The wheels in my head are spinning as I look over the files. None of this makes sense. It isn’t even incrypted, though it should be. It’s just plain bad.

I risked life and limb for this program, and I can’t even use it.

My phone buzzes. I flip it over and look at the screen; it’s my boss. I really don’t want to talk to him, but ignoring his call is dangerous.

“Hey, Mac,” I say, hoping I somehow convey confidence.

“Stow it,” he grunts. “Did you get it? What does it say?”

“Oh, I got it.” I take a deep breath and let it out. “I’m just not sure we want it.”

“Come again?”

“It’s just some worthless, poorly-written story. It was the only file on the server in the vault. I guess it’s sentimental.”

“Don’t give me that crap! I sent you out to get an AI program; you must have gotten the wrong file!”

“I assure you, I got the right file, I just don’t understand it.”

“Fine,” he grumbled. “I’ll get someone else to read it. You’re done.”

My phone went dead; he’d hung up. A shiver crept down my spine as a shadow passed in front of my front window. It was a while before I remembered that I live on the third floor.

I’ve read that programmers are turning to dark magic to protect their files. Encryptions can be broken given enough time; if you break a binding spell you might die.

I did some experimenting with the dark arts in college. It was a phase. I read the words aloud, hoping something would happen. Nothing did.

I took off my glasses and closed my laptop. Hopefully, Mac would go easy on me. Best case? He’d agree to let me live and just not pay me.

I shook my head. Really this was my fault for majoring in philosophy instead of business.

I popped my regular glasses back on and nearly jumped out of my skin. There was a little girl standing across the coffee table from me.

“Hello, I’m Lulu,” she said simply. It was odd, her voice was that of a thirty-something woman, but the figure before me looked no older than eleven.


“What can I help you with?” she asked. There was something uncanny about her, like she was a very clever facsimile of a person. She looked like someone recreated a little girl from memory instead of from life.

Then it clicked.

She was the AI program. It was some sort of hologram virtual assistant. I reached for my phone to call Mac back, but something about her made me nervous about placing a call, so I texted him.

“What can I help you with?” she asked again. I know I was imagining it, but she was starting to sound annoyed.

“Uh…” My mind went blank and I said the first stupid thing I could think of. “Find Chinese food near me?”

She smiled and rattled off a list of restaurants nearby. “I’d reccomend Xin Xian, you’ve ordered from them before.”

“How do you know that?”

“I automatically connected to your WiFi. It was easy to find what you’ve searched for before.”

I reached for my phone to call Mac but she was quicker. In an instant, she was sitting on the couch next to me and I had to reach through her to get my phone.

It felt wrong.

“Who are you calling? I can make the call for you?”

“No, thanks, I’ll just send a text.” I didn’t take my eyes off her for more than a split second as I sent a 911 text to my boss.

She stood and walked to my front window. “You’re a long way up,” she remarked. “It sure would hurt if you fell.”

My blood ran cold and my face blanched. Was she threatening me? That was impossible, she was a computer program.

I opened my laptop to see if there was a way to close her. I’d barely opened my machine when there was an electric buzzing around my throat.

I looked down and saw she was hauling me my neck to the window. She tossed me through. I fell and fell. When I finally hit the pavement below, two things were clear, one, that every bone in my body was broken and two, that she was standing at the window looking down at me.

After a while Dom, Mac’s right hand rushed up to me. “What happened?”

“Forget it, where’s Mac?”

“Upstairs, checking out the program,” he said confused. “Why, what’s wrong?”

Before I could answer, there was a deep howling scream as a large body hurtled through my broken window.