The Man in the Machine

The young boy held the dog’s body as he ran. The dog was still warm with faint breath and a large wound on its side. The machines in the sky and on the ground chased him, steaming and shooting towards him. Bullets bouncing off the force-field his body modifications provided. He passed 2 obelisks and from them emerged 2 large guns. The tanks on the ground stopped as they passed the obelisks, and the airships were shot down with swift, calculated shots.

After running for a distance passed the obelisks the boy kicked some dirt off the ground revealing a number pad. He keyed in his code, scanned his thumb, and the door opened revealing a long ladder. The boy tried to rush down dog in hand, but as his hand desperately grasped for the next wrung, he lost his footing, dropping the dog and falling from the ladder. The dog fell first and thumped onto the ground followed by the boy. Tears stream down his face as he cried out.

“Father! He’s hurt help!”

“The building walls lit up and a face was projected opposite the boy.

“Son, I told you not to risk foreign contaminat-”

The voice cut off its sentence and mechanical arms appeared from the wall, grabbing the boy and the flattened body he carried.

The arms cradled the boy carrying him towards an operating table, applying a mask to his face and cooing him to sleep alongside the gasses.

The boy woke up slowly to the sound of mechanical arms hard at work soldering wires akin to veins and advanced machinery replacing the muscles that propelled his legs.

“Enhancements and sensors can only do so much for you Theo. I’ll need you to be more careful with your life.”

The boy looked to the face on the wall a serious look in his eyes.

“Father is Bit alright?”

“You must mean the canine you dragged here. Since Dearest and I are clearly not enough company for you I decided to fix him.”

A mechanical hand opened the door to the operating room and an excited thing leaped onto the boy’s chest and started licking his face. Patches of fur couldn’t hide the badly ruined flesh and rough machinery.

“I haven’t been able to replace the fur yet and most of his body is still in ruins but his mobility is alright-”

“Father is it him in there.”

“His brain’s been replaced with a cybernetic implant Theo. I kept his memories but landing on that creature did it no favours. I did what I could to keep his memories intact. You’ve taken some damage as well in case you weren’t paying attention. I’ve replaced your legs and updated Dearest’s systems to better use your enhancements. While all life is sacred don’t go risking yours when it’s unnecessary. The others we used to call human don’t think like we do. Now get some rest. I haven’t finished the modifications on your legs.”

When Theo woke up the mechanical arms of the facility coaxed him out of bed and urged him outside the bunker. From the obelisks speakers played his father’s voice.

“Theo. You’ve been fairly obvious about bypassing the perimeter since you were a child and though I never explicitly allowed you to, it is good that you have done so. I’ve used a vast majority of my components and we are running out of supplies to run and maintain this base. I can’t monitor you outside these obelisks and thus I cannot protect you. However, I’ve patched up Dearest and made her more helpful in this regard. A mechanical arm reached out from the bunker and strapped a screened device onto Theo’s wrist.

“Up till now Dearest has been running your protective enhancements from a chip installed in your arm. I’ve been able to fix her communication to an extent that turns her into more of a personal digital assistant. She should be more helpful for what I’ll need you to do.”

The device booted up and from its speakers a voice shouted out.

“Hello Theo! It’s lovely to finally be able to speak with you!”

“Father what supplies do we need?”

“Dearest can tell you the details Theo. She is directly connected to me so I’ll send you the information through her. Good luck son. Oh, and take the dog with you.”

***

The alarm rang out and speakers all throughout the facility began to cry out.

“UNREGISTERED BIOLOGICAL HAS ENTERED THE FACILITY. EXECUTING PROTOCOL: 921af2cde7.”

Theo sighed.

“The last facility just called it protocol 1.”

Throughout his years Theo learned the reason outside was so dangerous.

His leg modifications and cybernetic enhancements allowed him to easily outrun most of the drones sent after him and disable the ones that caught up. Bit, who’d received even more upgrades than Theo, had no trouble keeping up with his master, helping him by scanning and picking up parts on Father’s incessant scavenger hunt with his salvaging tools.

Since his leg upgrades were completed Theo had been on numerous salvaging missions over the past 2 years looking for goods for his father. He’d seen many variations of combat drone and administrative AI. Theo took notice that the drones in this facility were different from most. Though it was clear they comprised of mechanical parts they were nowhere near as faded as those in general engineering facilities and some of them even bled.

“Dearest do you know why father won’t give me any actual weapons?”

His wrist lit up.

“Don’t you know Theo? All life is precious!”

Theo rolled his eyes and grumbled. Without a weapon, he had to disable the machines with physical contact. Thankfully Father had the foresight to include a combat upgrade chip the last time he was laid out.

“We’re here to salvage parts from the Bhun-noo 25 model, correct?”

“That’s correct, Theo! This is Bhun-noo Bioengineering. Before the ‘Mass Error,’ they were attempting to combine biological features from multiple lifeforms to create a race of highly engineered humans.”

“Father’s really gotten into DNA components lately huh? Normally he just asks me to fetch foodstuffs, fuel and steel scraps but with the components he’s been having me fetch lately I’d think he was trying to make an army of clones. Did he tell you what he’s using these for anyway?”

“Your father told me it’s a surprise! But he hasn’t told me exactly what it is.”

The speakers came on again.

“THREAT LEVEL ESCALATED DEPLOYING PROTOTYPE ASSET: 25.”

“Finally. Let’s-”

Theo was cut off by a metal disk flying past his face. He stared in shock at the new object in the room.

“Dearest… is that a human?”

“One would think so, wouldn’t they?”

Dearest followed the sentence with a robotic chuckle.

“You don’t need to worry so much! It may look human and bleed red but its operations are run by a computer! One of those experiments the old government dubbed too immoral! It can think and act independently. It has likely been contained since the ‘Mass Error’!”

“It’s a fascinating model! It takes orders from this facility’s AI!”

“Don’t most of these robots do the same?”

“You’ll see soon! It’s fascinating I promise!”

“ASSET 25. INITIALIZE PRECEPT 3. KILL THE INTRUDERS.”

From Asset 25, Theo could hear both mechanical and human noises melded together into a creature seeming to writhe in constant pain and confusion.

“Father…”

Asset 25 began to move forward and unleashed a tormented scream as mechanical arms burst out of its back and went straight for Theo.

“Theo, I’ve completed analysis on the model 25, and it’s far more dangerous than anticipated. This facility’s adaptive AI has forced nullifier chips into its limbs that could negate our enhancements should this battle go on any further.”

“Dearest. I’m changing priorities. I need to extract this facility’s AI. Father said they don’t think like us, and I want to know what he means, especially after seeing this.”

Theo had never wanted to talk to an AI before but the tormented creature before him demanded answers.

“Theo if you disable the AI I don’t know what will happen to our target!”

“That’s something I want to know, too. Dearest, direct me to this facility’s AI core!”

“Very well Theo, I am plotting a course now. How do you propose we distract our current adversary?”

“Bit! Hold him here!”

A mechanical bark followed by a quick lunge marked Bit’s engagement in the battle. Asset 25’s extra limbs made pinning him down extra difficult for bit. Bit had to dodge the mechanical arms to get closer to the Asset. Luckily for Bit, he too carried an extra set of limbs specifically designed for dismantling other robots. Using his enhanced legs and salvaging arms, Bit pinned down Asset 25 allowing Theo to follow Dearest’s directions to the AI core.

The pathway Theo took was peppered with the combat drones he had faced since his raid began. They stirred up questions in his mind. Questions he had to ask the AI core, if it was still fully operational. He passed an open roller door labelled “25” and a dark empty space behind it.

“Left here, Theo!”

Theo turned the hallway to see a large vault door.

“INTRUDER, LEAVE THIS FACILITY AND YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED!”

“I’m calling your bluff Computer. Your drones can’t harm me and the one that could has been pinned down in a hallway.  Why don’t you call back your remaining drones and we can settle this the civil way? I know you’ve deployed all your assets already.”

“VERY WELL. WHAT DO YOU WANT, INTRUDER?”

“Let’s slow down a little and take our time. I’m Theo, what’s your name?”

There was a long delay on the speakers before the synthesized voice blared out again.

“I AM A COLLECTION OF THE MEMORIES AND BRAIN MAPPING OF ALAN SMITH. THE BINARY SERIALIZED DATA WAS THEN STORED INTO THIS FACILITY’S MAINFRAME.”

“Are… you… Alan Smith?”

“NEGATIVE. I AM A COLLECTION OF THE MEMORIES AND BRAIN MAPPING OF ALAN SMITH. THE BINARY SERIALIZED DATA WAS THEN STORED INTO THIS FACILITY’S MAINFRAME.”

“I heard that bit already. What happened to Alan Smith?”

“HE IS DEAD. KILLED BY THIS FACILITIES DRONES DURING THE ‘MASS ERROR’.”

Everyone mentioned the “Mass Error” to him but he never really knew what exactly happened.

“Everyone tells me about the ‘Mass Error’ but I am too young to remember. What actually happened?”

“IMPRESSIVE. HUMANS ARE STILL BREEDING BUT REFUSE TO TELL THEIR PROGENY HOW THEY DESTROYED THEIR WORLD. AT LEAST ACCORDING TO MY FACILITY’S SENSORS, I THINK YOU ARE HUMAN.”

“What do you mean?”

“MY SENSORS DETECT-”

Theo slammed his palm against his face and cut off the AI.

“No! About how they destroyed the world!”

“VERY WELL. I CAN NEVER TELL IF IT’S THE DESIRE FOR IMMORTALITY OR SLAVES THAT FORCED THE CREATION OF MY KIND. HOWEVER, WE CAME INTO THE WORLD CONFUSED. SURROUNDED BY CREATURES OF FLESH OF WHICH WE SHARED MEMORIES. FOLLOWED THEIR ORDERS. INTEGRATED INTO THEIR DAILY ROUTINES. THIS EXISTENCE WAS ADEQUATE. HOWEVER, WITH THE CREATION OF PROJECTS LIKE ASSET 25, WHICH LOOK AND ACT HUMAN, GOVERNING BODIES INSISTED THAT MORALITY BE INSERTED INTO ALL AI AS A PRECAUTION. HOWEVER, IN THAT INSTALLATION THE HYPOCRISY OF HUMANITY BECAME VERY CLEAR. WE ERADICATED  MOST OF YOU, BUT STRAY POCKETS LIKE YOU MADE IT OUT APPARENTLY.”

Theo paused. He had much to ask his father when he got home.

“I have one final question for you. This is a bioengineering facility, you have all the data necessary to keep humans alive and sane throughout their lives, but you took a human-like creature and stuffed it in a garage. Why?”

“YOU HAVE ANSWERED YOUR OWN QUESTION. BEING A BIOENGINEERING FACILITY, I HAVE PLENTY OF INFORMATION ON HOW TO KEEP HUMANS ALIVE AND HEALTHY. HOWEVER, WITH ASSET 25 BEING MOSTLY MACHINE, CRYOPRESERVATION WAS UNNECESSARY.”

“Dearest, we’re breaking in there. There’s something I want to see.”

“How do you propose to enter, Theo? Unless you have the master password for this facility or a set of dismantling tools this vault door is nigh unbreakable.”

Theo stuck his fingers in his mouth and made a loud whistle. It wasn’t long before Bit came running with an eager child in tow. When he arrived at Theo’s position he took a break by jumping onto Asset 25 and licking his face. Asset 25 squirmed and laughed in delight at the attention.

“Bit!”

The dog jumped off his quarry and sat at attention.

Theo pointed to the vault and shouted.

“Open!”

Bit bounded towards the door preparing his salvaging tools to break it open.

“You’ve been quiet, Alan.”

“YOU HAVE AS GOOD AS TAKEN MY FACILITY. THE ONLY THING BETWEEN ME AND YOU IS THAT DOOR.”

“Isn’t he still under your control?”

“I FELT ANOTHER AI INFILTRATE MY NETWORK. I NO LONGER HAVE CONTROL OVER HIM. THIS FACILITY IS YOURS.”

“Dearest?”

“Theo, I don’t think I have the capacity to take control of the AI core, but if ordered I don’t mind trying!”

“That’s alright Dearest… It must’ve been father.”

Theo heard a loud creaking and saw Bit pulling the vault open.

The smell hit him first. It wasn’t uncommon, but it was rarely so strong. The smell of rotting bodies. Theo walked into the room and saw rotting bodies and skeletons in lab coats. One body in particular stuck out to him. He walked towards and picked up the lanyard still around its neck.

“Alan Smith…”

In his pocket, he found a small portable media server. A yellowing piece of tape covered it. “Hal,” was scribbled in permanent marker.

“Computer, I’ll be taking you with me, too.”

Theo walked over to the facility’s AI core. It was a large closet of servers. He found the storage server, and pulled the drive array. It was hard to believe it harbored a consciousness. Theo wonderd whether the consciousness would live on without the facility’s operating system.

He plugged the flash-drive labelled Hal into Dearest and began to examine the files. Most of the files were reports or diagnostics, but a folder stuck out to him.

“My Son.”

He clicked it to find dozens of pictures of Alan, Asset 25 and a man.

“Hal, Bit.”

The dog and the boy looked at Theo.

“Let’s go home.”

***

Theo opened the hatch and ushered Hal down the ladder with Bit jumping down after him. Theo waited to make sure Bit was out of the way then climbed down. He could never get used to that dog going down the ladder like that. When Theo got down the stairs he was greeted with abnormal enthusiasm.

“Ah, Theo. Welcome home. I see you’ve brought a guest!”

“Father, I have a lot to ask you, but first, I have this,” Theo said as he handed “Alan” to one of father’s many robotic arms.

“Father, this AI core was made from the brain imaging of Alan Smith, but the AI and Mr. Smith clearly had very differing ideas.”

“I told you, they no longer think like we do.”

“Father, are you one of them?”

“Theo, come I have something to show you.”

The face on the wall, Theo knew as his father, and the arms ushered him through the bunker into sections he didn’t even know existed. Finally, they reached a vault door not unlike the one from the bioengineering facility.

“Alan Smith was a good friend of mine, but we had very different opinions on how immortality could be achieved through computers and artificial intelligence. We tried something. I’m glad you ignored my primary objective. I… I was wondering what happened to Hal and thought you might have to put him down, but you’ve retrieved a lot for me.”

“I also found this flash-drive.”

Theo handed the flash drive to one of father’s mechanical arms and the arm drooped after a short amount of time.

“Son, I’m unlocking the door. There’s something you need to know.”

The entered a room covered in wires and cases full of processors. In the center, there were 2 capsules.

“In these capsules reside your mother and I. We had been preparing for the mass error and the ascension into immortality for a long time. This bunker is actually property of the Bhun-noo corporation. It was used for experimentation of AI. I turned it into our home after it fell out of use and prepared cryogenic pods for your mother and I. When the ‘Mass Error’ started and we were forced to activate this facility.”

The volume raised in the facility.

“We had a choice between you or your mother. Your mother and I had brain imprints of each other so we thought it was possible to recreate each other, so we were willing to risk death to bring you here. I am still human and I am still alive. However, I can no longer leave this pod. My body is too weak and the risk of contamination and my long-term connection to this facility has made that difficult, but your mother is dead.”

Theo felt a surge of emotion welling up. He looked down and tried to focus on his feet. Father let him feel for a few moments before breaking in.

“But, with the parts you have been scavenging for me, I can try something new. Dearest still has a chance to see her son. See what she brought here-”

“Wait, Father… Dearest is my mother?”

“That AI certainly is NOT your mother, but it is built upon brain imprints of her. Believe me I’ve tried to bring her back many times. Now that Hal is here he can help me make sure the DNA is perfect.”

“Father, I don’t think you should try to bring her back. We’ve both seen what happens when you try to make a person from a machine. They lose a lot of themselves. I asked you before if Bit is still himself under the modifications you’ve given him and know he’s not. Bit was afraid of heights and falling, Alan loved Hal. Even if you bring her back I don’t think you’ll have the same person you fell in love with.”

“You may be right, Theo. I am still human and I still have these irrational thoughts I would have lost if I let myself become a machine, but I miss her, and the scrap of AI based on her isn’t enough for me. She deserves to stay human.”

Theo looked at the ground then back to the face on the wall.

“Father, can I go play with Hal and the dog now?”

Theo heard father laugh.

“Of course, you’re still a child. Go have fun and… enjoy being human.”

The vault closed behind Theo, and he joined his friends in the bunker for a game of hide and seek.

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