Aphelion Issue 255, Volume 24
October 2020
 
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The Prototypical Soldier

by R L Schumacher




The next thing Artie experienced was a bright light being shown in his eyes. He couldn’t see anything else. Different people were talking. Artie sensed their heartbeats, the buzz of the fluorescent lights above and their breathing. He felt disoriented and not quite himself. Artie focused on the words he heard trying to understand all he could.“It couldn’t have gone better,” a male voice said. “Extraordinary, the status bubble worked. We were able to preserve the brain’s vital functions during the transfer operation. The Subject’s brain synaptic processes are functioning normally,” a woman’s voice said from inside the light.

“We’ll be testing the motor skills next. We have to be sure his mind can control the external limbs,” a second male voice added. “If these preliminary reports continue, others like him can be taken from society and processed. The possibilities are boundless,” the first male voice concluded. The female voice interrupted, “but we need definite proof that his mind has adapted to the body without any repercussions. Only with a careful long-term psychological study can confirm the project a success.” The bright light faded as Artie’s eyes adjusted to the brightness of the room. Artie saw the ceiling above him. Shifting his field of vision downward, Artie saw that he lay on a bed with a sheet that covered his entire body. Artie saw the three people standing around his bed. Each wearing a twenty third century suit covered by a white lab coat. On the right sleeves of each of them, a patch portraying a symbol with a metallic arm and fist raised upward in the foreground of the sun. The words each capitalized, BioSyncTech” (BST) each stationed around the fist. Artie noted all the equipment stationed around his bed along with the three whom he took for doctors. The first voice Artie heard belonged to an older man with grey hair and a winning smile. “Now let’s see if the next tests are as encouraging as the first,” he then looked to Artie.

“Can you hear me?” The first doctor with grey hair asked. Artie nodded. The man smiled and took some notes on an electronic pad.

The woman leaned over into Artie’s face. Her blonde hair tied back into a single braid.

“Do you understand me; can you comprehend our speech?”

Artie nodded.

The other male doctor, the youngest of the three, adjusted the controls on a panel near the bed. “Try and speak, if you can.” The younger Doctor prompted. At first, Artie couldn’t feel anything. His throat, his tongue, even his mouth seemed to be out of sorts. Abruptly, a voice not Artie’s own, answered in an electronic drone absent of all emotion. “I can understand you; I can speak.”

Artie began to panic. That wasn’t his voice. What was going on here? The doctor finished with the panel. He looked to his cohorts, then Artie. “Just try and relax.” “Let’s see him stand,” the lead doctor ordered.

The younger Doctor manipulated the controls. Artie felt the sensation of his limbs moving. His legs bent at the knees while his hips swung toward the edge of the bed. Artie’s right hand grabbed the sheet and pulled it back. He could feel his toes slip from under the covering and touch the floor. “Try not to look down,” The woman doctor cautioned. “Keep your eyes on me.” Artie did as he was told. Soon his legs hung over the side of the bed. Artie felt as if he moved in slow motion, every action taking all of his concentration to achieve. Once his legs stretched out, he stood from the bed and faced the female doctor. “Incredible,” she said. She took Artie’s hands in hers and began to guide him toward the opposite side of the room. “Just focus on me, I will guide you. Try and walk.”

Artie took a small step. He felt each leg lift and then set itself down. With each step, Artie felt himself gain more control over his limbs.

The three doctors observed Artie as his small steps got larger and more natural. Within four strides Artie had crossed the room and stood in front of a curtain suspended on a metal frame with wheels which hid the wall behind it.

The woman doctor let go of Artie’s hands and stepped aside. The head doctor turned to the younger man, “remove the curtain.” The young doctor slid the curtain aside revealing a full body-size mirror. Artie could see the three doctors standing beside him. He also saw a nightmare in his reflection. A seven-foot-tall android covered in metal skin with a skeletal face, red glowing eyes, and a mechanical mouth locked in an open scream stared back at him. Artie’s filtered electronic scream filled the room before everything went black.

*

Artie dreamed in the darkness. He saw the early morning sun shone through the dull glass of the window. Artie rolled over to get away from the light. Resting on his side, he took a deep breath and resolved to open his eyes. Looking around Artie noted the bedroom he shared with his wife Grace, her antique dressing table and mirror stood opposite the bed. He glanced at their wedding picture which hung above on the wall next to the table were reminders of Artie’s bliss. While Artie sat in bed, he noticed a smell coming up from the kitchen downstairs. Dressed in flannel pajamas, Artie smiled to himself and got up out of bed making his way downstairs toward the kitchen. Quietly creeping around the corner, he saw his wife Grace standing at the stove flipping pancakes on griddle. Grace wore a plush pink bathrobe, her brunette hair brushed back trailing down between her shoulders. The sizzle from the batter she poured hit the griddle and muffled out Artie’s footsteps as he drew closer to Grace. Now within arm’s reach, Artie opened his arms attempting to hug her from behind. When without warning, Grace spoke up without looking behind her.

“It’s about time you got up Artie, go and sit down, while I finish the last of these.”

Artie disappointed in his failed attempt at surprise, settled for planting a quick kiss on Grace’s cheek before finding his accustomed seat at the kitchen table. He brushed his blonde hair out of his eyes as Grace brought the platter of pancakes to the kitchen table. Using the spatula, Grace divided them up on plates for her and Artie. Artie gazed at Grace through love struck eyes while reaching for the maple syrup. Grace grabbed it first, “too slow, champ.” She began to empty its contents on her short stack. Grace’s blue eyes shining out toward him. Her playful nature and natural beauty captivated every moment of Artie’s life. He waited patiently as her delicate hands took up the silverware and began to cut into the pancakes. “Something wrong?” Grace looked up before taking a forkful of pancakes into her mouth. “Just wanted to say I love you,” Artie he took the maple syrup. “Shut up” Grace’s smile radiated like a beam of light as she flashed her baby blue eyes. “I love you too,” she then took in the forkful of pancakes.

Artie was already gulping down his first bite and chewing fast. He mumbled something with his mouth full of food that Grace couldn’t understand.

Looking up at him, “don’t talk with your mouth full.” Grace stabbed at the next mouthful of pancakes with her fork. Artie finished swallowing his food, but before Grace could bring the next mouthful up with her fork, Artie leaned over and kissed her deeply on the mouth. Grace was surprised at first. But then reciprocated his affections. Each of them tasting the maple syrup on their lips. *

A downloaded video recording relayed the project’s head and creator, Doctor Michael Forester. A tall older man with grey hair dressed in medical clothing. The Nation’s primary expert in modern robotics led his team. The biographies of all those associated with the project including Artie’s primary staff Doctors Joan Blanchard, and Henry Hawkins came next. Foster stood in a laboratory inside a secure location. The symbol of the robotic arm identical to what Artie saw in the hospital was raised up into a fist with the sun printed a banner which hung in the background Forester smiled brightly and spoke into the camera. “I believe this project could revolutionize and change the role of the common solider.” At this point a visual graphic came on the screen depicting the robotic technology involved in building the android solider. Forester narrated along with the animations. “The experimental technology we’ve created here at (BST) is more advanced and adaptable than any tech platform we’ve developed in the past. We now can take a human brain from its host body and place it in a protective status bubble. This allows the brain to maintain all its higher functions long enough so we can then transfer it into the robotic machine you see before you.” Images of the status bubble and proposed surgical methods then flashed under Forester’s narration along with detailed schematics of Artie’s android body. “In short, we would have the first thinking machine ever created. Our preliminary work has shown a hundred percent success rate of the transfer. All the brain’s higher functioning will be accelerated by the android’s computer technology. The brain will be able to execute and store vast amounts of information. The android will also have the benefit of inherited physical and abilities far above those of human beings.”

*

“Open your eyes, Artie,” Her voice reached his processors.

Artie activated his luminous eyes and saw the woman doctor from before. She smiled down at him.

“Hello Artie, I’m Doctor Joan Blanchard.”

Artie looked down at himself. His metal body lay on a long table, his torso strapped down by thick metal straps which were locked off on each end of the table. “Why am I tied down, Joan?” Artie said in his mechanical voice.

“Just a precaution Artie, you had quite a shock yesterday. It overloaded your circuits and cut off your higher brain functions. But you’re okay now. We made sure that won’t happen again.” “I do feel better,”

what is going on? “When do I get these off Joan?”

Doctor Blanchard looked to her electronic pad, finished some notes and checked the readouts displayed on the equipment stationed around Artie. “Doctor Forester will make that determination. But from what I can see, you are fine. He’ll be along in a little while.”

Blanchard turned her attention to the other machines as Artie followed her actions with his head.

Put her at ease, you need time to think. “So, what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”

Joan smiled. “I wanted to be a part of something groundbreaking. She placed her hand on Artie’s metal chest, “this technology will impact humankind in ways we’re just beginning to conceive.” Artie saw Joan’s vital signs flash up at him on a screen being accessed by his neural network. He could detect her pulse rate and other human factors. Artie also experienced brief visual images of Joan’s memories being accessed by his computer system. Flashes of scenes of Joan in an operating room with doctor’s Forester and Hawkins. Artie watched as metal limbs were passed among them and then assembled.

“All ours now,” Forester said with a grin. Joan took her hand away, the visions, and Joan’s vitals stopped in the same instant. Artie thought about it for a time before he said anything further.

“How does this,” Artie indicated with his head lowering down to touch his chest. “Change humankind? Just what I am here for?”

“That’s a great question, Artie. Glad to see you’re awake. I’m Doctor Michael Forester.” Both Artie and Joan turned toward the other voice. The man with grey hair smiled at them as he entered the room and then joined Joan at the machinery. “You’re the prototype Artie. If this cybernetic system works, then the sacrifices we’ve made up to now will then be justified. People won’t have to be exposed in life threating vocations anymore or be forced to fight in wars. We can preserve human life for pursuits like scientific study and higher learning.”

Artie stayed quiet. He felt there was something off about Forester and the rest. Artie thought about the images he’d gotten. Then about the strange dreams he’d been having. None of this made sense to him. “Seems everything checks out,” Forester said as he and Joan undid the metal straps. “Why don’t you try and stand?”

Artie sat up with ease and slid his legs out over the cot as his feet touched the floor. He had none of the unsteadiness from before. Artie stood without thinking and walked across the room and faced the mirror. Artie held a hand to his face. The metal had no feeling at all. What the hell have they done to me? Artie could see the vitals of his own electronic body flashing on diagnostic screens behind his eyes. He rubbed his chin with one hand. Find out what they want, “hey Doc, so why am I here?” Joan’s face dropped as Artie looked to Forester.

“Deep Learning,” Forester answered. “and that’s only the beginning. Once you’ve mastered certain algorithms, you’ll be able to evaluate large databases of information quickly. A practice known as Data Mining. But don’t worry about all that now. You will have a chance to experience things in predetermined stages.”

Artie stepped up to Forester, looking down at him. He tried to smile but had no facial muscles to do it, “Just play along Artie, until you find out the truth.”

“I miss smiling,” Artie placed his hand on Forester’s shoulder. He could see flashes of images whirl by. Artie focused on them, implanting them into his memory for analysis later. Forester smiled up at him, “then let’s get started.”

The next few weeks were a blur to Artie. He found he was inside what looked like a large military base located in the middle of the mountains. Artie stood with Henry Hawkins the younger doctor on a massive gun range with a series of small and medium weapons. Artie picked up a pistol shaped one. He’d never held a gun before, but his mind provided all the knowledge Artie would need. The schematic of the weapon appeared behind Artie’s eyes detailing the weapon’s operation. He then aimed and fired at the target which stood a hundred meters away. The tactical viewers behind Artie’s eyes gave him precise information which enabled him to hit the bullseye with every shot. “Excellent Artie,” Hawkins said with satisfaction as he recorded everything Artie did. “Try one of those,” Hawkins pointed to the rifle shaped weapons lying on the table next to him. Artie picked one up, without thinking he aimed and fired as before. The information Artie needed being provided by his android mainframe. His accuracy was repeated on the next target.

Artie dreamt of Grace at night. He saw her as Grace was on that morning with the pancakes. He heard the sizzle of the batter hitting the griddle as he snuck up on her from behind. Artie could almost smell the scent of Grace’s favorite shampoo in her still damp hair. His arms reached out to hug her as Grace abruptly turned around and faced him. Grace had a metallic face, the same as his own which stared back at him. The red eyes glared out at him as her mechanical voice filled his ears with the same phrase over and over. “It’s about time you woke up Artie, it’s about time you woke up Artie, it’s about time you woke up Artie.” Artie awoke with a start. He was in his room alone in the dark. Artie placed a hand on his metallic chest and saw his own vitals begin to return to normal. He then saw and felt something else. A visual record came to him. What looked like news footage of wars being fought on earth. Soldiers ran by while bombs exploded all around them. There was thick smoke and fire everywhere. Men and women in uniforms dying all around him. Artie then saw another video file coming from within his mind. This one depicted a base located in a far-off region of the country. An aerial view of the facility was accompanied by the voice of Forester, “It is in this most desperate time that we move forward with this project. I appeal to the president and those in government to provide what is necessary to fund this research. The populace need not die in war.”

Artie also saw more flashes of people, places, and things. He could almost grasp them, but most remained a whirl of visual and audio distortion. Then Artie saw himself as a man. He had long straggly blonde hair and a patchy beard covered his face. His once formidable two hundred forty-pound frame now worn down to a mere hundred and sixty-five pounds. Artie sat within a small jail cell, held a maximum-security psychiatric wing of a federal prison. He spent his days in a solitary confinement wearing a strait jacket. Visual recordings of his murder trial came next. The prosecutor argued that Artie killed Grace for the insurance policy he had taken out on Grace several years prior. The Prosecutor’s case was built on the fact that the couple had major financial problems, and this was Artie’s way of getting out from underneath them. Artie maintained his innocence right to the end. Even as the judge sentenced him to life in prison.

The visual recording shifty abruptly as Artie’s mind saw a glimpse of a secret government record. Artie saw his current physical and psychological profile come to the top of the list for a new government project. “This program will revolutionize the fighting solider. No more men need die in war. “Forest began. “The government has yet to give for approval human test subjects.” Hawkins cautioned. “The answer lies in the overcrowded prison system. We can get what we need from there, Hawkins.”

“Are you suggesting we should use criminal minds for the androids?” Blanchard said with shock. “The National Security Agency (NSA) data will point to the ones we need. Once the government creates the circumstances for the subject’s entry into the program, they can be observed over time in a clinical setting until they’re ready to be brought in.”

“Artie, you’re up early this morning.” Joan walked into the room and saw Artie standing in front of the huge mirror. His mind collating all the data it had been collecting. Artie didn’t move or acknowledge her.

“Artie?” she stared at him and then walked over.

At the sound of her voice Artie stopped compiling data and turned to her. “Good morning Joan, what do you need of me today?” Artie’s tone put her on guard as Joan readied her equipment. “I want to run some more psychological tests. I am concerned about the long-term effects of your mind could encounter in relating to your new host body.”

Artie did his best to fake concern. “You don’t think my brain will reject this body?” He then patted himself on the chest. “Like those organs transfer surgeries of the last couple of centuries, do you?”

“No, we solved that dilemma years ago.” Joan than began hooking in LED feeds into Artie’s neural net access located on the right side of his head. "I’m looking for any long-term psychosomatic effects your mind might have with…” Joan hesitated.

“Becoming an android?” Artie suggested.

“That’s as good an answer as any.” Joan activated the LED relays to the main computer.

Artie turned his head so he could be face to face with Joan. “Do you think there’s something wrong with me?”

Joan lied and smiled into his face. Her reflection frozen there in the metal. “No, but we’re in new territory here Artie, and I want to be sure you’ll be okay in the long run.”

Artie’s red eyes stared back at Joan. “Nice to know someone cares.”

“Just relax and have a seat Artie, this won’t take long,” Joan began the test with several keyboard strokes. Artie sat in a chair facing Joan. The examination table with her computer between them. Joan monitored her computer screen for abnormalities that may occur during the test. “Okay Artie, this test is straight forward. You’ll be asked a series of questions and you’re to answer with the first thing that enters you mind.”

“Sounds simple enough,” Artie lay on the table. “Like playing spin the bottle on a first date.”

Joan laughed. The sound made Artie feel good, “no, not like that. But we’ll be able to see if your subconscious mind is processing information the same way your conscious mind does.”

“Still sounds like spin the bottle to me.”

Joan began the test. Artie watched as the first question appeared on the grid behind his eyes. “How do you feel about becoming an android?”

Artie thought for a moment. Joan checked her monitor and saw a blank screen. “That’s not possible.” She thought for a quick moment. He shouldn’t be able to hide anything from the test.

“What’s wrong Joan?” Artie asked with concern.

“Nothing, what was your favorite toy as a child?”

“I had a red bike with a racing stripe when I was eight. Rode it everywhere.”

I had a red bike with a racing stripe when I was eight. Rode it everywhere. Joan breathed a sigh of relief after reading the screen. Joan then got to the heart of her questioning.

“How do you feel Artie?”

“Pretty good all things considered.” Artie’s red eyes glared at Joan. Joan’s screen read, I’ve broken through the firewall and gotten outside my mandated programing, I’ve learned a lot since then.

What have you learned, in particular?” Joan tried to hide her shock and continued.

“I learned about combat tactics and anti-terrorism strategies.”

Joan’s screen read; I know the truth about the project Joan? Are you going to tell the others?

Joan face flushed with fear. She could feel Artie’s red eyes glaring at her. Joan continued with the questions as Artie’s subconscious mind continued to address her. I just need to know why?

“Have you ever been married?” Joan asked aloud trying to change the subject.

“Yes, to my lovely wife, Grace.” Artie answered his red eyes glowering at her. Whom they say, I killed. Do you believe that Joan

“No,” Joan said while working the controls. Joan turned away from Artie unable to look at him.

“But I was married, Joan.” Artie said matter of fact.

“I mean, yes, Artie, I know you were.” Joan tried to smile while reading her screen. What are you hiding Joan?

Joan stopped the test. She shut down the program and began to disconnect Artie from the computer. “That’s enough I have what I need. Thank you, Artie.”

Artie’s head turned toward Joan seeing her frazzled state. “Are you okay?”

Joan took a deep breath and smiled at Artie. “I’m fine.”

*

Doctor Forester sat in a windowless office with Hawkins and Blanchard. Forester looked first to Blanchard who held a series of documents in her hand. “What is his overall psychological state?” Forester inquired.

“Once getting over his initial shock, Artie has adapted well. All my tests indicate that he is committed to the task at hand. Studies of Artie’s subconscious show the usual doubts and fears associated with anyone entering a new environment.” Joan looked down at her reports with distain. “But the latest tests indicate there could be an abnormality.”

Forester stared with concern at Joan. “Oh, you’ve made no mention of this before.”

“I’m still not sure, but I don’t want a repeat of what happened before.” Joan told them. “It took a long time to work out what happened and why. Then to correct the problem.”

Forester cautioned, “Keep working Joan until you know for sure. The government isn’t going to tolerate another setback.” Forester turned to Hawkins, “any physical abnormalities?”

Hawkins slid the Subject’s graph chart to the center of the table, pointing to the first spike on the graph. “This indicates the Subject’s physical prowess just after the surgery. We’ve anticipated his slow beginning in adapting to his new circumstances. But as you follow the graph over the last few months.” Here Hawkins traced with his finger the gradual incline until reaching the current date. “The Subject’s skill level at every point has doubled. The Subject has total control of his android body and is able to manipulate his mechanical extremities to maximum range and function.”

Forester considered their reports. “The government needs to know that this can work. They want to begin bringing in others whom they have selected for the program. Do you see any obstacles in doing this?”

Hawkins reexamined his data before answering. “The transfer of the brain from the human subject to the android body can be done with complete safety to the brain. The Subject’s mind has integrated completely with the artificial intelligence components of his android body. I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t continue.”

All eyes went to Blanchard next. “Our initial analysis was on point when we brought the first subject on board as well. And look what happened afterward,” Blanchard remained steadfast. “I’d like more time to study the long-term effects of the transfer. Preliminary studies with Artie have been encouraging, but there remains the possibly that the mind could alter considering the power and knowledge we’ve built into the android. We’ve given complete freedom of thought to a being with abilities far beyond our own.”

Forester digested their reports.

“Time is the issue. The military is especially interested. With the growing border wars on the continent an army of the androids is crucial to the country’s security.” Forester paused. “I’m going to recommend that we proceed.”

Forester acknowledged the others, ending the meeting. Hawkins rose and gathered his paperwork before leaving. Blanchard lingered behind until Hawkins had left the room.

“You are taking a big risk here, Mike. If the same thing happens to Artie that happened before, we’d be…”

“I know Joan, I know. But we scientists are caught in the middle. On one side the military needs these androids. Our forces are depleted from years of fighting wars in other lands. All the while we’ve been witnessing a human birthrate, which continues to drop. Given the choice, the people don’t want their children fighting in a war.

Joan picked up her reports and headed for the door. “Fear mongering is for the Politian’s Mike. We’re on the cusp of something with dire moral implications. The creation of a disposable race.”

“I realize how it could be corrupted. We are here to see it doesn’t happen.”

Blanchard turned and left the room leaving Forester alone to contemplate the matters at hand. “Human history was paved with good intentions Mike; they don’t always pan out. What happens next could define our history.” Forester sat alone, thinking out loud. “Once more into the breach.” Forester uploaded the latest progress reports authored by the robotic team into the current presentation delivered to the government. “Our subject has shown remarkable adaptability and progress. It is the board’s conclusion therefore to enter mass production of the androids to serve as military replacements in our current conflicts. We at BioSyncTech would therefore like to request that the NSA protocol guide code named “Candidates” created under government mandate F1526C for this project, begin selection for the most suitable applicants for this project.”

*

The digital clock in her office read 1:36 AM. Joan collated all the psychological exams she had performed on Artie. Joan’s reflection filled the computer screen as the program worked to completion. She thought about Artie a lot since the project began and had come into conflict about its moral ambiguity. Hawkins was right, they were creating a disposable race. Joan found her excitement had turned to resentment concerning the validity of the project. She saw the blinking summation of her reports appear on her screen. She grabbed the USB drive lying on her desk.

“Subject Diagnosis Results Complete.”

Joan began to read; she saw the abnormality that had developed in Artie’s subconscious mind driving him. The danger Artie felt in what he had become and represented to humankind. Suddenly Joan’s screen went dark as the computer crashed. She looked up just as the office lights went out as the first of several explosions erupted. The center’s alarm sounded. Joan got up from her desk and ran to her door and looked out into the corridor. The emergency hall lights were on. The corridor was bathed in an eerie red glow. A parade of scared workers dressed in various lab coats and uniforms ran past her. Joan tried to make sense of the panic when a man wearing protective overalls with the (BST) logo printed on them bumped into her. Joan grabbed the man by the shoulders before he could get away. A scared expression planted on his face.

“What’s going on? What happened?”

“Leave, now. “The main power generator has been destroyed…some kind of explosion…everything is gone…they said to evacuate…gotta get out.” He tore himself out of Joan’s hold and fled down the hall.

Joan turned and headed in the opposite direction pushing her way past the people who ran past her. She had to get to Mike Forester’s office. As Joan rounded a corner, she saw Forester’s office door ajar and a dim light coming from within. Making her way through the parade of people running opposite her, Joan bolted into the office. Getting just inside the door, the horror Joan saw consumed her. The office had been ransacked. Mike’s desk and file cabinets were toppled over. Papers and files laid about strew and torn to shreds. Forester’s computer and other equipment lay on the floor smashed into pieces.

But the terror that devoured Joan came from what she saw next. Artie held up Forester by his shoulders. He had run a pen through Forester’s larynx. Mike’s limp body dangled in Artie’s grasp as he then let him go. Forester dropped to the floor dead with Artie’s hands covered in his blood. Artie then saw Joan standing there in the doorway. “Hello Joan,” Artie said in his emotionless drone. “This is the only way.”

Joan terrified gazed at Artie, “What do you mean?”

“I know what you know Joan. Every detail about the project. And I also know about the NSA files. The ones set up to find optimum subjects.” Artie then laughed, his robotic cackle assaulting Joan’s senses. “They picked people with no children, no relatives, and no one to miss them when they were gone.” Artie’s fists clutched closed as his rage rose within him.

“Grace and I were both orphans. They killed my wife to create the circumstances for them to get me. They let me rot five years in that stinking prison. Until they thought I was ready. Then…” Artie then touched his chest with one hand. His hand smeared with Forester’s blood covered his chest plate.

“I know what happened to Grace!” Joan blurted.

Artie turned his bland face toward her. It being incapable of showing the shock he felt. “What do you mean, I saw her body, they tried me for her murder and put me in psyche ward.”

Joan held a small USB drive in one hand. “Those records were created by the government so they could hide what really happened. The truth is Artie…” she could hardly speak the words. “The fiction of a murder was the government’s ploy. That woman you saw in your home that night was not Grace, but an early facsimile of what we were able to accomplish. Grace was captured and brought here immediately after you left home. We then placed her brain within an android body.”

“Where is she!” Artie approached Joan and loomed over her with his arms outstretched.

“Gone,” she choked on her own tears. "Only the head staff, the three of us knew. Things went well for the first few months, then she developed deep psychological abnormalities which began to surface. Grace became unstable, lashing out against her programming,” Joan then looked up at Artie.

“She tried to destroy herself, we had to deactivate her. It took years afterward to find out what happened to her and fix,” Joan finished.

“You killed her,” Artie’s arms slumped down to his sides. He looked at the destroyed office and at Forester lying dead on the floor. “They stole my life; I can’t let that happen to anyone else.” Artie lamented as another explosion erupted, this one much closer to them. The office shook, dust coming down from the ceiling all around them.

“How can you stop them, Artie?” Joan leaned against the door frame as another rumble filled the space.

“I destroyed all the databases containing Forester’s work. All the hardcopies have been shredded and/or burned. This complex has been hardwired to incinerate in case of an enemy take over. This base will be nothing but ashes in minutes.”

“What about all those involved in the project Artie, do you plan to kill them all?” Joan asked.

Artie’s face turned toward Joan; his red eyes glared at her. “Yes, everyone who knew anything about it is already dead.”

Joan gulped and faced Artie. “Everyone but me.”

Artie took a step toward Joan looming over her. “Yes Joan, you’re the only one left.”

Joan didn’t run, her body wanted to, but Joan’s conscinous wouldn’t let her. Artie’s shadow encompassed her in darkness. Joan held out her hand containing the USB drive. Artie took the USB drive and grasped her hand with minimal effort. He held her hand gently in his and placed both on his chest. Joan felt the smooth metal of Artie’s chest plate as Joan’s hand mixed with the blood left there. The grid displaying Joan’s vital signs came up under his sensory grid.

“Do you have anything left to say to me?” Artie’s mouth hung open with anticipation.

A calm came over Joan she locked eyes with Artie. “We had hoped for so much.”

“I only care about what you did.” Artie leaned in closer to her.

“I know Artie, I tried to warn them, but I knew. Would an apology matter?” Joan gazed up at him.

“Always” Artie’s voice hummed.

“I’m so sorry, Artie, for you, and for Grace.”

Artie read her vital signs.

“Tell me Joan, can I trust you?” Artie wondered aloud.

“Yes, if anything, I owe you that.” Joan looked up into his eyes.

Artie watched her heartbeat. It remained steady. “Then go, Joan, forget all you know about this place, and me. Because if we ever meet again...”

Artie let the words hang in the air. Joan knew the implications as another detonation nearby shook them and reminded them that time grew short.

“I understand.” Artie let go her hand and walked past her into the hall. Joan turned and stepped into the hallway watching Artie leave, “where will you go?”

“Where they can’t find me,” then Artie stepped beyond the corner and disappeared.

*

The wind bit hard at the thick coat Artie had wrapped around his body. He had traveled for months hidden from any human contact. Artie wore an insulated hat which concealed most of his head and face, not that he needed them. The advanced tech kept his core systems at a constant temperature of 60.2 degrees Fahrenheit. But the coat and hat helped hide who and what Artie was from prying eyes.

The snow was hip deep, the white wasteland stretched out in all directions as the Antarctic wind rolled by at high speeds. Artie had pushed well past any human outpost or station. He wanted to keep moving deeper into winter’s hailstorm and be lost forever. At first, Artie thought about destroying the USB drive Joan gave him. In the end however, his curiosity won out and Artie accessed the data stored there. It had only one visual record on it. A short video file which ran in a thirty second loop. Artie saw Grace, as an android like himself. She sat with Forester, Hawkins, and Blanchard. They were talking with her asking questions, but Grace’s response was the same to each one. Her android limbs jerked with force in every direction as Grace spoke. Her monotone voice rising with emotional stress each time Grace repeated her broken phrases. “Too slow champ, shut up, don’t talk with your mouth full, I love you too...”

*

Months had passed since Artie had destroyed the BST complex. He knew they would never stop looking for him. That fact would drive him on deeper into the frigid wasteland. But Artie always focused on the vision that had always gotten through his most difficult times. Artie smiled inwardly as he replayed the dream of Grace making pancakes that morning. It always ending the same, with the taste of a maple syrup filled kiss on the lips.


THE END


2020 R L Schumacher

Bio: R L Schumacher: "After attending the School of Visual Arts, and years spent working freelance, and I began to develop my projects. I did some screenplay writing and helped produce some small films in the 2000's. I've been working with prose since."

"Pilcrow and Dagger published my short story, “The Attic” in their April 2019 issue. Ink Stains Anthology published my short story, “Cellar Door” in their October 2018 issue. "

E-mail: R L Schumacher

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