“Good afternoon, Ms. Gomez. Your air supply system has expired. We have sent a termination officer to your home. The estimated time of arrival is 4:30 pm. We've automatically locked all the windows and doors in your house. Please remain calm and follow the procedure. Do not attempt to break out of your home. This action would be an I.U code violation and your termination procedure will be a slow death. Your current termination procedure will be painless and the time duration is 2 minutes. Have a wonderful day and thank you for using L.A.D Incorporated.” A robotic female voice emerged through an intercom system inside Nicole’s oxygen mask.
Nicole Gomez had 30 minutes to hack into L.A.D Incorporated’s computer mainframe, which controlled her home’s automatic locking system. Nicole kept looking up from her tablet screen, nervously smiling at her daughter, Emily.
Emily was on the verge of tears. She wanted to find comfort in her mother’s smile, but she couldn’t shut out the distant screams she heard coming from other people’s houses.
“Don’t worry, baby,” Nicole comforted her child through a cooing tone of voice. “Mommy’s gonna save us. She used to be a software engineer, so she’s smart.” Nicole lovingly brushed her fingers through her daughter’s hair.
Emily sat on the floor beside her mom’s legs. She had her arms around her knees and she couldn’t stop thinking about what happened to her father. Emily’s father, Donny, tried to fight for his life on the night he died. He was playing the video game, Just Dance, with his daughter when his oxygen mask expired. Emily never forgot the fear she saw in her father’s eyes. She remembered seeing him trying to hide his fear while continuing to dance with his daughter to Lady Gaga. Emily knew her dad was in trouble, especially when he broke down in tears while reading her a bedtime story. That’s when Emily knew that a personal termination officer was coming for her father.
Nicole knew Emily was thinking about her daddy. She still had her fingers coasting through her daughter’s coffee-brown curls.
“I miss Daddy.” Emily’s voice was like a cool breeze, but her sorrowful tone had a disheartening essence. Emily relived the moment of her father’s death. She remembered seeing the robot’s helmet-shaped head and the hydraulic system built into his metallic muscular arms. Emily saw the red beam of light above the robot’s titanium nose. She remembered how that red beam of light glinted at her. The red beam directed itself at her father before vaporizing him. After killing her father, Emily watched as the personal termination officer turned his back on her before walking out of her bedroom. His large steel feet drove cracks into the wood floor.
“I know you miss him. I miss him too,” Nicole stated her feelings. She also saw what the robot did to her husband. She stood in her daughter’s bedroom doorway that night, sobbing. “I dream about your Dad every night. In my dream, I’m trying to save him from that thing that broke into our house and took him from us.” Nicole lost her concentration while whispering to her daughter. She had 30 minutes to hack into the network mainframe and unlock her house. But now she had 24 minutes to hack the system. Nicole regained her focus, but she continued to speak tenderly to her little girl.
“In your dream, are you able to save Daddy?” Emily wanted to hear her mother say yes, but her soft eyes lowered after watching her mom shake her head.
“No,” Nicole answered her daughter with heartache in her voice. “In my dream, I fight to protect your daddy, but the robot always wins no matter how hard your mommy fights,” Nicole groaned out her words while typing away on her computer tablet using one hand. The mother still had her other hand caressing her daughter’s hair and face. Nicole fought against the negative thoughts whirling around in her mind. She didn’t want to run out of time. Nicole kept applying one code after another into the company computer’s firewall, hoping to hack the system before her 30 minutes ran out.
The time slipped through like sand slipping through Nicole’s fingers. Nicole knew this day would come. She was up all night on her computer trying to hack into L.A.D Incorporated, which stood for Limited Air Delivery. Nicole didn’t know when her oxygen mask would expire. She sensed it would happen soon. When Nicole removed her mask, it felt strange to inhale air that wasn’t coming through a contraption. Nicole knew that L.A.D Incorporated would consider the air she inhaled into her lungs to be illegal air.
Only selected people had to wear an oxygen mask. L.A.D even selected babies to wear a mask. L.A.D selected Nicole to wear an oxygen mask six years ago. It was the same for her husband. When she became pregnant, it pained her knowing that she would bring her daughter into an apocalyptic society where artificially intelligent computers dominated the U.S government. There was no such thing as a president or Congress. After the solar energy holocaust destroyed most of the food source and caused an economic collapse, artificial intelligence took over. Since the country was becoming overpopulated, a company called L.A.D Incorporated, controlled by an A.I. supercomputer, limited the air supply for each American citizen.
To maintain a steady food supply and resources, the company made air that expires for every citizen who wears an oxygen mask. Each year L.A.D Incorporated would select a thousand American citizens to wear an oxygen mask that limits their air. Selected citizens get locked in their homes and L.A.D Incorporated delivers their food. Once their air supply expires, L.A.D sends their robots called, Personal Termination Officers, to terminate the selected citizens. This was the company's solution to cutting down on the country’s population and saving the resources.
The frightening part is that the expiration varies between every selected citizen. You don’t know when your air supply will expire. It could expire after ten years, or after one week. Some citizens escaped the country before L.A.D Incorporated could select them. Unfortunately, Nicole and her husband ended up being selected citizens. They planned to escape the U.S. and join a civilization of escapees who lived underground somewhere near Tokyo, Japan, but they were too late. Nicole got six years of air and so did her husband. A termination officer killed her husband a week ago.
Nicole and her daughter lived in a cruel world thanks to A.I. technology. But Nicole had to fight for her daughter, and she refused to let a cruel world turn her baby into an orphan.
Nicole still couldn’t hack L.A.D’s company firewall. She went through hundreds of codes, using a code generator, and none of them could hack into the system that controlled the locks on her house. Nicole hacked into computers before, and she couldn’t understand why it was so hard to hack into L.A.D’s mainframe. Nicole almost lost her breath when she saw that she had 19 minutes left.
Where did the time go? How could 10 minutes fly by so fast? Nicole thought. She used the back of her hand to wipe the sweat from her forehead. Panic burned through Nicole’s body. She stared at her computer screen, tired of seeing the words, Access Denied, every time she would insert a code. Nicole kept thinking about the robot that would soon be at her doorstep, unlocking her front door and letting himself in with a full charge in his red beam eyes.
“Mommy? Did you hack the computer yet?” The sweet timidness in Emily’s voice broke through her mom’s panic.
“No baby, I’m still trying.” Nicole sounded out of breath when she answered her daughter. Her eyes throbbed from staring at her computer tablet screen for hours. The muscles in her body burned as if she had been running a marathon. Her migraine headache kept interfering with her ability to think. Her dry throat made swallowing a painful task.
Emily could feel her mother’s anxiety. It was the same anxiety she felt from her father before he was killed. The little girl climbed on the bed, putting her arms around her mother. Her heart was racing and she knew that they were running out of time.
“Come on! Work!” Nicole lost her nerve, shouting at her computer tablet. She wanted to shed a few tears and she also wanted to break her tablet. Nicole couldn’t hack the system. Frustration seeped into every bone in Nicole’s body. She wanted to hate God for letting her oxygen mask expire. Why did this have to happen? Nicole didn’t want to die in front of her daughter. She didn’t want that machine coming into her house uninvited. Out of her frustration, Nicole tossed her tablet on the bed and she embraced her daughter, who already had her little arms held tight around her mother’s waist. It seemed like time speeded up faster than a cheetah pursuing its prey.
“Mommy, we have to do something,” Emily mumbled while gazing up at her mother with tears forming in her eyes. Her chin rested on her mother’s chest and her voice trembled along with her body.
“I know, baby. Mommy’s gonna figure out something that’ll get us out of here.” Nicole buried her lips into her daughter’s hair. For a moment, the young mother held her daughter while gently rocking back and forth. Death hovered over Nicole’s head and she tried to resist its presence. She could hear the robotic female voice saying that her termination procedure would be painless. Sure, her death would be painless for her, but there would be an emotional pain for her daughter.
Time slipped away. When Nicole saw the time again, her heart almost stopped when she saw that she had 5 minutes. Nicole thought about her husband’s office in the basement which had a built-in safe room. She remembered that the safe room had a window. Nicole knew she had to unlock a metal shield that covered the window. It would be difficult, but worth a try.
Nicole grabbed her daughter, bringing her into her arms before leaping up from the bed and making a run for it. Nicole now had 3 minutes to make it to the basement. Time was against Nicole and her daughter. Nicole saw time as the Devil himself. Moving fast, but cautiously, Nicole ran down the basement stairs with her child bouncing in her arms from every hard running step she took. Since everything was voice-controlled, Nicole told her house to turn on the basement lights. It angered Nicole when she realized that she could tell her house to do everything except unlock her doors and windows so she and her daughter could escape. Every door and window in the house had a metal shield that locked and engaged like a jail cell’s automatic door.
Nicole had 2 minutes to remember her husband’s safe room combination. She forgot that her husband always locked the safe room. Nicole said a curse word under her breath as she tapped her slender finger away on the keypad, hoping to figure out her husband’s combination before time ran out. He told her what the combination was, but she couldn’t remember it. Now was the worst damn time for memory loss. Nicole wanted to kick herself for forgetting the combination.
“Come on, what is it?” Nicole softly berated herself. “2198729? No wait, 2198724, 25?” Nicole’s mind went blank when she heard a mechanical noise coming from upstairs. She heard the metal shield that covered her front door rising. Nicole heard her front door open. What followed were the heavy thuds of metal footsteps entering her house. Nicole had to move faster.
Emily even tried to help her mother by typing into the keypad. The child didn’t know what she was typing, but she wanted to help her mother in the worst way. Emily could hear the footsteps above her head. She could hear the termination officer’s footsteps hammering the living room floor and causing every wall in the house to vibrate.
A miracle happened for Nicole. She figured out that the code to her husband’s safe room was the year, the month, and the day they met. It was romantic and life-saving for Nicole. But Nicole’s troubles weren’t over and she had to get out of her house because the termination officer would eventually track her location. That’s what L.A.D built him to do.
The safe room’s door automatically locked behind Nicole. She saw how her husband fully equipped the room with security monitors that showed every area of the house. Nicole had the chance to see the mechanical assassin thanks to her husband’s camera installations. The red-metallic man towered over everything as he marched from room to room carrying a heavy-duty vaporizer. Nicole knew that the robot used heat-seeking scanners in his eyes to find his target. She saw the termination officer carrying his gun, and she knew the robot’s eyes were his secondary weapon.
Emily wanted to keep holding on to her mother, but her mother had to sit her down. The little girl watched as her mom frantically searched the safe room for a tool that would manually unlock the room’s window. Emily stood motionless in the room's corner with her fingers up to her lips. Every few seconds, she’d take her eyes off her mom to look at the security monitors. Emily felt a dread overtake her when she would see the robot vanish from one screen and appear on another. What enforced Emily’s dread was when she saw the robot standing in her bedroom in the exact spot where she witnessed her father’s death. The little girl slowly walked toward the security monitor that showed her room. She no longer paid attention to her mother's desperate rummaging. Emily focused on the robot. She watched as the machine just stood in one place, scanning her bedroom. A shock wave of chills assaulted Emily’s body when she saw the robot slowly turn his head, projecting his red beam eyes up at the camera that hung in her doorway… As if he knew she was watching.
Nicole almost didn’t hear her daughter calling her. She became lost in her search for a tool to open the safe room’s window. The only thing she could get her hands on was an aluminum baseball bat.
“What's a matter, Pumpkin?” Nicole came to her daughter’s aid. She watched as Emily pointed at the screen that displayed her bedroom.
“He looked at me. The robot, he was in my bedroom and he looked up at the camera. I think he knows we’re here,” Emily spoke out her mother’s worst fears. She took hold of her mother’s hand while never taking her eyes off the security monitors.
Nicole thought the worst when she saw the robot marching down the hallway, getting closer to the stairs that led to the basement. Before Nicole could blink her eyes, she saw the machine making his way down the basement stairs. A pit formed in Nicole’s stomach when she heard the clunking footsteps echoing from behind the safe room’s door. The safe room’s door had three layers of reinforced steel, but that wouldn’t stop a termination officer from attempting to knock it down.
Emily’s heart rammed into her little chest. She looked up at her mom, who felt equally shocked at how fast the robot made his way into the basement.
“Baby, stand behind me,” Nicole told her daughter. She guided her little girl behind her before clutching her husband’s aluminum baseball bat with both hands. Nicole held the bat in front of her. She looked at the security monitor, expecting to see the robot attempt to break down the door using his foot. Instead, the robot did something unexpected. Nicole almost dropped the bat when she saw the robot typing numbers into the keypad.
In seconds, the door opened, revealing the termination officer’s red beam eyes. Nicole lost it. She went berserk on the robot after he brought his heavy metallic feet into the safe room.
“You killed my baby, you son of a bitch!!” Nicole screamed out through her tears. “This is for killing my husband!” The young woman swung the baseball bat with all her strength, striking the tall, metallic man across his helmet-shaped head. Nicole kept hitting the robot even after she heard a man’s voice emerge from behind the robot’s face.
“Wait, it’s okay! I know your husband!” A male voice shouted at Nicole. Someone hacked the termination officer’s CPU and his movements were being controlled remotely by a mysterious man.
Nicole stopped in mid-swing. She dropped the bat, grabbing her daughter while standing back from the compromised machine. Nicole had dread in her heart until she recognized the man’s voice that broadcasted out of the robot.
“It’s me, Carlos. Your husband’s drug dealer, computer hacker brother. I hacked into the termination officer that L.A.D sent to kill you. I’m using his body right now. Today, this robot is my bitch.” The ex-convict chuckled. “They finally released me from prison two days ago. I wanted to use my computer hacker skills to save lives. My girlfriend and I are building a team of hackers and we’re gonna shut down L.A.D Incorporated! We've already saved a few lives, including yours and your daughter's.” Carlos’s voice paused for a moment. “I promised my little brother I’d protect his beautiful wife and my gorgeous little niece, just in case something happened to him. As you can see… I made damn sure to keep my promise.”