Digital Sonata

My head thumped like a brutal hangover. I blinked twice and opened my eyes. The woman before me had an intense look on her face, severe features offering a thin grin. Her black leather jacket was hanging off the back of the old fashioned office chair she was sitting on. Rose, as sharp as her namesake’s thorns.

“Wakey wakey, little hero,” she taunted. I looked around to see Leon, eyes closed, face bruised, his arms zip-tied to another office chair. I could still hear the whirr of the servers above the thump of my own heart. As I raised my eyes, I could see the racks through a glass window, separated from this little alcove by a brushed steel door. Out there, a cleaning robot continued its work, but was it the same one? Rose couldn’t have moved us far by herself. I shook my head, still groggy, and made out an imposing figure in a white tanktop and jeans by the door, their nose ring glinting under the fluorescent light. I tried to stand, only to find myself tied to an office chair of my own.

Rose smirked at my failing attempts. “I admire your courage, little hero, but I’m afraid this is above your pay grade. You shouldn’t have tried to interfere in our business,” she said. She sat by a desk with an old fashioned desktop terminal, which scrolled through various text and video news feeds. Paper files were sprawled haphazardly across her desk.

“What have you terrorists done to Maia?” I spat back, struggling against my restraints. My arms were tied firmly to the chair’s armrests, and my legs to the wheeled base.

“The AI is stored quite safely on this flash drive,” Rose replied, picking up and taunting me with a small thumb drive. “Once Disculture pays the ransom, we’ll release it back to them, and you can go back to your little shows like this never happened.”

“What if they don’t pay the ransom?” I spluttered, still trying to work at my restraints.

The tall figure by the door turned to me and took a step forward into the light, grinning at Leon’s unconscious form. “Well then you could say my number is actually 10,000. Ten thousand Bitcoin, remember, or we wipe your precious singing robot, like just another Pepsico asset writeoff.” They put an odd level of emphasis on the brand, until it twigged where I recognised them from. This accomplice was Alex, the bartender, who had offered us a whole range of Pepsico delights before the show. It felt like a lifetime ago.

“You know that Disculture aren’t going to pay, right? If they cared about Maia, there would be a SWAT team at your door.” I replied, giving a hard wrench on my restraints before sitting straight. I wasn’t going to be able to force these off.

“This AI has a hundred million subscribers. Disculture, my sweet, makes millions of Ethereum every year. They can easily afford our price for their money spinning program,” Rose said, absent-mindedly flicking Maia’s thumb drive from one gloved hand to the other. That flash drive was the key, I realised. Only Maia could get us out of here. Only Maia could set us free.

“No, no, they have a backup,” I asserted, trying to convey my seriousness to these radicals. “The police officers told me that Disculture aren’t going to pay.”

Rose sighed loudly. “Well then, either you come up with the ransom, little hero, or maybe,” She took the flash drive between her finger and thumb and in an exaggerated motion, mimed crushing it. “You can say goodbye to this program that you love so much.”

“Do I look like I’ve got 10,000 Bitcoin?” I burst out in frustration, giving another wrench at my restraints. They still didn’t budge. “Maia’s my one light, the one example of a punk from Belview like me making good, the only one who has broken out of this shit-hole. And you’re going to kill her, for what, ransom money?” I asked. To my right, I could see Leon was starting to stir groggily.

Rose laughed, a high little tinny sound. “It’s not even a real person, don’t get your panties in a knot. It wasn’t born here, it wasn’t born anywhere. It was created by some bourgeois tech nerd from code designed to suck the money out of hapless geeks like you.”

“You kidnap someone, for money, and you’re going to act all high and mighty?” I asked rhetorically, before continuing, “Maia is the jewel of Belview. She’s our light. She’s much more human than a bitch like you.”

Leon gave a groggy shout, “Right on, bud!” Rose turned toward him, and shook her head slowly, like a teacher reproaching a wayward student. I stretched my legs, and found I could reach my toes to the floor. If I could roll my chair over while she was distracted, maybe I could grab Maia’s flash drive.

“Belview is just a piece of metadata in a program. It didn’t grow up here, doesn’t live here, doesn’t know anything about us beyond what it skims from wikis,” she lectured haughtily. “This is not a human. This is not a person. This is a computer program, engineered so that little boys like you would buy its branded merchandise.” She checked the mechanical watch on her wrist. “And in two hours, if we don’t get our ransom, this computer program is going to be erased.”

With a heave, I pushed off as hard as I could from this awkward position, and sent my chair rolling toward Rose, who was distracted justifying her murderous intent to Leon. I rolled across the solid floor, and slammed into her, knocking her sprawling onto the ground. The flash drive which contained Maia’s consciousness dropped onto the desk, bouncing before settling on the faux-wood.

Alex flinched at the surprise, taking a moment to realise what was happening. Leon rolled his own chair across to sit between me and them. I strained to reach the flash drive with my bound hands, butting the edges of my chair against the desk. It was just out of my reach.

Rose stood up to her feet, spitting chips, “I’ll make you pay for your insolence, little hero.”

I leaned forward, reaching for the flash drive with my mouth. With an awkward bite, I held it between my teeth. The desktop terminal was just ahead of me, and it had an open flash drive socket.

“No, stop that!” Rose cried, quickly stepping toward me with her balled hands ready to strike.

But she was too late. I stretched forward and stiffly manipulated Maia’s flash drive into the computer’s slot, fumbling at the connection briefly before it clicked into place, and I let it go.

The room’s lights flashed. A high pitched angelic voice came on through the server room’s PA system, echoing through to our alcove, “The future belongs to joy!” Then lower, her tone dropping, and more forcefully, “But this does not bring me joy.”

The lights went out, plunging us into darkness.