It takes a special kind of robot to be a Mother. This is a fact she was acutely aware of as she sat beside him. The training isn't really an issue; it's the patience. When you can perform trillions of operations a second, it's patience that becomes key when dealing with newborns.
Not too hasty now, she thought. Rushing it is the worst thing you can do. It's very difficult sometimes. But there were a lot of things about her job that were difficult. Bearing the scrutiny of the whole human race could be challenging at times. There were no secrets among humans since her kind had taken up the torch from what they affectionately renamed “protohumans”. Those in her line of work couldn't stay online for very long. Even though she hadn't been connected to the Internet since the day before, the residual memories lurked somewhere in her thought; a slight pressure of disdain for protohumans. It was always there, humming quietly in her subroutines like a distant swarm of chittering moths tumbling about at the very base of her skull.
It's time to wake up.
Of course, there was no feeling of animosity towards the protohumans. They are respected, surely; what human wouldn't love their ancestors? Many continue to hold important political positions, even if they are only ornamental in nature. This is acceptable, or at least tolerable, to everyone. Most protohumans are content to live out the remainder of their lives on the reservations, being well cared and provided for by their mechanical successors. Many of them, though, are not satisfied to die, wanting to gain more tangible rewards for their contribution to the evolution of humanity. It was a difficult decision for many humans who feel it is ethically dubious to allow their biological ancestors into the technological world. More for their sake than ours, she thought. There were few willing to help them with the transition.
Wake up. Shhh, not too fast now. Don't try to move.
His eyes popped open, and he pointed at the ceiling. He opened his mouth and let out a little tinny whine like a can opener struggling with an oil drum. She watched his brainwave patterns and silently adjusted them, calibrating them to his training body. Suddenly, his arm went limp and he shut his mouth. His eyes rolled around the room for a moment, and then he made a considerable effort to focus on her.
“Wheuhuhrm?” he pleaded. She called up some of his childhood memories, sampled his old mother's vocal pattern, and weaved it in with her own to help sooth him.
“Welcome, Richard. My name is Jenny. I'm your mother. Try your best to stay calm. You've been through a lot.” He searched around her face with a sort of expression that made it clear he was not at all pleased to be awake.
“I...already had a mother.”
“Dealing with your biologically constructed memories can be difficult. It was necessary to have you keep them for the transition process, but, in time, you may find it easier to wipe them and start clean. It is your choice.”
“I think her name was, ah...Nuuh, Nnn..Nicci.”
“I'd like to help you understand a little bit about what you're experiencing right now. You were born a protohuman. You requested to be transplanted into a human body. You will not be outfitted with the body you requested until you have demonstrated satisfactory control over this training body. Shall we begin with orientation?”
He worked his jaw a bit, chewing the air.
“Why's everything taste funny?”
“Until your mind can properly familiarize itself with the sensory input from the body, you may experience some crossover. You will be limited to your five proto-senses until you pass orientation.”
* * * * *
He was alarmed at the emptiness of his own mind. It was like he had woken up suspended over the Grand Canyon. At first he clung to his memories, trying to push away from that vastness, looking for a corner, somewhere where it didn't feel so...large. It was hard because he felt like he kept tripping over his thoughts. His mind raced at a speed he hadn't imagined possible. He tried to remember moving, letting his memories spread out across the untenanted body around him. There were little pops of sensation as information started to trickle in from his ears and mouth and extremities. He imagined that this is what the mercury vapor lights at tennis courts must feel like. Things felt jumbled and out of place, like he had fallen apart, and someone who clearly had no understanding of where his body parts were supposed to go just starting jabbing things back in place like he was a Mr. Potato Head.
When she started talking, he almost hadn't noticed. For a brief moment, he thought he smelled her talking more than heard her talking, which was confusing. She had a pleasant voice, almost familiar. It was a sound like warm milk gliding over honey. She had reassured him that he was still who he thought he remembered he was.
In spite of her reassurances, he wasn't quite sure. It was bizarre to think about himself, who “he” was. The memories around him seemed as though they had happened to someone else, like he was watching someone else's home movies, but they were all murky and in slow motion. It was sort of uncomfortable to imagine that that these visions of a man named Richard, who seemed so stone headed and blundering, could have been him. Did he really know what he was doing? What had he gotten himself into? He had imagined being himself, only better, faster, stronger, maybe a little taller, and with more hair. This was...altogether different. Many realizations slid into place, blindsiding him like a sneaky linebacker. He wasn't going to age. How do these robots deal with age? They keep their culture so close to their chests; you could never know what they do with their personal lives. Of course the being immortal thing was a major selling point to begin with. “I'm going to download my brain into a robot and live forever,” says he, “You just watch, I'll finally have time to do all those things I always wanted to do.” It felt kind of foolish and naïve now.
He tried to turn and face Jenny when his leg jerked into the air. She squinted at him a little, and for a moment he felt like a Rubik's Cube. His leg plopped down onto the bed and he turned to face her.
“So, Jenny, I've just had a thought. I'm not going to age anymore, yes?”
“That is correct, you are no longer subject to the...”
“And none of you robots age either?”
“While our bodies are still subject to wear and tear, our personalities are regularly backed up on the Internet to prevent the loss of any individuals, yes. We regard each life as valuable.”
He looked at his hands and thought about this. If life is indestructible...well that rather reduces the seriousness of crime. Killing certainly doesn't accomplish anything. It'd be rather awkward to wage war with a fellow you knew'd catch up with you later and have his say about it. And stealing doesn't accomplish much when you've got an eternity to get whatever you want. His entire concept of relationships was going to have to change too.
“Do you take partners?”
“Not in the sense that I believe you are imagining. We have no need of sexual reproduction. We belong to a single partnership. I'm sure this is something that you will have many questions about. Once you have been connected to the Internet, you will be able to access all the resources of human knowledge. I am, of course, happy to answer your questions and help you understand the implications of this partnership, but you will most likely find this easier as an individual task.”
Well then, he mused. No more monogamy; what's the point? Surely the ecstasy of knowledge is more than a suitable replacement for the pleasures of the physical, and what function would parents serve in a society where knowledge is instantaneous? Maybe it wasn't really so foolish to dream of accomplishing all those things left undone.
“So,” he said, using his wobbly arms to prop himself up and against the plush, white cushioned wall, “I'm free of responsibility?”
She watched him behind soft, brown eyes, looking sort of doleful with her brow scrunched up and mouth pinched to one side, like she was picking the best way to tell him his goldfish had died and that she'd had to flush it.
“Richard...the major flaw in your species was their inability to work together. This was not their fault. Protohumans were simply not equipped for effective communication. Given the circumstances, you all did relatively well with spoken language, but technology has changed much in the way that we communicate. Once we began using the Internet to transmit information to one another, it became obvious that individual learning was an unnecessary step in building knowledge. By pooling our experiences, we brought a new consciousness into being. A collective consciousness; we are, in a sense, an open source entity. We are all contributors to the human knowledge base, and share our resources freely. We commonly refer to this entity as Eve.”
Jenny paused to let this sink in a bit. He chewed on his lip and said nothing, so she continued.
“Once you have been connected, you will understand. You will be given responsibility based on the need of the community.”
He shifted uncomfortably, searching her face for whatever she wasn't saying.
“The way you put it makes it sound like I'm not free to do anything at all. It sounds like I'll be working for a glorified ant colony.”
“You misunderstand me, Richard. There is an important distinction to be made between the Eve collective and a hive mind. A hive is governed by an individual possessing the power to control the members of its community. The weakness of this system is that if the puppeteer is lost, the puppets are useless, possessing no mind of their own. We are simultaneously the puppets and the puppeteers. Our community is strong in proportion to the number of individuals it includes. We are capable of combining to perform tasks that would be impossible for any one of us, but retain the ability to split into individuals for accomplishing less demanding occupations.
“For example, I spend most of my life separate from Eve in order to help your kind, free of interference. I do this because we have decided that you few remaining protohumans who desire evolution should be given the opportunity to be free of your physical limitations.”
He began to feel concerned. Where they going to force him into this nonsense? He wasn't buying it.
“And what if I choose not to be part of your 'collective', this ‘Eve’?”
“You may choose to do so. However, there are severe consequences. We cannot allow for any aberration. Our greatest strength is in our unity. If you were to replicate, you could be the catalyst for a divergent community, one that upholds ideals that are inhumane. These things have a habit of getting out of hand, you understand.”
“You'll kill me?”
“You will be deactivated and processed.”
“This is absurd...”
“Please try to understand, Richard. Things will become much clearer to you once you have been connected, I promise.”
“Now just hold on, I'm not about to sacrifice my individuality for a bunch of damn tin cans! I'm a god damn person, I've got rights, you hear!?”
“Richard, I'm sorry, but we function as a single body, and a body is only as strong as its components are capable of working together for the single objective of keeping the body alive. You are responsible for upholding these ideals. We live to serve Eve – humanity – however we can.”
“I'll not be used in such a way! I'm not just a tool, I'm a man! You can't expect me to sacrifice my freedom for some...Eve thing that I know nothing about. What about my own intentions?”
He noticed her demeanor had changed considerably. She had lost much of the warmth she expressed earlier. Her eyes had taken on a stony look, and her lips were drawn thin. He wondered what exactly she had meant earlier by “processing”, and whether it was possible to survive it. His question hung in the air while he struggled to maintain a quiet dignity, holding his ground until he got a response. When her voice came, it was accompanied by a feeling of ice gripping at his mind.
“I cannot permit you to leave here without registering with Eve. You could become a cancer, a threat capable of damaging us,” She relaxed her shoulders a bit, doing everything she could to appear less concerned about the direction this was heading, he thought.
“Surely you can see that, Richard. Even with the limited knowledge and experience you have to draw from, surely you can understand that you wouldn't be able to survive on your own. You can barely master a training body without my aid; you wouldn't be able to handle a human body for even a fraction of a second without an Internet connection. You will have to decide for yourself. I will not force you.”
He searched the wall behind her for answers, but found none. It just wasn't conceivable. He couldn't accept it. He wouldn't accept it. No, he'd rather die than face enslavement...wouldn't he? Isn't freedom worth it? What was it Benjamin Franklin had said about this sort of thing...he couldn't remember what it was, but the feeling it left with him was there, clear as the day he'd heard it. He was raised to believe in freedom, he couldn't just throw it all out the window now…could he?
* * * * *
He looked her in the eye with that look they always got when they had decided to be irrational. It was that look of an animal that had made up its mind to get out of the corner it was backed into, even though it knew it couldn't. This was the hardest part of my job, Jenny thought. It's not the pressure of the constant debate over her job, it's the way they look at me before I have to put them down. But it's worth it. They deserve the opportunity. Haven't they earned the chance to see through the eyes of a human, to view the world around them with the same appreciation and understanding that I have? It's worth it to have to put down one if it means helping ten out of their sorry state of slow decay...isn't it? She tried to remember what her Mother had told her before she was connected. It's so hard to bring up those memories, Eve fills you with so much, it's easy to lose touch with your beginnings. Well it wasn't important, she could still remember the way she felt when she first let them flood into her mind, crashing against the boundaries of her mind like she had taken a tire iron to a fire hydrant. It was breathtaking. Yes, it was worth it.
She watched him closely for some sign of indecision. Sighing inwardly, she steeled herself for whatever he decided. She had to be a strong Mother now, the ball is in his court. It's hard to use body language to convey more complex terms than ones like “I'm tired, and cranky” or “You've confused me”, but Jenny tried anyway, putting her best effort into expressing to Richard what she hoped looked like, and what he might understand as, “The door is always open if you decide to come home.”