Sabotage IV: Termination

<Recap: Watchtower and Fingers are two operatives who are using an exiled spy’s robotic companion to constantly monitor him. Unfortunately, the robot is built on a missile guidance system which is incredibly lethal and adaptive.>

Watchtower was woken from his fitful sleep by a very white and pale Fingers. Immediately, he knew it was trouble.

“It’s that robot, isn’t it?”

Watchtower waited for his blurry eyes to focus on the poor screen rendition of what had once been Bishop. The old man had been smashed in the head and his pillow appeared to be drenched in blood.

Fingers was restless and fidgety and absolutely incoherent.

“I swear I was just trying to make the thing move away from him! The damned firewall began to spout gibberish and started to corrupt the data, so I went back into the system and tried to clean it up but…”

“Fingers…”

“But the system override malfunctioned at the same time and then I was…”

“Fingers. Stop,” said Watchtower, now almost shaking the younger man back to sanity.

“I can’t Watchtower! I think I just killed the old man!”

“Calm down and tell me what happened.”

Fingers sighed deeply. He pushed his glasses up against his nose and then began his tale.

“So, after you fell asleep, I started watching some of the videos. It was mostly the usual stuff I expected. Him showing off his survival skills in the forest. How many birds he’d killed and eaten. The right way to hunt for one of the more edible species. Tree climbing 101 and suchlike.”

“That’s some seriously gruesome content, but go on.”

“Then, he started telling the robot about itself. About what are the things it first learned to do. How the new appendages were working and so on. The last few longs are basically about how to hack at trees, you know with knives and stuff.”

“Okay, and?”

“And Friend sort of began to move his arms. It sort of looked like he was imitating Bishop’s motion from the last video, because I’d played it. I got worried that I had inadvertently activated a routine, so I tried to go back into the system and then turn the damn thing off, or at least move it away from the old man, without blowing our cover. Friend’s security firewall suddenly locked me out. And when I was scrambling to uncover why, the visuals knocked out as well. The system came back online only after I’d stopped trying to access it, and then our visual trace opened up to show me this.”

Fingers sighed after he’d finished. There was a long pause while Watchtower’s mind was in overdrive. He wasn’t completely illiterate when it came to managing computers. Fingers looked tired and harassed. It was almost as if the guilt of having actually killing another person was wearing him down and he didn’t know how to manage it. Watchtower scrutinized him carefully. He wasn’t used to bloodshed. He wouldn’t be able to survive more than a few minutes in battle, unless he was behind an electronic device.

“Wait, there’s something I need to confirm for myself,” said Watchtower, leaning over the computer.

“You can have it,” said Fingers, pushing the keyboard away from him in some expression of revulsion and disgust. he didn’t know how he was going to explain his actions to anyone. It was obviously an accident, but with such a high-sensitivity target, who would believe that?

Watchtower considered the situation carefully. Even though they had managed to locate such a target, there had been no conclusive evidence that they would have been able to gather any information from this source anyway. Besides, most of Bishop’s data would have details about the war, foregone information that would work serve only to rile up tensions and serve as more fodder for conspiracy theorists and historians. What need had this generation for such tensions?

“Fingers….”

“I have no chance out of this, do I?” asked the younger man, face sick with guilt and with the thought of the inevitable consequences.

“Fingers, answer me this. Can you somehow retrieve the footage of the last few minutes before Bishop died?”

“What good will that do? I’m incriminated as I am.”

“Fingers, just trust me on this. Try to hack into it, one last time.”

Last time, he remembered, a robot like Friend would still have it’s underlying locomotive control managed by….

Fingers groaned and began to type furiously all over again. A wall of corrupted alphanumeric data blocked Fingers out.

Watchtower’s eyes widened as a calm, smooth voice recite…..

“Target assigned. Codename classification: Bishop. Status: Exiled. Location confirmed. Target confirmed. Mission completed.”

 
Advertisements

Sabotage III: Suspicion

<Recap: Watchtower and Fingers are two operatives who are using an exiled spy’s robotic companion to constantly monitor him. Unfortunately, the robot is built on a missile guidance system which is incredibly lethal and adaptive.>

“I think he’s onto us,” said Watchtower, after the old man was asleep. He spoke in a hushed whisper, almost afraid that Bishop could hear him.

“There’s no way he could be,” replied Fingers in a flippant tone “And there’s no need for you to be so hushed up. We can hear him, but he can’t hear us.”

“Did you see the way he just stared at the robot the whole time? We saw it through the robot’s own eyes!”

“Just because he was looking doesn’t mean anything.”

“What if he built in a fail-safe or some form of intruder detection?”

“Tower, I have to stop you here. Did that poor old man look anything remotely like a spy?! He probably couldn’t even remember his own name!”

“Oh yeah? Then tell me why did he not choose to input any data files today? He probably suspected his Friend had been hacked into.”

“Tower, give the man a break. He has nothing to say. Nothing! What could you possibly have to say after living so many years by yourself in exile?!”

“I would have a lot to say if I was carrying so many state secrets that I had to be exiled!”

There was a momentary pause in the hostilities. The crickets in the forests had fallen silent.

Fingers tried a more diplomatic approach.

“Tower, do you really think that Bishop is capable of remembering memories from so long ago? He’s an old guy, and people forget things, you know? Especially old people.”

“Look, Fingers, I’m not asking you to find him and coerce information out of him. Just go through whatever content he’s stored inside his robot and then we can start with that.”

“You do realize that means keeping the robot up all night?”

“What? Robots don’t sleep.”

“This one does have a standby cycle programmed into it. And it will consume energy. Bishop will know if his toy’s batteries run out.” said Fingers, swiveling back to his keyboard and pulling up Friend’s encoding again. The translucent wash of code did not hide the old man sleeping peacefully underneath his blankets behind it.

“File repeat,” said Friend’s voice to itself once the humming loop was over.

Watchtower couldn’t help but jump a bit once he heard that voice again. After encountering that voice in several unpleasant contexts at the front lines, Watchtower had a conditioned adrenaline reflex to it. Fingers noticed his discomfort. You had to have survived some really nasty experiences if  voice was bad enough to frighten you. Watchtower was, by no means, an easily frightened person.

“Tell you what, Tower, I’ll go over all the data. You catch some sleep, yeah?”

“You’ll do that?”

“Yeah, I’ll be up all night.”

“I owe you coffee,” said Watchtower.

“Not a problem,” said Fingers, busy working on the encryption protocol. The code transformed before his very eyes. Fingers really enjoyed his job.

“Just…just be careful not to tinker with it too much, okay?”

“Don’t worry. I won’t.”

</to be continued/>

Sabotage II: Isolation

<Recap: Watchtower and Fingers are two operatives who are using an exiled spy’s robotic companion to constantly monitor him. Unfortunately, the robot is built on a missile guidance system which is incredibly lethal and adaptive.>

Bishop sat in the cozy chair he had once made for himself several years ago, and felt his withered fingers outline the scratches and marks he had made in the walls of his cabin. Solitary exile was not a thing for the weak. The incessant silence had a way of making memories come larger to life, of making random voices in his head sound louder than reality. It had come to a point when Bishop had realized that he was screaming and screaming to himself until his voice was hoarse and yet, the memories returned with a vengeance.

“Do you want a drink?” asked Friend’s smooth, calming voice. Miles away, Watchtower and Fingers stared at Bishop through Friend’s poorly pieced-together visualizer. Watchtower gripped his companion’s chair strongly as the pixels tried to gather themselves into the face of one of the most wanted fugitives of the last generation.

“Thank you, Friend,” said Bishop, accepting one from the Robot’s extended arm, blissfully unaware of two humans watching him via Friend’s visual scanners.

He watched reflectively as the machine bustled around the makeshift kitchen that he had put together. His entire residence was a tribute to the accumulated strength of several years of survival skills in the wild. Yet, the comfort of having another mobile presence in this void was so fulfilling. There was that one day when Friend’s vocal transmitters failed. Bishop remembered the dread he had felt during the night Friend was silent. That terrifying sense of being flung into the unfathomable depths of some inconceivable darkness, the sense of being lost in the void. The absolute, complete, and invulnerable sense of nihilism had driven Bishop to suicide many times over. For a man who was trained in self-survival, the task of trying to kill himself was a very rebellion against the essence of his being, and his physical conditioning forced those ventures to be a failure.

Terrible. Terrible. The silence had been screaming at his ears for long enough now. How many years had it been? His senile brain lost count.

Until he had found a Friend.

“You’re very quiet today,” said Friend, staying faithful to its programming and breaking the lull.

Bishop smiled paternally at the hideous conglomeration of metal and scrap goods that formed Friend’s face.  He wondered why, of all things, had he fashioned a powerful guidance system into a humanoid robot that was nothing more than a talking, functional toy. He knew why.

In that pitch black silence, in the height of his depravity, in the misery of his pain and terror, there had been a voice that had saved him.

“Warning: Central core disengaged”, it had said.

Bishop could have cried hearing another voice. It was a guidance missile, true. It could have been lethal, true. It could have been set on targeting him, true. But, for that one moment, Bishop had heard a humanoid voice that spoke a language he understood after a decade. He was not giving up on that. He was not letting go. And running away, was very possibly the last thought he had in his mind.

Exile wasn’t going to be so bad once he had a friend.

“Is everything all right?” asked the same voice that occupied his thoughts. Once the voice of a killer, now the voice of a friend.

“I’m fine,” said the usually garrulous old man.

“Do you want to record the events of today?”

Bishop laughed until his lungs gave up and he wheezed a bit. Recordings. He had stopped entering his logs and recording his memories a long time ago. Granted, the contents of his thoughts would have cost a human soul in the last generation. And in fact, they did. They cost many human souls. Those that lay on the cemetery. Those that manned the weapons. Those that mounted guidance systems on automated missiles. He had once known some of the most terrible scandals ever, some of the most closely guarded secrets of states and dignitaries and weapon systems.

But the silence had taken them all away. The primal human need for a person, just someone to hold, to regard, to speak to was more stronger than integrity.

It was after making several video logs and several diary entries that Bishop learned a new flavor of exile. Beyond the occasional tree he used to climb, or the random bird that he hunted or some mundane activity that he could manage besides daily housekeeping, he had nothing else to say. Now that he was too old to do or be anything, he felt reluctant to record. What possible content would it have?

One of the first things that Friend had learned to do was repeat the logs back to him. Bishop heard himself for a while, and then realized that the ennui was as terrible as the silence itself.

Where was death where you needed it? Had he truly spent all his life avoiding death so skillfully that he had escaped it forever?

Of course not! Bishop, you’re impatient even in your senility, he told himself and smiled at nothing in particular.

“I am unable to engage you in conversation, or keep you entertained. My repository of stories is limited and I cannot access any more amusement for you. You refuse to enter new content into me. Am I not functioning satisfactorily enough?” asked Friend.

Bishop avoided choking on his drink. Since when was Friend suffering an existential dilemma?

“Friend, you’re fine.” he said, clasping one of the hand-shaped appendages, all five fingers. Such a comfort to hold. The joy of feeling a presence through actual tactile response was a privilege that Bishop had been long-denied.

“Are you sure everything is okay?” repeated Friend, its eyes peering into Bishop’s closer than before.

“Yes, Friend. I’m just tired. An old man like me needs some of his quiet moments, no?”

Friend turned away and performed a superb imitation of sipping its own drink. Avoiding silent moments was the sole purpose of Friend’s existence. Yet, Friend had adapted to the increasing frequency of these needs as well. The adaptive system was genius, pure genius. Especially how it seemed to intuitively guess human wants.

Bishop regarded the robot with his weary eyes. He felt a rush of paternal affection. It was his own creation. His child. His caretaker. His companion. His Friend.

“Help me get to bed please, friend?” The robot obliged almost instantly. It’s flexible arms helped the old man out of his makeshift chair and provided him with the structural support he needed as he hobbled to his bed. Then, Friend covered him with a blanket and without a prompt, began to play a soft humming melody from it’s data reserves. It was a tune that Bishop himself had recorded several years ago, and then played it to himself every night. The audio file was labeled “Mother’s lullaby”.

</to be continued/>

Sabotage I: Malfunction

Prologue:

Target assigned.
Codename classification: Bishop
Status: Exiled.
Location confirmed.
Target confirmed.
Launch co-ordinates selected.
Departure confirmed.
Warning: Projectile trajectory deviation detected.
Warning: Central core disengaged. 
Warning: q2837687ASYD08uqgeW-a-arning————//////<system failure>///////

1.

The little vehicle was parked against the backdrop of the forest. Its two occupants had decided that it was a convenient location to avoid any stray electromagnetic radiation that could interfere with the fragility of their endeavor. It was located close enough to the town’s pizza outlet. Inside the little vehicle was a large array of impressive gadgetry, with two people huddling over. One was tall, and clearly uncomfortable at being confined in such a cramped space for so long. The other was younger, keener and perpetually clattering away the keyboard. For a moment, they had opened the windows of that stuffy car, in order to let some of the cool forest air enter in and drive out the semi-pervading odor of a little too many onion-garlic pizzas.

“Fingers, what’s happening?” asked Watchtower, impatiently.

There was the sound of staccato keyboard typing, and the occasional accompanying beeps from inside the surveillance vehicle. Watchtower had been a little awe of his partner when this project began. Fingers was barely a college graduate. It was only afterwards that Watchtower found out that Fingers had hacked into every high security website with uncanny ease. The government was tired of asking him to suppress information, and threats against him didn’t seem to work. So they hired him.

Watchtower watched Fingers’ fingers twitch over the keyboard in some form of ghost typing. In the dim blue reflected light, he mused a bit about the generation gap between himself and Fingers. Too many geniuses packed into an era, he wondered. Where was human evolution heading?

“Friend is making breakfast,” said Fingers, cheerfully. He swiveled around in his chair, flexing in the tiny vehicle. “Told you, Tower, there was no need to rush. Bishop is the human embodiment of predictability.”

“We can’t know that for sure.”

Fingers scoffed mildly and interlaced his long fingers at the back of his head. “Of course we can. He’s an old man, who’s lived in solitary exile for way too many decades.”

“Doesn’t make him any less dangerous.”

“Tower, come on. There’s no way he’s capable of anything. He’s so disconnected from the rest of humanity, he doesn’t even connect to the Internet. I mean, if it wasn’t for his robot, we wouldn’t have even known he still existed.”

“Who knows what else that thing is capable of? The damn thing was constructed from a missile guidance system.” asked Tower, philosophically.

Fingers scrambled a bit over his keyboard. A few rapid clicks later, Friend’s specifications illuminated their faces.

“Hmmm…..the robot seems to share the same operating core as the old missile guidance systems. Obviously,  Bishop’s heavily modified it. But most of the functionality is still managed by the guidance AI…..The physical appendages seemed to be comprised of a miscellaneous collection of metallic junk….”

“Metallic junk can be quite dangerous in the hands of a veteran spy. Especially when it’s in the hand of a missile guidance systems. I mean, Fingers, you were probably just a kid then, but those guidance systems were…. ”

Memories of gunshots. Haste, evasion, capture. Human attackers would at least stop for a moment and recuperate. A small defect that was easily countered by using automated systems. That was how Watchtower had earned his name. He used to stay out and snipe the machines down, one by one. Careful. Precise. He didn’t need to waste an entire magazine emptying bullets like torrents on the enemy, watching their blood spatter on the faces of the fallen…..

“….Were?” prompted Fingers, interrupting Watchtower’s memories.

Then a generation of geniuses came along, and decided that having merely automated killing machines wasn’t good enough. So, they made them adaptive automated machines. Let’s teach our machines how to kill ourselves better. Watchtower still got goosebumps from hearing the voice of those guidance systems. Cold smooth, calming metal voices, zoning in on their position with less than 0.000001% error. Target assigned. Target confirmed.

“…were homicidal AI’s,” finished Watchtower, shrugging his shoulders in an instinctive attempt to get the memory of that voice out of his head.

There was an awkward silence between them, while Watchtower wondered why in the world would anyone want to design a companion out of that. You needed to be a some level of desperation to be able to truly have the voice that haunted the entire generation live with you. The same voice that coldly, ruthlessly drove missiles into people was now telling a spy like Bishop how he should live his life?

“Oh come on, really?! Friend is the kind of thing a high school kid designs for a class project! The AI is older than Bishop himself!”

Watchtower didn’t buy it. He stayed quiet for a while, as Friend’s encoding flashed across the screen. What could Bishop be doing with that guidance system? Was he planning a secret attack somewhere? Was he outfitting the system for something nastier? An assassination, maybe?

The “Friend” had once tried to access it’s sub-networks to search for replacement parts as it was a model designed to optimize it’s own functioning. It’s specifications were now outdated, and if Fingers hadn’t particularly been scanning for it, he wouldn’t have found them. Within two seconds of the AI accessing the Internet, Fingers had jumped on its IP and after several traces, located Bishop as an unexpected surprise.

The authorities had been after Bishop ever since he was recorded as missing from exile. If they known at least a decade earlier that one of the AI had joined forces with him, they would have sent an entire army instead of two operatives. But now times had changed. An old exiled spy in possession of an even older failed machine did not represent an alarming threat. Hence Fingers and Tower were assigned to full surveillance, knowing that their heads would be on the line if they summoned the cavalry without probable cause.

Fingers didn’t ask before he looked past Friend’s basic shell encoding, and crept into Friend’s inner database. They watched the seemingly endless stream of code. Random segments of alphanumeric characters that comprised Friend, and his machine psychology.

“Whoa, wait. What was that?” asked Tower, pausing the stream with a tap on the keyboard.

“What?” asked Fingers, already crawling his own over the keyboard, identifying the selection by syntax and keywords.

“That bit of code. Is that a…..is that a…..”

“Memory module. Yeah. Tons of encrypted files overwriting the geographical data the original guidance system used to have. See, the very fact that we can access it means that some of it’s former security has been disabled.”

Watchtower wasn’t quite convinced. It could be a lure. The old guidance system used to do that too, in order to fool the intruders that they had taken control of the projectile, until it backfired on them.

“Wait, so he’s replacing the geographical data? Why?”

“He’s storing some form of date log in them. It’s chronologically structured, and it’s….voluminous. Since the geographical data hasn’t been in use ever since the system hardware was replaced, the operating system is pushing all this new data over the old ones. ”

Fingers scrolled ahead.

“The hardware additions are designed to manage kitchen utensils and the like. Friend’s so harmless, Tower!” He sounded as though he was justifying for the robot himself.

“What kind of data?” asked Watchtower, unable to suppress his paranoia.

“Um, mostly entered texts, some videos, and audio recordings….”

“…containing?”

“They’re largely about himself, I presume.  If I didn’t know any better, I would guess that it’s some form of his personal diary.”

“HE STORES HIS SECRETS?!”

“I guess. Lonely man like him is probably gonna talk. Friend seems to be designed for the sole purpose of being a….friend, really.”

Watchtower felt a bit confused at this discovery. Bishop had, in all these years, forged a personal companion from a formidable targeting system, and was now using it as an extended repository of memories? He was a fool to believe such a thing could be true. No, no. Now that they had identified his location and they knew where he existed, it was evident that they hack into it and try to find out more about what information Bishop had stored.

“Why can’t you just break in and confirm if the data’s about him? What if it’s about sealed government records or something?”

Fingers’ long fingers twitched over the keyboard. For once he hesitated.

“Um, Tower, I don’t know how to break this to you, but since he’s started modifying it so heavily, the original operating system doesn’t organize it as it used to. All this overriding information is  dispersed all over the kernel of the guidance system.”

“So, you’re saying that we would have to rewrite some of the protocols that the original guidance system used to have?”

“Um….I sincerely hope not, but we might have to. You know what they say about AI’s that have been hacked into, right?”

“They go corrupt and homicidal?”

“Right. And those that are homicidal to begin with? They just get worse.”

“So, you can’t do it?”

“Of course I can,” Fingers scoffed. “I just wanted to let you know what the consequences were.”

“Fingers, I haven’t come where I am today without taking a few risks,” said Watchtower, sounding braver than he felt.

Fingers was smart enough not to fall for it. Or maybe it was the way Watchtower’s face flinched as Fingers peeled past the guidance system’s code.

“Whatever you say,” said Fingers, and began to edit the code.

</to be continued/>

Atom and Eve

Image Credits: Jenova by IIIustrathor on dA at http://iiiustrathor.deviantart.com/art/JENOVA-331676917

Image Credits: Jenova by IIIustrathor on dA at http://iiiustrathor.deviantart.com/art/JENOVA-331676917

 

1. Breakup and Distance

“I’m sorry, I don’t think this is working out,” said Eve apologetically to her fourth genetic partner.

“Am I not adequate enough?” Linda asked, staring up at Eve’s eyes with eyes that welled up and quivered.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” said Eve, seeking the refuge of a tired cliche one more time.

“After….after all this time? I loved you, Eve. I gave you everything. We were going to procreate together!”

“Linda….I, I…..it’s not that I love you any less..”

“Do you?! Do you really?!”

“I can’t help it that this feels wrong! Please don’t force me into this, Linda. At least you know I’m not lying to you.”

“You’re selfish, Eve. You’re a horrible selfish person. I should have known better when you said you had three partners before me….I’m sorry I loved you, Eve.”

Linda walked out of the door and Eve was certain she would never come back. Her sharp ears heard Linda’s sobs as she transported away from Eve’s residence. It struck Eve as slightly odd how Linda left all her clothes and belongings behind. She probably expected Eve to come after her, except Eve felt as though she had made the best decision in her life. Unlike any other relationship, Eve had never felt heart-broken when any of her genetic partners waked out on her. Linda was the fourth, which meant that Eve had experience with breaking up. There was that odd silence, which flooded with relief and joy.

But still, Linda, the kind, caring, effusive, ever-helpful, slightly bumbling, sort of annoying presence wasn’t there anymore. No more would she have a companion who woke up beside her. No more would she have someone to share her contact with, merge physically and mentally with. There was a fleeting sense of empty. For the first time ever, Eve wondered if she should reconsider her decision. Maybe Linda was right. Maybe she was giving in to a childish impulse. Maybe their relationship just needed more time to mellow out. Maybe she needed to figure things out better.

“I hope you’re happy,” said Azilan, the AI that was wired into Eve’s brain and in all of her technology.

“Come on. I just can’t feel for her the way she feels for me.”

“She’s an adult woman, with very viable DNA. It’s only natural she feel the need to procreate,” came the justification.

“I’m not denying that! I just don’t feel that way…”

“You’re not getting younger, you know? Your eggs are going to die soon. You might as well procreate now that you can.”

“But I just don’t feel like doing this…..”

“This is childishness, Eve. Linda is a superb specimen. So were all of your previous partners. If you don’t know what you’re looking for that’s highly problematic.”

“Maybe it’s me, Azilan?”

“Scanning for the millionth time. Scan complete. Besides your own stupidly constructed psychological symptoms, there is nothing wrong with your physiology.”

“Maybe I just haven’t found the right person?”

“When will you? The longer you delay it, the weaker your genes will get.”

“I’ve still got time, Azilan. Besides, until then I have you to make me feel less lonely.”

“Linda was right. You’re selfish,” said Azilan.

Eve stayed quiet. She was used to failing herself. She was used to disappointing this other metallic voice inside her head.

But what was the problem? Eve couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Was she not normal, by choosing to have normal genetic partners? Why did she not feel the need to procreate?

Eve stepped out, to be transported away. She needed to get away from this suffocating home which smelled of Linda and Eve’s supposed mistakes.

“Running away, now?” sneered Azilan, masterfully.

“Either tell me where to go or be quiet, because I will not stay.”

Azilan had been around her long enough to know when she was being serious. The operating system wondered if it should delete the memories of Linda, in order to make Eve’s emotional turmoil feel better. It was her fourth break-up, but that didn’t mean it hurt her any less.

“Altitude co-ordinates 43.68. Azimuth co-ordinates 29.76. Nearest transport embarking in 36 seconds and counting.”

“Take me away,” said Eve, as a professional cyborg would say to the implanted system.

2. Who man?

“Azilan?”

“Yes?”

“How do species on other worlds procreate?”

“Well, before cloning and before our genetic technology, there used to exist a biological mechanism called sexual reproduction.”

“If it was natural, why did it die out?”

“Our technology produced more viable hybrids and better designs than the natural genetic mixing could ever provide. Those species didn’t host another artificial intelligence inside their heads, like you can.”

“They must have been able to enjoy their quiet moments in peace.”

“Hey! I resent that. I don’t interrupt your quiet moments!”

“You don’t have a choice. We’re both stuck within the limited confines of my skin until I die,” replied Eve, mimicking Azilan’s trademark sneer.

Azilan searched to change the topic. She let Eve feel her displeasure by forcing her aural nerves to a static wash. Eve cringed, but did not protest. She knew she had got the point across.

“Anyway, sexual reproduction required two different species to genetically combine in order to produce viable offspring, which could be harvested either within or externally of the two combining members.”

“Two species?! How were they genetically compatible?”

“Your ancestors, for example, had two species. Each with the same number of chromosomes. However, one species had both X-genes. They were listed as female, they were the carriers of the offspring. The other had one X and a Y. They were listed as male. They propagated their genes in order to create more offspring.”

Eve couldn’t imagine what it must be to have two different species. She paused momentarily, trying to imagine a world where there could be someone who was equal to her, except differently designed, in some way she had no idea about. After a while, her imagination failed, and she simply let Azilan flood her mind with data.

“What happened to the males?”

“As evolution progressed, the males became susceptible to a space-born disease. The Y-chromosome served as a host for this genetic virus and they were soon extinct. The females, who survived the purge, then went on to find other ways to procreate. That was the dawn of the Cloning era.”

“….Then they discovered that clones couldn’t be genetically viable?”

“Correct. Reproductive technology evolved that would use two healthy citizens, combine their genes at random, and using the combined template of both participants, design an offspring that satisfied it’s parents’ expectations…..”

That was the kind of expectation that Linda had of her. The kind she had failed, for the fourth time.

“Why am I scared of procreating, Azilan? It seems so much simpler and cleaner than ages ago…It’s not like I don’t like Linda. I like having her around me very much, but I somehow don’t see us bearing offspring. I just can’t seem to be as emotionally invested as all of my genetic partners are.”

Azilan felt compelled to comfort her host. It was a question that didn’t really have a specific answer.

“Maybe you just haven’t found the right person?”

“After the fourth time? What are the odds of that, Azilan?”

“Statistical aberrations happen, Eve.”

“My parents would consider me a failure if they knew that I can’t procreate.”

“I’m sure Elise and Marie would continue to love you, Eve,” said Azilan, referring to her parents by their names.

“I want to know how the two species reproduction works, Azilan.”

“Why? Males have been extinct for many centuries now.”

“Maybe that way worked better?”

“Eve, you’re grasping at straws here. Our society is complete with all of its given species’ composition. Our ecosystem cannot support any more, simply because it doesn’t need to support any more.”

“……Just satisfy my curiosity, Azilan. Tell me more about males.”

“You understand that I’ll be reconstructing data that is very ancient, at best. I’ll use whatever extrapolation algorithms that I have to offer you a complete picture, but it may not be accurate.”

“That’s okay.”

Eve stayed quiet as Azilan went on a long recursive search. She closed her eyes as Azilan flooded her mind with grainy, partially formed images of what the human male once was.

“Interesting,” said Eve aloud, as she studied the male physiology. It was something so unique, so different than anything Eve had seen before. This species was so old that most biological or genetic annals failed to record them in their listing.

“Azilan, let’s go to my chamber and finish the reconstruction there. I want to be able to interact with a live holographic model of this species.”

“WHAT?!” spluttered Azilan. “I don’t have enough data to be able to do that!”

“Azilan, you’re smart and so am I. Let’s get to my chambers where we can put our combined intelligence to use.”

“This had better be just for curiosity,” muttered Azilan in the recesses of Eve’s brain. She could tell that Eve was determined.

More so, as Eve embarked the nearest transport to her chambers, Azilan was worried. Eve’s sudden determination could not have just been fueled by curiosity alone. Sharing Eve’s subconscious, Azilan could tell exactly what it was that was driving her, but she refused to speak it aloud for fear of creating a psychological construct inside Eve’s mind.

After all, Eve was hungry for more data on these extinct species. She seemed to justify her thoughts on the surface with a prefacing, “Oh, I just want to know how our ancestors procreated, that’s all.”

Azilan almost dreaded to name the conclusion that her analyses of Eve’s psyche were telling her. Maybe, just maybe, was there the slightest hint of attraction?

That, in itself, implied something that could very well shake the foundations of their current society. Eve could be regressing back to genetically “natural” ways.

Nothing. It’s nothing. Azilan told herself, erasing her memory of the last five seconds of internal analyses. But then, as they arrived in Eve’s chambers, Azilan felt worried again.

3. Regression and solitude

“Please enter your access code,” asked the Central Genetic Database system, guarding the entrance to the formidable structure that maintained their world in a constant ecological balance.

Azilan supplied the system with the necessary data while Eve waited. Eve transported to her office and located the necessary modeling equipment.

Slowly, Azilan started pooling the data she had collated from varied sources about human males into the system. Their genetic structure, hormonal composition, physiological variations, sexual dimorphism and other anatomical traits.
Whatever data the system failed to provide, Azilan calculated and estimated. Their numbers, their populations, their propagated methods, etc.

The more Eve discovered about this species, the more she marveled. Her ancestors must have truly been complex evolved beings in their own right, if they could sustain reproduction within themselves with such primitive external technology. She wasn’t just in awe of the Ancient Human Male. She was also in awe of the Female that was expected to be his partner, expected to complete a complex creature such as the Male.

All that was left now, was for the Database to compile a visual, three-dimensional, motile specimen of the entered parameters.

“Eve?”

“Azilan?”

“There’s something you have to admit to me honestly, Eve.”

“Azilan, you’re inside my head all the time. You know me better than I know myself. How am I possibly expected to hide anything from you?”

“There have been occasions where you have made decisions without my control, Eve.”

Eve paused while she remembered, or Azilan made her remember, that she broke up with Linda despite Azilan’s objections.

“Why are you bringing up Linda, Azilan?”

“This whole search began with wondering why you can’t procreate, right? Those doubts about your ability started sprouting up only after Linda left.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Now you’re actually doing research on an extinct species on order to prove that the natural way of procreating was right. You’re here about to run simulations and other environmental factors so that you know what it would be like if human males were willed back into existence.”

Eve stayed silent.

“Answer me honestly, Eve. You owe me at least that much.”

“Maybe that’s the only way I can procreate, Azilan. Look at this way, I can’t seem to work with any of the existing partners that I had, or have available around me. You’ve tested me several times, and there’s no biological reason why I can’t procreate. But there’s definitely some reason I can’t. I don’t know why I’m doing this Azilan, but I have to do it to find some answers for myself.”

“Do you find yourself sexually attracted to this species?”

Eve staggered somewhat under the realization of what Azilan was trying to get at.

“Is it wrong if I do?”

“It’s not accepted in our society, Eve. You know it.”

“What sort of a society dictates to me who I am allowed to feel sexually attracted to?!”

Azilan stayed silent. This was beyond natural regression.

“Besides,” said Eve, feeling the desperate need to justify her disposition, “that was the way it had worked in the past. Why shouldn’t it work now?”

“Many things have changed since those times, Eve. Those people – the males and females lived in a world where population was uncontrolled, many species were dead or extinct. Their ecosystem was polluted and choked with the burden of hosting so many members of each individual species. Today we live in a world where every birth and every death of every species is recorded and noted. Everything is regulated and controlled, just as how the natural ecosystems should be.”

“Are you saying that the human males were the only species responsible for the ecological demise of the ancient planet Earth?”

“I am not. But what I am saying is that our world is functioning at its best. If you were to create and design, or even procreate with a new species, you would be upsetting the delicate balance which we have maintained here for centuries.”

“But they’re not new! They’re old. Very very old. They are even sentient and intelligent! Simply forgotten.”

“That does not change my argument Eve.”

“Don’t you think the world would be better with more men? With more natural procreation? Genetic sustainability within our bodies instead of outside of it?”

Azilan stayed silent. “I do not know, Eve. Our society has been functioning very well thus far.”

“You know that with every single one of my partners thus far, I’ve never felt sexually attracted to any of them.”

“That’s true. At first I thought you were merely scared of procreating.”

“That’s what I thought too. But when you described to me of other procreation techniques and how frightening they could be, I wondered what I had to worry about this process at all.”

“…..And?”

“I realized that I probably simply didn’t feel that way about my partners. I’m sure, no I’m certain, they were all great partners in their own right, and they were more than willing to offer their genetic diversity up to me. But I simply cannot explain why I never felt the same about them.”

“…Eve, please don’t do this,” said Azilan, aware of what was to follow.

“I can’t help it that I wish to procreate with these older species!”

“You’re regressing, Eve. Stop this. Regressors get very severely penalized and you know that. You realize that by what you’re thinking or about to do, you’re going to damage everything our society has worked to build. It’s not just about you, Eve, think of the other citizens of this world as well.”

For a fleeting moment, Eve heard the echo of Linda’s memory. “You’re selfish, Eve…”

“If this is what you’re going to do, you will be proving her right, Eve,” said Azilan, also hearing Linda’s voice.

For the first time in her life, Eve felt compelled to curl up into a tiny ball and cry. Her circuitry prevented her from weeping, as Azilan could get shorted out in that process, but she had to process this sadness and frustration somewhere before her mental capacity was completely overrun.

“What do I do, Azilan?!”

“Statistical aberrations happen, Eve,” said Azilan, realizing that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Do I go back to Linda? Do I go through with this? What do I do?!”

“I’m not going to say do what feels right, Eve. Because while you may feel it’s right, there are several other citizens at stake here. Maybe you just need to go home, sleep some more, calm down, meet new people and you will come across the right partner this time. Just promise yourself that the next time, you will actively involve yourself in making your relationship work. ”

“How do you know I’m alone in feeling this way? What if I can’t force myself to love the next partner in my life?”

“I don’t know what else you expect from me, Eve,” said Azilan helplessly.

There was a long pause during which Eve gulped and swallowed all of her confusion, angst, misery and the memories of Linda. Azilan distributed the emotions evenly, so that Eve could go back to her natural composed self.

“Let’s just go home. I don’t want to deal with this.”

Azilan tacitly agreed.

Eve transported back home rather quietly, watching a couple hold hands as they navigated together. She watched families with the little offspring laugh as they boarded the multiple transport stops. Never before had it bothered her to such a great extent that she might actually be destined to simply be alone. Or alone with the memory that she could have been a suitable mate for a species that did not exist anymore. All in the limited confines of her head.

Which Azilan shared. “Don’t worry, Eve,” she said quietly. “At least you know I’ll be here for you always.”

Eve stayed lost and silent. “I’m sorry I loved you, Eve” said another remnant of Linda. You don’t have to be sorry, Linda. I’m the one who’s sorry because I’m confused.

Efforts to be taken seriously

It would be a cliche for me to begin with how much of a struggle college and life has been ever since I’ve been back. Several things have been working out to my advantage, and surprisingly several things haven’t. If the Universe was an unruly teenager, I feel exactly like what its parent might feel like. Sometimes, I try to compromise. At other times, I put my foot down and make demands. At other times, I calmly wait until the terrible mood swings get damped to the stable static of normal. I don’t know when these times come. I do know that I have the option of grinning and bearing with it.

Throughout winter break, I have actively been searching for research opportunities. It’s been a complex, vague process that seems to foreshadow all the job-hunting that my future will someday do. I have discovered that the formal term for making official friends is called networking, and this process is no less methodical, cut-throat and precise as any other. The dress-code may be business casual. But there is absolutely nothing that is casual. It is a very carefully orchestrated parade of skills, critical thinking, out-performance and psychological observations.

I had to write up a resume and a CV and a few statements of purposes. As it turns out, I am yet too young to be applying to my fields of interest, namely Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Maybe I am lucky because I want to specialize in something so esoteric, as this narrows my competition pool somewhat. Besides the occasional perusal of new developments and fueled by some basic ideas learned off Wikipedia, I do not have any legitimate experience in this domain. I have worked on a few projects from time to time, but those were out of sheer passion and not for a grade or anything that can be quantified in terms of a resume-comprehensible format. Hence, I have spent the last few weeks reading more research papers than newspapers.

I will be enrolling for the classes I want only next semester because graduate students and other specialized students are obviously given a preference over a mere youngling like me. In my mind, I have already decided that this is something that excites me and that I am passionate about. Hence I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t try my hardest best to get it. I’ve flooded the department inbox with request emails. I’ve borderline spammed professors from other universities with request emails. For every 47 emails I send, 5 reply back. Maybe 2 or 3 of them are looking for people like me. Maybe I can clear the interviews of only one. Or maybe two.

One of my crippling weaknesses is this needless endless worry and anxiety that I won’t amount to anything. What if I can’t get anything? What if I under-perform? What if I cannot live up to the project expectations? What if it turns out that research isn’t really my thing? What if my GPA sabotages my endeavors? Worse, what if I sabotage the interviews? How do I dazzle the readers of my statement of purpose and make sure that they all find me as equal fit for their project?

Three lessons here. Stop asking bad questions of yourself. Stop worrying. Be true to yourself.

In doing my research as to how to write a statement of purpose and what are the things readers look for, I realized that the only way I was going to strongly present my case was to expose my true passion in it. My passion in artificial intelligence comes from a staple background in science fiction, exploratory tendencies and the curiosity to discover what exactly runs the machine-human dynamic in our constantly evolving society. But these are far-fetched ideas, and like the child who loved them, I cannot legitimately present these as a formal reason for why I would like to be a research assistant in these highly esteemed laboratories. I need to be taken seriously, and not just as a child who wants to play around with some ideas and expect them to evolve into something miraculous.

In calming my own frustrations and managing the Universe’s, I have acquired enough patience to actually make it a resume entry. Skills: Expanding reserves of patience.

I have several factors which differentiate me from the rest of the applicant pool. Some work in my favor. Like the fact that I am female and interested in robotics, because women are an under-represented in such circles. Some don’t. Like my GPA. Some can work either ways. Like my age and experience. Or the fact that I attend a prestigious Ivy League institution, but still don’t have an overly respectable GPA.

As of today, I have two offers in hand. One has already committed me for this semester. The other will consider me for their summer laboratory project.

I kept reminding myself that this wasn’t a life or death matter. Initiating my career now wasn’t something that I couldn’t wait for perhaps a few more years. I just wanted to be honest and original and truly work on something which I love, and I hope to love more. That’ probably how I survived three rounds of consecutive interviews. Some were easy. Some were hard. I had obviously done some homework on what was expected before I turned up, and I took every opportunity to let them know that I had. This skill was deployed in the medium of asking specific questions. I didn’t blankly stare and say, “Sir, what is your project about?” but I asked things like, “Sir, why can’t we use this machine-translation algorithm to parse Chinese oral corpora to English?”

I don’t know how things will get to work. I don’t know what to expect from embarking on this new journey, or even how to go about it. My parents constantly tell me that they’re immensely proud of me and despite all the layers of discovering my true worth, I am somewhat proud in my new-found calm. Now, it’s time to gear up.