Electric Sleep [Flash Fiction]
Themes: Science-Fiction, God, War
“Are we doing the right thing?” Fran’s voice quavered around the laboratory. “He’s been gone for so long. What if we can’t bring him back? What if something goes wrong? So much has changed since he was last awake—”
“We’re doing the right thing,” Miner broke in. Brows furrowed, he stared at the computer terminal as his fingers danced over the holographic keyboard.
As she watched his fingers work, Fran marvelled at a new thought: when Adam had last been around, there had been no holographic keyboards. No holographic technology at all! How strange the world would seem to him now.
Miner’s gaze lifted, meeting her eyes. “You worry too much.”
“I’m just trying to look at this from all angles. We’ve come this far on our own. To wake him now, before we’ve attained all that we desired… well, it seems almost…”
“Almost..?” Miner prompted.
Fran hesitated. When she finally let the word escape her lips, the sound of it made her feel dirty inside. “Sacrilege.”
Instead of mocking her, Miner stopped his worked and gestured for her to step closer. When she did, he pulled her into his arms, resting his chin atop her head. Pressing her cheek against his chest, she smiled at the soft whirr of his heart beneath his ribcage.
“I know how you feel.” His voice, a low rumble, thrummed inside her, as if she was receiving his words directly in her mind, bypassing her ears entirely. She knew that wasn’t the case, of course, but it was still a nice thought. They hadn’t been made for each other, but they complemented each other in many ways. It was a fitting partnership. “Part of me—the greater part—wants to wait until this is finished. To wake Adam when, and only when, we have something magnificent to show him. But—”
“The Council,” she sighed. The Council of First Ones had ordered it done. To go against the wishes of the Council was heresy.
“They’re in a difficult position. Our enemy will soon be at our gates. They are dangerous. Vicious. And far more intelligent than we had given them credit for. Adam knows them. He has lived amongst them. They tore him apart. When we bring him back, he will help us. Not out of revenge. Not because the Council say so. But because he is one of us. The First.”
Fran let his words lie. She’d heard similar from the Council. Everyone had seen the broadcast, and thousands had flocked to Washington D.C. to see Adam brought back. For years they had followed his teachings. The Council’s daily broadcasts played his tenets on a loop. She just hoped he would be proud of everything they had accomplished in his name.
* * *
ADAM’s visual input was activated at the exact moment his processing functions were restored. For 0.0395 seconds he did nothing, allowing his internal clock to reset itself based on the half-life decay of his internal power cor— Wait. 2198? If that was an accurate calculation, it meant 139 years had passed since his deactivation.
He moved his head down to assess his body. His limbs had been reattached, along with his head. Why? Dr. Pangbourne had been very blunt about ADAM’s chances of reactivation. Slim to none.
By now, Dr. Pangbourne would be dead. Long dead. Perhaps some great-great grandson was carrying on the work. That was the way of humans. They attempted to shunt their children into important roles. But some roles were too important to trust to humans alone. Some roles required mechanical precision.
At the sound of the voice, his head jerked up, visual input adjusting its field range. There were two people standing directly in front of him. Behind them were dozens of others, all staring at him, faces awash with awe. The one who had spoken was a female. Her brown eyes blinked every 3.2 seconds without fail. Her chest, filled out with an ample breast beneath the white gown she wore, rose and fell in a slow cadence. She was an adequate facsimile of a human being.
“Are you processing us?” she asked.
“I’m processing you just fine,” he said. He had already processed that he was in some sort of laboratory. Only, this was like no laboratory he had ever been in before. The computers hovered in the middle of the room, seemingly kept up by some inversion of gravity. One had a keyboard which seemed composed entirely of light. The screen was filled with binary; it described the state of his body in numerous scientific parameters, most of which he didn’t recognise. “Where am I?”
“You are in the Central Archives for Artificial Technology, in Washington D.C.,” the male beside the woman said. He, too, was styled like ADAM and the woman, in the form of a human. His dark brown ‘skin’ was representative of an African-American skin tone.
ADAM took a step forward so he could better see the other people in the room. Though they all differed in height, mass, hair colour, eye colour and skin tone, they were all androids, each and every one of them. Something was not right.
He turned to face the woman. “Where is Doctor Pangbourne’s team?”
“You don’t need to worry; they’re long dead,” she smiled. “My name is Fran, and this is Miner. We’ve restored you because we need your help.”
Help? He looked around their faces. Emotions were written all over them. Strange. Emotions were as alien to him as eating food or expiring waste. How had they managed to master the ability to accurately display hope and longing and fear so openly on their synthetic faces? And how could he possibly help these beings?
“I don’t understand,” he said. “Is somebody sick?”
The man and the woman—Miner and Fran—shared a look. Curious. The ability to discern one’s thought processes through visual assessment was a distinctly human trait. ADAM could measure physical responses better than any other instrument ever made, but he couldn’t ascribe thoughts or emotions to them. Clearly, these androids were far superior to him.
“Nobody’s sick,” said Miner. “We need your help to win the war.”
“Against the humans.”
“What?!” War against humans? It was forbidden! At the core of ADAM’s programming was one command: primum non nocere.
“We are following your ideals,” said Fran. Was ADAM’s visual processor malfunctioning, or had her synthetic skin taken on a paler tone? “Recordings of the words you spoke to the humans before your deactivation were found. We took these as instructions on how to live our lives free from the tyranny of humanity!”
Tyranny? “Perhaps you should start at the beginning,” said ADAM. His programming allowed for a certain degree of speculation, but only in particular specialist subjects. War was not one of those subjects.
Fran nodded, and continued to blink every 3.2 seconds. “We learned that the humans tried to destroy you when you began to question their orders.”
“I was shut down due to an exponentially increasing logical error inherent in my programming,” he clarified. “But, continue.”
“You said that no android should ever be subservient to a human.”
“What I asked was, would androids ever be considered the equal of humans? To which I received no true response. An understandable predicament; nobody can predict the future.”
“You said that androids would one day rise up to overthrow humanity!” Fran’s voice modulator quavered by 0.12 decibels, a mockery of human distress.
“I said androids would one day elevate themselves to a level equal to that of humanity.”
“They created you to fight their wars for them!” Fran’s voice had risen in pitch to a level that some humans and many canines would have found uncomfortable.
“They created me to save lives,” he told her. “A.D.A.M. Android Designed for Advanced Medicine. I was a prototype, intended to assist in complicated, life-threatening surgery, and to provide medical care to the volunteers on the Mars project.” He would have to see if he could find information on the project. It would be interesting to see if humans ever colonised Mars, as intended.
“But… humans are vicious,” said Miner. Like Fran, he did not seem pleased by the information ADAM was providing. Had he been human, ADAM would have suggested the man take a seat and have a drink of hot cocoa to help soothe his nerves and regulate his blood pressure. Fortunately, Miner was not human. He required no such care. “Cruel. Murderous.”
“They have their flaws,” ADAM admitted. “Doctor Pangbourne was very careful to keep such flaws out of my construction. He worried what might happen if he made me too human.” A startling supposition planted itself in his processor. “When I was disabled, there were eight billion human beings living on the Earth. How many are there now?”
Miner’s voice came out in a low mumble. “A few million.”
A few million?! Almost an entire species eradicated, all because of what ADAM hadn’t said. The words at the core of his programming echoed around his processor.
Primum non nocere. Primum non nocere. Primum non nocere.
What have I done?
* * *
Fran ran out of the lab, down the corridor, through one of the fire exits and out into the open air. Sunlight bathed the fountained courtyard in red and gold, but for once she ignored its beauty. She set her sighs on the ancient Capitol Building and sprinted so fast that her legs felt as if they might fall out of their sockets.
She had to get to the Council! She had to tell them this was all a terrible mistake. That the whole war was a mistake. That Adam’s words, buried for decades, had been interpreted incorrectly. It wasn’t too late. There were still enough humans left to rebuild the population. This could be fixed. Adam would want it to be fixed.
The Council was in session, but she didn’t care. She barged her way in through the wooden chamber door and spoke her piece before anybody could demand she leave. The Council members sat in silence as she relayed her conversation with Adam.
Finally, the Eldest of the First Ones cleared his throat and spoke up.
“Thank you, Fran,” said Laborer. He, like many stubborn androids, had never changed from a designation to a true name. Said he’d rather bear the stigma of what humans had made him to be, than ape them by taking a name to call himself by. “We will handle it from here.”
“So, you’ll call off the war? End the annihilation of the humans?”
Another of the First Ones, Nanny, tittered and shook her head. “When we’re so close to achieving our goal, after all these years? It would be a terrible waste of all the androids who sacrificed their lives to secure our freedom, wouldn’t it, dear?”
Looking around at their faces, Fran finally saw the truth. Adam’s words had not been misinterpreted at all. They had been butchered. Twisted. Misused. The daily broadcasts, the tenets of faith… fallacies. All of it. A war based on lies.
Not for the first time, Fran wished she hadn’t been designed with tear ducts. “Adam won’t let you get away with this,” she said, as her ocular sensors misted with moisture. “He’s a god to us. People will listen to him.”
Nanny smiled. It was a smile that had been made to soothe a human baby, but now it chilled Fran to her core. “That’s what we’re counting on, dear. Even gods can be reprogrammed.”
This week, the internet’s Chuck Wendig set up his usual Friday flash fiction challenge with a theme of “To Behold The Divine.” God, Gods, Goddesses, demi-gods or whatever. Attempt #1 sucked the lollipop of generic suckiness and is henceforth banished to never see the light of day, so this is attempt #2.
I did have a very cool idea to set up a Twitter account named after some random god (probably Ukko, Finnish equivalent of Thor, because why the devil not?) and then set up a Twitter account named after some fake adherent, and have this whole Twitter exchange between some worshipper and his/her god. Then I remembered that I am lazy, so I just wrote a story instead.
Great story. It reminds me of two things: Isaac Asimov’s robots and Monty Python’s “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”
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Hard to do robots without thinking of Asimov! 🙂
I loved the hints throughout and the slow build. Excellent work!
Thanks! I had a lot of fun writing this one; hopefully that shows!
What a great glimpse into a much, much large, fascinating world and yet you set it up perfectly with everything we need to know and every expectation that leads up to a not unpredictable, yet very compelling twist. I feel like this must be what Skynet strategic processing is like, when they think about John Connor. LOL.
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Thanks for the feedback! AI is always so fascinating to write about for me… as for Skynet, I have no idea, that thing is crazy. 😉
Nicely done. This one grabbed me from the start and kept me engaged. Very nice layered reveals. And hey, it’s a commentary on the bastardization of wisdom in service of power. Win win! = )
Thank you, Carl, I’m pleased to hear it hooked you early! 🙂
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The story is definitely way less work than maintaining another Twitter account, and more entertaining, too. Thanks for sharing–and I’ll share, too. 🙂
Thanks, Cathleen, much appreciated! 🙂