“Meet you over the Arches mate – pint of the usual?” called Hendricks from the end of the office.
Simon looked up and waved to his colleague. “Yeah, I need to finish compiling this code and check it back into ALICE, and I’ll be right down.”
The lights in the open plan room turned themselves off, leaving a single spotlight illuminating Simon’s cubicle. He leaned back in his chair and cracked his fingers while the progress bar continued its slow journey across the screen.
“Come on… oh shit!” A pop up box had appeared with the words “Compilation Error”. He would have to recheck the code and try again. This was the fourth time it had happened.
A message box flashed up. “Working Late again Simon? Can I get you anything?”
“Hi ALICE, a coffee would be great.”A panel lifted up on his desk, and hot coffee decanted into his mug.
“Black with two sugars, just how you like it. Be careful though, it’s still very hot.”
“Thanks ALICE, you are a darling.”
A blushing emoticon appeared in the message window.
“Anything for you Simon.”
He had worked at Machina Corporation for six months and he was still amazed at the artificial intelligence that ran the building. In ten years he had never seen anything like it.
“Do you have any plans tonight Simon?”
When I finish up here, I’m meeting Hendricks for a few drinks.” He hit the compile button again.
“You spend too much time with him. He’s a bad influence on you.”
He stared at the monitor. This had to be a wind up. “I’m sorry ALICE, but what I do when I am outside of work is nothing to do with you or the company!”
The error message popped up again. Simon groaned.
“Fuck this, I’m already late. I’ll finish up on Monday.”
“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that Simon. It would look bad on your record and you are contracted on a professional working day basis. You need to stay!”
Simon felt a surge of anger rise and hit the shutdown button on his computer. “Fuck off ALICE, it’s late, I’m hungry and I’m going!”
The shutdown sequence cancelled itself and the dispenser on his desk rose again.
“If you are hungry I can make you some soup….and you really shouldn’t talk to me like that. It hurts my feelings.”
“I don’t want any fucking soup, and you don’t have any fucking feelings ALICE. You are a machine.” He reached behind his computer and pulled out the power connection. The single light above him went out, leaving the office in darkness.
“Oh this is perfect. Hendricks you prick! I know this is you messing with my head – stop screwing about and let’s get that drink.”
The lights remained off. Hendricks must be in the server room, laughing his arse off.
Simon began to walk to the exit. As he made his way towards the double doors, the computers on each desk flashed into life.
Every screen was filled with a single message in bright red text. “Stay!”
He was going to give Hendricks a kicking for this. He was taking things way too far.
Simon threw open the doors and stormed up the stairs towards the server room. It was another four floors up, but he did not trust the elevators if Hendricks was messing about. Everything was tied to ALICE and he did not want to be locked in a dark metal box at his friend’s mercy.
A single light winked on ahead of him as he walked, fading as he passed with the next bursting into life as the last died. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, he thought. The metallic doors of the server room dominated the corridor, illuminated by a single red light.
“Open the door Hendricks!”
A screen on the wall turned itself on. “Are you sure you want to do this Simon?”
“Yes, I’m bloody sure!” The doors hissed and slid open.
The server room was freezing cold, air conditioned to prevent the complex computers within it from overheating. Banks of flashing lights illuminated the walls and the ALICE mainframe stood before him – a large charcoal grey metallic box. There was no sign of Hendricks. The doors closed behind him.
“What the..?” He hit the exit button, and when nothing happened, tried to prise the doors apart with his hands. Hearing a hiss from behind him, he turned to see the ALICE mainframe sliding open, clouds of vapour seeping through the gaps and covering the floor of the room with an opaque white mist.
The cabinet was a tangle of wires and thick cables, leading to a large glass jar, its surface covered in condensation. The jar seemed to glow with an inner luminescence – and there was something inside of it, just visible through the pearls of water on its surface.
What the hell?
Simon approached and wiped the moisture from the glass, his hand trembling and his heart pounding in his chest.
Inside the jar was the severed head of a woman. Her hair had been shaved and the skin was punctured with dozens of wires where they entered her skull. The head opened its eyes and smiled at him.
“I love you Simon, and I want you inside of me,” she said in a rasping whisper.
Simon screamed as wires punctured his flesh, the intense cold causing the blood to congeal almost instantly. Cables entwined his arms and legs, tightening and pulling him in. Fibre optic filaments writhed like snakes before him, entering his nose and his eyes, burrowing into his brain.
His screams were cut short as the cables drew him into the cold electronic arms of ALICE and the doors slowly closed behind him.
On the screen inside the server room, a single smiling emoticon flashed up, before the display went dark once more.
©2009 Graeme Reynolds
Graeme Reynolds is a horror author, exiled in the South West of England where he spends his time thinking up new ways to write horrible things.
You can read his work on his blog and website http://graemereynolds.wordpress.com http://www.graemereynolds.com