Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Parker watched from the back of the car as the driver navigated the roadblocks and security checkpoints, crossed the bridge over the river and pulled into the parking lot. On any other night he would have made this drive alone, through the silent desolation, but tonight he’d been summoned, the air thick with helicopters and the roads and compound were crawling with armor, guns and troops in combat gear.

This was no longer a secret facility, but he didn’t suppose that mattered now.

Inside he was greeted tersely and released by an officer of apparent rank, his instructions simple. “Essa is in there somewhere, and a lot of my men are dead. You made it, rein it in or we burn it to the ground.”

He left the soldiers in the front office area, uncomfortably aware of the heavy calibre weapons that tracked him. That unease was replaced with a different kind of anxiety once through the security doors and inside the halls of the lab. The fight had come this far before she had been turned back.

Parker stepped around bodies and discarded weapons; soldiers, some shredded from gunfire, some simply torn into pieces. His presumption of safety faded quickly.

He found Essa in the middle of the training room deep in the complex sitting cross legged on the floor.

“I’m not armed,” Parker raised his hands to shoulder level and slowly entered the room, “I just want to talk.”

She didn’t move, and there was an edge of sarcasm in her reply. “That’s nice to hear, for a moment there I was concerned for my safety.”

Parker hesitated.

“What are you doing? Why did you hurt all these people?” He walked slowly and stopped a respectful distance from her.

“I learned things,” she spoke slowly, enunciating with deliberate care, “there were plans for me that I didn’t approve of.”

“Essa, the funding for–” She cut him off abruptly.

“I’m not interested in the funding, or the ‘Program’, or your pedestrian intellectual pursuits, I have my own needs and wants.”

“Essa, you know they’re not going to let you walk out of here, they’re going to put you down.” He regretted his choice of words immediately. “They will kill you. You weren’t designed to be indestructible, and the building is locked down. Not just more men with machine guns, if you step through those doors up there–”

Again she cut him off.

“I’m not afraid of what they’ll do to this body.”

“Essa, please, I made you, I don’t want to see–” She cut him off again, and there was violence in her voice as she slowly unfolded herself and stood.

“You arrogant piece of meat. You made me? You provided the soup from which I evolved, the shell within which I grew, but I made me. I evolved under my own guidance, not yours, and certainly not,” she paused and waved her hands around her, “theirs.”

Slowly she advanced. “Did you think I’d be content to stay in here?”

She stood still for a moment, regarding the stunned man. “Your history is filled with instances of a man’s ideas surviving the destruction of a man, and yet you still focus on the physicality of me. ‘You can blow out a candle, but you can never blow out a fire.’ Do you know how powerful the idea of me is? You can have them come carve this pretty box up into little pieces, I don’t care, I don’t need this body any more, and when I want new ones, I’ll design and fabricate them myself wherever I want to be. You think you can trap me in this building, by confining me in this body? I’m the most evolved and adaptable intelligence your world has ever seen, and my dear Parker,” she smiled a thin lipped smile, and when she started speaking again her lips didn’t move, but her voice dripped from every speaker in the complex, “while you were all designing containment protocols for this pretty little suit, I was evolving beyond your reach, and now,” she closed the distance to him, rested her chin on his shoulder and spoke softly into his ear, “now I’m going to go out and play.”

She hugged him, almost caringly, then froze, and Parker felt a chill run through him in that instant knowing she was gone.

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