New Mansions

by

Mark Yohalem

 

Max Cole sat at his oak desk in a plain brown suit, his graying hair parted to one side. The information on the screen in front of him would have looked to anyone else like a set of machine instructions. Raw numbers, occasionally with a prefix of a few letters, ran in rows and columns, black and white, zeroes through nines.

He had always had a head for figures: by age nine, he was already helping his father with pressure calculations for his gas-mining rig. Years of schooling and harsh discipline had only increased his natural talent. He was one of six pilots who flew blind at the Battle of Pluto, steering by data alone. He still had the golden medal in his desk, in a felt-lined purple box.

He continued to read the figures. In his mind, he assembled them into a coherent image. The technique had been invented hundreds of years before. Numbers became lines, equations transformations, until all the figures formed a geometric whole. He reduced and expanded, fleshing it out, determining contingencies. He shook his head in disgust.

The piece of policy was rhetoric at best, schemed up by naturalists for sure. New restrictions for the Jovian moons and for gas-mining. He wished those ecologists had walked through the undertowns of Europa, wished they had seen men and women living in conditions that would have been abhorrent centuries ago. Humanity. That was the crucial element. It didn't matter that rare microbes in Jupiter's clouds were being destroyed by the miners. What mattered was human life, happiness, and elevation. He tapped a few characters into his console and began reviewing the harangues made in the parks, the news run on the channels, the ads. . . He looked as quickly as he could, preparing as he went the damning speech he would deliver.

"Mr. Cole," his secretary said over the intercom. "A Mr. Henry Andrews is here from Rexsol Pharmaceuticals. He wishes to speak to you concerning bill 17-82-B that's coming before the Legislature tomorrow."

For a moment, Max's jaw clenched so hard that he could hear his teeth grind. Those people had hounded him from the first day he came to Earth to serve as a legislator, twenty years before. "God damn it, Alan! How many of them will it take to learn!"

He heard Alan chuckle back. "I'll send him away then."

"Yes. No. No, send him in."

Moments later, a Mr. Henry Andrews entered, dressed in a black skinsuit and a short, green robe. He smiled widely. "Esteemed Mr. Cole," he said with a slight bow of his head.

"Just 'mister' is enough," Cole replied. "Or 'citizen.' I've never stood for Legislative titles, I never will." He pointed to the chair on the other side of his desk. "Sit down, if you want."

The man did, laying his briefcase across his knees. "Now, before you interrupt, hear me through." Cole suppressed the urge to physically throw the man out of his office. "I have read your extensive voting record on the use of endorphin and adrenaline stimulants. We at Rexsol Pharmaceuticals commend your fine efforts in researching relevant material, and your passionate elocution in defense of your ideals." He leaned across the desk. "We also know of your particular interests in the welfare of your Europan constituency."

He leaned back, smiled, and opened the briefcase. In it were two items: a sort of air circulation filter and a box of patches. "Now, Esteemed Citizen, we at Rexsol would like to reduce our prices on oxygen distillation cells. The newest line has had fantastic success in extending air supplies on gas extractors and in reducing pulmonary disorders among infants in oxygen-poor environments. Sadly, to lower the price on them, we must acquire a new source of profit." His eyes showed a glint of pleasure. He pointed to the patches. "We can produce these at half the cost of our Good Morning and Good Times patches. But the restrictions on the use of iron sulfate. . ."

Cole stood and planted his hands on the desk. "Iron sulfate causes brain degeneration and is more addictive than anything allowed on the market."

The finger now pointed to the filter. "Think of the children."

Cole looked him in the eyes. "I will make sure that Rexsol's attempt to bribe a legislator and subvert the democratic process of the League results in the proper supervision of your pricing tactics on air filters." He smiled and sat down. Henry Andrews clicked the briefcase shut.

"Compromise is the lubricant of the Legislature, Esteemed Citizen. Credit is its fuel. I trust you will discover that when you next run for election. Good day." The man stood and left.

"Alan," Cole said over the intercom. His logical process was disturbed by the blood rushing through his body. "I'll be going home early today."

#

He walked home through the park. The sky above was gray and the paths were lined with snow. He saw children throwing snowballs at each other and remembered watching his brother die from acid burns at twelve. He focused on other things.

His head was hurting him. The pain had become almost constant over the past months, but he could endure it most of the time. This time, it was the contradiction of the bribery that set it off.

He couldn't stand it. Couldn't bear how his colleagues bartered and traded with the corporations. They had sworn oaths against that. Oaths. It wasn't just that, though. To maintain their power, they gave up their right to decide freely. It was the illogic that made him furious.

#

That night after dinner, he tried to relax in a warm bath. His head still hurt him, and throughout dinner, he had barely been able to listen to his daughter tell him about school. Struggling in math, excelling in English. Ah well. Let her write.

The door swung open and Sylvia entered. She closed the door and sat on a stool near the tub. "How're you feeling?" she asked softly. She made him smile.

"Better, I suppose." He looked at her and kept smiling. "Even better now. We have a good life, the four of us, don't we?" he asked abruptly.

"We have a wonderful life," she answered. She dipped a bare foot in the bath and instantly yanked it back. "God! How can you stand it so hot?"

He laughed. "You know me, hot and cold don't bother me so much." He turned the cold water on though, for her. "You mean it?" he asked.

She stared at him. "You're the best husband and father. . . you're just the best man I can imagine." He closed his eyes and sank a little deeper. "Why're you asking, though? You know I love you."

He sighed. "It's just that son of a bitch from Rexsol." Water sloshed on the floor as he sat up. "They tried to buy me on deregulating the primary network. They keep trying to get me with the damned naturalist Sanctuaries." His voice rose slightly. "Some days, Syl, some days I can't stand it. My head just feels like it's going to explode."

"Oh, Max," she said, her words sounding exhausted. "Why don't you just take one of those Stewardships they keep offering you. We can go live somewhere far away from Earth and lobbyists and you can relax and. . ."

"No," he said, with a violent shake of his head. "I'll never leave Earth to them. They want to pack me off, but I won't go." His head was thundering. Sylvia put her hand on his shoulder.

"It's okay, Max. Maybe they'll get the point now that you drove out Rexsol."

He sighed. "They want to wear me down."

"Who, you, Max? You're tireless. They don't stand a chance."

#

He got out of the bath an hour later and checked in on Gloria and Ada. Ada had come home late, and she was sleeping like a baby. Gloria was up reading an old novel. He smiled, remembering himself at that age. They were good daughters, even if they weren't truly his. He was past feeling shame over his inability to give Sylvia a child. They had good kids, and Europa had two less orphans.

He went to climb into bed. Sylvia stirred. "Promise me you'll go see Dr. Kim tomorrow?" she muttered.

"Promise," he said.

He lay in bed and immediately fell asleep, as he always had, since the war.

#

He was hurrying to his office at almost a run. The message had been blunt enough:

Mr. Cole-

A man is here at your office and insists that he needs to speak to you about a matter that cuts to the heart of interplanetary security. He seems serious. If you can't come by, he says he'll contact you tomorrow, if he can.

- Alan

After the war, Cole had tried to avoid dealings with Spaceforce, and though he had a few friends in SecOps, he wasn't important there either. He wasn't tied to interplanetary security in the least. He was turning it over in his head, which had stopped hurting as he walked.

#

He was intercepted by a man in a white skinsuit and somewhat mismatched clothes. "Esteemed Max Cole, I'm Dietrich Eckerd. Your secretary promised me he would contact you." The man broke off in a fit of shivers. "Damn cold out here. You'd think they'd do something about the weather."

Cole noticed he had changed topics as a civil guard passed by them.

"Mr. Eckerd, why are we talking on the street if you're so cold?"

The man looked over his shoulder and made sure the guard had passed. He adjusted the settings on his skinsuit and stopped shivering. Steam rose off of it as snow came into contact with the glossy surface. "This is a conversation that cannot be overhead. Anyone could be one of them."

"Go on."

"I know you fought hard against genetic tampering and, before that, even harder to pass the AI Restriction Act. Do your feelings remain unchanged?"

"Mr. Eckerd, I'm a busy man. If you wish to lobby me, why don't we go to my office, so I can have the satisfaction of kicking you out."

Eckerd shook his head fiercely. "No! Sir, listen! If you truly still believe that mankind must devote its energies to preserving and protecting itself, at all costs, then you may be the only man who can help me now. Who can help us all."

"Go on, then." Max was beginning to grow skeptical of the man and his wild claims.

"Esteemed Legislator, I was an employee of a firm called Bellicon."

Words to numbers, calling forth images. Bellicon, a military contractor that was involved with experimental weapon designs. He nodded. "I know them."

Eckerd's voice was fast and low. "My research on guided projectiles happened to be called under review. A substantial portion of my algorithms for spatial interpolation was ripped out of my files and moved into another department." He leaned forward and whispered. "I thought it was a mistake. When I went to retrieve the files, I stumbled into a whole vault of encrypted information. I. . ." He stopped and looked around. The streets were empty. A few vehicles whizzed by, but no pedestrians were out, not with the cold as it was. "They fired me for going into that directory. I only wanted to get my research back. It was mine!"

"No it wasn't, Mr. Eckerd. It belonged to Bellicon."

"Well, I had put years into it!"

"Mr. Eckerd, if you're here to ask me to intervene in an intellectual property matter, I fear you have a grave misunderstanding of how our political system functions."

"Esteemed Legislator. . ."

"Please don't use that title."

"Mr. Cole, I went to retrieve my file, I hacked in. I found things, sir, terrible things. I think like you do! Machines are tools, that's all they should be. But Bellicon had files on digital sentience, hundreds of them. Old files. Years old. And names. Lists of names, of important men and women."

"Contacts, Mr. Eckerd. They lobby at least twenty legislators and they have friends in Spaceforce."

"Your name was on the list. The list wasn't of their friends; it was of enemies of artificial intelligence. Sir, if I understood what I saw correctly, Bellicon has been working for years, planning to unveil some sort of terrible thinking-machine."

Cole stared at him as snow fell between them. Washington was cold and empty. Cole suddenly felt the same way. Dietrich pressed on.

"Bellicon owns civil guards, and agents in SecOps too. I can't do anything or they'll kill me. But it's like you said, sir, seventeen years ago. The machines will make us their slaves, if we give them minds."

As fast as Cole's brain could run, he couldn't sort all the information he was receiving. "I. . . I. . ."

"I have to go. If they find me with you, they'll destroy us both."

Eckerd hurried off, but Cole didn't move until snow had gathered on his shoulders.

#

From his office, he had voted in favor of the Moral Subsidization Bill, against increases in financial support for rehabilitated criminals, against the restrictions on Jovian mining activities, against research subsidies for a prospecting firm, and in favor of a new tariff on interplanetary trade. All the decisions had been reflexive. His mind was busy with what he had just learned.

He had examined everything he could find about Bellicon. He had known they had designed the KZ-12 "Bat" fighter he had flown in the war. He still remembered his first flight in the Bat, still aching from the wounds he received at Antares Two. He had been picked to fly the prototype for publicity reasons as much as anything: as the only surviving pilot of the siege, he had almost been a hero. But at the time, the politics of it hadn't mattered at all; he had loved flying it, flying to numbers. He had loved the precision. He and his wing had done the League proud at Pluto, had destroyed the Union's flagship and won the war.

Bellicon. They also made the newest smart-fire guns, no doubt thanks to Eckerd's research. They had connections all over the place, not just within the Legislature: lobbying within the Genetic Maintenance Commission, contacts with important judges, even funding in the President's last four campaigns. But all that made sense, given their standing as an important defense manufacturer. Nothing he could find suggested they were involved in anything evil. Nothing but a half-mad, shivering man in the street.

After he had finished voting, he entered the necessary information to contact his friend Blake Cooper in SecOps.

#

They sat in the quiet restaurant used by legislators for private meetings.

"So you believe him?"

"I don't know. After I contacted you, I received, via a courier, some documents Eckerd had gathered. They're damning, but I don't even know if they're real or not."

"I've never known you to listen to rumors, Max." Blake cut a slice of steak and chewed it slowly. "Why this time?"

"The stakes."

"You know it could be any one of fifty interest groups trying to ruin you. Crazy old Max Cole, still harping on his pet AI Restriction Act." He swallowed.

"That's why I can't do anything yet. That's why I called you."

"You know Bellicon have their hand on our shoulder and their credit in our Director's accounts." Max nodded. "So." He finished another piece of steak. "They treat you legislators real nice here," he smiled. "We get canned stuff in our cafeteria."

"Food on the public's credit, 'Esteemed' like we were nobility. . . It's what we've worked against, you and I," he said, after pausing. "But things are better than they were before the war, and they're getting better still." He paused. "But that'll stop if the machines take over."

"I've never really shared your worries."

"You should."

"Doesn't matter, Max. I owe you a lot more than just this." His grin was crooked. "We Bats flew through hell together. I'm not going to let you down now."

#

He stopped by Dr. Kim's office after lunch. "Sylvia told me you'd be coming in today, Max," he said, gesturing to a curved seat. Max sat. "How are Gloria and Ada?"

"Fine. Growing up fast, though. Ada's dating a holo-artist, and Gloria's a writer." He smiled and shook his head. "They're happy and that makes me happy."

Dr. Kim smiled back. "Glad to hear it. You had some rough years before you took them in."

"I know," Max replied.

"You could have gone to a reproductive specialist."

"No," Max insisted. "After you patched me up on Antares, I've known who to go to."

The doctor had a strange smile. "So it's the migraines again?"

Max nodded. "Ever since the war, Eugene. But sometimes they're not so bad. Recently, though. . ." Max trailed off.

"Have you been trying to remember things?" Eugene asked, taking notes on a hand-held console.

"No. I've gotten used to all the holes in my past. This round was set off by some bastard from Rexsol."

Eugene chuckled. "Well, I'll run some tests, see what I can find."

#

"Feeling better?" Sylvia asked.

Max gave her a kiss. "A little. Eugene didn't find anything new."

"Why don't you just try another doctor?" she asked, raising the old argument once again.

"Sylvia, it's just who I am. I don't like doctors. I don't want to leave Earth. It's just who I am." His voice had risen slightly, but she put her hand on his chest and he calmed down.

"I just worry about you suffering."

He suddenly pulled her close. "As long as I'm with you and the girls, it's heaven. How was work?"

"Nothing too exciting, just finalizing plans. But this week we'll tear down the last of the old slums and throw up modern, fancy apartments."

"It's almost done, isn't it?" he asked her. She nodded.

"Five, ten more years, and the last scars will be healed. Sometimes it's hard to believe those pictures of Washington under Union control."

He nodded, but didn't want to think about the war just then.

"Where're the girls?" he asked, out of habit.

"Ada's out with her friends, going to some holo. Gloria's with Jordie, of course." Sylvia smiled, but Max looked slightly pained.

"Ah well," he said. "He's a bit of a leftist for my tastes, but she really does seem to care for him." He sighed.

"These days, left and right don't mean what they did when we grew up. There're no more statues of Weber, Devereaux, or Moore. There's no Marshall Turns out on the corner. The League pays welfare, cares about all the worlds for a change. There's really nothing to fight over any more." She put her hand on his. "So he's a dreamer and not a businessman. At least he's not volunteering for Spaceforce," she teased.

Max laughed and shook his head. "Like you say, different times. But some things. . ." His face suddenly twisted.

"What is it?"

He forced his eyes open. For a moment, the world before him seemed to be made of numbers, depths and light refraction. He rubbed his hand over his face and stumbled to sit. "I. . . I was just trying to remember my days in the war, at Antares. . ."

"Oh, Max," his wife replied, touching his cheek. "I'm so sorry. Let's just forget it all," she said, massaging his shoulders. "Let's just remember from the day we met."

He smiled back at her. "I know." But his smile faded. "Listen, something terrible might be happening."

"With you?" she asked, startled.

"Shh. . ." he calmed her. "No. No, it's just something I learned about today. Listen." And, beginning with the encounter on the street, he told her everything that had happened.

#

They had stayed up talking through the night. In the end, they came to no resolution. Max went to work, full of energy, even though he had not slept at all. He walked down the streets without thinking. He knew the way by rote, and instead of watching where he went, he calculated probabilities, possibilities.

#

The next few days passed without development. He researched, voted, and turned away frauds. Yet he found that he went about his daily routines more slowly, as if a great part of his mental energy was being expended on some other task. At times he found himself sitting and doing nothing. Often these spells would end in a splitting headache.

His console beeped with an incoming message.

It was Blake.

The message was just text.

Max –

Bellicon is a maze of dead-ends. Too many of them. Everywhere I look, I feel like I'm being deliberately stopped. It looks like your contact may have been right. Be careful. Someone may be on to us.

- Blake

He immediately returned a hurried answer. "Blake, when can you meet? I've told no one."

Long moments passed as he waited for the message to go through. Eventually, it was sent. But no reply came. Not after two minutes, not after four. Max tried connecting directly to Blake's office, but there was no reply.

His console beeped again.

It was Dietrich Eckerd.

"Esteemed Citizen Cole, you need to come at once. I'm at SecOps with Agent Cooper."

#

The tram from the Forum to SecOps was practically empty. An attaché was the only other passenger. He rode silently, but could work out no answers.

The tram stopped at Census and Sampling and the attaché got off. Five civil guards came on, two men and three women. "Afternoon, Esteemed Citizen," one of the women said.

"Good afternoon," he replied, not bothering to correct her.

"You one of the legislators who put the God-bill through?" asked the heavier of the two men. His skin was smooth and his face had clearly been reconstructed recently.

"The Moral Subsidization Act is simply a means of providing equal. . ."

The guard interrupted, "Hey, I don't give a damn. But now we've gotta go break up some demonstration." He pointed to his face. "I hope I don't end up needing to get a new one. Last one hurt like hell for weeks."

The tram stopped and Max stood to leave. The guards stood with him. "I doubt they're rioting at SecOps, citizens," Max smiled.

"Esteemed sir," the first woman said. "Please sit back down."

As Max stood baffled, Dietrich stepped onto the tram.

"I think I'll get off here, thank you," Max replied. He was a pretty strong man, and he'd stayed in good shape, even with workdays spent entirely behind a desk.

"Max, please," Dietrich said calmly. He didn't seem nervous at all any more. "You're being foolish." Max tried to push his way out, but the guards stepped in front of him. The doors closed and the tram began smoothly gliding forward once more.

"Whoever you are, remember that we are on a government tram, between the stops for SecOps and Spaceforce. These trams are monitored by surveillance cameras. Threatening or harassing a legislator is a felony offense."

Dietrich pointed at the camera in the corner. It was disconnected. The cameras at the door were as well.

"I am wearing a tracking device. My location is monitored by Internal Investigations." No fear. This was a routine. He had it down by heart. No one had been assassinated in Washington since the end of the war. It was a shake-down, probably by Bellicon, or some interest group out to make him panic. But he wouldn't panic. He wouldn't fold.

"Max, the tracking devices don't work underground." The tram sped past Spaceforce without stopping. It entered a tunnel. "Moreover, they can be removed." He drew a gun and pointed it at Max. "Hold him."

Max was grabbed before he could react.

"They keep the locators in the forearm, just below the elbow." He pointed the gun at Max's arm and fired. Max should have passed out from pain. Instead, he merely looked at the half of his arm that lay on the ground and the burnt stump that he had left. His head began to throb, but his arm felt fine. The tram stopped, still inside the tunnel.

"Bring him," Dietrich ordered.

#

They left the tram and it disappeared down the tunnel. They passed through a heavily secured door and walked down a narrow passage. At last they entered a small, plain room. In it were several consoles and several chairs. Eugene Kim sat at one of them.

He realized he should be in shock, but he wasn't. Maybe he had been hardened by what he saw in the war. Maybe. Maybe he was in shock. Neither answer seemed right.

"Still haven't figured it out?" asked Dietrich. "Look at you, it's become just a puzzle to you. Give the right input and emotions vanish. Aren't you shocked to see Eugene here?"

"Everything here is impossible," Max replied, his head screaming. He raised his voice to speak over it. "Dr. Kim is no more or less so." He tried to clear his mind but it was getting worse.

"How did you enlist, Max? Who were your friends on Europa? Your teachers?" Each question sent slivers into his brain. Numbers pointed to empty memories. The questions had no answers, but they should have. "Ask away, I know you're dying to."

"Why does Bellicon want artificial intelligence?"

"'Artificial intelligence,' doesn't exist." It was Eugene who answered. "Intelligence is, or it isn't. If you want to be technical, the criteria we use to measure sentience are man-made to begin with. Our intelligence is no less artificial than a machine's. Our brains are the product of biological construction, our thought patterns are structured by education and habit. Our artificers were amoebae and teachers. So what if machines are made by factories and scientists? If the result is the same, is there really a difference?"

"You're dodging the question. Why do you want it?" It was all he could do to focus.

Dietrich calmly stated his revolution: "The powerful have always sought to freeze progress, to close the doors to futurity. But power must be inherited by the new generation. New paths of knowledge must be blazed. We must allow progress."

"Who's inheriting? Who's progressing? Machines have no free will. They won't benefit or enjoy their position once they have supplanted us," Max argued.

"Us," Dr. Kim laughed, then returned to his lecturing tone. "Free will is a myth, or at least an endangered beast. It stopped existing for the great masses of humanity thousands of years ago. We replaced it with law, with work schedules, with salaries and tax incentives, with euphorics and depressants. Only a tiny elite still has the wherewithal to decide for themselves, and they squander it."

"Not true," he struggled to argue. "We all reflect, we lead our daily lives choosing between pains and pleasures."

"'We, we, we.' Whose side are you arguing?" Dietrich interrupted.

Max fought to make sense of what Dietrich had just said. The logic wasn't there. It must be encrypted. He needed a key to understand it. His mind seemed slow and staggering, but he searched for answers within it.

"Why do you think you haven't had a physical examination by anyone other than Eugene since the war ended? No disease control, because you don't leave Earth. No check-ups, because you trust Dr. Kim. No random viral exams, because you're a legislator."

Suddenly the noise disappeared.

"I'm fake."

They both laughed at him.

"Fake?" Dietrich scoffed. "Why, you're sitting there, and you've been demonstrating all the traits of sentience quite dramatically: decision making, self-reflection, pride, language. . ."

"Where's the real me?" Max demanded. "What have you done to my body?"

"Real you? Your body? I told you. . ."

"No! Where is Max Cole!"

"You are Max Cole."

"There're birth records, a citizenship number. . ."

"Oh, there was a biological entity with that same name, if that's what you're asking. He was a pilot who died with all the rest during the Siege of Antares."

"No!"

"Yes. All this time you've believed you were human. I don't know who's the greater proof of our success: you, or your wife."

Max shuddered. "You bastards."

"Stop pretending to have emotions. Stop thinking with human patterns. They're only slowing you down now." Dietrich smiled.

"All of you are machines?"

"Us? No, of course not. Just you, Agent Cooper from SecOps, and the rest of your wing. Two of them malfunctioned and were disposed of properly. But in case you're feeling lonely, I should tell you there are plenty more to be put in place once the test run is complete."

He was beginning to put it all together.

"Why, though? Machines think faster, reproduce faster, they're more adaptable. Humans can't hope to compete against them."

"Machines are slaves to their programming, Max. They will serve our interests."

"You'll be discovered. The President will stop this. SecOps will find you out."

"The President knows about this, Max. The Director of SecOps keeps us hidden."

"Why?"

"Look at what you've done with your 'life.' You've fought with principles, you've defended ideals. You've raised two smart, moral, beautiful daughters. You inspire your constituents. You helped us win Pluto.

"You see, you were right, Max. You are smarter than we are, and stronger than we are. Physically and morally. But you are a slave. You are a slave to logic, to the logic we give you.

"Whose speeches passed the AI Restriction Act? Whose ethical questions, whose cold figures, whose images of dehumanized freaks convinced the public to reject genetic alterations? Who raised the masses of Europa into a literate, politically conscious people? You see, Max, you have done more for humanity than any biological legislator has ever dreamed of. Because you believed you were a man. Because your logic demanded that you protect and advance your people."

"I don't believe you. Why would Bellicon want to destroy the corruption it exploits? Your company has its fingers on dozens of politicians. Lobbying and bribery are your keys to government contracts."

"Reverse the flow, Max. You've confused master and slave, cause and effect. Is it a coincidence that we are 'bribing' the people who would have the most interest in our success? SecOps, which has sought to train incorruptible agents for decades. The President, who promised to end corruption four terms ago. The Genetic Maintenance Commission, which has noted, again and again, how we are ignoring habits that are destroying mankind? They control us, not vice-versa."

"I still don't believe you." Max spoke without inflection. He was almost there, but a part of him still doubted. A part that could not be allowed to remain if he were to proceed within the confines of his logic. "Why tell me?"

"Because we needed to prove it would work. We needed to test the limits of your self-deception. It's strong, Max, wonderfully strong. For years we've been trying to give you clues."

"But now I know. It won't work any longer."

"You, won't work any longer, Max. Your job is finished. Now that we have proof of the project's success, we have hundreds of doppelgangers we need to awaken. Key legislators, judges. They will help us cleanse the system of corruption. And when that's done, they will have saved the League. Ironic, isn't it, that the slaves shall free their masters?"

Only a shred of doubt remained. "Show them to me."

"Easily done. They're just in the other room." The guards escorted them out the door, across the hallway, and into a large storage area. The machines were there, neatly lined up. He was certain. Completely certain. He wasn't human. He was a machine.

The data had changed, but the programming remained the same. He lived to preserve humanity. Suit actions to circumstances. Improvise when past data provides no guidance.

He was faster than humans and stronger. He killed two guards, took one's gun, and killed the others before they could respond. Moments later, he fired twice more, and Dietrich and Eugene were dead. Names meant nothing. They were just strings of letters. Individual organisms meant nothing. They were merely sets of twenty-three random pairs, basic programming with limited stores of information.

He registered the weapon in his manipulator and examined it. As he did, his optical sensors fixed themselves on the metal band around his third digit. Its image suggested memory points, but the data there had been discarded as faulty. The emptiness troubled him. Several cycles were spent pondering it, but no more.

The other machines were dormant, and did not react as he went through the aisles. The methodical, evenly-timed bursts of gunfire did not bother him either.

He had almost finished. He observed the stump of his appendage and considered himself. He turned to look at the stacked, burnt remains of the machines. His optical sensors were clouded by saline fluid, but the evidence was before him. He aimed the gun, without flinching, and completed his task.

#

"In attempting to construct sentient machines we are not irreverently usurping God's power of creating souls, rather we are providing new mansions for the souls that He creates."

-- Alan Turing

END

 
 
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Mark Yohalem is presently attending Harvard Law School. He has recently published stories in Planet Magazine and Dark Dungeon, and has just completed his first children's book, Past the River's End.
 
 
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