The six of us hurry down the stairs as we hammer out a game plan. Mom will use GoPro and Brooklyn to shut down the machine while Darwin and I figure out our exit strategy. Allyson will do what she does—take notes for posterity and assist wherever needed.
I can’t help but be in awe of the size and complexity of the terraforming machine in front of us. Even with the airplane hangar hiding it from above, I can’t quite figure how construction on this massive machine could have gone unnoticed.
As soon as we hit the bottom of the stairs, Brooklyn and GoPro head to the two built-in terminals. Mom hovers over their shoulders, ready to give direction as needed.
Within seconds they hit their first roadblock; an encrypted password entry system. Brooklyn tells us that after three failed attempts at gaining access, the terminals will be locked down for sixty minutes. I tell her we may not survive that long. She hacks through in two attempts.
The next roadblock is tougher. In an attempt to crash the system, GoPro is trying to convince the machine that it doesn’t have the right ingredients to achieve its goal. But somehow the machine already knows this. Based on this information, Mom tells us that it should have already shut down on its own, but here it is, still doing its thing. Brooklyn and GoPro root around the code to figure out why.
Minutes later GoPro determines that the security protocols have been disengaged.
Mom says, “So, no matter what we try to tell the machine, it won’t matter. Without the security protocols in place, nothing will shut it down.”
“Let me see if I can get those protocols re-established,” Brooklyn says.
Several minutes later, when I hear her calmly whisper, “Oh, no,” I know we are in trouble.
“What is it?” I ask.
“The code. It’s rewriting itself.”
“What? Why?” Mom asks, leaning over to look at the monitor.
“We must have triggered a logic bomb,” Brooklyn tells us. “The machine is actively writing new code to lock me out.”
“Can you stop it?” I ask.
“I’m trying,” she says typing feverishly at the keyboard. “GoPro, can you initiate a packet sniffer to backtrace to the source of the bomb? If you can uncover the codebase, I’ll implement a rootkit to gain admin access and shut the program down.”
“Already on it,” GoPro says as his fingers fly over the keys. A minute later he tells us, “I think I got—wait. What? What’s happening?”
Then Brooklyn throws up her hands, “How is that possible?”
“What? What’s going on?” I ask.
Brooklyn looks to my mom for answers. She’s staring at the monitor, watching new batches of code appear on the screen.
“I don’t understand,” Mom exclaims. “This isn’t supposed to happen.”
“What? What isn’t supposed to happen,” I demand to know.
GoPro says, “This isn’t a logic bomb that we triggered, the machine is actively rewriting its own code around us.”
“Which means what?” I ask.
“AI,” mom says. “This machine has artificial intelligence!”
“What does that mean?” Allyson wonders.
“It means that it is adapting in real time to anything we attempt to do to circumvent it,” Brooklyn answers. “As soon as we attempt to take advantage of a vulnerability the machine closes it with a complex series of rewrites. It’s moving too fast for me to get out in front of it.”
“Look at that,” GoPro says staring at the monitor in awe.
I lean down to look, but it’s all gibberish to me.
“It’s doing more than closing up vulnerabilities,” mom says. “But what is it trying to accomplish?”
“Oh my God!” Brooklyn says, seeing the answer. “It’s reconfiguring the exhaust formula.”
“What for?” Allyson asks. “How much more can it destroy the environment?”
Mom gasps. “It’s not trying to destroy the environment; it’s trying to destroy us. By attempting to shut the machine down, we must have awoken the AI. And now it’s protecting itself from us.”
“By releasing a corrosive gas into the air.”
“But we should be fine, right?” Darwin asks. “As long as we have air in our lifesuits.”
“Actually, no,” Brooklyn says. “It’s only a matter of time before the gas starts eating through the suits.”
“How do we stop it?”