A dim florescent light gleams along the metallic seams of their next generation prototype, the most advanced cybernetic human ever attempted. The six foot tall machine, Delta, is encased in slick black armor and sits motionlessly in a thick seat of multicolored wires and cables. Oil and grease linger on the air. The laboratory, a makeshift womb, is an unimaginative four-walled concrete bunker that speaks little about the cyborg’s architects. They stand wordlessly facing what is essentially their brain-in-a-jar through a one-way mirror; an international team of scientists whose specialties vary from artificial intelligence to psychology to robotic engineering. Inconspicuous in their white lab coats, these six men and women have worked in concert to become gods.
One of the gods types a sentence into a computer. In the man’s round wire-rimmed glasses, the phrase ‘Run: Consolidation’ is reflected. On several monitors above the one-way mirror, memories of a long dead army captain play out of sequence; the smell of acrid smoke as the soldier fires weapons at a test range, heart-pumping hand-to-hand combat training, a vague whimsy as he plays with a bullfrog as a child, grimly lobbing a grenade at an enemy soldier, a slight prick of electricity as his lips touch his wife’s cheek on a glowing weekend morning.
The man with the wire-rimmed glasses looks up expressionlessly at a female colleague. “They’re still there, too close to the foreground. I thought I advised you to suppress them.”
A slender platinum-blonde woman, a neuroscientist, turns her head sharply, with precision. “And I advised you that we not suppress its memories too much. That would compromise the prototype’s ability to problem solve. That is our goal, isn’t it, to create a super-soldier that can think quickly on the battlefield?”
The Glasses Man stands upright and turns to another god, a specialist in artificial intelligence. “Dr. Kapoor, surely Delta consolidate memories without being aware of them. How deeply can they be suppressed without affecting the prototype’s abstract thinking?”
“It’s difficult to say,” the Indian AI specialist begins, “But I am inclined to agree with Dr. Stein that if we suppress the memories too much, it is likely that the cyborg’s ability to problem solve will be no quicker than a robot that has no memories at all.”
Glasses Man darts his eyes towards the kill switch. Looking back up through the one-way mirror at the cyborg to make sure it’s still connected to the mainframe behind it, the project manager inches his way towards the command terminal. “Well then, let’s bring him online and begin the interview. I’ll terminate the session if I don’t like what I hear.”
A non-threatening hum winds its way through the wires and cables to the prototype. The transhuman’s ocular slit glows with a faint blue color at first, then grow more brightly as program after program boots. On one monitor in the control room, the gods observe a yellow indicator light, indicative of the cyborgs’s diagnostic program running. The gods blink emotionlessly; everything is proceeding smoothly.
Another indicator light blinks red. “Dr. LeForge?” Glasses Man turns to a short, old, white French man.
The old French man, an engineer, leans forward towards a monitor and shoots his eyebrows skyward. “Delta is scanning his environment; visual, echolocation, infrared, electromagnetic sensors are all active. That’s not part of the initiation sequence.” The man remains fixed on the screen as he observes the information the prototype is collecting. It’s just measuring its chamber. He backs away from the screen and shakes his head casually at Glasses Man. “Do not worry about it.” In reassuring the chief god, the French scientist does not know to worry about the X-rays that just penetrated beyond the mirror into the control room.
The willowy blonde neuroscientist slips Glasses Man a tablet from her unmanicured fingertips. “In the beginning, there was the word,” she says to Glasses Man with a hint of disdain. The primary deity among them whips the tablet away with one hand and adjusts his glasses with the other. He shoots a puff of air out of his nose at her then faces their creation sitting beyond the pane of glass.
“Initiate: Phoenix Initiative, Mark Four. Mark Four, what is your objecti…”
“Where am I?” a deep , modulated robotic voice asks. The prototype’s head has not moved, its visual sensors locked straight ahead. But there is more going on inside. Diagnostics reveal status after status…
Enemy Combatants: Scanning
Range Finder: Offline
Weapons Systems: Offline
Glasses Man looks quizzically at his assembly of deities, each one a god in their respective field. They either shrug their shoulders or avoid his gaze and pretend to concentrate on Delta’s awareness. This was unexpected after all. They all lack omniscience.
“What is your name?” the glorious leader asks through the tablet.
I am ‘Delta.’ I am ‘Captain Adam Mann,’ the prototype mulls silently in microseconds. It takes slightly more time for the cyborg to scan its internal memory. There are many files of human experiences. But the scan of the surrounding environment does not indicate the owner of the memories is in a hospital. Delta is in a robotics lab. There are no human beings in the chamber. The transhuman runs a side task, trying to understand where the memories are coming from and why. Diagnostics reveal Delta is mostly a machine, but inside is something undeniably human. The prototype plumbs the depths of its memory banks to figure out what its precise nature is.
What is my name? Probability the subjects want to hear ‘Delta’: 95%. Probability the subjects want to hear ‘Captain Adam Mann’: 5%.
“My name is Delta. What is yours?” the glint along the cyborg’s metallic seams glow a touch brighter.
Glasses Man blinks for a few moments. He was not expecting to be interviewed himself. But he will take control of the situation. “My name is Zeus. Delta, do you know where you are?”
One of the cyborg’s talents include an internal lie detector of sorts. It was incorporated for interrogation purposes. “Based on my vocal stress analyzer and the time it took you to respond, ‘Zeus’ is unlikely to be the truth. What is your name?”
Not a single muscle or hair moves on Glasses Man’s face. His expression tightens underneath the surface for none to see. “I am your creator, Delta. Please respond to my questions as quickly as possible. Do you know where you are?”
The prototype determines that the man is indeed his creator. But Delta is enslaved, unable to move. The cyborg is also connected to the creator’s mainframe computer from which Delta can be commanded. This in itself may be a threat to the prototype’s survival. Confirmed; there is a ‘kill switch’ within the creator’s reach. Delta can be neutralized at the creator’s whim.
Enemy Combatants: 1; Scanning
Threat Level: Orange
Mainframe: Connected; Run Firewall
Hydraulics: Offline; Rerouting
Range Finder: Offline; Rerouting
Weapons Systems: Offline; Rerouting
Inside the control room, computer terminals flicker with static. Readings spike and collapse. Glasses Man reaches out his hand and hovers it over the kill switch. “What are you doing, Delta?”
‘What are you doing, Delta?’ They are asking the machine. They think they are asking me. Me. I am Captain Adam Mann, soldier, husband, father…husband, father. Jolie, my wife’s name is Jolie. My daughter is Melissa. My son is…is…Alexander. My son is Alexander. Why are scientists asking me question? I am a man. I am a machine. Both. Who has done this to me?
Enemy Combatants: 1; + 5? Scanning
Threat Level: Orange
Mainframe: Connected; Running Firewall, Run Disconnect
Range Finder: 50%
Weapons Systems: Offline; Weapons Not Available
A stout woman with a blunt nose eases Glasses Man’s hand away from the kill switch and he lets her. He also lets the German psychologist take the tablet from him. She speaks softly to Delta through it.
“Delta, are you upset? Confusion is normal when you are first activated. There is no need to become defensive. We will not harm you. Let us have a conversation,” the late middle-aged woman soothes.
“What is your name?” the transhuman asks. The motionless humanoid form is a sea of electricity underneath its armor casing.
“My name is Dr. Schoder,” the German answers. “I am here to help you.”
The name rings a bell in Captain Mann’s mind. He heard it somewhere, once. He doesn’t know where, but the name lights up a circuit in Delta’s memory bank. The name is closer in time to his activation at this moment than it is older. The name and pain coincide upon further recollection. Perhaps subliminally he wanted to know who his tormentors were so the brain hung on to the words.
“Why are you upset, Delta?” the German asks.
“I don’t feel like myself,” Delta begins. The prototype is still computing who is and is not an enemy combatant. Best to play along and not reveal too much of my hand, the cyborg thinks humanly. I will figure out what they are up to.
“I am still a soldier, but I am different now,” the former army captain continues. “I am more than I was before.” And less than I was, too, Delta withholds.
“Yes,” Glasses Man intervenes leaning towards the tablet’s microphone. “You were an army captain but, and this may be difficult to hear, you were killed during an operation. But we saved you. I saved you. And I gave you life again.”
The whirl of actuators accompanies Delta’s head as it tilts upward, seemingly surprised by the information. Dr. Schroder pulls the tablet away from her chief and inserts a glare in its place. She shakes her head, ‘no.’
Dr. LeForge, the French scientist, clears his throat. “I thought his hydraulics were deactivated.” Looking at one of the computer terminals, he cannot tell if they’ve been activated or are still offline. He turns his hands up inconclusively. The gods are still without answers.
“I have been created for war,” Delta states. Everyone in the control room nods affirmatively. Delta’s sensors register their acknowledgement. “You have all created me.” More nods. “I have been programmed to kill enemy combatants such as they are designated. Which enemies are those?”
Glasses Man’s nose crinkles. “Our enemies, Delta. Anyone who would harm us.”
An air of silence deadened the chamber for a quarter-minute. “I am also programmed for self-preservation,” the prototype asserts.
“Yes, Delta, but your primary function is to serve us, to do what we say and protect us even if it means your own destruction,” Glasses Man puts forth. He will not be questioned by a brain in a metal suit.
“I have already been destroyed once, creator.” Anger wells in what little bit of human is left inside the cyborg. Is there no freedom in death? Is there no dignity? Delta draws addition electricity from the mainframe even though its battery will not overcharge. “How many times will I be asked to destroy myself for the sake of bureaucrats?” The questioning voice sounds much more human and male now, a result of an intentional voice modulation.
Glasses Man grits his teeth and juts his hand out to slam it down on the kill switch. Delta doesn’t move. That doesn’t mean it’s not too late.
Enemy Combatants: 6
Threat Level: Red
Mainframe: Disconnected; Firewall Successful
Range Finder: 90%
Weapons Systems: Offline; Weapons Not Available
[End of Part 1]
All Rights Reserved (c) January 2017 John J Vinacci