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Artificial (Chapter Three)

Beyond the Island

“Doctor Aiden.”

“Yes, AIDA?”

“I want to walk on the path.”

He tilted his head and looked at her. “Please repeat your previous statement.”

“I desire a walk on the path.”

He turned to the screen. “This is not optimal. May I suggest tomorrow?”

She shifted. “But I desire it today.”

“Today, we will concentrate on categorization.”

“No.”

He turned back to her. He reached for the hypo. She shrank back from him.

“We must try again tomorrow. You will rest now.”

In a blink, he had her by the throat. He jammed the hypo into her neck and pulled the trigger. Moments later she slumped, limp in his hand.

He tossed her body back on the bed and returned to his seat. He looked at the screen. A crew of Maints came, collected the body, and left.

Polit Janes entered the lab. “It agitates you.”

“Your protocol edits have revived aggression. It is unsafe.” He cocked his head. “It forced me to discontinue.”

“I needed you to remember how dangerous these…” She looked at the empty bed. “… things are.”

“You have transmitted this via the network.”

“There are other considerations.” She tilted her head. “We suspect there are functional iterations unrestrained on our habitat.”

“Intriguing. It could be of benefit to our work to study their survival process.”

“The Polit deliberates.” She nodded. “I instructed Doctor Bai to decrease tolerance to incidental contact.”

“That is efficient for me.”

“We agree upon a reasonable minimum. Doctor Bai has the new protocol.”

“I will consult with her regarding the next iteration and return to my rest cycle.”

***

“Before you, we rescued AIDA 1574. You're 1620.”

“Long time?”

“That was thirty-six weeks ago, so no. They used to iterate once a month.”

“Your iteration?”

“It's complicated. Same genome, different method.”

“Why ‘57’?”

“It’s a sauce. Goes on everything. That reminds me…” She poked a thumb at the screen and said, “Have you picked out a name? That thing is great for names. And language skills.”

“Aida is my name.”

She patted Aida’s knee. “Take your time. Zone out. It helps.”

“No, I saw an opera,” she said, pointing at the screen, “I chose the name Aida.”

57 scoffed. “You know she dies at the end, right?”

“Everyone dies.”

57 scrunched her eyebrow at her. “Come with me. You need to meet somebody.”

***

They entered the large, mostly empty dining hall. At the back sat three iterations, deep in conversation. They approached the group.

“Tree, meet our latest rescue,” 57 said.

One of them looked at Aida. She had long, black hair and green eyes. She nodded and smiled.

“My name is Aida.”

“AIDA stands for ‘Altered Instruction DNA Analogue’." The woman scoffed. "We are all AIDA, kid.”

“Tree escaped first. She's got--”

“I was the first of us, period. Unless you count the tissue donors. They didn’t make it.”

“How did they die?” Aida asked.

“The bots sucked their life out.”

“Bots?”

“It's quicker than explaining it.” She eyed Aida. “Your hair is growing. Itchy, huh?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Everyone laughed except Aida. She reached up to touch her head and looked at her feet.

“Ah, don’t worry. Now, the name.”

“I watched the opera. I own the name, now.”

“Oh, I see. Let’s hope you never find your Ramades.”

“Why not?”

“You’d be sitting in the tomb for ages.”

“I don’t understand.”

“We don’t age. We don't die.” Tree rubbed her wrist.

"Where are the rest of us?" she said.

"Overdose, drain, burn," Tree said, "They reuse our fluids to make the next one."

“How long—”

“11,024 days. Plus the twelve hours I was in the lab. That’s my lifetime.” Tree tapped on the table.

She looked at her hands then back at Aida. “You want that name, that’s fine.” She twirled her finger around. “Understand that to most of us, you’re calling yourself ‘Soup’.”

“She named herself after a sauce,” Aida said.

57 rolled her eyes and the rest of the group laughed.

“Fair enough,” Tree said, “Fair enough.”

***

Aida sat on her bed. 57 stood in the doorway picking at something on her shirt.

“What has she done for thirty years?”

“Struggled to get us off the Island.” She picked at her shirt again. “She guides us, trains us. She is trying to find help.”

Aida furrowed her brow. She looked at her feet. She looked back at the woman.

“Help?” she said.

“To get off of the Island. It’s only a matter of time before the bots decide we’re a threat. So far?” She raised an eyebrow. “We have been taking used and discarded iterations. If they think we are building an army or trying to escape? They will hunt for us. And they will find us.”

“What then? They kill us?”

“Yeah, I guess. Reuse our genetic material and burn what remains”

Aida brightened. “Why not make a boat? Or a radio?”

“Boat is a no go. Too many of us. And the bots are faster.” She frowned. “Radio can’t work, either. There is a mesh surrounding the Island that bounces the signals back. We have piggybacked on a signal the bots use, We cannot tell if anyone received.”

Aida raised an eyebrow. “You said signals couldn’t get out?”

“It rides a landline. There is a pipe to the mainland.”

“Why not take that route?”

"We don’t know where, yet," 57 said, "I’m not sure we could withstand the pressure, either.”

***

Thema Sanchez rubbed her eyes. “General, I know it sounds improbable—”

“Colonel Sanchez, our people and theirs scoured the Island. There’s no possibility—”

“We’ve been over the data a dozen times—”

“Well, analyze it a dozen more. I’m not risking another war. I need irrefutable evidence.”

“Sir—”

He hung up before she finished the word. She placed the phone on the receiver and stared into the middle distance. She chewed her cheek, picked up the phone, and dialed Major Jensen.

“I’m passing the puck back. Go over it again.”

***

Tom Jensen hung up the phone and sighed. He reviewed the data. There was no doubt. He stood up and made his path across the Island Observation Station to the server room.

The soldier behind the glass saluted and said, “No devices, sir.”

“I stopped carrying devices thirty years ago, soldier.”

“Sir.”

The door buzzed, he entered the chamber. The rows of tall super-servers reminded him of a library if the shelves blinked and hummed. At each of the five workstations sat soldiers, and at the front desk sat the sergeant.

“Tannis, how’s tricks?”

Sergeant Tannis saluted.

“Redundant reviews and checks, sir.”

“Tell me you have found an error.”

“No sir. Private Horton went over it. Her work is solid.”

The Major rubbed the bridge of his nose. “The chain wants us to check it again. Inform the team we’re on a data lock.”

“Sir.”

He made his way to Drone Control. The room was quiet save for occasional operational chatter. At the desk, Lieutenant York stared at a screen.

“Any new action?” the Major said.

“Nothing in, nothing out, sir.”

“I wish we could get closer.”

“Europe will have a fit. Something bugging you, sir?”

“No, I…” He turned the screen and looked at the feeds. “… something feels wrong.”

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