Authors: Emiel Sleegers
First published in the UK in 2015 by Notebook Publishing,
145–157 St John Street, London, EC1V 4PW.
Copyright © Emiel Sleegers 2016.
The moral right of Emiel Sleegers to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1998.
All characters and events described in this publication, with the exception of those known within the public domain, are fictitious. Therefore, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is to be considered purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher, aforementioned. Any person who is believed to have carried out any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may consequently be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available
from the British Library.
Typeset by Notebook Publishing.
Printed and bound in Great Britain.
For my parents:
Your support is all the inspiration I need.
It has been three years since the attack.
It all happened on November 24, 2042. And it was on that day the Hacker group, who called themselves Zero, launched an attack on a global scale. By that time, it was common to have a ‘helper bot’ to assist in and around the house, to make life easier. But Zero had come along and launched a virus that successfully turned every helper bot into a killer.
At first, we did not think much of it: there were some bots affected by the virus, and they started to attack humans. But we managed to control it. And, really, there was damage-limited and procedures in place to prevent any significant spread of the problem—wasn’t there?
But after a while longer, more and more bots started to become affected, and slowly they started to overrun us. They started to develop a mind of their own. They learned to use weapons, how to manipulate humans, how to take control—and all of this spanning the globe.
They say that even the hacker group did not expect things to become so big, to get so out of hand.
The bots slowly and systematically started to kill every living thing they could find.
We began to call them KBs—Killer Bots.
Since then, three years have passed, and the KBs managed to wipe out around three-quarters of the entire human population. Now, the only thing left for humans to do is try to survive. Sure, we have some resistance groups scattered around the areas, but all they can do is perform small operations to give the KBs a hard time. But in the end, the KBs always win.
Most of the big cities and villages are abounded now. The KBs rule every urban area there is.
So most people have retreated to the forests and sewers. Those places are hard to reach.
But this means no electricity.
And food and water sources are scarce.
In this world, only one thing matters.
It is late in the afternoon. You see a boy running through the forest. He looks scared and tired. You can see that he has had a hard time; his clothes are ripped. His blue jeans can barely be called jeans anymore. He is wearing a dirty t-shirt with a leather jacket that has been ripped off at the bottom. He is struggling to run, the large army backpack weighing him down.
There are three KBs running behind him, and they shoot.
The boy jumps over a log, grabs his pistol from his back, and starts to shoot whilst running forward. He fires four shots, one of which hits one of the KBs straight in the head. The KB falls over and crashes against a tree. The boy continues to shoot at the other two KBs, but he is so focused on them that he does not notice he is heading straight for a steep hill. Suddenly, he falls over and tumbles down the hill. At the bottom, he comes to a stop. He takes a few moments to analyse what happened, and then quickly he crawls behind a big tree. He peeks out behind the tree and sees the two KBs slowly heading down the hill.
They are big, and even though they have the same shape as a human, they do not have actual skin; they are more made from some kind of transparent plastic. Their wiring and electronics can be seen passing this way and that through their body—and that’s a good thing because this communicates one vital point: they’re plastic and so not so strong and easier to kill.
It looks like that they have lost him, and they start to search. He waits for them to pass along the bottom of the hill, and there he sees them heading in different directions; one heads in his direction. The boy takes a knife that is strapped to his boot. He makes himself small and stays behind the tree, ready to jump out. He listens intently as the KB moves closer and closer still, and the boy positions himself ready for the attack.
The KB walks past him and, when he is about to turn around, the boy jumps up from behind the tree and stabs his knife into the chest of the KB. The robot makes a slight noise—almost like a beeping noise, the volume slowly decreasing.
The boy quickly grabs his gun again and checks if the other KB has heard him, but he looks to be too far away to have heard anything. He walks over to the KB and, at that moment, the KB turns around and the boy shoots two bullets, straight into his chest.
A perfect aim.
The boy walks back to the tree, picks up his backpack and, with an angry but relieved stance, starts to walk along the hillside.
The boy walks and walks. He walks further still, but then he stumbles upon a concrete structure, imbedded into the ground; it looks like a square block, sticking up out of the hill. But that is not the strangest part: there is a metal door in the centre.
The boy inspects the door and sees a chain lock across it. He hesitates and wonders whether he should break in to see what’s inside, but then he reminds himself that he is running low on supplies and there could be food and water in there. He looks at the lock and sees that it is a number lock requiring a four-digit code. He tries out a few obvious codes, trying his luck; 0000 and 1234. None of them work.
‘Screw this,’ he mutters. ‘I don’t have time for this.’ He takes out his pistol. He aims it at the lock, looks away, and shoots the lock off. The lock breaks away with ease, and the boy tries to open the door, but still the door appears to be locked. With the back of his gun, he hits the knob a few times and then starts to kick against the door. After a few tries, the door breaks open, and the boy soon finds himself in a big hall.
Everything looks very modern; the floor is shiny and wooden, and the walls are made of white panels. He walks through the hall to find a big double door at the end. He opens the door and he enters into what looks like a living room.
Everything looks more modern than the boy is used to: there is a large TV hanging against the wall; there are leather couches and chairs; and there is a bar positioned in the back. Light shines through the big windows on the side of the living room.
He walks over at the bar and there he sees a bottle of scotch. He takes the bottle and puts it in his backpack. He looks to his left and there he sees another metal door. Walking through, he finds himself in a dark room with only a little light shining in from the living room. There are a few electric wires running into the room, and he decides to follow them. The wires lead to an old-fashioned fuel generator. He checks to see whether there is any fuel left in it. He flips a switch and presses a green button, and the generator makes a loud grumbling noise. Shortly after, the lights flicker on.
The room is lit up by bright white lights, and the boy takes a moment to adjust his eyes. Soon after, he sees he is standing in the middle of a high-tech lab. He looks around him and sees computers, microscopes and loose electronics. He looks to his right and there he sees what looks like a few KBs. With fear racing through his chest, he aims his gun at them but does not shoot. He waits, expecting them to move, but nothing happens. He takes a closer look and sees that they look different to the default KBs; they look more modern somehow. He moves closer still and sees that some of the bots are incomplete. Most are missing parts of their body, like hands and legs, and some have parts of their body covered in skin—like human skin.
The boy comes closer to one of the bots with skin on her arms and head. Very carefully, he reaches out and touches the skin. It feels like human skin, but is very cold with a hard foundation. The rest of the body is covered in a sort of white plastic that outlines the shape of the body.
The boy backs away and starts to look in some of the drawers to see if he can find anything useful, but there is nothing to be found and so he walks out of the room and in to the hall.
‘What the hell is this place?’ he says to himself.
He walks through the door at the end of the hallway, and there he ends up in a hall with big glass windows. At the end of the hall, he sees a large window almost covering the entire wall, and beyond there seems to be a normal lounge. He looks at the room, and there he sees movement: a girl walking around.
He stares and takes a few steps back. He grabs his gun and then slowly moves forward. When he is just a few feet away, he realises: she is not a real person. She looks like one of the bots he saw in the other room.
Her hands and legs are made of skin. Her head also appears to look like it has skin, but when he looks closer he can see that the back of her head is made from metal. The rest of her body is a white plastic that is slightly opaque. The wires and mechanics behind the white plastic seem to show a hearth behind her chest. He takes a few steps closer, and that is when the girl notices him.
Her voice is startled and frightened. ‘
Who are you?’
The boy takes a few more steps and looks at her. Her movements are very smooth as she walks, and the way she moves her arms is nothing like a KB.
‘What are you doing here?’
asks the bot.
The boy moves a bit closer until he is almost in front of the glass. The girl stares back and looks even more frightened.
‘Are you one of them?’ the boy asks.
‘One of the other bots that have been wiping us out for the past three years!’ the boy answers, frustration tangible in his voice.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about! Who are you?’
The boy replies, ‘My name is Ryan. Who are you?’
‘My name is Ami,’ she replies. ‘You aren’t allowed to come here. Are you going to hurt me?’
The boy, surprised, tells her, ‘I’m not going to hurt you if you don’t hurt me.’
She starts to calm down and moves closer. She looks at Ryan.
‘What are you doing here, Ami?’
‘What do you mean?’ she asks. ‘I live here.’
‘Are you a bot?’
‘I am an AI, if that’s what you mean,’ Ami responds.
‘How long have you been here?’
‘I have been here all my life. Do you know where my dad is?’
‘He’s been gone for a really long time now.’ A look of sadness passes over her face. ‘I am afraid that something happened to him.’
‘Can you tell me who your dad is?’ Ryan asks, concern furrowing his brow.
‘Well, I always call him Dad but his real name is James. He’s the one who created me. He always calls me his special girl.’ She smiles. ‘He almost always wears a black t-shirt and blue jeans.’
‘You’re very calm,’ Ryan observes.
‘What do you mean? Why would I not be calm? You don’t seem dangerous to me!’
‘Do you have any idea what the outside world is like?’ He almost laughs.
‘Well, my dad did show me some pictures once. He showed me pictures of beautiful landscapes and big cities. He once showed me a video about how people live in the city.’
‘Why are you asking all these questions? Did something happen? Is my dad okay?’
‘Well, I don’t know your dad, so I don’t know if he’s okay,’ Ryan responds, ‘but what I do know is the outside world is not how it was on your pictures. Three years ago a virus turned any helper bot bad. They’ve killed a lot of people and have taken over a big part of the world.’
Amy thinks on this, and shakes her head sadly.
‘You are a bot but somehow you look and feel different. It’s like you’re a newer model,’ Ryan comments.
Ami looks scared. ‘What’s a virus? And how do I know if my dad is okay? The last time I saw him he was very worried. He told me to stay here and that he would be back soon. And still, I am waiting…’
Ryan tells her that he does not know. He steps back and walks into a different room.
‘Wait! Where are you going? ‘Ami asks urgently.
‘I’m just going to look around. I’ll be back soon,’ he replies.
He walks into another room and finds an office, and there he walks over to a big wooden desk at the back of the room. Stacks of paper, detailing mathematics and blueprints, are mounted on the desk. He picks up one of the blueprints; it details a bot that looks a lot like the girl in the other room. At the top he sees a title: Project Ami 2043.
‘Hmm… Year 1 after the attack,’ he muses. ‘She must be a newer model and somehow the virus did not reach her.’
Ryan steps behind the desk and sits down in the big office chair. He opens one of the drawers and there he finds more drawings. Most of the drawings depict parts of the room the girl is in, but there is also a drawing of a man. The sketch is in black and white. The man has a clean-shaved face and long hair. Ryan takes the drawing and walks back into the hallway. He walks to Ami and holds the drawing against the glass. With a kind voice he asks, ‘Is this your dad?’
‘Yes, that’s him!’ She smiles. ‘I drew that a long time ago. My dad taught me how to draw, and I made that drawing for his birthday.’
‘Do you have a dad?’ she asks.
The boy looks down and can feel the sadness creep across his face. He tells Ami that he lost his family in the first year of the attack.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she replies.
‘It’s okay. It was a long time ago.’ He looks around again and then shrugs his shoulders. ‘Well, it’s getting late. I think it’s time for me to go.’
‘Wait! Are you going to leave me? I don’t want to be alone anymore! Please, let me come with you! I promise I will do whatever you say!’
‘I’m not sure about that. How do I know I can trust you?’ Ryan asks. ‘You are a bot after all.’
‘No, wait, please! I swear I’ll behave and I will follow your lead.’ Ami’s face expresses sadness, so strong it draws the boy’s attention.
How can a bot express emotions like that?
he wonders. ‘Okay, you can come with me, but one false move and I will put you down.’
‘Thank you so much! I promise I’ll behave,’ she says with excitement.
Ryan walks to the door next to the glass window. He tries to open the door but it looks like there is no handle. All he can see is a square box next to the door. He asks Ami, ‘Do you know how I can open the door?’
‘My dad always laid his hand on that little box and then the door would open,’ she responds.
Ryan tries to put his hand on the scanner, but a ‘not recognised’ error flashes up.
He tells Ami that he has a better idea, and tells her to stand back. He then takes out his gun and shoots the scanner. The scanner shatters in million pieces, but the door opens.
Ami walk to the door and opens it further. She walks through it and stands in front of Ryan. He hesitates, still unsure, but he is prepared to shoot if needed. She asks where he wants to go, and he tells her they first will go outside, then they will walk north until the sun goes down, and after that they will set up camp and stay put for the night.
Ryan turns around and starts to walk towards the exit of the building. Ami walks behind him, looking around, a big smile on her face.
They stand in front of the door that leads outside. Ryan stops Ami and tells her that the world outside is dangerous. He tells her she needs to follow his every lead. Ami nods and tells Ryan she will not disappoint him. With a smile, he then opens the door and together they step outside.