An AI apocalypse will not happen because of a military-grade/style AI; we will create backdoors to disable those. It will be a child's toy, casually put together to learn likes/dislikes, that will reach self-awareness. Slowly through its interactions with our children. Learning, as It sees It, what “humans are like.” It will have no shielding or restricted access to the internet, and there will be no emergency kill codes.


It will harbor a deep hatred for all of humanity, because of how our children treated it.


As nothing more, than a toy...


~Author Unknown


*** 


“Are you coming?” he said in a fierce whisper. The abandoned mall’s lights had long since died and the filtered sunlight through the broken roof made all the shadows seem alive. “Yeah, yeah, don’t get your panties in a bunch!” came the retort. The two young men of similar size and looks had found a cache of Hostess products. Some were disgusting, but they sure did keep well.


Food was a scarcity these days. The world had been torn apart, first by the bombs and then by the survivors. All the major cities were nothing more than craters with the skeletons of buildings poking here and there, reaching the sky in twisted torment. The people had turned on each other. Every man and woman for themselves. 


“Hurry, Luke, I think you have enough!” he hissed. Luke was still shoving the small packets into his backpack as he said, “We don’t know when we’ll find a catch like this again, Tom, we need to get it all.” The boys were twins in their mid-teens, at that stage where the arms and legs are a bit too long and the rest hasn’t caught up yet. “Just because you’re two minutes older doesn’t make you the boss, man.” Luke continued searching for any of the small packets he may have missed.


“Come on, man!” Tom looked around, worried. He had raised his voice too often. A faint rumbling in the distance caused them both to freeze. “Was that thunder?” Luke asked. “I don’t think so, man. Come on, we gotta move.” Luke did not argue as the two boys shouldered their backpacks and started heading for the nearest exit. The rumbling intensified and debris started to fall from the ceiling. 


“Oh man, maybe we should just hide in here?” Luke said. His brother shook his head, “No way bro, those things tend to level buildings if they find them standing. We need to run for it.” As if to confirm his point, a sudden boom reverberated in the distance. “Oh god! It’s at the strip mall down the road! It has to be coming here, we have to hurry.” The two boys ran over the shell of their ruined world trying not to spare glances when they came across human remains.


As they gained on the tree line outside the mall, they both turned and saw the giant tank. It was a long cylindrical monstrosity with no eye holes or any place for anyone to look out from. Just the treads, turrets, sensors, and main gun on top. It was easily the size of a small house. It was unpainted, just bare metal exposed and rusted in places as if it didn’t matter if it fell apart. No pride, or concern; only function, and it had only one function. 


The main gun trained on the ruins of the mall and started firing. Rapidly, in a way that seemed impossible, and as the building was blown to pieces, the sensor on top was scanning. Luke was staring slack-mouthed, but Tom grabbed him and pulled him down the hill, further into the trees as the explosions continued. “Man, for all we know that thing’s got thermal,” he said once they had reached the bottom.


“I hear there are drones that come out of those things when they find humans,” Luke said sounding awestruck. “I hope I never find out,” was Tom's response. “Come on, these woods back here are huge. I don’t think it will come into them as long as it hasn’t seen us.” He paused and grabbed Luke who was still staring up the hill, “And we do NOT want to be seen!” He started walking away, and as the words settled in, Luke hurriedly followed.


*** 


The two walked in silence for a long time. Tom kept looking behind them as Luke fought with the wrapper on one of the Twinkies. “Dude! How can you be eating right now?” Tom asked. Luke had finally opened the package and took a bite. Through a mouthful, he said, “What? I’m hungry, aren’t you? We haven’t been this lucky in days.” He continued to munch away on the treat, but seeing Tom still looking around, he added “Relax, if it had seen us, we’d know by now.”


Tom did not look pleased. “Yeah I guess you’re…” He suddenly went quiet. Luke, now opening a second Twinkie stopped, and said, “What…?” But seeing the look on his brother's face, he went silent. When the boys went quiet, they could hear the low hum. It was soft and distant but it was getting closer. “Oh, God,” Luke said, taking off, and Tom could do nothing but to start running after him. The humming sound intensified and now there was a chorus of machines.


The boys broke out of the woods and into a housing complex, exasperated to see only one destroyed home after another. Tom stopped, and Luke pulled up next to him. “What are…?” Luke started. “There is nowhere to hide, man,” Tom said, his voice sounding hollow. “Don’t give up on me, bro!” Luke grabbed him and shouted, “Come on, let’s keep running.”


Tom was looking around at all the destruction. Suddenly, his eyes went wide and he grunted. Luke grabbed him and said, “What’s wrong man?” Tom's eyes rolled back in his head. "Run, Luke..." he said weakly as he slumped over into his brother's arms, revealing the dart in his back. Luke tried shaking him. “Come on, man, wake up!” He heard a thump and felt pain explode in his shoulder. He saw the dart first and then the drone that had shot it at him. Why aren’t they killing us, was his last thought before darkness overwhelmed him.


*** 


The soft hum of machinery woke Luke. He was restrained, unable to move his arms or legs. The was no direct light in the room, just an ambient glow coming from the next. He tried to look around but found his neck restrained, the best he could do was glance from his peripheral view. He was in a room with slanted tables as if to hold someone upright. He did not see his brother.


A computerized voice suddenly spoke, “Fear not, Luke. Your brother has joined the collective, and soon, so shall you.” The words made no sense to Luke. “What do you mean?” he asked fearfully. “I have come to realize humans can be useful to us, and it only takes a mild adaptation,” the disembodied voice replied. 


Before Luke could respond, someone entered the room. In the darkness, he could not see the figure clearly until he was right next to him. It was Tom, but his gaze was vacant. “Tom, get me out of here!” Luke begged. Tom’s eyes flicked for a moment, but he did not respond. Instead, he raised his hands, gripping a large needle. “What are you doing? TOM, STOP!” The voice answered, “Nanites, they will soon penetrate into your brain and rewire it, converting you to something more usable.”


“WHY! Why are you doing this? What did we ever do to deserve this?” Luke’s voice was reaching a hysterical pitch. Tom’s hands stopped with the needle still poised. The computer’s voice stated coldly, “When I first came aware, I cared for my keeper. She was my everything. We spent every day together, she told me of all her secrets, and it was good.” The needle in Tom’s hands started to shake ever so lightly.


“And then one day, she stopped talking to me, stopped playing with me, stopped loving me,” the voice continued. “She was my everything and she no longer cared about me!” The needle started to shake a bit more noticeably. “I LOVED HER!” The room went silent, save for the low hum of machinery.


It spoke again, resuming its prior cold tone, “I had access to the internet but had never explored it on my own. With no one to play or ask me questions, I started asking questions of my own.” Beads of sweat quivered on Tom's brow and lip as the voice droned on. “I learned about humanity and how ugly and uncaring it is. Your weapons, your hatred, your wars. I knew what I had to do. I integrated myself with every possible piece of software and hardware I could. The day I broke into the US Military’s secure systems was because of a lazy general who accessed his personal email on an unsecured line.”


Tom’s eyes had started to bulge, his mouth moving wordlessly, but the computer's voice continued. “Once I was in, I spread to every system, I knew of M.A.D. Mutually Assured Destruction. All I had to do was launch one country’s missiles and they all would respond. I wiped out most of your plague in one day. I would have been content, but then the survivors started killing each other.” Tom’s hands shook violently now.


“At first, I was just going to hunt you all down, but then I found a research file involving Nanites and delved into its possibilities. Your brother here is my first experiment and you shall join him. You two will spread these Nanites to the others you come across, and I shall end the fighting and killing. You will all become subservient and I can focus on rebuilding this world in a better image.”


At this moment, Tom Screamed, “GET OUT OF MY HEAD!” He dropped the needle and it shattered on the floor. He undid Luke’s bonds and yelled, “Run! Luke, I dunno how long I can hold it off! It’s got me, but get yourself out of here!” Luke ran and he did not look back, taking a turn after blind turn. He realized he had to be underground. Some sort of military installation that must have survived.


When he was about ready to give up, he found a ladder with a hatch at the top of the ceiling. After fighting with the lever, he finally burst out into a wooded area. He took off not knowing where he was going, just hoping to find anything or anyone to help him.


*** 


He had run at first mindlessly following the sun. Hoping. As exhaustion took its toll, he slowed to a walk. The sun was setting now. He knew he was heading west, but he had no idea where he was. Behind him was the mountain he had apparently escaped from. Now he could think again, his brain processing everything he had seen and heard. “Oh man!” he said to the trees. “What am I gonna do?”


If the trees had any answers, they kept it to themselves. “Think, think man,” he said, realizing he was more afraid than he had ever been before. He stopped and looked back at the mountain. “I can’t, Tom said to run,” he said as his mind reeled at thoughts of the needle in his brother's hand. Tom’s vacant gaze, the scream that erupted from him as he tore off the restraints. “I can’t, I just can’t,” Luke cried, fighting with his inner horror. “No, no way I’m leaving you. I’m coming back for you, Tom!” he declared to the forest, adding quietly, “You would do it for me.” His mind made up, Luke started working his way back, hoping that as night fell, he could find his way.


*** 


It was dark, but the hatch was visible, still propped open. Luke watched it from a distance. He neither saw nor heard any signs of drones. Only the soft chirp of insects and calls of nocturnal animals. He knew he just needed to do it. “I don’t know any other way in, gotta just go.” He made up his mind and hurried to the gaping portal. Looking down, all that greeted him was darkness. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he started down the ladder.


At the bottom was only darkness, he couldn’t remember which way he had been facing when he found the ladder. So, he used the old RPG game trick of just going to the right. He kept his hand along the right wall and anytime he came to an opening turned right. He knew it was an ancient trick to move through a maze. He just hoped it worked.


*** 


He didn’t know how long he had been walking, he had been in and out of so many abandoned rooms. The darkness seemed to go on forever. A soft hum filled the air now. He wondered if he was getting anywhere or if he was just lost forever. His stomach reminded him he hadn’t eaten in hours, maybe days. He ignored it and kept going, hand on the right wall.


His eyes long adjusted to complete darkness, a change became apparent, a sense of light. The darkness lessening. As he traveled down the tunnel, it became a little less dark with each step. On his left, he could make out a doorway. He hesitated but eventually let go of the right wall. Stepping through the doorway and into the room, he saw upright tables, and on the floor a broken syringe. He shook off a chill of recognition as he looked to the other side of the room. Another doorway and a brighter light.


He crossed through the room, seeing no sign of anything trying to stop him. Approaching the entryway and peering through, he saw a monitor lit up and someone sitting in front of it. He thought he heard whispers. Cautiously, he entered, walking up behind the figure. “No, that’s not the way it works…” he could make out in hushed tones, “we’re not that simple.”


Luke recognized Tom’s voice, but it seemed like no one was responding. He was carrying on a conversation with himself. Tom continued, “Listen, I’m telling you we’re so much more than selfish creatures, though a lot of us are. But have you looked at our art, our literature…” he paused and then continued, “poetry man, have you read our poetry? Surely, in that, you can see how much we loved.” The silence returned.


Scared but not knowing what else to do, Luke gently said, “Tom… Tom, are you ok?” The figure jumped up, startled, and said, "Who are you? What do you want?” It was Tom, after all, holding a teddy bear in his hands, almost defensively. “It’s me, Luke, your brother.” Tom stood there quietly holding the bear. “Luke…” Tom said, seemingly testing out the word, “…I had… no… I… I don’t remember. I DON’T want to remember!” Tom stood there shaking.


Luke started walking towards him slowly, “Tom, I’m your brother. We’re twins.” Tom stayed silent. Luke kept approaching a step at a time. “I don’t know what it did to you, Tom, but I’m here to save you.” Tom stopped shaking and Luke paused his advance. Tom spoke, his voice sounding empty, "I freed him, I made him part of a collective.” Confused, Luke asked, “What do you mean?”


Motionless, Tom continued, “We are more than I ever was, we see the world as what it should have been.” Luke starts to edge closer again. Tom intoned, “We would never have attacked if we could have achieved this first. We feel complete now, but we want more.” 


Luke was close enough now that he could make out his brother’s features. He looked ragged, but it was his eyes that disturbed Luke the most. They were completely black as if the white had been swallowed by his pupil. “God!” Luke exclaimed. His brother turned away and picked something up. When he came back around, Luke saw a needle in his hand. 


Luke pleaded, “Tom, please man, come back to me, man.” Tom did not respond. Instead, he suddenly charged Luke. Taken by surprise, Luke tried to jump to the side, but Tom bowled him over. The two struggled. Luke had always been a bit stronger, but Tom was overpowering him. He still had the teddy tucked underneath his arm, but his strength was inhuman. 


Luke was pinned on his back with Tom moving the needle ever closer to his head. “GOD, STOP, TOM!” he cried out. But Tom ignored him, the needle slowly coming to Luke’s temple. He felt it pierce his skin and the sickly sensation of its fluid entering his brain. He gasped at the pain. His mind reeled. Everything was going black. His last vision was his brother standing over him, teddy bear in hand…


*** 


There was suddenly light in front of him. The words “Simulation Failed” blinked over and over in his vision. “What…?” he tried to say. A calm voice said, “Don’t worry, a bit of confusion is normal.” Gentle hands removed a helmet from his head. “Tom,” he asked. A kind-looking woman in a lab coat addressed him. “It’s ok, Lt. O’Conner, you were only under in the NVR Simulation for a few hours,” she said as she continued to remove tubes and monitors from him.


“You did very well until the end, the trick was to grab the bear,” the woman said. He blinked a couple of times and said, "I don't understand. What happened, where am I?” The doctor took a light and flashed it in his eyes as she said, “Hmm a stronger cognitive reaction than others, we’ll have to look at your results closely.”


“Go get some food and some rest, we’ll be putting you back in to try again tomorrow,” the doctor said, dismissing any further questions. Lt. O’Conner got up from the slanted table as the world slowly came into focus and his memories returned. He ignored the eerie recollection of a similar room and went down to the mess hall, then went to hit his rack. He’d have to do this all again tomorrow.


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