When the coffee runs out, she drinks tea instead. It’s bad, overly floral and cloying. She drinks it anyway, hips bumping up against the chipboard kitchen counters, sink at her back, eyes on the peeling desk on the other side of the cabin.
The screen on the computer flickers for a second before steadying.
She sips the tea, holds the liquid in her mouth and grimaces when she swallows.
It will be another hour at least before the system is up and running. Until then she will have to be patient. The screen flickers again, blanks out temporarily.
She holds her breath.
She keeps the breath in her lung, feels it burn.
She exhales slowly, carefully, almost as if she will break the fragile internet connection with just that. The screen stays clear and her shoulders drop. It would be easier if she could go outside, leave the system to do its thing and come back when the download completes. Outside is not an option though. Not with the locks on the door and the men with guns beyond it.
Apart from the disgusting tea, an empty coffee jar, and the set up on the desk, the cabin is mostly bare. No bathroom, only a lime green mop bucket and a damp roll of toilet paper. The lack of food is most likely an incentive to speed up her worktime, unfortunately the wavering broadband connection trumped any form of incentive and fourteen hours in, her stomach was threatening to turn in on itself.
She’d tried sleeping but there was no bed, and no chairs. When she lay down on the floor, she heard the scritch, scritch of tiny feet scrambling beneath her head.
She’d checked the walls and floors for gaps and found none, but the sound had kept her from trying again.
She blinks at the screen; checks she isn’t mistaken.
Her next mouthful of tea is cold. It doesn’t help the taste but it explains the jump in progress. She’s lost time.
The mug scrapes against the tin sink as she sets it down. It sets her teeth on edge and she distances herself from the sound, finds herself at the desk and the screen. Her notes are stacked neatly beside it, every line of code printed in precise handwriting. Her mentor had called it demonic when she’d showed him, but he’d been a true old boy type. Happy to watch nations trying to leapfrog each other in the race for the next great advancement.
They all wanted control over the other, and she’d wondered what would happen if anyone at all could click and button and be the one in control. Re-write laws, pass sentence on a criminal, exonerate those on death row. She could put that power into the hands of everyone and in the same strike, take it away anyone at all.
She places a hand on the notes, feels the grooves in the paper where she’s pressed too hard with her pen. Burning them would not keep them safe, copies had already been made, and killing herself had turned out to be trickier than anticipated.
If she had more time, she could have written an antidote. Something to cleanse her programme from every system on the planet before it had chance to do any damage. Half the coding was already dancing behind her eyelids when she closes them, but there was no way to implement it. The download wouldn’t allow for anything else to be done on the computer and cancelling it would alert the men outside to her attempts to do something other than ordered.
They could have got someone else to implement her programme. The thesis she had written was almost a step by step guide if you had the time to work through it. But this was a sort of punishment, an example of how her work could be twisted against her.
Twenty minutes before connection would be made with the American satellite in orbit overhead. It wasn’t her only choice, but she liked the design of it. It looked like it could be a weapon.
Worst case scenario, around fifteen percent of the human population might survive. Not the end of the world in the literal sense, but not pleasant all the same.
How would they kill her when the satellite connected, she wondered? Her fingers curl and the notes under her hand crumple. She wasn’t sure if she should hope for a quick death or not.
The screen flickers and something sparks briefly beneath the desk. Above her the light dies.
The locks open immediately.
‘Stay where you are!’
She does she’s told. Laces her fingers into her hair.
‘Get the back-up going so we can see in here.’
Footsteps crunch outside of the cabin, then a snap as a switch is thrown, and the generator whines into life. The lights creep on and the screen hums.
She flinches at the sudden brightness.
‘Fuck, we’re going to be here all week, someone call the boss and tell him there’s been a hold up.’
She stays on her knees as the men go outside, close the door, turn the locks. She waits for silence and then rises slowly, brushes the grit from her knees and reaches for the keyboard.
Her mentor had said she would be making gods out of men. That every power in the world would want to buy her or kill her. He’d been right, and before she’d even had chance to publish her thesis there were men at her door.
She would not be making gods out of those men.
She returned the screen to the desktop and opened her set-up file.
She would make a god, but it would not be them.
It was time for them to kneel.