“I’ll be honest; I don’t have the damndest idea what I’m looking at here.” Titan didn’t particularly feel ashamed admitting that fact; both because he knew no one would be looking to him for technical expertise and because he had a solid hunch that he wasn’t the only baffled one in the group.
Getting to Gale had been relatively painless, Dispatch’s guesses were largely correct and Titan only had to carefully punch through one wall in order to keep he and Deadlift on the right path. Once they arrived, however, both strongmen immediately realized just how out of their depth they really were. The contraption before them was massive, so tall it went halfway up the twenty foot wall of this odd cavern, a mishmash of various electronics, lights, and devices that seemed to come from a half-dozen different technological periods. In the center was a modest sized terminal and a dark screen that was directly adjacent to a large metal sphere with wires running all over the rest of the set-up. It would have been the most striking point of the area in the first place, even without the corpse sitting in the chair.
“This is just a guess, mind you, but I’m going to say he’s been dead for at least months, probably years,” Aether announced. While Jeremiah was combing the wall of electronics, asking questions and getting unheard replies from the rest of his team, Aether had taken it upon herself to inspect the corpse of a person hunched over in the chair. No one asked why she felt familiar enough with decomposing remains to inspect them, though most just chose to assume she had some medical background and leave it at that.
“No immediate wounds that I can see, which points toward either natural causes, an internal attack like poison, or another Super. This place doesn’t have any signs of a struggle, but with how much work has been done that doesn’t tell us anything for sure. We’ll need an autopsy to get solid information, but based on pure speculation, my guess would be that this guy sat down to do some work and then fell over dead midway through it. Could be the ticker, or the noggin, or any other number of things, but something gave out on him.”
“You can tell that’s a guy?” Deadlift asked, the parts of his face that were visible under the mask had paled noticeably as Aether looked over the corpse.
“Geez, it’s like none of you bothered to take a biology class. Yeah, I can tell it’s a guy. You want me to go into how?” Aether replied.
Deadlift shook his head adamantly to the negative, and Aether didn’t push the issue, which Titan appreciated. There was already so little of his costume left, the last thing he wanted was to get the remainder sprayed with vomit if Deadlift lost his stomach. Fortunately, the line of discussion quickly fell through as Jeremiah clapped his hands from over by the console.
“Alright people, based on what my team can tell me through the comms, though we absolutely need to have a tech Super come check this out, all accounts point to us having found the heart of the operation. This is the thing that’s sending the signals, and most likely remotely handling all the mining and robot construction.”
“Then let’s tear it apart.” Gale summoned the beginnings of a tornado so quickly that the end of her sentence was muffled. Jeremiah repositioned himself quickly between the terminal and Gale, a move Titan would have deemed brave if they didn’t all know Jeremiah could heal from whatever wounds she inflicted.
“Yes, yes we could do that. Or, we could just work on disconnecting it from all the remote operations until someone with tech based abilities can come study it,” Jeremiah suggested. “As horrible as the robot attacks were, this still represents a marvel of technology. Look at the things it’s been creating, adapting, and improving, all without human interference. Hell, not half an hour ago it made a talking robot designed specifically to neutralize Titan, based on the battles we just had today. That is some astounding work, even more so now that we know there was no human behind the wheel.”
“All the better reason to destroy it now, before it builds a threat we can’t handle.” Gale hadn’t dismissed her wind, a fact that escaped none of their attention. “Smart or not, this thing has been trying to wipe out us, and Brewster as a whole, for months.”
Titan was moving before he’d even realized it, Gale’s words stirring the memory of Hexcellent’s theory. The truth of the matter was, he agreed with Gale. Maybe this thing was a technological marvel unlike anything the world had ever seen, but it was also dangerous. He’d been forced to bring down fellow humans who’d managed far less damage; a machine didn’t get a pass for the carnage in its wake. Unless… it didn’t know any better.
Before anyone could object, which they certainly would have, Titan moved the corpse away from the terminal, leaned over the ergonomic keyboard, and punched the space bar. For a long moment, nothing happened. Then, slowly, the dark screen began to flicker to life. At first, Titan didn’t know what he was looking at, he’d never had much interest in the digital realm. Bit by bit though, he puzzled together what he was seeing, and as it all clicked he shook his head in disbelief.
“I’ll be damned. Hexcellent was right.” Looking over his shoulder, he motioned for the others to come see the screen for themselves. “It’s a game. A timed strategy or whatever. The map looks like Brewster, too. I think our dead programmer was playing it when he died, maybe trying to train the computer to do exactly what it did. Probably part one in a nefarious scheme that never got to have the rest of it hatched.”
The rest of the group approached, taking in the display for themselves. It was all there, measured in bars and numbers that meant nothing to Titan, but some things were unmistakable. The map of Brewster, the six locations where the mechs had been deployed, even the little dots tracking the remaining Heroes that were helping secure damaged areas.
“Weird as this is, and I am definitely not saying it isn’t strange, I don’t see how it changes things,” Gale told them. “This computer is still bent on wiping out our town. I say we carve it up now before it has a chance.”
“Gale, with all respect, do you have any idea what we’re looking at here?” Jeremiah asked. “This thing created its own troops, researched classified technology and stole it to improve them, adapted it’s designs and strategies based on how we reacted… it learned. I’m not the guy to say if something is or isn’t artificial intelligence, but this has got to be the closest we’ve ever come as a species to creating it. You’re talking about destroying one of the most incredible scientific achievements in history because some asshole left his game running.”
“We’ve seen what it can do on accident. You really want to give someone the chance to use this thing on purpose?” Gale countered. “It’s too strong, too dangerous. We have to destroy it now.”
“You know, that’s what a lot of humans said about Supers when they first learned about us.” Aether’s voice was quiet, yet strong enough to carry through the whole cavern. “Something having the potential to be dangerous isn’t a good reason to kill it.”
“It’s not alive,” Gale shot back.
“Are you sure? I mean, really sure? I heard the robot Titan fought, and it sounded pretty aware of what was going on. Misinformed, yes, but aware,” Deadlift told her. “I’m not saying you’re wrong. In fact, I’m on your side, Gale. This thing nearly murdered me and my team with its robots, and it wrecked my town. It deserves to be killed. I’m just making sure we all acknowledge that that’s what we’re talking about. Killing.”
“Machines aren’t alive.” Gale didn’t sound as sure as she had moments prior, but she still refused to back down from her point.
“Two in favor of wrecking it here and now, two against,” Jeremiah summarized. “Titan, it looks like you’re the deciding vote.”
Slowly, Titan walked from the terminal over to the dense metal sphere. Even if he knew almost nothing about high-tech electronics, he’d set up enough lights and media centers in his day to understand that the device all the wires ran to was the most important part. It was the heart, or maybe the brain. Regardless, he was pretty sure that if he smashed it to pieces, that would be the end of their problems. Titan raised his hand over the device, only a few inches from the dark polished surface. It wouldn’t take much, one good blow and it would all be over.
“I think,” Titan said, slowly lowering his arm until his fingers rested against the smooth metal. “That everyone deserves a second chance. Potential artificial life included.”