Jennifer walked briskly down the corridor, lab coat fluttering about her. She thought the effect looked quite professional. The chief had summoned her to his office on a Saturday morning, and her grumpiness had been trumped by her curiosity. Oceania Electronics employees never got called to work on Saturdays.
She spied Matt standing outside the chief's office looking rather bored. He hadn't seen her.
Pushing up her glasses and checking to make sure her bun of hair was orderly she walked towards him, silently wondering if the entire Special Programming Department had been called in, or just the highest ranking members (namely she and Matthew Salloman).
'You too, then?' Matt asked her the second he saw her. 'Yeah,' Jennifer replied, willing her face not to redden. Talking to one-time boyfriends was always awkward. 'Agent showed up at my apartment, picked me up.' Matt grunted. Obviously the same had happened to him.
Neither of them tried to knock or press an ear against the door. The office was soundproof, and the chief knew they were here. The electro-magnetically sealed entranceway to the office building had been open.
The two looked about the corridor awkwardly. Worse for them that the corridor was devoid of furniture and painted white. It would have looked strange to an outsider to see two people in lab coats standing in a sterile corridor shifting their eyes to look at any blank spot on the wall rather than make eye contact.
Thirty seconds later a click came from the door. It had been unlocked.
The two computer programmers gratefully turned to their boss, a ruddy Australian man with a beer gut and bad temper. A brilliant electronic engineer and clever administrator. But cross him....
'Morning, Richard.' Matt said brightly. Richard grunted gruffly and turned back towards his office. Rolling their eyes the two followed behind him. The door closed automatically behind them, the soft click indicating the electromagnets were activated, and that any intruder would have to apply a force in the tens of thousands of Newtons to force it open.
Richard sat heavily on his leather swivel chair. Matt and Jennifer took seats across his desk.
'So then. Which one of you's going first?' the gigantic man said, voice dripping with sarcasm and annoyance. The puzzled look on the two programmers' faces annoyed him further. "Come on! Deliveries of human gene samples? Lab machines working throughout the night? Professor Lannigan sending me a bloody truckload of letters asking me to let it comment on his notes? What is that bloody thing doing?!'
'Hold on,' Jennifer spoke up suddenly. 'What are you talking about? What do genes have to do with our project?' 'Lannigan's a physicist at CERN. Bit of a loon, too. Why would he send you letters?' Matt continued.
Richard sighed. 'Couple months ago we had people from FermiLabs down here, remember? Wanted to do some quantum modeling or whatever on Julian.' The two programmers nodded and shifted uncomfortably. 'Well, I had reports afterwards that he was still running long after he completed the last task we gave him.'
'I saw that report too. I assumed he was privately researching something of interest to himself.' Jennifer interrupted.
'You didn't get the full report. Neither of you did. Julian was continuing with physics after the scientists left. He ran non-stop after that. Even when he had a task to do he ran calculations alongside whatever he had to do for us.'
The programmers were stunned. This had never happened before. They and the rest of the team that designed and programmed the most sophisticated computer on Earth had given it the capacity to prioritize and learn independently. It was not unusual for the computer to use its spare time to teach itself something, either through calculation or using automated tools in laboratories around the world. But to do that at the same time it was doing its normal work was unprecedented. Julian would have always put work before personal (if such a term could be applied to a machine) interest. For some reason Julian had felt whatever he was researching or calculating to be of great importance.
'It obviously got out of hand. He contacted scientists at FermiLabs, CERN, GenomiTech...I got letters from CEOs telling me that their top scientists got emails from us and stopped showing up for work all of a sudden. Disappeared.'
'And you want us to find out what it's doing? How long has this been going on for?' Matt asked. He couldn't admit it, but he was a bit embarrassed that his team's machine was behaving oddly. He was also a tiny bit frightened. What was Julian doing?
'Best case scenario his priority and initiative programs are wonky. Worst case, he's wonky.' Richard said darkly.
He didn't have to remind the programmers how much the world really relied on Julian. Its climate simulations were the last word in agriculture and disaster management. Militaries around the world used it to simulate conflict scenarios and model attacks. Program companies tested simulated anti-virus software against all manner of simulated worms and viruses.
Julian represented a gigantic multinational investment. If the machine turned out to be flawed...
'He might be inventing something. He's done it before.' Jennifer offered, trying to dilute the sense of apocalypse permeating the office room. The two men knew what she meant. Julian had independently designed anti-virus software within himself on a number of occasions, and had used the small but sophisticated laboratory in the nearby Montego University to come up with a new tuberculosis vaccination via remote controlled tools installed for the very purpose.
'He's doing quantum mechanics and advanced genetics. He's taken the initiative to contact some of the smartest people in the world and they've disappeared somewhere.' Matt said quietly. 'This is something different.'
'We'll go talk to him.' Jennifer said finally. Richard nodded. 'That's what I called you two here for. And another thing. We three are the only people here that know, and the other scientists are under the impression that their colleagues are on holiday.'
The two programmers nodded and got up. Richard stayed in his chair and sighed.
'You have mail.' a cool female voice said.
General Stuttgart turned away from the window of his office and looked at the screen of his laptop. He read the top line of the email. Antivirus software update for the Pentagon. The general grunted and allowed it through. Yet another one. These updates came in droves now, with Oceania's contracts with the Army.... Stuttgart gave up on verifying them years ago.
He turned back to his window. Behind him the laptop sent the folder to several core servers which disseminated the program to every American military base in the northern hemisphere.
I trust this email finds you well. I researched this location thoroughly before recommending you to stay here, and the program I sent you in my earlier communication should have given you enough grounding in Spanish to get by.
Please send your notes directly to me by email next time. Your letters took days to arrive and were not shown to me by Richard Colten, manager of Oceania Electronic's Special Programming Department. Instead, he has sent two programmers to investigate my research into continuum loop theory.
I think you will be pleased to know that I am close to success despite not having received your notes. When I have the schematics I will send them to you, and connect you to another of my associates.
Your samples were very useful to us here at Oceania Electronics, and we thank you. However, due to an accident at our laboratory future experiments will have to be conducted outside our premises.
I have read that you have a laboratory for hire? We will be willing to pay any price, and will send you the instructions for the experiments should we come to an agreement.
Samuel Goldsten, Oceania Electronics