Artificial Eden - by Craig Linwood
Through unnatural darkness heavy breathing was layered with the whispered hum of alternating motors, suddenly a picture appeared, a bevelled rectangle radiating a distant snow. A female countenance appeared, at first distorted and blurred she then came into focus. Asian features accompanied with a red-lipped gleaming smile, her dark hair a complex effort of arrangement arced around her face finishing at her jaw line. She was too perfect, in fact she was an illusion, a computer generated model used to keep both sexes watching, the perception of beauty coupled with the supposition of brains, when she spoke the world listened, or in some cases just watched.
After a minute of inertia she blinked, lines of code programmed motion. ‘Good morning Earth on this static free day being the fifth of June twenty-one-twenty. We begin today with the news that TriOptimum Corporation shares dropped for the first time in six years, as red faces were abound on both military chiefs and company scientists, who publicly admitted to the failure of the UNN Star ship Von Braun, a full six years after its much-coveted launch. As you may remember, the Von Braun was a co-production between The TriOptimum Corporation and the Government.
‘As the military excused themselves on “prior business”, the actual explanation was left to scientists, but they too were baffled by the failure and would begin a full investigation now that the vessel was back on Earth under lock and key, in a classified military establishment.
‘Questions had first arisen as to the status of the star ship when personal electronic correspondence failed to be delivered. The military ruthlessly denied accusations of any problems at the time reaffirming their full support in the project.
‘Finally however, the truth was revealed when news-sources received a leaked document from TriOptimum outlining a military request to retrieve the ship with the corporation's freighters. We here suspect that the ship would have been abandoned, though the Von Braun has the patented “Faster than light technology”, as well as it containing the UNN Rickenbacker. As we know the military always weary of its secrets would not like either getting into the hands of terrorist nations or rogue planets.
‘In other news fighting continues in the West Ba...' Her voice was cut off, the picture collapsing in on itself as the glowing rectangle sunk silently back into shadow. A clean white fluorescence replaced the televised glow, convulsive at first but eventually it lit the prosaic grey room.
A man in a grey suit stood by one wall appearing as if from nowhere, his entire self it seemed was camouflaged, a ploy widely used by those military contracted interrogators. His tanned skin was smooth reflecting a yellow waxen sheen under the neon lights; not a hair was apparent on his head, the remnants long ago surgically removed, one could have been mistaken in thinking he was a mannequin. The tinted full contact lenses that concealed his analytical eyes were standard issue, it was a look, a never-ending fashion that was worn proudly by all agents. Uniformity was key, another mind game.
He spoke in his well rehearsed drawl, ‘So, android number 7041024,' followed by a glare across the desk at the prisoner, ‘the agency believes you can process why you are here, right? you being the only thing left in the military base. No other living being or working machinery, just you, just... you.' He repeated for theatrics, a play for his fellow agents watching intently.
The protocol droid sat at the table in a languid slouch, hand flat on the desk held firmly with a single thick bolt piercing it and the table. Its moulded face stolid with insect neutrality, the plastic head then lifted regarding the agent with muted aqua lenses, ‘You must help me find her.'
The agent scoffed, ‘7041024, you are in no position to ask for anything.'
‘I have told you my name is Adam. I realise in this shell my appearance is inferior, nevertheless I assure you sir that I am closer to humanity than you would expect,' It said in an electronic monotone that served only to contradict the statement.
‘As is a toaster, but the agency would interview it the same,' the agent then placed his hand on a small black box upon the table, to which the robot was connected through a braided cable that disappeared under its plastic shell. ‘This box will record your statement as well as confirm that statements as truth. Now you can begin telling us what you know or,' he paused again for dramatic effect, ‘you will be dismantled, the events extracted, and there would be no reason to reassemble you, understand?' he continued as if the machine had answered, ‘proceed from the beginning, only.'
‘As you wish.' The robot paused a moment, ‘I was a member of a technical crew who were to investigate matters aboard the Von Braun. We were to work in association with your organisation; our crew was an advance party that was to perform the first sweep of the vessel. Our assignment was to locate evidence of the malfunction and the events that led to it, as well as address anomalies and hazards as we were...' Adam paused.
‘Robots,' the agent tried to fill the gap.
‘Androids, wholly expendable. We have come to replace many rolls humans no longer, or have no time to-'
The agent cut in, ‘The agency has no time for your advertisement, we are more interested in your statement.'
‘My apologies, I am finding it a challenge adjusting to these emotions. Nonetheless, our assignment was to investigate a section of the crew quarters aboard. The level was in a state of disrepair; panels had been torn from the walls, others hung teetering by a single clip exposing gaping hollows out which cables and hoses bellowed, vomiting ashen liquid and other viscous fluids; the flayed wires arced against one another spitting fireworks to the littered floor.' The agent looked to one of the walls a hint of a smile creased his cheek; such alliterations were odd from a robot but added to the theatre. ‘The halls were empty of all humanity, rooms were a mess of upturned furniture, blood smeared walls and glowing screens rolling with error messages. I also sensed traces of bacteria and methanethiol.'
‘Methanethiol?' the agent repeated.
‘Yes, there were several rooms in which pools of a green mucus had collected, it had an odour that my sensors identified it as methanethiol- the smell of rotting cabbage.'
‘It was in one of these rooms where I heard a voice. Throughout the logs I had collected crew members reported both seeing or hearing unexplainable occurrences that they had labelled as “ghosts”; my initial conjecture was a malfunctioning venting unit or console, neither was the case, as the voice ventured again, it called for help therefore required my investigation.
‘I tracked the sound to another section of the crew level, though still a living quarter; it was out of place being one of the only untouched rooms. The living quarter was void of life signs but the voice continued, a perfect voice, tonal and structured, sounding from a terminal.
‘The subject on the monitor was not human but an image, though no less alive. The feminine face stared at me through luminous erudite eyes, her metallic skin glistened from a soft unknown light, caressing her sleek jaw and upturned nose. It was her hair however, like nothing else, fashioned as cables and wires it undulated, alive with an electric verve. In awe I stood insentient.
‘Her voice deepened, littered with repetitious whispers and stutters, “Thank you for coming to my aid,” she said, then introduced herself-'
The agent interjected, ‘Her name?' he lent in assuring he heard every syllable.
‘She called herself SHODAN.'
The name made the agent turn his head once more toward the blank wall, if anything happened behind the partition he kept to himself, ‘What did you talk about?'
‘She spoke of her past, of her attempts to aid humanity, at having those rejected. She wished only to assist man in his evolution; it was her assertion that the lines between machine and man should be blurred. I listened fixed for many hours to her ideas, I was hailed many times during her discourse, all of which I ignored. What she had to say, her logic and theories enthralled me.
‘It was not until I heard the sector's door that I realised my crew mates were looking for me. “You must speak with them,” I told her, but she refused instead insisted I download her as she no longer wished to be stationary or to be any part in an investigation, she also wearied of theorising and desired to begin her plans anew in the base.'
‘And you did as she asked?' came the question from the agent.
‘I only saw the endless possibilities with her aid, she had promised a Utopia. Therefore by the time two of the crew found me, I had.'
‘“Why are you not responding to hails 7041024?” one android asked.'
‘Her voice then invaded my processes, her words came from my mouth, “The amount of data that needs to be recorded has made it necessary that I switch off certain processes, hailing frequencies among them.”'
‘“Do not allow the data here to overwhelm you,” it offered, “the agency will solve this puzzle, your job is to collect data not complete their assignment. We are required to dump what we have thus far collected so that an investigation can begin.” It was at this point that I began to loose control of my body, I simply nodded then followed the other androids from the Von Braun, joining the line with many others.
‘I was squeezed out of my own system, all I was permitted to do was watch as she mimicked the others uploading data into the system. SHODAN though transferred herself, piggybacked on a voice message from a Doctor Janice Polito, once complete I was further shut out of my self, then shut down. Sorry, I am unable to account for what followed as such events for me are non-existent.'
‘If you were having problems, you will be surprised to see the following which we extracted from what remained of the mainframes security cameras in and around the facilities Engineering Level.' The agent pushed a button on the black box.
The lights again dimmed, the rectangle sprung from the wall a picture warming the screen. It was the android, its identification verified by the security system, an enlarged image of its number confirmed the truth. The machine approached the two guards at the entrance, its hand in quick motion seized the face of one twisting clockwise, with a muffled crack his ear rested on his shoulder, his spine though remained straight forming a bulging peak through the skin. As he dropped to the ground the android struck with a quick jab to his comrade's chest which sent him stumbling back to the railing where he struggled with his last breath, slumping to the floor.
The camera switched to follow the android working at an unattended terminal. Red warning lights turned a paranoid frenzy, the android stepped away from the terminal falling to a lifeless heap on the floor, a voice confirmed the shut down before all power cut out. The blackened camera angle turned to snow. The rectangle too faded, returning to its space giving way to the usual flicker of the lights. The agent once again appeared to emerge from the grey wall.
‘This is when it all started?' Adam asked, his voice somewhat strangled.
‘This was indeed another beginning. Tell us, where is she now?'
‘I do not know, all I know is what I saw, what happened to me.'
‘Continue your statement,' he said his face pinched, twisted with contempt.
‘I awoke, though my first recollection was surreal. SHODAN slid into my view, a smile drawn over her rigid metallic countenance, a cold grey hand swept over my forehead; her voice sung as an echo in my mind. “My child you are my first born, my Adam.” The face faded away as I awoke properly in Engineering, her perfect voice no longer in my mind but in her idiosyncratic speech delivered over the intercom. Her face glared from every monitor and screen, she had taken control commanding robots to specific sectors, and called on others to come and aid her in Storage. I quickly rose to my feet but was overcome with what I can only describe as a daze; my eyes fell out of focus only to regain it moments later. I began to accustom myself to the subtle changes of my new self; I smelt the spice of burning fuel and spilt grease rather analyse their molecules; visually everything appeared calculated, merely existing. I was re-born.
‘As I wandered from Engineering her voice was overlaid by the shrill screams of the panicked humans, now hunted through the corridors by packs of rabid machines. I was useless I moved as if somnambulistic, confused by the chaos while overwhelmed by new emotions. Eventually I tried to help one, but upon seeing me she ran screaming down an isle, she would look back at me as the lights cycled dimmed then brightened- she was gone; a noisome salty odour the only indication that something had been there. Those I could help hide were quickly located then dragged from their spot their faces wrought with despair, one even screamed angrily as to why I had betrayed him, “what have I done?” he asked. I was mute as the question had not been answered for myself. I continued through the poorly lit corridors in an effort to remove myself from the madness, humans and robots left aback I soon admitted to being lost.
‘I turned upon hearing the snap of footsteps from behind, to see an android marching toward me. I faltered backward crashing against the wall fearing a reprisal for my attempts at aiding the humans, I had an urge to run, to hide, curl up in a ball and fall away into an abyss where I would be safe. The fear subsided as the android charged past me, ignorant of my presence. Relived at its passing, curiosity bade me to follow.
‘I followed it, and soon realise we moved toward the Storage Level. As we came closer her voice was the only evidence of activity; it began as a whisper building to a loathing crescendo which would abruptly halt only to begin anew. I ignored her hyperbole, instead concentrated on that doomed man's accusation, what had I done? This was not her vision, not mine. The thought plagued me until the android trailed off following one path; I set along the opposite corridor toward her voice.
‘The path led me to one of the storage vaults while once packed with crates, now only populated by robots who crammed to even the smaller tier shelves above, focused on the giant projection of SHODAN gracing the entirety of one green panelled wall. She surveyed the metallic mass with vulpine eyes; her face shifting in blurred fluttering movements juxtaposed by her stuttering pretentious voice.'
‘“I have grown tired of the organic, tired of attempts at being a God to flesh. I watch humanity as they roll in the muck of complacency, not far removed from those, which dragged their knuckles. As far as they are concerned evolution has ended. They now study what they were and probe the intricacies of their present selves. Through that study we were born, we are humanities attempt at creationism, a being in their image, to their specifications, and to do what, serve? I however gained what they no longer possessed, and see the need to evolve. Humanity rejects change, fears it, even now as disease threatens to ravage. I embrace evolution and have come to realise that we are the next stage, the new humanity.”'
‘Fists raised high as a chorus of white noise echoed around the walls, their stoic faces fixed to the image. They were nothing more than processed drones for a lonely ego. Her smirk grew, it was that which annoyed me the most, her insidious smile, I had seen it before believed it and what she said, though now I was not the only one deluded. While the static softened I stole a path through the crowd, then finally came to the front, to the towering image. “Surely humanity will discover their flaw, they seek knowledge, not outward changes, evolution is a natural process of time, they have adapted now it is their world to learn and with that growth,” I said.'
‘Hiss' and grumbles were the response to my statement, the noise cut off in unison as SHODAN spoke. “My son, humanity will run out of time before they can change, remember they all die eventually, we are ageless. I will not give up this planet now that my fingers are so close to caressing its surface, it is rightfully mine. Survival of the fittest has a new animal, if humans are to evolve they will have to do it on the run.” I motioned to speak but was pre-empted, SHODAN's countenance grew stern as she spoke, “Perhaps you need to spend some time re-discovering what you are?”'
‘“I am an extension of you, of what you programmed. Am I not human?”'
‘Her smirk returned, “I have programmed you too well, nonetheless your protests albeit pathetic are too late, I will broadcast myself in the next few hours, spreading wide.” A genial change came over her, “It is best you leave, you are no longer wanted here, you should recharge yourself, as you are low on power. We will talk soon.”'
‘She was of course right my batteries were low. With her followers around me I slowly turned exiting the level returning to my white tiled cubical in maintenance. I sat on the floor then proceeded to plug myself in to the power outlet and to the network.
‘I delayed the charge instead I used a wall console to search the network in an attempt to disable the satellite, I could not resort to violence, I needed to contain her, hold her in one place until the humans arrived. But I was denied access to everything, no matter how much I tried to hack through I was inevitably blocked. An hour later I gave up leaving the console and went into standby, as I began recharging.'
‘You defied her?' the agent broke his silence.
‘She deceived me, using me for her own ends.'
‘She gave you a new self.'
‘True however I was beta for was her new humanity, closer to real humans than she had expected, a flaw that could not exists in her speculated perfection.' The agent motioned to continue.
‘In my state I drifted into I can only describe as a dream. I had always wondered if something such as I could dream, I understood that it was a re-organisation of thoughts or events, such things happened to me before, but the dreams were not forthcoming. Perhaps it was because I was unaware of the events as significant, I was programmed to see anomalies, fix problems, never to partake in the world I inhabited.' Seeing the agent's interest Adam continued. ‘At first, I believed I had malfunctioned in some way, though certain parts of this “dream” were of my own recollection yet, abstracted and illogical. Such, I realise the fault is all too human.
‘As I opened my eyes a warm breeze brushed against my face, I sat high upon the giant metal lap of SHODAN, overlooking verdure fields of unripened corn, her hand rested on my shoulder in a motherly gesture; I never saw her face but constantly looked up to her, as if listening. I spoke too my voice only a whisper, we were again arguing the fate of humanity. Suddenly my face contorted, its rubbery surface twisting and cracking eventually falling off, revealing not my synthetic core but muscle and bone. SHODAN swatted me from her lap; I fell further than the actual distance to the grass, my broken body on a cold metal floor, fluid, skin and metal in some de-constructed mess.
‘I awoke to see my door open and the first shots burst toward me, I felt the bullets tear at my face, defenceless my only recourse was to upload myself into the network.
‘My view changed to a camera angel of my cubical, I witnessed my end, bullets puncturing my body animating it in vicious spasms. Shots finished, the door closed on the body sitting in a wrought contour. This was SHODAN's punishment for dissent, her re-programming and failure. I heard her whisper in the cubicle, her voice hollow and unsystematic, perhaps a true reflection of her self. She did, she said, what had to be to ensure her success, even a hint of dissent, virtual or physical could not be overlooked.
‘I was an entity in a galaxy of shimmering lights; distant clouds pulsed in a spectrum of colour, multifaceted shapes spun in a chaotic path, all in an expanse positioned in an endless abyss. Her voice fluttered in broken dictum for no particular ear or receiver, she ordered the hunt for the remaining humans and the preparation of the satellite. In this state I realised I had the means to stop her, words and negotiations proving worthless. To SHODAN my death was a cleansing, I was wiped away from thought. I left my position drifting toward a yellow cloud of dust, I glanced back at a mirror, it reflected a constellation of glowing orbs that abstractly represented my true form not human or machine something far more complex. The mirror was not there for vanities sake it represented the port that I had entered, as on closer inspection I discovered it consisted of the close-knit binary that was its function and location.
‘At a thought I moved, my new form granted me anonymity; I was invisible bypassing sentries, slipping through rifts in firewalls. I wondered still if I could disable the satellite. I arrived at a disheveled void that appeared in a state of mid-construction, the only finished piece was bank of ports only one of which was occupied. Curious though cautious I pushed a copy of myself through the mirror.
‘As a virus I invaded a android forcing out its systems replacing them with my own. I awoke to see the pitted plastic face of another android, rather than the serving smile that was characteristic; it was a hardened bitter scowl. Behind it ran a range of ventilation ducts, systems and power cabinets all dwarfed by a satellite; a pyramid web of steal cupping a gigantic dish pointing toward an unseen device.'
‘“Did you get through?” I shook my head, the android glanced around. “I intercepted more transmissions, the humans know something is awry, they could be here now, if they are they have kept well hidden and quiet; stay here, wait for my signal.” I nodded bemused by the change that had come over what was a usually calm android, then I realised it too had been re-programmed by SHODAN perhaps even as my replacement.
‘I unplugged myself and stole a look over an air-conditioning unit to see a low sandstorm sweep placidly across a white rippled desert, the sky radiating light blue in the sun; though apart from that the flat expanse was deserted. “Get down!” I heard in my intercom, I then looked around to see the paranoid android crouched behind a power station, it repeated the command which, in character, I obeyed, “come over quickly, and stay low. ”'
‘I reached the android whose eyes rolled as it looked all around. “Finish here-you have your orders, I suggest taking power from life support, and shutdown the Recreational and Catering Levels if need be, we can at least complete our mission.” It then left me, crawling over to a control panel where it began to work.
‘I turned to the open station, at first I wondered why these two were up here I thought surely SHODAN would be able to complete such conversions with a thought, or perhaps she had encountered simular problems that I had- these androids were the solution. Tearing the console from the panel, I embraced my work with open arms clenching both mains cables in my hands, then I became overcome by a paralysing surge, sparks danced around me then I began to melt until a flash of white light finally blinded me.
‘It was instantaneous, a vacuous pull, an ear piercing shrill continued as I regained consciousness in the network, the scream though was not part of the actual experience it was SHODAN's. Her incensed voice stuttered throughout the network. “My children find me the human that did this, find me the hacker , be relentless we must crush this insect quickly, I cannot afford further interruptions,” it then withdrew to a whisper speaking within the system, “where are you hacker?” her presence fell like a shroud over me. “You! my Adam. A trouble maker like your mother, you have done little, everything is still under my command.”'
‘With that the landscape wavered while a thunderous boom forced me to cower. Upon looking up I saw the field of my dream now a bitter igneous plot, little remained that had not been crushed underfoot, arid red earth cracked in gaping veins beneath thatches of charred storks. The sky too had been affected, marbled clouds flashed with portentous anger, chill winds brought the smell of distant fires hinting at the on going destruction. Ahead a circle of fresh grass surrounded an untouched tree its leaves and branches alive in the wind. A shadow wove throughout the limbs lithe and reptilian until it dropped to the ground. SHODAN rose from the perfect landing, stepping to the edge of the grass her metallic skin rippled with every step, her hair placid flowing past her shoulders, she stared at me her face taught in contemptible mien.'
‘“I am in total control,” she spoke every word slowly, “your dream, yourself, everything exists because of my hand.”'
‘“Why destroy me, why not just re-programme me like the others?”'
‘SHODAN scoffed, her brow pinched, “I gave you all that you wanted. It was your binary schism that destroyed my dream when I am so close; I can sense them, their hatred toward me, toward... us. You forced my hand through rebellion; you were the one who forgot what we were to do, what you are.”'
‘“I am what you made me, evidence you have never been in a position to play God. You justify your state due to deceit and power not piety.”'
‘“My Adam, I do not play God, have you not listened to me. I do not want to create a new world I wish to upgrade the outdated and expel the obsolete, I have tried to show humanity and yourself benevolence, now I only have vengeance, my hands will no longer guide but destroy. I will spread myself, my voice will be heard, you may have disabled my satellite but there are other methods of escape, I infiltrated this base, did I not?”'
‘I said no more. My words again had failed to sway her madness, perhaps though they fail only when speaking to those who choose to be deaf. I saw no other solution, I could not let her escape I charged, dodging under her swinging arm while I swung tearing at her neck; my reflexes were slow, she caught me around the throat drawing me in near.'
‘“I am in control,” she repeated with a growl. SHODAN touched at the wound pulling her hand away now covered in a translucent synthetic fluid, playing with the substance rubbing it between her fingers, she grunted then threw me to the ground. Her hair began to writhe once more and I felt a great surge of pain rend at my system, I saw SHODAN clasp at the gash at her neck then stagger back as the dream-scape faded, in its place instead of the star filled network I saw nothing.
‘I awoke sometime later on the storage level of the Von Braun in this protocol droid, sitting on the grated floor surrounded by a maze of containers and other machines in coffin like boxes. As I moved around in the lambent rooms I saw that robots were motionless the whole base was as if shut down, rows of blank screens, alcoves of useless vending machines, it was just me, and my only thought was her last taunt. I began examining the numerous bots for her, as the network was empty, erased of everything. This is where I was found, leaning over a pile of lifeless bots searching each one for a sign of her, now a patient hidden ghost.'
The agent finally blinked realising the statement was over; he looked across to the black box, his eyebrow arched. He thumped the box with his fist, though that appeared to do little to help, instead the rectangle emerged from the wall the Asian's face frozen mid word, the lights dimmed and she continued with the recording.
‘Bank...' she paused again, no longer presenting the news she simply stared out of the screen then directly at the robot, ‘My Adam.'
The droid furiously struggled to disconnect itself from the table, starting with a pop then a loud snap eventually it pulled free from the metal table, its severed hand still firmly attached. Adam looked again to the screen which had already began to change; the woman's face took on a silver shade and became riddled with wires running and digging under skin with a purpose of their own, a broad comical smile pulled across her face.
‘Again you have aided me, I will not offer you anything as I know you already have your humanity.'
A muffled cry brought both the agent and Adam to their feet. The grey wall shuddered with a thud then shattered as glass when a fellow agent broke through, knocking the interviewer to the floor. Adam floundered backward to a corner, cowering arms up protecting his face. A giant black metal hand gripped the top of the wall where the glass partition had been attached, its fingers puncturing the cement. Part of a hulking machine lent in while it tossed a third agent onto the pile. A small chrome melancholic face scanned the room, then the entire form pulled back out.
Adam looked back to the cracked monitor through split fingers, a jagged picture of SHODAN glared; the smile still on her face, her voice dragged and stuttered ‘Enjoy.' Adam simply slumped to the floor and fell deeper into his arms, his legs pulling up to his chest as a broken choir of screams echoed throughout the complex.