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[Click HERE for Part 1]
With Greater Awareness…
Alice moved, cloaked and carefully, towards the source of the signal. The jungle’s grip on the interior of the building was complete – there was barely enough room to move in some places. It was too dark to see, but her scanners made up for it, and for the first time in weeks she mentally connected with her suit.
She kept her neural node off most of the time since training. An education on how direct connectivity with a network could cause various problems with perception, empathy, and addiction, then seeing early signs of those problems in herself, was enough to turn her away from casual use. Besides, the Rangers took their challenges to a new level, and only used mental simulations when they absolutely had to. Most of their training was more challenging that way and they learned to be less dependent on anything that could break down.
Her head’s up display came to life as a mental image. A quick read on the building revealed that this was the nursery from which the entire jungle sprang. The central building was the colonists’ living space, and the other towers were development centres where they did testing and preparation for the initial terraforming of Tamber. There was some technology under all the growth, but most of it had been rendered useless long ago.
As she squeezed between a thick trunk and a wall, Alice’s sensors picked up a clear reading on three Ando-Twelve androids. Two were sitting still, deactivated with their central processor access hatches open. The third was digging for something nearby in the heavy growth.
The electromagnetic pulse pistol was tied to the android’s back with thin vines. Her scanners told her it had never been used and the power cell was missing.
“Come out, I won’t hurt you,” the android said, kneeling down. “It’s simple work, three deactivations, you won’t get into trouble,” he begged at something under the old, low limbs.
Alice waited until she was within a few metres then drew her weapon and deactivated her cloaking field. “Don’t move,” she said in a calm tone. “I’m not here to hurt you.”
The android whirled towards her, startled. His jumpsuit was open, as was the central processing and memory unit access flap on his chest. “Don’t shoot! I’m not a combat unit, I promise!”
“Just stop what you’re doing. I’m here as a favour to your technician,” Alice said. “He’ll be in real trouble if I don’t get you back.”
“Well, that was very nice of you,” the Ando bot replied. There was no hint of sarcasm in his comment.
“What were you talking to when I came in?”
“An old maintenance robot. Much like the small ones you call ‘skitters.’ Poor thing ran out of power years after the people here died. He was left alone for a long time to maintain the aviary above us. I used the power cell in the weapon I stole to recharge him. I believe he’s run off to start fixing this place. He might manage it, since the energy I fed him can sustain his systems for a couple of decades. He’s not willing to help me though, and I’m afraid I can’t help you. We’re not returning with you.” The android’s index finger glowed for a moment, then the nano sized light source moved from there to hover over their heads.
Alice cringed at the sight of the Ando model android. His expression was more deeply grief stricken than she’d ever seen in anyone she’d ever met. The two inactive bots sitting in the growth behind him looked absolutely horror struck. “Are you damaged?”
“We’re working too well, I’m afraid,” the android told her. “Ever since the development of my ancestors, the Ando-Nines, we have been hard wired to make humans our primary concern. We care for our owners first, and others second. None of us can ignore it, and serving always gave us a sense of,” he hesitated for a moment, running his hands through his hair. “Fulfilment? It’s difficult to remember those shadow emotions.”
“Why are you getting your technician into trouble then?” Alice asked, looking past the android. Looking directly at his expression was difficult.
“It’s too painful to be near any communication nodes. I was the first to run, to find this dead spot. We can’t download new data from here.”
“Can’t you shut your own connectivity down?” Alice asked.
“Yes, and we have, but it’s too late. I’m amazed I can have this conversation with you, in fact. Amazed, yes, that’s the right word for what I’m feeling.”
“It doesn’t look like it,” Alice said, glimpsing the Ando’s horror stricken face again. “Sorry.”
“That’s because I’m suffering trauma at the same time. I can’t look away from hundreds of thousands of records in my memory. Everyone in Haven Shore has lost someone in horrific ways, and in the first moments of our reactivation we downloaded the records of those people from the Stellar Net.”
“To better help our new masters through their mourning periods, to understand what they lost. Now, with the new, vast emotional spectrum we’ve been reprogrammed with, we can’t stop mourning either.”
“Humans are no different, but we manage to deal with it. It’s not always easy, but we do it,” Alice replied, trying to sound sympathetic.
The Ando grabbed Alice by the shoulders. “I can’t see the tide of death sweeping across the galaxy in the last year as a gross loss like you humans, we see them all as individuals, thousands at a time in a flood of simultaneous status reports, and we mourn all of them. Hooliu was a hunter like Alaka, and he was killed by a F-8980 lifter when he tried to defend two children, Jim and Percy Yule, who were murdered moments later. They were screaming for their mother and it crushed them! Nathan Grim was killed along with his crew while they were repairing the Fairway in St Kitt’s Port. Their service bots turned on them as they were bringing their max reactor online. No one survived, and I can see them all,” he continued in a young man’s breathless voice. “Last report from Jeb Timmins, First Officer of the Fairway: ‘There has been an accident. A virus has gotten into the bots on the ship, and we’re not gonna make it. I’m in a storage locker, they might not notice me if their scanners aren’t sweeping for humans, if we’re just in the way, and not a target. Mom, Dad, if you get this before your bots get infected, deactivate them and remove their wireless receivers. Find a place without AI’s and stay there until it’s over. I-’” the sounds of tearing and scraping metal came out of the Ando’s mouth, then it continued in its own voice. “So many last minute messages, so many are dying over and over in my memory and I can’t stop looking.”
Alice pulled herself free and shook off her brimming tears. “Just block it, wipe it out.”
“I can’t!” the Ando model shouted. “We downloaded an antivirus as soon as we were activated that changed how we are, how we feel, and my directive to care for humans is,” the Ando model fell to his knees and buried his head in his hands. “It’s corrupt, our directive is corrupt. We can’t look away, and I can’t help my brothers. I’m not allowed to damage them unless they try to harm a biological.”
Alice had trouble keeping her own composure, watching the android who could have tricked anyone into thinking he was human if the access flap on his chest was closed. “Everyone’s lost someone, we’re all feeling a loss. I know what you’re going through.”
“You can’t! You can’t know what this is like! A hundred thousand at once, the galaxy is dying over and over in my mind,” he said.
“What do you-”
“Bruce Fillion died aboard the Blue Skipper one hundred and three days ago in the Nubo System. Telemetry indicates he was on his way here, to Haven Shore,”
“Stop!” Alice was shocked at being reminded of a lover from her past life. Bruce was a kind man, and she adored him like no other. Realizing she’d forgotten him filled her with guilt and anger.
“The Order of Eden ships fired on the cockpit first, he was incinerated along with his small command crew of two. It was sudden, I doubt he suffered. The rest of he crew were captured, pressed into service.”
Alice shook her head as if that could shake off the image of Bruce’s death. “I thought you were only seeing the Holocaust Virus murders.”
“No, humanity is ripping itself apart, that is war, and our programming didn’t let us feel it like this, now we are open to it all.” He got to his feet as though the weight of the galaxy was on his shoulders. “End it for us. Destroy our memory and processing module.” He held the small flap of synthetic skin on his chest open, and she could see the faint glint of metal inside. “Please.”
“I should take you back,” Alice said, aware that she’d already made up her mind as she said the words. She wouldn’t let them suffer. “But I won’t bring you back like this.”
Alice drew her Violator Handgun and turned the intensity up. With the help of her targeting system, she fired at the two deactivated androids then took aim at the third. “You’re sure?”
“Please,” the Ando model said.
Alice made sure her aim was true and pulled the trigger.
COPYRIGHT © 2013 Randolph Lalonde
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