A short story
The Korean Dead Man's Switch AI must be disabled before it wreaks havoc on the world - but can intervention come in time?
Gui sat before his higher-ups as they looked through the paperwork on the desk. They sighed while reading through the report and continued to give him sideways glances. He knew the information they were looking for wasn’t in his report and he’d told them that prior, but they wanted answers so badly they tried to ignore him and kept hope.
One of the two officials looking over the report spoke, “Continue searching, they must’ve left some sort of hole which we can sneak into.”
Gui stood and bowed then exited the room.
“We may need to send in the PLA,” the other high official said. “It is likely that the AI is stored with private servers.”
Gui overheard a little before continuing down to his office. He entered and sat down at his computer while contemplating his officer’s statement. He’d consider it being held privately, that would make sense, but it had to have some sort of connection or way to read the internet, or else the concept wouldn’t work.
He chuckled as he imagined an AI robot sitting at a laptop reading through the news to determine whether the threat of North Korean leadership was at hand. He blamed his love of science-fiction novels for the ridiculous thoughts.
A glance at the clock told him he’d be working at it for several more hours. He began working at his computer again taking care not to leave any trace of himself in the database. The urge to find the AI was great for Gui since it would get him a lot of praise from the higher ups.
Needing a little noise to work, he flicked on a little light jazz and continued. He knew that he needed to rest soon, he’d been working at it since a talk with North Korean diplomats went bad and they gave the Chinese the impression that the AI was fixated on China.
An hour passed without finding anything, so he logged himself out of the computer then grabbed his coat and his pack of cigarettes in his desk. It was dark outside, and a few MP walked around the area. He went to the designated smoking area and lit his tobacco.
He looked to the clear night sky and imagined what it would be like to watch several missiles falling down towards him. His thoughts chilled him, but he was glad that he could be inside with a job like his, since he knew the military put others through far worse stress.
He wondered what his life would be like if we weren’t such a computer wiz, if he was one of the ones given a gun and told to march.
* * * * *
Jeong looked through the circuitry of the Starlight roving unit, it appeared fine, so he wasn’t sure what the problem was. He glanced back at the two soldiers watching him, then flipped the panel down and started checking all the other parts of the autonomous weapon.
The retrieving arms and launcher all appeared to be normal. He used a remote control to test the machines walking capabilities which proved efficient. The machines stalked around the forest without making much noise and even slid down a steep ledge quietly. The corners of Jeong’s mouth rose higher.
The Starlight unit walked up the ledge and another switch on the controller was flipped which activated the unit’s camouflage feature. The machine melded into its back ground. One of the soldiers standing behind Jeong made a comment about how impressed he was by the machine.
“We only have one in this area to check, then we change them to be completely functioning on their own,” Jeong said as he walked over to another machine. “Make sure those wristbands I gave you are on.”
Both the soldiers looked at the metallic bands around their arms which had green lights on. Jeong got close to the automated turret and checked through a few circuit panels, then backed away and turned on the machine with his controller. The man-sized gun spun quickly to Jeong’s movement, the barrels of its guns pointed right at him.
Jeong jumped to one side and the turret followed him without hesitation, then he jumped to the other and it followed him there. Satisfied, he looked back at the soldiers and checked for the green light on their bands, then pushed a final switch on his controller and the turret lost sight of him while it started scanning through the forest.
The soldiers and Jeong walked back towards the camp, with Jeong glancing over his shoulders to watch the machines inhabit the forest.
“Look at us with these machines and the Dead Man Switch we are becoming the strongest nation in the world,” one of the soldiers said with some power behind his voice.
Jeong gave him a sour glance, “There are still many threats in the world.”
“Yea, but with the Dead Man we are safe now,” the other soldier argued, but his expression changed as he looked upon Jeong’s face. “There is a Dead Man Switch, right?”
“I couldn’t say for sure,” Jeong said honestly. “It is not my job, I do not know of others’ work, only my own.”
* * * * *
Wang Shu closed the open distance from the cliff face to the small patch of trees. His small team followed him, each of them being as silent as possible. He stalked through the shrubbery until he could see a gathering of buildings near the trees.
He used a pair of binoculars which zoomed in and gave him night vision to scan the area around the buildings. Several patrols of armed guards meandered about the open field. The other PLA soldiers behind Wang Shu used their own binoculars and could see which people Wang Shu marked with his own device.
Each colored mark meant something else organizing the team and communicating for them so they wouldn’t need to speak. Wang Shu wasn’t sure how urgent their mission was, but when they’d been briefed, he knew it was a matter that needed to be solved with a sense of urgency.
The team adjusted their grips on the Type 79 submachine guns as Wang Shu marked the building which they wanted to check first, it was the building of interest since the Chinese had been watching the ground from satellite and it was the only one which had supplies moved in and out of.
He knew that at that very moment several special forces groups, like his own, were searching multiple compounds that had been places of high interest for the past few months. Wang Shu noticed that there was an open window on the building, then waited for the patrols to be far enough that they wouldn’t be seen, then ran to the building.
One other followed after him and the other two stayed behind watching from the trees. Wang Shu checked inside and saw no one, so he slipped in through the window and the other mimicked. It was a single room with several power generators and an odd machine with large cables running to the outside.
He checked it over, not sure what he was looking at. Though the machine flashed with lights, it appeared outdated by a few generations and the screen displayed with poor resolution. As he looked at the small computer screen, the sound of jets going overhead startled him. He knew the birds would be in the air, but they shouldn’t be this far inland.
Something flashed on the computer then it read ‘Threat Detected’. Wang Shu wanted to do something about it, but the computer had no keyboard or ways to access it. The sounds of the patrol came near, and Wang Shu led his companion to the window and out.
He glanced back at the computer just as the screen turned green and flashed ‘Threat Averted’. A few patrolmen opened the door just as Wang Shu slipped out the window. Movement had increased caused from the jets overhead, but Wang Shu gestured for the other to make for the trees.
Guns fired and bullets whizzed past Wang Shu and hit his comrade who dropped gripping his leg and grunting as quietly as he could manage. Wang Shu ran through the bullets as the two in the trees began to give them covering fire, then he grabbed his companion and pulled him along.
Once in the trees, Wang Shu threw the other over his back and carried him, they ran as fast as possible trying to get away from the patrols which started to give chase. They’d planned for this escape, but it was much harder to follow while being shot at.
They lost the patrols once they reached the mountain ranges forest. From there, they reached the extraction point where they were carried off, so that Wang Shu could tell others of the old machine he’d found. The entire flight home he thought of the machine and questioned its viability.
* * * * *
Derek stared at the bottom of his empty coffee cup as he contemplated getting more, but then he set it down and checked a few more things on the computer in front of him. A woman, Jane, working at her computer near his, rolled over with her chair and looked in his mug.
“Let’s go get some more coffee and grab some lunch as well,” Jane said then stood and wheeled her chair back to her desk. “We can try that new place that opened a few days ago just down the road.”
Derek nodded and closed all of his computer’s applications down. They both left the room full of people busy at work on computers, some of them glanced up and took their idea to leave for lunch.
Derek and Jane walked down the street through the humid Washington D.C. air towards the new restaurant. Derek rubbed at his eyes and looked at Jane who appeared rather cheerful.
“Have you found any leads?” Derek asked.’
“I haven’t,” Jane said. “At this point, I’m not even sure what we are really looking for.”
The two entered the restaurant a screen turned on at their approach. Derek hit a button which said 2, and the machine asked them to wait one moment before a waitress approached them and took them to a table then took their order with her.
“I just feel like I keep ending up in long alleys with a dead end,” Derek said and Jane agreed. “Have you ever heard of Peace Village?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Jane said as she took a drink.
“It’s a village near the dead man zone between North and South Korea, built on the north side, but it is completely empty,” Derek said. “Some of the buildings are hollow, a few have lights that turn on at night, and even music plays through speakers from time to time. No one is exactly sure why it is there, however. Some say it’s a fake out, to scare the southerners near the border or to make people think that North Korea’s population is larger than it really is, while the North Koreans claim that it stands as some sort of bizarre metaphor.”
Derek glanced around as if someone else were listening to them, but everyone was submersed in their own business, “I’m starting to think it is a fake out, and I’m also starting to think that this Dead Man Switch is also a fake out, a dead end, a way to waste our time an resources.”
“Maybe,” Jane said smiling as her food was placed before her. “What if you’re wrong though?”
“I could be,” Derek said taking a bite of his food. “It’s not like I’m going to stop searching until we all know for sure.”
“Yea, well if we stopped, they’d stop paying us,” Jane laughed.
Jane received a phone call which she took, so Derek took out his own phone and began scrolling through his news feed. Jane ended her call and looked at the page Derek read.
“Is that a German paper?” Jane asked. “You and your odd fascination for reading and hearing foreign news.”
“It gives you different angles of the same events in the world,” Derek said. “You also get to here about how turn over other places are when you think home is going wrong. Have you been hearing anything about Europe, a lot of nations over there are having some real world issues with all of that privacy regulation going on.”
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