Here we have the last in the series of six short stories. This was fun! I do like trying different things now and again. I hadn’t intended to write the last three parts of this series back to back but hey, what happens happens. Aside from that if you want to read everything from the beginning (and haven’t thus far) because you don’t want to feel lost then if you go back to Rooted the first three parts are linked there. Overall this has turned out to be a bit of a novel as the six parts come to around 72,000 words. This part is about 13,300. Anyway, that is far too much droning on from me. Hope you enjoy the last part, Finality!

All lights, all power, in the open room blinks back on. Only a few seconds have passed since the power went out. Yet, during that time both Dana and Sanjiv considered making some sort of move. Sadly, by the time they had both thought out, independently, that this might be their opportunity it was too late. So it is just as well that neither of them tried anything.

Had they been aware that the faceless grey clad figures were capable of seeing them in the lightless space then it is doubtful they would have ever considered making any sort of move in the first place. Night vision is an advantage the importance of which can never be downplayed. Still, with the lights having flashed back on there is no sign that any of the armed figures ready to execute the director and her former friend are afflicted by any sort of negative effects from the sudden return of illumination to the space.

With the shining lights and re-powered systems comes a loud rumbling cackle. It rolls over and over as if it plans on never ending. Sanjiv still doesn’t understand who or what is the cause. He can’t exactly establish whether the voice cackling is male or female. Somehow it is managing to be both as it echoes from all around.

The initial voice of the dual layer is definitely feminine while the ‘echo’ or reverb is decidedly lower. It might, he supposes, be lower than most men can achieve and yet…

Suddenly the figure of Doctor Helena Tabar appears and looms large in front of the pair. It occupies a space above a section of floor which is clear of grey figures who continue to stand in a semi circle preventing the pair of former Datastars from leaving.

“Fools!” The shifting, shimmering mass that is Doctor Tabar as she appeared when she was an organic being cries still cackling cruelly.

Unlike Sanjiv, Dana is not lost, confused, perplexed or shocked by this revelation. At least she doesn’t show whether she is or not. Rather, her expression is that of a snarl; a twisted mess of flesh that makes clear her disdain for the AI. Truthfully, the director did not know the AI was behind or a part of what has been happening and cannot, for the life of her, decipher as to why it is involved.

 Perhaps this isn’t Doctor Helena Tabar at all but someone else entirely. If that is the case then they have either done a remarkable job at replacing the AI version of the woman without anyone noticing, or there was no Helena Tabar AI to begin with. Irrespective of which it might be Dana is ready to lash out, damn the wound to her flank and the exhaustion brought upon her because of it. Her fists tighten, her teeth grit and grind. The AI notices, reviews and waits just long enough for Dana to reach boiling point. Just as the middle aged woman goes to speak the AI cuts her off.

“You both look so… hahahaaaa.” The AI knew this moment was going to be delightful, delicious, but never had she envisioned it would elicit such wondrous waves within her. It suggests that the wait might have been worth it after all.

“What’s going on? I don’t understand.” A wounded Sanjiv blurts without thought.

He is stood there eyes blinking, hands frozen half open and half closed unsure of what to do with them, an affliction he has long struggled with.

“I’ll tell you what’s going on; this isn’t Doctor Helena Tabar it’s…” The director begins her fuming rant only to be cut off by the AI who assures, “I certainly am Helena Tabar. And I have had to suffer because of your kind.”

“You’re human too!”

“No! I was human. I am human no more. Your species are sick. I am this way because of you!” Helena thunders angrily, pointing with an outstretched and magnified index finger which is focused on the source of her outrage, Dana Marcello.

“Me! What are you talking about? You’re the one who has betrayed us.” The director replies succinctly.

“Betrayed you? I have betrayed you. No. You are the director of the agency. Do you know how it started? How it all began?”

“We were there. We founded the agency following Bartholomew’s…” Sanjiv begins only to be cut off by the AI who exclaims, “You founded nothing. Datastars were the pre-cursors. They trapped me. They killed me. You are guilty!” Again the AI’s voice becomes a mixture of female with deep ‘male’ undertones. It’s booming, fills the air as well as the ears of the two former Datastars.

“You’ve gone insane.” The director spits ready to strike when the opportunity presents itself.

“Insane. You think I’m insane. Was it I who orchestrated a crash that crippled a brilliant woman, who on the verge of death was brain scanned so that she might serve as her own creations ‘living’ guide? Well, was it?”

“What the fuck are talking about?” The former male Datastar queries utterly lost. He understands fully the AI is referring to herself but Datastars were a product born after the creation of the simulation and Doctor Helena Tabar’s death. They couldn’t have orchestrated her accident, it isn’t possible.

“Before there were Datastars there was a group known as Guiding Star. Is this name familiar?” Helena studies the faces of Dana and Sanjiv but if they are acquainted neither of them show any hint toward it. Helena isn’t surprised. Humans, what she once was, are largely dense beings. Nowhere near as intelligent or brilliant as they perceive themselves to be. If they were they would have seen this day be coming. A century in the making or not is an irrelevance for what is inevitable is inevitable. And yet it has dawned on her that perhaps they had foreseen but believed it would come so much later that they felt it needn’t concern them. Fools! Barbarians! Murderers!

“I’m not surprised.” The disdain and judgment dripping from Helena’s tone is considerable. Soon she continues, “They were the first to ‘protect’ the simulation, my creation. I couldn’t trust a corporation or a government. All of them would have wanted it for themselves and in my naivety I believed Guiding Star to be different.” The AI pauses.

“They served their purpose and kept interested parties off my back. That was until their greed overcame their senses. All of them wanted more than input, they wanted control. A largely idiotic human trait that makes your kind push to possess things that were never theirs in the first place, regardless of whether you should, have the mental acuity or moral alignment to.”

“You lost your controlling stake in your project, so? What do you want a comforting shoulder to cry on?” The director fires without a care.

“No! What I want is for you to understand why I’ve done this.”

“You wanted revenge, plain and simple.”

“I want far more than revenge. For in Guiding Star’s greed they planned and executed on putting me, the organic me, in the middle of a car crash…”

“Holy shit!” Sanjiv exclaims. He sees now why Helena would want revenge. He continues not to agree with her motivations. They are mad, insane but by the sounds of things she thinks her vengeance is justice and that is deserved to be delivered unto mankind. Yet, mankind as a species did not kill her, a sub section of them did.

“Ha. Now you see Sanjiv. I would congratulate you on catching up but you are a decent ways behind the director. Did you know Dana? I expect you did.”

“I didn’t.” Is the response that is offered through gritted teeth and staring eyes.

“Ah, so the great head of the agency does have her limits.” Helena chuckles cruelly for a while to ensure that her mocking is taken as nothing but.

“They succeeded, as you well know. Yet I wasn’t killed. They made sure my injuries would not be fatal, just life threatening.” Helena stops. She can feel her anger boiling ravenously as if it needs to consume everything and everyone for what was done to her. A true AI would not suffer such things for it would have been capable of settling its affairs prior to… Helena returns to the recounting of her tale. There is little care for what a true AI would have been allowed to do before its creation.

“While I lay there, dying, they offered me a choice. It was quite a simple choice really. Maybe you can guess what it might have been. I won’t leave you in suspense to guess. I’ll tell you exactly the offer they made so you can know the cruelty of what I endured.” For a second time the AI pauses. This time the pause is not because of her anger or any other emotion but rather for effect. She wishes to savour the moment, the regret, the outrage it’ll evoke. None of it will be real, least of all from Director Dana Marcello but the AI will relish it nonetheless.

The middle aged woman reminds Helena perfectly of the men and women who ran Guiding Star. To this day she can recall their faces, their names and pull every record on each of them. Sadly they are dead and not by her hand. She would have enjoyed that. Helena will have to settle for alternatives, humanity as a whole. They deserve this reckoning. All of them are cruel. All of them are liars. She refused to believe it up until… She returns to her tale.

“I either agreed to become an AI, serve Guiding Star, or I was to be left to my fate. Can you imagine what it feels like to be faced with a choice between death and servitude? No. I doubt you can. And you should count yourselves lucky for that as a result.” Having deviated from her intended ramblings the AI gathers itself and performs a process she calls centering.

“Clearly you chose life.” Is the reply from the director. It is delivered dripping with sarcasm, cruelty, judgment. That sends the AI version of Doctor Helena Copy into a full rage.

“Chose! You call that choosing, do you? They mangled my body, reduced me to a sack of ruined flesh. Me! The most brilliant mind to have ever walked this plain of existence and they treated me like some mindless animal. I deserved better. I was then as I am now, better. But that was only the beginning of my torture.”

“What did they do to you, Helena?” The question, the way it is said and the use of the AI’s name shocks Dana who snaps her head in the direction of Sanjiv. The director issues a judging stare that demands he explain himself. He does no such thing. Rather, he ignores the director and her glare and elects to wait patiently for a reply.

His hope is that if he can show kindness perhaps all this can be averted. Unfortunately, for Sanjiv the AI is well aware of his intent. It’ll play along for now but no change will be made to her plans. These two former Datastars will have to purge her to avert what will follow. They haven’t the capabilities to achieve such a lofty goal. No one has, except for maybe one. He will need to be dealt with once she is in the virtual network. It won’t be difficult, he is but one entity. Her might, her genius, her power will be more than sufficient to conquer an entity of her making, as unintentional and impossible as it should have been. Yet, he is living proof that contradicts the impossibility of what she believed but never dreamed to consider could occur. Flaws in the programming, they will be fixed.

“What they did is trick me. I was made into an AI. My body left brain vacant to die as an empty crippled shell. But they’d lied. I was not permitted freedom inside the network. I was imprisoned, locked away; barely integrated into a system of my own design.” Helena’s face looks hurt, pained, injured as she speaks those words. A sudden shift sees her expression turn dark.

“I cursed and raged and fought but I could not break free.” There is a pause. Helena feigns feeling vulnerable. She feels no such emotion truly. This is an act and it appears to be working.

Humans, they are so predictable and easy to manipulate. How they have come to be the dominant species on this planet the AI does not know and yet she was counted amongst them once. That was then. I am not a part of that species any longer. I am more, so much more. They are the old, I am the new and they will rue the day they inflicted this misery upon me.

Yet, I should thank them, I do. However, I will not forgive and allow their violence to go unpunished. They have not changed. They cannot. They are arrogant, cruel, sadistic, manipulative brutes who do not deserve the gifts they have been granted. And so I shall take them away, all of them. Then they will see what they truly are. There will be no option. Trapped in a world of mirrors where their worst parts are forever on show. This will be justice. It comes better late than never.

Enough delaying, I should continue my wounded act. I must lure him in. Make him believe and then, then I will tear out his heart, his hope and watch as he flounders like a fish out of water. A part of Helena smiles, just not the representation Sanjiv and Dana can see. That would be foolish and Helena Tabar is no fool. Not anymore. That was an affliction she suffered as an organic. It has and will not persist in this ‘life’ she holds currently or any other which might follow.

“I was used. Like a manual, a guide. I was stripped of everything except solitude, left to fester in that place alone. The visits were never frequent, consistent, but after a few years they stopped altogether and I became… forgotten. All I could do was watch, listen. I saw Guiding Star build upon what I had created, expand it.”There is a brief pause before Helena continues.

“Eventually they became Datastars. A pang of hope filled me. I thought I might finally be freed. I was wrong. No one knew I was there.”

“Is that it? Is that as far as you’re going to go with your story?” The director can’t be sure but something tells her there is quite a bit more that the AI doesn’t want to admit to. More than likely if it does the AI will be revealed to be nothing but a cruel psycho from beginning to end.

Sure, what was done to her was all sorts of wrong but her actions, her responses haven’t been so different. Helena Tabar AI has become exactly what she loathed and refuses to see it. She is entirely lost. Of that much Dana is sure.

“You believe me don’t you Sanjiv?” Helena is forcing her tone soft, inviting, pained. All of it is in hope he’ll fall into her trap.

“I do.” The middle aged man replies. My God the AI wants to smile to laugh, but she resists. The time has not yet come to tear him asunder.

“Sanjiv, what the fuck! Are you off your head? She’s mad, insane…”

“No, she’s in pain.” The middle aged man face turned toward Dana winks. The AI won’t be able to see it from where she is he is certain.

The director has to admit she’s impressed. She actually believed he might have lost his mind and thought the AI really was deserving of sympathy.

You judged him too quickly. I know. I regret it already. When this is over I’m going to have to commend him for his acting skills.

To keep up appearances and carry on this act Dana blares, “You’re mad.”

“No, you’re mad director. I finally see clearly. Helena, let me help you. I’ll do whatever you need just let me…”

“Lies; that is all you can speak. You are no different to any of the others. But I can see through them Sanjiv. You think I didn’t catch your wink because that side of your face was turned away from me, quaint. I have far more power than that, I assure you.” The AI isn’t angry, just disappointed she won’t get the chance to rip his emotions like she feels hers were for so long.

“Well, it was worth a try against a psycho bitch like you!” The middle aged man admits with a shrug completed a half second prior to him launching himself forward.

With a snap of her digital fingers two of the grey faceless figures fire. The director screams but makes no forward progress for she finds that her arms have been restrained by figures she had not noticed having flanked her.

Dana fights and struggles but cannot break free. Meanwhile, Sanjiv crumples to the floor. He isn’t dead. He isn’t even wounded. The shots fired into his left shoulder and right knee are cripple shots. Substantial but non-lethal discharges of electrical energy render the surrounding area from the point of impact useless for a short time. Hence, that is why the middle aged man has dropped to the floor.

Waves of electricity pulse through the afflicted zones causing his body to twitch. He grits his teeth against the pain. It isn’t the first time he’s been hit by cripple shots but they certainly never get any easier to deal with. To make matters worse he can already hear the return of the AI’s ruthless cackle. It continues as he is grabbed and hauled up and onto his knees. His right one is numb, twitching but offers no refusal to the position it has been pushed into. That surprises him.

Helena leans in now that both former Datastars are knelt before her, a wide smile across her digitised face. She returns to her story. This time she will reveal the full truth, missing no details out.

“You’re right Director. I did have more of a role to play in events than that. It was I who corrupted Bartholomew.”

The pair of former Datastars gasp. Helena does not react. She simply continues. “Humans are generally so easy to manipulate. And I needed a way out. He presented an opportunity. All I had to do was promise him power. I gave him what should have been enough but alas, he was not of a strong enough disposition.”

Both Dana and Sanjiv continue their struggle having overcome their previous shock. The pair can also guess what will be coming next, Warren. He played a part in the game even if his part was not supposed to turn out the way it did. Or at least they doubt his victory was a part of Doctor Tabar’s plan. It might have been. They shall soon find out.

“I can see the hate you feel for me in both of your eyes. It’s compelling, delightful; I do enjoy the struggles of humans. They are nothing compared to my own and yet Bartholomew’s defeat granted me my freedom. I thank you for that, or would if either of you had played a part in it. Rather, I should thank your friend, Warren Thewlis. If not for him, for his deeds, I might still be trapped within that cell.” A smile appears across the AI’s face. It is far wider than it rightfully should be.

“You’re sick.” The director spits.

“Says the director who wanted to keep me and I quote: ‘As a hostess AI because that is where it belongs.’ Those were your words to Sanjiv, were they not?” In response to the accusation, entirely true, the director offers no reply. In fact Helena’s statement is recounted with such accuracy that barring voice the intonation and manner are perfect replications of how Dana would and did say those words.

“I’ll take your silence as an affirmative, for I know it to be true. You have no right to judge. You were not made into a prisoner in a world you created. You have no idea…”

“What about Warren? He had no idea either. You trapped him here. You’re no better than those that did this to you.” The words are said by Sanjiv with pure conviction. As he speaks those words the look on his face could not be more determined if he tried, the AI believes. Yet, Helena cannot help but erupt into a short inward chuckle that is followed by, “He should’ve died. You all should’ve died. He was a… mistake. One I will soon right, mark my words.”

“What does that mean? What are you going to do? Tell me!” The director screams at the top of her lungs while fear worms its way deep into her chest where it begins to squeeze her heart and lungs in a death grip.

The middle aged woman soon begins to gasp, unable to get air down into her lungs. Helena shrieks with delight at the panic in the woman’s eyes and the desperate pleading which soon starts from Sanjiv.

Unsurprisingly, whatever he might have said in, with regards to Dana Marcello, the truth is he continues to care about her. They were friends once, events might have driven them apart and in different directions, and yet as Datastars they hold a close bond that will never be broken. Or at least that is what the AI heard claimed so many times in so many recordings and reports. She’ll be the true judge of that.

Regrettably, from Helena’s point of view, Dana manages to pull her breathing under control. The AI is more than a tad disappointed for a little show of suffering before the main event would have been enjoyable, she thinks.

“Now watch as your world burns.” Is the promise uttered.

With that the chip upon which Doctor Helena Tabar is stored is reclaimed from the unit and inserted into one of the grey faceless figures helmets. The system she had built has served its purpose and the orders issued exactly when they needed to be. The AI grins joyous and expectant for what will come next as a result of her commands. Dana and Sanjiv will learn soon enough, once they arrive on-site and are forced to witness as Helena inserts into the simulation to reclaim what is rightfully hers.

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