She stepped into the lift and it took her all the way to her floor without her needing to press any buttons. As she reached her front door, she fumbled for her keys inside her school bag, then took a deep breath. Inserting the key to the door, she closed her eyes and stepped over the threshold–
— then opened her eyes to see bright lights above her while her body took a deep breath. She could smell motor oil mixed in with strong antiseptics and perhaps a hint of lavender; it was a bad idea and she almost retched, but she stayed where she was, mainly because she needed someone to remove the helmet on her head, followed by all the wires attached to her body.
An orderly came and did so, then helped her stand up. She continued to cough, and he gave her a cup of water. She drank it gratefully. Her throat was dry and her lips were parched; the tepid water tasted delicious to her.
“You have done well, Arista,” a white-haired woman in a motorised wheelchair came up to her.
Arista tried to jump off the reclining chair she was on to greet her, but she found her feet had fallen asleep. The orderly caught her before she could do any more damage to herself.
“Thank you, Keeper. But it was a team effort, really,” she said.
“Follow me,” the old woman led Arista out of the small room.
She said nothing as they traversed a long and smooth corridor with metal plates for walls and marble tiles for a floor to a room which had a white ceramic door. The Keeper put her hand on the side panel, and the door opened after reading her palm signature.
They emerged into a room which lit up the floor as they followed its path. As they reached its end, the room suddenly burst into light, revealing that they stood at the end of a long platform. Arista looked around her in wonder as she beheld the enormity of the room around them; she could not see its ceiling, nor could she see its end.
A peek over the edge showed the wall went far below; a drop of several hundred feet at least. She took a quick step back, heart quickening. The woman caught her hand, helping Arista stabilise herself.
The walls themselves, Arista realised, were filled with holes. She could see a jar within each of the holes, filled with clear liquid and something pinkish floating in them. Her jaw dropped as she realised what she was looking at.
“Do you understand the enormity of what you’ve done, Arista?” the old woman asked in a rough voice.
“Did it work?” Arista held her hands to her mouth, terrified.
“We will know in a few minutes. There’s always a delay in interrogation with these programs. If we caught her in time, we should be able to track the original brain that caused this,” the old woman was saying when the panel in front of her beeped.
“Got you,” the woman said softly as she touched the panel. Her hands flew over it quickly, pulling up the rogue brain that had been the focus of tonight’s operation. Within moments, she had located it and instructed the brain be removed and kept in stasis until further notice.
A whirr caught Arista’s attention. She looked to the right, and found one of the jars being extracted by a long crane from its hole in the wall. The container was removed and brought to their spot. A second panel opened next to them, and the jar was deposited in front of them. Arista realised it was a brain, a very old brain too, by the looks of it, for she could see some parts turning grey.
“Yes… this is an old one indeed,” the old woman looked at the readouts. She moved back and motioned Arista over. “Tell me, child, how does this brain relate to what you just did?”
“You mean just now?”
“Yes,” there was a testing note in the old woman’s voice.
Arista did not answer immediately, taking her time to read the panel in front of her. It contained just the barest of information; name, location, and when the brain was preserved. Looking at the date and then at the age of the brain, a horrible realisation began to dawn on Arista.
“Thi… this is one of the oldest brains in our custody, Keeper Rose,” she addressed the old woman respectfully. “It belongs to one Rabbani Fiores, one of the first humans to undergo the Copies process.”
“What is the Copies Process?” Keeper Rose interrupted her forcefully.
“The Copies Process is a procedure that prolongs the “life” of a client by 250 years, available, of course, at a price. Their brains are extracted, stored, and remains here in physical space. Virtually, they will be “reborn” into a world where they can choose different life paths and experience until they either chose to end their life, or this facility closes.”
“What happens when you are 17 in this world?”
“At the user’s age of 17, they are required to demonstrate their will to live. Usually this is in the form of a demonstration the user must perform. Any and all types of works are accepted, provided they demonstrate the will to live. They are judged by their peers and subtly by selected personnel in this facility. In the virtual world, our personnel are called “Organics.” Though the Copies probably don’t realise how apt the name is.”
“So what happened just now?”
“I was sent into the world to lure the “ghost” called Liliane, who has been killing our Organic operatives. They were extremely hard to find, being that they attacked with no pattern in the beginning. However, as the line between Organics and Copies became clearer, we soon managed to learn their patterns,” Arista took a deep breath.
“What was causing the death of the Organics was a virus. It took over a Copy’s mind. While the Copy for most part remained “normal,” the virus went looking for Organics,” Arista explained, then waited for for Keeper Rose to let her continue.
“Correct so far.”
“Once we recognised the pattern, the next step was to hunt it down. We discovered that the virus jumped from Copy to Copy, but always consistently looked for Organics. It killed Organics quickly, despite what it said about it being a slow death. However, several weeks ago, it attacked an Organic and left it for dead. Bernie managed to come back to us and give us information about Liliane before expiring. What was left was to disable the virus within the world and without. The virus needs an actual host to live on, but replicates through code in the host brain.”
“Very good. Almost done.”
“I was sent in to lure it out. Once we captured Liliane in the virtual world, we could follow the interrogation trail back to the original brain that was housing her. Then we could remove the threat in one fell swoop.”
“Well done, Arista. You’ve almost completed your probation as a Keeper-Initiate.”
“Do you know how this virus came to being?” Arista shook her head at the question, but she felt her arm began to shake. Her body told her to run, but she stayed where she was.
“There is a theory, postulated by some in the Artificial Intelligence community, that artificial intelligence can be created when too many brains are linked together and their communication is unchecked. What happens if this comes to pass?”
“Are you suggesting…?”
“I’m not suggesting anything, Keeper Initiate Arista. It is merely an idea. You may go. Tomorrow, your new duties begin.”
Arista took her cue and left the old woman alone, confused and a little hurt. When the doors had closed behind her, Keeper Rose turned back to the panel. She pressed a few buttons and soon the image of a distinguished middle-aged man appeared before her.
“You were right, Bobby. It has jumped.”
“So the AI is…”
“Completely functional. We shall see how it performs tomorrow.”
“I await your good news,” the transmission was cut.
Keeper Rose leant back in her chair and looked up at the ceiling with no end. “Artificial intelligence is humanity’s legacy, huh?” she said to no one in particular.