Inhuman (5)

To read from the beginning: part one, part two, part three, part four.

(5)

“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.”

“That’s horrible!”

“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.”

“My 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…

Inhuman (4)

Find the rest of the story here: parts one, two and three.

(4)

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…

Inhuman (3)

To read from the beginning, visit Part One and Part Two.

(3)

Cold. Amanda woke up shivering, which was just about the only movement she could make. Her arms and legs were strapped to the bars of a hospital bed and another strap across her chest made sitting up impossible. She was alone. The room was windowless, dimly lit and empty save for a lone metal chair and the bed in which she lay. How long had she been out? Where was she? And where was Brian?

“Hello? Is anybody there?” she called out. After a few moments, the door opened and a man walked in. She expected a doctor —that was the hospital bed, she supposed— but the man wore a well-tailored dark suit.

“Hello, Amanda,” he said with a smile. “Sorry about the restraints but we didn’t want you wandering aimlessly until we had a chance to talk.”

“Where’s Brian? Where is my husband?” she demanded, struggling against the straps holding her down.

His smile faded. “That is the central thing we need to discuss.” He took a step closer. “I’m going to take you someplace where you’ll be a little more comfortable. I need you to trust me, ok?”

Amanda nodded wordlessly. She wanted answers. No, she needed them. She would at least cooperate until she had them.

“My name is Nathan Bishop,” he told her as he removed the restraints from her feet. “Get up slowly. You might be a little woozy from the anaesthetic.” After releasing her hands and the strap across her chest, he stepped back to wait by the door. “Your shoes are by the side of the bed. Take your time.”

Amanda swung her legs over the side and gingerly stepped into her shoes. After she was sure she could stand upright, she took a tentative step toward the door. Nathan took her arm firmly —either for support or control, Amanda couldn’t tell which— and led her from the room. They followed a long hallway, interrupted occasionally by other solid doors with no indication of what lay beyond, until they reached an intersection and turned left. Shortly after, the tributary terminated at a pair of double doors. Nathan, till holding Amanda’s arm, stepped close to a small panel beside the door and waited while his retina was scanned. The doors slid open with a soft whoosh.

The room beyond was half conference room, half lounge, with a large oblong table and chairs at one end, and a seating area with three sofas forming a U-shape clustered around a low table on the other. It was to this second area, Nathan led her. A woman and another man rose as they approached. “Amanda, this is Lydia Castle and Alexander King.” They each offered a hand to shake. “Please have a seat,” Nathan said.

“Amanda. Where to begin?” Lydia said with a warm smile. “I’m sure…”

“Where is my husband?” Amanda interrupted. “What have you done with him?”

Lydia held up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “We have a long story to tell you. Please bear with us. You see, Brian… well he’s not who you think he is…” she paused, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. “In fact, he’s not even ‘what’ you think he is.”

Amanda felt the blood drain from her face and she gripped the sofa cushions for support. “What do you mean?” she rasped.

The man called Alexander spoke. “Amanda, Brian is… well, he’s a highly advanced… em… highly advanced artificial intelligence.”

The room spun. Nathan reached out to steady her. Amanda looked from one to the other to the other, trying to absorb what she’d just heard. “No. It can’t be…” she began. “He’s human. He’s as human as I am.”

Lydia shook her head sadly. “No, I’m afraid he’s not. Brian —or as he is officially called: SAIW-02— is property of the United States Government.” She hurried on as Amanda gaped at her. “Amanda, just let us explain…”

Alexander sighed heavily. “Amanda, throughout history, it’s been the military that has been the biggest driver of scientific innovation. Until recently, it’s been about developing the most efficient ways to kill. Bigger bombs, better targeting, stealthier planes. We already have the means to destroy this planet many times over. Now…” he lifted his hands and let them drop. “The focus has begun to shift.”

Lydia continued. “It’s about preserving lives instead of taking them. Keeping our military personnel as safe as possible. I’ll give you an example you’ll be familiar with: drone technology. We can send a remotely controlled drone to take out a target when in the past we’d send pilots in planes and risk them being shot down. If a drone gets taken out, no lives are lost.”

“The truth is, Amanda, our technological advances are far ahead of anything the public has dreamt up. The world isn’t ready for civilian applications of this kind of science,” Alexander said. “The SAIW program is the next step in innovation.”

“What does that stand for? SAIW?” Amanda asked.

“Strategic Artificial Intelligence Weapon,” Nathan answered.

“Amanda, your ‘Brian’ is an android super soldier,” Lydia said.

To be continued…