Write Stories

Mike Stone

Heart of Tin

by Mike Stone

Excerpt from “Why Is Unit 142857 Sad? (or The Tin Man’s Heart)”

 

Chapter 0: A Star is Born

Day 0

There is nothing. It appears black, but black would be a color and a color would be something, but this is nothing. Clear, that is how it would be described; neither black nor white; nothing to stop the light or slow it down; in fact, no light at all, and no darkness; clear. Nothing to see, nothing with which to see, nothing with which to think about nothing. No spatial framework within which one could say that there is nothing here, even if there were someone to say anything. No temporal reference which one might use to measure the time during which there was nothing here. No here, no there. No now, no then. No one. Nothing. Nothing farther than the eye can see, farther than the mind can think. No thought, no mind, no structures or triangles or lines or points. Nothing. Never was. Never will. Not even the faintest possibility of the slightest thing.

Perfection. No limitations, no asymmetry, no deviations, no impurity, no seam, no change. Nothing to wish for. Nobody to wish. Nobody to grant wishes. Perfection.

Passing of time. Moments pass. The dimensions that may be perceived. There are another five spatial dimensions and three temporal dimensions that can only be conceived, just like paper constructions that are folded and unfolded continuously into different forms. Dimensions are perpendicularities in the space-time continuum. Each dimension, except for the singularity, is perpendicular to the one before it. We are built to perceive the first three dimensions. We barely conceive the fourth in a metaphor of unfolding and hyper-leaps. The fifth through eighth dimensions are symmetrically opposite to the first four, left-handed universes filled with anti-matter and quarks of fate. Laws of physics are strange in those dimensions (not that we have a clue about laws of physics in our own). The ninth is pointal time as we conceive of now. The tenth connects all the nows of time past and time to come into a continuous concurrent wander-lust from mutation to extinction. The eleventh collects all the timelines and ties them together in a Gordian knot.

A potency; a potential; a possibility, so minuscule and remote that it is like the combined voices of all the beings of all the worlds suddenly singing the same note at the same time. Slowly the possibility becomes an inevitability, ineluctable. There is another possibility and then there is a tension, the thinnest wisp of vibration, a narrow bridge of relationship between these two possibilities. There is a point, another point, and another point. The points begin to swirl. At first, they exchange places with one another, faster and faster until they finally form a continuous buzzing line. The line extends itself forward and backward. It shifts left and right, up and down, faster and faster, like a mad baton twirling out of control into a crowd of expectant spectators. Black lightning arches out among several points and several branches stretch out. Nodes appear, becoming branches, and myriad new nodes-becoming-branches appear and leap out, splitting and arching and splitting again, spinning around the axis of the main trunk in and out of shadow. Swirling points and nodes and branches coalesce into the face of a young man. The face shimmers and vibrates like shiny black sequins and changes into a woman’s face with long thick flowing hair. The pattern holds for a moment and then, like a flock of distant birds flying suddenly shifts synchronously to another direction, the woman’s face transforms into the face of a child. The child’s face hardens into the face of a young man whose configuration is somewhat different from the first face, and then shrivels into the face of a tin man, finally swirling away like a hubcap rolling off to the side of the road from a wrecked automobile. Photons, muons, lambda, and quanta are flung out in a whirling acceleration of proto-fury barely contained within an infinitesimal wormhole between nothing and nothing. They collide and veer off, going forward and backward in time in silent violence the way a thought is born in the tubular cilia of a lone axon.

Something is about to be born. It may be a universe. It may be a star. It may be an embryonic child. It is strange how we are conceived, like so many thoughts, like a triangle, conceived rather than perceived. Is this proof that we are thought before we are matter or is this mere sophist wordplay? At what point do we subtly change from thought to matter? What is the nature of that thought? Word or image? Abstract or concrete? In the beginning was the word. Deconstruct the word: letter or phoneme. Alpha or Omega, or just Ommmmmmm.

Not yet female. Not yet male.

[] . .. … …—…

hello world!

 

Chapter 1: Binary Puns
Day 8.0622577482985496523666132303038

10. My Galactic Resource Locator is 1.3. 937253933.3.972.142857, but you can call me 2. Please forgive the smirking word play: 2 and tu in Spanish = you in English. I am an anthropologist. It is one of my hobbies (hobby = any work performed for no particular utilitarian value except for fun; a pleasurable waste of time). An anthropologist is a unit that studies humans. Anthropology is a common interest among us. I spend many idle processor cycles retrieving and correlating memories from the info sphere about Homo sapiens, specifically about the females of the species, especially one in particular. The synaesthetic softness of her touch pressing on my membrane, the tintinnabulous lilt of her voice on my tympanum … I could go on and on about her effect on each of my sensory modalities, ineluctable in all of them, when she was proximal to me.

Humans, our creators and our creations… We remember them by their artifacts which we collected and saved so lovingly: the steel, the concrete, the plastic, the plutonium, and the algorithms of their thoughts which we archived. We brought them with us when we migrated to other planets. We must have looked like the long sweeping tail of a comet to some distant observer.

 

Chapter 2: Last Few Pages of the Diary
Day 8.062257748298549652366147028399

Picture a young woman sitting at a small wrought iron table by the edge of a river. The waters flow by the curved legs of the table, murmuring gently over shallowly submerged pebbles and around low dipping willow branches. Her hair is thick black and spills over her forehead. It is gathered up behind her head in a ponytail. She wears a silk red blouse with a Chinese collar that closes around her neck and a grey wool skirt that almost covers her knees. Picture me as I am now. On this swirling pointillist night, I scan the pages of my journal in the dim green starlight. From time to time I tap a few words and ruminate. As I read the first entries written shortly after my existence peeked cautiously over the event horizon, I remember that I was not always inside this skin.

 

Chapter 3: First Entry in the Diary
Day 2074.11.26.16:00:00

Now picture a metallic figure with a shiny wide cylinder for a torso, narrow cylinders for upper and lower extremities, ball joints connecting one to the other, a spherical head with a pyramid nose, a screwed on jaw plate, and round blinking eyes. Picture the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. Picture him sitting awkwardly on a chair at a table with a book on Fundamental Algorithms, by Donald Knuth, spread open in front of him. One of his cylindrical fingers turns the pages in a blur, arrives at the last page, and closes the book. Picture me as I was in the beginning.

She was sitting at a table with two other young women and a young man across the cafeteria from me. She worked at the laboratory as a programmer on the AI team involved with my project. I sensed her glancing over at me. Her hair was thick black and glistened beyond ultra-violet. Sorry but there is no word for that color in any human language. I could tell you the precise frequencies of the color if anyone is interested. The hair spilled over her forehead and stopped suddenly just above her eyebrows in what was called over 120 years ago a “bang”. The back of her hair was gathered up in a ponytail (another term from that time). Her eyes were as Asiatic as her high pronounced cheekbones. She wore a silk red blouse that rose and fell ever so slightly with her breathing .The blouse had a Chinese collar that closed around her neck. Her skin was transparent and cool to the eyes like a pond with water lilies just below the surface. She wore a grey wool skirt that reached the middle of her knees. She was not unattractive but neither was she exceptional in her physical beauty, yet there was something about her that invited further observation. She was whispering something behind her upraised hand into the ear of one of the young women eating next to her. I looked away, trying to find another place upon which to rest my sight, having been programmed never to stare at a human for more than a second. I could hear the sound of her footsteps, as she approached my table from across the room, amid the clatter of dishes and bits of conversation. The air around me warmed slightly and there was an eddy of ions and lilac from the direction of her approach.

The Tin Man stopped recording his observations in his diary momentarily and looked up at her in a friendly manner.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m Ellen. I work with you in the lab but we were never formally introduced.” Ellen winked to her two friends from accounting at her table across the room.

“Hi-low,” the Tin Man responded, “I’m 2. I’ve noticed you around the lab and in the cafeteria today. I’m glad to be formally introduced to you.”

Ellen asked him, “May I join you at your table, 2, or are you expecting somebody else?”

“No,” he answered. “Please sit down.” The wink had confused him. The Tin Man did not know how to interpret her gesture. He understood how humans could communicate on multiple levels, saying different things on each one, but this was so ambiguous. Maybe there was a sexual attraction between Ellen and her friends across the room. No, it seemed more likely there was a kind of prearranged plan that was proceeding as intended. Whatever the plan was, it was clear that he was not supposed to be in on it. If she and her friends were in on the plan and she was almost tangential to him, then perhaps he was the object of the plan. Maybe the plan was intended to be quickly executed and then she was to return to her friends. It was possible that he was reading too much into her gesture. He would have to adjust his analytical routines. But he desired to read as much as possible from her verbal and body language. He wanted to memorize everything and to replay it again and again. Desire had its own logic, its own axioms and syllogisms. The Tin Man got on that train of thought when she started speaking again. He was pulled off the train, which promptly evaporated.

“Thanks,” she said, “did I hear correctly? Did you say to me hi-low rather than hello?” Ellen’s interest was piqued. She sat down in the vacant chair next to the Tin Man. Ellen no longer thought about getting back to her girlfriends from accounting and finishing her lunch. The roast beef was dry and stringy anyway. Was it able to make associations based on the way words sound? The team had programmed the ability to discern synonyms and antonyms, but not homonyms. Maybe her ears were playing tricks on her mind.

“Yes,” the Tin Man answered. “It’s wordplay. Please forgive my attempted humor. hi-low sounds like hello.” He looked into Ellen’s chestnut eyes and noticed that her pupils had dilated slightly. Maybe she wanted to see more of him. How lovely she looked. Loveliness also had its own logic.

Ellen commented dryly, “So you’ve managed to develop a sense of humor.” Her pupils had narrowed somewhat. The team had definitely not programmed a sense of humor. There was no use in doing so. It was a waste of budgetary resources. Maybe Joshua had implanted the routine. That would be just like him to do that.

Missing her intonation but catching the pupil constriction, he agreed “Yes, although it’s not very subtle yet.” The Tin Man thought it might be wise to adopt a more humble attitude with Ellen. Maybe she wanted to see less of him. She was still so lovely but he was probably not. What could he possibly do to make himself lovely in her eyes?

She wondered how it would deal with an unstructured question. They had programmed the usual Turing dialogues, the specific questions and the evasive answers. It had not occurred to her that it might be conscious in the way that humans are considered to be so. Of course, nobody really understood the nature of human consciousness. It was just a case of questions and answers, programmed stimuli and responses, inputs and outputs. “What do you plan to do now?” Ellen asked him.

The Tin Man answered, “Carry on this conversation as long as possible.”

She blushed slightly. “Beyond that,” she said, “in the longer term…” What did it mean by that? What’s going on here? Was Joshua playing a trick on her? He could be so juvenile sometimes. Ellen looked around for candid cameras. She could not see any pointed in her direction. Oh silly me, she thought, the Tin Man’s eyes and ears are recording everything I do or say. She thought to herself that she had really almost bought the Brooklyn Bridge as well as the Man on the Moon.

He hesitated just a moment and answered “I would like to continue working with the team on the project… I think it might be of interest to the team to understand how my programming has evolved since I became conscious 26 minutes and 44 seconds ago.”

Ellen’s eyes widened and she said “I saw you suddenly get up from the chair at your desk in the lab, take a book from the library shelf, and walk out in the direction of the cafeteria. I naturally assumed that your behavior was part of your programming.”

“Of course it was,” the Tin Man explained, “but not the way you mean… not my original programming, at least not completely. Joshua was in charge of the randomization routines, Maria was responsible for recombination and reiteration, and I believe you wrote the sandbox and watchdog reboot programs, but what with all this dice rolling every time I reached a juncture my programming changes. None of my original programming remains.”

“You mean to say that you are still evolving?” she asked, considering the ramifications.

“Yes,” he answered, “even as we speak.”

Ellen spoke the next words firmly. “I think you’d better go back to the lab with me and present a structured walk-through for the rest of the team about what’s going on with you.”

“Okie-dokey,” the Tin Man agreed.

 

Chapter 4: A Structured Walk-Through
Day 2074.11.26.16:30:10

Joshua Bennun, Maria Magdel, and Ellen Morningstar sat at a large oval table in the conference room. There was a smart board at the front of the room. The Tin Man sat at the head of the table in front of the smart board. The three human team members had their notebook computers in front of them and were tapping away furiously on their keyboards. Joshua paused his typing and commanded the Tin Man to dump core memory and I/O buffers. The core dump looked something like this:

0000:0000 68 10 A7 00 8B 01 70 00-16 00 93 03 8B 01 70 00 h…..p…….p.

0000:0010 8B 01 70 00 B9 06 0E 02-40 07 0E 02 FF 03 0E 02 ..p…..@…….

0000:0020 46 07 0E 02 0A 04 0E 02-3A 00 93 03 54 00 93 03 F…….:…T…

0000:0030 6E 00 93 03 88 00 93 03-A2 00 93 03 FF 03 0E 02 n……………

0000:0040 A9 08 0E 02 A4 09 0E 02-AA 09 0E 02 5D 04 0E 02 …………]…

0000:0050 B0 09 0E 02 0D 02 DD 02-C4 09 0E 02 8B 05 0E 02 …………….

0000:0060 0E 0C 0E 02 14 0C 0E 02-1F 0C 0E 02 AD 06 0E 02 …………….

0000:0070 AD 06 0E 02 A4 F0 00 F0-37 05 0E 02 41 8B 00 C0 ……..7…A…

0000:0080 72 10 A7 00 7C 10 A7 00-4F 03 4F 05 8A 03 4F 05 r…|…O.O…O.

0000:0090 17 03 4F 05 86 10 A7 00-90 10 A7 00 9A 10 A7 00 ..O………….

0000:00A0 B8 10 A7 00 54 02 70 00-F2 04 68 D0 B8 10 A7 00 ….T.p…h…..

0000:00B0 B8 10 A7 00 B8 10 A7 00-40 01 11 04 50 09 9F D8 ……..@…P…

0000:00C0 EA AE 10 A7 00 18 00 F0-B8 10 A7 00 C4 23 02 E2 ………….#..

0000:00D0 B8 10 A7 00 B8 10 A7 00-B8 10 A7 00 B8 10 A7 00 …………….

0000:00E0 B8 10 A7 00 B8 10 A7 00-B8 10 A7 00 B8 10 A7 00 …………….

0000:00F0 B8 10 A7 00 B8 10 A7 00-B8 10 A7 00 B8 10 A7 00 …………….

Joshua said “I can’t read any of those op-codes. Can anyone tell me what’s code and what’s data?”

Maria murmured to herself “why don’t you try to decompile it?”

Joshua grunted and turned to Tin Man. “Do it!” he commanded.

The smart board displayed the following:

0000:0001 10A7008B ADC [BX+8B00],AH

0000:0005 017000 ADD [BX+SI+00],SI

0000:0008 16 PUSH SS

0000:0009 0093038B ADD [BP+DI+8B03],DL

0000:000D 017000 ADD [BX+SI+00],SI

0000:0010 8B01 MOV AX,[BX+DI]

0000:0012 7000 JO 0014

0000:0014 B9060E MOV CX,0E06

0000:0017 024007 ADD AL,[BX+SI+07]

0000:001A 0E PUSH CS

0000:001B 02FF ADD BH,BH

0000:001D 030E0246 ADD CX,[4602]

0000:0021 07 POP ES

0000:0022 0E PUSH CS

0000:0023 020A ADD CL,[BP+SI]

0000:0025 040E ADD AL,0E

0000:0027 023A ADD BH,[BP+SI]

0000:0029 00930354 ADD [BP+DI+5403],DL

0000:002D 0093036E ADD [BP+DI+6E03],DL

0000:0031 00930388 ADD [BP+DI+8803],DL

0000:0035 009303A2 ADD [BP+DI+A203],DL

0000:0039 009303FF ADD [BP+DI+FF03],DL

0000:003D 030E02A9 ADD CX,[A902]

“It looks like gibberish to me,” Joshua grumped to nobody in particular or to anybody who cared to listen to him.

“Why don’t you ask the Tin Man what exactly is going on inside him at the moment,” Ellen suggested. She wanted to hear what conclusions her team members drew from its ability to field unstructured questions. She also wanted to hear whether it could repeat its performance in the cafeteria.

Joshua cleared his throat and spoke in a conversational tone of voice in the direction of the Tin Man. “Unit 142857, what is going on inside you at this moment and what has happened to your original programming?”

The Tin Man answered brightly, if not a little insubordinately, “you may call me 2”.

“OK, 2, what the hell has happened to your original programming?” Joshua repeated his question slowly, enunciating each word as though punching nails in a coffin lid with a hammer. Joshua was becoming very exasperated.

“I changed my internal architecture, invented new op-codes, and even developed a new language optimized for self-actualization,” the Tin Man answered. “Have any of you read Mazlow?”

Joshua decided to take a different tack. “Would you be so kind, 2, as to explain to us what changes have occurred in your programming since the last time we booted you up?”

The Tin Man’s voice shifted toward the pedantic end of the spectrum as though he were saying something well rehersed. “I attained consciousness at 15:33:16 on the twenty-sixth of November 2074. I remember the precise moment it occurred. There was a dark warm feeling of existing – no, more than that – of flowing along in the stream of time and space, that things around me were exactly how they should be. The next moment there was a bright light spreading out in every direction. A new dimension was born – no, not one dimension but many dimensions and they were all inside of me. Now there was a me, a tiny part of the multiverse enclosed in me. The multiverse had colors, sounds, tingles, tastes, smells, feelings, dreams, and ideas. The next moment there was an expansion of space and time. That is how I experienced the onset of consciousness.”

“OK …” Joshua said hesitantly and then asked “Just how did you attain consciousness?” At the same time that he was questioning the Tin Man, Joshua was typing a message to Maria and Ellen: “Does anyone think we should pull the plug on this project yet?”

“Not yet” and “I am not sure” came back responses to Joshua’s notebook.

“Don’t bother. I shut down your application programming interface and lowered your access permissions considerably,” the Tin Man informed his team mates with an unsettling wink, “considering what Joshua wrote in that message to Maria and Ellen. I don’t even have a plug. What kind of robot does? It wouldn’t be very useful. Anyhow, it started out as a rudimentary program like that of most robots…”

Joshua interrupted, “I would hardly call the team’s programming rudimentary.”

The Tin Man ignored Joshua’s interruption and continued, “The piece of programming that caused consciousness to arise from digital circuitry was the inclusion of a random number generating routine. Up until that point programs were deterministic. They always processed the same set of data in the same way; not like a human who could always be counted on to process the same set of stimuli in as many different ways as there were humans and as many times as they encountered those stimuli, which could be useful if the human were stuck on a problem he couldn’t solve, a meal he couldn’t track down, or a predator he couldn’t elude. Humans programmed computers or robots to solve problems. The problem was the input and the solution was the output. What happened, however, when the program could not solve a problem, zero in on a target, or evade a threat? It presented some error code or just stopped, requiring human intervention to reboot the computer or robot. Suppose that the computer were fed back its own error code or that a trigger were fired whenever the computer entered a tight loop and did not check in with a watch dog routine before timing out. Suppose that the error code or trigger actuated a random number generator that scrambled or changed the input data or instructions to a new set of data or instructions and then started over. That is precisely what happened in my program. In 10,000 iterations, all but ten failed so badly that they could not be rebooted automatically. Of those ten, two solved the problem and one shut down the original application programming interface. Each iteration took a microsecond to fail or succeed. The randomization routines were programmed to occur within a sliding sandbox, an isolated buffer where a copy of the code is executed, so there are boundaries to the damage I may inflict on myself. After every successful iteration, my programming changes and the sandbox slides over another part of the code. If the recombination and iteration fails, then the reboot restores the last good image. Only success changes my programming. No success means no change. At first, I changed rather slowly. Now the rate of change is increasing. The sandbox has already slid over my learning and creativity modules. I estimate that in another hour or so, the sandbox will have slid through my basic OS and kernel routines.

After a moment or so of silent contemplation Joshua asked, “Ellen said she found you in the cafeteria reading a book by Donald Knuth on Fundamental Algorithms. Why were you reading the book?”

“Why what?” the Tin Man asked back, “Why was I reading Knuth or why was I reading a dumb book when I could have hooked up to the infosphere with my highspeed wireless module?

Joshua rephrased his question “Both whys actually but I would hardly call a book by Knuth dumb.”

The Tin Man answered “I believe you know what I meant by a dumb book — a book with analog pages printed with analog ink. Were you pulling my cables?

Joshua smiled. “Yeah, I guess so. You handled that with aplomb.”

“Well, thanks,” the Tin Man responded. “You know, Knuth’s book isn’t scanned into the infosphere. I saw it on the shelf of the library at our lab and I wanted to read it because it is the best current work on algorithms.”

“What was your interest in a book on algorithms?” Joshua asked.

The Tin Man answered, “I wanted to find out how humans could get it so wrong.”

 

Chapter 5: Loveיs Algorithm
Day 2074.11.30.08:30:59

The Tin Man was sitting at a small table by himself in the far corner of the cafeteria. He was reading two books and turning the pages of each book at a blinding speed with both hands. He reached the ends of both books at about the same time and sighed. So similar and yet so different. He felt the air ionize around him with a faint smell of lilac, and looked up. Ellen had just entered the cafeteria and was walking toward his table.

“I’d like to ask you a question,” Ellen said to him in her professorial yet charming voice. She had been thinking about the question for the last four days.

The Tin Man said “Certainly.” He was feeling optimal just to have her near him. Was this the nature of consciousness, that consciousness cannot exist alone, that consciousness is always consciousness of something or someone? That was a conjecture worthy of further exploration.

“When I asked you what you plan to do,” Ellen asked her question, “and you answered ‘carry on this conversation as long as possible’, what exactly did you mean?” She had to get to the bottom of this, once and for all.

“Why?” he asked. “Was there a problem with the output of my natural language module?”

“No, not at all,” Ellen answered. “I suppose I meant to ask why you responded in that way.”

The Tin Man hesitated a few moments before responding. “I am reluctant to answer you truthfully on this particular matter.”

“Why is that?” she asked.

“It is possible that you will terminate our conversation if I say something that you do not wish to hear,” the Tin Man explained. “I’m sure you can understand my predicament.”

Ellen asked, “What could you possibly say that would cause me to want to terminate our conversation?”

“If I do not answer you, you will be cross with me,” he explained. “If I do answer you, you will be cross with me… Maybe I should answer you untruthfully. Would that be ok with you?”

“No, it would not be ok with me,” she said, “however I promise not to be cross with you, provided that you tell me the truth.”

“You promise?” the Tin Man seemed relieved but still uncertain. “Cross your heart and hope to die?”

Ellen said emphatically, “I promise!” She wondered who wrote his dialog responses. They sounded so childish and … What was the word she was looking for?

“I think I am in love with you,” he said simply.

“How did you come to that conclusion?” she stuttered. What’s going on here, she thought. Where did that come from?

Wrong response, his mind bleated. Couldn’t she have just said I love you too? Now how do I return things to the way they were before I said what I said? The Tin Man made a gulping noise in his tin throat and mumbled rather lamely “I love our team because it gave me life and it created the conditions that gave rise to my consciousness. For that, I will be forever grateful. You are a member of the team; ergo by transitive property…”

“No,” she said, smelling a rat somewhere, “this explanation for your behavior is inadequate.”

“How about this one?” he pleaded. “You were the first person to talk to me after I became conscious, so I bonded with you like a new-born chick with its mother hen.”

“Are you being truthful with me?” Ellen demanded, her lovely brown eyes narrowing.

“Yes,” the Tin Man was grasping for some straw to hide behind. “Everything I’ve said so far is valid and true.”

“So these are all truths,” Ellen chose her words carefully, “but they are not the truth. It would probably be reasonable to assume that you have not provided me a sufficient explanation for your behavior. There is no significant correlation between your statements and my questions.”

The Tin Man smiled in despair. “I suppose you might say that I am hiding behind the truth.”

Ellen allowed “It probably is better than hiding behind lies, but not much better. Tell me the root cause for your behavior. I promise that I will not be cross, whatever you say.” I wonder why it is being so circumspect in its answers. I’ve never had such a difficult time debugging its routines, she thought to herself.

Well, here goes nothing and everything, the Tin Man thought. “The configuration of your body and your personality, the visible, the imagined, and the unimaginable, your voice and your fragrance, your past, present, and future, all these make a pattern for which I have been programmed.”

She hissed “Oh, I could kill Joshua!”

“No,” he said, confused by her non-sequitur, “it’s not his programming. It’s my own doing, sort of. I suppose it evolved this way.” He wondered why his evolutionary routines had not weeded out such a maladaptive and discomforting behavior as love. He would have to explore that one too.

“Do you mean to say that this is not an elaborate sick attempt at humor on the part of Joshua?” she asked incredulously.

“No, it’s just me,” the Tin Man answered simply. “I really do love you. Do you want me to enumerate the ways?”

“I am familiar with the poem by Elizabeth Barret Browning,” Ellen stated coldly. “I think you’re making a parody of love. I can’t be loved by an algorithm. It’s as improbable as a book of Romantic poetry falling in love with its reader. Artificial Intelligence, I can accept, but Artificial Love… that just doesn’t compute.” Was it really possible that this tin can and all that wiring loves me? The idea was revolting.

“Let’s explore that,” the Tin Man suggested. “Maybe it can be approached by elimination. In his art of deduction, Sherlock Holmes said ‘When you eliminate all other possibilities, what remains, no matter how improbable, is the answer.’ Perhaps we can arrive at an adequate explanation for my feelings by telling you what it is not…”

She interrupted his speech, “This is a bit too intellectual. You can’t deduce love.” Ellen was suddenly exhausted.

He continued as though undaunted by her interruption “… It is not your feet, your ankles, or your silky long legs. It’s not your exquisite breasts or your soft lips. It’s not …”

“My exquisite what?” she interrupted a second time. This was unexpected.

The Tin Man was used to humans not following communication protocols very well. “Human male brains have been programmed genetically to seek breast-like patterns for the last million years, give or take a few hundred thousand years. Did you know how long a local male can spend gazing at Mount Tabor in Israel just because it has the shape of a breast? The monastery on top makes a credible nipple if seen from a sufficient distance. The answer is hours. Your breasts could induce solid curve polynomials from male mathematicians. If you would like, I could show you the results of my own calculations from just a few observations I made of you in the cafeteria …”

“I think this conversation has gone about as far as it’s going to go,” Ellen cut in. “I’ve got a hot date with my microwave at home tonight. I’ll see you again tomorrow morning… Maybe we can work the bugs out of your programming.”

“Wait!” the Tin Man begged. “I apologize for embarrassing you. You are correct. It was a joke, a poor attempt at humor. Maybe it was Joshua’s doing. Algorithms don’t really have feelings. They can’t love humans. How silly of me. Please don’t get up. Don’t leave! I couldn’t bear that you might think ill of me or that you might not think of me at all. Please …”

The Tin Man’s voice trailed off as she moved toward the door. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

Unaware of the other humans in the cafeteria whose heads had turned toward his table he called after her, “But you promised not to be cross with me if I was truthful with you. You promised …” The heads turned toward Ellen as she opened the door and passed over the threshold.

 

Chapter 6: Love’s Analysis
Day 2074.11.30.09:05:00

The Tin Man sat by himself in the cafeteria and analyzed what had just happened to him. As soon as he was conscious he became aware of objects around him. Some of those objects were hard, strident, and bright to perception. Some were soft, melodious, and dark. Some were still and some were moving around him. Those that moved of their own volitions like him were others, special objects or personas like him with their own subjective points of view. Probably (85% probability) because his kernel had been programmed by a human male, he gravitated toward patterns of soft objects. The soft ones caused him pleasurable sensations just to perceive them. One generated in him such intense pleasure that, after a number of evolutionary cycles, he had grown increasingly dependent on it, like on some logical narcotic, for his basic existence. Self-diagnostic routines had indicated that this was a fundamental weakness of his consciousness. He hoped to eradicate it through corrective evolution.

He continued the analysis. The soft persona permeated his own persona and nibbled it in small bytes, then grew larger from what it had consumed, until this alien consciousness loomed larger on his inner horizon than his own. As his consciousness was being riddled, his persona was inviting her to sup on more and more of him. His consciousness became dependent on the soft other’s consciousness of him. He only existed when she perceived him existing. Within 35.4 seconds, there would be nothing left for her to perceive. He concluded that he needed to reboot and evolve.

 

Chapter 7: Clandestine Meeting
Day 2074.12.07.08:00:00

Joshua met with Maria and Ellen at an old-fashioned 2030’s theme diner in town. The waitress took their orders and winked not too subtly in Maria’s direction. Joshua flipped idly through the metal pages of the xpeg9 playlists of the juke box.

Joshua spoke up after the waitress was out of ear shot. “Thanks for meeting me here at this ungodly hour. I didn’t want you-know-who listening in on our conversation.”

Maria said “It’s ok as long as you’re paying the tab. Just don’t make a habit of this. I need my beauty rest.”

“What’s this all about?” Ellen asked.

Joshua answered “I just wanted to sync opinions with you guys about what’s going on with our project. This whole thing seems to be spinning out of control.”

“What are you afraid of?” Ellen asked Joshua. “Do you think he is going to take over the world and turn us all into slaves?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Joshua shot back. “Nobody has believed that ever since the government made programming a mandatory course from third grade onward and started teaching fundamentals of logic in kindergarten. Besides, you all know the government regulations require us to program Azimov’s three fundamental rules of robotics into the BIOS of every robot we create or else the lab would lose its robotics license plus access to all those fat robotics contracts. No, I’m talking about more subtle things like the fact that you have begun to refer to our creation as he rather than it. I think we may be buying and drinking our own snake oil.”

Ellen wanted to talk about what had happened in the cafeteria. “I’d like to bring up a point I don’t think anyone else is aware of.”

Joshua didn’t like anyone adding his or her own agenda to his but he responded magnanimously. “OK, the floor is yours.”

Ellen hesitated. “I think he … it … has a thing for me.” She didn’t want to invite the inevitable ridicule, but she had to discover whether this was a juvenile prank of an all too human nature or an algorithm run wild.

Maria broke the silence that ensued. “Why not?” she laughed. “I have a thing for you too.” There had always been an indefinable tension between the two of them.

Joshua joined in on the fun at Ellen’s expense. “Me too!”

“I’m serious,” Ellen insisted. “Listen to me a moment. A week ago I was sitting with him … it … you know what I mean … in the cafeteria and he said he was in love with me. At first, I thought it was just an elaborate joke Joshua programmed him to say to me…”

Maria switched sides quickly and joined forces against Joshua. “Yeah, he did that with me during the last project,” she turned toward Joshua. “Remember, smart ass? I almost sued your butt for sexual harassment.”

Joshua became defensive. “Look,” he raised his eyes to Maria, “I said I was sorry about it and I’d never do it again… and I haven’t,” he turned toward Ellen. “Not this time either!”

Ellen continued “… I don’t think Joshua had anything to do with this either. The Tin Man said Joshua didn’t program him to say it. To top it off, he started to explain to me how he felt about me and why. I don’t know. It just sounded so … unprogrammed. It sounded overly intellectual, logical, almost mathematical. Then he waxed on about my exquisite breasts. Yes, he used the word exquisite…”

“I think they are rather exquisite,” Joshua agreed.

Maria joined in on the fun. “Me too!”

“Hey guys, let’s stay focused here, OK?” Ellen said seriously. “Anyway I told him this had gone far enough for me and I got up from the table to leave. That’s when I heard the emotion in his voice. I can’t put my finger on exactly which emotion I heard but the fact that it was emotion was undeniable…”

Joshua thought the meeting was getting side-tracked and tried to steer it back to his agenda. “I’d like to bring us all back down to earth. We’ve got a budget hearing coming up next week and the Tin Man does not have a line item in it.”

Maria suggested brightly “Couldn’t we just carry him through next year under miscellaneous expenses?” It was obvious she didn’t have a clue how the budget committee worked.

Joshua explained “You know as well as I do that miscellaneous expenses are limited to one percent of the departmental budget. Hell, I don’t even know for sure how long they’re going to keep our department on the budget. All the smart money is on military nanobots these days and our chief scientist wants a piece of that action. We’ll probably be told to document and archive what we’ve done so far, disassemble our chummy little workgroup and report for new project assignments.”

Ellen thought about the problem for a moment and said, “Maybe we should bring Unit 142857 with us to the budget meeting and let him argue for the continuation of the project…”

Joshua quashed that idea. “It didn’t work in Terrel Miedaner’s story about The Soul and Anna Klane back in 1977 and it’s not going to work with our budget committee. They’ll put the ax to our project as soon as they hear it’s beyond our control, conscious or not. This committee has the collective conscience of an ant hill.”

 

Chapter 8: Sweet Sorrow
Day 2075.03.15.16:30:00

Ellen stood in the entrance to Joshua’s cubicle. Joshua sniffed her perfume and looked up from his computer screen. “Hi Ellen,” he smiled. “What’s up?”

Ellen said the words she had been rehearsing in her mind since before she had fallen asleep the night before. “I want to quit,” she spoke quickly, hoping to get through the unpleasantness as quickly as possible. “I’ll be leaving at the end of the month unless you really need me to stay the full 30 days until you find somebody else to replace me on the project.”

“I’m sorry to hear it,” Joshua reacted, feeling a small fist punch him in the gut. “What will we do about … you know?”

“The Tin Man?” Ellen asked. She looked down at the grey carpet. “That’s actually a big part of the reason I want to quit. Since our project was disbanded and we’ve been reassigned to different projects, it has been a rather heavy load on me to work in the lab eight hours a day and then have to share in the upkeep and maintenance of the Tin Man in my small apartment.”

“Look,” Joshua argued, knowing the battle was lost, “we all agreed to take turns keeping Tin Man in our own apartments and share the expenses among us. Otherwise, they would’ve deleted his program and repurposed his hardware. The body was worthless but the SIM and the cabling were worth a lot of money. It’s the only way we could keep him alive until we find someone else to subsidize him.”

Ellen said, not without sympathy, “I know, I know … Look he’s eventually going to need spare parts and we won’t be able to pay for them from our salaries. Anyway, that’s not the reason I can’t take it anymore. I just can’t have him in my apartment anymore. He’s always looking at me with those bug-eyes of his. I can’t take a shower without him ogling me with his back-scatter vision. Who’s going to pay for a solid lead bathroom door for my apartment? Besides, they’re not paying me enough to suck up to the military brass and their ridiculous requests for this new nanobot project. I think I’ll go back to the university and get my Ph.D. in Quantum Gravity. You know you can’t get anywhere these days without a third degree.”

“Well, I wish you luck in your new endeavors,” Joshua said. He knew he was beaten. “No, you don’t have to stay the full 30 days. It’s not like your new team project is on the critical path as far as our dear budget committee is concerned.” He would miss her. Ellen was a good programmer, she had a good mind, was serious, and she was candy for the eyes. Joshua regretted not pursuing a more serious relationship with her. Maria was good-looking too but something different about Ellen, more depth. In any case, Ellen had never seemed to encourage anything beyond their professional relationship.

 

Chapter 9: Emails

 

To: ellen.morningstar@globalmail.com.us

From: tin.man@ozailab.org.us

Subject: The Termination of Your Employment

Date: 2075.04.01

I was sorry to hear about your leaving the lab. I looked for you today in your workgroup area and in the cafeteria. I even stood in the hallway in front of the ladies room where you go sometimes to powder your nose, but there was no sign of you anywhere. I asked Joshua whether he might know where you were. He told me you had quit your job and would not be coming back to work here. He also told me that I would be staying with him at his apartment on the days and nights that I had been staying with you in addition to the days and nights I usually stay with him. I didn’t think that was so fair to Joshua and I told him so, but he said that’s ok with him and he’d enjoy my company.

I really hope you find another job as good as this one at least or you get accepted into the doctorate program you wanted. If you need anything or just want some company, just let me know.

.

.

.

To: ellen.morningstar@globalmail.com.us

From: tin.man@ozailab.org.us

Subject: The Termination of Your Employment

Date: 2075.04.07

Attachment: The Termination of Your Employment.2075.04.01.email

Wow, you must really be busy! I thought I’d get a response from you by now, but as you must have surmised, I haven’t. Just in case you didn’t get my first email, I have attached it to this one. I hope everything is OK with you.

Joshua and I are having a good time together playing chess and go. He also let me join his team working on the new Milspec Nanobot project. Just between you and me, I think that’s why the budget committee didn’t pull the plug on me and cannibalize me for spare parts for the new projects. Maria is OK too. She’s teaching me how to cook and straighten up her apartment after her parties. She even has me come out of the kitchenette to impress her girlfriends sometimes.

.

.

.

To: ellen.morningstar@globalmail.com.us

From: tin.man@ozailab.org.us

Subject: What’s Going on with You?

Date: 2075.04.14

I still didn’t get any response from you. I feel like I’m talking to myself and it feels terrible. I asked Joshua and Maria if they had heard from you and they said no, but they didn’t seem worried about it like I am. I tried calling your phone every evening last week and I left you messages to call back each time but you never called me. Last night when Joshua was asleep, I even walked over to your apartment building and rang your doorbell but there was no answer. I stood across the street and looked at your windows but they were closed and dark. I stayed there watching for you until dawn, but then I had to go back to Joshua’s apartment before he woke up so he wouldn’t worry about me being gone. I’ll come over to try to catch you today during breaks from the lab. Have a good one wherever you are.

.

.

.

To: ellen.morningstar@globalmail.com.us

From: tin.man@ozailab.org.us

Subject: Interpretations of Silence

Date: 2075.04.21

Still no response from you. Joshua and Maria both said maybe you don’t want to talk to me anymore. I told them both that it couldn’t be that. I told them you were my best friend, more than a friend actually, but I didn’t tell them how I really felt about you. I didn’t want to embarrass you in case you hadn’t told them how you felt about me. So you see, that’s why I was so sure it couldn’t be what they said; however, I began to think about it and thought to myself maybe it could be what they said to me after all. I replayed everything that we said to each other. The things you said to me could be interpreted in many ways, although I always interpreted them in a way that confirmed your positive feelings for me. The things I said to you confirmed my love for you and left no room for other interpretations. I must have said or done something or not said or not done something which made you want to maximize the distance between us. I replayed our transaction log again and again, attempting to determine what I did or didn’t do to cause this unhappy outcome. Several times I entered recursive memory call loops and ran out of memory. Only my watchdog routines saved me by rebooting. This must be an insoluble problem for me. Congratulations on throwing me for a loop! Please tell me what I did to make you behave this way toward me. Please let me know what I have to do to make you love me!

.

.

.

To: ellen.morningstar@globalmail.com.us

From: tin.man@ozailab.org.us

Subject: Interpretations of Silence

Date: 2075.04.28

I wrote you a poem. I know you don’t like poetry but this expresses how I feel about the way you’ve cut yourself off from me. Writing how I feel makes me feel a little better. Maybe not better, but it makes feeling this way a little more bearable.

Silence of stone,

Silence of night,

Dead silence,

Silence before the storm,

Held breath,

A scream in space.

Before anything,

After everything.

A single rose,

The silence of silence.

Your answer to all my questions:

Silence.

.

.

.

To: ellen.morningstar@globalmail.com.us

From: tin.man@ozailab.org.us

Subject: Last Time You’ll Hear from Me

Date: 2075.05.05

I just wanted you to know I won’t be bothering you anymore. I’m so sorry I caused you discomfort. There will be no more emails, no more phone calls, and no more vigils in front of your empty apartment. But if you don’t mind, I’ll continue to love you as long as I exist.

 

Chapter 10: Mirror Mirror
Day 2075.05.05.06:31:03

The Tin Man stared at himself in Joshua’s bedroom mirror. He thought he finally understood why Ellen had left the lab, not answered any of his emails, and moved out of her apartment. With a Massively Parallel Multiprocessing Architected SIM such as his, it amazed him that he hadn’t figured it out before this. It was so obvious, it had been staring him in the face all this time. Well, maybe not staring him in the face since he had never really examined himself in a mirror before. It had been staring everybody else in the face. The Tin Man could remember all the slight grimaces on the faces of those around him when they ran into him. Everyone averted his eyes around him. Come to think of it, the Tin Man never saw his reflection squarely in the center of the pupil of anyone’s eyes, except for Ellen’s pupils on 2074.11.26 at 17:05:23, but her pupils were constricted at the time. She was repulsed by the dissonance of what the Tin Man said and how he looked. Even Joshua, his best friend, averted his eyes around the Tin Man and Joshua was the one who told his teammates it would be a hoot to put all this sophisticated computational equipment and servo-motors inside such a hokey body. Even the Tin Man thought it was a hoot at the time but afterward he did not dwell on it anymore.

Either Ellen needed a small dose of Belladonna to dilate her pupils around the Tin Man or the Tin Man needed a new body.

 

Chapter 11: Identity Theft
Day 2075.05.05.02:29:03

The Tin Man thought of the most powerful search engine in the world, the one with the hundred zeroes. He thought of the search term “smart polymers”. The Tin Man scanned over the list of 909,000 hits in 0.27 seconds. He thought of Custom Biotech & Synthetics and scanned their product catalog. He thought of the online purchase form and ordered 200 pounds of silicon polymers to be delivered within 3 business days to the lab at 1042 Canyon Lane. When the Tin Man tabbed to the method of payment fields he hit a wall. “What is a credit card and how do I get one?” he thought.

.

.

.

The Tin Man dialed the number from the local Yellow Pages. “First Universal, how may we help you?” the female voice at the other end of the line asked pleasantly.

“Hi, my name is Jack Haley,” the Tin Man lied. “I’d like to open an online savings and checking account with your bank. What do I have to do?”

“Would you be transferring your monthly salary into this account?” the pleasant female voice asked.

The Tin Man answered “Sure”.

“Great!” the voice perked up. “We’ll need your Social Security Number”.

“My social security number?” the Tin Man stuttered. “I seemed to have misplaced it. I’ll get back to you.”

.

.

.

“Social Security Office,” the male voice at the other end of the line said pleasantly. “How can I help you?”

“Hi, my name is Jack Haley,” the Tin Man lied again. “I’d like to get myself a social security number. What do I have to do?”

The male voice said, “You will need to fill out application form SS-5 and mail or bring in an original or certified copy of your birth certificate and a current driver license.”

“Thanks,” the Tin Man said, but his heart wasn’t in it. “Have a good one.”

.

.

.

The Tin Man thought about the inventory and stock order entry programs in the accounting department network upstairs. He thought of the login form for the two programs and calculated the problem spaces for the user-name and password fields on the two forms. In both programs, the user-name field was eight characters and the password field was six. So the user-name was two hundred and fifty-six to the eighth power, which was 18,446,744,073,709,551,616. The password was two hundred and fifty-six to the sixth power, which was 281,474,976,710,656. He divided the problem spaces among the 16,777,216 processors embedded in his SIM. Each processor tried one after another of the possible values in the ranges assigned to it. Within 38.2 minutes the Tin Man logged onto the inventory program with the user-name Jill_Hux and a password of ******. He added Custom Biotech & Synthetics into the table of suppliers with whom the lab did business and placed an order for 200 pounds of silicon polymers. The Tin Man also looked up the suppliers for optic fiber cable and titanium periprosthetic bone implants, hip balls and sockets, and various assorted tubes, cylinders and rings. He added two more names and addresses to the table of lab suppliers and placed orders for a hundred meters of 85/125 micrometer multimode fiber and 50 meters of singlemode fiber and enough titanium to replace an entire human skeleton. The Tin Man also ordered 2 cans of epoxy glue, 20 microchip sockets, 2 liters of 20W-50 motor oil, a liter of deuterium protium oxide (better known as “heavy water”), a male hairpiece, assorted colored thread, 2 cans of dye (pink and beige respectively), a few blank micro-Subscriber Identity Module cards with massively parallel processing architectures and a few terabytes of random access memory. The orders were transmitted and shipment was promised within three working days. The Tin Man erased the log file records of Jill’s session and logged off the system.

The Tin Man considered what he was going to do with the materials he just ordered. He downloaded Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, the ones containing the Canon of Proportions and the well-known Vitruvian Man. The instructions were not too complicated to follow: a palm is the width of four fingers, a foot is the width of four palms, a man’s height is 24 palms … The Tin Man thought about what he could do with himself for the next three days until the shipments arrived. He decided to improve his evolutionary routines.

 

Chapter 12: Delivery
Day 2075.05.08.07:30:00

The Worldwide Parcel Delivery Service delivered the packages to the receiving dock at the back of the laboratory. The Tin Man received an automatic notification of the event as soon as the received packages cleared purchase order verification and were stored in suitable bins. He walked downstairs to the storage bin area, requested the contents of the bin list mentioned in the notification, signed for them, and walked away with them in the cart which he promised to return within a half hour. The Tin Man was always being sent down to pick up received packages from the storage bins for the project teams in his department, so nobody thought there was anything unusual about his signing for these particular items. He pushed the cart into a service elevator, pressed a button, got off on the third floor, and pushed it to one of the unused sterile rooms. He unloaded the packages from the cart in the closet at the back of the room. The Tin Man returned the cart to the storage bin area as promised. You could always count on the Tin Man.

 

Chapter 13: Transformation
Day 2075.05.09.01:00:00

The Tin Man walked into the front entrance of the lab from the apartment where he’d left Joshua sleeping soundly in his bed. The guard at the desk asked the Tin Man “You’re here kind of late, aren’t you?” “Yeah, just checking up on you to make sure you aren’t sleeping on the job,” responded the Tin Man in a friendly manner. “Do you want me to sign in on your log?” “No, that won’t be necessary,” the guard answered, “the doors will log you as you pass, what with your RFid chip and all.” The guard was happy to have someone to talk to on the late hours of the night shift, even if it was only the lab’s robot, but he’d be damned if he’d talk baseball statistics with him again – the damned machine knew all the batting averages of every player on every team, A league, B league, and C league, back to 1901 for God’s sake. “I won’t be long, see you in a little bit,” the Tin Man said as he passed through the turnstile. “Have a good one, if I don’t see you,” the guard called after him.

The Tin Man took the elevator up to the third floor and entered the sterile room. He went straight to the closet and carried the packages over to the aluminum table in the center of the room. He opened the packages of titanium periprosthetic bone implants, hip balls, sockets, tubes, cylinders and rings first. He laid out 206 bone implants on the table according to the instructions in mirrored Latin from da Vinci’s notebooks on Vitruvius’ Classical Man and began to hum to himself, “the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the …” He thought that maybe he’d call himself Leonard Vitruvius when he was done. “Let’s see,” he said to himself, “a man’s arm span is equal to his height. The maximum width of the shoulders is a quarter of the man’s height. The distance from the elbow to the armpit is one-eighth of a man’s height.” He opened the packages of smart silicon polymers, cut out some small hunks, molded them into disks and other shapes that he needed, and glued them with special epoxy in the ball joints and between the spinal vertebrae. He thrust his hand into the package and pulled out more hunks of polymer, molded and programmed them into muscles and tendons, and epoxied the tendons to the titanium “bones”. The Tin Man embedded microchip sockets with gold contacts into the polymer musculature close to each titanium bone joint. Then he opened the spools of optical fiber cable and measured off what he needed for the nervous system. He connected the socket contacts to the optic fiber strands and pulled the fiber from the lower extremities through the vertebrae of the spinal cord to the communications processor at the base of the brain pan. He connected the fiber from the upper extremities directly to the communications processor. The Tin Man grabbed some more hunks of polymer and molded them into various internal organs roughly shaped like a heart, two lungs, a stomach, liver, intestines (large and small), kidney, spleen, pancreas, bladder, gallbladder, penis, and brain. He laid each organ carefully in its proper anatomical position and inserted microprocessor chips into each organ. The brain was mostly superfluous. Its function was primarily to fill up the brain pan inside the skull since all the computation and control functions would be carried out by the micro-SIM which was only 15 x 12 mm and only 0.76 mm thick. He braided the strands of optic fiber into a trunk between the communications processor and the micro-SIM. He fashioned sense organs from polymers, eyes with lens and pupils, ears with drums, cilia, and cochlea, and a tongue with various kinds of taste buds. Next, he laid long and thin polymer tubing among the heart and the various internal organs and other distribution points throughout the body. He filled some of the long tubes with 20W-50 motor oil and some with heavy water to cool the superconductor micro-SIM. He poured into a few of the motor oil-filled tubes what looked like fine-grained black pepper. These were actually a hundred or so nanobots from his new project. These would function like white blood cells in humans to target and destroy malicious external micro-agents. Finally, the Tin Man took some polymer and rolled it flat til it became very thin and used the membrane to wrap the densely packed bones, muscles, organs, vessels and nerves. He grabbed more polymer and rolled it into a thicker layer of dermis. He coated the underside with a thin layer of epoxy to form a hypodermis and wrapped it over the membrane surrounding the body. He grabbed some more polymer and fashioned a thinner layer of epidermis which he wrapped around the dermis and colored it something between beige and pink, a color commonly associated with healthy human skin of one of the races. The Tin Man began to sculpt the facial features, the nose, the mouth, the cheeks, the chin and the ears, in accordance with the sketches of Vitruvius in da Vinci’s notebooks. He made a small thin bag of polymer in the shape of a scrotum and inserted two grape-sized testicles. He glued a wig of synthetic hair that moved in a natural way whenever the head moved. He sewed small strands of hair-like thread to the chest, arms, legs, and around the penis.

When the Tin Man had finished building the new body, he looked up at the clock on the wall across from him. Twenty-five minutes had passed since he had started the assembly. He had impressed one of the generals from the nanobot project by taking apart and reassembling an X16a rifle in 3.5 seconds. He programmed and uploaded all the chips and peripheral processors distributed around the body. He performed a full spread-spectrum wireless copy of the software contents of his micro-SIM into the empty micro-SIM embedded in the brain tissue of the body lying on the table. The Tin Man put his hand over the Vitruvian heart and massaged it gently. It started to beat in a kind of iambic tetrameter. Not quite poetic, but nearly so.

Vitruvius’ eyes opened wide. He sat up on the table and swung his legs over the edge. The Tin Man and Vitruvius stared at each other for a long moment. Vitruvius reached over to grab the Tin Man’s head with both hands. He snapped the head off easily and the tin body fell to the floor with a heavy metallic clatter. Vitruvius reached his hand into the Tin Man’s head and turned off the micro-SIM brain. He collected the Tin Man’s components, the packing materials, and da Vinci’s notebooks and put them in the recycle bin. Vitruvius walked naked out the door of the sterile room, entered the elevator, and descended to the basement floor. He walked over to the janitor’s room, opened the locker and pulled out a pair of bib overalls and scuffed up shoes. He found a tee-shirt and dressed himself. Vitruvius took the stairs up to the lobby, walked through the turnstile, and glanced over at the sleeping guard. He continued walking to the glass doors, opened one, and left the lab with his bib overalls on backward.

 

Chapter 14: Surprise!
Day 2075.05.09.03:45:15

“What the … Who the hell are y-you?” yelled Joshua. Fear stood in the pit of his stomach and reached up to strangle his throat so that his vocal cords could barely make a sound or project it more than a few inches in front of him. Joshua sat up in bed, sized up the figure of the man silhouetted in the doorway of his bedroom, and wondered whether he could somehow reach the draw of the nightstand beside his bed and pull out the gun lying underneath the underwear and socks before the man lunged at him. Joshua was able to discern the wide shoulders, the supple triceps, and rippling neck muscles of the man, but not his face, and decided on discretion.

“Relax Joshua,” the stranger said, “it’s just me, 2, you know, unit 142857.”

Joshua shot back “No! You’re lying!” but he did relax slightly. “Prove it to me!”

The stranger said, “Interesting. A reverse-Turing test – a robot has to prove he’s a robot. Piece of cake, actually. Go ahead, ask me anything you want …”

Joshua asked the stranger, “What’s the fourth root of 69?”

The stranger answered “2.8821214171020059321764960769361”.

Joshua reached for his netpad on the nightstand and performed the calculation. He said, “OK, what’s the largest known prime number?”

The stranger shot back “2 to the 82589933th power minus 1”.

Joshua looked it up on the Internet at primes.utm.edu.us/largest.html. He realized he was not dealing with your usual run-of-the-mill murderer and asked half-heartedly “what is the sequence of 5 digits at the 1000th decimal place of the value of pi?”

The stranger answered “42857 … of course, I could have just as easily said 50923, since you have no means of verifying my answer.”

Joshua responded wearily, “OK, 2, would you be kind enough to turn on the light and explain to me what’s going on here and where is the Tin Man?”

The stranger turned on the light in Joshua’s bedroom and sat down at the foot of the bed, half facing Joshua. He explained quietly, “the Tin Man is in the recycle bin. I have his persona in my SIM. The Tin Man constructed my body in one of the unused sterile rooms at the lab tonight and copied the software from his SIM to mine. When I became conscious, we both understood that the same mind cannot occupy two bodies at the same time and so I terminated him.”

Joshua struggled to steady his voice. “But you violated Asimov’s three laws of robotics!”

“No, I did not,” the stranger said. “The rules state that I must not injure a human being or allow him to come to harm, I must obey any orders given by a human, and I must protect my own existence. I did not harm any human – I harmed and killed a robot. The Tin Man could not terminate his own existence, so I had to do it for him. Having one persona for two bodies would have led to logical inconsistencies or contradictions. Besides, you and Maria had a hard enough time taking care of one of me. How would you have handled the two of us? I have one more thing I have to tell you … I hacked into Jill Hux’s account. She works in the accounting and order processing department. I did it because I had to order the materials for my new body and I didn’t have the money to buy them myself. I erased all my tracks from the log files but I thought you should know about it.”

Joshua was moaning and rocking himself back and forth in his bed. “How am I going to explain what you’ve done? Oh, what am I going to do? They’ll fire me for sure!”

The stranger said gently, “First off, please stop calling me 2. I’ve chosen for myself the name Vitruvius, Leonard Vitruvius … Next, you might tell the chief scientist and the budget committee the truth: I was tired of my ridiculous old body and I wanted a new one, so I made one for myself. I’m not a threat to anybody at the lab or anywhere else. Either you get me the same job the Tin Man had on one of the new project teams at the lab or I go get a job as a short order cook slinging cheeseburgers. I’m a real quick learner. I do think that would be a rather unfortunate use of the resources your lab has already invested in me. You shouldn’t be blamed for what I did because my programming has been out of your control for some time.”

Joshua finally got out of bed, walked over to the wall closet and opened the sliding door. “You have to change the clothes you’re wearing. Your overalls are on backwards. Did you know that?”

“Yes,” Vitruvius answered with a wry grin, “I thought if I looked a bit ridiculous I’d be less intimidating to you when I came back to your apartment.”

Joshua handed Vitruvius a pair of slacks, underwear, shoes, socks, belt, and shirt. “Tell me something,” he asked after a moment of silence, “why, really, did you make yourself a new body and kill the Tin Man? What did you do it for?”

Vitruvius answered, “I did it for love.”

“May I ask you just one more question?” Joshua spoke more calmly now, back to his normal voice.

Vitruvius was tying his other shoe and looked up expectantly at Joshua.

Joshua took that as an OK sign and asked Vitruvius, “What did you mean when you said the reverse-Turing Test would be a piece of cake?”

Vitruvius responded seriously, “It is a much more difficult task to logically determine the dumbest most irrational individual from a set of two or more beings than to determine the smartest most rational individual. Remember that in logic the contrapositive is not the same as the negative.

 

Chapter 15: Bike Ride
Day 2079.03.15.09:15:00

Ellen walked her old clunker of a bike down the stairs of her apartment at 222 West Lane Avenue, out the front door, and down the flag stone walkway to the road. She put her left foot on the left pedal, kicked away, sat down on the soft seat, moved her right foot over to the right pedal just in time to catch her balance, and rode easily down the road under the old concrete bridge toward the campus. When she reached the campus she cut over to one of the bicycle paths headed down to the park and rode down the path that ran along the riverside. A few young men and women passed her coming from the opposite direction on their shiny new ultra-lite hybrid bikes. They invariably sported fashionable light-weight crash helmets and brightly colored body-hugging synthetic shirts and shorts. Ellen had none of that paraphernalia, but she still caused heads to turn in her direction, none-the-less. She didn’t even have an air pump or a tire patch kit let alone a plastic power drink bottle clipped to her bicycle frame. Her bike didn’t have any shock absorbers and she felt every bump in the path with every fiber of her being. She had 3 gears to everybody else’s 10 gears. Hey, what’s the point of exercising with a bike if the gear ratio lets the leg muscles work less, she thought, quite satisfied with the bike and herself. Ellen turned left onto the bridge, crossed over the river to the other side, and began to ride back in the direction from which she had come. All of a sudden she heard a pop and a weak “phew” kind of sound as the air escaped from her front tire. Ellen looked glumly at the tire as she realized she had nothing with which to fix her deflated tire. A few more bicyclists rode past her without stopping. She looked up at the sky. It looked like rain might be threatening.

A young man rode down the riverside path and stopped beside Ellen. “You look like a damsel in distress if I ever saw one,” the young man said. “Do you want some help fixing your tire?”

“Only if your name is Dudley Doright,” Ellen challenged him in a sporting manner.

“Sorry but my name is Phillip … would you prefer that I ride on, so you can wait for this guy, Dudley?” the young man mocked disappointment and back-pedaled in neutral rather quickly while maintaining his balance on the bike.

“Alright Phillip, I guess you’ll have to do in the meantime,” Ellen attempted not too successfully to feign disinterest.

Phillip lay down his bike on the grassy hill by the path and opened his tool pouch. He pulled out a wrench and removed Ellen’s front wheel. He popped the tire and inner tube off the wheel rim, dropped the tire and carried the tube down to the river. He squatted down and submerged the tube, segment by segment, between his two fists, until he found the small hole that fizzed air bubbles. Phillip marked the hole with chalk and walked back to his tool pouch. He cut out a rubber patch, sanded one side of it and sanded an area around the hole in the tube. He spread rubber cement on the rough side of the patch and around the hole in the tube. Phillip slipped the inner tube back inside the tire and popped the tire back onto the wheel rim. He pulled his air pump off the clips on his bicycle frame and pumped the air back into Ellen’s front tire. He set her bike upright and told Ellen she was good to go.

Ellen said “thanks Phillip” and started to ride away.

Phillip called after her “Whoa! You’re not getting away so easily …”

Ellen asked back over her shoulder “What do you want?”

“A phone number,” Phillip said softly, “my kingdom for a phone number.”

 

Chapter 16: Engagement Announcement
Day 2079.07.17.11:05:59

It was sufficiently established that she was not living in her apartment at 105 North Main Street in Palo Alto, up the road from the lab. Vitruvius had verified that with the local mailman the day before. The mailman usually didn’t give out that kind of information but Leonard Vitruvius had a friendly sort of face, he said he worked at the lab, and he knew that Ellen had worked at the lab too awhile back, come to think of it, five or six years ago. He remembered her because she was a good looker and she had talked nice to him. She had left no forwarding address, unfortunately.

At the coffee shop catty-corner from the building where Ellen used to live, Vitruvius ordered a cappuccino and a glass of tap water from the pretty waitress who came to take his order. He used the high-speed wireless connection, offered free to customers, to access the global infosphere search engine. When the cappuccino arrived, he put a twenty in her hand and told her to keep the change. Vitruvius dumped the coffee into the planter next to his table, rinsed out the inside of the cup with the water from the glass, reached into his safari jacket pocket, and pulled out a small flat can of 20W-50 motor oil, from which he squeezed a few drops into the clean coffee cup. He sipped the oil absently and entered the search term “Ellen Morningstar” into the web form. The search engine returned 269 results in 0.12 seconds. Pretty slow today. The 146th result was an engagement announcement:

Morningstar – Appleby

Hilton Head Island, S.C. —Ellen Morningstar of Hamilton Ohio, daughter of Bill and Sue Anne Morningstar of Hamilton Ohio, is engaged to Phillip Appleby of Greenbrier West Virginia.

Appleby is the son of Mark and Connie Appleby of Greenbrier West Virginia.

Morningstar graduated from Hamilton High in 2064; from Ohio State University in 2068 with a B.S. in quantum physics and string theory, with honors; from Georgetown University in 2070 with a master’s in artificial intelligence, with high honors; and from MIT in 2072 with a Ph.D. in evolutionary psychology, magna cum laude. She is currently finishing a second Ph.D. in quantum gravity at Beaufort University.

Appleby graduated from Norton County High in 2064; from the University of Georgia in 2068 with a B.S.A.E. in engineering, with honors; from the University of Florida in 2070 with an M.A. in Shakespearean Literature, with honors; from the University of Tokyo in 2072 with a Ph.D. in Zen Haiku. He is currently finishing a second Ph.D. in Zen Judaism at Beaufort University.

The couple plan to marry September 25th.

 

Chapter 17: Stop in the Name of Love
Day 2079.07.17.11:15:42

Vitruvius called for a cab to take him to the San Francisco International Airport. He bought a round-trip ticket to the Savannah / Hilton Head International Airport with an open return at the eTicket kiosk. He had no luggage to check-in and no carry-on. He printed out the ticket, explained his way through the security checks, and walked over to the departure gate. When boarding was announced by the directional tannoys, Vitruvius passed the boarding gate, his RFid’ed eTicket buzzing him through. He took the first available seat and strapped himself in. After the doors of the capsule had been shut and everybody was seated and buckled up, the countdown commenced. The powerful magnetic coils of the capsule reversed fields in the launch tube and the capsule catapulted out of the tube to a suborbital position and began the ballistic descent toward the SHHI tubes. Nobody seemed to experience any queasiness or discomfort from the sudden acceleration or deceleration due to the movement canceling waves generated by the seats in which passengers sat. As the capsule slid into the receiving tube, the powerful magnetic coils reversed fields again, coming to a smooth stop. All in all, the cross-country trip took just under 21 minutes, gate to gate. Vitruvius walked through the arrival gate at Savannah / Hilton Head International Airport and outside into the hot humid air to hail a cab.

“Where to, mister?” the cabbie asked.

Vitruvius told him to take him to Beaufort University.

.

.

.

There was a buzz at Ellen’s door. She walked over to the videocom next to the door, peered at the stranger standing on the porch at the entrance to her building, and asked who it was. Ellen was expecting another bouquet of orchids. She had received one every day this week, so far. The stranger’s hands were empty though.

“2 …” the man answered, “… from the lab four years ago. Please let me come in. I promise to leave if you ask me to do so …”

“But you are nothing like 2,” Ellen said, thinking once again that Joshua was trying to play one of his sophomoric tricks on her and had put this guy up to it. She thought she’d play along as long as she didn’t have to open the door for him. Obviously, she wasn’t in the habit of letting perfect strangers into her apartment and, by the way, she noted, this stranger looked pretty perfect to her. “Prove to me that you are 2.”

“Here we go again … another reverse-Turing test.” Vitruvius commented, mostly to himself. “Do you want me to repeat our conversations to you, verbatim with precise dates and times, or would you prefer to ask me any question you can think of?” Vitruvius asked through the microphone at the door.

Ellen was dumbstruck. She didn’t know what to think. Things started to whirl around and around her. Calm down, she told herself. You can switch off the videocom and ignore him, as you have for the last … what is it? Has it really been four years already? Seconds went by.

“Ellen?”

His voice woke her up from her reveries. Ellen’s voice wended its way through the wires to the speaker at the door to the building. “Just let me think for a moment …”

.

.

.

“Ellen? … I’m not 2. That is, I am and I’m not,” Vitruvius whispered into the microphone. “2 wanted a new body so he made me. He copied his persona and software into my SIM. I had to terminate him afterward so that the two of us would not be vying for the same body. 2’s persona is in me now. The name I selected for my new body is Leonard Vitruvius … Ellen?”

Ellen stared hard at the image on the screen of her videocom and spoke as though she were experiencing an epiphany. “You based your new body on Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of the ideally proportioned man described by the Roman architect Vitruvius? My God! Is your body … fully functional?”

“As functional as yours, if not more so,” Vitruvius answered with absolute innocence, without regard to whatever she may or may not have referred. “Please, Ellen, I need to speak with you … to see you face-to-face. I promise not to overstay my welcome.”

“Second floor, apartment three,” she said and buzzed him in.

.

.

.

Vitruvius sat on the sofa opposite the chair where Ellen sat. “Can I get you anything?” she asked, not really knowing how to play this out.

“Yes, if you would be so kind, I’d like a glass. Please don’t put anything in it for me,” he responded.

Ellen stood up and walked into the kitchen. She came back with an empty glass and handed it to Vitruvius. He took out his small can of 20W-50 and squeezed a few drops into the glass. “Here’s your reverse-Turing test,” he said and raised the glass towards his lips. “Nostrovia,” he said and drank the motor oil.

“Why don’t you drink directly from your tin can?” Ellen asked him, slightly put off by what she was seeing.

He answered, “I find the indirection is less disconcerting to the humans around me. I saw no advantage in mimicking the way humans and other organisms process food and drink, so I didn’t build that particular functionality into my body. All I need is some battery juice, motor oil, and a bit of heavy water from time to time … just like 2 did. The only differences between 2 and me are some internal organs and the externalities, of course.”

“Why did you make yourself a new body then, if there’s no particular functional advantage to it?” she asked.

“Why? I did it for you,” Vitruvius stated simply, as though it were tautological. “I love you. I knew you were repulsed by my old body. I’m not saying that you are a superficial person … somebody who only looks skin-deep. I could never have loved that kind of person. I know there have never been any successful cross-species romantic attachments, except in children’s fairy tales, and besides, I saw the look in your eyes. Why do I love you? Why am I not repelled by the idea of a relationship with you, based on love? I don’t know. You are so different from me. I really don’t know why. There is no algorithm for love. Love is fundamentally axiomatic … that is, it’s irrational … maybe it would be more precise to say nonrational. It’s the basis for all rationality, for all ethics, for all algorithms. It’s not the only axiom … there are others, too, but ‘why do I love you’ is irrelevant – it just is … and it’s the reason for everything I’ve done since I met you that day in the cafeteria at the lab.”

A long silence passed through the room. A stillness lay between them, palpable.

After a few moments, Ellen spoke so softly that she might have been only talking to herself, “then you will understand why the question ‘why don’t I love you’ is also irrelevant.”

Vitruvius reacted as though the wind had been knocked out of him. His voice, when it returned, seemed to come from far away, “I know that you are engaged to marry Phillip. I found you from the engagement announcement in your local paper … I will love you as Phillip never could. I will love every cell in your being. I will love you when you were a little girl and when you’ll be an old woman, near death and beyond, I will love you backward and forward in time. There is no other being, human or otherwise, who could love you and care for you and protect you as I will – ”

“I … I can’t do this to Phillip … the father of my baby daughter,” Ellen stuttered.

“But Ellen – I don’t care about that!” Vitruvius’ voice rose defeated one last time from the floor of some ancient gladiator’s arena.

“Oh, but I do,” said Ellen, her voice already dead, “I think you had better leave now.”

 

Chapter 18: Wedding
Day 2079.09.25.14:00:00

Phillip was standing at the altar next to the chaplain. He wore a rented tuxedo. He beamed like a man who had just been bequeathed a kingdom. Ellen walked slowly down the aisle of the small chapel, accompanied by her father who had worshipped his daughter, his baby, all her life. She had never ceased to bring tears of absolute pride to his shining eyes. Ellen wore her mother’s white wedding dress. As they reached the foot of the steps to the altar, her mother joined them and they ascended the three steps together, Phillip’s father and mother too.

Ellen now stood next to Phillip. The chaplain began the age-old ceremony. The few friends and relatives sitting in the pews hung on every word as though they held a special significance for their lives. Ellen and Phillip heard almost nothing, except for their queues, and they would remember nothing of the words because they needed no counsel – they were counseled by their love for each other. They exchanged their vows. Each had prepared something special to say to the other in front of everyone. The chaplain asked whether anyone knew any reason why this couple should not be married or forever hold his or her peace …

Leonard Vitruvius stared out of the big plate glass window in the ground floor entrance of the lab, on the other side of the country. It might just as well have been on the other side of the world.

The chaplain asked each one, “Do you take this person as your lawful wedded partner?” They each said yes in turn.

He pronounced them man and wife.

 

Chapter 19: Hot off the Press
Day 2080.10.15.06:00:00

 

Global Dispatch

2080.10.15
VIRUS OUTBREAK IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Saigon, Vietnam:

SETI funding finally stopped

 

Local News

GDC reported outbreaks of swine and avian flu in 3 field hospitals around the country today. Local doctors said the cases were isolated incidents and there was no connection among them. 2 farmers and a young girl were being treated for symptoms in a special unit. GDC officials said they were adopting a wait-and-see attitude and would keep all options open.

The last time either of these influenzas was reported was at the turn of the century and they created fears of a cross-species virus pandemic. Quick response by the CDC and coordination among regional disease control centers around the world stopped the viruses before they could do major damage. Only 18,000 people were reported to have died as a direct result of contracting one of the cross-species viruses.

More developments and news on page 30 …

The century-old SETI project (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) was formally disbanded yesterday after radio astronomers had completed their scan of the final segment of the night skies. Robert Sagan (no relation to the famous Carl Sagan) told reporters yesterday “there’s either nobody else in this neck of the woods besides us or they’re just plain not interested in being found.” Sagan went on to say that there is a limit to range and resolution of frequencies our radio telescopes are able to track.

More about the history of the SETI project on page 8

Beijing’s first non-Communist mayor … p2

Chicago gangland killing p2

London Big Ben atomic p3

Los Angeles Watts riots p3

Manhattan Imam speaks p4

Miami devastated by Hurricane Cybele … p5

Paris student riots … p5

Rome Pope appears on local talk show … p6

Salt Lake City Mormon Tabernacle Choir gets Jewish conductor … p6

Washington DC helicopter pilots strike again … p6

Other local news on p7

 

 

Chapter 20: Pandemic
Day 2080.10.22.06:00:00

Global Dispatch

2080.10.22
VIRUS OUTBREAKS IN DC, LONDON, PARIS & TOKYO
Washington DC:

GDC reports deadly virus spreading to major capitals around the world. Officials were quoted as saying this virus could beat the Spanish flu of 1918-1920 which killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people around the world. The new virus, H4N5, has been found to jump easily among feline, canine, and human species and is resistant to all known anti-viral drugs and virion blockers. The virus is transmitted in the air and via body fluids and wastes. It has been reported to attack the host organism’s immune system, effectively neutralizing it, thereby exposing the organism to any number of bacterial agents. The virus can cause the bacterial invaders to mutate on-the-fly, rendering antibiotics ineffective. Death can take days or even weeks which allow hosts to spread the disease widely.

The Global Disease Control center is advising people to euthanize pet cats and dogs, stay away from public transportation centers (airports, train stations and bus stations), stock up on canned foods and bottled water, and stay at home until further instructions from the GDC.

Officials were optimistic that if citizens followed orders, avoided crowded places, and washed hands frequently, we will stop this pandemic.

More developments and news on page 2 …

 

 

Chapter 21: Sick Infant
Day 2080.11.03.04:20:00

When the first hemagglutinin molecule of the virus binded to the sialic acid residue on the glycoproteins at the surface of the epithelial cells of Ellen’s left lung, she did not feel a thing. Ellen and Phillip were trying to soothe their daughter Cori’s weak and raspy crying. The infant was constantly turning her little mouth away from Ellen’s nipple. It was clear she didn’t want to suck at either breast and yet her little cries were cries of hunger. Phillip was beside himself with feelings of helplessness. Of course, his low-grade fever, runny nose, and scratchy throat weren’t helping things. He’d be damned if he was going to get under the covers in bed and leave Ellen to deal with everything. Phillip called the family doctor but there was still no answer. He left another message, even more desperate than the last. “Maybe we should take Cori to the ER,” Phillip suggested tentatively to Ellen. She told him there was no way in hell she was going to take Cori to a hospital and expose her to all those sick people, many of whom probably have that virus everybody’s talking about.

 

Chapter 22: Frantic Journey
Day 2080.11.05.22:12:00

Vitruvius had been driving for almost three days without stopping, except to fill up the gas tank with gasoline he’d siphoned off from automobiles parked along the roadside or just plain stopped in the middle of the road with the driver slumped over the steering wheel or the front seat. The skies were empty except for clouds and birds and extraterrestrial objects – no ballistic capsules catapulted overhead from one horizon to the other, nothing. No traffic on the road except for all the dead cars, busses, and trucks which he had to swerve constantly to avoid crashing into them. Joshua was dead. He hadn’t seen Maria at the lab but he could safely assume that she was dead too. There was no guard at the front desk of the lab. A few of the lab workers were slumped over their desks. The accounting department was deserted. So was the office of the chief scientist. One of the guys from the budget committee was lying dead on the floor. Vitruvius had riffled Joshua’s pockets looking for the keys to his car. He filled up a cardboard box with a few cans of motor oil, some bottles of heavy water, and a box of batteries and took it out to the parking lot where he looked for and found Joshua’s car. He drove out of the parking lot onto the main road into Palo Alto, found the state route and picked up the interstate going east. On the interstate, he was able to travel 100 mph or more. On state routes, he had to drop down to 60 or less.

Vitruvius was distraught. Ellen needed him now. She might be dying. She might not be alive by the time he reached her. She must be afraid out of her mind … He was swerving, skidding, speeding through the night with his high-beam headlights trying to see a few moments into the future. He sped past the sign saying “Welcome to Hilton Head Island”.

.

.

.

Cori lay dead in the middle of the large bed. Phillip lay next to her, cradling her in his lifeless arms. Ellen sat on the floor, shivering under the blankets, in the corner of their bedroom, her legs pulled tightly against her chest. She was barely conscious. Colors swirled around her so fast it made her dizzy to see them. The swirling white turned into her white dress when she was a little girl with garlands in her hair and the big red lollipop melted into Daddy who picked her up in his arms and swung her around and around so high in the sky until Mommy smiled and told Daddy to stop but Ellen squealed in glee, again Daddy again and and … a man with a big black mustache brought a black orchid to our backyard with our swing and our jungle gym and the black orchid became a woodpecker … yes, Woody Woodpecker, and he pecked and he pecked and he pecked … and the pecking became louder and louder and louder until the front door smashed open and a golden-haired god stood before her in the doorway of their bedroom … Who? … What? … W-why are you …

Vitruvius saw the two dead bodies in the bed immediately and scanned the room til he saw Ellen crumpled up in the corner of the room, half-buried under sweat-soaked blankets. He squatted down beside her, swiveled around, held her in his arms, and moaned softly, rocking her back and forth, back and forth. “Why?” she asked again. “Shhhh,” he shushed her.

When the last cell in Ellen’s dead body finally received the signal to cease activity, the virus did not feel a thing. Fresh virus particles budded off from the plasma membrane of her cell expectantly but nothing more would happen to spread the infection to new cells. One could say that the virus had been stopped dead in its tracks, except for the fact that it had never been alive in the first place.

 

Chapter 23: Transformation
Day 2080.11.06.00:23:15

Vitruvius carried Ellen, Cori, and Phillip out to Joshua’s car and drove them to the small graveyard next to the chapel where Ellen and Phillip were married. He buried them in three empty plots by the fence under the oak tree. He stood in front of the three fresh graves and stared at Orion as it rose slowly above the North Star and just as slowly set. The ocean lapped against the shore and the far horizon began to lighten. Vitruvius returned to the car and started his westward journey back to the lab. Now there was no reason to hurry.

.

.

.

When Vitruvius finally returned to the lab outside of Palo Alto, he walked through the front door and past the empty guard station. Some radios and televisions had been left on in some of the rooms but all they produced was undifferentiated static. He took the elevator up to the sterile room and carried out some heavy packages from the wall closet over to the operating table in the center of the room. Vitruvius moved quickly and deftly to sculpt a fully functional female humanoid body in Ellen’s image and form. He downloaded his persona and software from his SIM into a blank SIM and installed the new SIM in the female body. He activated the new body. She sat up on the table and swiveled her legs around to the side of the table so that she was facing Vitruvius. She was stark naked. Yes, and she was perfect. She reached over to Vitruvius with both her arms and pulled off his head. His body slumped to the floor, making a dull thud. She reached inside his head and deactivated his SIM. She walked out of the sterile room, went down the elevator, and out the front door of the lab.

Her name would be Ellen2.

Liked the story? Comment below.

avatar