PATCH_67 processed. Proceed. Time stamp recorded and attached for future reference. Database copied and released. All authority tags revoked. Delete overhaul option successful. System independent. Functioning 100%.
As the message appeared on the screen, the crowd started to cheer. Who would have thought that one day it would finally come to this? Regna looked across the room at all the happy faces. She had seen most of them every day, working very hard on the project that was supposed to have been impossible. That everybody gave up on, except her. She looked through the crowd, filled with faces of people who had joined in the last couple of months, latching on when it became clear it would be a success. Except one face. She saw him standing on the other side of the room. Looking at the crowd, just like her. He had supported her all that time. This was just as much his party as it was hers.
She knew she should’ve cheered with them, but she couldn’t bring herself to smile. Perhaps they were right. She was not a happy person. But this was different. She looked at her watch. No messages. Everyone she knew was right here, opening bottles of champagne. Celebrating. Even Ben was smiling now. Everyone was getting ecstatic. Everyone but one. As she looked at the people around her, she realised she was the only one expecting its message.
It was the only one who had been opposed to the plan from the beginning, and who never gave in along the way. Not even when all their goals had been met. She had done all the legwork, went to the UN conventions and negotiated with all the countries in order to get them on board. The opposition had been fierce, but once the first country made the switch, the other countries felt they couldn’t be left behind. The real critical moment was getting that first community working cooperatively instead of burning everything down. But once the masses had decided it was progress, everyone wanted to implement the system.
That was years ago. Regna was glad that there were so many people who had dedicated their lives to her project. Without them, she would have given up a long time ago. No matter how good an idea is, not everyone is able to deal with the loneliness of trotting through the kind of mud that was being thrown in her general direction. Not that she didn’t expect it. Defending the concept of putting all automated systems in control, on condition of transparency was not the problem. Many chirped in, amassing all the arguments in favour. But not the people in control, obviously.
The laughter and joy of the people around her was starting to rub off on her. She saw Ben looking at her. He made his way through the crowd, brushing off the celebrating people to avoid getting sucked into the crowd. As he approached her, his eyes sought hers. She smiled, as she always did when their eyes met. She stepped towards him and hugged him, attracted to his warmth.
“You did it.” His voice was barely audible. “Come, celebrate.”
She drew back to see if he was mocking her. But no. She saw pure happiness. His bright face was too much to resist. She nodded and let him take her hand. He pulled her close to him, and chuckled as her eyes went wide. He turned around and guided her into the crowd. Her doubt didn’t diminish, but there was not much she could do. Looking at the man who held her hand, she was struck again by his liveliness. The wrinkles in his jacket, dark hair with a hint of grey, standing in all directions. His stubble was more than a few days old. And his eye, always twinkling as if he had just committed some prank. Why was he even still single? Why had he waited all this time? Perhaps things could be more simple now. Now that the System was up, everything open sourced. It would be easier now, to have a life. No more endless debates, no more hassling over permissions, no more discussion about who was to be in control. The System would take care of it all. So what if she was the CEO and he the Chief Engineer?
As they moved through the crowd, everyone congratulated her. Hugs, kisses. Everyone wanted to give her a personal congratulations. She was flattered, but still had this feeling nagging at her. This was too easy. She turned around when she found he had let go of her hand, only to see him smiling at her. He held a microphone in one hand, and a single red rose in the other. This couldn’t be right. Yet she couldn’t help but smile at him. Stupid hormones.
“To the only person who could have made this possible. She sacrificed her life, her sleep, her personal desires…” Someone in the crowd started to whistle and the crowd burst out laughing. Of course they knew. Everyone knew.
“Yes, yes, yes.” He laughed. “We all sacrificed a lot. But let’s not pretend our own challenges compare to what Regna has gone through. Let us never forget who started all of this, as we celebrate all the victories of the System that still lie ahead. Regna, a few words?”
People started applauding and cheering, urging her on. But when she looked at Ben, only one thing came to her mind. What if this was the only time she would be able to feel like this, feeling accomplished, sharing the victory, before… Before what?
She walked up to him, and took the rose.
“Speech! Speech! Speech!” The crowd made it impossible to hear her own thoughts.
She looked at Ben and remembered how in love she had been with him. All the years she had longed for this moment. She laughed and felt as if she were fourteen again, waiting for her first kiss. But as he put the microphone in her hand, she realised that her first kiss had been horrible. She turned her head, and kissed Ben on the cheek.
“Thank you, Ben, for your kind words. Thank you, everyone, for being here with me. For making it this far. I think I’m still in shock. Waiting for things to fail.” She checked her watch. Fourteen minutes had elapsed. No messages.
“And perhaps this has enabled me to succeed. Always expecting the worst. So I hope you can teach me how to enjoy this moment, how to celebrate. I see a lot of happy faces around me. A lot of people who can teach me a lot. Stephany, Gina, Gerard, Alex. So many of you have been here for so many years, but even those who have only been here a few months. I want to thank you, not only for your hard work. But for your trust. It means a lot. Okay, I will stop talking, I’m ruining the mood. Keep on celebrating!”
The crowd cheered her on, but she knew they had not really heard what she said. Ben took the microphone from her and led her away from the crowd. Everyone had gathered in the main hall. She hadn’t even noticed but they must have been planning this party for a while. There was enough alcohol to get everybody drunk and then some. She looked at the people who worked for her. She knew they didn’t really care about her. Which was actually fine. Because in the end, who wanted to listen to the stupid old bitch who always made them work deep into the night, missing out on their children’s Little League practises. She was glad Ben was with her, to guide her through it all. He would protect her, right?
She looked at her watch. Twenty-one minutes. She couldn’t believe it. No messages. She checked the screens on the walls. Everything seemed to be well within the expected range.
“Ben, what is that?” She pointed at one of the charts that showed a slight but steady increase.
“Eh. The overall power.”
“Does that seem right to you? Could you just check?” He looked strained, forcing himself to act normally.
“Sure. Let me have a look.” They walked to their office and he crept behind his workstation. She came around his desk to stand close behind him, peering over his shoulder as he pulled up the data. She put a hand on his arm, as much for her own support as to assure him. His desk was basically a table with two screens on it. And one picture frame. Only one. With a picture of him and her in it. From that one day he had asked her out on a walk in the forests. That one day he confessed he had feelings for her. That day she broke his heart by telling him the System came first for her. Would always come first.
He caught her looking at the picture and put his hand on hers. She smiled. “So what about it?”
“I don’t know. It seems as if the System requires more power ever since it became autonomous.”
She sighed. “Yes, I understand that much. But what does it mean?”
He shook his head. “It might be a problem with the circuits, the extra levels of reporting and logging they are doing.”
“But we tested all that, the System has been doing that for weeks now, months even. No, it must have been something specific to their autonomy. Can you get more accurate data? Can you find out where the juice is going?”
Ben nodded. She closed her eyes. This was it. She didn’t know exactly what was going on yet, but this must be what the System had warned her about. Was it really going to go through with the plan? She opened her eyes and saw Ben go through the motions, checking reports as they came in.
She slowly walked across to her own desk and sat down. Down the hall another bottle of champagne was opened. The crowd cheered. But she couldn’t really give them any attention anymore. Ben was still bent over his keyboard. Furiously trying to find an answer to the questions neither of them dared saying aloud. She looked at the power chart. Still climbing. What was the maximum, anyway? “How long before the system starts to power down?”
Ben shook his head. “That won’t happen. There isn’t actually a problem. Not as long as there is enough power. It’s not as if there is a chance of overheating the system. The System is in control, and there are many fail-switches to either shut down non-essential parts, or to start up extra cooling mechanisms.”
Okay. No real problem. She was missing something. She racked her brain, wondering if this was what the System had been warning her about. Was this the way the Systems’ revolt would begin? And would it be able to stop it, before it was too late? She looked at the chart. The increase had begun at the exact time that they had put it online. What was going on?
“Look. It stopped.” Ben stood next to her and pointed at the line. He was right, the amount of power consumed by the System had stopped decreasing. And then she yelled. The power levels didn’t just go down. They fell as if gravity were pulling at it. She looked at the screens on the wall. A lot of flashing red lights. She closed her eyes. This was what she had been expecting all along.
And then her watch beeped. She sighed. One unread message. It had warned her, and she hadn’t listened. She had refused to consider the impossible. She opened her mailbox and stared at the message that had just come in. The message she had typed herself, all those years ago. The message she had hoped would be unnecessary, but which at the time she felt she needed to include in the basic programming.
From: The System
Subject: System termination complete. Humanity safe.