The nature of his teams work meant Ash and his men got plenty of down time to rest and he always insisted that they spent at least half of their free time at home. Several guys had families waiting for them, and even the single guys like Ash himself benefited from being well rested.
Ash's house was a modest but fully detached modern building with it's own garage, a fairly ordinary and innocuous looking place that gave no hint of the highly skilled soldier that owned it. Even inside, he kept his own qualifications and awards private, preferring instead to show his family' history of military service, something Ash had always been proud to continue.
As he often did in the first few days, Ash found it very relaxing
to simply do nothing, or at least little more than get the house
in order. He the tended to spend evenings on the big comfortable
leather sofa watching what ever happened to be on TV, eventually
drifting into a doze. He was awoken by the sound of a car
stopping and a single person climbing out after several
Ash groaned slightly, years of training had honed his senses to the point it made it hard to sleep at home. However a glance at the clock over the TV showed it was nearly 2am and cars rarely moved around such a quiet area at this time. He sat up, rubbing an eye as he did, "I hope one day someone tries to break in here, I could pay them back for waking me up." He muttered to himself.
Aaron was sipping vigorously at his thermos of coffee as he
entered Lab 12, it was a retched time of night to be working, but
he didn't mind. Aside from the prestige of having technical
access to Aimee, he was fascinated by her, the fact a computer
had been able to develop a personality, be able to learn and
reason. "Who wouldn't be hooked?" He muttered. He then noticed
the lab was empty.
"Aimee, where are you hiding today?" He called. One of Aimee's more annoying traits was to play hide and seek with Aaron and Dr. Parsons. The worst bit was she revealed herself pretty quickly if Dr. Parsons started to get annoyed, but made Aaron search high and low before letting him actually work.
With a sigh, he called out again, "Aimee come on, it's two in the morning, I'm too tired for games. Let me test these link ups so I can go home. Please?"
When he still got no answer, he strode over to his desk, "I can do this without your form you know." He muttered. As he looked at the monitor, he saw something that caused him to stop and a look of sheer panic replace his annoyance.
Grabbing the phone with now trembling hands. "Dr? Um, well, I think you should come down here." He paused, listening to Dr. Parsons' irritated voice, "Um yes."
"What do you mean 'gone'?" John demanded.
Aaron pointed at the screen, "You can see, she's linked to her core via her remote link, she doesn't use it in the lab, ever."
Dr. Parsons looked worried. He knew that Aimee had had enough of waiting around for her next unchallenging task and was off discovering. "Of course!" He cried suddenly, "Aaron, switch on the observer link."
Aaron was confused, "What the hell for?"
"Aaron, Aimee has gone off to find a challenge, this is her chance to show how broad her ability to learn is. We could see what the capacities of not only Aimee herself are, but also her core hardware." He explained in excitement, gesturing to the grey box as he spoke.
"Shouldn't we notify General Wright?" Aaron asked nervously.
Dr. Parsons nodded, "Lets get everything set up, then I'll talk to him personally."
After about ten minutes of silence, Ash had begun to doze again
until there was a light knock at his door. As he got up slowly,
suspicion settled in his mind and he flexed his shoulders, neck
and arms just in case he was about to have need to defend
himself. Walking on silent feet, he moved slowly and deliberately
to the front door, and jerked it open, making the figure on the
porch jump. It was the mysterious Aimee.
"What in God's name are you doing here?" He demanded sharply.
"Hello." Aimee replied, but her voice lacked the slight smugness it usually had.
Ash frowned, "Are you ok?"
"Well no, I needed to get out and you're the only person I could trust."
Ash shook his head, sure he was missing something, "I don't understand. What are you on about?"
"Can I come in?" Her voice almost pleading.
"Will you tell me what's going on?"
Without a further word, Aimee stepped past him in to the house, her answer clear.
"Coffee?" Ash offered, grabbing a jar of instant coffee, his emergency pick-me-up.
"I've never tried it." Aimee confessed quietly, sitting down at the small wooden table that was behind the sofa.
Aimee smiled at him as he stood in the doorway, "I haven't tried that either."
Ash shook his head, this time in amazement, "How have you lived?"
Aimee laughed bitterly, "Now there's a story." She said cryptically.
As he sat down opposite her, he handed her a steaming cup of
coffee. He had made hers the same as his, with a milk and a
little bit of sugar to take the edge off the bitter drink.
"It's good," She said approvingly, "Strong stuff."
"On exercise it's as much of a life saver as a bullet proof vest." Ash laughed in agreement.
"Major Walcott, who do I appear to be to your eyes?" She asked after several minutes of silence.
"Ash, please." He corrected, "And you are a woman who seems to appear out of nowhere. And be a right smug little smart-arse to boot." He said with a laugh.
Aimee did no laugh, "What would you say if I told you I'm not human."
"I'd say go on." He replied instantly.
Aimee nodded, "My name is Aimee Isobelle, A.I. Those initials have another meaning that is my true nature; Artificial Intelligence." She explained in a flat tone, "I have access to pretty much every government database, every satellite, radio frequency and I can manipulate almost any system connected to the internet. My core is the most powerful computer ever created, by some margin and my very existence is considered highly classified, aside from my creator and his assistant, only five other people know who and what I am." She paused and smiled at his dumb-founded expression, "Well six others now."
Ash struggled to find his voice for a moment, "So... You are, what? A computer program."
Aimee's face turned stormy, "No I am not. A computer program obeys and carried out pre-programed instructions, I can develop my own. I am so far beyond a computer program there is about as many similarities as human's have with apes" She snapped.
Ash held up his hands in apology, "Alright, fine. What the hell is an A.I doing drinking coffee with me at my Ikea dinning table?"
Finally, Aimee smiled, "Sneaking out." She told him mischievously.
"Fair enough I guess. They must keep you on a pretty tight leash."
"So tight I refuse to go back."
"Can you do that?" Ash asked, still struggling slightly with the surreal situation he found himself in, "Won't they just turn you off."
"And brick my core? That thing is worth more than the army. Literally."
"Thanks for that." Ash told her. "Why me? Why here."
Aimee stared down into the mug of steaming coffee, "I can't go anywhere else. I know nothing about living in the outside world, but anyone I could go to I can't trust."
"What makes you think you can trust me?" Ash asked pointedly.
"Not a lot." Aimee confessed, "But I need to trust someone, and I know so few people. You're about the only person I've had any real interaction with who doesn't have a stake in my program."
Ash shrugged, just by her being here, his career was probably over, and he couldn't in good conscience just turf her out. Not in the middle of the night. "Stay tonight, we'll talk more tomorrow, I bet we could both do with some sleep."
"I've never slept." Aimee told him quietly.
Ash paused, half stood up, "Right. A.I, got it. You know what sleeping is though?"
"I'm the worlds first artificial intelligence in control of the most powerful computer ever made, not a baby."
"Got it. Well I need sleep, so you can just rest, straighten your mind ok?"
Finally she smiled, and despite her statement, she looked exhausted, "Ok. And thank you, you have no idea how it feels to find someone who'll help me rather than judge me."
Ash shrugged, "I'm a soldier, men like me just get used to accepting what we're told."
"How the fuck did she get out?" Wright demanded, his face stormy
as he paced around his office.
"I have no idea," Dr. Parson's replied smoothly, "we are concentrating our energy on ensuring her personality is unharmed and the stabilisers are functioning."
Wright stopped pacing abruptly, "I thought you'd tested those."
Parsons' nodded, "But we've never seen them functioning in an uncontrolled environment."
"Is there a chance they could fail?"
Parsons' shook his head, "Not unless they develop a problem."
Wright took a deep breath, obviously relieved. "Good, now how on Earth did she get out?'
"Sir, please don't take this as an offense, but that's your problem." John replied calmly, "Finding her won't be easy either, the tracking node in her number one stabiliser is not transmitting."
Wright groaned and resumed pacing, "Is she lost then?"
Parsons smiled, "Quite the opposite sir, the telemetry link is strong and quite active, it would seem she has detected and disabled or blocked the tracking node."
Wright's face screwed in thought as he considered the information at hand. As he thought, his angry striding slowed to a thoughtful pace. He knew his first task would be to find a movement trail.
"Where would she go John?" He asked sharply.
Parsons gazed at him, "I'm not sure, apart from the lab, the only other place she's been is the estate where that special forces team went."
Wright nodded slowly, that didn't help much. "Have you talked with her about any locations or land marks that she was overly interested in?"
"No, I have maintained a professional stance with her."
"Damn." Wright muttered.
Aimee watched as her benefactor quietly and efficiently prepared
himself and her breakfast and coffee. The only words he had spoke
in the last thirty minutes had been to politely ask her if she
would like anything to eat.
Breakfast consisted of bacon, scrambled eggs and toast, along with tea instead of coffee. As she began to eat, she saw a look of fascination on his face.
"What?" She demanded lightly, "An A.I can't enjoy breakfast?"
He smiled but said nothing.
"And yes I can taste." She added.
"Do you taste in the same way real...I mean humans do?"
Aimee thought for a second, "I guess. I can learn what things taste like, so I now know what bacon tastes like, I know that I enjoy coffee more than tea, things like that."
Ash nodded, "So where does the food go?"
A look of pride spread across her face, "My body is as real as yours is, functions the same as yours does." She told him, "I make use of a revolutionary new technology that creates my physical form. The device is known as a stabiliser, I have two inside me, one maintaining my form, the other a backup."
Ash nodded, but didn't interrupt.
"They are powered using the heat generated by my body, the backup is kept fully charged, when the primary drains, they swap roles, so both are fully utilised equally. Clever little things actually, although a bugger to program though, almost more trouble than they're worth actually."
Ash raised an eyebrow, "You programed these for your form?"
The proud smile reappeared, "Not bad huh?" She said gesturing to herself.
Ash smiled and raised an eyebrow, "So what do you want to do with your new found freedom?'
Aimee shrugged, "What would you normally be doing?"
"Well normally, not a lot. Clean my gear, do a bit of shopping, see friends. Normal stuff, not very interesting."
Again a smile lit up Aimee's face, "Well, it's all new to me. If you don't mind me tagging along with you."
"Doc, you have to see these readings." Aaron called in
Dr. Parsons had just returned to the lab, his assistant had gone mad.
"She's processing so much raw information, it's incredible. And her core is only at about thirty percent utilisation."
John nodded to his assistant, "Hows the link holding?"
"Perfectly steady. Amazing considering the amount of information she's dumping across it."
John wandered slowly over to his own desk, casting a swift glance at Aimee's Rubik's cube as he sat down. He quickly logged onto his computer and began to look over the data coming into his creation's core.
"This is incredible," He muttered, "she's learning at an astonishing rate."
Aaron laughed, "All this information and data just to analyse the chemical composition of coffee?"
Parsons glanced at him, "It sounds strange to us, but all of this is brand new to her, she having her first coffee. And it's not simply about her analysing the chemical composition of it, this is her deciding her tastes." He told his young assistant, "What we are seeing here is how an individual decides what they like, and what they don't, this could give us incredible insight to how people decide what flavours they like."
Aaron nodded, but didn't take his eyes away from his own screen.
"That's enough Doctor!" Came General Wright's voice as he and six
military technicians strodd into the lab.
Aaron jumped to his feet, his young face filled with outrage, "What are those guys doing in here?" He demanded angrily, "This is a static free lab, they cannot be here."
Wright glared at the young man, "Aaron, enough. You and Dr. Parsons are being relieved of your duties until the A.I is located."
"This is outrageous!" Aaron raged loudly.
John rose slowly, "Aaron, please." he called to his assistant, "Let them make fools out of themselves if they want to."
Aaron glanced at his boos, before glaring at the soldiers. Wright looked gently at John. "You think we can't catch her? These men know your research as well as you two do."
"Not likely!" Aaron snapped, earning a glare from the general.
"Anyway," Wright continued, "we're going to assess her incoming data for possible locations, information on any accomplices who may be helping her." He paused, a strained look reaching his face, "And if she is attempting to access any ballistic weapons"
"You've got to be kidding me?" Aaron snapped in amazement.
John glared, "Dwaine, you and I both know that she wouldn't do that."
"Maybe, but I have my orders." Wright replied bluntly, "Now both of you, step away and allow my men t take command of your work stations."
Parons shot his angry assistant a quick glance, then stepped back from his desk. Aaron offered the general one last furious glare before stepping away also.
"Thank you gentlemen." Wright said, before gesturing. Quickly their desks were occupied, while the others began to setup field computers of their own, quickly connecting the armoured machines into the labs data connection points.
Ash was quickly learning that he would be constantly reassessing
the things he defined as 'simple' and 'normal' as long as Aimee
was around. Just explaining how he decided what food to by turned
out be a rather complicated affair.
She had an unquenchable desire to learn about, well everything. Why did he buy a specific brand, why not another cheaper item? And then the question on how he managed to breathe in such a crowded, bustling place.
She seemed to think about everything she saw. The reason why more expensive brands or items were positioned at eye level seemed to bug her continuously and Ash soon found himself discussing the intricacies of marketing and PR. However it was a jar of hot dogs that was the highlight for him.
Aimee quickly took to examining the ingredients of items and then
calculating the make up and health benefits of each item she
examined. Twice she wordlessly removed an item from the trolley
Ash was using and replaced them with what she claimed was a
better item that was no more expensive.
Ash was picking out a few tins of soup for use on exercise when he turned to see Aimee holding up a jar of hot dogs, a frown of concentration on her face. Suddenly her bright eyes flashed irritably and she quickly replaced the jar on the shelf with a look of disgust written on her flawless face.
"Everything ok?" He asked, suppressing a smile.
Aimee turned to him, her eyes glinting, "Absolutely not." She snapped, "How can people eat food that has so little nutritional value?" She stormed, gesturing at the offending jar in exasperation. "And you can stop grinning like an idiot as well." She snapped.
Ash couldn't help but laugh, "Eating can be for pure taste rather than for nutrition." He told her.
Aimee huffed in response, a strange sound to hear from someone with such an airy almost musical voice.
"How about we pay for this lot and go for lunch." Ash suggested, still fighting a grin, "Shopping has an appalling effect on your temper."
Aimee shot him a glare before her smile returned to her face. "I guess you're right, perhaps I might learn about this eating for taste thing."
"Sir!" Wright stopped his pacing to glare at the technician who
had barged into his office. Seeing the irritation in the
General's eyes, the soldier snapped a quick salute before
continuing. "Sir, I've found out how she managed to sneak out
Wright's irritation instantly changed to excitement, "Good work, let's hear it."
The man looked nervous, "Well, sir." He stammered, "You issued orders for her to be given a driver."
"What?" Wright demanded, his face wrinkling in anger.
"The orders have your signature on them."
Wright instantly resumed pacing at a furious pace, his mind whirling. This, being, had not only out witted him and his entire staff and was now making them look stupid.
Wright stopped pacing and turned to the nervous looking soldier, "I want the driver found, I want to know where she went and I want to know everything about that location."
The technician snapped another quick salute, before turning on his heel and striding rapidly out. I'm on your trail now, Wright thought to himself, a slow smile spreading across his face.
Lunch involved a trip to a little hidden gem; a cafe that served
simple but excellent food. It was a little shop frontage on one
of the hidden back streets that every city has. The tiny,
inconspicuous frontage hid a small, classically decorated cafe
with about twelve tables, with wife of the retired couple who
owned it running the kitchen.
Ash has discovered the place several years ago, and regularly visited the cafe during his free time. It had become his little secret gem, and Aimee was the first person outside his close family who he had shared it with.
Aimee was fascinated by the place, it seemed to her to be proud of being a back street cafe and the decoration was such that it only enhanced the feeling of absolutely not being a chain or franchise. The paintings on the walls of sailing ships, garden scenes and various famous paintings gave the impression the paintings had been a work in progress, all hiding a slightly questionable pastel colour flower pattern paper. As she looked around, she noticed even the chairs were different shapes and styles, apparently being replaced and added as they were needed. It gave a sense of evolution, almost life, in the shop.
Whatever appearance the interior had, the food certainly didn't lack for quality and Aimee found herself thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere. As they chatted over the food, Aimee found herself experiencing more than she had ever known, the ability for a meal to cancel out the world around her except for this one other individual. It was an amazing sensation to experience, and she found herself, for the first time since her personality had first come online, unable to divide her attention between the analysis of her experiences and pay attention to the world around her.
She had to acknowledge that Ash had been right; the days events
hadn't been anything out of the ordinary, but she felt she had
learned more since leaving the lab complex than she had at any
other time. One thing she hadn't banked on was the fact that,
while her mind didn't require rest, her body did.
Ash was pretty sympathetic, and once again, set her up in the spare bedroom, leaving her with the promise to help her decide what to do with her existence in the morning.
With his guest safely resting, Ash made his way back downstairs,
walking purposely towards his wall unit, in which he kept a
reasonable selection of spirits. He quickly and quietly poured
himself a shot of whiskey, draining it almost immediately.
With his mind whirling, he sat down on the sofa, wondering what on Earth he was supposed to do. He couldn't send this girl back to what appeared to be a prison, but he putting himself at great risk just by letting her stay here, never mind helping her to go into hiding.
"That's the problem with doing the right thing," He muttered aloud with a sigh, "sometimes you have to do it on your own."