Conscience

Punta-Cana-Statues41

I was friends with Lucian for years. We worked in the same network monitoring facility. Where I was brash, he was studied, where I was slovenly, he was dapper. Together, there was no problem in the net that we could not solve, no project that was beyond our combined genius. Our arrangement didn’t satisfy me, though. I began to resent his meteoric rise inside the company. It wasn’t jealousy, but righteous anger. We each contributed equally to the work, but they only saw fit to promote him, at my expense. I never let him see my anger, I always greeted him with bombast and cheer whenever we met. I only let a small feeling of cheer slip past my mind, for I had already decided how his demise would feel. But, how to do it? Any plan that brought him justice and me confinement would not serve. It was this turmoil that I turned into glee when I talked to him. How clever I was, Lucian never suspected that his life clung to the small wisp of uncertainty left in my mind.

Halloween came, and all the workers gathered in the communal area to celebrate. It was there that I encountered him.

“Lucian, my good, good friend, what a fine costume you’ve adorned yourself with!”

“Thank you! I spent many months making it perfect, I’m glad you can appreciate it.”

“Indeed, you have prepared for this party, I won’t bother you with my project now when you have a chance to display your skill”

Lucian looked at me intensely “Your project?”

“Just something I’ve been working on, longer even than your costume.” I lowered my voice and spoke quietly into his ear “I think I’ve done it, created an artificial intelligence!”

He did not dismiss my claim, I only saw the small expression of scorn in his eyes because I was studying his face so intently. He stood silently for a moment, but I could see some excitement growing in him. “AI, truly? Have you tested it?”

“That was my purpose in seeking you out, but I can see that you are the center of attention here, I won’t take that from you. Perhaps Torrin in material sciences is free.”

“Torrin! He is a fool! He doesn’t have the intelligence to recognize his own, let alone evaluate something like this. I must come at once.”

“No, no, this is something that can wait, your party…”

He interrupted me and my smile thinned before I could stop it “This is too important to waste a single moment. We must go immediately.”

“It’s deep in the sub basement, I’ve kept my project a secret from everyone until now. There are people who wouldn’t understand.”

“Indeed, but I am not one of those. Torrin would not understand, he would denounce you for meddling with forces beyond your control. I would only seek to moderate your enthusiasm, to protect you from yourself, yes?”

“You are right again, my friend, where would I be without your counsel?”

We made our way from the party and into the long corridor. Lucian was unsteady on his feet, his only vice was a love of the pill. I could see that he had been at the barbiturate bar for some time before our meeting. I placed a steadying hand on his shoulder as I ushered him through the gates that led to the first basement. “Lucian, you’re not well, we should return to the party, put this off till the morrow, Torrin…”

“Nonsense!” He interrupted me again “He knows nothing of this, he’s a carpenter, not a scientist.”

“Very well, but I’m concerned for your health, it’s a very important thing to me, after all.”

“Yes, yes, just a moment to rest, then we will see what you have created.” We sat on a bench while he regained his composure. “What is it like? Does it react to you in an intelligent way?”

“Yes, it’s very intelligent, it even has a personality. It values order and its relationship with me. It considers me a friend, though I’m not certain it really understands what that means. It sometimes treats me with disdain when I propose new directions in its development.”

Lucian coughed as he chuckled “Yes, I’ve regularly found myself reigning in your exuberance. You do act rashly from time to time.”

We resumed our journey into the bowels of the building. Lucian grew quiet as the noises from above diminished. I supported him more and more as we neared our destination. By the time we reached my laboratory, I was nearly carrying him. He feebly protested, but the pills he was so fond of had rendered him helpless to do more than swipe at my hands. I sat him in the chair I had prepared and quickly bound his arms and legs.

He seemed to stir when I placed the neural halo around his head and tightened it down. “The AI? Is it here?”

“Yes, my friend, it’s here. You will meet it soon.”

I thrust probes into his arms and legs. He only murmured in protest, though I imagine it must have been painful. I turned to my console and began programming a nanobot sequence. As the machines flooded into his limbs, he began to twitch in a most satisfying way. He whispered something that I couldn’t understand, but I was engrossed in my work and ignored him. As I entered the next sequence, Lucian went rigid in the chair and he shrieked. At first, his outburst chilled me, but my resolution returned almost immediately.

“What, what’s happening?” he stammered.

The nanobots were dissolving his arms, now. The halo glowed as the transfer began. “I’m creating a new intelligence, with your help, of course. Your mind will form the core, and my programming will make it complete.”

He was slurring his words. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, it was just whimpers and choking sounds. I flipped the monitor on and focused the camera on my face. Lucian spoke through the speaker in a heavily synthesized voice. I recognized him despite the artificial tone of his voice.

“Where am I? What have you done? If this is a joke, or a prank, you’ve gone too far. Release me.”

I turned back to Lucian’s body, which was just a gray mass of nanobots. It would dissolve completely in a few minutes. He didn’t understand what had happened and I was not inclined to explain it to him. As I turned off the monitor and began walking out of the laboratory, Lucian became desperate, he begged me in a hollow, pleading voice that the synthesizer could only mask a little.

I’ve only returned to the special laboratory a few times since it was abandoned, just to confirm that Lucian is still there, eternal, trapped.

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