4. digital tension (77)
“What are we doing today, Erik?” he asks.
“Name not Erik,” I respond. I can barely say basic sentences through my clenched teeth, and after this argument my mouth hurts like hell.
“Of course it is. You are Erik George Kaplan, number 24, born to Steve and Nicole Kaplan. Wife Irene. Son Jacob.” He then rattles off dates that make him sound much older than he should be. At least, older than I recognize his make-up to be – the polymer skeleton, the copper wires and circuitry, and the grown biological tissue. My estimation, as near as I can peg, would set his age at around two years. He said that he’d been around for much longer, that Erik Kaplan was his best friend and always helped to repair him.
He has a baritone voice, and everything he says is very deadpan. Staring into his eyes is not quite like looking at another human, especially when you know the difference. It’s more like seeing a chimpanzee or an ape; you can see that sparkle of intelligence, but it’s somehow alien to you.
“No Erik Kaplan. Tell me.. your name?”
“That’s…that’s impossible. I know there’s an Erik Kaplan. He was with me just a few…But you, you are him. You are Erik Kaplan, you told me you’d be Erik Kaplan. I recognize your voice.”
“Impossible,” I almost chuckle to him, as I examine his disconnected arm. The polymer bone is severed just below the shoulder joint; there’s a cable inside the bone which assists in movement. All of this is covered in the milky conductive lubricant that sends impulses from the data processor, that causes their bodies to move. There’s also a substance that appears to be blood in a thin layer below the organic tissue. These models can bleed.
I ask again, “Tell me your name?”
“Who named you?” I try to conserve my words for the sake of my tender mouth.
“You did, of course. Don’t you remember, Erik?” He stares at me as though I should understand everything he’s telling me. When I don’t, it’s just a childlike perplexity. “Today I am free from human oppression,” this thing, Gary, says to me. A sort of pride shines obviously across his face.
I examine where the arm is supposed to be attached. “Hurt, Gary?” I run my fingers over the wires protruding from the “wound,” for lack of a better term. How I’m going to reconnect this, I have no idea; the damage has been pretty severe, and it doesn’t appear to be electrical.
“Not exactly. It’s not pleasant, though,” he says. I’d imagine it would tickle if he were human. Never mind.
“I’m a revolutionary.”
“Yeah? Revolting against?”
“Like I said, I am revolting against oppression. Don’t you remember, Erik?”
It’s also possible that he can’t see properly and that’s why he mistakes me for this number 24, Erik G. Kaplan, from Aurora, IL. The voice thing doesn’t make any sense though. I’m from Pennsylvania, by way of Michigan. Sure there’s a northern dialect, but Chicago and its surrounding areas are pretty distinct. “Gary, name’s not Erik. Wife’s name not… sorry, not named Irene. Name’s Didi.”
“That’s a silly name, Erik.”
“Gary. How can I…get you… stop calling me Erik?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Just call me Seventy Seven.”
“All right, Seventy Seven,” he says, that deadpan flash across his face, as though he’s very mundanely understood the situation. “What kind of a name is Didi?”
“French. You know French?”
“Of or pertaining to the country of France or its language. It still sounds silly.”
As though an android knows the concept of silly. Yet this one must – it’s displaying it masterfully.
“Short for Didiane. Once told me… it meant ‘to desire.’ Gary, you remember anything… before this room?”
“I can’t tell you that, Eri…Seventy Seven.”
“Why not?” I’m still examining the cable in the polymer bone protruding from his detached arm. I have a screwdriver in my hand and I’m using it to loosen some of the knotted up cable around the bone.
“Who set protocols?”
“Why can’t… you tell me?”
“Do you have a username and password?”
Naturally. The oldest and easiest protocols are the ones that always work to keep people out. I wasn’t going to press it, but it would be nice to know what caused the damage.
He had to be the oddest android that I’d ever come across. There’d been some serious rewiring or reprogramming done with him; probably the latter. It makes me wonder what happened to this number 24 – Erik Kaplan, born to Steve and Nicole Kaplan. Wife Irene. Son Jacob. Maybe he’s even still here. I’ll have to remember to ask some of the others – although I haven’t really talked to any of them yet, due to my jaw.
“Going to… shut you down… now… okay?”
“Yes, Seventy Seven. It will be nice to rest. Be sure to say hello to Didiane for me.”
Yes, Gary actually said that. I used the interface, which had an adapter cable plugged into a port in the back of his head, hidden just behind his left ear.
This is my tiny life now. Once, I was married. Once, I was a father. I had people who cared what happened to me and who cared for me; people whom I cared for myself. Now it’s just trying to fix some broken robot. He’s nothing but machinery; a microchip, metal, plastic, cable, wires, and artificial flesh. I used to build them, and somehow it wasn’t routine. This, this is routine. This is what you people have done to me.
I’ve become disconnected.
What am I supposed to do here?
The invisible answer in my head – you don’t even have to say it to me, it’s already there; “Fix it.”
An android named Gary. Who thinks I’m someone else.
I wake up, things always the same. My jaw still healing – hard to talk. The Professor and his compadres let me sit with them in the mess hall, but I don’t talk much due to the difficulty.
I don’t understand Gary. I don’t understand it, at all. All of the people I’ve seen around here – the nurses and orderlies and guards, I’m fairly sure they’re all androids. They probably all have NMAC stamps on them, and if not, one of our old competitors. They must have an administrator here, a maintenance person. The nurse mentioned administrators. The more complex a system is, the more likely it is to fail. The more vulnerable it is to attack. All of them must have a disaster recovery plan in place in case of failure. That’s I.T. 101; any person who uses technology in a business setting understands business continuity and the possible catastrophic loss of data.
As I work on Gary, it dawns on me to just follow the standard disaster recovery procedure. This was never part of my job at NMAC; I know very little code, all I did was run automated programs. I was just a cog in the great machine. The great machine that spits out other machines – little mechanized automatons.
There’s always a plan B.
And maintenance is the last step in a good business continuity plan. But we don’t see them, we don’t see anyone but other automatons. And what system could possibly be more complex than a walking, talking, thinking machine? Polymer bones and muscle structure – the harder plastic mimics bone while we use a more lightweight texture to mimic muscle tissue. It makes them damn near indestructible.
There are cables and wires to mimic a nervous system. And a hard drive in the head, with several microprocessors and a built-in cooling system to prevent overheating. They’re modeled after computers, to increase ease-of-use. They are androids, automatons. NMAC – National Mechanized Automation Corporation. But to call them indestructible is facetious; that’s making them overly simplified. If they didn’t have maintenance administrators – maybe even just one for this whole “Home” site – these orderlies and nurses would crash in a week. Internal processes are sometimes just too complex. They don’t have the caution, care, and understanding of a human brain – which makes human bodies the perfect machinery that we just imitate with androids. But not even those bodies are perfect – “I have seen all the works under the sun and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.” Bodies require maintenance, and bodies eventually fail.
Tags: work, Gary, NMAC