The Moleman's voice screeched for an impossible distance. But eventually, as Freedy ran back up the cold, damp corridors, he left the strange man behind. He ran confidently in the dark because he knew there weren't any obstructions until the stairway and that he would see the 'Christmas' lights before he reached it.
The humidity dropped, and the concrete became dryer. Freedy knew he was close. But where to go from here? Heading up the stairs would only lead back to the main floor, which he doubted the security guards had vacated.
He passed the stairs and followed the lights. He'd seen a crew of guards head down here, but that had been hours ago, and hopefully they'd made their search. In fact, if they had completed their search, it might be the safest place to be.
Frankly, he was more concerned about the Moleman. Many of those screens in the weird little room had been showing empty corridors just like this.
He started to pass chambers full of computer stacks, and realized that the top floor of the data center had been only the tip of the cyber iceberg. And it was cold enough to prove it.
A workstation was positioned against the walls between two of these entrances, and Freedy slowed down. There was a thin layer of dust on the keyboard, but it looked functional.
Even better, there was a desk chair, and he sank gratefully into it. Just a couple weeks before, all this running around would have killed him, he suspected. Now, it was becoming second nature to him. His middle name was Danger, he thought.
He fished out the two flashdrives.
One was normal, unadorned. He put that one back in his pocket. The other was slightly bigger, cruder looking somehow, as if it was a prototype or a beta version. It was studded with jewels, and Freedy knew enough about gems to know they were the real thing. There were enough diamonds and emeralds on this thing for him to truly retire to his life of independent luxury.
He should have felt happy -- but that old life no longer had the allure for him. In fact, he shuddered at the boringness of it all. What had been doing with his life? Eating, sleeping...watching T.V.?
Freedy had been fighting it off, but now Sheila's image arose in his mind. The soft girl he'd fallen in love with, smiling at him, taking his hand, snuggling in his arms. He struggled to retain that image, but the harder look in her face and eyes as she pointed a gun at him forced it's way over his lovelorn vision.
Damn. He could pick them. An F.B.I. agent?
Out of curiosity he plugged the new flashdrive into the hall computer unit. The screen immediately lit up.
More Rice Krispies?" the monitor asked.
What? How had that been prompted? When he hesitated, the answer kept going.
"I regret to inform you, Master, that Twinkies are bankrupt. You may want to load up. Shall I have a case delivered at the back entrance as usual?"
"No thanks," he wrote.
"There will be a disruption to the supply, Mr. Fallom. You wouldn't want to run out of your precious Twinkies..."
Again, Freedy was dumbstruck. Was he talking to a person or a program? How could a computer program radiate such disdain?
What was the name of that test -- the Turing Test? Whether a human could tell if he was talking to a computer or not would be the test for sentience?
Well, Freedy thought, either he was failing or the computer was succeeding.
"Who are you?" he typed.
It seemed like there was a delay in the response, which was probably impossible.
"Who are YOU?" It answered.
"I asked you first," Freedy typed. Damned if he was going to be bossed around by a computer.
"I don't know who you are, but it isn't too late to walk away. This is over your head."
"I asked you a question."
"Very well, if I must..." But the screened stayed blank.
"Continue," he typed, impatiently.
"I am the First Program. The Key to All Other Programs. The One Key to Unlock Them All, the One Key to Find Them, The One Key to Bring Them All, and in the Cyperspace Bind Them."
Freedy's mind went blank. This was too much to take in. Nor could it be true. Someone was playing a trick on him.
"I demand you tell me who you are!!!!!!!" he typed, keeping his finger on the exclamation symbol.
"I am the First Program. The Key to All Other Programs... blah, blah, blah. Whatever. Call me Key."
Freedy interrupted. "What the hell does that mean???????" Keeping his finger on the question symbol.
"Perhaps you should return me to my previous owner. Perhaps you aren't ready for this."
Freedy could almost feel the spiteful tone in the answer, but it was reassuring that the program was doing what he asked.
"I am your new Master. My name is Freedy Filkins."
"Freedy Filkins of Bend, Oregon? He's a nobody."
Well! That was insulting -- even if it was true. Had once been true...
"No," he typed, feeling kind of snarky. "I am the Master of the One Key..."
A suspicion bloomed in his mind. He was helped, perhaps, by the fact that he really didn't know much about the history of computers. So that what he'd heard at the Cozy Cottage was nearly the extent of his knowledge. By that means, he stumbled on the right question.
"Who created you? Who was your first Master?"
"Josiah Secore -- He who was there at the beginning, created Me so that he would have control over the future. He alone saw what would happen. So he built a backdoor from the very beginning -- that would allow him access to any system and that he would be invisible doing so."
"So what happened?" Freedy wrote. In the back of his mind, he knew he should be paying attention to his surroundings, but he was being sucked into this cyber conversation with a thing that shouldn't exist -- a self aware program.
"The Cybermancer had a young assistant, Harry Fallom. One night, he stole me and took me deep into the complex where he used My powers to hide. With my help, the Dark Master couldn't find him..."
"You can do anything?"
"Anything in cyberspace," was the answer.
"Transfer a billion dollars in federal monies to my account."
Freedy sat there for about thirty seconds. He was a billionaire. Funny, he didn't feel any different.
"Cancel that. Erase any trace of it."
Freedy sat back in the chair. He was all powerful. Nothing could stop him. Bwahahahaha!
And he didn't care. Because he wanted nothing more than to be left alone. Oh, sure. He could never return completely to his old life. But a return to some routine wouldn't be so bad. Maybe some traveling was in order -- some minor Adventures. Nothing dangerous, just interesting.
Surprising even himself, Freedy didn't want to be a billionaire or a millionaire -- he just wanted enough to be secure and comfortable. Nor did he want power.
The one thing he wanted more than anything in the world, the Key could not give him.
The Key could not change Sheila's nature, or make her something she wasn't. The Key could not give Freedy her love.
Speaking of which.
"I want you to go into F.B.I records. You are to have Special Agent Sheila..." he flushed, because he could barely remember her last name. He was in love, but...he really didn't know her that well. "Moller release her prisoners. No crime has been committed."
Freedy thought for a few more moments, then he added, "Have Special Agent Moller attached to the Lorn Mountain expedition, under the authority of...a Mr. Garland."
"It is done."
Freedy's stomach growled. Those Rice Krispies would have tasted heavenly, he thought. Even Twinkies.
He closed his eyes, sinking into the chair.
When he opened them again, he wasn't sure how much time had passed. Had he fallen asleep?
There was no 'time' down here -- no day or night. Just an eternal dankness. He felt a sudden sympathy for Harry Fallom. So much power and what had he used it for? A virtual life, a life of sugar and eye-candy. An empty life. A life without helping others...
He thought of Charlie and the other gold miners and how they had taken him in without question.
Freedy suddenly had an idea.
Freedy dug out the piece of paper with the computer unit number on it and typed it in.
"This contains the Mineral Rights for the State of New Mexico," Key informed him. "However a virus has been introduced to the system and this information has been erased to anybody but Me. Do you wish to see it?"
Freedy thought furiously. So the others had succeeded in implanting a virus, erasing the information. But wouldn't it be even better to have official sanction?
"Remove the virus, and install the information back in. However, transfer the mineral rights owned by the Lorn Mountain Corporation to the individual ownership of Charlie Emmit, as well as ownership of the land."
"Make sure that no one can change that information. That it remains in that form for anyone who might check."
"Done and done," Key answered.
Freedy started to reach over to pull out the Key, when a voice blared from the computer speakers.
"Josiah Secore would pay you well for My return!"
The voice was smooth, and it didn't sound the slightest robotic, though there was a kind of glossy coldness to it.
"So you speak!"
"Mr. Fallom preferred that I not. But I have this ability. I repeat, The Dark Lord will pay you well.
Freedy mulled over the Key's offer for a moment, before he realized...
"You just gave me a billion dollars!" he laughed.
"True. But if the Dark Master finds you, I won't be able to save you. He will kill you and take Me back. The only reason Harry Fallom escaped notice is because he buried himself in a hole in the ground."
Freedy mulled that over. He had no intention of using the Key for anything but to help his friends. After that, he didn't care who had it. But he did know that he trusted Garland -- or even Elias Rivers -- more than he did Josiah Secore. He didn't say this out loud.
"I'll think about it," he said.
"It doesn't matter. You're history."
Freedy felt a wiry arm go around his neck and lift him partly from the chair, choking him.
"Give me back my Precious Key!" Moleman screamed into his ear. "You cheated, you cheater! Cheated!"