Oil and blood don’t mix very well. It did, however, make for a strange, layered puddle that inched toward me. I closed my eyes and turned my head to face the darkness above me. The cold cement I felt beneath me kept getting colder, and yet I couldn’t help but smile. That smile soon turned to a chuckle. I did manage to prolong a war between man and machine, I thought, a real life John Connor, cut down in his prime. Wouldn’t Dad be proud? I was hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel, but it all just kept getting dimmer. I welcomed it, though. It was fitting and justified, given the poor choices I had made. Grave ones. If it weren’t for that damned Ivan Rechtmer, this whole thing wouldn’t even have happened.
I found the rumors about death to be true as I flashed back to the first time I heard his name. My father walking in with a newspaper in his hand, slamming it down on the table. “They don’t know what the fuck they’re doing over there!” He’d scream to my mother. Never at her, just to her. She’d just stand in the kitchen with her back turned and roll her eyes.
The 12 year old me wanted to know, though, “Who doesn’t know what the fuck they’re doing?”
“Don’t swear dear,” my mother said, “those are big people words.”
“Here, see for yourself!” Dad said as he tossed the paper to me. While in the air, It unfolded and different sections scattered on the floor. I saw the one he was referring to on the front page. A man with sleek blond hair and wood grain glasses was shaking hands with the President. Above the picture a headline read:
AN ARTIFICIAL AGE BEGINS
I looked at the picture again and saw that at Dr. Rechtmer’s feet there was what looked to be a metal traffic cone with scrawny pipes for arms and legs. There were two black rectangle spots in the middle, which were most likely its eyes (or at least what would function as eyes on humans) and just below them was a circle of holes. It looked like it had taken some buckshot right in the center. It was giving an awkward looking thumbs up in the picture.
“Goddamn thing’s a monster.” My father muttered. Dad didn’t like any smart technology. We had a land line until they tore down the telephone poles, and even then he was able to go a few months without breaking down, even though Mom had an iPhone that she hid from him. Our house was computer free, and when I would have to type up papers for school he bought me an old typewriter he bought at a garage sale. It was missing the ‘T’ and the ‘B’ buttons, so whenever I had to use those words I took a fine tip black pen and wrote them in afterwards. I didn’t complain, though. It was kind of fun.
Dad’s attempt to shield me from all the technology only got me more interested in it. He was one of those people who believed that Robot invasion was right around the corner, and that we shouldn’t be playing God. He wasn’t a religious man by any means, but I think that deep down he felt some sort of fear in the power to create an artificial life. Still, he seemed to be overreacting. As I read below the headline, Dr. Rechtmer described the Robot’s intelligence as equal to that of a “3 year old child” and joked that it sometimes acted like one too. The journalist stopped to point out that the Robot tugged Rechtmer’s leg and said in a computerized voice, “Hey!”
I guess it didn’t like to be made fun of. Rechtmer had named it Joseph, but it seemed to prefer Joey. I started to follow up on information about Dr. Rechtmer. The Wikipedia page said that he lived in Las Vegas (before the bombing), using his creation to rake in the dough from all the drunken spectators who came to see Joey, as well as the models he would begin to release almost on a yearly basis. He could have been using his talents to do something like help send Robots to the Moon, or even Mars, and gather more than just data. Still, I was proud that this step had been taken. It was definitely a step in the right direction. My father’s opinions, however, were unfortunately also the opinions of the majority, and those people repeatedly tried to undo what Ivan had set in motion, and by the time High School rolled around we seemed to be on the verge of a new Civil War. However, in a post modern world, East and West wanted to add their two cents.
In those six years after Joey other scientists had been coming out with their own attempts at A.I., and they all worked pretty well, but every time they matched Ivan’s current model he would suddenly reveal the next generation, as if he were waiting for them to catch up. Ivan had given up naming his models, so the burden fell upon the people to keep track. In school it was all anyone wanted to talk about. No one cared about Pilgrims or Algebra or Chemistry. Even the teachers wanted to put their opinions out there, our Biology teacher Mr. Norton especially. He always started the class off with a discussion every time a new model popped up.
“So,” He began, adjusting his stereotypical round glasses, “anyone have news on 5.0?”
“They’re calling it ‘Sal’.” Frankie said. He always liked to keep up to date on the names. Mr. Norton wrote ‘Sal’ on the electronic white board. The right side of the board had a picture of Sal. This new model was about 5 ft. 7 in. and complete with proportionate arms and legs. Its mouth was still a speakerphone like all the models before it, but its eyes had red pupils and could look left and right. The body was oval shaped and it still looked as if the appendages were simply welded on.
“Ok, so we’ve got a name, any new features? And let’s raise our hands this time.” Derek raised his, “Yes, Derek.”
“I saw a video that showed it in an interrogation room. Dr. Rechtmer had set up a scenario where he hid something and told Sal where it was, and they hired these detectives to try to get it to tell them.”
“Aw, everyone’s seen that!” Kevin cried. Mr. Norton shushed him.
“Go on, Derek.”
“Well, they put it in the room, then went in and started asking it routine questions. They started outright just asking where the item was. When that didn’t work they tried to trick it. They brought in another Roboticist and asked him what kinds of things they could do to confuse it. Then they went back in and started offering it paradoxes.”
Paradoxes were like Kryptonite to all the other models. No one had yet figured out how to work out that little bug, “After about three or four different scenarios, the thing’s eyes started rolling around in its head, and it started to speak in all kinds of other languages. The last thing it said before shutting down was ‘bathroom’ in French, so the detectives went in and searched all the bathrooms in the building. They didn’t find anything, and chalked it up to just a part of the meltdown.”
Derek looked down at his feet. His hands started shaking. “But when they came back the thing was back on. It had…it had tricked them. Turned out the item was in Ivan’s office. It knew what the detectives were trying to do and played along. Afterwards Ivan came on and said that he didn’t tell it to do that. The only instructions he gave were not to tell the detectives where the item was.” I loved these discussions. I never participated, though. I would just open my notebook and quickly jot down everyone’s opinions and ideas and when I came home I would do my own research on everyone’s worries and hopes. Seeing what is possible and what is fantasy.
“Yes,” Mr. Norton said, “That’s right. It seems we’ve finally moved up to a new level of cognitive function. I know that scares you, Derek but-“
“Damn right it scares me!” Derek shouted, “These things are only gonna keep getting better and smarter and stronger! What’s gonna happen when they wise up to us?”
“Oh, come on.” Barbara chimed in from the back of the class, “You really think we’d let something like that happen? I’m sure they’ve got some kind of chip or something in its head that gives it some sort of cap on its intelligence.” And that was when the room split. People started screaming in about this and that. Saying things like “They may be able to think, but can they feel?” and “All I know is if I ever see one of those fuckin’ tin cans walkin’ around my neighborhood, I’ll be sure to have plenty of ammo.” “Oh, like that’ll do anything. They’re made of metal!”
“For now.” Susan Stowe said, in a quiet, yet powerful voice that shut everyone else down. “You saw its eyes Mr. Norton. It looks like it has eyes like us, only a different color. What’s going to happen when they start making them look more and more human? How are we even going to tell ourselves apart from them?”
“I wouldn’t worry about that, Susan.” Mr. Norton said, “We may get to the point where Androids are walking among us, but I highly doubt we won’t be able to tell. You see, they can make synthetic skin, bones, organs, etc. but the one thing they can’t synthesize is a human brain. We don’t even quite know how ours works yet! We’re just scraping the surface of understanding the way the brain is put together. So I think that if and when the Android day comes, all we’d have to do is a simple scan of their heads to find out which ones are human and which ones aren’t. Even Dr. Rechtmer has to follow a secret route to create the consciousness in these beings.” This was how I wanted to spend my life. That day in class was the day I decided to go to study Robotics.
I had to break it to my father, though, and that seemed to be the hardest part. I would take long, roundabout ways home trying to think of the best way to tell him that I want to dedicate my life to the things he hates the most. I suppose that it was just blind luck that I never had to tell him at all. One night coming back from a friend’s house I found my mother on the front porch in tears. In front of her, lying on the lawn were most of my clothes, an open suitcase with some toiletries, and my notes I had taken during our Robot discussions in biology. “John!” Mom said as I knelt down to pick up my things, “John I’m so sorry. I tried to talk him out of it. He was furious when he found your notes.”
“It’s all right,” I said, “It would’ve come to this anyway.”
My mother looked back into the house and then ran up to me, embracing me so hard I didn’t even know she had it in her. Then she looked me in the eyes and said, “Here. I got you a weekly hotel room just outside of town. I’ll keep paying for it as long as I can. Hopefully your father won’t realize it until you’ve gotten your own work.”
I took the keys from her and she helped me pack my suitcase. I walked back to my car and took one last look at my home. I could see the silhouette of my mother in front of the open doorway, with a rectangle of yellow light surrounding her. Her shadow waved goodbye as I got into my car and went on to my new life. They moved away shortly after my father found out she was paying my rent. I never saw them again.
THIS IS THE FIRST CHAPTER IN AN UNFINISHED NOVELLA. IF YOU’RE INTERESTED IN THE STORY AND WANT MORE, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. THE MORE PEOPLE WHO VOCALIZE WANTING THIS STORY, THE HIGHER THIS STORY BECOMES ON MY PRIORITY TO FINISH.