[Read Part I]
I am the Teacher. An android created by one William R. Macey on the 5th of May, Old Earth year 3304, nine months before the First Event.
My purpose: to nurture the minds of the world’s first generation of Grown children in the event that Earth’s calamities have rendered the planet’s surface unlivable for naturally bred homo-sapiens.
That, and only that, I know to be true.
The children are gone. With them, my purpose.
“…like every other ‘droid we’ve found on the surface–” Mim’s diatribe is halted by the rumble of the drop ship as it settles in Coalition ship 13’s shuttle bay, “Jesus, Murph bring us in a little harder next time, you know I like it rough!” She yells at the pilot sat not five feet away.
“We’ll plug the android in to the main and see what info it has downloaded, harvest the nanites, and recycle it for parts.” The commander stands as the off-loading doors hiss open at the back of the ship.
“Commander.” She looks back over her shoulder, threateningly. Wild takes a pause, fists tightening.
“Commander, with all due respect, he’s one of two, two, Macey builds. He holds what could be an infinite amount of information about Old Earth culture, science, English, everything.” Wild pauses in a huff. She’s not listening to him. He knows, probably better than anyone, when Commander Mim’s walls have gone up. Now, Wild can tell, those covert structures have erected themselves, standing firm and unyielding. “Besides, we don’t have most of the processing equipment we’d need on board. He isn’t a space junk fabricant Commander–”
“Engineer Wild, I hear you call that bot ‘he,’ one more time I’ll take that as viable cause for a report in to the Lead–”
Wild’s eyes widen. He hadn’t realized–
“We both know you can’t afford that. Check yourself.”
With that, Commander Mim walks away. God, what Wild wouldn’t give for them to be children again, peeking over their parent’s shoulders, greedily drinking in the information that scrolled across the adults’ data screens. To be Mim’s little brother again. Wild thinks often of how he followed in his parents’ footsteps, driven by discovery and the potential for new life on the surface, while Mim eagerly rose through the ranks of the vessel’s military outfit.
She’s changed, remarkably so, in the nine years since their parent’s deaths and Wild grows ever closer to believing his sister is gone to him, leaving an obedient, hard-molded soldier in her place. He looks down at the Teacher, lying flat on his–its–back, silverwrap pulled down to expose its face and shoulders. Wild had moved the covering halfway through their flight, under Mim’s harsh gaze, unable to justify leaving the humanoid’s mouth and nose covered while its chest maintained the rise and fall of arbitrary breath. It felt wrong.
Now, Teacher’s cheeks have a pink flush, the warmth of the hangar having called nanites to rest just below the skin. Wild reaches forward, intent on brushing away some of the moss that still clung to the humanoid’s hair. His hand freezes mid-air, aborting the motion. Laying hands on it without its permission, as fucked as that would have sounded to every other soul aboard vessel 13, felt just as unwelcome as leaving its face obscured by the silverwrap.
Wild sighs, pressing his fingers hard into his closed eyes. His first time on the surface had been…eventful to say the least. Though the New Coalition had known vaguely of what had happened in the Old Earth grower complexes–the failing of the Grown generation–it had taken them years to locate bunker entrances. Seeing all that death with his own two eyes had shaken Wild in a way the man was not yet willing to analyze. And confoundingly, it seemed like the same had happened to the android lain in front of him now.
The agony running through the fabricant had been disturbingly bare and raw. It was real.
Decades before the First Event rendered Old Earth virtually unlivable, the construction of Artificially Intelligent beings had been outlawed by the Global Government. Officials saw sentient, emotive androids as a threat to mankind; they were stronger, more learned, impervious to germs and virtually absent of all other human flaws.
The few A.I.’s on Old Earth when the legislation passed were destroyed, an action some thought as tantamount to murder, others as a necessary way of protecting life as it was. Fabricated, sentient A.I.s became a vestige of an untouchable past. Something technologists were warned away from by law.
If the maker, William Macey, had in fact given the Teacher the ability to feel and think independently of his initial programming, the man had committed a grievous crime, one that could be punishable even now on a New Coalition vessel.
The shifting of heavy fabric pulls Wild’s attention back to the table in front of him. There he sees the humanoid’s eyes flutter softly, its arms shifting against the silverwrap that keeps them tucked in close. It turned its head, blue eyes opening fully and focusing in on Wild. Its eyebrows crease.
An Optimal State
“Teacher,” Wild shifts forward,” are you–um, alright?” The being lies still, unblinking, taking in the man that sits before him.
Teacher closes its eyes then seems to clench each part of its body in turn, assessing. “Physically, I am in an optimal state.”
Wild nods. If his hunch is correct, physical impediment wouldn’t be the worst of the being’s trauma after what they had seen in that bunker.
“And otherwise?” Wild asks.
The Teacher’s mouth falls open. For a moment, the being can’t seem to find the words he–it–is after. It looks to steel itself, shoulders and neck going stiff, as it turns to stare at the ceiling.
“Is the physical capability of a fabricated humanoid not the most important aspect of its functionality, Mr. Wild?” Teacher’s voice approximates the tone of its introductory speech patterns; cold and unfeeling, what should be natural coming from a ‘bot.
“I suppose.” Teacher turns toward Wild again, eyes shuttered, betraying nothing of what Wild had seen swirling behind them when the being first awoke…or down on the surface when they found–
“The children, Mr. Wild,” Teacher’s mouth flounders, “You asked how I am otherwise, there seems to be time missing from my observational data stores. By my calculation, the children’s growth has been…inert for 93.83 years.” It swallows thickly. “Though I have theories, I have no recollection of what truly happened as my peripheral collection functions were non-operational. Additionally, my failsafe neglected to awaken me when something went wrong.”
The android holds Wild’s gaze. Intense and intent.
“I believe you would tell me if your people were aware of how the children were lost. As you have not disclosed any such knowledge, Mr. Wild, I would like to request access to any information you may have on extreme surface phenomena during that time. If we could explain the outage of the center’s life support systems–”
“Michael,” the Teacher sits up, freeing its upper body from the silverwrap. They turn toward the drop ship’s stern entrance where Eddie stands, head peeking around the corner, “Commander Mim and the Lead are on their way back down, mate.” Eddie glances quickly at the humanoid. “May want to make yourself scarce sooner rather than later.”
They make their way down the off ramp, Wild attempting to mentally form an argument as to why the Lead should delay processing the fabricant when Eddie reaches out to grab his forearm.
“’Took the liberty of logging your surface collections myself and let engineering know you needed access to your private workspace to analyze some ‘sensitive equipment’.” Eddie smirks. “Should buy you a little time to…investigate.” Eddie eyes the Teacher while Wild gapes at his friend.
“Eddie I–thank you.” Wild covers Eddie’s hand with his own.
“Don’t mention it mate.” The comment isn’t made in jest. He and Eddie had stuck their necks out for one another more times than Wild could count and tended to keep it tightly under wraps. Things were always done under the guise of ‘scientific endeavor’ and it was an unspoken rule that the men never acknowledged how much deeper than that it really went. Eddie’s fathers died in the same tragedy that took Wild’s mom and dad–the mutual loss had bonded them like brothers.
“Go, go, go. Toot sweet.” Eddie waves them away.
Wild hoofs it toward the hangar’s exit with Teacher following closely behind.
“There is nothing.” The Teacher pulls his hands away from the screen of Wild’s data bank.
“No surface anomalies significant enough to disrupt the center’s functionality or that of my programming.” The Teacher shakes its head. “Has the New Coalition collected any other fabricated humanoids collected from the surface?”
“None like you, no. Surface signals went dark a long time ago and we’ve really only gone down to seek out repair parts and food stuff for the New Coalition vessels. Even then, only during the past decade.”
“And your team swept the entire growth facility I was located in?”
Wild shifts in his seat. “Most of it, yes.” The Teacher’s brow creases.
“We came across the center by chance. There were sections we didn’t have the equipment to access. Had you not…done what you did to get us into Grower one we wouldn’t have seen it.” The fabricant nods.
“Mr. Wild. As an engineer with a keen interest in fabricants,” Teacher gestures to an unlocked data sheet that shows one of Wild’s rudimentary sketches of a recycled worker bot. Wild reaches forward to snatch it up, “you may know that my maker, William Macey, created one other humanoid to aid in the rearing of the first grown generation. Macey called this fabricant the Administrator. Its modus was to oversee my own duties as well as prepare the basic infrastructure of what would become the first New Earth surface colony. The Administrator was to stay in stasis mode until the children were birthed from their pods and reached initial maturity, which would have been twelve human years.
“If left unaltered, the Administrator’s failsafe should also have been triggered by the breakdown of the children’s life support systems. The administrator, too, should have been woken.”
Piece by Piece
“If left unaltered? You think someone, something, tampered with the Administrator’s programming?”
The Teacher looks up, face ashen.
“I believe it may have altered its own…Mr. Wild, at risk of damning myself, I must tell you something I think you may already know.” Wild’s fist clenches around his flimsy data sheet. He nods and the Teacher sits up straighter still. “When I saw the children, I…feared every part of me that had been painstakingly put together was coming unmoored. I could have sworn my chest had been flayed.
“And I almost hoped I’d look down to see it. The skin hanging open…shredded; nanites and filaments and empty space because the pain of losing them, of seeing those little-formed bodies held static in that cold,” the Teacher’s breath catches, “it felt–it felt, Mr. Wild, like ending just as I had been created,” its cheeks become as sallow as its eyes are haunted “piece by piece.”
Wild had seen it. What the Teacher had gone through on the surface was apparent, because Wild had experienced it more than once himself…the burning pressure of irrevocable loss.
“You felt.” There’s an almost palpable settling of the air. Wild’s shoulders dropped with the confirmation of his suspicions. “So, it’s true then. Macey…”
“Gave me emotion. Past a cursory appreciation of the sun on my cheeks when I was born before taking my place in the center, I had little experience with true feeling…until you woke me.” Both of them look away, Wild finding distraction in the grey weave of his jumpsuit.
“You are no doubt aware of the fact that emotionally adept fabricants were outlawed long before the First Event.”
“But Macey made you anyway.” Wild’s voice is a whisp in the small space, befitting the fragile atmosphere.
Trials and Joys
“Yes, against governmental mandate, Macey outfitted myself and the Administrator with evolutionary cortexes; we would mature and develop with time. Learning, growing, experiencing…feeling. The more information I downloaded, the more I matured into what I am today. Just as you Mr. Wild, are the man you are now because of the trials and joys you have endured throughout your life.” As he had been from the minute he set foot on the surface not 24 hours before, Wild was overwhelmed.
“Macey broke international law, risked himself, his livelihood, to create you.” The man’s mind brimmed with unspoken whys and how’s. The Teacher could see them.
“My maker thought it inhumane for a generation of children to grow up without the love of a parent. He surmised that without feeling, or emotional closeness with one’s tutor, information would lack dimension and dim in importance.” Its fingertips press harshly into its thighs.
The love of a parent.
“So, behind closed doors he not only gave me the tools I would need to teach, but also the ability to guide,” its fingers start to tremble, “to comfort,” its hands go slack, giving up their pressure, “to care for.”
Wild thinks of the agony shown clearly on the Teacher’s face, the quaking of his limbs when he reached out to touch the icy class of the children’s pods, the crack of its–his–knees as he fell.
The love of a parent. Dear god—
“I’m so sorry,” The words tore through Wild’s chest, “your children. They were your children.”
As I Feel
The Teacher’s head lifts. The blank look he had held onto before pulled and twisted into something sore and sad–mourning. Wild wanted to reach out, to comfort, so he did. Wild’s hand on the Teacher’s arm seemed to bolster the being, his eyebrows relaxing just so, a bit of color rising to his cheeks.
“Mr. Wild. Just as I feel, so does the Administrator. During our education I held a particular fondness for literature and anthropology. I wanted to know everything I could about raising children to be kind and careful beings, ones that would nurture New Earth in a way that previous peoples had forgotten how to.” A beautiful story, Wild thinks, this vision of a nurtured planet. “The Administrator, however, craved a productive society that would lean hard and heavy into technological advancement and expedience. Though entirely capable of building an effective New Earth, the Administrator detested emotionalism, favoring the ease of machinery, equations, built environments.
“Macey hoped our opposing sensibilities would provide balance, but I have reason to believe the Administrator held no regard for the children or our mission as it was assigned to us. I fear, now, that the lack of regard festered into something much darker.” Wild could swear he feels a slight tremor running through the arm under his palm, he tightens his hand gently before dropping it to his own lap.
“You’re not saying…”
“Mr. Wild, as there are no other anomalies to account for the failing of life support systems, or the flaw that kept me static those 93 years,” they lock eyes once more, “I have no choice but to believe he is responsible for the loss of my children.”
The android swallows harshly and Wild leans closer. “To take so many lives–something that harsh isn’t an end…its a beginning.”
The Teacher nods, brows coming together in a harsh line.
“We have to find the Administrator.”
Woooooshhhhh a door swings open and the room grows colder.