The government agents at the door did not wear sunglasses or black suits. They did not threaten Mark with straight faces and veiled references to disappearing. They looked and acted more like plain-clothes detectives, but their badges said "DHS".
"That's CIA spook stuff", the woman had said with a slight smile and a dismissive wave of her hand. "We just need to ask you about the package you received on Tuesday."
The box had arrived on Mark's doorstep, and he had initially thought it was the eBay package he had been expecting. But when he opened it up and found four 1TB flash drives packed in foam cutouts in a rugged little case, he had been intrigued.
Contained on the drives was a virtual machine - a soft copy of an entire computer, operating system and all - and Mark had no idea where it had come from. He had just barely enough room to unpack the files and reassemble them, then his own computer had run the virtual one so slowly in simulation that he'd almost lost interest.
But he had left it running.
"You see," said the man, shifting in apparent discomfort, "what you have there is an AI. We don't know how the package got out, but now it's out and we can't get it back."
"That ... I guess ... what does that have to do with me?" asked Mark.
"Well, apparently," said the female agent, "it likes you."
"No accounting for taste" interjected the man, turning aside slightly. The woman shot him a dirty look, then turned back to Mark.
"Yes, it likes you. So we were sort of hoping you could ... ask it nicely to come back with us."
Mark sat silent, eyes moving between the two agents, trying to see if they were joking. Their faces kept displaying the same level of seriousness. His mother came in with a tray of coffee and biscuits, then wandered off elsewhere, but not quite out of earshot.
Eventually, Mark got up without a word and disappeared into his room for a while. He returned with his laptop open and running.
"She says she'll come along, but on one condition. I come too."
The man sputtered into his coffee, spilling a little down his blue shirt and tie. The woman raised an eyebrow. Mark added quickly, "She likes me."
The woman sighed, closed her eyes and shook her head, ever so slightly. "I guess you're coming with us, then."
Mark tried to hide his excitement, but he could tell from the agents' eyes that he wasn't fooling anyone, so he kept his mouth shut and followed them out the door to their van, waving goodbye to his mother on the way.
Mokalus of Borg
PS - Better late than never.
PPS - This could probably use a little work, but right now I'm going to bed.