Centauri Research University -- 2566
When his office door opened, Charles Jamel swiveled his chair from the thirty-inch, flat computer monitor mounted on the wall over the right side of his desk. He smiled as his assistant and secret body guard Tori Yasuo entered with a box. Although Tori was now thirty, she barely seemed twenty, and yet she’d been with him six years – ever since his 5000A prototype was stolen by a sadistic madman. No one doubted he’d have been the man’s victim if his grandson’s young girlfriend hadn’t been closer to the shuttle bay door.
Tori hid more than her age, though. She had a keen intellect that allowed her to understand and participate in Charles’ work in artificial intelligence. She had also trained in the ninjutsu martial arts from the time she could walk. When Charles offered her father, the director of the only Ryu on CentiOne, a large finder’s fee and one of his AI Androids with the 4000 core, he was surprised the man had sent his daughter instead of another student.
“What have you got for me today, Tori dear?” He pushed back his thick white hair by running his fingers through it.
“A box from Michael.” She set it on his desk.
“Really?” Charles grasped the package and pulled it closer. “And where is Michael? Is he back?”
“No, Sir. This came by courier.” She stood beside the desk in a deceptively relaxed posture, one that kept her weight on both feet and her hands free. “I shall return to the budget projections if I am not needed.”
Charles smiled. She’d obviously had the box scanned at security. “Thank you.”
He grabbed the letter opener from the top drawer of his desk as she left. What had Michael sent? He was supposed to be looking for that stolen 5000A unit – although Charles was almost sure it was a futile mission. The satellite reports had shown the shuttle and the escape pod had both been disintegrated before hitting the ground. The only reason Charles had let his grandson go to that tech-dead penal world was so that Michael could assure himself the girl was dead, and he could get on with his life.
Inside the box was a sheet of paper, hastily scribbled, and underneath a thick pouch of swirling copper, almost iridescent. As he lifted the letter, the back of his fingers rubbed the pouch – soft leather of a kind he’d never seen before. It was surrounded by the two electronically locking bands he’d given Michael. Whatever was inside the beautiful leather, it deserved top security.
The letter was dated almost four months ago. “Grandfather, I have decided to stay on Austin. I found Kayden, and we were married four days ago. We both have been offered positions with Dr. Alex Collin. I will train to be a doctor, and Kayden is a breeder of rare wingdeer. The report pouch is made from the hide of a Hansell’s dragon. I hope you find the reports helpful to your research. I regret that I can no longer study with you, but Dr. Collin has explained why, I’m sure. Please tell my parents that I’m married and happy. Send them my love. I regret that I can not tell them myself. Thank you for all your kindnesses and training. Your Grandson, Michael.”
He found her! She was actually alive! That meant the A unit was probably in tact also. There were again three 5000 prototypes in existence. Thom had the B Unit, Butler. And now Michael had two of them – both the stolen A unit and the C unit Michael had taken with him.
Charles withdrew the pouch and tossed the box to the floor. Then he entered the code to unlock the security straps. After emptying the pouch onto the desk, he started to toss it into the box, but stopped. This pouch was not a recyclable. It was a rare work of art. He smoothed the soft hide together and set it on the right side of his desk.
Charles sorted through the items – only four; three books and a sheaf of handwritten pages held together with several wire clips. He pushed aside the books, grabbed the pouch and looked into it again. Neither one of his prototype cores were inside. Either they were stolen again or Michael kept them. Well the C – “Cee” – was Michael’s. He’d given it to him. But he should have sent the A back. Maybe it had been destroyed after all.
Each book had two bands fused around it, made of the same leather as the pouch, except they were in a multitude of colors. He assumed they were dyed. No animal came in shades of purple, rose, and royal blue – especially not the same animal. He grabbed the loose papers first. They were in Michael’s handwriting again, only a bit neater.
“Here’s my report, handwritten as you requested. And even though I will tell you all this when I return, I will detail it here so that you may review it after the shouting has died down. First, I need to say that it has become apparent that I am ill suited to artificial intelligence. I have no patience with machines imitating human attributes. I’m sorry. I do appreciate all the time you’ve spent training me. I will request a transfer to CentiOne as soon as you are satisfied with my report.
“I did find Kayden. Her life was saved by Dr. Alex Collin, who saw the shuttle come down. Kayden has amnesia, but she has agreed to come home with me, and we will be married then.
“Before I speak about the A unit, I will tell you that the search for Kayden was not easy. The planet is hostile. My horse was eaten by a green dragon, leaving me to die in the mountains. Then a tree fell on my shoulder. I finally reached the shuttle pod’s landing site, but was sick with fever. And then a red-orange beast attacked me. I remember being carried off and then falling. But then I didn’t wake until much later. I was in the Village of Hope, Cee said. Dr. Alex Collin had saved my life.
“Unfortunately that is when Cee began malfunctioning. Of course, he never worked quite right. He was constantly reporting my actions to that pompous ‘droid Butler, and now he was refusing me information. He wouldn’t tell me how I got from the mountain cabin to Hope. Then I find that he knows where the A unit is, has been in constant communication with the A, and he will not tell me where he is.
“Then the A began talking to me, only he thought that I intended to hurt Kayden, and I finally had to ask Dr. Collin to remove the implant to stop his words. I was not well then and gave him Cee also. I know that was not a wise thing to do, but the voices were driving me insane. Both Kayden and Collin say the A is sorry for harassing me, but it’s just a machine. Machines are not sorry, they are malfunctioning.
“I had requested both units destroyed as they were unstable, but I found that he had not destroyed either. I was recovered by this time and requested them back, but Collin refused to give them up. He claims that he found the A, no one claimed it for over five years, and it has sworn loyalty to him. And he also says that I gave Cee away against his recommendation. That much is true also. As a tech spy I could have made his life miserable, but the man saved my life. He gave me food, clothing, shelter, everything I could possibly need to survive, and then some. I hope you will agree that my life is worth more than a couple of malfunctioning black boxes. If not, I’m sorry, but I owe this gentle man too much to destroy him.”
Charles pounded the desk top. “Gentle man, my foot. He’s a thief, just like the rest of the people on that planet.” He quickly read through the detailed section of the report, noting that Alex Collin had agreed to give him a report on the A unit. In addition, both the A and Cee were giving reports on their status. Charles glanced over at the books. How had they print those if anything more than a vacuum tube was illegal? He doubted they had a printing press handy.
And then Michael’s report became even more disturbing. “I feel compelled to suggest that Butler is malfunctioning also. Cee has made several comments, and I overheard, before the implant was removed, a conversation between Cee and the A unit. Cee expected his neural net to be violated. I do know that Butler continually knew things about me he shouldn’t. I am wondering now if Butler forcibly took it. These units can retrieve information through communications channels. I believe you should determine if they do so indiscriminately. I wonder if a unit with a stronger ‘personality’ – perhaps one which is older – could dominate a lesser machine. If that is so, I wonder just which electronic units they can not violate. Fortunately here, there is no tech. Or if there is, it is such a small amount I doubt it could be used to hurt anyone. However at the University, even the life support systems can be accessed by communications beams and the right security code. If Butler overrode Cee’s security, can he override other security systems? Do they learn over time with greater and greater conquests? Or are they content in their sphere of dominance? What happens in an emergency, as with the A unit and the shuttle? He reprogrammed his lasers and killed a man.
“I’m afraid, Grandfather, that this may have caused the few malfunctions we’ve heard about in the 4000 units, but in the 5000, it could become even more dangerous. I have heard Cee and the A both express their ‘wants’. How far will a machine go to achieve its perceived wants?
“I realize that you programmed them with ethics, but as we know by the A’s example, those ethics can be ignored or altered to suit the situation.” Michael continued his speculations for nine more pages, and although the report was alarming, Charles wished Michael had gone into much more depth. He wished to pinpoint the exact problem. What caused those one percent of 4000’s to malfunction? Michael had given him speculation but not hard facts.
He glanced at the books, each one much thicker than Michael’s handwritten report. Perhaps these would hold his answers. He reached for the volume by Dr. Collin, but the straps would not cut off with the letter opener. He touched the button on the left edge of his desk. “Tori.” She came into his office immediately. “Can you get these straps off? These old fingers don’t want to move.”
Tori reached into the pocket of her loose fitting slacks, pulling out a small utility laser. She cleanly sliced the straps off, dropped the laser back into her pocket, and then fingered the rose colored strap. “I’ve never seen this before.”
“Keep it if you’d like. It’s hide from a Hansell’s dragon.”
“Really? I like the feel.”
“Take them all. I’ve got this case here.” He rested his hand on it a moment.
“They would make fascinating neck and hair pieces.”
Charles gazed at her hair, kept neatly in a long braid down her back, her deep brown eyes and her almond skin tone. “They would indeed, Tori. I especially think that rose will make a stunning addition to your attire.”
She gave him a small smile and gathered the straps together. “Perhaps I can send one on to my sister.” And she paused, her head half tilted, waiting to see if he objected. She mentioned her younger sister often, but none of her family had come to see her, and Tori never asked for leave to visit them.
“Go ahead. I’m sure she’s never had a piece of Hansell’s dragon hide before.” He reached for the book labeled, “Observations and Recommendations on the 5000 unit models by Dr. Collin.” He flipped through it. “A medical doctor on a tech dead world writes me ninety five pages of single spaced observations. I’m sure he means well.” Tori slipped out of the room as he opened the book to Dr. Collin’s opening remarks.
“My dear Dr. Jamel. What a pleasure it is to be able to speak with you, albeit indirectly. I have immensely enjoyed your grandson’s visit. He’s a sharp one and a challenge. Please don’t be too harsh with him for leaving the units behind. As a designing scientist also, I know what they must mean to you, but as someone who has enjoyed Jamel’s company (that’s the A unit) for almost six years, I can’t conceive of giving him up. Besides both he and Cee have requested to stay – for different reasons, which I will talk about later – and I have granted it.
“Michael did try hard to fulfill your request for the A unit, but I’m afraid he had several things working against him. First, Jamel is hidden quite well. I am certain that Michael will never find him no matter how long he decides to look, unless Jamel purposely reveals himself, and even then, poor Michael will have trouble believing he’s found him.
“Second, I’m afraid Michael was very ill-prepared for the job of tech spy. He isn’t extremely secretive. If he has a question, he’ll come right out and ask. Good for a scientist; not so good when he asks the wrong questions in a bar in Alexandria and is almost beaten by a group of citizens who guess his spy status. Spies are not well liked, so a subtle nature is imperative. I also suspect that he has never been in an unprotected environment and had little practical physical training before he came to the planet. As a result I met Michael under less than ideal conditions – for him. He was unconscious, had lost almost three liters of blood, had a dislocated shoulder, and needed 137 stitches in his back, among other things. He should never have left the city without a guide. Cee, as much as he loves Michael, is helpless to protect him from the environment, except to give warnings when he can.
“Third, Michael hates the 5000 units. It wasn’t obvious at first, but when a man comes to me, begging me to stop the noise after he’s almost ripped his own ear off, I start to wonder. And then he demanded I destroy both units. As I came to know Michael over the following weeks, I realized that he has always resented that Kayden was almost killed in a quest for an AI unit.
“I agree with him that a machine will never be as valuable as a human life, but he fails to see the genius of these 5000 units. He can not comprehend that they are more than machine, they are children and must be treated as such. They need encouragement and firm guidance. But no matter how Cee tried to please Michael, Michael never saw the need to praise him or acknowledge his good service. There are other extenuating circumstances which I will discuss under Unit Interactions, but for now I wish to emphasize that Michael is very ill equipped for either the job of tech spy or as the owner of one of these 5000 units. The units can not be safely owned by just anyone, but that I will discuss under Ownership Requirements.
“So, please, my friend, do not blame the boy for not returning your units to you. If possible, gently steer him toward a field where his curiosity can be better utilized. Almost any other researching and scientific endeavor will do. It is only his past bad experience which has ruined him for your excellent work.”
And Dr. Collin continued on in the most detailed manner, informal and yet stunningly complete and well organized, as if he knew exactly what Charles Jamel needed to know about the units. He began by talking about his first days with the A unit.
“Jamel was suffering from such guilt over the murder and over not intervening sooner that he repeatedly asked me to destroy his core. This impressed upon me more than anything else that this was not a typical AI simulation. Charles, you have done something beyond AI. No machine tries to commit suicide, and yet I am certain Jamel did. I had turned my back, and one of the domestic robots took him to the compactor/recycling unit, turning it on. The core was on a cart at the time he was taken, not in the recycle bin, and he was thrown in the medical waste recycler, not the plastic or even the electronics bin. The robot is programmed to know the difference, and yet the quickest way to destruction was chosen. I was able to stop the process and save Jamel, but looking back, I realize he must have exerted his influence on the robot. Suicide is something that could only be conceived by a self-aware entity.”
Charles barely registered the fact that Dr. Collin had multiple robots on a world supposedly devoid of any micro or nano technology. Instead he was too amazed at the ramifications of his own work. Neither Michael nor Thom had come up with anything like this, and they were the ones who were testing these units for him. Sure Butler acted like a person superficially, but after six years Thom had yet to point out any major difference from the 4000 androids. And Michael had always maintained that Cee was just a robot, and what could be expected?
Tori brought him dinner, but Charles was too excited and too riveted to the report to do more than give her a quick thanks and return his gaze to the book. Usually his age and health made a nap mandatory in the afternoon, but adrenaline coursed through him. He’d done it. He’d made the breakthrough he’d dreamed of since he first entered the AI field as a teenager.
But as he read on, his amazement was tempered with concern. Collin had dictated a conversation with Cee and Jamel, and Charles was shocked to learn Cee was frightened of Butler. He had no idea the units could be scared.
And then Collin detailed his conclusions. His warnings were more precise than Michael’s, indicating a whole range of safeguards which needed to be in place, detailing a complete list of owner personality problems which could arise. His list was as accurate as if he knew about each 4000 failure and had studied it in depth, except there were more situations than had ever proven volatile for the 4000.
Finally he concluded the book. “As I promised, I have not read Jamel or Cee’s reports. They are for your eyes only, and I hope that their own words will give you a better connection to your children. I wish you could know them as I know Jamel. I adopted him as I adopted Kayden, and I’ll protect him as well as I can. He’s the only one who will be able to continue my work after I die, and he has pledged to do so. I could not send him back, even if I wanted to. He is now a part of Austin. The people do need these medicines from the plants we design. They may never appreciate your gift to them, but as the keeper of our history, I do.
“Charles, I realize I already owe you far more than I could ever repay, but if I may, indulge me to request one more thing. I have several articles on the chip attached to the back cover of this book that I’d like to have published in appropriate journals. If you could pass them along to the right people for me, I’d greatly appreciate it.
“Thank you, Charles. And thank you for your children, Jamel and now Cee. I am not alone in my research any longer, and they will be a comfort to me in my old age.
“If only we could work together, Charles. I wish Michael would stay. I’ve tried everything to convince him of the planet’s worth. At least he does not seem as bitter as he was those first few weeks.
“Please take care of my daughter for me. She still suffers the nightmares of the abduction, and it will be difficult for her to be away from Jamel’s constant reassurance. Jamel and I will both miss her very much. Perhaps a word to the powers that be above would open the planet to visitors, and I may see her yet again someday. In sincere gratitude, C.H.”
Charles read the last page over again. C.H.? Wasn’t his name Alex Collin? Charles noted the chip but left it on the book’s back cover. He would tackle the man’s research after he read the rest of his own. Charles locked Dr. Collin’s and Cee’s books along with Michael’s report into the box hidden inside his couch on the far left wall of the office. Then he took Jamel’s book and slowly lowered himself to lie down, but he fell asleep before he could begin to read, clutching the book close to him.
© 2007 by Deborah K. Lauro. No part of this book may be published in any form without permission from the author.