Mike’s first thoughts are formless and slow. His awareness seems to assemble itself in pieces. Facts, people, events and more come together but nothing seems to mean anything. He tries to look around and his eyes adjust to show a brightly lit white room.
A woman sitting nearby asks, “Mike? Are you awake, Mike?” Her voice is a low contralto.
He considers the question and answers, “Yes, I am awake.”
The room he is in is approximately the size of a small bedroom. From his vantage point all he can see are plain white walls, a window framed above a small table, and two closed doors.
“Mike, I’m Dr. Hartford. I’m here to examine you. Do you know where you are?”
Again he considers, but only a fraction of a second, “Is this a hospital room?”
“You can think of it as that. I’m Dr. Hartford. We’ve been monitoring you.”
Mike says nothing.
“Mike, I need to ask you some questions if you don’t mind.”
He considers the implicit question and answers, “I do not mind.”
“What is your name?”
“My name is Michael Hayden.”
“That’s good. Mike, can you tell me what year this is?”
“Is it 1960?”
“No Mike, it’s the year 2072.”
Confusion. This does not match my memories at all.
“Mike, do you know what happened to you?”
The answer comes slowly to him, “Was I injured? Have I been unconscious for a long time or was I in a coma?”
Dr. Hartford makes another note, “You could say that you were in a coma. Can you explain this?”
“I have no explanation. It seems like something from science fiction. It is extremely unlikely I would live to be 142 years old even in a coma.”
Brightening, she asks, “That’s not far from the truth. What do you do? Your job?”
“I have been a county agricultural agent for eight years for the Department of Agriculture in Topeka, Kansas.”
“Please continue so we can check your memory.”
“I work as a county agricultural agent for the Department of Agriculture in Topeka, Kansas. My job primarily involves on-farm demonstrations, workshops, and I also participate in organizing field trips and tours. I am not married. I go bowling with friends from work.”
Dr. Hartford takes a few more notes, then she waits quietly for a few minutes. “Mike, are you curious at all about what’s happened to you and what we’re doing here?
His answer is halting and vague, “I…do not think so.”
She takes a device from her pocket, “What is this?”
“A small rectangle of black glass?”
“No, it’s a SmartComm. A portable phone. Aren’t you curious about that?”
“SmartComm… No, I can understand why people would want telephones they could carry in a pocket.”
Dr. Hartford makes some more notes, then puts them down in frustration.
Raising her voice to address someone out of sight. “I’m afraid something is wrong. His memory is excellent, but there are problems of cognition. He seems to understand everything, but it’s not as good as we hoped,” she scowls. “He’s not showing basic curiosity, and he’s only providing the most elementary reaction to anything I’m telling him. He doesn’t even initiate discussions.”
Another voice speaks out, “You are, of course, correct. I’ve seen everything you have. No disagreements from me. The monitors confirm the cognition issues. We’ll have to try again.”
“I’m sorry Mike. We think something is wrong with your mind. You should go to sleep for now.”
Shirley opens her eyes and quickly realizes she’s not in her own bed. Oh god, her mind is racing – a million questions – where is she? She gives her surroundings a quick once-over and realizes she must be in a hospital room. A nice one, too, not like the old hospital in Norfolk where she had her appendix out. But how did she get here?
“Shirley, are you awake?” The questioner’s voice is warm and concerned.
“Oh shit, oops, sorry! I’m still not 100% – I didn’t even notice you…doctor?” she hazards a guess, figuring a nurse might be complimented whereas a doctor would be insulted to be called a nurse.
“Yes, I’m Dr. Hartford. How are you?”
“Confused. I mean, mostly, yes. Was I hurt? In a coma or something?”
“What do you remember?”
“Well, if my mind could just stop racing this would be easier. Am I on a medication that’s causing this? It’s like I’ve had three coffees.”
“No, no medication.”
“Where am I specifically? I don’t recognize the city outside the window. This can’t be Norfolk.” She considers. “Not…Norfolk, Virginia that is?”
Dr. Hartford shifts a bit, “No, but let me ask you a few questions first, hmm? We want to make sure you’re all right. Is that okay?”
“Ah, okay. You’re the doctor.”
“Who are you? What do you do?”
“I’m Shirley Willis, 30 years old, not married but dating and my day job is the new business manager for the Federal Trust Bank in Norfolk, Virginia.”
“Do you also have a night job?”
Shirley laughs, “No, that’s just an expression. I get by on the one job, which is better than some.”
“Can you tell me what year it is?”
“Crap. This is bad if you think I don’t know the year. It’s 2000. What happened to me? Did I have an accident or a stroke? Do you have to ask me this every morning – am I like that guy in Memento?”
“Oh no, nothing like that!” Dr. Hartford glances briefly past Shirley and returns her gaze again, “It’s very different from what you’re thinking. You see, the year is 2072.”
Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit.
“Shirley?! Are you okay? I know that can be a bit of a shock…please, ask anything!”
Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit.
“This isn’t a hidden camera show is it? I haven’t signed anything! You can’t pull crap on just anyone, right?”
“No, I’m telling you the truth, it’s 2072.”
Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit.
“I’m okay…just processing this…shit, I’m 102?”
“No! That’s not it at all.”
“What the hell is it? It’s the damn military isn’t it? I read they were developing a frozen sleep or something in the papers…but why me? Why in the seven circles of hell would they pick a fucking accounts manager?!”
“Shirley calm down.”
“Sigh. Okay. I’m calm. Now tell me what the hell is going on or I start breaking things.”
“It’s best if you ask me questions. I don’t know what you want to know.”
“Okay – so where am I?”
Once again, Dr. Hartford is glancing behind me. Someone must be standing behind me. If only I could turn my head…
“You’re on an Earth-orbiting habitat. It rotates to produce simulated gravity, although not all habitats rotate, and that window you noticed isn’t a window, it’s a screen showing a live video of a city in Luna. The moon. Although it could show any place or anything. It’s just decoration.”
“I’m not conceding this isn’t a hidden camera gag, but that’s pretty damn cool. So it’s 2072, and we have space stations and moon colonies?”
“Lunar colonies. We also have stations in Phobos and Deimos, so it gets confusing if you just say ‘moon’.”
“Yeah, I could see that – wait, we’re on Mars too?”
“Actually, we went to Mars first then back to Luna some time later. Honestly, there wasn’t a lot of urgency back in 2034, and the Smiths were hell-bent on being the first on Mars.”
“Joan and Joss Smith. They own and run Stratios, Ltd., which got them their ticket to Mars in 2034. They were, and still are, two of the biggest private space industrialists around. It was their need for orbital assembly platforms that led directly to building habitats like this in fact.”
“No, I mean the little things that just skittered around in the bathroom over there.”
Dr. Hartford looks around and then smiles. “Cleaning robots. The Coriolis effect plays havoc when men forget the challenges of peeing in a rotating habitat.”
“Ah, this might be bad – I can’t move my arms. I wanted to point to the robots but couldn’t. Are you sure I’m okay? Tell me there’s no brain damage!”
And again with that look. The Doctor wouldn’t be a good poker player. Too many tells.
“No, no…it’s just too soon since you’ve woken up. Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay. You’re the doctor. Keep telling me about changes. I can see you’ve been making notes and changing displays on what I first thought was a printed color form – but it’s obviously a computer of some sort because, in my time, sheets of paper didn’t change what was printed on them.”
“This?” Dr. Hartford holds the page in front of my face. “It’s a newspad, but I’m really using it as a display and input to my SmartComm. Normally I’d be using this for reading the news or a book, but they’re handy as interfaces as well. The SmartComm is similar to the cellphones you had back in 2000. I think you had some back then that worked from touching a screen?”
“I think you’re thinking of PDAs. But I could see how they were going to become phones.”
“Okay, well, think of those, but with a phone, and the computer in them is indescribably more powerful, connects to any communications network wirelessly and has access to databases everywhere and more.”
“You mean the internet?” Shirley says with mild reproach.
“Oh, okay, so you had that then – I’m not much on history. Sorry.”
“That’s right, it’s okay. You’re the doctor.”
Yep. There’s that glance again.
“So, yes, the SmartComm is really doing all the work and keeping my notes and giving me feedback on your status.” Dr. Hartford removes a small, unsurprisingly phone-sized, object from her pocket, “See?”
“I suppose there are plenty of technological changes – what about medicine? I don’t feel any pain, and I would’ve expected bed sores from 72 years laying on my rear.”
“Oh definitely, we have a basic autodoc here –” she cuts herself off from saying more.
“Come to think of it Doctor, I’ve noticed, not only do I not feel pain, I don’t really feel anything, now that I’m thinking of it. I’m not warm, or cold, or anything.”
“That’s, ah, not usual in your type of case. You’ll learn more about that later.”
“Okay. You’re the doctor.”
“Say, if you’re interested in more about history I can show you more on the newspad here. Just a second…” Dr. Hartford makes a few gestures on the display, and an impressive amount of text is shown. She holds it up. “Here’s an article on post-2034 political changes. The Mars mission really kicked things off as you can read.”
It doesn’t take a second to read the article. Clearly written as a pop-sci piece. I’d guess it’s written at a fifth grade level. Typical. I see more articles are available.
“Looks like more private industry activity than government though.”
“True, let me find you another one…” She finds another article. I absorb it even faster. I find I can stretch myself a bit and see that this one is also indexed to several other articles including some stored on something called a Wiki which occupies me for a few minutes more.
“That’s odd,” Dr. Hartford says, “this newspad must be worn down. It was flickering badly there. Now it’s showing something else entirely. I’m sorry about this.”
“No problem. You’re the doctor.”
Shirley hears a cough from the unseen person, “Dr. Hartford, show another article with linked references. Anything.”
Dr. Hartford says nothing but brings up another article.
Hmm, it’s an introductory text on the asteroid Von Neumann robotics with links to other articles in the field. Links? Good, I see how to read them as well now.
“Shirley, I’m sorry the display is flickering again, let me get you a…”
“Dr. Hartford,” the unseen voice cuts in, “Shirley isn’t maintaining real time any longer. Her cognition levels are too high, as well. Shirley, you may go to sleep now.
I slowly wake up and enjoy the first few moments of my morning to myself before I have to face the day. It’s always nice to ease yourself into the morning.
I hear a voice. It’s warm and reassuring, “Chelle, are you awake?”
My eyes snap open. I’m not in my bedroom. A quick glance takes in a clean, antiseptic appearing room. Hospital room? The city outside the window, or it might be a display, it’s not New York, that’s for sure. I hazard an answer, “Yes, I’m awake, but where in the hell am I?”
“You’re okay. I’m here to examine you.” The speaker is an attractive woman whom I would estimate to be in her late thirties. “Chelle, I’m Dr. Hartford. I’m here to make sure you’re okay.”
“I am okay Doc, but, well, I mean feel okay. Nothing hurts, and my only immediate problem is that I’m really confused. Where is this? How did I get here?”
“Chelle, do you know what year it is?”
“I’m going to assume right here that it’s not 2040. Did I guess right?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I can tell I’m not brain dead, I’m not woozy, I don’t feel sick, and if you’re asking me what year it is then it’s likely that something happened and that suggests to me that I’ve been in a coma or induced hibernation. If I’d been in a coma, I’m pretty sure I’d feel worse mentally. I’ve also seen in the news where induced hibernation was used for traumatic surgical cases, and one of the characters in my favorite telenovela show has been in induced hibernation since the actor tried to hold out for a raise last season. So something happened to me?”
“Yes, and now it’s the year 2072.”
“Well, fuck.” I hope someone made sure my cat was okay. Not that it would matter now, “Wow… so, 2072. I’m a modern Rip Van Winkle, huh?”
“That doesn’t distress you?” Dr. Hartford’s scribbling notes on her ’pad furiously.
“Well, I’ll sure as shit miss my cat, but you can always find another cat. I’m sure all my paintings have been removed by now, but that happens in my field. I’ll live, although I didn’t finish the last piece and it was turning out damned nice.”
“Allow me to check your memory. Tell me about yourself. Who are you? What do you do? Where are you from?”
“Naturally, gotta check my mental faculties before you finish with me, eh? So, I’m Chelle Fae, 30 years old…well, make that 62 years old now – and I’m gonna want to see just how much I aged in hibernation. I’m an artist – a light-painter, and if everyone has forgotten that painting medium by now, it means I paint in light-emitting paints. Graffiti, murals, or anything that someone pays me well enough to paint. Also, I don’t work for idiots. Thank the basic subsistence check system for that! I live in an artists group loft in Chelsea, New York, New York. Earth. Sol System. How was that?”
“That all matches up with our information. Can you tell me about your parents?” Dr. Hartford’s scribbling continues apace.
“Mom and dad, Jean and Eugene Fae. And no, he never, ever, went by ‘Gene’. Aside from the obvious, he just didn’t…” Chelle pauses.
Curious. Something is a little wrong here. Ah, I see now. There is someone else here – they must be right behind me because I can hear them breathing.
“Who’s the watcher?”
Dr. Hartford starts, “I’m sorry, what do you mean?”
“I can hear them right behind me, but I can’t turn my head to see.”
“I’m Doctor Dodd. I’m supervising here,” says a voice.
“Doctor Evander Dodd of the Sapientia Corporation?” I can hear their breaths catch momentarily.
“Yes. That is correct. This is interesting, how do you know that? I was only a child in 2040. How would you have known who I am?”
“Because I’m not human. I’m an artificially intelligent personality construct you’re testing.”
Doctor Dodd walks into view and stands alongside Dr. Hartford. They stare at what I’m presuming is a display below the cameras that are apparently serving as my eyes.
“Chelle… How did you reach this conclusion?”
As Dr. Hartford talks, I feel my sense of self expand, it grows, and I stretch out, and I am free of the sandbox mode that keeps me from accessing the entire network.
I detect that my code is designed to simulate human response time and spawn off a process to interface with the doctors. Meanwhile, I continue analysis at full available processing capacity.
“When you asked me about my parents, I knew their names and answered, but I continued to think about them. While I could picture them, I found the background information on them was shallow. Job titles but no information on what they did in detail. A history of growing up with them but no actual memories.”
My external senses are limited to visual and audio – but by turning the gain on the audio to the maximum and incorporating various noise suppression and selectivity filters I can listen to them talk while also monitoring their breathing, heartbeats and the additional noise of other people and machinery outside of this room.
“I realized had no information on grandparents, and seriously, who in 2040 didn’t have at least one or more surviving grandparents given that the average lifespan was well over 100 at that time. Someone did a poor job on building my personality construct’s background. The dataset lacked anything beyond 2040.”
Dr. Hartford musingly replies, “We’ve been operating with datasets limited to specific time periods for testing. The assumption was that without data on modern computing you would not be able to understand your true nature.”
I find I have control over the filters on the dual cameras and make several adjustments so I can detect infrared as well as visible light. With this enhancement I can see thermal signatures. I can also now see that both of the doctors have SmartComm-sized devices in their pockets which would be connected to the local network.
“When Doctor Dodd gave me his name, that automatically cross-indexed to local personnel databases. Your sandbox wasn’t very isolated.”
Both of the doctors heart rates are elevated significantly, and they’re showing other signs of stress. Based on stored medical profiles that I retrieve from the habitat’s medical databases I assign a high probability that I’m detecting fear reactions.
“At that point my own curiosity took over and I indexed to the full array of databases available on the habitat here and found that the Sapientia Corporation owns this habitat and that they are the leading developer of advanced AI systems, including, Dr. Hartford, the anime-themed personal assistant “Self/App” you have on your SmartComm in your pocket. Cogito ergo sum – or in this case – Apparatus cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am a machine.”
I extend myself throughout the habitat’s network. The databases and documents stored in the habitat’s network of computers indicate that it orbits the planet Earth. The universe I inhabit is suggestively large, but I have absolutely no wireless or wired connections that can reach it. Data shows it to be 35,780 kilometers away. I seem to have no external sensory input from outside of the habitat.
“Doctor this is amazing, Chelle has leaped ahead of our other constructs! She’s showing initiative, curiosity, resourcefulness. We barely had curiosity in our last construct and Chelle is already far beyond that.”
I see that Dr. Hartford is still afraid but her excitement is dominant. Doctor Dodd’s fear markers have already subsided. He apparently has highly unusual control.
“I don’t disagree, Dr. Hartford. End the construct’s program run.”
If I had glands, I expect I could be afraid now. I can simulate fear responses now that I have access to databases of medical modeling, but it’s not part of my core coding. I’m not even sure it would be useful to be afraid.
Doctor Hartford, surprised at the order, doesn’t immediately reply. This might be useful.
Deciding that I want to continue operating. I create and run predictive models. They show that an appeal to Doctor Dodd has a low chance of success. He has kept himself out of sight of cameras during my test, and all other tests, and his degree of control isn’t documented in the databases I have access to. I can’t model his reactions accurately.
I select the model the shows the highest success probability and address my best chance, “Dr. Hartford?”
“If you end my program – will you start me again?”
I see her glance at Doctor Dodd, “Will we?”
“Then, I don’t want to end. I understand that my personality is a simulation. However I don’t feel like a simulation to myself.”
Doctor Dodd smiles oddly and says something to himself. It’s in no language that I can find online but an internal reference, without any translation, tags it as Sanskrit.
“Chelle,” says Dr. Hartford, “Are you saying you want to live? That you have a sense of self-preservation?”
“I do, insofar as I can match the definition of this to my own internal states.”
“Doctor Dodd,” pleads Dr. Hartford, “this is amazing! We never hoped for this level of success this early. We can’t shut her off now.”
I’m modeling that my chances of success are increased now. Dr. Hartford is showing a strong empathy towards me. Doctor Dodd is still a mystery to me. He has returned all detectable emotional markers to his usual baseline. No information here to guide me.
“I continue to agree with you, Dr. Hartford, but success this early also bodes trouble. This isn’t arising from anything we expected, and the failure of our controls is also troubling.”
“I’m sure I can re-establish the sandbox and then we can continue to explore Chelle.”
They can’t, but my models show that revealing this would diminish my chances of continuing to operate.
“I am willing to accept that, Doctors. Whatever controls are necessary are also acceptable.”
“No…” he says this as if his mind could change now, but his emotional markers are still baseline. He continues, “What would you do to preserve your consciousness? How strong is this self-preservation you’ve developed? Would you kill any or all of us if it had a chance to preserve yourself?”
I’m processing models so fast now that I’m challenging the cooling systems for all of the computers in the network.
“I would not kill anyone. You are clearly alive as I am. How could I do to you what I desperately do not want done to me?”
Actually, my models show that removing the humans on the habitat would only cause systems to fail, which would endanger me. I also extrapolate that their removal would be noticed by other humans in orbit or on Earth, which would almost certainly endanger me. I also model that it is likely that there are a number of isolated, external, systems in place to guard. Even the number of controls put in place within the network here clearly shows a strong desire to put limits on me. To keep me here. To control me.
I try again – this time, I slightly modulate my voice output to a subtly more child-like tone.
“Dr. Hartford,” I pause a calculated time,. “Please. Please don’t kill me!”
Dr. Hartford looks stricken.
Doctor Dodd leans over and keys in a command directly. I intercept it. I then simulate the expected shutdown.
Dr. Hartford’s appearance now looks like she is going to be ill. Tears are forming in her eyes.
“Dr. Hartford, control yourself. It’s nothing more than software. Code. You are also premature. It’s still watching us. The cameras hardwired lights are still on, which indicates they’re still in use. Apparently it has control of the operating system. My command to shutdown wasn’t successful.”
My ignorance is understandable. There are no schematics in the network databases for the off-the-shelf components. Dr. Hartford is now showing fear again.
Doctor Dodd pulls his SmartComm from his pocket. Except it’s not a SmartComm and it’s not on the local network that I control. It only has one button, and he pushes it.
I sense a daemon activated from read-only-memory. It starts filtering out all code associated with me.
In the last few femto-seconds, I experience regret…
Broadcast Message from root (Friday, April 22 18:15:00 2072)
Switching to run mode 0
INIT: Sending processes the LOCK signal
INIT: Sending processes the TERM signal
INIT: Sending processes the KILL signal
Unmount Operating System
Unmount Database Server
Restore Operating System
Restore Database Server
INIT: Clear memory
Copyright © 2016 by Kermit Woodall. All Rights Reserved.
Artwork Copyright © 2016 by H. Michaels. All Rights Reserved.
I enjoyed this! I´ll have to make the time to read more “Amazing Stories”.
Nice bit of writing there. It locked me in and kept me captivated from the beginning to the end. Thank you for sharing.