Stories

Archives

About Me

(Me)chine

02/08/09

 

(Me)chine

                Hugh woke before his morning alarm; like he did every morning.  His eyes wandered in the darkness of his bedroom.  They focused in on the sliver of light that cleaved its way between the thick curtains covering the window.  Hugh sat up in bed, hanging his legs off the edge of the mattress.  He was careful not to wake his wife who lay sleeping beside him.  He sighed deeply as he tried to remember the dream that he had just awakened from.  This was a morning ritual. 

                Hugh walked to the window and parted the curtain gently; making sure that the light from the waning moon stayed off his wife’s face.  He stared out the second-story window at the rows of tract houses that made up his suburban neighborhood.  His eyes slowly rose to the heavens as he focused on himself; trying to bring his subconscious wanderings to the surface. 

                The dream was always the same.  He was on the edge of a lone platform that was barely big enough for him to stand.  He was surrounded on all sides by large gears and cogs that were constantly turning and spinning.  He could hear the repetitive ticking of seconds generated by the mechanics around him.  All he could do was stare as the gears changed from stone to metal.  Slowly he began to rise, floating through and above the continual madness that imprisoned him.  Floating.  Higher.  Ever higher.  His view changed.  He could see where he was.  Where he had been.  Where he was going.  It was all becoming so clear.  And as always, it was then that he woke up. 

                Hugh hummed as he showered.  Not a tune like one would expect.  It wasn’t his favorite song or a television jingle that he just couldn’t get out of his head.  No.  Just a solid, steady hum.  Hugh found himself humming the single note quite a bit.  To be honest, he quite enjoyed it.  It was soothing and helped him relax. 

                Hugh examined himself in the mirror as he dried off.  He had a decent physique for a man in his late thirties that didn’t exercise.  Not too fat, not too thin.  About average.  He looked in the mirror and frowned.  About average.  That seemed to describe his life perfectly.  Average wife.  Average kids.  Average house.  Average car.  Average job.  He couldn’t complain; and that was the problem.  He remembered an old saying: There is no light without darkness.  Once, just once, he wished something would happen.  Something to remind him just how good he had it.  Nothing too out of the ordinary, but just enough. 

                “Bye, Honey.  I’ll be working a little late tonight so don’t hold dinner.”  Sheila barely stirred at her husband’s words.  Hugh pulled the covers up around her, and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  He checked in on his children as he made his way down the hall.  Terry was sound asleep, fighting the monsters that he had watched on tv before going to bed.  As he watched his eight year old son toss and turn in his sleep, Hugh realized just how he had remained in such decent shape.  Keeping up with the energetic second grader was no small feat.  Gwendolyn feigned sleep in the bed across from Terry’s.  She always woke up early to watch her father leave for work.  Though only a year older she was far smarter than Hugh thought she should be. 

                 Hugh grabbed the video rentals off the reminder table at the front door and headed off.  He locked the front door behind himself and started for the car. 

                “Hey!  Mr. Beijing!” Ralph rode by at a hurried pace, tossing the morning paper in Hugh’s general direction.  Hugh clutched the paper as it hit him in the chest, almost making him drop the videos and his briefcase. 

                “How many times do I have to tell you, Ralph!  That’s ‘Being’!  The j is silent!”  Hugh smiled and shook his head.  Ralph was running late this morning.  It was like this at least one day a week.  On the other days, Ralph would stop and yak about one thing or another, mostly spreading early morning gossip that was unbefitting a boy his age. 

                “Okay, okay!” called Ralph as he sped off down the street, hurling papers with little or no accuracy.  “I’ll remember next time, Mr. Beijing!” 

                Hugh checked his watch.  He only had twenty minutes to get to work.  Just enough time to get a donut or two and a cup of coffee before tackling the new DigiCon project and finish before tomorrow’s deadline.  The videos would have to wait till his lunch break.

                “Well?”  Hugh spun the DigiCon project model on its rotating base.  The 15 million dollar architectural design and 75 million dollar construction project was the most important of Hugh’s career.  He and his team had spent the past 7 months just designing the new plant, and even then they were only halfway done. 

                Digital Concepts practically created Alphaville.  Originally a small town comprised of the plant alone, it grew at an exponential rate.  Houses were built for the commuting workers, eventually attracting more and more businesses.  In less than five years Alphaville was a thriving metropolis, rivaling New York and Los Angeles.  Over half of the businesses were constructed with money loaned from the First Bank of Alphaville, which was owned and operated by DigiCon.  Nicknamed Perfectville by those outside its borders, it was indeed a great place to live. 

                “Well?” Hugh repeated his question with a more assertive tone.  His five man team stared at the spinning model which, incidentally, looked the same from all sides.  An all encompassing tinted dome that hid several smaller buildings within. 

                “What do you want us to say?”  Kyle stopped the model from spinning and lifted the dome from off its base. 

                “Carl’s got a point.” said Darlene, in between repeated puffs on her cigarette.  “We all helped to design this.  If we didn’t like it, then it wouldn’t have gotten this far.  The question is: Will they like it?” 

                “They better!” interjected Wade. 

                Hugh rapped the desk with his pen, trying to reestablish order among the team of designers. 

                “What I meant was, is this what we want to present to the DigiCon people tomorrow?”  The members of the team chattered amongst themselves for half a minute before deciding that each felt confident with what they created. 

                “Okay then, let’s go to lunch.  When we get back, we’ll start working on the pitch.”

                “Hugh.  Hubert.  Mr. Beijing!”

                Hugh stopped in front of the elevators.  He turned at the sound of his name bellowing down the glass and marble hallway. 

                Hugh’s secretary Melissa chased after him.  She carried the previous night’s video rentals in her left hand.  She stopped a few feet away from him, and bent over to rest and catch her breath.  She extended the two boxed discs out for him.

                “You…” she huffed.  “You forgot…  to take these.”  She looked up at Hugh, her face flushed and tongue extended like a panting dog.  Hugh grinned and suppressed a chuckle.  Melissa was an incredibly capable and loyal assistant.  Who else would run down a hall in stocking feet just to prevent two movies from being overdue. 

                “Thank you, Melissa.”

                The petite young secretary straightened up, and braced herself against the wall. 

                “Not a problem.” 

                “Aren’t you going to lunch?”

                “I brought something in.” 

                “Okay.  Well, I better get going I’m going to drop off these movies and grab a bite.  See you in about an hour.”

                Hugh rode the elevator in peace.  He started humming his solitary note, losing himself in weightless gravity of the express elevator.  He looked down at the movies in his hand.  Blade Runner and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  He found himself on a bit of a sci-fi kick.  The day before it had been John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing, and two days before that he had stayed up till three thirty in the morning watching Total Recall

                The elevator stopped on the ground floor.  Hugh exited quickly.  He glanced down at his watch as he hurried across the lobby and slipped out the main entrance.  The video store was only two blocks away, and directly across from Romero’s where he had planned on eating, but that wasn’t the problem.  Romero’s was very popular around lunch time.  Eating there for lunch had made him late several times before, and he had too much work to do to come sneaking back into the office stuffed and late.  If nothing else, he would just get something small to go and eat it back at the office. 

                Hugh saw the line outside Romero’s as he rounded the corner.  Packed as usual.  He glanced down at the movies in his hand.  Maybe he would think of something else between now and the video store.  Hugh continued to stare at the long line outside the restaurant even as he entered the video store.  He was really in the mood for a bowl of their famous clam chowder.  So much so, that he was still thinking about the creamy soup as he approached the outside drop box. 

                “Mr. Beijing?”  Hugh froze in his tracks and stared at the three men that seemed to appear from nowhere.  They wore dark blue jumpsuits, combat boots, black leather gloves, and dark shades.  Hugh scanned their outfits for an insignia or any sign of identification.  There was none.  The one in the middle spoke again. 

                “Mr. Beijing.  We’d like for you to come with us.”  The mystery man pulled out a small card and held it up for Hugh to see.  The card had a reflective face that beamed a ray of light directly into Hugh’s eyes. 

                Hugh squinted against the light and lifted his hand to shield his eyes.  “Who are you people?  What do you want?” 

                The three men looked at each other with a confusion that was evident even to Hugh. 

                “What’s goin’ on, Leon?”  asked the one on the right. 

                “I don’t know, Glenn.  Carl, give me your card.”  One other man fished the reflective card out of his pocket and handed it to Leon.  Leon held the second card up like he had the first.  “Mr. Beijing…” 

                “Look, guys, I don’t have time for this.  I only have forty minutes to eat and get back to work.  So, if you will excuse me…”  Hugh pushed past the men and began walking across the street.  Glenn grabbed his arm and pulled him back to where the other two were standing. 

                “The Flash cards aren’t working.  We’re gonna hafta use a cortical shock.”  Hugh watched in fear as the one called Carl drew a small black device from the pocket of his jumpsuit.  The push of a tiny button at its base and three prongs extended from its tip.  The device hummed with electricity, frightening Hugh even more than he had already been. 

                “Hold him!”

                Glenn moved in front of Hugh and held his arms tight.  Leon grabbed him by the back of the head and bent him forward.  Hugh could feel the electricity from the device as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. 

                “No!” 

                Panic laced with fear gave Hugh strength he didn’t know he had.  He reared up, throwing Glenn and Leon off of him.  The two men hit the ground hard.  Glenn looked up at Hugh, then turned his attention to Carl. 

                “What the hell’s goin’ on here?” 

                Hugh stared at Carl, the only one of his attackers still standing.  Carl stared back at Hugh, his mouth slightly open.  His heart pounded in his chest and his breath caught in his throat.  He felt his hand as it began to shake.  His eyes traced his quivering arm along its length and up to his hand.  Hugh’s eyes went to Carl’s trembling hand as well.  The hand that still held the cortical shocker.  Their eyes rose and met each other halfway. 

                Carl forced himself to swallow.  It was like a rock in his throat.  He extended his range of sight, bringing Glenn and Leon into his peripheral view.  They were still on the ground, like a moment frozen in time.  Each man waited to see what the other was going to do.  Who was going to move first. 

                In the sudden silence, beyond the rushing sound of blood marching through their ears, there was the electric buzz of the cortical shocker. 

                Hugh turned, spinning on his heels, and ran. 

                Hugh fled down the cluttered alley with the mystery men in full chase.  He felt his legs begin to tire.  He wanted to look back and see how close the men were to him, but dared not to.  He instead chose to keep running.  As fast as he could and as hard as he could. 

                “Spike ‘im!” called one of them.  Hugh didn’t know which one and didn’t care.  Knowing wouldn’t change whatever it was they were about to do. 

                Leon stopped, drawing his gun as he did.  He adjusted the setting on the side of the gun, selecting the “spike”. 

                Hugh heard the gun as it was fired.  It wasn’t like he expected.  The movies portrayed the sound to a car backfiring or a large firecracker.  But it wasn’t.  Hugh equated the sound to that of humming bird wings, or a bee moving five times its normal speed. 

                The air crackled and Hugh felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.  The bullet slammed into the left side of his head, sending him spiraling.  Hugh’s brain felt like it was on fire.  His mouth went dry and his eyes swelled and felt as if they would burst.  He tried to keep his feet moving.  His body twisted on a forward axis like a bizarre music box ballerina.  He righted himself and continued on in the direction that lead away from the three men. 

                Hugh touched the side of his head in fear.  He expected to touch brain, and was afraid that his actions were just involuntary muscle spasms.  He expected to be dead.  He brought his fingers to eyes and glanced at them while staying focused ahead.  They were wet with fear and perspiration, but free of blood.  The projectile must have just grazed his head.  Its speed and heat cauterizing the wound as it was made.  The spot on his head was sensitive and very sore, but not life threatening.  The men behind him were another story. 

                Hugh broke from the opposite end of the alley and onto the busy street.  The pedestrians stared at him in an almost fascination.  The Third street traffic was directly in front of him, or more importantly, an Alphaville taxi.  Hugh jumped in the air, hoping to land on the hood of the car.  His adrenaline powered legs carried him up and over the top of the car.  He landed catlike on the other side of the car. 

                Hugh pivoted sharply while in his crouched position, sending him straight to the ground.  The dull pain from his aching rear didn’t even register in his mind.  He was otherwise distracted.  The confusion in his mind doubled as he tried to understand what had just happened.  Hugh sat on the hard concrete catching his breathing; trying desperately to figure out what was going on and why.  He welcomed the much needed break, no matter how long it lasted.  Which wasn’t very. 

                Hugh heard the sound again.  The same high-pitched buzzing whistle that followed the shot to his head only moments earlier.  Sparks flew from the side of the cab as it intercepted the shot meant for him.  Hugh scrambled to his feet, suddenly being reminded that the imposed chase was not over.  He ran against the crowd of people who continued to stare in an almost hypnotized fashion. 

                Hugh couldn’t continue on like this.  At this rate, he would lose.  It wasn’t a matter of if, but when.  He stared at the faces of the people as he ran past.  They were expressionless, like mannequins and not people at all.  He felt like an outcast among aliens.  The sidewalk crowd parted allowing easy access down the walk.  Hugh stopped at the street corner and began to shuffle back and forth.  He had nowhere to run and no place to run to.  Right.  Left.  Right.  Right!   

                Hugh sprinted down the street, huffing and puffing all the way.  He noted his ragged breathing and ebbing strength.  He wasn’t in as great of shape as he thought. 

                Hugh heard the screeching tires before he saw the van.  It was dark black, and as non-descriptive as the men who piled out of it.  He could see them clearly, though still a block and a half away.  The four men that climbed out of the van were dressed in the same attire as those that chased behind him. 

                Hugh felt his chest pounding in an excited clockwork rhythm.  They were closing in on him.  The desperation was paralyzing.  There was no place to run to, yet he continued on.  To his right Hugh saw the entrance to the apartment building.  He turned sharply, his ankle twisting, but causing no pain. 

                The entrance to the building surrendered to his frenzied assault.  The door slammed hard against the wall, cracking the drywall.  He headed for the stairwell, knowing that the rear entrance would be futile.  His only choice was to go up.  Up to nowhere. 

                Hugh burst out onto the roof.  The steady pounding of work boots on metal stairs chased after him.  They were close now, closer than ever because he had absolutely nowhere to run.  The closest thing to an escape was the rooftop across the alleyway.  At least a good fifteen feet away. 

                Hugh ran to the edge of the building and looked down.  Seven stories was a long fall.  Death would be instant.  He stuck his foot out over the edge.  All it would take was another step.  A reflection from the helicopter above shown down on him.  A helicopter.  Seven unidentified men, and a helicopter.  Hugh wonder just what the hell he had done.  He could feel the wind that the copter generated whipping about him.  Helping him take that next step.  Behind him the workman stepped out on the roof.  They moved slower now, being more cautious with their cornered prey. 

                Hugh held his tired leg out over the empty space for what seemed like an eternity.  He looked out over the rooftops at the midday sun.  No doubt that Gwen and Terry were on their way home from school now.  Sheila was more than likely planning dinner so it would be waiting for him the moment he stepped  through the door.  No! 

                Hugh withdrew his leg and placed it half a step behind the other.  He had decided that it was better to die than let them catch him, but not this way.  Not without a fight.  Hugh took three steps backwards, just out of the stunned predators reach, and ran once more.  When the ball of his lead foot touch the edge of the roof he pushed off, leaping high into the air.  His body sailed up, up and over the alley below. 

                Hugh landed hard, but on his feet.  Not seven stories down on the hot asphalt, but twenty three feet away on the opposite rooftop. 

                Hugh turned and looked at the men stranded on the roof behind him.  They appeared to be more angry and aggravated than shocked by what had just happened.  Hugh, on the other hand, was more than surprised.  He had expected a sudden death, but instead found himself still alive and more confused than ever.  The men across the way quickly turned and descended back down the stairwell, hoping to catch him before he took flight again.  Hugh was tired of running.  All it had done was make things worse.  Instead, he fell to his knees and waited for their arrival. 

                “You can’t do this to me!”  Hugh screamed at the top of his lungs.  His mind raced at the sights and sounds around him. 

                “You’ve made a mistake!  My name is Hubert Emanuel Beijing!  I’m a citizen of Alphaville!  I have rights!  You can’t do this!”  Hugh could barely hear the men over his cries of protest.  Their whispers of speech seemed cold and deliberate. 

                “go ahead remove the upper cranial…  that’s good.  hand me the neural aligner.  good.  it looks like one of the connectors burned out.  the identifying sub-chip, too.  oh, look at this.  it seems that instead of repairing the SID-chip, the auto systems bypassed it all together.  that would explain the recognition problems.  run a systems log check.  i want to know how long this unit’s been off-line.  to be honest, i don’t know how this one stayed operational.  odd.  go ahead and remove the old SID and install the new one.”

                “What?  What are you saying?  Listen to me, please!”  The doctor in charge looked down at Hugh.  He slowly slid his mask down till it hung under his chin.

                “Unit A-117, do you acknowledge?”

                “Please!  I don’t know what you’re talking about!  You’ve made a mistake!  My name is Hubert Emanuel Beijing!  I’m a citizen of Alphaville!” 

                “tweak the inductor.” 

                “I am a citizen of Alphaville.  My name is Hubert Emanuel Beijing.”

                “again.” 

                “My name is citizen of Alphaville.  I am a Hugh Man Beijing.”

                “give it one more tweak, then load in the primary codes and reset the character profile.” 

                “So, what are we talking about, then?”  The polymer manufacturer stood on the production catwalk next to Digicon’s eager executive.  They watched as unit A-117 pleaded for his artificial life. 

                “We are talking about the next wave–  No, the next evolution in robotics.  We are talking about a full jump to artificial intelligence.  Bigger than anything you’ve ever seen before.” 

                “Is that what you mean?”  He pointed at the eerie scene below him.  “That’s inhuman.”

                “Funny.  Funny.  That is…”  The executive struggled for the appropriate words to soothe the situation.  “Well, let’s talk to Dr. Parker.  He can explain.  Dr. Parker!”  The chief scientist looked up from A-117’s tortuous face. 

                “Can we have a word with you?”  Dr. Parker dropped the SID-chip in a sterile tray and carried it up the stairs to the catwalk. 

                “Yes?”

                “Dr. Parker, we were wondering about that particular unit.  What seems to be the problem?” 

                “We’re not exactly sure.  Unit A-117 was exposed to something, we’re not sure what yet.  We won’t know until we review the system logs.  Anyway, whatever it was activated the SID-chip…”

                “The what?”

                “The System Identification chip.  It’s a microprocessor with a hidden executive that tells the unit who it is, but not what it is.  This outside stimuli caused an unknown malfunction in the SID that opened the hidden executive.  This created a contradiction in the unit that was revealed during its self diagnostic.  It couldn’t be who it is and what it is at the same time.  So, the auto repair rerouted the neural connectors around the SID.  After that, the unit could only be who it is.” 

                “Are you trying to tell me that this AM became self aware?” 

                “Heavens no.  It would have, had it been able to recognize that who and what were the same thing.  As it is, unit A-117 stayed true to its character profile and wouldn’t, couldn’t, respond to our signals and other programming.  I can’t wait to see what it thought was happening.  It must have been an electronic nightmare.” 

                “Thank you, doctor.  You see, Alphaville is made up entirely of AM’s.  Has been ever since it was established five years ago.  We plan on going public with the AM’s this spring.” 

                “AM’s?”

                “It’s short for Automated Mechanoids.   The ad boys like it.  It’s all a part of our new campaign.  ‘AM.  The dawn of a new age.’  Let’s face it, DigiCon lives up to it’s motto.  DigiCon: Where everyday science fiction becomes science fact.” 

Epilogue:

                Susan Potter awoke from the same dream she had been having for the past two weeks.  She sat up in bed and looked at the clock.  4:11 am.  The same time as yesterday, and the days before.  The dream was a lot clearer this time.  She was beginning to understand what it meant, and why it had plagued her.  A subconscious truth that was slowly surfacing. 

                Susan picked the television remote up off the night stand and turned on the glowing box.  There, on the screen, as it had been every night at this time was a self help info-mercial.  She had made a habit of watching it after waking from the dream.  The hyperactive host spoke with a punctuating diction and enthusiasm that was almost unbearable.

                “It’s all about you, and who you are.  Finding the true you.  Who you are as a person, and what you are as a human being.  Now, what my self help program does is merge these two halves of your psyche into one.  Unlocking the true potential inside yourself.  And once you realize who you truly are, the person that you always have been inside, then you can help others.  You can show those around you who they really are.  Yes, you can.” 

                Yes, she can.

Tags:

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment