Amanda laughed, realizing she sounded a little hysterical. This was ridiculous, something straight out of science fiction. She took a deep breath and hoped she sounded reasonable. “But he had parents, family, a childhood… I’ve seen photos…”
“But you never met anyone from his past, did you?”
“No, he’s an only child and his parents died just a few years ago. Before Brian and I met.”
“And what about your wedding? Any old friends on Brian’s side? Extended family?”
“N-no… he’s not close to his family and he grew up clear across the country, so… no none of his old friends were at the wedding.”
Lydia nodded. “There are no old friends or extended family. SAIW-02 was created in a laboratory a little over five years ago.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Amanda, we realize how inconceivable this sounds. Maybe you’d like to see for yourself,” suggested Alexander, rising from his seat. “Let us take you to Brian.”
He held out a hand to help Amanda up from the sofa and tucked it in the crook of his arm as he led her from the room. Lydia and Nathan followed a few paces behind. They followed the long hall to the elevators at the far end. When the four of them had entered and the doors closed behind them, Nathan used another retina scanner to direct it to a floor only accessible via this security. As the elevator descended, Amanda tried to recall anything, any tiny detail that she might have overlooked. Was the lack of family and friends enough to cast suspicion on his background? He had a college degree, friends from university, work friends. He excelled at his job —maybe that was no surprise— but he had made friends, he’d fallen in love with her, he had told her he wanted to have children eventually. Were those the actions of a machine? And his memories… He believed he had parents and a childhood, old friends and a family home. The truth hit Amanda like a ton of bricks. Brian didn’t know.
“Why? Why would he not know? Why would he think he was human if he’s not?” Amanda asked. “If he knew he was an ‘android super soldier’ (she air quoted) why would he have ever agreed to go to the doctor? He would have known what they would find. If what you’re telling me is true, how does Brian not know?”
“One thing at a time, Amanda,” Lydia said calmly. “I promise, we’ll tell you everything we can.”
Everything we can. Not everything, then… Amanda thought.
The elevator stopped at Subfloor Three and after a pause, the doors slid open onto another hallway identical to the one they’d left above but for one exception. There were no doors interrupting the walls on either side, just an unbroken corridor that terminated in a similar set of secure doors at the end. Alexander, still holding Amanda’s arm against him, led the way. The ubiquitous retina scanner admitted them into a glass foyer.
At first, Amanda was overwhelmed by the space. The vast laboratory seemed to take up the entire floor. All the surfaces were gleaming white and the handful of workers within were dressed as surgeons would be —white gowned, capped, masked and gloved. Alexander plucked a white jump suit from a hook on the wall and handed it to her. “It’s a clean room. We keep the dust and debris to an absolute minimum. Preserves the sensitive instruments.”
No one spoke as they suited up. When Amanda had slipped into the suit, Lydia passed her a pair of elastic booties to fit over her shoes and a cap and mask for her hair and face. Finally they each donned a pair of surgical gloves from a dispenser on the wall. After everyone was appropriately attired, Alexander opened the inner door. The dominant sound was a low hum —machine noise— with no distinct source.
Alexander led them to an area behind another wall of glass. Behind it were four bays with computer interface hardware mounted to delicate scaffolding where —in two of them— a human form was resting. Amanda’s eyes were drawn to Bay 2 where her husband lay semi-supine with a thick cable threading into his nostrils. Without Alexander’s arm supporting her she might have collapsed. “He’s been deactivated, Amanda. We’re purging the current programming and restoring him to default mode.”
She shook her head to clear it. “I still… I don’t… how…?”
“These androids were in beta testing.” Alexander gestured to the bays. For the first time Amanda noticed the second android in the bay next to Brian. Another male, this one with African American features. “They hadn’t even been introduced to the armed forces.”
Nathan cleared his throat. “They were programmed with basic human functions, only interacting within the confines of the laboratory and with the workers employed here. But their programming is intuitive, they are capable of learning and adapting.”
“Rather quickly, it seems,” Lydia interjected. “They developed some unintended and unexpected characteristics.”
“Quite right. They developed ‘feelings’,” Alexander said with obvious distaste. “Emotions, concern and sympathy, conscience, accountability, and em… guilt. Not particularly the sort of thing one wants in a weapon…”
Amanda flinched and Lydia shot Alexander a warning look. He mumbled an insincere apology as Nathan continued. “Remember, this is an experiment, Amanda. The actual deployment of the SAIW units may be years away.”
She pulled her arm from Alexander’s grasp and wandered over to the glass wall to stare at the being she had believed was her husband. “You haven’t answered my question. Why did Brian believe he was human? And how on earth did he find himself living a normal human life? With me?”
Nathan stepped forward to stand beside her. He watched as a single tear trailed down her cheek. “I’m sorry Amanda. This never should have happened.” He sighed heavily. “But some of the issues we wrestle with go beyond mere science. They’re better addressed in the realms of ethics and philosophy. What is life? What does it mean to be alive? If it is alive, does it have rights?” He glanced at her. “Those are the fundamental questions. The answer to which our lead scientist decided for himself.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
He gestured to the area behind the glass wall. “Brian’s creator decided to set him —and the rest of them— free.”
To be continued…