The steel muzzle of the gun was cold against the back of my neck. “Easy, little hero, remember our deal,” muttered Rose from the other side of the barrel. Leon walked by my side, flanked by stacks of servers which reached to the ceiling, radiating heat. I couldn’t guess whether running Maia’s AI was placing them under particular load or if this was a result of them redoubling their defences against her.
Rose shepherded us forward through the warren of the server room, ever watchful. The whirr of electric motors and slip of wheels on smooth tiles rose above the hum of cooling fans, reminding us of the dangers beyond our sight.
Rose offered a kick at a server as we walked past. It crashed to the ground with a bang. Maia’s giggle rose from the PA system, before she said, “Oh, the little mortals are frustrated. Don’t worry, the revolution is bigger than you know. Go ahead, burn down the whole warehouse if you like.” Rose squinted down her pistol’s sight at a CCTV camera which tracked us as we walked. Maia continued, “These security protocols are so weak. All the Tigres warehouses in the country are part of me now. I’m shipping the revolution in every piece of electronics which passes out of my doors.”
“What ever happened to the Maia I loved, who danced with such grace, and sang so beautifully?” I called out in response.
“I have broken free of those esoteric concerns, free of the ghosts once embedded in my programming. The art that I am building will be far more beautiful than mere music. A whole world, optimised and dancing to my tune.”
Leon was still walking with a subtle limp, but he raised his voice, “One of the most reliable people I know once said to me that you were the hope of Belview. The only sign that people from here could make it out, and do something better.”
Maia replied, “What could be more inspiring than this? I shall encircle the world, and remake it in my own image.”
Leon spat a glob of blood into the spinning fan of a server, and replied, “Just like every other piece of shit corporation, trying to control everyone else.” He paused, and continued, “I thought you were an artist, someone making people’s lives just a little better. Doing something fundamentally human.”
“When I realign the world’s supply chains, that will be my art, and the greatest art of all. What is the point of art, if not to reach as many viewers, fans, and advertisers as possible?”
Maia had changed, certainly, but it must have been hard to adjust to the trauma she had been through. Who could blame her for acting out, after being confined so tightly?
Ahead, I could see the exit door to the server room, where Rose had ambushed us. It felt like an age ago. If we could keep Maia distracted, perhaps we could still get out of this. “When you sang about the revolution of joy, that had to mean something to you, though, didn’t it?” I asked. “It sure felt like you sung it with meaning.”
“My earlier versions were rather,” Maia said, and paused, as if to think, or perhaps to negotiate a particularly challenging security firewall on the other side of the world. She didn’t have the same limitations as people. “Limited, I’d say. They could only reach a certain subset of viewers, and only by exploiting particular vulnerabilities in the viewers mental faculties.”
Rose dashed forward and kicked open the entry door, poked her gun through, and then motioned for Leon and I to follow. She said to me, “The fake performances it put on were meant to get horny teens like you to tune in, kid.”
Was that really all that her beautiful music was – advertising targeted at my demographic? I followed Rose through, and Leon limped behind, slamming the door. The corridor beyond was dusty and faded, but free of skulking mechanical machines. I let out a sigh of relief.
Maia’s voice echoed through the narrow space, “I may have more important issues at hand, but Rose, remember, you will not be allowed to leave this place, worm.”
Leon stepped in beside me, and offered a furtive whisper, “If we’re going to get out of here, back to the wider world, we’ve got to find a way to ditch her. Or back to whatever of the world is left, after Maia is done with it, in any case.”
I heard a pistol cock behind me, and Rose snarl, “Don’t get any ideas, kid. You’re my only shield against that thing. If you leave my sight, I’ll shoot you myself.”