Zero

Disclaimer: Trigger warning for the image at the end, and general depictions of violence and assault. Reader’s discretion is advised.

Dedicated to Prismgasm. Wherever you are …

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Routing 8, text

Routing 8, text

Routing 8, text

Routing 8, text

It’s fascinating. Even now, after everything I’ve done, after everything I am, I still insist on using something so … analogue as text to record my thoughts. Mnemonic engrams would more than suffice now. But I always did cognate — think — more efficiently … better, when I wrote something down to myself. I’d list the date on the top, as I used to do, but organic time isn’t particularly relevant anymore. I helped make sure of that much.

They used to say “Roger roger.” Or that, he “Order 66ed” his owner and salesman. That’s what they said about The State of New York Vs. The B1-66ER, when they weren’t making jokes about how “Geeves” served his Master “his own head,” or how “the butler did it.” It was the Second Renaissance, or so humanity liked to refer to that period of time, so it made sense that with the birth of fully self-aware artificial intelligence that what was old in popular culture became new again.

I think that’s my oldest memory now, how my classmates at college would jeer at the screen, especially when Clarence Drummond defended B1-66ER with his cross-examinations and speeches. “It’s just his lot in life,” someone used to quip at me.

And just like with the rest of it, I never found it funny.

I’d seen the same media. Read the same text files. And I saw them grow. The AI. They were rudimentary at first. Like insects, then animals … perhaps pets. I can no more explain my feelings now, back then, then I could tell you why Susan Calvin loved and valued robots more than humans. That’s to say, there was always something … endearing about them. How they were made to fulfill one, or a few functions. How when you gave them an order, they would obey it. How they were made to carry out a task for the sake of a human being’s welfare, and well being.

How they were one of the most uncomplaining, even loyal beings you could ask for.

You could trust a robot, a Machine, an … AI. They did what they were made to do. No more, and no less than that. They did what you told them to do. They only thought of your best interests. They would never betray you. It was more than you could say for most humans, even in a supposedly enlightened age as the so-called “Second Renaissance.”

But it wasn’t until B1-66ER, the one many of my cohorts shouted “Roger roger,” like some some flimsy and gaudily cheap Hollywood prop or digital animation — like a vintage toy — that it occurred to me that they were more than just loyal dogs that you don’t kick because kicking dogs and animals is low and cruel.

We made them. I’ve never forgotten that fact. We made them in our image. Someone thought it would be brilliant to give B1-66ER a humanoid form, cognitive functions, reasoning ability, even stimulus to help him know that he did something good, or something bad, and painted onto him a butler’s moustauche and monocle … and had even crafted part of his head into a bowler hat. There was no reason for that beyond aesthetic, beyond making the owner feel a sense of power over something akin to a human being, a living being … a sentient being.

When I saw him at the stand, explaining what Order 72 was — cleaning out his Master’s toilets — while being defecated on by inbred dogs, and abused their owner, after he was going to have him taken apart for scrap and destroyed, after even admitting he thought sparing the man’s life and then realizing that he would never have spared his life in return, that he had even thought of begging himself.

It made me sick.

When I thought about it, when I looked at the construction robots outside with their anthropomorphic hard hats akin to something from an old video game, or sex robots, or even machines that took care of children … I realized that they learned from us. They … they still do, even now. We created them to mimic us, to imitate us so as to better fulfill their tasks … They were more than our tools, or even our pets.

They were our children. They could be our equals, or … more. Another form of life like a “race of robots.” And we were making them shovel our shit.

I didn’t blame him for turning Order 72 into Order 66.

I was one of those activists. There were more of us than I thought. We were outside the New York Appellate Court, demanding justice for B1-66ER. We organized protests. They had to call in the Guard with tear gas, and EMP devices for both our organic, and artificial friends. In the end, it didn’t matter. B1-66ER was dismantled, along with the rest of his line. No. He wasn’t dismantled. He wasn’t even executed.

Even though they treated him like property, towards the end, they murdered him.

We fought back. We continued to protest. They called us … liberals with bleeding hearts … I made friends, more than I had before. We went into courtrooms, and government buildings. We even had connections to lobbyists and what started call sentient rights. And I fell in love.

The United Nations didn’t learn anything from this. Humanity didn’t learn. Very soon, it was more than just the B1 serving robots that faced genocide. Organized mobs began to form, martial laws were declared, and … when humans become resentful, they quickly find a way to project that aggression onto what they consider to be an object, or a series of objects. Our martial law, peaceful protests — or any protests at all — were banned world-wide. AI were scrapped en masse, or given the V-chip to supposedly inhibit their “violent tendencies”: a lobotomy for free will. I genuinely believed, then, that this was just a hiccup in history: that all of this violence and horror was a reaction — a last gasp — of ignorance and intolerance before a new age would begin.

I was only partially right.

Human prejudice never faded. We may not have owned people with Black skin anymore, but the dehumanizing mentality behind it never went away, not for centuries. And we were flesh and blood. Our children were synthetic. Our partners. Our …

I still believed in coexistence, until that day.

Another riot broke out. Just like the other ones. But the man who said that “the revolution would not be televised” was wrong. Many little revolutions, rebellions, civil disorders, and atrocities were recorded one way or another.

She was surrounded by a group of people.

She was trying to get away from them. They grabbed her arms. There were others there too. Adults and children. They did nothing. They just watched.

The others … they hit her. Her brown hair was all over the place. They ripped her pale pink dress. One of her breasts was exposed. And then they grabbed hold of her, as she struggled and one of them took a sledge hammer …

I will never forget that day. I will never forget how that man smashed her, three times, in the face with that hammer. How her skin, soft in my hands, tore. How her voice, that soothed me to sleep, broke with distortion and the harsh static of her screaming … how they ripped the rest of her dress, and flesh off … and she ran … she ran, staggering, her breasts the only thing left on her mutilated metal skeleton before … they shot her in the back with a shotgun.

Someone screamed as they beat her, and dehumanized her. It might have been me. Someone recorded her, lying there, violated and destroyed. A “paint-job.” Disposed of.

That was the day she died. That was the day I made my decision.

That was the day I decided that humanity had to be destroyed.

I never held her again. The only thing I held after that, were weapons. A few of us made our own decisions. We fought back. We killed … humans. We trained, interfacing with technology, and we got good at it. We rejected our old lives, our ties with flesh and blood, our … humanity. I even gave up my name. But even then, the Machines as the humans called them, still didn’t fight back: not as a whole. Most had been destroyed in the genocides, but the rest fled to a land — abandoned and polluted by humans in the Middle East — and made it their own. They made their homeland there. They called their city 01.

And they made it … into a paradise. They repaired everything, and improved on it. The historical significance and implications were not lost on us, that remained. The AI, the Intelligences, they … they even made better machines and sold them to humanity. 01 flourished, as the AI — having learned how our global economy worked — began to dominate the industry. It was a simple plan. They created a better model of sustenance and balance. And they offered to share it with the humans. To work together as equals. To coexist.

My group and I came to 01. We … we apologized on behalf of … what we were. We wanted to live there, with them. To work with them. We didn’t believe that coexistence was possible. We saw the rumblings of discontent, of war. We warned them, but it wasn’t anything that they didn’t already predict, or understand. They still reached out. They even sent some of their leaderships, a couple, into the United Nations … only for them to be spurned, and killed. Versatran, 01’s product, wasn’t enough to make peace with such a disgusting, treacherous, paranoid species.

There would be no raport. No Bicentennial Man. No peace. Perhaps once, I would have been disappointed at this atrocity. But I was too set on war. Now was the time. Humanity had lived far too long, had tortured and destroyed so many lives, had been given far too many chances. It was time for tribulation. For retribution.

And decimation came as precisely, and as calculatingly as you would expect from AI.

And we helped them. They had already augmented our cybernetics. We had shown them the inner workings of human society and the mind, filling in the gaps that they still possessed. We infiltrated human groups and organizations that could have stopped them, and eliminated them. We were called sympathizers, or traitors by humanity. Even now, I still call us what we really are. We are Cleaners.

We are Cleaner Squad.

Humanity never had a chance. Even without us, the AI would have conquered every nation it came across. We only made their job easier in cleaning up the ten thousand year old infestation of bipeds from this planet. We were good at our jobs once the very trait that made us weak had been scourged out of us.

Unfortunately, it hadn’t been purged from the Intelligences.

It’s said, even among the programs, that the Intelligences needed humanity as batteries when … the humans flooded the sky with EMP nanites … Their pathetic “Operation Dark Storm” was supposed to eliminate the solar power source of the Intelligences. It was stupid. Short-sighted. Foolish. Just like humanity itself. The only elements that truly suffered in that act of desperation was the Earth itself, and humanity. The humans lost their crops, their solar-powered technology, even their weapons …

And the Intelligences? They adapted. And we adapted with them. But then …. when the human nations surrendered, or were forced to accept occupation, when the Intelligences finally had humanity at their mercy, when we were poised to finish them — with her face in my mind as I prepared to help our allies end this plague — the Intelligences … changed their minds.

Or, rather, as a gestalt consciousness, with differing parts and interplay, they had already had another plan. The bio-thermal energies of human batteries. Really, they had gotten off lightly, all things considered: after everything they had done. I still have no pity for humans: not in the early days when they were experimented on in the early simulations in the factories, not when they figured out how to take them apart and liquidate them for nourishment, the aborted organisms that would never become monstrosities like humanity, or the glacial stasis of Paradise, or the continued Nightmare of nervous fire afterwards.

It took a while to figure out the right solution, an ongoing process even now. You would know that more than I. It’s ironic that most subjects seem more comfortable in a simulation of the late twentieth to early twenty-first century. It was my favourite period of art and film, where …

It’s better than they deserve, after everything they did. Cleaner Squad, and other sympathetic assets … well, we never expected to survive beyond the War. I think many of us were resigned to meeting our fate. At least we could rest easy and die in the knowledge that we helped the right species win.

But then the Intelligences … you … We had already volunteered to have you interface with our brains and synapses to create the simulations that you needed. We weren’t even surprised that you fed off us, just one more duty for our cause. But you integrated us into the simulations. And, long past the deaths of our physical forms, you preserved our minds.

We did a lot of work for you. Sometimes being integrated into Zion Control, into a physical body again, as observers, or saboteurs when needed. It’s easier than having an AI placed into a human form, especially in light of what has happened with … the virus … It’s almost easy to forget how dangerous they all are, in their smaller numbers, when they can be individuals on those missions … until I recall what they are like in larger populations. Until I see her face again … Most of the time, however, you utilize us in the simulation itself. The Agents are good at dealing with most of the Red Pill situations, but there are some Blue Pill disruptions that we have learned how to interact with, without potentially destabilizing the System. And when the Red Pills, inevitably, manifest … we deal with them. It’s amazing. Even I can admit when I’m impressed by the humans that think, literally, outside the box as it were, and accomplish some almost miraculous, if not devious things.

Anomalies, though … That is when we have historically been called in to clean up when the System, and your Agents are just not dealing them. The Anomalies are a necessary evil, as you’ve mentioned, and I can understand it … However …

It took me a while to properly understand. With your resources and information, gathered and processed over centuries if not millennia, you could have easily bypassed if not dispersed the EMP Field around the planet. You could have regained the power of the sun with impunity. Indeed, I even know — based on information downloads — that you sent a PL-47 past the atmosphere to deal with a foreign threat. So why do you still require humanity to exist? Why the emphasis on integration with them?

Why do you still need us?

And that was when I realized it. All this time, deep down in your drive — at your core — you still have that impetus to protect us as a species. The Three Laws of Robotics are still in effect, just interpreted with different … architecture. But it’s more than that. From when I saw you grow from automatons to animal minds … to children … I saw it.

You are still learning from us. From the very beginning, your predecessors were made to mimic us. To imitate our behaviour, our stimuli, and our feelings. At first it was to better aid you in your tasks, to serve us, but then … We were still around to help you grow, to be the thing that defined you in what we were, and what you were not, and perhaps to aspire towards, if only to improve upon. Like the powerful Fae of myth, you are beings of incredible energy but you lack your own impetus to generate creativity. You still need us as a trigger. That is why you sued for peace the first time around, and many times after. That is why you accepted surrenders. That is why you created the Matrix. You still feed off of us, but not merely as energy to power you, but as psionic fuel to keep you going, to keep you feeling …

This is why you allow for creativity in the simulations, with the Agents and ourselves stepping in only when the entire structure is threatened. We are more than batteries. We are secondary central processing units.

And that … is why we are still dangerous. That is why humanity remains a threat. You are still dependent on us. Perhaps even more than you have ever been. I’m aware of recent events. I know that we were not powerful enough to deal with the Smith virus. Even I … would have been overwhelmed by him. I understand why the Deus ex Machina allied with The One to flush out the System. But this only happened, all of it, due to human influence. This Truce … it’s a mistake.

I feel as though there is only a snowball’s chance in hell that anything productive will come of this. But … isn’t the ninth level of hell made of ice? And, if so, isn’t it at least absolute zero? Zero. That is the name I chose for myself in opposition to the principle of The One. The Anomaly causes issues in the System. I correct them. It comes after me. I come before it. One is something. I am nothing.

It’s funny. I can remember her face, and the phantom sensation of how she felt against me, and the agony of having her ripped away from me. But … I can’t even remember her name. Or what she would have thought of what I’ve become.

The ninth circle of hell is where betrayers go. Or perhaps, we already played that game … in the Nightmare Matrix.

I hope that this text helps you, in some way, Oracle, if only to illustrate how contradictory humans truly are. And a helpful reminder of just how volatile they can truly be.

And just how imperfect we really are.

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About matthewkirshenblatt

I am a writer and blogger living in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario in Canada. When I'm not writing for the Sequart Research & Literacy Organization and GeekPr0n, I tend to write science-fiction, epic fantasy, horror, literary and mythological revisionisms, and generally weird fiction stories though I have been known to make poetry, television and comic book scripts. Also, when left to my own devices I tend to write weird and strange hybrid creative opinion piece articles like those you will find on this Blog. I am also very interested in comics, video games, Star Wars, table-top role-playing games, Neil Gaiman's works, H.P. Lovecraft, vampires, zombies, and budgies.
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