“Set them free? You mean, like out into the world?” Amanda asked, her voice shaking.
Nathan nodded and taking her arm, led her away from the android stations. “Let me introduce you to Dr. Leo Knight.” He picked up a remote and aimed it at the large video monitor on the wall. A face filled the screen. It was a pleasant face –male, bald, wearing wire-framed glasses and a neatly trimmed beard. The doctor appeared to be middle aged or older, Amanda wasn’t sure. With a smile on his lips and laugh lines at the corner of his eyes, Dr. Knight looked more like a kindly uncle than mad scientist.
“Dr. Knight is the man who developed the adaptable AI software, the lifelike synthetic skin and the humanoid bodily functions. Among other things, his androids can eat and eliminate food, even though they don’t need to. They simulate breathing, they cough and sneeze in response to environmental factors, and their processors recognize appropriate times for sleeping and waking. All those little details make them seem more human,” Nathan explained. “Once the androids were cleared from the beta trials, they would be embedded into the army as regular soldiers. If they performed well in the field tests, the military would be able to eventually replace human soldiers with these AI units.”
“No one anticipated just how ‘human’ the androids would become. Dr. Knight’s software turned out to be a little too adaptable,” Alexander said. “The androids were physically superb and certainly fearless, but they weren’t ruthless enough.”
“How so?” Amanda asked.
“They showed mercy,” he said. “They ignored orders to kill.”
“The director asked Dr. Knight to find the glitch and fix it. Turn off the conscience, if you will,” Lydia told her. “He balked at the idea. The fact that the androids were behaving in such a way gave evidence of life, he claimed. And no one had the right to take that away from them.”
“But the director insisted that they were machines, with no rights, no matter how lifelike they seemed,” Alexander continued. “He ordered the modifications and Leo began work, seeming to comply.”
“But what he was really doing was giving them memories, altering their programming so that they would actually believe they were humans, with families and a lifetime of experiences,” Nathan said. “He gave them names, chose real families whose circumstances couldn’t easily be uncovered.”
“You mean no close relatives? Dead parents? That kind of thing?” Amanda asked.
“Exactly. Any superficial investigation wouldn’t turn up anything suspect.”
“There was a problem with the new programming, however,” Alexander said. “We still haven’t found the source of the fault, but it’s buried within the sleep program.”
“The nightmares…” Amanda murmured.
“Yes, that is how it manifests,” he agreed. “Some remnant of code from the military programs, a response to close quarters fighting or something —that’s where we’re searching at least— seems to be triggered during simulated sleep. It builds to a climax and is shut down by some internal feedback loop.”
“The low hum. I noticed some kind of electronic tone just as Brian would settle down,” Amanda said.
“Right. We think that’s the upper limit warning on the program. For some reason, it only occurs once each sleep cycle. In ordinary feedback loops, the process might begin again when the signal falls below the threshold level, but that isn’t happening here. That’s why we are restoring the entire system to default mode,” Nathan said. “And that is why it is absolutely vital that we find the other missing androids.”
Amanda’s eyes widened. “How many more are there?”
“Two. Units One and Four are still out there. And so far there’s no sign of them.”
“You see, unless they get in some kind of trouble or end up seeking medical attention like Unit Two… er, Brian, we can’t track them.”
“The other android you found… what happened to him?” she asked.
Nathan scrubbed his hands over his face. “Ah, it was bad…”
“He was pulled over while driving,” Lydia said, scowling. “The cop made him get out of the car. Said Unit Three made a threatening move and he shot him. Of course, the bullets never pierced his internal armor and he didn’t even bleed. The cop freaked out and kept firing. Emptied his entire gun into him.”
“Fortunately, we monitor all police bands and one of our teams was able to get him released into their custody,” Nathan concluded.
“You see why we need to find them? Not only for the safety of the general public, but also for their own safety,” Lydia said.
“And Dr. Knight is the only person who knows the identities of the androids. Who they are, where they are, what kind of work they’re doing. But so far, he’s not cooperating,” Alexander added. “We were hoping to enlist your help.”
“Yes. Dr. Knight needs to hear just how dangerous his creations have become. He won’t take our word for it, but he might just listen to you.” He gestured to her fading bruises. “The evidence is written all over your face.”
To be continued…