Dr. Sam Hilston glanced down at his phone. The glass was cracked and the case was long gone, but Hilston didn’t notice any of these things. Instead, his eyes were glued to the three-word text message which was permanently frozen on the broken screen.
“They are here.”
Fear and panic filled the twenty-year-old as he tried to collect his thoughts. Sam looked quickly around the empty parking lot, hoping to spot the beat-up SUV that would announce the presence of his lab partner, Jae-Hyun. Yet, only Sam’s ancient Suzuki occupied the lot. His heart dropped when he realized the awful truth. I must start the A.L.I.V.E. program. Alone. He stared at Jae-Hyun’s last text message to him, unable to glance away.
Sam stumbled to his knees as a loud explosion shook the ground, causing him to finally break his gaze from his phone. Dazed, he could hear sirens sounding in the distance as the scorched smell of earth lightly filled the air.
Run! Drive! Leave Now! Sam’s inner voice screamed at him, but phone in hand, Sam ignored his inner voice and then quickly sprinted towards the closest building. The large nondescript building looked like any office building from the outside, the grey and white exterior commonplace with the rest of the buildings around it. Yet, as Sam entered the building the automatic lights revealed a room that was anything but ordinary.
Hundreds of computers and monitors sat in an open room, thousands of black, blue, and green cords ran from the computers to a large server room with a metal door on the right side of the room. From the server room, thick pipes, housing even more cords ran across the ceiling and into the ground at the center of the room.
Sam sprinted from computer to computer, turning them on and powering them up. A cacophony of whirrs and hums filled the room as each machine powered on.
More explosions echoed outside of the building as Sam entered the server room. The heat from the server was already becoming intense and Sam glanced worriedly at the thermostat on the side of the wall. For the moment, the temperature was within normal boundaries, but Sam decided to turn the cooling systems on full blast and as cold as he could get them to go.
Hurriedly, shutting the door behind him, Sam locked up the server room and then ran over to the closest monitor and keyboard. Typing in a key command, Sam watched as the floor in the center of the room began to slide upwards. Under the floor panels, arose a large silver cylinder. It was six feet tall and five feet wide, its metallic silver covering reflecting the monitor lights and distorting them. Hissing and clicking came from the top of the cylinder, as the cords running from the server room, snapped into place.
Years of work and millions of dollars of machinery hummed to life as a female robotic voice announced from the cylinder, “Good evening Dr. Hilston. What are your commands?”
Sam trembled with the humming of the cylinder as he entered another key command into the computer.
“Order understood. Initiating A.L.I.V.E. Please stand back.”
Sam watched as the room began to quake and tremble and the cylinder powered up. A violent screech broke through the humming of the machine and a section of the roof fell onto one of the computers.
Wide-eyed Sam rushed to the computer, ignoring the broken glass and sheet metal lying on the floor. The rubber soles of his shoes crunched the twisted metal and broken glass while he dug through the rubble. He let out a moan as he moved the debris away from the now smashed computer.
Hands bleeding, Sam ripped the cables out of the dead computer. He tossed the cables aside and looked up. He glanced at the rest of the computers and then rushed over to the large pile of extra computer towers and parts stacked on the left side of the room.
The robotic voice announced, “A.L.I.V.E. 90% loaded. Please enter a Y/N command into the terminal to finalize program.”
The room shifted and shuddered. Sam grabbed a spare computer tower and stumbled back over to the broken one.
More debris fell from the ceiling and Sam had to dodge to the side as another chunk of sheet metal hit the ground near the broken computer.
Frantically, Sam attached the new computer tower and then switched it on. As it booted up, Sam shuffled and slid over to the main terminal and typed in Y. Then he knelt and pushed a green button on the side of a large black box under the terminal.
“Command accepted. Please prepare to launch A.L.I.V.E. program.”
Sam fell to his knees as an explosion ripped apart the entrance to the office building. His ears rang as he watched debris rain down from the building’s entrance and a thick plume of dust and smoke filled the air.
There in the entranceway, stood a figure.
Sam gasped and scrambled towards the replacement computer. He never took his eyes off the looming humanoid figure standing in the rubble of the entrance as he keyed in the last key command.
“Program starting. Please stand back.” The female voice echoed in Sam’s ears.
The figure in the entranceway turned to face Sam as he fell and scrambled his way over to the cylinder. Frantically slapping his hand on the side of the silver cylinder, Sam watched the figure advance towards him. The green light on the side of the cylinder scanned Sam’s palm and the door to the cylinder softly swished open.
The figure slowly moved and shifted smoothly over the crumbling floor, never stepping aside for falling debris which seemed to just disappear into itself whenever it was struck.
A chill swept over Sam as he entered the cylinder. While the figure seemingly had no eyes, Sam could feel it watching him.
As the cylinder door clicked shut and the robotic voice announced, “Welcome, Dr. Hilston,” Sam still felt the strange figure watching him.
“Initiating A.L.I.V.E. program. 1% complete. This may cause some pain. Please sit on the bench and do not move until the program is done loading,” was the last thing the man known as Dr. Sam Hilston heard before darkness enveloped his vision.