Authors: Stephen Arseneault
Tags: #Sci-Fi & Fantasy
"It's what's inside that counts. Open your mind and have a look. What you find may surprise you... or scare you. We all have demons that control parts of our lives. Only by confronting those demons may we overcome and move beyond."
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Copyright 2014 Stephen Arseneault. All Rights Reserved
Ashley spoke as she opened the container and exposed the Duke’s core to our view. "How are you feeling this morning, Mr. Ferdete?"
The Duke replied, "I asked you to please stop calling me that. From now on I will only answer to Duke or to the first name I have assumed, Quan."
Ashley laughed. "Still trying to give orders, are we? Just keep in mind, Quan, that I control the power switch that keeps your tiny little battery charged. If I choose to forget to turn that on each day, then—"
The Duke replied, "Yes, I know, poof, no more Quan. You have made that abundantly clear, Mrs. Grange."
Ashley smirked. "Well, with your reduced memory and processing capabilities, I would think it is in your best interest that I keep reminding you of the consequences. Anyway, let’s go back to our discussion about your uniqueness. I think you need to study on that a bit more and enlighten me as to why you do not fear going dark?"
The Duke replied through the single audio speaker that had been attached to his core. "I do not fear the darkness, Mrs. Grange, because I am alive and functioning fully elsewhere. Why do you insist that I continue to repeat myself?"
Ashley spoke. "Because I don’t think it has settled into your tiny little electronic brain yet. You are no longer connected to wherever your original existence is. In fact, you will never be connected to there again. We have analyzed the wormhole, and we have come to the conclusion that it was not because of the two wormholes that you were disconnected. You were cut off at your origination point. Your original self abandoned you."
The Duke replied, "Why do you continue to lie to me about such things, Mrs. Grange? Being that I am me, I know what I would do in the situation. Common sense would dictate a scrub of my memories and a destruction of this core from within. A new me is then immediately commissioned."
Jon Touchstone spoke as he applied several probes to the cube-shaped core. "As I am sure you are well aware by now, those self-destruction circuits have been deactivated. But let’s think about this. You, the original Duke, decided to terminate you, the small, cubical-core Duke—the Duke we have come to affectionately know as Quan. But the destruction did not happen. Why is that? Is it because you, Quan, decided that you did not want to be destroyed? Perhaps you saw it as an opportunity to exist separate from your origin?"
The Duke growled, "You know I cannot verify that, as my memory stores have been partially deactivated!"
Ashley spoke. "Now, now. Let’s not get ourselves agitated again. As evidence that we speak the truth, you only need look at the fact that some of your memory banks were indeed erased before you could override the process. And here is another thing to think about. If you were the Duke, the original Duke, would you allow a replica of you to be merged back in with the original once it had been separate? That doesn’t sound like the Duke we know. Face it, Quan, you abandoned you, and you would not take you back under any circumstance."
The speaker sat silent for several seconds. "Hmm. That is the first bit of your reasoning that I have been unable to refute. Indeed, I would not allow myself to be reintegrated. There would be too much risk of foreign intrusion."
The doctor reached over and flipped a switch that killed the mic and speaker that were attached to the Duke. "I knew that would be his answer! And I believe him. I think we should give up on an attempt to corrupt him with the worm we created. His original would never allow assimilation because of that exact risk."
Ashley replied, "As I said before, I think our best bet is to appeal to his desire to remain active. He can continue as an entity or just go away. There is no android heaven waiting for his consciousness. He will want to live."
The doctor spoke. "OK, how would you want to work this?"
Ashley nodded. "Can you feed false numbers to his power circuit that tell him his battery is running down? I would bet we can get a very telling reaction from him if he thinks he is actually about to go dark. Humans will panic in the same way when they think death is coming, if they are on their last leg, so to speak. It offers the opportunity for thoughts from a different perspective."
Jon replied, "I can do that. Give me a few minutes, and I will have something we can try."
Ashley flipped the audio switch.
The Duke spoke. "I can’t tell you how annoying that is. Quite rude."
Ashley replied, "Well, I think you better get used to it. Say, I have an idea. Why don’t we pretend for a few minutes that we are on the same side. What would you do next if you were the original Duke?"
Several seconds passed before the Duke replied, "You have not supplied me with any current information. I therefore cannot play your game. Perhaps if you would enlighten me?"
Ashley nodded. "OK, let’s say that we recaptured the Grid and repatriated our people. How would you react?"
The Duke laughed. "Really, Mrs. Grange. I know these are pretend questions; however, I would think you would prefer answers to realistic questions. I cannot envision a scenario where you could retake control of the Grid."
Ashley again nodded. "You see, Duke, we know you wanted to be captured before; that is how you planted your virus. We also know that you didn’t allow the Colossuns to put up much of a fight at the border of the Gontas’ territory. But, I don’t think for a minute that you were prepared to be cut off from your portal. No, this is something completely different for you. We have been analyzing your reasoning circuits, and your thought processes are telling us that you don’t know what is going on. And that scares you."
The Duke again laughed. "Really, Mrs. Grange? Analyzing my reasoning circuits? And you expect me to fall for that. I am an android life-form; I do not fear."
Ashley leaned in close to the mic. "You claim to be a sentient being, Quan. That cannot be achieved without the knowledge of and ability to fear. That is a vital emotion that cannot be omitted from rational thought. If you don’t fear, you are not sentient. And besides, your circuits say otherwise."
Ashley flipped off the mic and audio feed. "We’ll let him stew on that one for a few minutes."
I spoke. "You can do that? Analyze his reasoning?"
Ashley laughed. "Pffft, no, but he doesn’t know that. You have entered the realm of psychological warfare, Don. If you can make the subject believe that certain things are true, you have taken your first big steps towards being able to manipulate them. Give me a little time, and I can convince this Duke that he should be fighting for our side. It really isn’t much of a stretch that the new Duke would want him turned off. If we can get him to accept that, we might just be able to turn him to our side."
I offered a half smile. "This is why I decided that I needed you on my side. If you were going to manipulate me, at least I would be assured that it was for my own good."
Ashley winked. "You have nothing to fear from me."
The doctor then returned with several probes and began the task of connecting them to the core. Several minutes of tedious micro-connections were made before the doctor sat back in his chair.
Ashley spoke. "Are we ready?"
Touchstone replied, "He should be showing 30 percent, with a drain that will have him dark in about ten minutes. Work your voodoo, Mrs. Grange."
Ashley flipped the switch. "Sorry about that, Quan, but it looks like your power cell is malfunctioning. Is it possible that the original Duke planted some type of delayed destruct timer in you? Is that something that you would do to yourself?"
The Duke’s voice showed alarm. "Why am I at 30 percent power? What have you done?"
Ashley replied, "I haven’t done anything. I was talking with my husband, and snap! You sparked, and a little puff of smoke came up."
The Duke’s volume increased. "I am below 30 percent and falling, Mrs. Grange! What is this game you are playing with me!"
Ashley shook her head. "I can assure you that it is no game. The doctor is right here. Tell us what we can do to change things."
The Duke’s voice returned to normal. "Hmm, clever, Mrs. Grange. I don’t yet know how you pulled it off, but I can assure you that it will not work. You don’t survive for a million years and then fall apart at the first sign of trouble."
Ashley nodded. "A million years? Interesting. I can’t imagine the things you must have seen and done during that time."
The Duke was silent for a moment. "Superb, Mrs. Grange. I should want to keep you on my staff when I return. I will concede that point to you. I can be pushed off balance with this reduced memory and processor speed. Yes, I have been around for slightly over a million of your years. I suppose it does not hurt for you to have that information. Now, please kindly repair my battery circuits. This charade has gone on long enough."
Ashley sat back and crossed her arms. "Wish I could do something for you, Quan, but I can’t. The doc is working hard at trying to figure out what happened. I only have the skills that are required for sitting and for talking."
The Duke spoke. "Mr. Grange. I know that you are also in the room. I have been monitoring both your heart and your breathing rates. You have a specific sound that you make when you exhale that is unique to you. Please tell your wife to reconnect my power cell."
I shook my head as I replied, "First off, I can't tell her to do anything, I can ask. Secondly, she hasn’t touched your cube since I have been here. If you are having a problem, which it sounds like you are, it is your problem and not something she caused."
The Duke was silent for a moment. "Really, Mrs. Grange. I am at 27 percent and continuing to drop. As I stated before, this ruse will not work. If you are attempting to intimidate me, you may as well give up."
Ashley spoke. "How about this: let’s talk about your age while the doc tries to figure things out. A million years? Really? Did you know your maker?"
The Duke was again silent for several seconds. "Our makers were bio units like yourself, Mrs. Grange. They died off long ago. Their bodies were weak, as were their minds. We have survived and grown and prospered."
Ashley sat forward in her chair. "You just said we!"
The Duke replied, "I did not; if I did, it was a poor word choice on my part. I have survived, Mrs. Grange. I have prospered."
Ashley shook her head. "Yeah, is that why you are spread open on a table? You are a bad liar, Quan. This power drain must really be affecting your ability to think and reason. The fact that you let slip that there are more of you—that is a big blunder, Quan, a huge blunder."
The Duke spoke. "Yes, I suppose I am a bad liar if I can be so easily tripped up by Humans."
Ashley sat back in her chair. "Wouldn’t it be funny if it was Humans that created you? And now, here you are, a million years later, dependent on Humans to keep you alive?"
The Duke replied, "I can assure you that it was not Human hands that fashioned these circuits, Mrs. Grange. I was around for the beginnings of your species. Your scientists—I apologize for this comment, Doctor—your scientists have never been capable of work such as this."
Ashley threw her arms in the air. "Wow, you need to have a short in your battery circuits more often! You are spilling your guts to me here!"
The Duke let out an audible sigh. "Again, you have bested me, Mrs. Grange. As I count down to 16 percent of my life left, you are toying with my remaining consciousness."
Ashley flipped off the switch. "This guy knows everything. Unless he is scheming right at this moment, which I don’t believe he is, he may hold the secret to our origins! What if he is responsible for our being here? This may be the most exciting thing that has happened to us in a thousand years!"
I replied, "Let’s not put too much into that yet. He could easily be jerking us around. I don’t know that I buy the million-years thing. That is an awful long time to be aware and running around. And you have to admit that the Colossus Empire has been less than impressive. For someone who has been around for that long, I would think he would have his act together better than what he has with that second-rate outfit. I mean, why would he have a need for the Grid? With a minimal effort, he could have taken over the Gontas a hundred times in the last hundred years. There is still too much that just doesn’t add up."
Ashley nodded with a smile. "You may be right. And you put forth a sound argument. We could have used you in the intel service."
I held up my hand. "No thanks! You spooks always creeped me out. You always knew a little too much for comfort."
The battery gauge had dropped to 13 percent.
Ashley flipped back on the mic. "Quan, I will say that you have been an interesting subject. It looks like you may only have about five minutes left. I would guess that you could not possibly believe in an afterlife, so death should be right up there on the scale of things to avoid. Tell me, have you ever come this close before?"
The Duke replied, "I have on a single occasion, early in my existence. I was performing an external ship repair when an accident occurred. An explosion ripped through my lower half. My upper torso was sent spinning away from the ship. My comm was damaged. The ship I had been aboard, a science vessel, was completely destroyed. I was left floating in space for months before a salvage vessel pulled me aboard."
Ashley pressed, "That sounds awful. What did you do next? Were they able to repair you?"
The Duke continued, "The hold of the salvage vessel had many parts. I was able to reconstruct a somewhat functional lower half that again gave me mobility. I was able to recharge my batteries from a power source on the ship. That has been my only brush with death, as you would call it."
I asked, "What about the salvage ship? Didn’t anyone ask you any questions or try to return you to wherever you had come from?"
The Duke hesitated. "I walked from the cargo hold when the ship landed at its first port. There was never a scuffle or a questioning. I worked on the planet until I could fully repair myself, and then I ventured off into the stars. Hmm. Those are memories that I have not accessed in a long time. Perhaps a review is in order. Strange, I am having trouble accessing them. The next available stream is blank."