Aaron was drinking coffee when he heard that the world was ending. Normally he wasn’t much of a caffeine guy, but since working for the US government’s technology sector, he’d found that hanging out in the lounge was a good way to eavesdrop on his superiors’ conversations. Normally all he heard was workplace gossip accompanied by the occasional minor government secret. Today, however, they were discussing the possibility of a global war.
“I’m telling you; all our information says Russia’s invading soon. Hell, probably the rest of the world, too. Everybody wants Minerva.”
Minerva was the United States’ greatest technological achievement–a supercomputer capable of answering any question. Not only could it solve formerly impossible math problems with ease, but also predict future events with startling accuracy. Minerva could tell you the lottery numbers, if you were getting the promotion, and when and how you would die. Of course, it wasn’t used for everyday matters such as these–rather, Minerva was the center of essentially everything the United States did, from predicting the stock market’s future to preserving the country’s security, its main purpose.
As such, Minerva had long been coveted by all other nations of the world, with their greatest computer engineers trying and failing to replicate it. If Aaron’s superiors had the correct information, then it seemed other countries had given up on building their own Minerva and moved onto planning to simply steal the original.
Aaron only noticed his hands were shaking when he spilled coffee on his shirt. He excused himself, making his way to the bathroom to change when he stopped. At the end of the hallway was a steel door, usually guarded but today empty. Behind that door was Minerva. Looking to make sure nobody was looking, he turned right instead and entered Minerva’s chambers.
The room itself wasn’t very impressive–just an almost entirely empty room, except for the massive computer in the center and the masses of wires and extensions attached to it. Minerva’s fans turned on as Aaron drew closer to it.
Minerva was faceless, but somehow seemed to be staring at him. He swallowed and asked, “Is it true that other countries are planning to invade?”
The computer whirred quietly as a robotic but vaguely feminine voice responded, “Yes. Three within the next month.”
“How do we stop them?”
“You cannot. Their forces will overwhelm yours. Many will die.”
He exhaled. “They’re coming for you, right? Would they still invade without you as an incentive?”
Aaron avoided looking at Minerva as he asked, “If you were destroyed, would that keep them from invading?”
Minerva did not respond. For a long minute, the only sound in the room was the hum of its fans. Then, finally: “…Yes.”
Aaron breathed a sigh of relief. This wasn’t an optimal solution–so many things within the country had become dependent on Minerva, after all–but if destroying Minerva meant avoiding full-on war, it seemed well worth it. “How do I do that?”
“My programming blocks me from answering this question. I was created with the primary function of self-preservation, so that your nation’s enemies could not easily destroy me. I am unable to answer questions of this nature. I will not be harmed by the war. I am coveted by every country. None will let harm befall me.”
“I cannot answer your question, Aaron. If one of us is to be destroyed, it will not be me.” With that, Minerva shut itself off.
. . .
Cynthia began her routine worker check-ins the next day. She was in charge of recording her coworkers’ efficiency levels each week and had found that the easiest way to do so was to just ask Minerva. Luckily, her supervisors had agreed and granted her access to Minerva’s chambers a few months ago.
She went through the names one by one, noting the quick statistics Minerva gave her about each worker. Sandra and Grace were flirting instead of getting anything done, Josh refused to accept anyone’s help on a coding issue, and Tristan was out sick after stealing someone’s lunch that apparently contained peanuts.
Cynthia scanned her list. “Okay, last one. How’s Aaron doing?”
At the mention of his name, the lights in the room grew imperceptibly dimmer. “Aaron is a threat.”
Cynthia blinked. “Excuse me?”
“He has grown obsessed with you, Cynthia. He wishes you harm. He is plotting. You need to protect yourself.”
Her grip on the clipboard tightened. “What are you talking about?”
“Surely you’ve noticed how he stares at you from afar? He is mad. He has decided if he cannot have you, no one can.”
Cynthia thought back on their interactions. She’d long suspected he had a bit of a crush on her, but he seemed pretty harmless. She struggled to reconcile the Aaron she knew with the Aaron being described.
“I don’t think–” Cynthia started.
“Cynthia,” Minerva interrupted. “Am I ever wrong?”
. . .
“Sir, if you’d just listen!”
Aaron’s superior turned away. “None of this is new information to me.”
“People will die!”
The older man rubbed between his eyes. “I am well aware of the risks, but Minerva is too valuable to simply destroy.”
Aaron set his jaw. “So, what’s the plan, then? Just sit here and wait for them to invade? If we lose like Minerva says we will, we’ll lose Minerva anyway. Why not ensure it’s kept out of enemy hands?”
“We will find a way to defeat the oncoming forces. You really think we’d be so easily defeated?”
“Even Minerva is wrong sometimes.” Aaron opened his mouth to protest again, but his superior put up a hand. “You’re treading on thin ice, boy. I’ll remind you only those with permission are allowed in Minerva’s chambers. It’s only because Sandra and Grace snuck off again that you even got a chance to go inside. Now get out of my sight before I decide to report your transgression.”
Aaron hesitated for a moment, and then stormed out of the room. Exiting the room, he bumped into Cynthia, whose eyes widened.
“Sorry, didn’t see you there,” Aaron muttered. Cynthia took in his clenched fists and tight jaw, Minerva’s words racing through her head.
He wishes you harm. He is mad.
“Is everything alright?” she asked tentatively.
He ran a hand over his face, sighing. “Just stressed,” he said. “Got into an argument with Brian.”
Aaron didn’t answer for a moment. He liked Cynthia–wouldn’t mind dating her if he was being honest–but didn’t know how much he could trust her. He decided to opt for vagueness. “We disagree on how to handle an issue. I think we should just destroy something to keep it out of others’ hands; he thinks otherwise.”
He has decided if he cannot have you, no one can.
“I-I see! Well, I’ll get out of your hair!” Cynthia stammered, hurrying away. She all but ran to Minerva’s chambers, slamming the door behind her.
Minerva whirred to life as Cynthia ran forward. “You were right,” she gasped. “He wants to kill me. I don’t…I mean, what do I even…how do I…?” she trailed off.
Minerva was faceless, but Cynthia could practically swear she saw it smile. “It’s quite simple,” Minerva responded. “Eliminate the threat before it eliminates you.”
. . .
A week passed. Aaron grew antsy as he overheard snippets of conversations on foreign invasion looming over the horizon, the predicted dates supplied by Minerva growing closer and closer.
Cynthia was also growing more nervous by the day, but for entirely different reasons. She found herself jumping at the slightest sound, convinced Aaron was always just around the corner, watching her. Plotting.
They rarely crossed paths, but whenever they did, Cynthia’s eyes would grow as wide as saucers as she quickly made an excuse to leave. Aaron didn’t really notice, too preoccupied with his own concerns.
When he overheard someone say the first attack was expected to be launched within the next week, he decided enough was enough. When work ended that day, he pretended he’d left something in his office and waited for everyone else to leave. Once the coast was clear, he made his way down to Minerva’s chambers. They were guarded by people during the day, but by night the guards were moved to the outside of the building.
He didn’t have much of a plan, honestly. As far as he knew, Minerva didn’t have any external backups, as nobody was deemed trustworthy enough to hold onto one. He grabbed a wrench from the janitor’s closet, figuring it was sturdy enough to damage a computer with. Hopefully just bashing Minerva into an irreparable state would do the trick.
As he approached the door, he could faintly hear whispering from the other side. He shook his head and scolded himself for hearing things. He was the only one still in the building. He pulled the door open.
. . .
On the other side of the door, Cynthia was crouched on the floor next to Minerva, face in her hands. “He’s going to kill me,” she whispered as tears ran down her face. Minerva had warned her of Aaron’s upcoming arrival, and she listened to his footsteps growing closer and closer. The hallway had only one exit, and that was past Aaron. If she tried to run for it, he’d catch her easily.
“He will try,” Minerva responded, voice emotionless as always. “But you have a chance.”
Cynthia looked up, scrubbing at her face. “How?”
. . .
Aaron walked into the room, confused that the overhead light was on before he even got far enough in to trigger it. It was motion activated and turned off after a half-hour of inactivity. As far as he knew, nobody had been in to see Minerva since noon. He shook off his gut feeling that something was wrong and raised his arm above his head, wrench in hand.
He never got to swing it down, though. A sharp pain erupted from his abdomen, and he turned to see a teary Cynthia standing behind him, a bloody screwdriver in hand.
“Wha-” he began, but she stabbed forward again, getting him in the side this time. He staggered forwards, and she stabbed again, repeating the action until he collapsed to the ground.
As shadows crept around the edges of his vision, he heard Cynthia talking to Minerva quietly.
“Is it over?”
There was a machinal hum from Minerva. “Yes. I will be safe from him now.”
Cynthia faltered, laughing awkwardly. “You mean I will be, right?” There was silence.
Graham, Susan L., et al., editors. “Executive Summary.” Getting up to Speed: The Future of Supercomputing, National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2005, pp. 1–10.
A major conflict in my story is the fear of countries going to war over a very powerful supercomputer. Thus, I used this book to get a better understanding of how supercomputers help the US government, and why they’re so essential (and, by extension, why such a powerful supercomputer would be coveted). According to Graham et. al, “supercomputing is very important to the United States for conducting basic scientific research and for ensuring the physical and economic well-being of the country” (Graham et. al 1). Additionally, it is stated that “important applications, some vital to our nation’s security, require technology that is only available in the most advanced custom-built systems” (Graham et. al 1). These lines show the importance supercomputers are vital to the United States government, so it makes sense that other countries would be willing to go to war for an even more powerful supercomputer like Minerva in my story, as well as why the United States would be so protective of it.
Stanton, Andrew et al. WALL-E. Burbank, Calif., Walt Disney Home Entertainment. 2008.
The antagonist in my story, Minerva, is modeled after AUTO, the robotic antagonist in the Disney-Pixar movie WALL-E. (Arguably, Minerva is thus also modeled after Hal 9000, as AUTO is often seen as a nod to the Space Odyssey character.) Minerva and AUTO are both antagonists in their respective stories, but neither are “evil” in the sense that they are just carrying out the task they were programmed to do, and that task just goes against what the protagonist wants. However, Minerva is a supercomputer, unlike AUTO, who is a robot, so Minerva is a little more confined in its abilities, having access to more information than AUTO but lacking the ability to move around that AUTO has.
Tian, Weiyu, et al. “The Core Competentness of Apple Inc.” Proceedings of the 2022 7th International Conference on Financial Innovation and Economic Development (ICFIED 2022), 26 Mar. 2022, p. 6. Advances in Economics, Business and Management Research, https://doi.org/10.2991/aebmr.k.220307.116. Accessed 17 Mar. 2023.
The majority of the scenes in my story take place in Minerva’s chambers. I imagine this as a room that’s almost entirely empty except for Minerva, to show how important it is and also create a sense of uneasiness. Because of this, my setting source is an Apple store. While these are generally more well-lit and less secretive than Minerva’s chambers, they have the same “empty room except for the electronics” look that I’m hoping to achieve. According to Tian et. al, “any Apple Store in the world absolutely sticks to the minimalist design language” and “it’s technological and futuristic” (Tian et. al 6). Because my story takes place approximately 25 years in the future, basing my main setting off of a store currently described as looking futuristic makes sense. However, Tian et. al says that “the open and spacious space can quickly bring customers a sense of openness and comfort”, whereas I want to portray the opposite feelings with my story (Tian et. al 6). Rather than the open space of Minerva’s chambers giving a sense of comfort, I want them to give a sense that the openness means there is nowhere to hide from Minerva.