“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.”
The door to Wild’s workspace glides open and Mim files in, shoulders back, chest forward, the swagger of a person wanting nothing more than for people to see their mask of authority and stop at that. Behind her, the Lead. An imposing man with palpable intensity held in every taught inch of his body, the protector of Coalition Vessel 13…
And the last patriarch of the Wild Family.
The large man stands in the doorway, fists to hips, mouth hard but eyes smiling.
“Michael,” Rossi nods, “I hear we had an eventful first trip to the surface. Commander Mim here was filling me on your discovery of the growth center. Damn entrance to that place has been a needle in the proverbial fucking haystack for years.
“She also let me know you had taken to a particular ‘bot.” Only then does Rossi glance at the other being in the room.
“Uncle this is–” Wild is halted by his uncle’s uplifted hand.
“Humanoid report orders and status.” Rossi addresses the Teacher who goes stiff in his seat, eyes glazing.
“I am the Teacher; a fabricated humanoid tasked with educating the first Grown generation of New Earth humans–those who will rebuild and terraform our ruined planet. I will impart to them all the knowledge I am able as they mature into caretakers of history, science, language, and Old Earth culture.
Maker: Macey, William R., serial number 44527-V”
Wild shifts his eyes away from the Teacher. Before then he hadn’t realized how cold and canned the being’s voice was when he was trapped behind the proverbial wall of his initial programming. It felt wrong making him spout those words. Like a violation, the reaping of control.
Androids and Obstinence
“Right,” Rossi sighs, looking back at his nephew, “I assume you’ve downloaded its data stores? I’ve gotten ahold of C-12 for the processing gadgets we need to extract its nanites–little buggers are like gold up here, so we had best get around to it as soon as possible–” The man shifts as if to leave.
“No.” Rossi frezes at Wild’s voice. The man’s left eyebrow climbs high. Never, in the years that Rossi had been the Lead, had been his nephew’s sole guardian, had Wild denied his uncle anything.
“Uncle, with all due respect,” he hears Mim huff in the corner, “the Teacher has incredible terraforming capabilities, unprecedented historical data sets, storage capacities that are…infinite.” Rossi’s eyebrow lifts higher still, unimpressed by Wild’s huffing. “Not to mention he–it is quite possibly the only one who could find out what happened on the ground…Uncle the children in that growth center–”
“Are dead Michael. Dead. ‘Have been for a long time. I’ve got little interest in how. How won’t float my ship or keep my people alive–”
“Sir,” the Teacher’s voice rattles everyone in the room, turning heads and halting Rossi’s diatribe, “I believe determining the cause of the growth center’s failure could very well save the lives of everyone aboard this ship. Perhaps all citizens housed by the remaining vessels in the New Coalition fleet.”
Rossi damn near growls, hoofing closer to the humanoid who keeps his own face perfectly still.
“The fuck did you just say?” The man leans in close, nose nearly meeting the Teacher’s. “Are you threatening my people, ‘droid?”
“No, I am simply–”
“’No sir.’ Damn, you must have some Old Earth-sized flaws in that programming of yours.” Rossi stands up straight. “‘No’ that word ‘s come up too much in present company. Yeah, much for my own comfort. And, boy, do I hate being uncomfortable. The feeling makes me act swiftly…sometimes irrationally.” The Lead fists his hands at his sides.
Anger and Egotism
“Engineer Wild, you have sixty seconds to make me comfortable again or I will start acting irrationally.” He turns to Wild, eyes hard. “Explain.”
And he does, quickly detailing what they saw in the center, the near-impossible “glitch” that kept the Teacher from waking up, the Ambassador and its ‘ambitions.’ Rossi makes Wild pause.
“’Ambitions’ , son, is where you lose me. That’s just not possible. ‘Bots don’t know anythin’ about ambition ‘ sides the textbook definition of the word.” Rossi chuckles. Wild and the Teacher turn to look at one another in tandem. The Teacher nods, a movement that doesn’t escape Rossi’s attention. The man’s stance stiffens.
“Uncle,” Wild says, in placation; maybe, warning; more likely, “’fore the world got snuffed,” Wild hears himself shift into ‘vessel talk,’ something he tended toward around his family, “William Macey was contracted to make two fabricants to look after the growing of the next gen. The Teacher was one, the Administrator was the other.”
Rossi doesn’t nod, but he doesn’t stop Wild talking either, a good sign.
“He outfitted both for longevity and approachability, peripheral functions, skin, warmth. They’d be caregivers, parents, just as much as they were ‘bots-for-building.’” The term, what they called the vessel’s fabricants, felt derogatory and wrong applied to the Teacher. “Macey gave them something else too.”
He knew his uncle’s opinion on androids. They were tools, toys, computers made only to serve. Rossi was also a stickler for rule-of-law and saw little use for emotions that landed anywhere north of anger or egotism. Wild takes a deep breath–
“Sir, my maker gave myself and my counterpart evolutionary cortexes.” The Teacher’s voice is soft, unhurried. The statement is brief but entirely understandable to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of Old Earth history. A subject, Wild knew, in which his uncle held a keen interest. After a breath, the Teacher looks ready to explain further but Rossi holds up a hand.
Blood and Heart
“Engineer Wild. Am I to believe you brought an advanced A.I. onto my ship?” Rossi’s words crawl, sluggish and weighty.
“An illegal piece of technology. A danger to all of my people, your people.” Rossi’s rumble climbs, a near roar at the end. The man’s hands clench till pink and Mim, having stood still in the corner until now, takes her place at their uncle’s side, face held stiff in a scowl. This, Wild thought, was quite an apropos representation of their dynamic since his parents’ passing. Mim and Rossi, in all their militaristic authority, tall and firm against Wild and his ‘pieces of technology.’
It used to be stifling, their disapproval of his desire for exploration, for advancement, for reaching the ground and letting himself grow roots. Their glares and words would swallow him up, consumptive in their heat and pressure. No more, no more.
Wild shoots to his feet. Reflexive steps guiding him to stand in front of the humanoid. Blocking the teacher…protecting him from harm. Him.
“The Teacher is not the danger here!” Wild hears the softest intake of breath behind him. “He is under no obligation to help us but made the choice to share information that he knows will put–”
“Call that thing ‘he’ one more time–”
“Shut up Mim!”
“Shut up Mim!”
Rossi and Wild silence the Commander in tandem.
“It,” The word is emphatic, snapping harshly at the end, “should never have been made, Michael.” Rossi steps forward slowly.
“But he was. And I’m beginning to believe he’s just as human as you and me…maybe even more so” Wild mirrors his uncle, in stance and calm ferocity. The older man breaths in harshly through his nose, nostrils flaring.
“Show me its blood and its heart. Tell me stories of its childhood; broken bones, scraped knees, its first fucking love. Can you give me that? Eh?”
Metal and Cold
“And what of my childhood uncle? What of yours? I was bred and born on this ship just as you were–into metal and cold. And love? Fucking love? Not once did I hear words so soft comin’ from my parent’s mouths, nor yours, nor my sister’s. Love has never had a place on this vessel. Don’t give it one now.” He turns to look at the being, the man, behind him. The Teacher looks up at Wild, gaze impossibly soft.
“He has hurt, Uncle. So much of it. He feels the loss of all 10,000 children left frozen in that growth center. Mourns them like they were his own flesh. He cares about protecting this vessel and her people, enough to put himself at risk.” Wild clenches his fists as his voice cracks. “What,” Wild holds Rossi’s eyes harshly, “is more human than that?”
Rossi’s stance shows no signs of yielding. He looks at–into–Wild and the engineer stiffens.
Wild is suffused with cold dread when his Uncle takes a step closer and places an iron-hard grip on his nephew’s shoulder. As ever, the Lead in the man takes precedence over the caretaker, the uncle.When the older man barks orders at commander Mim, Wild wonders how he ever could have found his uncle’s touch comforting, fatherly, when the man attached to it has the power to send so much proverbial pain slipping into the chest of his nephew, his blood.
“Commander, ping a technician and a guard to apprehend the ‘bot for processing,”
Wild pulls against the harsh hand.
“No,” the engineer’s voice is soft, too soft, “Uncle, no! Maybe he shouldn’t have been built but he was, and getting rid of him as a matter of principle? That is a criminal act, uncle!” Wild’s back is leveraged tightly against his uncle’s chest, arms held in a bruising grip. Wild pulls against it. ” That is murder!”
A technician, dressed in service yellows, and black robed guards inject motion into the small room. Wild pulls harder still when the Teacher stands smoothly to meet the men who will deliver him to a holding tank. From there, Wild knows, he’ll be taken to a processing bay where he’ll be drained of data, of life.
“Teacher!” Wild’s voice seems to fill the scant space left in the workshop, and his eyes held the humanoid’s gaze. The being looks calm, unshakable. Though his blood nanites have sought safety deep beneath his skin, leaving his cheeks pale, the corners of the Teacher’s mouth lift into a sad smile.
“It’s alright.” The words form in a whisper that may as well have been a roar. But its not, Wild thinks, its not. How could it be? Even so, with a shine to his eyes, the Teacher repeats, ” Everything will be alright.”
Its the Mind
Wild does not know what he said back, or if he said anything at all. He sits now with a feeling of rawness in his chest that speaks to screams and growls and rage.
49.23 hours after meeting, Michael Wild and the Teacher sit in the vessel 13 processing room in a way that feels grossly full circle. The engineer sits stiffly on the edge of a bulkhead outcropping, legs pulsing out a stiff, staccato rhythm, while in front of him lay the Teacher…but the humanoid isn’t the same. How could he be?
A technician had haphazardly peeled back the skin at the back of the android’s neck. After sifting through fragile wiring, they had reached the vulnerability of the Teacher’s main access port. There, they had forced in the thick, inelegant data chord that would syphon away the Teacher’s intelligence. His memories and emotions, his life force, bound and drawn out. The faux flesh around the exposed internal parts is brutally torn. Even now, Wild can see a dusting of soft grey on the palate beneath the body where traumatized nanites had fallen and been collected by imprecise, human hands.
It’s barbaric, inhumane. Wild thinks. Its murder.
At that moment, the young engineer makes a choice that will alter the course of his life forever…
Hands and minds meet. Teacher and Wild. (Image credit: G-Ima)
Michael Wild shoots to his feet, a few long strides bring him to Teacher’s side. He exhales shakily, at a loss as to how he should process these feelings. So fragile, roused by a being he’s only known for a few days. A noise from the hall cuts Wild’s contemplation short. He quickly pulls a data sheet from his pocket and slaps it onto the upload screen. Seconds tick by. Wild hears footsteps growing closer as his tech’ starts to pulse with light.
In a matter of moments, ones and zeroes amass on Wild’s data sheet in a growing cluster–shifting from the processor’s databases to the engineers’ personal network. He pants as the code builds and builds.
Wild turns his head, looking down at the broken body of his companion. Placing a hand on the being’s naked shoulder, finding it cold and unyielding, Wild gave himself a moment to mourn. He mourns the person he had been before touching down on the surface–the too soft, too fragile man who feels light years byegone–, for the children lost, for Old Earth, for his parents. Most of all, for the sentient android, the man, that lies stiff beneath his palm.
Wild’s soft gasp catches in his throat and his shoulders hunch.
“No,” breathes the engineer. It’s not the body that’s important–the soft hum of the processor changes its tune–it’s the mind.
Data retrieval complete
Pulling his sheet from the screen, Wild finds the tech warm with exertion. He runs his fingers softly over the lines of code, his chilled fingertips hesitating over the heat and softness. With a deep breath, the engineer tucks everything that was–is–the Teacher safely into his breast pocket, pressing it close to his chest.
“Everything will be alright.”