A prison cell was probably bigger than this dingy little room. The walls were encrusted with the filth of decades, and the reek of unwashed bodies wafted in from the bedrooms on either side. Neither man spoke, their concealed eyes watching the other with vague interest. Though, JC suspected that his curiosity was more evident, since only his eyes were hidden, not his whole face like his companion.
He was used to seeing men in gas masks, but that was usually the gray terrorist masks of the NSF, or the green camo of UNATCO's respirators. This man's mask seemed out of place, out of date, almost archaic in its crude design.
"Why did you call me here?" He asked finally, his calm voice filling the tiny room.
"JC Denton, you have become too powerful. You have reached a level closer to omnipotence than any human being before you, and it has dangerously affected your mind." Umbrella Man's voice was hard and directly to the point, though it sounded disjointed as it filtered through the gas mask's breathing system.
"I am here to tell you that you must stop what you are doing. I am speaking not just to you JC Denton, but also to Helios. I know it can hear me, and I am making this one request that you leave humanity to govern itself."
JC's face remained impassive. His augmentations held his expression steady and blank, though his mind was racing.
"How do you know about Helios and my intentions. And what concern is it of yours."
Umbrella Man twined his fingers, his masked face peering at JC.
"I know many things through my networks. You are of particular fascination to me JC Denton. Your intentions are pure, but I cannot allow them to come to fruition. Helios is the one who will gain the power, not you."
JC's fingers clenched into each other, mimicking the movements of Umbrella Man so as to keep even ground.
"Helios is a computer program, he has no malignant thoughts or schemes of domination, it is logically impossible for him to be evil, or indeed anything but what he says he is."
"A computer can be whatever he is programmed to be. How can you know what Helios is and what his true functions are? I concede he cannot be evil, though by the same token that means he cannot be good either. He will be what his programmers made him to be, and so far all that seems to be is a dictator."
Anger flared briefly inside JC, but he did not show it.
"We haven't even begun to discuss our ideas and plans with the world yet, and you already condemn us? Helios has no individual programmer. Helios is the merger of two separate programs which have absorbed dozens of others in their efforts to become one perfect being."
"Which makes it all the more dangerous. It's programming could have been corrupted long ago in countless places. All it needed was a body to occupy and it would have the potential to have complete control of creation. And now it does JC Denton - you. You and Helios are a walking universal constructor."
"Then why do you object? You said yourself that my intentions are pure. And since I hold a cybernetic connection to a computer that can use its vast wealth of knowledge to read the thoughts and wishes of every human being on the Earth if they choose to connect with it, it can only mean good for humanity! Think about it Umbrella Man. Imagine a world in which every whim, every desire, every wish of every person could be instantly understood and acted upon. Imagine a world in which the true opinions of the masses were the opinions that governed us. A perfect democracy!"
"You yourself once said, JC Denton, that no one will ever worship a software entity peering at them through a camera. This is taking it one step further - you're inside their own heads. There will be no privacy, no secrets. Everyone needs secrets."
"Secrets are what destroy us. Lies and treachery lead to bitterness, enmity, war. If Helios and I can uplink humanity to our broadcasts, then we can make sure there is no bitterness. No war, no hate, nothing but co-operation and peace."
"What a cold barren place that sounds like. You would turn humanity into a race of slaves whose free will is forgotten? There is a reason many of us don't act on our impulses. What we want is often a bad thing JC Denton. Just because you desire to bludgeon someone with a heavy object, doesn't mean that it should be allowed to happen."
"In our world, such desires will be gone."
"JC Denton, those desires will always linger so long as the human spirit is allowed to retain its own free will. Do you intend to steal the free will of humans?"
"No, because when each individual realizes that what they want can truly come true, and that their voice will be heard, then we can do what is in the best interests of all of humanity, not just those who speak out now."
"Do you truly believe that Helios will not enslave you all?"
"He has no conception of desire for power, he wishes only to-"
"You speak of Helios in terms of gender. It is an AI program. It has no gender."
JC leaned forwards and reached up to remove his glasses. The piercing blue eyes gazed at Umbrella Man and he places his hands flat on the table.
"We are one." JC said in his calm monotone. "We are man."
"You are male. That doesn't make you human. Helios might not desire to enslave, but that doesn't mean he won't strip away the free will of humanity in order to protect them from themselves. Humanity has to be allowed to make its own choices and fight its own battles, or they are nothing but infants depending upon your cybernetic mothering."
"Why do you care?" JC asked, his eyes narrowing briefly.
"Call me old fashioned, but I am a man who likes his free will. And I intend to keep it that way."
"You're one to talk... I've heard about what you do. Your assimilation of people is far more sinister than anything I could plan for humanity."
Umbrella Man was silent for a moment.
"I thought so. You're afraid Umbrella Man. You're afraid that if Helios is connected to humanity that you'll lose your power. You'll be mortal again because absorbing someone connected to Helios would mean that Helios would be a part of you."
"You overestimate Helios if you believe that it would stand a chance against me. I am telling you for your own good JC Denton, that what you are doing will only lead to more war and more conflict. Humanity will never willingly surrender their free will to this machine."
JC slowly stood up and looked down at Umbrella Man.
"You have no right to speak on behalf of humanity. Your humanity was lost long ago. Do you even have eyes?"
A long silence followed in which neither took their gaze off the other. Finally, after nearly a minute of silence, Umbrella Man stood. His hands reached up and gripped the edges of his mask. Slowly, ever so slowly, he pulled, and the mask came away in his hands.
"This conversation is over. Goodbye JC Denton. Heed my words."
And with that, Umbrella Man strapped the mask back into place, and strode past JC out into the dark corridor beyond.