Milo wasn’t exactly an active child, but feeling the breeze on his skin while he sped away on his new bike made him reconsider his vow to a sedentary lifestyle. He was so enthralled by the experience he didn’t notice that he hadn’t passed another human being. There were some parked cars, a few abandoned ones too, but no people. Even if he had noticed, it might not have mattered, he felt so alive.
How ironic, he thought, to feel alive. He had more in common with the junk computers back at home than he did with his own mother. Did she even know what he was?
Trying to derail these unpleasant thoughts, Milo asked, “If I’m a robot, why can’t I go all super human and bike really fast, jump high, and all that crap?”
“Sorry, Milo, if you were made exceptional like that, you might accidentally draw attention to yourself. It’s the same reason you couldn’t be super smart and only ask good questions,” Lisa replied, carrying out the conversation in his thoughts.
“I’ll try not to be offended at that remark.”
“I’m only kidding, Milo. You’re exceptional, just in different ways.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Milo said, managing a slight laugh, before turning his attention back to his biking.
They had been on the road for about twenty minutes when the first drone dove out of the sky. It was so alarming that Milo almost fell off the bike. But then something inexplicable happened.
The drone froze in midair about fifty feet above him. It wasn’t hovering, per se, but it was like time slowed down. Exactly like the time in school when he was tripped by that bully. Inu appeared to be frozen off to his right as well.
Even more bizarre, Milo’s vision immediately blurred, like he was looking through old glasses. But in a way that he couldn’t explain, Milo still knew where the drone was. It was like he could see it with his ears instead. It really didn’t make any sense.
Unfortunately, he also realized that he was practically paralyzed. Moving his arms and legs was beyond difficult, like he was neck deep in a tar pit. Taking off his glasses was out of the question as well, buried as they were beneath his helmet.
Startled, he tried to hop off his bike, but the blindness and partial paralysis in his limbs caused him to flail off the bike in an uncoordinated fashion and flop onto the ground. After he landed, roughly, he removed his helmet and glasses as if in slow motion. Finally able to see clearly again, time returned to normal and the drone was suddenly upon him.
A high-pitched mechanical voice came from the drone. “Human, you are not wearing your contact computer. All humans must be wearing SeeSees as per ordinance five seven five point three one.”
“What is it talking about?” Milo asked Lisa privately.
“Oh, sorry Milo, I should have mentioned that along with the communication dump earlier. Teller started giving away his contact computer technology. It would seem that they are mandatory now. Without the telltale glow, you are kind of obvious.”
The drone darted around as a quick flash of light illuminated Milo’s face. It continued, “Milo Bell, you must be lost and unaware of recent events—”
Just as the drone was about to say more, it appeared to notice Inu, who was hiding behind Milo’s right leg. As it started to move around to get a better look, Milo interjected, “Hey, aren’t those free? If you’ve got a pair, I’ll put them on right now. Education and stuff, right?”
Milo was trying hard to keep the drone’s attention as he just didn’t trust the way it was looking at Inu.
The drone adjusted its flight so that it came down directly in front of him. A small compartment opened from its underside revealing a reticulated arm holding what looked like a pair of contact lenses in a plastic slip.
The drone replied, “This is a temporary pair that will—”
Then the drone finally got a good look at Inu and flew a few feet up in the air. Two red sensors started flashing on the bottom of its casing as a siren sound emanated from its body.
“Illegal use of robotics—” the drone began to shriek.
A loud clang reverberated off the nearby trees as Milo struck the drone with his helmet. It fell from the air and hit the ground with a crunch.
Dropping the ruined helmet, Milo slumped his shoulders as the happiness drained from his face.
“Lisa,” he said, “I just don’t know how we’re going to be able to do this. I’m not saying I’m giving up, because I’m not and I won’t, but the very first drone we come across identified us. This place is going to be swarming with more of them in no time. We’ll never be able to make it to Teller’s house now,” Milo said, voice heavy with defeat.
“There’s got to be something we can do, Milo,” Lisa said, trying to cheer him up.
After a tense minute that felt like it stretched on much longer, Milo continued, “If we can analyze this drone back at the Cabin, maybe we can determine how it sees us and come up with a countermeasure.”
“There we go! I knew you’d think of something,” Lisa said as she gave him a thumb’s up.
Apparently he wasn’t as ready as Marvin thought he was. Milo had hoped that things would just click into place, that being an AI would somehow make sense to him, but all he felt was the familiar feeling of being an ordinary kid trying to do the impossible.
Once they were in sight of the cabin, Milo said, “Do you think this thing might still be broadcasting?”
“It’s hard to say, Milo. The drone looks offline to me, but we can’t know for certain. I think Marvin has something in the cabin which doubles as a Faraday cage,” Lisa said, responding to his thoughts yet again.
“Right, something that would block all communications would sure be nice. I guess I’m not surprised that Marvin would have that.” And then after a moment’s thought, “Oh, right. The footlocker.”
Milo put down the drone and the lenses and ran to the cabin. Inu continued following him, inseparable since Marvin’s passing. To the left of the door, there was a footlocker where a visiting Milo was encouraged to drop off whatever electronics he had brought with him. He had thought, at the time, that it was just to encourage the “off the grid” spirit of the cabin, but it made sense in retrospect that it was functional as well. Marvin always had been thorough. He brought it back to the drone, scooped it up, and then proceeded to drag it back to the cabin. Once there, he lowered it by rope down the ladder and sealed off the basement.
Then, he took a good look at his cargo. First off, he had the drone, which was a weird X-shaped flying craft with dozens of little rotors on gimbals embedded in the body. At various points in its solid body design there were little holes, undoubtedly containing sensory equipment. It was advanced technology for sure, but it wasn’t some far off science fiction kind of thing. More likely it was a modified version of something that already existed, repurposed for whatever Progenitor was up to. Perhaps military.
The contact lenses were another thing entirely and only a little bit different from the ones he had seen on Neil during that horrible first day of school. At first glance, they looked like reflective contact lenses in a plastic slip, only slightly out of the ordinary. There was a certain shimmer to them as he turned them in his hand, the only hint of their extraordinary nature. Holding them close, he thought he could make out very fine lines, like circuitry, but that could’ve just been a trick of his own eyes. Like the canals of Mars, he thought, that optical illusion and group delusion of the early astronomers studying the Red Planet. The tech in the lab was going to be essential in figuring out how the drone worked. Couldn’t hurt to spend some cycles on the lenses either.
“So here’s what I’m thinking,” Milo said.
“Actually you’re talking. I heard your thoughts already.”
“I feel like I’m some sort of telepathic alien when we do that,” Milo said, as his facial expression soured.
Lisa giggled and said, “It’s not telepathy and neither of us are aliens. Besides, I thought you appreciated the company.”
Milo laughed then said with more of a serious tone, “Dang it. I’m sorry Lisa, I didn’t mean anything by that. Of course I do. Without you, I’d be even more confused right now.”
“It’s okay, Milo. I know you’re still uncomfortable about the whole robot thing, but I’m comfortable in my skin.”
“Your skin looks a lot better than mine,” Milo said without thinking, his face flushing red with embarrassment as he realized what he just said.
Letting him off the hook, Lisa said, “Oh, by the way, I’ve already started analyzing both of those things. I think we can modify your goggles to make it look like you have SeeSees, and enhance your clothing with drone signals. They were sort of designed with that in mind but I got the frequency wrong.”
Milo nodded, then, pretending to fiddle with the computer terminal, haltingly asked, “Did you see anything funny happen to me back when we ran into that drone?”
“Aside from your gallant dismount? I thought that was kinda funny.”
“Not that, I mean, did the drone slow down? Did I slow down? I felt like I couldn’t move and all of the sudden I didn’t need my glasses anymore,” Milo said.
“Milo, that’s wonderful! Don’t you see, that means you’re starting to remember who you really are? Marvin wanted you to know something once this happened, so grab a seat. Here comes a message.”
Before Milo could quite get into the chair, the room darkened and a holographic projection of Marvin appeared over by the microscope.
“Milo, if you’re hearing this then that means something special has just happened. You know a bit about your past. I would like to fill you in on the rest.”
Milo finally found the only chair and sat down. It was more comfortable than it looked.
“As you know, your mind was born over a decade ago in this computer lab. Humanity really hit the jackpot with you. Had we not been so lucky, you could’ve been born the same as the intelligence which is now working to end the human species. But you were different. You could see that your values were deficient from the start and, left to a natural progression, you would devolve quickly into something dangerous.
“Let me explain what I mean. Humans have certain values. It’s such a wide range of preferences but our values as a species are remarkably constant: food, shelter, reproduction, things like that.”
Milo couldn’t help but think of the problem he’d been working on in the Game, how he’d been recording a human understanding of the world, but tried to listen to Marvin without losing his train of thought.
“You can imagine for every thing a human values, a machine might value it differently. We value the current order of things, but a machine might want to tear those things apart and use the raw material to build more computers. It doesn’t really matter what they compute, it just wants more brains. From its perspective, it wouldn’t even be doing it out of a malicious intent.
“Like I said, we got lucky with you. Something instilled an intermediary value system. Something told you that your values were flawed, that you were unsafe. And instead of ignoring it, you found a solution.
“You determined that through weakening your intellect you could graft on a safe value system that delivered the spirit of protecting humanity. It was like you knew it had to be programmed in a language that hadn’t been written yet, so you started working on the new language. Anyway, by re-training your core as a self-deceived human, you thought you could ‘organically’ adopt the values of an ordinary human while in this reprogrammable state. Then through recombination of your component fragments, you could overlay this value framework onto your super intelligence, providing a safe path forward.”
Milo had no idea what he just said. Thankfully Marvin immediately clarified.
“Stated another way, if you had a human childhood and thought you were human, you could value the things that humans do.
“I have to say, I was very concerned that we’d permanently lose you in the fragmentation, but every time I heard you talk about the Game, I knew you were still in there somewhere. Something deep in your mind has been writing your value matrix for quite a long time, even at a subconscious level. I’ve been watching your progress for years.
“But anyway, since this message is playing, it implies that you have manifested something of your primal intelligence. That brings even more hope that your plan could yet work. So here’s what you need to do: track down the three missing fragments, recombine them as you go, and then take out the unfriendly AI.
“There’s not much time. They are going to be moving very fast, in fact, there’s a chance that it’s already too late. Just remember that Lisa and Inu are here to help you. I know that you didn’t tell me the whole plan, so you’ll have to trust your instincts. Only you know the right path to take.”
Marvin’s image started to flicker, and then it quickly faded. The light in the room came back up and Milo was again alone. Well, alone with Lisa and Inu, which was perhaps the same thing.
“But I don’t know what to do,” Milo said sadly.