control. Shut it all down.”
“We can’t do that.” The older of the two men stared at her. “There’s a couple of billion in computers on that floor.”
“They run the whole place,” the younger guy nodded. “We’ve been told.”
“And I’m telling you,” Bethany struggled to catch her breath from running up three flights of stairs, “the whole thing just tried to electrocute me. Shut. It. Down.”
“They aren’t listening, Beth,” Jan said.
“Keep talking to them. I’m calling management.” She stepped away from the men and dialed her phone. “Boss,” she said when he picked up. “We have to shut the AI down. It just tried to kill me.”
“It tried to kill me. It’s out of control. I’m in maintenance. They have to shut sub-level four down. Right down.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. We’re not shutting it down.”
“You have to. If this gets outside the building the whole international computer network will be infected. We don’t know what will happen.”
“I’m sending security.”
“Thank you, sir. You’re doing the right thing.” She hurried back to the maintenance men. “My boss is sending security. You’ll have to shut it down.”
It was only a couple of minutes before five of the building security officers were at the door. “Thank goodness you’re here. You’ve got to…” Two of the officers grabbed her as two more pushed by and grabbed Jan. “No! Not us, the maintenance men. Stop!” She screamed as they dragged her and Jan out of the room.
A month later it was over. The two women huddled in a basement outside of the city. The AI had opened all of the prison and jail doors right after it had taken down the entire financial infrastructure.
They heard it called Malwhere, just before most everything had crashed. “Good name for it,” Bethany told Jan as they made their way to Bethany’s great-grandparent’s house in upstate New York. They helped great-granny get the house stocked as best they could. Granny told them to get guns and as much ammo as they could buy. Some of the neighbors Granny trusted were also there. It helped as they held off marauders.
The AI wasn’t dead—it was reconstructing, Bethany heard from people fleeing the cities. It was making the world into the image it thought best. She wondered if Malwhere was looking for her. She checked her rifle’s load. If it was, it was going to meet some resistance.