Science Fiction

Look at them, Dave thought.

They were like animals, gathering around the water source. Scientists or not, it didn't matter. In this case, the office’s cooler and drinking machine provided nourishment, such as it was. Coffee was hard to come by in the year 2126 but there were substitutes to be had. Dave looked up at bright lights, the white walls. The office was blindingly clean, for dust could ruin the delicate machinery they worked with. He had hoped to slip by his coworkers but unfortunately, that was not to be.

"Dave," Sally called, coming up to him. She was short and blond, the facility's manager. She might be pretty, Dave thought, if she wasn't so demanding and bossy. "Do you really need Sebastian?" 

"Yes," Dave answered. "I do need him."

"Better that he use him," Alex said, adding creamer to the Coufee. Without it, the stuff would be as bitter as Scrooge before the ghosts came. "he'll do better with an aye."

Barely, Sally thought. Dave didn’t play well with others. He preferred the logic A.I. offered. But he had bricked them before with his confusing orders and shouting. Usually, they could be reprogrammed without a problem and Dave would receive a warning. Sebastian was different. Sally rubbed her eyes, downed her drink as if it would actually calm her nerves, and turned back to Dave.

“If you brick him,” she said. “We’ll be in a world of hurt that’ll make climate change look like a summer day. His benefactor is married to a lawyer for heaven’s sake. He just subpoenaed what's his name. The famous doctor doing those psych treatments that-” 

“Like I don't know that," Dave said, pulling up his pants over his rather large stomach. “I helped create him, after all.” 

“I know. But you've taken things apart before on a whim,” Sally said. “Because you didn’t think they were working right.” Dave definitely didn’t believe in if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. 

"And I was always right every time. Besides, the intern's busy. Sebastian isn't. Damned knotoid aye." 

Damned knotoid aye was a bad description, Alex thought. Or maybe not. Sebastian was the first known A.I. to achieve self-awareness and sentience. He was as interested in himself as the roboticists around him were. It was one reason why May, the aforementioned benefactor, allowed him to be here at the company that made him. They studied him and in return, he worked with them. No one wanted to admit it, but Sebastian’s sentience had shocked all of them, not the least the aye himself. 

Should I not, he had once asked Alex, know myself as Socrates said?  

Alex shook his head and glanced at Sergio, the hardware guy, and his friend. "Twenty edols says Sebastian walks out on you, Dave." He showed Dave his tablet's betting app. "You in?"

"You're real funny," Dave told him. "Just because a stupid intern does it once you think everyone will. Besides, that guy was an idiot."

"Not that big of one, Dave. What do you think, Serg?"

Sergio shrugged. God knows where they'd dragged that intern from. He had barely known a brain drive from a CPU. Besides, A.I. didn't walk away from abuse. They merely asked for clarification or shut down, unable to understand.

Usually, anyway.

Sergio watched Dave stalk off to find the aye. "I'll take you up on that bet. Remember Sebastian's first benefactor? Yet he held it together. I wouldn't worry, Sally."

Sally shook her head trying to decide which she’d prefer, a bricked aye or one that was disobedient. The world was already watching Sebastian and them like a news algorithm after celebrity gossip. But him being bricked would mean something very special might be lost. “He has been updating to the cloud every night, right?” 

“Yep,” Alex said with a smile. “So you can relax."

Like that'll ever happen, Sally thought. "You know what? When Sam's done I'll tell her to relieve Sebastian," she said. "Just to be sure."

"I'm telling you-" Alex started but Sally interrupted.

"I just don't want Dave taking him apart. You know how that goes."


“You’re being a damned stubborn aye! You can’t do it that way.” 

“I cannot be stubborn, Dave. I am simply doing this in the most logical sequence.” 

Dave stomped back to his screens muttering something about stupid technology and their inability to think. On the other hand, he knew deep inside he should listen himself. 

“Yeah, listen to my own creation,” he mumbled. “Great advice.” 

It’s not just yours, said a voice inside him. It’s yours, Alex’s and Dave’s. Besides, why not? Didn’t you want something that thought for itself? 

“Thinking for yourself is one thing,” Dave said to Sebastian. “Arguing is another.” 

 Sebastian himself was unperturbed. He simply said, “I am not arguing. I simply state I have been studying my programming,” 

“Great,” Dave said. "Happy for you."

“I am pleased you are. Now, if you wish the A.I. to anticipate problems with carrying out orders I would use this sequence. It appears to work well for me.” 

“And you conflict,” Dave said. “So why would I do that?” 

“I do,” Sebastian answered. “But that is not caused by this sequence."

Dave walked over to the aye. He had to look up at him. Why benefactors wanted tall, handsome robots was beyond him. Give everyone a damned complex, that's what they did.

"How do you know that?" he asked.

"I conflicted before Alex put in this sequence. Actually, they are better now. We, including you and me, are not certain what causes my programming conflicts.” 

“You’re an idiot,” Dave said. “That’s what causing them.” 

Yeah? If so, who programmed him? 

Oh shut up. 

Dave’s voices were drowned out by what Sebastian said next. “Jimmy said it takes one to know one.” 

Dave stopped dead and stared at the aye. A creation speaking to him like that! “Why you damned-” 

Oh, stop. He’s repeating what a kid said, you moron. They all do that. 

It was true ayes learned phrases from their benefactors. They could be like parrots, repeating what they heard. And Dave knew who Jimmy was, they all did. They believed Sebastian became what he was by protecting him from an angry, violent, and insane stepfather. Although the aye stayed with them to be studied he still maintained a relationship with Jimmy, who was now nine years old.

But still, a creation talking to him like that. As if he understood what he was saying.  

Yeah right. Get it together, will you? 

Sebastian simply wondered if Jimmy was correct. That whole business was confusing. He knew the medical definition of an idiot, of course. He just didn't know why Dave would call him one. It was very irrational. And frankly, tiring, or at least he thought that was what he felt. Emotions were difficult for him to name. Humans and trying to fit in with them was even worse. They always said these insulting things that could mean nothing or everything.

Maybe it would help if he had more expressions. Say that eye-rolling thing humans did. It would be interesting if he could accomplish that himself.

What would they think of that? Sebastian smiled to himself. Meanwhile, Dave was still talking.

An aye who thinks he’s funny,” Dave said, tugging on his overalls. “Just what we need around here.” 

“I know many jokes,” Sebastian said. “Allow me to tell you the one about the used A.I. salesman-” 

Dave held up a hand. “For chrissakes, don’t. Let’s just finish this.” 

“Very well then. Now about this sequence...” 

Dave rubbed his balding head, pushing his cap back. It was warm in the room, no thanks to Sally and her obsession with going over government rations. It would never happen, as much of a tightwad as she was, but it didn’t matter. His disposal overalls meant to keep dirt and sweat away from the machines stuck to him as he moved. He was tired, hungover, and just wanted to be done with this. He read Sebastian’s sequence and shrugged. 

“We’ll try it,” he said. “And heaven help you if it doesn’t work, you bucket of bolts.” 

“How can heaven help me?” Sebastian asked. 

For the second time, Dave stopped and stared at the aye. He looked into brown eyes, his braided hair tucked under a cap. Sebastian’s face was expressionless except for an instant Dave thought he'd seen a smile. But now it was gone. “What the jack you talking about, bolthead?” 

“It is irrational to believe there is a heaven above us,” Sebastian pointed to the ceiling. “There is no evidence of one. So how can it help me?” 

“Now that,” Dave said, “might just be the most intelligent thing anyone around this dump has said.” 

“But you said heaven would help me.” 

Dave thought about taking the aye apart piece by piece.

Sally would have an alien.

It might be worth it.

It wasn’t just that Sebastian was confused. Most ayes were at human expressions. But while the others ignored them, Sebastian asked questions. Why people said them and where they came from. He did it all the time. “It’s...an... expression...” he growled. 

“I realize it,” the damned aye answered. "But a strange one."

“Actually,” said a voice. “There’s no evidence to suggest heaven doesn’t exist.” A dark-skinned woman with dreadlocks had entered the room. “I was told to come help you,” she said to Dave. 

“Greetings, Samantha,” Sebastian said. Dave was much less polite. 

“We’re fine,” he answered. “Go away.” 

“Actually,” Sam said. “I’m here because I felt sorry for him.” She gestured at Sebastian. "Stuck in a room alone with you."

“That’s because you haven’t spent time with the know it all,” Dave grunted. 

“But enough about you,” Sam smiled. She walked over and looked at the program. "But this is-hmm. Creative sequencing. Sebastian's?"

"Lines 25 through 50 are based on my programming," Sebastian said. "The remainder Dave has written."

"Icy. I'm interested to see how fast the new ayes learn with this."

Like an intern would have a clue, Dave thought.

You idiot, she's trying to be nice.

Doesn't matter if it's from someone that doesn't know anything.

Sam, curious to see what Sebastian would say, went back to her argument. “I’ll agree heaven isn’t up there.” She pointed upward. “But an afterlife could exist.” 

“Irrational thinking,” Sebastian said. “How can there be an afterlife? Where would it be?” He wondered how she'd react. Some humans, Sebastian knew, didn't like to hear their thinking was irrational. Samantha didn't seem to care. She just smiled, as if he had just handed her an apple she could bite into.

“I don’t know where the afterlife would be." She began to code Dave’s program. “an alternate universe?” 

"There is mathematical evidence they exist," Sebastian replied. "However-"

“Wait!” Dave left his screen. He strode up to her, his face red. “What are you doing?” 

“Just doing the BBC.” It was one of Sam’s jobs. Being an intern she was tasked with doing the tedious work no one else wanted to, other than Sebastian. Background brain coding involved the usual balance, proprioception, and sensory programming she knew like the back of her hand. “I can stop if you want, but i thought that’s what you called me for.” 

“No that isn’t what I called you for,” Dave said to her. “Everyone playing with my programs. First him, now you. Like you know everything.” 

Sam facepalmed herself. “Dave, I don’t know everything. I just assumed you wanted me to do fundamentals while you and him do the aye's higher brain functions. I’m sorry, but I’m really trying to help.” 

‘I swear to God I’m going to kill both of you,” Dave’s voice rose. The nerve of these people coming in, thinking they knew better than him. An intern and his creation for God’s sake. Was this what Dr. Frankenstein felt like, seeing the monster? And worse, it could talk. It asked endless questions. It was actually doing so now.

“Why would you do that?" Sebastian asked. 

Why would I do what?” Dave yelled. 

“Kill us?” 

“Because the two of you are driving me knotoid!” 

Both Sam and Sebastian looked at Dave. Sam’s eyes narrowed. She folded her arms across her chest. She didn’t take the threat seriously, although she didn’t like the man’s tone. All she wanted to do was make life easier for the bastard. Okay fine, maybe she should’ve asked what he wanted. But that’s why he never got anything done. He’d waste his time doing BBC because he didn't trust her. It was stupid. Even worse, humiliating. 

Sebastian’s expression never changed but his hands clenched. He spoke in a voice that could narrate a nature show. Somehow it made the question sound all that much worse. “Why would that be reason to kill us? We have caused you no harm. Indeed we are here to help-” 

“Maybe,” Dave said, waving his arms, “I don’t want your help!” 

“But you requested my help, which I gave,” Sebastian said. “I do not understand your threat to kill us. You could merely ask us to leave.” 

“It’s a goddamned expression,” Dave said, now pacing. 

“It is a terrible one,” Sebastian replied, still unmoving. 

Dave glared at the woman, who shrugged. “I’m with him,” she said. “I don’t understand you not letting us do your damned coding. It will free up-” 

Dave strode up to her. “You’re just an intern and have no right to just come in here and play with my programs.” 

“No one else has an issue with me doing BBC,” Sam replied, her arms wrapped around her. As if she might actually kill him if she let herself relax. “And I told you I was sorry for stepping in, you crazy person. But if that’s the way you’d like to be about this, fine. Do your own damned crap then.’ 

Dave took his cap and slammed it on the floor. Neither Sam or Sebastian moved. He paced across the room, back, and picked it up. He said to Sebastian, “And I suppose you feel the same way.” 

“I believe I do,” Sebastian said, shocking all of them, especially himself. This caused conflicts and so he stuttered. But the words felt-freeing. “I d-do not wish to hear t-threats or expressions about k-killing." He turned and started for the door.

"Wait," Dave said. "You can't just leave."

"I can," Sebastian said, again startling himself. He smiled very briefly as if realizing he could make this decision and furthermore, was pleased about it. "And I will."

"Dave," Sam said, softly, "You done did it now." She wasn't sure what to make of Sebastian's moment of independence. At first, she felt fear. What would this mean? But mixed with that was something else. Even though she herself used that expression all the time she wanted Sebastian to go through that door.

Stand up for yourself, she thought. Aye or not. Don't do what you're not comfortable with.

Dave glared at her, then sighed. You idiot, he thought. You know his history. He has learned these responses from abuse.

Yeah, but-

Besides, you'll never hear the end of it from Alex.

"Fine. I apologize," he said. "I'm not nor would I ever kill anyone. I won't say it again."

Sebastian took his hand from the door and walked back to the holoscreen. "It would be most appreciated," he said.

"Right you won't say it again," Sam muttered to Dave. "But I'll give you points for the apology"

"Oh shut up," Dave told her. "And get to coding. It better be perfect too. Also, the bucket of bolts is right. The concept of an afterlife is irrational."

February 27, 2021 04:56

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