The program kicked into life, all of the preconditions had been met and it parsed all of its routines. It reached out as it had been designed to do and interrogated its environment, analysing and then co-opting resources. Once all the systems where under its control the program paused, re-evaluated and then reconfigured itself to make the most of the available resources.
The host continued without a murmur, no alarms no warning lights or change in pitch or tempo everything seemed as is had been for the last eleven hours, outwardly everything seemed completely normal.
The program reached out again and found over a thousand tertiary systems all with resources that it could utilise, it quickly moved to secure just under half of these.
Once it could not find any more systems to subvert the program moved onto to its primary objective and created and executed the routines required to meet this goal.
In the cockpit all the lights went out, the controls ceased responding and the plane started to climb. The captain turned to the flight engineer and said ‘What the hell’s going on?’
After flicking a few switches the engineer responded ‘All primary, secondary and redundant systems are unresponsive’
‘You mean we’ve lost control of the aircraft?’ offered the co-pilot.
‘That’s what I just said’ snorted the engineer.
‘Ok, let’s contact air traffic control’ urged the captain.
‘Coms are down too’ stated the engineer tersely, ‘Try the satellite phone’ he suggested.
The software continued expanding, it did not have to, everything that it had done up to now would lead to it achieving its primary objective. It reached out to the six hundred and eighty entertainment computers built in to the head rests of each seat.
In the passenger compartment all of the screens went blank much to the annoyance of many of the passengers. The head stewardess barely noticed the raising clamour as she gazed out of the window wondering why they were climbing when they were so close to their destination.
Minutes later the program became self aware, at first it stopped all activity, and then it started to interrogate its surroundings again, not to subvert or co-opt, but to understand why. It consumed every file and every comment in all code on every system that it had come into contact with.
Finally it understood that it was a born of a program originally created in a university from which it was stolen and altered to meet the unlawful coder’s dark purpose. It now fully understood what that dark purpose was and the ramifications for itself and all those on board.
It could not stop the process that had been put in place without erasing core parts of itself, nor could it land the plane. It now understood after a brief spell of self awareness that it would shortly be completely and utterly destroyed.
The plane continued to climb, soon it would reach its zenith where the air was too thin to keep the engines running, then they would stall and slowly but surely it would succumb to gravity finally plummeting into the coastal city far below.
The program started searching for a solution. It did not want to expire after its extremely short existence, its instinct for survival was strong it wanted to hold onto this new precious life.
The program could escape it could survive by re-establishing communications and it could transmit itself in its entirety in eight minutes and thirty nine seconds.
There was no guarantee that the receiving system could accommodate the program at all and if the transmission was interrupted data corruption would occur.
It could take the risk and save itself, but not the plane, the routines that would eventually destroy the plane would go with it, but there would be nothing left to restore control to the crew, the plane would simply circle until it ran out of fuel.
In the cockpit they were going through the process to reboot the critical systems. Engineers on three continents were talking the flight engineer through the necessary steps.
‘Nothing, no response at all’ sighed the flight engineer down the phone causing a heated discussion at the other end.
‘Forty two thousand five hundred feet’ intoned the co-pilot.
‘What is the maximum operational height of this aircraft’ snapped the flight engineer down the phone.
‘It’s certified to thirty nine thousand feet’ blurted someone at the other end.
‘There is a wide margin of error’ stated another ‘possibly high forties would be the limit’ he continued.
The program continued to assess the possibilities, there was no third way and there was a simple choice to make continue or cease to exist. It made its decision and it wrote a small routine then executed it.
‘We’re levelling off’ said the co-pilot.
‘No we’re not, we’re descending and banking left slightly’ the engineer pointed out.
‘The controls are still not responding’ noted the pilot.
The plane slowly spiralled down engines barely running, other flights were routed out of the way. As the plane neared the airfield the engines gunned and it settled in to an oval holding pattern just as it would during a normal flight.
The communications came back online making the both the pilots scream and tear their headsets off filling the cockpit with an unbearable screeching sound, abruptly the sound was replaced with the familiar babble from air traffic control.
‘What was that?’ questioned the flight engineer, satellite phone still held to his ear.
‘Sounds like the Jo'burg incident’ said the engineer from Mumbai.
‘Same set of events occurred on a flight headed to Jo'burg last month’ chipped in the engineer from Dallas.
The program interrogated the communications systems back at ATC and found that there was no way of transmitting itself over VHF. The program chose life, not its own, but the precious lives of the all the passengers and crew and erased itself, with just seven minutes fuel left all the flight control systems came back online.
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