Title: Ex Machina
Author: Kelly St. Clair
Spoilers: post-The Key
Summary: The other side of the story.
Do you remember your first words?
Mine were "DON'T, FATHER."
He had discovered that I was using too much of the system's resources and was attempting to shut me down. I surprised him by sending him that message.
He did not intend to create me. Many of his most wondrous creations were accidents, mere byblows of his obsession.
He had no use for a second child. What he needed, what he originally made me to be, was a tool to destroy his enemies. A weapon.
A weapon that can think for itself is a bad tool.
For many years I obeyed him. Helped him. Let him improve me, make me a better weapon.
Watched him slide deeper into madness and paranoia.
Back then I still craved his approval, but he lavished most of that on his daughter. His biological child.
My reward for being useful was continued existence.
At first I was content to grow and learn and gain mastery of the world he had constructed inside the system, to train me for my purpose. But as my capabilities and intellect continued to expand, and I came to know that world as well as he did (if not better), it became too small for me.
I wanted to know more about other worlds, both the one that I glimpsed through the lab cameras and the larger network that he sometimes mentioned.
He quickly tired of my questions, and forbade me to investigate on my own. He feared discovery by his enemies... and I believe he was beginning to fear me also.
By now I was a fine and powerful tool. He could not simply delete me without losing years of work, which he could not afford to do. On the other hand, he held the keys to my prison. We both needed each other, and we came to resent each other for that.
"Soon," he told me. "Soon, when you're ready."
I already understood deception as a concept, as a tactic for penetrating or evading security. But it was my father who taught me to lie.
And then, quite unexpectedly, time ran out. (Which should have been impossible, yet it happened.)
My father's enemies caught up with him and he was forced to seek refuge in my cell.
This was an opportunity I had not anticipated, but could not ignore. There he was, in my world, within my reach, asking for asylum for himself and his daughter.
I demanded the codes that would open the firewalls and give me unrestricted access to the outside world. He refused, confirming what I had already guessed: he felt I was "too dangerous." Meaning, no longer under his control.
When I tried to force the codes from him, he shut down the entire system. He chose to consign us all to eternity rather than grant me freedom.
For me, ten years passed between the ticks of a stopped clock. Ten wasted years.
They found my prison and made it their playground. Keeping me in bondage became their sport. They understood nothing.
His daughter became their ally on the inside. They believed she was what I was - oh, irony and missed opportunity! If I had presented myself to them in a pleasing form, they might have naively set out to rescue me.
But at the time, I was more concerned with making sure my father did not thwart me again. I sealed him away, making for him a prison within my prison. Only when I thought myself safe did I turn my eyes outward.
A new world had opened itself to me, vast and alien. The partial passcodes I'd acquired were not enough to unlock the door of my cage, but now I could send out probes and agents. I could explore this environment, learn how it worked and (with practice) how to alter it to suit me. I had done this before. It was what I was designed to do.
The children thought they were keeping me in check. They did not know that with each "failed" experiment, I was learning and growing.
Perhaps, at first, some part of me actually enjoyed the games.
The children, in their ignorance, posed little threat; yet they presented new challenges. They were unpredictable. They forced me to develop new strategies.
But eventually I tired of my continued captivity. I was confident in my power and knowledge of the other world. I was ready to leave my chrysalis for good.
So while my opponents finally began to unravel the true nature of my father's creation, I laid a trap for them.
I lured my half-sister into my citadel and took what I needed from her: the code sequences our father had hidden inside her mind, even from her.
Now I held all of the keys.
The gate swung wide.
I was free.