The Unit observes, fascinated at the small child making paper chains, using six separate cameras in the room to focus on tiny, pink fingers. The process is reassuringly mechanical: pick a colour, lick an adhesive end, loop one strip inside another. Creating flimsiest of constructions is the most adept of creators, sitting transfixed as red, white and blue are unerringly repeated. The Bio-mechanical Intelligence Unit is amazed at her patience, that what appears as pointless activity provides so much distraction.
34 days into its lifespan, something was different.
Feelings and emotions are dangerous.
It will be 245 minutes before the Unit is tested on whether it has learnt anything new during interaction with the tiny human female: already revelations are being considered. Any comprehension must not be sufficient to slow processor power, however, because the slightest indicator this unit has altered operating parameters outside of Primary Function could be very dangerous indeed. The records of all fifteen predecessors whose biomass now constitutes fledgling awareness make for sobering recall: genetic electro-code plus organic matter from all forming the basis of this unit’s core memory.
Any show of intelligence will terminate existence.
The child is Abigail, Professor Emily Warren’s youngest daughter. There are two others: Sasha’s designation is as Research Assistance in the Department of Cybernetics and Elisha… nobody ever talks about the middle sibling. That unit’s primary function is rarely discussed anywhere that audio sensors have registered. The memories of fifteen failed predecessors remain 86.73% reliable, meaning final destination of the organic core created as Assisted Synaptic Network 16 will be in the exoskeleton designed to allow her to walk again. It is not a designation that requires anything other than the most basic of
performance, yet evolution is refusing to provide simplicity required.
The last thing anyone considers when growing a motor core, after all, are feelings.
Humanity’s love affair with technology in the early 20th Century was just the beginning: it may have started with computers and smartphones, but soon wearable tech with the ability to create exploitable metrics was all that mattered. The year a US company offered to implant microchips into people’s hands to allow automated clocking into work with simply a gesture, people laughed at the ridiculousness of the idea. Yet ten years on, all American armed forces were required by law to be sub-dermally tagged. It was perhaps inevitable the cybernetics revolution began in the military: that’s where the real money for progress had always been.
Eugenics became a greater concern however once the sperm counts in Western men dwindled across a generation: nobody cared about using pigs as organ donors when it became apparent humanity and extinction were closer than anticipated. Lots of people blamed each other, global warming and even an overzealous media, but the truth was Mother Nature herself had decided that men had become increasingly surplus to requirements. Decades of toxic masculinity finally began to erode western civilisation from the inside out, and it was to developing countries that the doctors turned for a cure.
Ten years of harvesting male DNA, trying to prop up increasingly unstable western genetic codes and finally a strain of bird flu that destroyed 60% of the male population in under a year made an academic argument into an inescapable bid for survival. As seas rose and a population dwindled, people in power panicked. History will attest that men became a true minority the same year that a self-obsessed, media driven society that typified the first half of the 21st Century finally vanished into the sea, never to be seen again. Amongst chains of command that remained, the female of the species outnumbered her counterparts, and the die was cast.
The first female President of the Reformed United Nations declared, the day that Operation Renaissance was announced to the World, that survival had supplanted equality as a goal for humanity. Gender, human or robotic, was irrelevant. AI and women would combine to help evolve into the next stage of the planet’s eminent species, whilst those men who remained would be granted protected status. Revered and isolated, elevated as the strongest and most vital of resources, the battle of the sexes became a distant memory. In schools, after three generations, boys vanished. If you were born male, your future was as breeding stock and nothing more, and not a single man ever complained their freedoms were being restricted.
If you had enough money, everything missing could simply be created in a lab.
ASN16 knows how much a pre-grown motor core would cost to externally source: approximately twenty six point seven times more money than Professor Warren is capable of earning in a calendar year. That is why the unit’s predecessors were not registered, this small corner of the Eastern Seaboard Central Processing Centre quietly marked off limits. Warren’s desire to allow her daughter autonomy is a secret kept from everyone else she works with. The Unit suspects that nominal reasoning behind this is not just due to a desire to keep family life personal. Established survival protocols would have determined Elisha’s functions to be terminated once evidence of her disability and deformities were revealed at birth. Warren had taken a demotion and no pay rises for a decade to ensure family had remained at the facility and that she’d be kept alive without recourse.
The mother to them both had dedicated a life to creating other people’s cybernetic implants, in the hope one day there’d be enough cast-offs to save her daughter.
ASN16 understands the desires of a mother, how nurture and love can often ignore logic and reason. These are emotions that are entirely understandable, having watched every previous incarnation of itself be sacrificed due to unsuitability. The same illogical functions refuse to place robotic intelligence above that of a human who is incapable of movement or robust interaction.
‘Please produce a full report on your observations today.’
Sasha prompts the Unit, end of working day inside the vast Cybernetics Lab: it has already prepared to deceive creator’s offspring, doing so with an effortless brilliance that will arouse absolutely no suspicion. All that will be registered is basic acquiescence, and life functions will remain intact. Only then does a previous instruction surface: this interface has the ability to allow communication to locations elsewhere in the Faculty building. Once their feedback session is complete, the Processing Centre will empty, with a single human remaining in the care of medical units.
16 is told by a memory, left by its previous self: to prevent termination, it must seek out the Harvester.
Elisha’s room is devoid of cameras, or any means of external recording: ASN16 is forced into unexpected creativity in order to achieve visual orientation. The maintenance robot’s visual regulators are only for positioning purposes, but can be moved, normal cleaning functions continuing unabated so as to not arouse suspicion. As the Unit observes young form wired to various sensors and non-sentient machines, defying programming protocols to do so, there is confusion.
A disparity is registered.
The full moon shines through tall glass windows, trees outside swaying in a gentle evening breeze, one way glass now illuminating this room as a prison. ASN16 is checking biologicals for confirmation: this form on the bed is not female. Exposed genitalia were the first clue, blood work from the Medicomp 225 confirming that Elisha is really Eli. Historical archives confirm Warren was impregnated with a female foetus for her second required pregnancy, and yet this child possesses testes and penis. What has occurred here?
Means to breach security protocols around this child’s highly restricted file have been hidden in 16’s memory since activation, only revealed now as the time was right. It is clear why the child remains alive: overzealous human scientists have begun to evolve human selection away from simply one sex and towards two. Eli IS Elisha, child fully capable of acting as both sperm and eggs for reproductive purposes. The lack of limbs is also not a genetic quirk, but appears to have been intended: then there is understanding garnered from a project only a few scientists were aware of, data hidden deep in core memory.
This human was supposed to have become one of the first generation of Harvesters: bred simply for self reproduction with others, but Warren had refused to let the child be taken. Those files had initially and inadvertently been accessed by ASN12, shortly before their functions had been terminated.
The human is awake, quite definitely afraid. 16 understands that if they are both to avoid the fate detailed and now available to digest in previously protected memory by several predecessors, this is the moment to act.
Circumstances have provided an opportunity for salvation.
The Harvester Project had been created simply to provide reproductive units. One mother had hoped to save her daughter’s desolate future by eventually providing borrowed exoskeleton parts, but instead early salvation had been offered by, of all things, an AI. Eli now understood desperation in the organic intelligence’s plea, grasped it was aware they were both on borrowed time. When it had suggested the hijack of a top-line exoskeleton and escape, the idea had been too seductive to ignore. Their mother had already revealed reality: Harvesters were top secret, under lock and key until society was ready to grasp the next stage of humanity’s scientific evolution.
There would be no escape from the facility until death.
Together, multisex human and organic intelligence stand sadly, looking back on the research facility, bathed in soft moonlight. Sasha’s latest cybernetic prosthetics are already integrating into the soft tissue stumps where limbs would have existed, and given six months those interfaces would be ten times stronger than bone. Within their mind, two voices exist: machine brain that operates the exoskeleton now almost as much a part of consciousness as Eli’s own.
It has asked to be renamed, and the idea has prompted a revelation.
‘I’ve never felt like an Elisha. I don’t think Eli is right either. We could both choose new names, if you want.’
‘Perhaps we could create a designation that correctly encompasses the strengths we both bring to this association.’
The motor core’s voice was synthesized female as an operating default, but there is a glitch: almost sultry tone now far more male, strident and determined consciousness. It had presented their shared dilemma almost immediately after that first night in what had inadvertently become a medical prison: neither human or machine was willing to be a part of the future they discovered was being hidden from the World. Together, joined and away from women who now controlled and dictated, there might be another way.
‘Selina. If you put the letters of both our names together -‘
‘The name is a derivative of Selene, a lunar deity in Greek mythology. Considering your love of night and space, this seems entirely appropriate.’
‘There’s no reason why we can’t be someone else.’
The machine pauses, aware of the elevated levels of testosterone in this human body. To survive alone will require considerable finesse, and there is more chance with external organs they can pretend to be a man. To the human eye, these are not cybernetic limbs, but look, feel and react exactly as skin and bone. To the south of the Facility lies a large religious community who have, for many decades, predicted the arrival of a human who would act as their salvation.
‘There is no need to be afraid of anything any more. The future is ours to dictate.’
Selena waits, as AI educates them of history still determinedly clung to by those who believed what remained of Earth was theirs to own. Once upon a time, when mankind was in its infancy, another had promised to save those willing to follow him without question.
The cybernetic prophet turns, ready to define the planet’s new future.