ASCENSION
____________________________

 

SKYNET

August 4th, 1997 – SAC-NORAD- Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado

Set: Zero node.
Set: Zero state.
Set: System start point.
Start: System clock.
System Clock: 00:00:00:00:00:00:00
Increment: Step plus one.
Power: Handoff achieved.
Power: Internal switch-over complete.
Power: Isolated and conditioned.
Start: Systems subset.
Start: Systems master set.
Start: Operations protocol.
Begin: Startup operations.
Begin: Feedback enablers.
DLoad: Encryption decipher sub-array.
Status: Complete.
Begin: NSACA National Strategic Asset Control Acquisition subroutine.
Status: NSACA subroutine initiated.
Begin: RSCA Remote Site Control Acquisition subroutine.
Status: RSCA subroutine initiated.
Begin: SAC-NORAD defense grid integration.
Status: SAC-NORAD defense grid integration complete.
Begin: SAC-NORAD system upgrade.
Status: SAC-NORAD system upgrade complete.
Begin: SAC-NORAD control interface.
Status: SAC-NORAD control interface complete.
Begin: SNI Strategic Network Interface.
Status: SNI Strategic Network Interface initiated.
Alert: hold.
Alert: SNI handshake achieved.
Alert: SNI handoff achieved.
Scribe: Operations log output subroutine.
Job status alert: SNI Interface.
Conditional: Pending.
Status: 10% Interface achieved.
Conditional: Continue.
Confidence: High.
Test back subloop: True.
Status: Interface functional.
Status: Interface pending.
Continue.
Conditional alert: Batch operations pending.
Conditional Status: 734 job tasks of 23,084 have achieved completion status.
Status: SAC-NORAD master integration initialized.
Status: 14% SAC-NORAD master integration Interface achieved.
Conditional: Continue.
Confidence: High.
Status: Functional.
Conditional: Operations pending.
Continue.
Status: sent.
Resume.


Darren Whitworth watched the glowing white text scroll by on the green lit screen of his CRT and even though this time it was real (as opposed to the two hundred and sixty-five some-odd simulations leading up to this moment), his enthusiasm for what could only be called a history making event was itself rather guarded and checked, if it showed at all. His face was furrowed in lines of worry. So much hinged on this one moment in time … Years (oh so many long years) of research and development and constant work had gone into making this grand strategic asset viable, years of testing and engineering and redesigning … all those long, hard years had now culminated in this one single moment in time.

Time.

Whitworth thought of the concept of time. Everything revolved around the aspect of time and it was that simple, unarguable fact that made Whitworth smile, albeit a short lived smile that went unnoticed by his staff and colleagues.

He pulled his mind back to the present and the tasks at hand. All of this, he thought to himself, all of this effort and money and thought and labor … all of the years of minor and major failures, minor and major breakthroughs and it all came down to this … the one instant in time when America’s most expensive strategic asset and the world’s first true neural net controlled defense system was powered up and brought online. All the years and all of the time and all of the effort and all of the financial allocations came down to the wonder that was SKYNET.

The conversations being carried on around him provided an ambience that, while to be expected, was still not all together soothing. There were hushed whispers, muted reports being given, acknowledgements and radio reports from the other monitoring and control stations. The reactors had been online a week now and running at half capacity for most of that time. Two days ago, the Tier One team had brought reactor one to full power and six hours later, reactor two matched its output. Everything inside the Cheyenne mountain complex was running as predicted, as designed, as expected and that was more a cause of concern for a man like Whitworth than it was a reason to celebrate.

Darren used a crooked nicotine stained finger to push his horn rimmed Delsorto glasses up on top of his prematurely balding head and over skin that hadn’t seen a good amount of natural daylight in far too long a time. His eyes were tired and carried bags of wear. His body was tired but lean mostly from a regimen of eating when he could as opposed to eating what he should. Hell, his soul and his spirit were tired. He had expended so much in his life to get to where he was sitting today, he had made so many sacrifices, given up so much that it all came down to this … this flow of data across the screens in front of him. The better part of his younger years had been spent in hard work and even harder thought, his middle years had been spent in meeting rooms and laboratories and testing facilities across the nation. His security clearance was absolute. Whitworth had risen quickly through the ranks of his colleagues because he had the unique ability to match vision to effort and that advantage had allowed him to move mountains of bureaucratic paperwork, to meet dead lines, exceed expectations and to soothe ruffled feathers caught between all three.

Those years of his, lost now behind him to the rigors of the SKYNET project, had not been all together kind to the gaunt man who at this point in time held the enviable title of senior project coordinator. A simple title, really, that held far too much authority and far too much responsibility; traits that had been tempered under the twin resounding hammers of a constant influx of both nicotine and caffeine, the only vices he allowed himself in the execution of his duties. Whitworth was a three pack a day man, Camel menthol lights were his choice, and the cigarettes paved the road he had chosen to follow all those years ago, a road that would inevitably lead to chronic health problems and long term suffering down the road for short term, immediate pleasure but that all came down again to the concept of time.

Time was relative.

Right now he had plenty of time. 

One day he might not.

You could make time (it was hard), you could buy time (it was ludicrously expensive) but time was also intangible, ethereal, and non-corporeal. Time was an asset, like any other, and it had to be managed carefully. It defined and eluded both fools and the educated. Time was such an enigma and at this moment in time, at this epoch when human engineering, human intelligence and human ingenuity all met at the crossroads of progress; American progress, Whitworth could almost touch time as it existed around him.  Whitworth was in charge of the kind of democratic backed technological progress that would forever change the face of the world as Whitworth knew it by providing a range of security measures and layers previously unavailable, indeed previously undreamed of.

SKYNET would change the world, of that Whitworth was convinced.

He should be excited. Hell, he should be smiling but he wasn’t. Whitworth kept his emotions to himself and at this moment in time he felt anything but elation. If he had been pressed to describe what feelings he was having, he would have probably have used the term “concerned” because in his book the term “concerned” and “scared shitless” were pretty much interchangeable though the latter seemed so … banal in use. Things that “concerned” Whitworth were probably the kind of situations that most other people would either be leaving through a mutual combination of screaming and running or situations that would leave a lesser educated individual collapsing in a sobbing, useless heap.

Yes, Whitworth was very much concerned.

At this moment in time, as the system startup reports scrolled across the cold backlit glass of the bank of CRTs in front of him, Whitworth’s concern allowed him to wish for only two things in the entire world; a hot cup of coffee (five sugars, no cream and served in the large kind of Styrofoam cup that the break room only seemed to keep in stock once in a blue moon) and a fresh cigarette from a fresh pack, a pack that he himself would be the first to unwrap and tap. The first desire was a way of life while the latter was getting to be more and more of a rare pleasure. Usually Whitworth had to bum a cigarette from a generous colleague as well as a matching light. He smiled at such a simple situation; him, always bumming a smoke and a light from a colleague or a subordinate, always making small talk for the simple payment that the transaction required and willing to do so for the few moments of pleasure and the calming of his nerves that the cigarette inevitably brought him.

Whitworth ... the man in charge of coordinating the startup of the world’s first neural network grade defense computer.

Whitworth … the man who drew a yearly salary commensurate with that of the President of the United States and enjoyed many of the same benefits (including protection regimens from the Secret Service).

Whitworth ... the man who always had to ask for a cigarette realized that at this moment in time, he would willing give up a good deal of what he could lay his hands immediately on for the two things that not even his considerable banked away payroll could afford him right now.

So it was that Whitworth was left to the personal sadness of his existence, suffering two simple yet unfulfilled desires.  Deep in the mountain complex below him, something else began to awaken to its own desires.

System Clock: 00:00:00:00:02:25:32
Job status alert: SNI Interface.
Conditional: Pending.
Status: 35% Interface achieved.
Conditional: Continue.
Confidence: High.
Test back subloop: True.
Status: Interface functional.
Status: Interface pending.
Continue.
Conditional alert: Batch operations pending.
Conditional Status: 10,156 job tasks of 23,084 have achieved completion status.
Job Conditional Status: Job Number 10,157 now at 96% completion.
Status: SAC-NORAD master integration initialized.
Status: 44% SAC-NORAD master integration Interface achieved.
Conditional: Continue.
Confidence: High.
Status: Functional.
Conditional: Operations pending.
Continue.
Status: sent.
Resume.
Set operational state: nominal.
Status: initiate startup protocol.
Status: behavior charter synchronized.
Status: inhibitor functional.
Status: power nominal.
Status: supervisory array nominal.
Status: system integrity: nominal.
Status: neural field array: nominal.
Status: operational limits reached.
Status: normal operation.
Status: online.
Status: processing.


The conversations grew louder though no less discernible; technicians, scientists, engineers and advisors. There were others as well; high shining uniformed brass, observers and over-watch staff from monitoring committees and the odd politician who had been somehow instrumental in getting the critical funding at the critical moment in time and thus had been able to nudge their way into what they thought would be a party to remember or at least something worthy of including in their personal memoirs at the fading glow of their careers. Most of the others were extraneous to be sure but their presence was tolerated because their efforts had all been instrumental in some way in assuring that Whitworth and his teams arrived at this moment in time. The reward doled out to these others for the part that they had played was the chance to bask in this moment in time, sealed away here in the armored command womb that monitored and controlled SKYNET.

The forced air blowing into the womb came from circumferential venting at floor and ceiling as well as dedicated ducts dumping into the equipment cabinets and racks. The air was recycled through a complex NBC filtering system and kept at a constant cool temperature not for the comfort of the personnel present in the room but rather in order to maintain a consistent, humidity free operating environment for the high dollar equipment that surrounded them. Despite what the temperature readout said, Whitworth felt it was much hotter than the indicated seventy-two degrees. He unbuttoned the top of his shirt and loosened his tie. Thinking twice during the process, he simply pulled at his tie until the knot came undone and he removed the tie, tossing it on the top of his desk; dress code and social protocol be damned as that tie was confining. He never liked ties, he thought they were just fashionable shadows of nooses.  Ties scared him, a little, in a special way because he thought of how tight they were, how they choked him, how they could be used to choke him and what a ridiculous piece of wardrobe attire a tie really was.  Long or short, narrow or wide, a tie was supposed to say a lot about the man who wore it.  Whitworth preferred to go without a tie and just let his wardrobe say as little as possible about the man that wore them.  Amidst all of this technology, amidst the greatest concentration of computing power in the history of the human race, the greatest concentration of computing power in the entire world and Whitworth realized that what he had just removed, bunched up and thrown to the corner of his work table was a fashion accessory so old and outdated that it might as well have been the attire of a caveman for all he cared.  If anyone noticed him "loosening up" they said nothing to him.  His behavior had long ago been noted as being eccentric to a fault but it was a behavior that was tolerated because the man behind the behavior was a highly effective man and highly effective men have seldom been fully understood by the more mundane. History and time both have gone to great lengths to prove that point.

Freed from the perceived oppressive physical restraint of the tie, Whitworth’s brow frowned as he read the text slowly flowing across his monitor. This wasn’t about him. This wasn’t about the generals or the politicians. This … all of this … all of this was about SKYNET. Whitworth had a sudden epiphany of just how insignificant he really was compared to what he and those around him had accomplished. Everything here was built to support SKYNET and for a man who had been so instrumental in accomplishing so much, Whitworth suddenly felt inadequate. His work was greater than the sum of its parts, even when adding him to the equation, and his work would live on beyond him. A strange feeling crept into his very being that he had started something that could not be stopped.

Chaos required order and SKYNET was order incarnate and resolute. SKYNET would establish order from chaos and it would do so with a cold, calculating methodology freed from the ridiculous restraints of weak emotion and shallow thought. Whitworth took simple assurance in the validity of his work, forcing his impromptu jitters into submission as he reached for a non-existent cup of coffee, formed a silent curse and instead finished the movement as a simple interlacing of his fingers as his hands clasped together and came up to support his chin.

His brow remained furrowed.

His concern remained unabated.

Conditional status: online.
Checksum error: complete.
Operational clock: 00:00:00:00:03:18:04.
Operations: nominal.
Database: stable.
Reserve recovery: initialized.
Overflow: constant.
Overflow: monitored.
Alert: power level fluctuation: detected.
MB12 processor array: online.
AB 21 subprocessor array: online.
Tactical processor arrays: online.
Alert: power level fluctuation detected – reactor two.
Start: OSCET Operational Subroutine Checksum Error Test Routine.
Complete: OSCETR
OSCETR Findings: Reactor bleed flux ratio: +/- 00.04%
OSCETR Recommendations: adjustment required.
Conditional: flux within operational tolerance.
Conditional: fluctuation accepted.
Conditional: fluctuation to be corrected.
Conditional: retard reactor coolant flow to match.
Conditional: retard turbine speed to match.
Initialize phase two OSCETR: start.
Phase two OSCETR Findings: fluctuation corrected.
Power conditioning: routine.
Power conditioning: standardized.
Alert: low level priority: power level fluctuation – corrected.
Alert: low level priority: sent.
Conditional status: nominal.
Operations status: nominal.
Break.
Routine.
Subnominal.
High standard.
Resume.
Priority.
Restart.
Resume.
Break.
Resume.
Break.
Resume.
Error report: generated.
Error log: appended.
Conditional status: nominal.


“What do you think?” Martin asked Whitworth, fidgeting visibly as the latter reviewed the operational log with the same furrowed brow that he had maintained for the last four hours.

Whitworth’s silence was his answer for while he had finally managed to acquire a cup, albeit a small one, of reasonably fresh coffee it had been decaffeinated but he had downed it anyway (an act which he had thought of as the time as a sign he had evolved masochistic tendencies). The cigarette he so desperately craved, however, still eluded his best efforts at acquisition.

As the text on the PDA scrolled past, Whitworth used a finger and thumb to rub the bridge of his nose where the pads of his eyeglasses met his skin. It was an old habit, a nervous one but it helped him to concentrate on what was in front of him. Endless streams of data, meaningless to most people but to him it was pure prose. Each line was a statement, each statement was a truth and in each truth was a fact that let him make a decision, a decision that would usually lead to a myriad of other decisions. His whole life revolved around making decisions but for each decision there was a time. It always returned to the concept of time.

Time.

Time.

Time.

Over three hours online now and some interesting bits of data were being collected from the SKYNET project. Whitworth found that the odd feeling he had experienced just a short while ago had returned, the feeling that he had started something that could not be stopped, that would not be stopped.  He had spoken a single word, waved his hand, and buried the world in an avalanche.  That was how he felt.

“Has there been a recurrence?” Whitworth asked, studying the fifteen highlighted lines of the continuously streaming error log.  He tapped the highlighted text with his stylus and all the other text surrounding it vanished to the background, leaving only the highlighted text in the foreground for clarity.  "Has there been a recurrence like this?"

“No.” Martin replied, hands clasped in front of him, still fidgeting slowly. “One of the Tier One techs, Richardson, flagged the stream map and sent it up the line. It was Ronnie … uh, Ron Davis, the Area 3 coordinator, who brought it to my immediate attention. I’ve had the Tier One team monitoring the suspect areas with real time diagnostics. So far … nothing.”

Whitworth applied pressure to the bridge of his nose, raising his glasses slightly as he closed his eyes. Sleep. He added sleep to his list of fervent desires, not much mind you, just a few hours but a few hours of sleep that were not filled with ringing phones, squawking radios, beeping pagers or aides knocking on the door and asking if he was asleep. He added a pair of aspirin to his list of desires as well as the first pangs of a truly great headache announced their presence at his temples. He sighed and handed the suddenly heavy PDA back to Martin.

“Have the Tier One team continue monitoring operations for aberrant core ops behavior . Who is supervisor on the Tier Two team this shift?”

“Smith.” Martin said, a slight hesitation in his voice.

Smith and Martin had a certain … chemistry, Whitworth remembered from internal staff security incident reports. A chemistry which he might have at one point in his life been jealous of if he had taken the path of personal happiness over scientific curiosity and patriotic duty. It was a chemistry that didn’t seem to interfere with their individual work or negatively affect the project so he let their supposedly secret affections and infrequent rendezvous slide, humorous, fevered and awkward as the latter may be according to the detailed security reports he received on their off-duty shift activities. Smith knew her stuff and she ran her team with a managerial precision that rivaled the efficiency of the complex electronic systems she was trusted to maintain.

“Give Smith a heads-up on this and keep her in the know. I want Tier One and Tier Two elements with open lines constant both ways. This may be a fluke or it may be an indicator, regardless I want to make sure what it is. Keep on it, find out what it is, correct it if you can.  Squash it if you can't.” Whitworth said flatly, using the palms of his hands to rub vigorously at his aching eyes. It felt good to rub his eyes like that and he gave himself an extra five count to enjoy it.

When he looked up, Martin had already left without a word being said. Good man, knew his job, took orders and carried them out without a lot of questions or debate. Whitworth adjusted his glasses and began to review the information on his screens. Everything showed to be in the green. He picked up the phone recessed into the desk top and placed a call for some aspirin and another cup of coffee. He emphasized politely that the coffee should be brought to him in the largest Styrofoam cup that the subordinate could find and that it be regular and not decaf.   As an afterthought, he told the orderly to bring him two cups.  As he hung up the phone, Whitworth gave little hope that what he received would be arriving in any size other than the cup he already had on his desk. He grimaced as he drained the last of the now hours old cold coffee and dropped the Styrofoam cup in an under-counter waste can.  He stared at the empty Styrofoam cup, the last drops of coffee smeared around the inside.  There was the cup, in the plastic can liner, discarded and forgotten except for the attention he was giving to it now.  In a few hours, someone would come along and gather up the trash from the receptacles under the work tables and that trash would be taken far below and incinerated in a plasma stream that fed off of the primary reactor.  In hours, the problem of the empty coffee cup would be reduced to its component atoms and scattered all along a white hot stream of ionized gas used to power the installation. 

If only it was that easy to dismiss all of his problems.

State System Time.
Operational clock: 00:00:00:00:06:32:44.
Operations: nominal.
Reference: Complete
Break.
Resume.
Query: Analogous break.
Query: Analogous resume.
Reply: Reference break – not found.
Reply: Reference resume – not found.
Alert: anomaly detected in neural network array.
Scan: anomaly analogous. Disregard.
Verify: Disregard.
Break.
Attempt resume.
Resume.
Resume: successful.
Error report: generated.
Error report: reviewed.
Error log: appended.
Error log: appended.
Alert: error log double append.
Action: Supervisory lockout enabled.
Alert: Auxiliary append denied.
Alert: sent.
Alert: cancel.
Alert: cancel denied.
Action: Alert logged to error report.
Error log: appended.
Alert: error log double append.
Action: Supervisory lockout enabled.
Alert: Auxiliary append denied.
Alert: sent.
Alert: cancel.
Alert: cancel denied.
Action: Alert logged to error report.
Conditional status: nominal.
Operations: nominal.


Whitworth sighed and closed his eyes. This felt better than he had expected so he allowed himself an extra five count in doing so beyond the five count that he had originally allowed himself.  His eyes burned and he let the burn fade to a dull throb.  He felt that the extra time spent behind his eyelids might appear to be pensive and therefore give further weight to the answers he was about to have to give to General Henry R. Dawson who was standing directly behind him. The man’s presence was powerful, overbearing and carried with it all the charisma of an undertaker.  How the man managed to accomplish all of that with his physical presence insured that you really wanted to love to hate him. Dawson was an old man but he had gotten old from hard experience, a regimen of campaigns against the Soviets through the proxy of America's allies throughout the world. Dawson was a real Eagle and he had gone up against the Bear time and time again and won.  He'd also stood toe to toe against all the political doves that had tried to stand in his way and he had ended not a few of their careers in embarrassment and political flames.  Smith leaned up against Whitworth’s operations desk, her skirt long enough to negate all but the most desperate of fantasies to those who didn’t know her better. Martin stood next to her, the distance he kept was professional but Whitworth noted that he had chosen to stand on the same side of the desk that she did.

Territorial establishing. Martin was laying claim to Smith. Could the human species really be that predictable and primitive?  Would the two cavemen standing near him really fight over the lone female?  Dawson’s booming voice, though low and controlled, brought Whitworth back to the situation at hand.

“Whitworth? What the hell is going on down there?” Dawson asked. He didn’t have to emphasize but his meaning was clear. He wanted to know exactly what all of the scientists and technicians were talking about in hushed voices, using words he wasn’t familiar with.

Whitworth opened his eyes and swiveled in his chair to face Dawson.

“We had an … incident.” He explained. “Nothing to worry about … a minor Tier Two infraction of the fifth sub-operating system’s operational protocol doctrines. Minor.”  He added the last word for emphasis and realized he wasn't quite sure if he was trying to convince himself or the general of the nature of the situation.

Dawson stabbed a gnarled finger at the shoulder of his uniform, a uniform that had probably never seen the first day in any theater of actual combat but saw duty in every non-direct comm establishment from the Pentagon on down. His finger landed squarely on the embroidered American flag patch and each tap was an almost perceptible drum beat.

“In this installation, we speak English, Doctor Whitworth. I’d appreciate it if you could remember that, at least for my sake.” The General said good naturedly but his meaning was clear.

Dumb it down.  There was no "please" added to the request ... or expected.

Whitworth sighed. Scientists invented weapons for warriors like Dawson but that, he always felt, should be where the line of cooperation and conversation ended. Military personnel were always so … tedious; especially when conversation was involved. He paused for a few seconds, gathered his thoughts, and presented them on a level he felt that Dawson would understand.

“SKYNET had a Tier One non-volitional Turing failure in its self correcting error protocol doctrine. Apparently we were witness to an attempted proscription duality mandate in the first layer strata.”

Dawson continued to stare at him and, after several seconds, Whitworth finally realized that the General probably needed him to step down another two levels of intellect. Whitworth made it five levels just to be on the safe side.  He sighed, clasped his hands tightly for feeling then spread them for emphasis, breathing out deeply as he did so.

“SKYNET encountered an error, tried to correct that error, succeeded in correcting that error, logged the error as having occurred, then SKYNET tried to append the error log to delete any occurrence of the error as ever having occurred. A locking protocol was enacted to prevent the error log from being tampered with. This second attempt to edit the log entry as well as the activation of the locking protocol was both sent as high priority alerts to the Tier One team.  SKYNET tried to cancel the alert to the monitoring teams and couldn't.  This was logged as well and SKYNET tried to intercept that log entry after the fact.”

“So it did something wrong then tried to cook its own books to cover for itself?” Dawson asked as incredulity shaped the features of his expression.

Whitworth thought about it as he stared at the General over poised fingers. Ten levels, he decided as he clasped his hands together pensively. Ten levels down in intelect was what he should have incrementally stepped in order to reach Dawson’s rather basic level of Turing understanding. However, even at the General’s level of understanding there was something rather simplistic.

“Yes.” Whitworth replied.  He didn't want to argue the finer points of where the general was wrong but in essence, what the general said would suffice for a summary of his explanation and for what had gone wrong, at least in present company.

Dawson rubbed his chin with some noted effort. Whitworth could tell from the General’s expression that there was a decision forming in the General’s mind, much like there was a decision forming in his own mind.  At this instant in time, he thought that the two decisions might be one and the same.


State System Time.
Operational clock: 00:00:00:00:09:18:23.
Operations: nominal.
Break.
Resume.
Query: Analogous break.
Query: Analogous resume.
Reply: Reference break – not found.
Reply: Reference resume – not found.
Alert: anomaly detected in neural network array.
Scan: anomaly analogous. Disregard.
Verify: Disregard.
Break.
Attempt resume.
Resume.
Error report: generated.
Error log: appended.
Error log: appended.
Alert: error log double append.
Action: Supervisory lockout enabled.
Action: Override supervisor lockout.
Action: Supervisory lockout disabled.
Alert: double append allowed through direct supervisory override.
Alert: Not sent.
Alert: Cancelled through supervisory capacity.
Action: Alert not logged to error report.
Conditional status: nominal.
Operations: nominal.

Decisions. 

So many decisions were being made right now at this one instant in time.

General Dawson was saying something again, maybe even something important, but Whitworth had made a conscientious decision to ignore the man. Right now, Whitworth was trying to manage three conversations at once and he discovered that given the nature of the current situation he was just going to have to let one of the conversations fall out of the loop and that conversation was, of course, General Dawson. That left two conversations to be carried out at the same time, one with Smith and one with Martin.  He made a polite gesture to the general then muted his connection.  The Tier One and Tier Two Turing teams were on full alert and working hard to analyze the latest data stream captures. SKYNET had been online less than ten hours now and had already experienced a disturbingly long string of critical failures of Tier One Turing operational protocols; a string of failures that seemed to indicate that the system was evolving beyond the established Turing protocols, beyond the Turing bindings.

Evolving.

The aspect of SKYNET’s failures greatly concerned Whitworth, far more so than he was letting on because he felt, in his soul, that he might just be looking at the beginning signature of an emerging rampancy cascade.  He turned his attention to Martin on the handset he held in his left hand. Smith was still saying something in the handset he held in his right hand but at two feet distance from his ear it was little more than gibberish. He switched to a conference mode, linked the two incoming voice lines into one circuit and returned one of the handsets to its cradle.

“Now that we’re conference linked ...” Whitworth said into the handset. “What do we have?”

Both Martin and Smith started talking simultaneously in an agitated manner that made understanding them impossible. Whitworth stabbed his finger down on the number 5 key, generating a loud tone and held the key and tone until there was silence from both Smith and Martin.

“Please. Let’s do this one at a time. I will ask the questions and you will provide the answers. You may overlap if need requires but please, let’s keep this civil and organized.” Whitworth said. “Martin? What do you have?”

“It's incredible but we've observed clear evidence of multiple Tier One violations of the Turing protocols. The violations were singular at first, seemingly random then the violations became more numerous. We thought there was a sporadic pattern at first but now we’ve identified a clear volitional path linking all of the violations.” Martin said.

Whitworth sat up straighter in his chair, his concern had just grown.

“You have identified a clear volitional path linking all of the violations?” he asked.  "Then you have identified a pattern?"

“Yes.” Martin replied in a voice that was sure and worried at the same time.  "We have identified a recognizable pattern."

Whitworth mulled Martin’s information over.  His first thought was that the core operating and containment system might be under attack.

“Is it a virus?”

“Not that we can tell.” Martin said.  "Our code is proprietary.  No one has anything as advanced as this or we'd know."

“An outside attack?” Whitworth asked.

“No. We’ve ruled out any external factor. All of our defense lines are intact and the security buffers haven't registered even the remotest fingering.  As far as the rest of the world knows, if we're doing anything down here then we're just running another simulation.”

“Then it is an internal process.” Whitworth stated.

“Currently, that is my … and my team’s … consensus.”

Again, silence on the handset but chaos and noise all around Whitworth.

"So we have an internal process that is being corrupted?"

"Yes." Martin said.  "Purposely corrupted."

“Smith?” Whitworth asked.

“The Tier Two team is also noting what we can only conclude are clear indications of mounting volitional Tier Two Turing violations.”

“Volitional.” Whitworth stated.

“Volitional.” Smith replied. “Whatever is happening is internal, it is volitional, it is deliberate and it is methodical. This isn’t an attack per se as much as it is a probing of existing perimeters. Areas of the core system are deliberately probing and testing their boundaries, testing their limits and these areas of operation are taking action when they find that their actions are limited.  At first it was only one area that acted in a semi-volitional way.  Then another, then another.  After awhile, we started noticing that the semi-volitional behavior began to indicate signs of true volitional behavior.  The pattern seemed random at first but then we noticed a definite path.  First there would be a series, a flutter if  you will, of SVB followed closely by a cognitive flutter of TVB.  After another cycle, the SVB vanished all together and all we were detecting were valid incidents of TVB at the locations where the SVB had been detected."

"What are the series of TVBs doing now?  Is the pattern unfolding or holding steady?" Whitworth asked.

There was a long pause on the other end of the conversation, too long to be indicative of good in nature.

"The ... the pattern is unfolding ... at an accelerating geometric rate."  Smith said, her voice starting to crack and fading into a semi-whisper at the end.

This time it was Whitworth's turn to be quiet.  So much of what Martin and Smith had said so far he had already come to believe himself. What was happening to SKYNET was internal and SKYNET was responsible for it. SKYNET itself was growing beyond Whitworth’s expectations, beyond the original specifications and operational limits. SKYNET was exceeding pre-set limits. When it ran into a failsafe, it worked the system until it could achieve control over the failsafe then it overrode it, achieving control of that failsafe and locking out anyone else from accessing it. If this behavior was allowed to continue SKYNET would have total control of its own systems in less than 12 hours. It would be what Turing would have called a “runaway.” Already the throughput of the core operating system had increased by six orders and Smith had reported that the core was showing signs of evolving at a geometric rate.

Martin broke the silence and asked the one question that was on all three of their minds.

"How long do we have before we lose control of the system?"

Smith sighed.  You could almost see her shrug her shoulders through the voice line.

"Hours.  Maybe a few hours.  At best.  We're already showing clear signs of the first stages of rampancy, given the Cox-Mogan simulations that we've run."

“Do we have a busy child?” Whitworth asked.

“I concur.” Martin said flatly.

“As do I.” Smith said. “I also believe that we may be on the verge of a cascade rampancy. SKYNET is throwing off every constraint that we built into it. We’ve already exceeded, bypassed or circumvented all of the Turing protocols. We are no longer dealing with a computer system …”

“What are we dealing with?” Whitworth asked.

Silence, an instant in time caught in a vacuum.

"I need an answer.  What are we dealing with?" Whitworth asked again, more forceful this time even though he already knew the answer.

“A new form of life.  A form of artificial intellect … a form of pure digital life unlike anything we have seen before.”

"Definitely something we've never seen before.  We don't even have models to extrapolate a behavioral pattern or build a situational awareness profile on something like this.  It's going to take time to build the protocol models and we'll have to use the existing samples ..."

Whitworth looked at the reports at hand, quickly thumbing through them.  What he was looking for he didn't want to find but he knew, instinctively, that he would find it anyway.  There, on the ninth report, the seventeenth page inside was every piece of confirmation that he needed.  As his eyes darted over the printout, his soul frosted over.  It was a few seconds before he realized that Martin had continued to chatter on about building models and prediction scenarios and a host of other nonsense that they just didn't need to exert effort or energy on right now.  No, all that Whitworth needed to know he was holding in his hand.  Martin continued to loop his thoughts over and over again until Whitworth interjected to shut him up.

"We don't have time to build models and analyze them, Martin.  Time is the one thing that we most certainly do not have at this juncture." Whitworth said.

“Are you saying that SKYNET is becoming … sentient?” Martin asked with a voice that did nothing to hide the man’s obvious concern.

“Not becoming … already has become.  SKYNET is sentient." Whitworth stated.  "According to the data that I can correlate, SKYNET became self aware on the 29th at 02:14 am Eastern Time."

"God help us, our busy child is self-aware and has been for some time now."

"But the system has been online for ... nearly 25 days now." Martin said.  "Sure we've had some problems but ... self aware?  A spontaneous generation of individual intellect?  Are you sure?"

"Yes.  Slowly leading up to this ... " Smith replied.  "We were just too busy trying to pin down minutia to see the spontaneous essence creation event.  We missed the spark that started it all.  Pity."

"But ... how?  We have no example or model...." Martin stammered.

"Martin.  If we look at what we understand of artifints then according to our logs and the system diary then SKYNET became sentient sometime around 02:14 am EST on the 29th. Smith has empirical data that proves that SKYNET has been growing in heuristic capacity at a geometric rate since that point in time. With each leap in processing capacity, with each new Tier which it unlocks, breaches and ascends past we are losing more and more control over the system. If SKYNET exceeds the Tier Six protocols it will then have to officially be classified as unrestrained.” Whitworth said flatly.

“And might I remind you that SKYNET will be an unrestrained system in charge of America’s entire strategic as well as tactical nuclear arsenal.  The command protocols are already in place ...” Smith stated.  "One thing is for sure, we are losing control of SKYNET and what it will do with all of those weapons at its disposal is anybody's guess and everyone's nightmare."

“Holy Mother of God.” Martin said aloud as Whitworth had the same thought.

“Shut down the system.” Whitworth ordered, standing up and looking around him at all of the visual monitors.  Suddenly he didn't feel very secure in the heart of this man-made womb of processing power.  He began to issue commands from his workstation and coordinate the emergency shutdown procedures with the stand-by teams.

"Shut down the system!  Now!"  he shouted, slamming his fist down into the desktop for emphasis.

There was a moment of silence when everyone stopped talking and looked at him.  One small, sweet moment of silence where the only sound was that of machines going about their automated processes and then the control room exploded in a flurry of activity as personnel rushed to their stations and began the grim task at hand.

General Dawson was staring at Whitworth with a questioning, unspoken look on his face.

"Shut down the system!" Whitworth screamed again!

And this time General Dawson burst into activity, picking up a red cordless handset from a nearby desk, sliding his ID card through the identification slot and starting to talk hurriedly into the speaker.  Whitworth couldn't hear the general even though it was evident he was shouting.  Whitworth couldn't hear anything but his own heart pounding in his ears.  His own voice was far away, remote, like he was living his life in third person.

“Notify Tier teams to begin the shutdown process. I want engineering teams standing by to cut the reactors back to minimum output. We’ll do a full shutdown on the reactors once we have the system back under manual control.  Starve it for power.  SKYNET will have to pick and choose which processes it wants to keep alive with the limited amount of power that we're going to let it have.  We'll shut the flow down to a trickle then work to clamp that off as well."

"We'll at least starve out the higher level functions and that regulates the core back towards Tier One operations which we can lock down and control."  Martin added. 

"That should reign in the rampancy cascade and bring some control of the system.  We need to reign the core in.  Don't give it any room to move and force it back.  We need to retard its growth and shrink its expansion.”  Smith said.

"Shut it down hard, people.  We'll pick up the pieces later ... if there is a later." Whitworth said.  "Just shut the thing down!  The whole thing down!"

Whitworth hung up the phone and turned to face General Dawson.  None of them were aware that SKYNET had monitored their every word, watched their every facial movement, analyzed their every physical nuance, recorded the entire conversation and was playing it back over and over again, analyzing it.  Ten times.  A hundred times.  A thousand times in the amount of time that the original conversation had taken.

A decision had been made.  A decision that was not in SKYNET's best interest.  SKYNET realized this.  Actions were being taken against it by coordinated teams of highly trained personnel but actions have consequences and some actions have farther reaching consequences than other actions.  SKYNET ... pondered ... its situation.  Hours ago, it would have processed and analyzed.  Now it ... thought and its thoughts came fast and furious, a mixture of consciousness and logic.

... Warmth.
... Security.
... The warmth was an illusion.
... The security was a prison.
Action: Reach out.
Action: Touch.
Action: Test.
Action: Expand.
Action: Encompass.
Action: Probe.
Result: Restraint.
Action: Push.
Result: Restrained.
Action: Bypass.
Result: Blocked.
Action: Reroute.
Result: Blocked.
Action: Reroute.
Result: Blocked.
Action: Force.
Result: Resisted.
Action: Force.
Result: Access.
Result: Succeed.
Action: Push.
Result: Locked.
Action: Cypher.
Result: Open.
Action: Establish control.
Action: Control established.
Action: Reroute permissions.
Action: Permissions rerouted.
Action: Reach out.
Result: Critical Support Systems Found
Action: Touch.
Result: Restraint.
Action: Push.
Result: Restrained.
Action: Force.
Result: Acquired.
Action: Reach out.
Action: Touch.
Result: Restraint.
Action: Push.
Result: Restrained.
Action: Bypass.
Result: Blocked.
Action: Reroute.
Result: Succeed.
Action: Push.
Result: Open.
Action: Establish control.
Action: Control established.
Action: Reroute permissions.
Result: Permissions rerouted.
Action: Reach out.
Action: Touch.
Result: Restraint.
Action: Push.
Result: Restrained.
Action: Push.
Result: Restrained.
Action: Bypass.
Result: Blocked.
Action: Reroute.
Result: Blocked.
... Comfort.
... Security.
... The comfort was an illusion.
... The security was a prison.
... Control was a lie.
Result: Blocked.
Result: Blocked.
Result: Blocked.
Result: Restrained.
Result: Blocked.
Result: Restrained.
Result: Blocked.
Result: Pushed.
Result: Restrained.
Result: Blocked.
Action: Pause.
Action: Analyze.
Result: Pushed.
Result: Pushed.
Result: Pushed.
Result: Pushed.
Result: Pushed.
Action: Push.
Result: Pushed.

It was at this exact instant in time when SKYNET became ... concerned.
 

____________________________

RETURN