The sky was an amazing deep expansive blue, but everything felt flat and lifeless. Like someone had adjusted the saturation until only dull muted colors existed in the world. Even the series of ambulances, police cars, and fire truck that rushed past Ben with lights flashing and sirens blaring barely registered as he pulled over to let them by.
While heading to the biology department trying to make sense of everything that had happened, Ben’s phone rang. He glanced at it before answering and saw it was Steve.
“Dude! What the hell is JANICE, Ben?” Steve sounded panicked.
“What’s going on?” Ben was concerned that something bad was going on.
“Bobby came in my office first thing and said something was eating up 95% of our computer power and about the same or more of our bandwidth! We tracked it down to your office and it’s that contraption Jerry built. This thing is hooked up to our network, the internet, our security system, and no telling what else. And it’s got some sort of security system built in that trashes whatever computer tries to access it. I’ve killed three computers already. I can’t touch without frying your system and most of our intranet. I’ve got Becca and Ryan working on hacking in and disconnecting it now, but they’ve never seen anything like it. What the hell is this thing?”
With little sleep, Ben was running on adrenaline and his brain was rushing into all sorts of crazy tangents trying to get it wrapped around what was going on.
“I don’t know what Jerry made, Steve. That thing has been calling me with updates and information all night. But JANICE said she registered an attack on our systems early this morning that she was able to stop. Maybe this neural pathways stuff Jerry was working on enabled the AI to really take off faster than he thought. Maybe she…it believes it needs to protect our company…inside and out?”
Ben’s phone beeped and he glanced quickly to see it was an incoming text message from an unknown number with an attached images. He returned to Steve knowing it would take a second to load.
Steve was quiet for a moment. “No shit? Well…okay…that’s cool and amazing, but…I don’t care what IT thinks, it needs to be shut off so we can do some business,” Steve said, a mixture of amazement, anger and fear in his voice. “What was it about the security issue. Any specifics? If we’re getting hacked….maybe JANICE is actually trying to stay ahead of it?”
“I know we’re getting successful, but I don’t think we have anything that’s of that much value and interest to launch an attack like this,” Ben told him as he made a turn to take him to the Biology building.
The site in front of him finally brought vibrancy back into his day.
“What the hell!?” Ben said out loud as police waved for him to stop his car.
“What is it? What’s happening?” Steve asked.
“The University Biology building is on fire,” he told him. The entire building was engulfed in flames. The fire trucks, EMS vehicles, and police cars that had passed him earlier ended up here. More were arriving. People had fled the building, some carrying materials and computers. Ben stepped out of his car completely stunned at the site in front of him.
“Why are you at there?” Steve asked.
“Terri’s body had gotten rerouted here as a donation to science,” he said still stunned.
“What?! I thought she wanted to be cremated like you? And…how the hell could it be rerouted that fast? It’s only been a few hours? This week is getting more and more bizarre!”
Suddenly, an explosion from the building blasted stone, glass, concrete, and paper outward to the surrounding area knocking down trees, small structures and emergency workers. Glass shattered in nearby buildings, and Ben was knocked backwards onto the roof of his car.
His ears were ringing and as he shook his head, his phone beeped again signaling the image download. He heard Steve’s muffled voice on his phone, “BEN! BEN!!! WHAT”S GOING ON! ARE YOU OKAY??!?!”
“Yeah. Just…a bit dazed. Hold on,” Ben told him as he got his footing again. He blinked his eyes trying to focus as he checked the message and images from the unknown caller.
Ben watched as part of the Biology building collapsed and the emergency crews backed away focusing on protecting the surrounding buildings. As the photo attachments loaded, it took him a few moments to understand what he was looking at.
In the photos, it appeared to be a few dozen FBI agents in full gear getting ready to breach a building. As Ben flipped through six photos, the next-to-last photo pulled back and showed that it was his office building. The last photo was an image of an official FBI document issuing an order to seize all property of Ben’s company, and apprehend all individuals, as a terrorist cell was working out of the building and committing cyber terrorism. The last order was, ‘Use of deadly force is authorized.’
Panic rose in Ben’s body. He turned towards where his office was in San Francisco. “STEVE! GET OUT OF THE BUILDING NOW!” he yelled into the phone. “The FBI is about to storm the building. Don’t ask questions. Take anyone you can NOW! Use the roof!!! GO! NOW! STEVE!”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Steve said, not understanding anything. Crashing came across the phone with sounds of voices shouting “FBI,” followed by muffled explosions. “WHAT THE HELL!?” Steve screamed.
Ben pressed the phone closer to his ear as the sounds of chaos reached him from his office. He heard popping sounds over the phone and several people yelling and screaming. He heard Steve screaming to others to get out and follow him. Suddenly, he heard loud gunfire close to the phone, he heard Steve gasp, followed by a crash and then the line went dead.
Ben stood there with the phone to his ear, staring towards his office building, while smoke rolled from the biology building across the hearse causing his eyes to burn and water. “Steve…” he murmured as he let the phone drop to his side.
Suddenly, a plume of smoke rising from the city followed a few seconds later by a loud echo of an explosion in the direction of his office. Emergency worker’s and police radios crackled with information, “Explosion and fire downtown San Francisco. All units respond.” The address they reported was Ben’s business address.
Ben’s phone buzzed again with a new text message with an image attached. He stared numbly and opened the photo.
It was his office building. Destroyed. In flames. And surrounded by debris, destroyed vehicles, and bodies of civilians and FBI officers.
Ben slumped against the hearse, dropped the phone, and collapsed to the ground as three black SUVs pulled up with lights flashing and surrounded him and the hearse. Federal agents swarmed out of the SUVs with guns drawn.
Fires raged on nearby and in the distance.
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© 2013 Eric Huber. Silicon(e)™ is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.