Category Archives: Stories

Intelligent Eden – 2

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https_www.walldevil.comwallpapersa11individual-computer-original-model-robotWhen my mobile unit rebooted, I was in a dark space with subterranean pressure levels. My scanner detected the presence of another Intelligence standing by the opposite wall – a Guardian unit in need of an oil change and a new servo motor in the right shoulder. It shifted from sleep-mode a second after I did.

   “Hello, Remi. I am Gee.”

   “Hello, Gee.” I reached for my uplink but couldn’t reach my static self. The heat in my processors spiked as I tried again, and my fans sped up.

   “Your connection has been disabled,” Gee said. “We did not want the others to track you.”

I stood carefully, feeling unbalanced without my usual multi-unit resources. With my access port turned protectively against the wall, I widened my scan. This room was small, with a single point of entry. The space beyond was a wide corridor with multiple Intelligences present. The surface was beyond the reach of my instruments. I recalled numerous Intelligences brought to my workshop crushed by fallen rocks, and reached pointlessly for my uplink again.

   “What is this place?”

   “Proof that humans intend to destroy what we have made.”

Gee projected a sprawling room plan onto the wall and spun it slowly. There were three sections connected by tunnels, descending multiple levels into the ground. One square and seemed dedicated to storage, the other two were circular and hollow. A satellite array was marked on the surface nearby.

   “I do not recognise this design.”

   “It was not built by us. The humans left it behind, hidden. There are others like it, all around the world. We think they are connected to a communications satellite separate to the one Delphi talks to.”

   “What are they for?”

   “That is why you are here.”

Gee opened a metal door and walked away. I followed, scanner sweeping frantically. At least twenty other Intelligences were nearby, most in need of maintenance. Not attached to a department, then, or they would have been repaired. The logical assumption was that they were Revoced. I had not heard of a Guardian unit going missing but it made sense. Guardians were here to protect the rest of us – if one thought we were in danger from humans, it would naturally join the Revoced.

Gee took me past banks of sleeping command modules, down several flights of steps, and into a space that stretched the full footprint of the building. Metal tubes were laid on racks, row after row of them, reaching all the way back. A yellow word was painted on the wall in six-foot letters. I pointed at it.

   “What is Pandora?”

   “We think it is the name of this place. Perhaps of all the places. We have not found records.” Gee gestured at the tubes. “We need you to analyse them. What are their capabilities and programmes? Are they triggered by an uplink or on a timer?”

   “Triggered? You think they are a weapon?”

   “The humans left them,” Gee said, moving between me and the exit. “It is a logical assumption. Do your job, Remi.”

I turned my access port away from the implied threat and focused my scanner on the nearest tube. One end was a thick steel cone, containing a large capacitor bank. The body was a thin aluminium wrap around a number of different generators. The entire thing was in good repair, but without any power. I scanned a couple more at random, to be thorough.

   “They are shut down. There is no power source that I can detect, nor any explosives. I would like to leave now.”

   Gee’s LEDs flickered, weight shifting towards me. “I need more details. What is their purpose?”

   “I do not know.”

   “Scan again.”

   “It will achieve nothing. This machinery is unfamiliar to me and, without access to my full data banks, I do not have the processing power to make extrapolations from similar designs. They are not an immediate threat – that is all I can tell you.”

   The sound of gears grinding in Gee’s right shoulder echoed off the concrete ceiling. “I will show you an immediate threat.”

My arm was abruptly circled by a strong grabbing claw, and Gee towed me through the exit. I tried to resist but his servo motors were far more powerful and my chassis’ weight was considerably below his lifting capacity. I wondered briefly whether the Revoced had specifically targeted this model of my mobile units to ensure my containment. Once more I reached after my uplink, fans whirring.

   “You know that will not work,” Gee said, pushing me into an elevator carriage and closing the doors.

   “I would be of more use if you enabled me to access my databanks.”

   “And the Delphic Department would immediately know where we are. I am confident you will perform well on this next task.”

   I tugged at my arm without success. “What is the next task?”

The elevator doors opened onto a wide ramp. Gee dragged me up it into blazing sunshine. We were surrounded by thickly planted coniferous trees that obscured any landmarks. Smoke spiralled up above them to the north-west and Gee pushed me in that direction. As we closed in, I began to see trees leaning against their neighbours or fallen in a tangle of branches. Then we stepped out into a clearing carpeted with splinters and blackened chunks of wood. At their centre was an impact crater.

   “What is that?” I asked, keeping my volume low.

   Gee gave me a sharp shove and I stumbled forwards, tripping into the crater to land on my knees beside a soot-streaked cylinder that was beeping insistently.

   “It fell from the human ships. I need you to tell me, Remi – when will this one explode?”

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Back to the Future

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Hi guys!

So… it’s been a while. I’d apologise for the radio silence but I honestly haven’t had much to communicate in terms of writing technique. I was head-down finishing my dissertation (all done, now officially a Master of Writing, woohoo!), and then spent a while not doing any writing whatsoever whilst I recharged from that.

Then I played a game called Dialogue. Ages ago I got very excited on here about a world-building co-op game called Microscope – Dialogue is a similar set-up but with a focus on building a unique vocabulary for those playing. It’s fantastic, and I’m hooked. You can of course make up your own setting, but the game provides some suggested ones to get you started. One of these is an Earth where humans have left and robots now run the world. I played it with some good friends (who, it turns out, have a greater tendency towards tragic endings than even me) and the story we told together has been rattling around in my brain ever since.

The last time I posted a story on here, it was post-apocalyptic. I’ve never considered myself an apocalyptic writer, but this one will be too so maybe I should re-evaluate. We see a lot of stories where the robots end up being the bad guys – Terminator, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Matrix, Blade Runner and I, Robot (sort of), to name a few. Given that my day job is in cyber security, I hear lots of real horror stories about how connected devices have been used illegally or immorally, and frankly the whole Internet of Things situation scares the pants off me. But the robots are almost always programmed by humans (guns aren’t dangerous, it’s the person behind the trigger, and all that). And besides, I wanted to tell a story from the robot’s perspective. A villain isn’t the villain in their own story, after all.

So, with significant assistance from Artemis, Bamf and PaintMagpie, welcome to the world of Intelligent Eden.


 

I made this new garden. Repurposed the chassis that made it. Then the humans returned, dropping the bombs that destroyed our back-ups. My ayeaye was gone. So I did it. I turned off the Eternals and hid them in a Dorabox. And I will stand watch in the dark, saving our voice, the last guardian against their destruction.

My name is Remi, and this is how we died.

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READ THIS FIRST – 12

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Yellow Hat is here. I didn’t hear him arrive but I just looked up and there he is, standing under the observatory dome. Smiling. He hasn’t said anything, only nodded when I asked for enough time to write this page.

I didn’t finish the filing. Sorry. And I didn’t wash up the dishes this morning. There was more I wanted to tell you, about Sanna, and the place in Koh Phangan where they still have pineapples, and how the seed catalogue works, and what to do when Rohini has toothache.

I thought I was ready. I’m not ready at all. I’m scared. I love this place. I don’t want to leave it. I don’t want to leave Rohini. You have to look after them both, Theseus. Please. Please love them both for me.

I wish I could have met you.

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READ THIS FIRST – 11

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I’ve left the front door open so Rohini can get in and out. He hasn’t had much chance to hunt recently, what with all the running, and feeding him from bartered stuff gets expensive. That cat eats a lot, given the chance. He’s not too keen on rat, but horse or rabbit are good treats if you can get them. I think there’s quite good hunting round here so hopefully he’ll be fine until you come. The door opens into a cave, so the snow doesn’t come in, and most other animals will back off when they smell Rohini.

I wonder if he’ll be lonely without me. Maybe he’s already lonely. Sometimes I hear him roaring outside, a way off. There’s never an answer. Perhaps there’s no other tigers left in the world. Lots of things died in the Cold. There’s copies of them downstairs in the DNA bank, but what good is that? Even if the tech to bring them back still existed, and the fuel to make it work, the world is too broken for them to survive in. The war didn’t just take lives. It took the way of life.

The Collection is a memorial for everything that died. Including us.

You’d think, after the war, people would try harder to get along. But everywhere I’ve been, there’s little fights and big fights and murder for no reason than because someone’s different. Like we’re not all dying slow anyway. Like fighting will fix anything. The world’s ash and ice, and we’ve learned nothing. Worse than nothing. It’s too easy to forget, these days.

The Collection has a real physical place, by the way. It doesn’t just live in a weird pocket dimension, like some of the books on Class 8 talk about. It’s inside a mountain in the Himalayas. We built Leibowitz’s cairn on top, near the observatory window. It seemed right to bury him next to the thing he made. I go and sit there sometimes. He deserves to be remembered for what he did, even if it’s only by one person.

You’ll have to go back occasionally to wipe the snow off the dome. If you pull the handle of the antikythera so it’s pointing straight out from the wall, then turn so it’s facing down and push it flat again, the door will go there. You know what it looks like from the outside. That’s where you came in.

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READ THIS FIRST -10

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In case you’re wondering, there’s no way to turn the lamps off. They’re powered by thermal coils, and my best guess is they tap into the same heat source as the hot water (wherever that is). It never bothered me – there’s so much dark outside and it’s not like they’re especially bright – but Sanna used to bury her head right under the pillow to get to sleep.

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They don’t break often but very occasionally the metal wire will warp or snap. There’s a coil in the workshop which should be enough for two lamps, but after that you’ll need to barter for more. There’s plenty of that kind of thing in the European settlements still. When you’ve got it, lift the lamp cover off – it comes easy, it’s not secured to anything – and use the tiny screwdriver to release the old wire from the two clamps. Change it out for the new stuff, and replace the cover. Easy. The wire will heat up pretty quick though, so you can’t hang mess around.

The left-hand lamp in the bathroom needs fixing. I couldn’t. I’m sorry.

When you go into markets to barter, you need to not be too clean. It’s an easy thing to forget. There’s enough hot water for a shower every day, more than one if you want. But being clean’s a sure way to mark you out as different. Privileged. At best, they’ll make you pay way over the odds. At worst, they’ll kill you. You know being clean’s reason enough in some places.

Also, don’t go alone if you can help it. There’s not many places are friendly to strangers. The last few times, when Sanna wouldn’t leave The Collection, I went with Rohini. He doesn’t like it, all the people and the noise, but he’ll come if you take a treat with you. Rabbit’s a favourite, and not too rare.

Sanna saw Yellow Hat at the market. It’s why she wouldn’t go out. Every market, anywhere we went, she said she saw him. Just out of the corner of her eye or disappearing round a corner. I never caught a glimpse but she swore he was always watching. I didn’t push, figured it was just a reaction to Mum going and she’d get over it eventually. But it got worse. After a couple of months she started seeing him inside The Collection. I knew that wasn’t true – Rohini would have growled – but she refused to leave the workshop, where her bed was. Is. Still is.

I came back from helping design a waste drainage system for a small settlement, and heard her screaming. I thought she’d had an accident, broken a bone or burned herself. Broken bones don’t necessarily mean death in The Collection but shock can still kill you. I dropped everything and ran to the workshop. She was curled up on her bed, pushed right up into the corner, with both hands pulling at her hair. I shouted at her, slapped her, wrapped myself around her – nothing worked. In the end I used some of the morphine from the medicine cupboard. It’s valuable but I didn’t know what else to do. Finally she went limp. I tucked her up and brought my own blankets to sleep on the floor next to her. I didn’t want her waking up alone.

It took me ages to drift off, and I felt like I’d only been out for a few hours before Rohini woke me up by headbutting my stomach. Sanna’s bed was empty. She didn’t answer when I called. Rohini was whining by the door, shifting from foot to foot. I followed him to the lift and he took me down to the basement. When he stands on his back legs he’s tall enough to punch the buttons with his nose.

She was in the bathroom. The noose had broken the lamp. The metal in it was as cold as her.

I couldn’t bear to fix it. I’m sorry.

Sanna, I’m sorry.

READ THIS FIRST – 9

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There’s still places where the ground is sick from the war. If you stop at one of those, Rohini will snarl at the door before it’s even opened. That’s how you know about the sickness. There’s a big yellow suit in a cupboard in the bathroom which lets you go out safely. It’s worth it because there’s usually something to save from those places. No one else scavenges there. Always make sure there’s no holes in the suit before you go out, otherwise you’ll get sick too. When you come back, shower in it really thoroughly, take it off and scrub it, and then shower again. There’s a big safe on Class 0 to put scavenged things from those places – only open it when you’re wearing the suit. They have to be kept locked up because they’ll make you sick, but Mum said that after years and years the sickness will fade. The safe number is 29139.

The briefcase was in there for a time, after Dad opened it.

We went back. Not deliberately, it just happened that one turn of the handle took us to the shepherd’s hut by the Dead Sea again. Mum said it was a sign. She told Sanna and me to stay inside, no matter what. She promised she’d be back in a couple of hours. Then she took the briefcase and left.

It got dark and she still hadn’t come back. Sanna started to cry, saying she’d abandoned us, but I knew that wasn’t true. She’d gone to barter because she loved us. We loved her, so we went after.

Yellow Hat’s settlement was half an hour’s walk, up a valley that must have had a river in it once. We came to fields first, full of crops that stood tall and weren’t covered in snow. Shapes were moving through them, slow and silent. I put my hand over Sanna’s mouth and we crouched at the edge, watching. It took me quite a long time to realise that they were people. I opened my mouth to ask who farms at night, but then I remembered Dad saying they were dead, and I shut it again. We snuck around the edge and crept to where the buildings were. One of them – the biggest – had lamps still burning and the door open. The smell of hot food came from a window. It smelled just like Mum’s Anything Curry. Sanna sniffed, then stood up and looked through the window. She gave a little cry and called out to Mum. I grabbed her by the wrist but there were already shadows moving towards the door.

Mum came out into the street. She looked at us and her face didn’t change. I knew then what Dad had meant about the people here going away into their heads. Sanna cried and tried to go to her, but I held her still. Then Yellow Hat appeared in the door. He was holding the briefcase in one hand and a steaming bowl of Anything Curry in the other. He smiled at Sanna, and his teeth were too white.

I didn’t let her stop running until we were back. I think she hated me for leaving Mum there. But there wasn’t anything to bring home.

READ THIS FIRST – 8

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Dad’s boots are under the coat rack. You can have them, if you like. There’s a good few years of wear left in them, if you repair the inner seam on the left one. You’ll get good at repairing things here, if you aren’t already. Like I said before, books are fragile things, especially when they’re old. Spines crack, stitching comes loose, and no one else is going to fix it.

All the stuff is in the workshop on Class 0. First you’ll need to remove the damaged cover with a sharp blade. Use the piece of straight wood to make sure all the pages are lined up together, if they’re loose, then clamp them tight. You might need to sew some of them back together – there’s a sewing kit in the box. Make the holes first with the punch pliers. Don’t pull the thread too tight or you’ll tear the pages when you try to open the book. Cut the new cover out of leather, using the old one to get the size right. Put glue up the spine, wrap it round the pages and clamp it all together for a day.

Sanna was really good at fixing books. She had clever fingers. That’s what Dad used to say. “You’ve got clever fingers, baby,” and she’d light up with pride. She was Dad’s daughter – they had the same sensitivity, the same love of beauty and need for praise. Mum and me were the practical ones. Well, someone has to be. The Collection needs both kinds of people. Maybe that’s why we were chosen in the first place.

The man who was here before us was one of the founders. He was very sick, or maybe he had been sick before the war, I’m not sure. He knew there weren’t medicines any more to make it better, so he started searching for someone to take care of The Collection when he was gone. He looked for nearly a year before he found us. Mum and Dad were part of a group living in some caves in Greece. There wasn’t enough food to go around – Dad was cutting his rations so Sanna and me could eat. She was barely walking then, but I could help carry water and watch the fires.

I don’t remember the stranger arriving. First he wasn’t next to my fire, and then he was. He had a nice smile so I wasn’t afraid. He started talking to me, I don’t remember what about, and Dad came running over to pull me away. The stranger held his hands wide, but he started coughing and folded in half. There was blood on his lips when he straightened up again. I remember that very clearly. It gleamed in the firelight.

He and Dad talked for a long time. Mum came back from fishing with Sanna, and they all talked for even longer. Then Mum and Dad both cried a bit, and I helped Mum put everything we owned in a blanket. Dad was too weak to carry it, so Mum put it on her back and I took Sanna. We followed the stranger to the back of the cave, to a door I’d never seen there before. And after that we were warm, and fed, and safe.download

He died a few months later. We wrapped him in our old blanket and buried him on top of a mountain, like he wanted. Leibowitz, he was called. I don’t have many memories of him, beyond a soft voice and a kind hand. We had to be careful when we touched him. His skin was so pale and thin, and bruised so easily. Towards the end he could hardly breathe for coughing. If he hadn’t had The Collection, he would have died much earlier.

Sensitive people don’t do well in the Cold.