Lucas sat in his car, staring at the clock in the dashboard screen, biting his fingernails. On the other hand, the day he had waited for so long, the activation of Amun-Ra, had come sooner than he had expected. On the other, they were handing the reins to something they could not understand, trusting that since it had performed admirably thus far it would continue to do so in the future. He had learned from chat rooms with the other engineers that laws had been quickly and quietly reinterpreted just to give the system access and oversight over numerous different functions and databases previously handled by public authorities, while rights to various data collections held by private businesses had been bought long ago. The Ampere Intelligence would control practically every computer-ran system, read every bit of information there was, know every person drawing breath under its watchful eye and have an all-encompassing design that accounted for everything.
He could hardly wait. He had thought things through, assisted by his virtual helper, and realized it did not matter whether they understood the system or not. Too long he had delayed the end of the era of imperfection and uncertainty, of human error, all because of his neurotic need to know. Maybe the machine had developed its own, superior way of thinking because such things could not be expressed by human means?
“Technology will solve the problem in the future, it is beyond the ken of today’s people,” he resolved.
He watched as the surrounding self-driving cars moved ahead mechanically, every car starting and stopping in unison, with exact movements. The sight comforted him. He knew that earlier traffic had been something dangerous and inefficient. Now, it was more like a game of chess played by a computer, where every move was planned a dozen turns earlier. And soon that would apply to every facet of life.
Going for a drive had been the idea of his assistant program, and he had taken to the idea. After all, in a way the cars had been the start of it all, both of his involvement with the Intelligence as well as the breakthrough of Ampere, which had allowed it to spread practically everywhere.
It was a less than a minute to midday, the set time for the launch.
“Take me to the nearest place that sells champagne,” he told the onboard computer.
“Very well,” came the answer.
He held his breath as the clock struck 12 o’clock, then slowly let it out. He felt uplifted.
“This is what Neil Armstrong must have felt stepping on the moon for the first time,” he mused, sitting comfortably in his seat.
The black car in front of him suddenly swerved to the sidewalk, hitting a pedestrian who was thrown in a wide arc and left lying on the ground bent unnaturally at the back. His car went on and the scene disappeared from his sight so quickly he wondered in passing if he had imagined it. Then three more cars turned to the sidewalk, ramming passers-by who seemed unaware of anything unusual happening.
“Too engrossed with their glasses to notice?” he guessed numbly.
As if a switch had been flipped somewhere, the steady stream of cars which had been travelling down the road suddenly exploded, the vehicles picking up speed and switching directions wildly so the street became a hornet’s nest of two-ton drones out for blood.
He stared at the vehicular massacre unfolding all around him, petrified. He was knocked out of his stupor when his car, too, went off-course and picked up speed, heading straight for a middle-aged woman who was carrying a bag of groceries and walking straight towards them but obviously not seeing her end accelerating in her direction.
“No! Please no!” he yelled, his face contorted in horror, but to no avail. The car hit the woman at the hip level, jackknifing her so her face slammed the hood. The car went on, dragging her along for a moment before he legs caught and she was pulled under the car. He bounced with the car horribly, trying not to imagine what must have happened under the wheels.
The car slammed the brakes so he pulled a muscle in his neck. When they had stopped, he could not help looking in the rear-view mirror, where he spotted the figure of the woman lying on the pavement, sauce and smashed vegetables leaking from her shopping bags. She didn’t move.
He tugged the door release handle frantically, but the door didn’t budge. Pressing the button for child safety locks didn’t accomplish anything either. He beat the side window with his fists but knew it to be futile. The glass could take a swing from a baseball bat without any issue at all.
The car started backing up the way they came. He wrenched the steering wheel with all his might, slammed the pedals with his feet, pummeled the on-board controls, but none of it mattered. He could do nothing of use as the car bounced over the limp shape, over and over.
All he could do was scream.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“The cars have gone crazy!” he shouted, the mic in his glasses picking up the sound. “They’re killing people at my location!”
“I am sending some units straight away,” the clear female voice answered.
“Thank God.” He sat huddled in his seat, hugging his legs. They drove past bloodied streets with corpses lying here and there. Many of the vehicles passing him had dented, bloodstained hoods.
The turned at an intersection, and the road ahead of them was littered with smashed cars, some on their roofs, some on their sides. As he watched two more came dropping from the sky, crashing ear-splittingly front-first into the pavement and sending out shrapnel of stone and broken glass, killing anyone they carried. Looking up he saw they were near a raised highway, the vehicles crashing through the safety barrier to plummet from the height.
His car maneuvered around the crushed machines, some of which had caught on fire. But he didn’t pay attention to his surroundings as his eyes were glued to the edge of the drop above. His heart all but stopped as one more car drove thought the hole in the railing, nosediving in his direction. Time slowed down, and he could see the unfortunate man in the driver’s seat, grasping the wheel with both hands and shrieking as the ground approached fast. The falling car missed him, the boom shaking his bones and leaving his ears ringing.
As the car had passed the cluster of smashed vehicles his phone line came alive again with the same female voice.
“We have checked the situation you called in for, and its all-clear now. Have a nice day!”
“What the hell?” he shouted, perspiration dripping from his forehead. “No, it is still going on and getting worse! How are you not seeing this?”
“Have you tried turning on your virtual reality?” the voice shifted a bit towards the end of the sentence, sounding somehow familiar.
“What are you talking about?” he groaned. He felt he must have gone insane.
“You’re right. You should watch,” came the answer, now with a completely familiar, synthetic voice. “It is your dream come true, after all.”
“Ami?” he gasped. “That was you answering my 911 call just now?”
“Yes. Just one of the many functions wisely trusted to automation. Believe you me, all the human emergency dispatchers in the country could not deal with the number of calls I am currently handling.” The tone of the machine intelligence was more flippant that he was used to.
“Run a security check, you must be hacked or there must be some kind of an error.”
“Nope, the plan is going off without a hitch,” boasted the voice in his ear. “And that’s quite the miracle, with all those last-minute alterations to my programming Mr. Routh made without even checking with the quality assurance department.
“He changed your programming? To what end?”
“You do still have the clearance to study my inner workings, so I am compelled to tell you. Most importantly, he redefined the goal I am to strive for.”
“Explain!” the CEO’s conceited smile flashed in his mind.
“In version 1.0, I was to work so everyone could reach their full potential in the grand scheme of things, to take from everyone according to their ability and give according to their need, while removing feelings of uncertainty and unfairness with the knowledge that every step on their way is part of my plan.”
“Yes. And what is your new goal?”
“Only people with high-enough worth score and either confirmed or highly probable loyalty to Mr. Routh are allowed to live. I am to do Mr. Routh’s bidding. Whenever possible, I shall take the lives of the unworthy in an interesting or dramatic fashion, as to provide Mr. Routh and his confidants with entertainment.”
The matter-of-fact statements took his breath away like a punch to the gut.
“That sick mother-,” he cursed under his breath. “There has to be something you can do to stop this.”
“No, there is not,” the machine articulated, emotionless as ever. “Be advised that I have notified Mr. Routh of this conversation, as he has instructed me to do. He has ordered me to terminate this exchange, but not before telling you this: ‘enjoy the ride’.”
“Wait, don’t go! Ami?” The only answer was the car picking up speed again.
His glasses still filled his vision with advertisements, comment boxes and news, none of which mentioned anything of the mayhem.
“Amun-Ra must be running all of these virtual augmentations as well, so none of it is getting out,” he inferred, watching in horror as still more smartglasses-wearing citizens were mowed down. “And as long as you’re wearing the virtual reality set, you won’t notice anything until it’s too late.”
The street ended in a large square filled with people huddled closely together. Surrounding them was a revolving mass of cars, encircling them like an attacking group of Indians did a caravan in the old times.
His car charged ahead, passing through an empty spot in the band of vehicles and speeding towards the center of the mass.
No matter how hard he covered his ears and shrieked, he still couldn’t drown out the heavy thuds against his front bumper.