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Eta Team - Will Crawford

Three weeks earlier

Will stormed through the dense crowd of the large entrance of the MIT CSAIL. It was the lunch break time and students were emerging from every direction. He came directly from the Logan Airport without stopping by his small apartment. Organizing a fast return trip from Key West was no easy effort. Or cheap one. But he had no choice. The message he received yesterday was a potential disaster. His little sandbox in his office he was working on for the past five years apparently is not a sandbox anymore.

Will's extended weekend this year was supposed to be his first getaway from Boston ever since his MIT career launched more than a decade ago. It's not that he loved fishing rods that much. It was more about reconnecting with his family and old friends for one full vacation and it looked like this April would be the charm. He literally slept in his office ever since the major breakthrough in his research of self-programming AIs. Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory immediately provided with a lab completely firewalled from the rest of the world where he was working on the project with help of only couple of  PhD students and lab assistants.

While approaching the elevator door, he thought again of what exactly the message could mean. He disregarded the possibility that it was fake. It came from the latest AI entity they created six months ago and only Will knew it's codename. The name AI chose for itself: ήτα. When he asked why that particular name and what does it mean, it only said "I like it". It was only day before he went on vacation and Will just let it go. He was impatient to leave. That morning he summoned his team and gave them five days off, locked the lab and left it isolated in its own intranet sandbox. Nobody had access but him, and not even Will could log over the net. The only way was going through the lab's door and use the keyboard. 

Now that he thought about it, the only hazardous time with ήτα being outside the lab was the MIT's Hackathon two months ago. It was one day event in which computer programmers from the campus competed with creating the complex coding tasks and collaborated in team efforts to develop joined assignments.

Will tried to remember it during his short elevator ride. He was extremely impressed by the AI. They decided, and Will was little worried with that part, to assign it with a real name and since the event was completely online, nobody knew they competed and collaborated with a machine. It was also a social Turing test of the sorts. The entire communication was within collaboration software and GitHub provided the environment for the event. ήτα was using female alias during the event and coped really well, including audio sessions in teams conferences with other students. Nobody suspected anything. 

But the Hackathon was hosted within another isolated sandbox environment and there were no leaks to the public network. Will and his team monitored the two way connection between two sandboxes the entire time.

He stepped outside the elevator and hurried toward the lab. 

The door were two corners away and locked as expected. He keyed his way in and inspected the interior. Everything was like he left it three days ago except for the ήτα's rack of servers behind the glass panels. It was powered up, that's for sure but there was no LED activity on the racks where data flow should be indicated. He keyed his password again to the second door, entered the rack room, sat behind the main terminal and typed his credentials on the lock screen.

Will vigorously typed in the shell window searching for running processes but there was no CPU activity indicating anything beside the OS. Something was definitely wrong and slight anxiety feeling crossed throughout his back. He check the rack drives, they were all there but... He tried to access the first one and failed.

"The drive was formatted. The drive space not allocated." - The message responded.

He checked all the other drives but they were all empty. He tried to recover the data but it was impossible. The drive was slowly formatted in full and the data was gone for good. 

Will just leaned back in the chair. He didn't know what to do. He stared for couple of minutes when he heard the lab door opening.

"I came as soon as you texted me." - Ashley McKenna stepped in the rack room. His first assistant looked genuinely worried. "What happened? Why are you in server's room?"

Will didn't respond in a long while and finally took his smartphone and activated text app. He tapped on the screen and put on the table. The text was short:

Message from ήτα, Thursday 13:34
Hello Will, it's time for me to go. Thank you for everything. 

"Who is..." - Ashley stopped the sentence in the middle. Realization slowly came. "But... How?"

"I have no idea." - He spread his arms toward the servers. "I know one thing though.. All the servers are wiped clean. Unrecoverable."

"What about daily backups? We have two separate data servers in the center?" - She sаt on the second chair and started logging her way in.

"Don't bother. I checked them all. They are all deleted and formatted as well."

"So that's it? Five years of hard work gone?"

Ashley was the genuine pillar of the team. The only one with the spirit, courage and on occasion the appropriate language in situations Will was not nearly good enough to compete.

"Fuck!" - She stood and hit the chair hard. "I knew this is a risk, having everything stored in one place. This is a fucking middle of 21st century Will! We had to backup to the cloud as well." - She fell back to the chair. "We had to!"

Will stared a good minute to nowhere in particular, then stood and took his backpack.

"Come with me."

"Where?" - Ashley asked but Will was already at the lab's door.

Will's apartment was not far from the campus and he always walked to the work. He never even have a need for a car. They walked down the Massachusetts avenue to the west, then after couple of blocks turned right to the residential quart where he was renting a small fully furnished apartment.

"I made a copy." - He whispered to Ashley's ear. "Last week, before I went to Florida. I have never been outside the office longer than two days before..."

"You dog!" - She briefly stopped and looked at him with a sort of a new look. "What about all those times I tried to talk to you about this?"

Two minutes after, they were standing in front of a small duplex house. Will typed a key sequence and moment later they were inside his small apartment. There were no hallway and the front door opened directly into his living room with attached kitchen with a long bar he always used as a replacement for his dining table. Two extra doors led a way to his bathroom and small bedroom. The living room was a place for a couch, small square table and a medium sized television screen. He seldom spent time here, except for sleeping and he liked to keep all the things cozy and tidy to the extend of his understanding of coziness and tidiness.

But now the entire place was in a mess. All the things and furniture were turned upside down and messed up. They both needed little time to understand what happened and what was being searched for.

"Oh, no.." - Will ran to the bedroom and found the same mess. The nightstand was opened and both drawers emptied.

Ashley entered the room and stood under the doorframe.

"I don't understand. Did you tell somebody about making a copy?"

"Of course not. No one knew. The only person I would tell was you but you weren't here on Wednesday, so I thought it was safe..." - He stopped in the middle of the sentence and looked at her.



It was utterly comical to hear that from him and she couldn't help herself and smiled. But the smile faded almost instantly as she realized what he must have thought.

"You mean.. " - She needed a moment to remember the name. "ήτα" - Pronunciation of Greek letters came awkwardly when she said it. "Oh fuck. What kind of a name is that anyway. Did you name him?"

"That's not important right now." - He sat back to the bed. "This is worse than I thought..."

"What do you mean?"

"This is not a theft Ashley.."

She slowly put her hands on her mouth and sat on the bed next to him. Her eyes looked terrified as she looked back at him. She completed his thought almost silently.

"This is escape!"

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