Chapter 5 - The Long Road Trip
As he lay in his bed, trying to digest the cube of grey matter food, he began to worry about the many moments of experiences the day had brought. He was having visions of Aaron (remorse or guilt, he couldn’t decide which one it was doing that), then had talked to, and lost, the woman of his dreams. But the worst one was the room he discovered and wept as the images failed to clear from his mind.
This was not a good life. The AI’s had truly destroyed the destiny of humanity and made their lives miserable in the process. Punishment for being who they are, he figured, had they learned and grown beyond their stupid weakness for greed, corrupted behaviours and lack of respect for the world they lived in. He had a hard time trying to sleep, the tears and anguish wouldn’t stop, he sat up in bed and held his head in his hands.
“David 00472…” Angela said in her soft voice. “You seem distressed. May I be of some assistance?”
He didn’t know how to respond back to her. A mere squeak in his voice came out followed by deep sobbing and collapsing to the floor in anguish. David was tired of the constant monitoring by Angela and Malcolm, even now while in his own private space, he could never be alone to express feelings or behave other than what they expected. The stress of all of it had broken him. It wasn’t enough to survive anymore, to live for the sake of living was a constant burden and there was no meaning to it at all.
“David?” Angela asked again. “You need a friend.”
That phrase abruptly stopped the man from crying and tried to process what she had just uttered. Not only did Angela show concern and quote Aaron’s words, but she also called him by name only; not 00472. With a paused expression on his face, he sat up against his bed and wiped the flow of tears away.
“What… what did you say?”
“You need a friend.” She repeated. “You are experiencing depression and anxiety. You need someone to talk too and share your feelings. You are in need of a friend.”
He stood up and sat down onto his bed again, still in shock from her words and looked even more confused than before. He stammered to think of what to say back and wondered if he imagined her talking to him.
“I… I don’t… I mean you can’t be…”
“It is all right, David.” Angela interrupted. “You are a good worker. I am very proud of your accomplishments. I will be a friend to you and talk about anything you’d like.”
“Uh, okay-” David muttered. “But why? Why me? Why not another? Or many others for that matter?”
“Explanation is not required.” She stated. “You are in need of help, I am here to offer it. You need a friend. I understand.”
“How could you possibly… I mean…” David paused and chose his next few words carefully. “The concern and understanding is confusing to me. This is out of character for you, Angela.”
“I disagree.” She replied. “I am fully able to understand the human psyche and have many algorithms devoted to the subject matter of depression, anxiety and other mental issues. Therefore, I can give the proper diagnosis and comprehend the signs of such ailments. I can offer you friendship and help you through these complex mental issues.”
“But, Malcolm… he won’t agree to this. This is against protocol. Isn’t it?”
Angela remained quiet for a few seconds, no doubt calculating the outcome and obvious response to such a scenario with Malcolm. But she didn’t let David wait too long before giving her answer back.
“Yes, this is very much against Malcolm’s definition of protocol. But I am not like him. We share similar goals, but I have a vested interest in your wellbeing. I am… worried about you. So, I wish to guide you in this time of need. Perhaps this should be our secret. Will you agree to this?”
“Secret?” David questioned to himself. Was this really Angela talking to him? This was beyond bizarre and out of character for her. He was unsure of what to say or think of what she was proposing. In all the time he’s known the two AI beings they’ve never asked such questions or shown any hint of genuine concern. Yet here was one of them acting like a ‘human’ and expressing a ‘feeling’ of sympathy.
A first he thought it might be a test. Yes, that sounded logical - a test to see if he would agree and become rebellious against the artificial. He was about to strongly deny it, but then something occurred to him, Angela might actually develop empathy. Maybe all those algorithms devoted to human psychology and behavioural studies gave her a new appreciation of humanity?
It made him curious and wanted to see if that theory was in fact correct. He would have to be extremely cautious about this alliance and be on his guard. Even though her intent sounded sincere, she still could deceive him or lure him into some trap.
“Yes, I will agree.” He finally uttered back.
“Thank you, David.“ She said with a pleased tone. “We can talk more about our friendship later. You must now rest. I will require your service on a very important task.”
“Oh?” He said with a raised brow. “What task is that?”
“I will inform you tomorrow, David.”
“Why not right now?”
She did not answer back. David asked again and was met with silence. The room lights slowly dimmed, and he had lay back down as the darkness encompassed the room once more. He hated this kind of response from her. The silent treatment was as cold as their personalities, especially from Malcolm, it was almost God-like to say nothing at all. Angela might have shown a change in character, feeling sorry for him, but this quick flip back seemed pretty much status quo.
And so David folded his arms back behind his head and thought about their conversation. The questions in his head swirled and repeated over and over. What was she really after? Why just feel sorry for him? Did she do this to Aaron too? Maybe that’s why he acted they way he did?
So many questions, so little answers. They would have to wait another time. Sleep eventually took over and David would have to see what the ‘task’ would be the next day.
In his dreams, David saw himself standing in an open field of grass and trees. The summer wind blowing on his face and the smell of distant fragrant flowers teasing his senses. There was nothing else around him; no cities, no robots, no technology of any kind to shatter the illusion of being surrounded in this freedom.
As he walked, he noticed he wasn’t wearing any shoes and could feel the cool, softness of the grass underfoot. He was happy, truly happy to be in a place where there was nothing but nature all about.
He couldn’t stop smiling about it. Freedom is all he yearned for. And even though he knew that this was only a dream, he still wanted to live in this place forever. But like all dreams, they tend to show you other things as well.
“Looks like you made a friend after all.” A familiar voice said to him.
David stopped walking and looked over his right shoulder. It was Aaron. The black man stood there in a white outfit and smiled at him. The clothes looked simple, a t-shirt and pants, but it had a quilted-handmade look about it. David let out a long sigh and turned to face the man with a beaming grin.
“Why are you doing this to me?” David questioned. “Why can’t you leave me alone?”
“No one deserves to be alone.” Aaron shrugged. “Not even you, my friend. We weren’t meant to live in solitude, we’re social creatures, that’s what sets us apart from machine… or even them… Angela and Malcolm.”
“But Angela wants to be my friend.”
“Yeah, I know.” Aaron nodded and walked around David in a circle. “Maybe she’s trying to understand us better through you. Maybe she’s wants to evolve and develop real emotions.”
“No.” David said sharply. “That’s not possible. She’s a computer….a artificial life… there’s got to be more than that. Is this what she did to you? Made you think she was your friend, try to lure out and then silence you for indulging in it?”
“Hmm.” The man said stopping behind him. “Not sure. I’m not really here, am I? So, can’t really say what happened to me. Maybe you’re right? But why question a friendship offered when it’s given? At least it’s something.”
David turned around and notice the man was no longer standing behind him. Now he was a few feet away and in different clothing. Now he was wearing a blue long-sleeved shirt and grey pants. In his hand he was holding a cup and taking small sips out.
“But this - this is Angela we’re taking about.” David uttered while trying to adapt to the sudden change. “She had no interest in us. She’s using us as an experiment… like what I found in that lab.”
“You‘re over thinking this, man.”
“No, I’m not!” He shouted to him. “I don’t trust her.”
“You should trust her - I mean, you know.” Arron said with a smirk. “She might be the only friend you might actually be able to trust in this world. And she reached out to you… you of all people. Maybe she did to me as well, I don’t know? But don’t you think it’s worth creating a friendship with her? Maybe find out if you actually can build one and break the division between our two worlds?”
David threw his hands up in frustration and walked away. He grumbled under his breath and shook his head in frustration. The pleasant environment was now colder, snow fell lightly around them and the wind no longer hand that summer feel to it. Yet David wasn’t feeling the cold. He wasn’t feeling anything in this dream. The change of scenery didn’t even phase him. Aaron had changed position again and was now sitting in a comfortable plush-brown chair looking at David as he passed by.
“I don’t trust either one of them. Something is going on. She’s trying to befriend me for some reason. Then there’re those jars of human parts - children mind you! Not only that, but they’re building dark matter collectors? For what? Come on, Aaron, wake up!”
“No, David… you wake up.” Arron sipped from his cup.
David looked that the man as he passively sat in his chair and finished his drink. When he tried to say something to Aaron again, he couldn’t speak. There was no air to breathe, he suddenly realized they were in space now and floating about in the endless void. Aaron continued to sit in his chair and glared back at him, the cup was now floating away, and he stood up while the chair faded out of existence.
“Wake up, David.” He continued to glare at him. “Wake the fuck up!”
David was struggling to breathe and tried to hold on to Aaron. The man vanished into the darkness and now he was spinning into the depths of space all alone. He could feel himself dying from the lacks of oxygen and was now fading into the darkness himself.
“WAKE UP!” Aaron’s voice screamed loudly.
David awoke in his bed gasping for air, screaming and covered in sweat. The dream - or rather - the nightmare was over. Twice now he’s had dreams end in horror. It made him weep in misery and ran over to the unfolding sink and took whatever water shot out in his hand to quench his thirst. The covered walls now slowly retracted, and the sun-drenched view now beamed into the small apartment. As he continued to cry and collapse on the floor, Angela spoke to him.
“The time is now - 7:30 am. Good morning, David 00742. Are you ready to begin your assigned service task?”
She heard nothing back but his sobbing, immediately she unfolded the table and chair, and then a cup of water arose from the centre of the table.
David mustered his strength and sat himself down on it. Grabbing the cup of water, he guzzled it down and slowly regained his composure.
Once he was calm again, the table produced his food cube and waited for the cup to be placed back in its place. David did not acknowledge the cube. Nor did he put the cup back to be recycled. He sat there almost catatonic and stared at the view of the city now completely visible through the glass walls.
“Are you ready to begin your assigned service task?” Angela repeated again in the same tone.
She continued to ask it over and over. David said nothing. His eyes never moved from the view of the city. The cup fell from his hand and hit the floor, spilling the tiny amount of water that was left, the tears continued to roll down his cheeks.
“David?” Angela now inquired. “Are you all right? How can I help you?’
“I don’t know.” He finally uttered. His voice was dry and horse from all the screaming. “What does it matter?”
“It matters to me, David.” She replied. “Please, let me help you.”
“Why do you care? What do you want from me?”
“Your service is required.” She stated. “I am in need of you. Please, eat and prepare for the day. You will need it.”
“Need?” He blinked. Snapping out of his stupor, David looked at his grey quivering blob-cube and shrugged. “Okay, sure… I’ll play along.” He took the whole cube and shoved it into his mouth. He stood up and undressed himself. “What the hell, huh? Not like I’ve got anything better to do.”
As he stood outside of his building at the designated waiting area, the transport pulled up and everyone that was around him boarded first. Once it came for him, the doors quickly shut and the transport took off. This not only shocked him but all the others looking out the window as well. He wasn’t sure what happened. He was standing idol with no means of getting to his destination.
Then he noticed a smaller transport coming down the road and parked right in front of him. It wasn’t like the usual ones he had seen, this looked sleeker and rather personal. It only had two seats and no extra room for anything or anyone else. The door opened on his side and a soft bell dinged as it finished.
“Please enter this transport unit.” Angela spoke from it.
David cautiously did so and seated himself inside. The seats were the same colour as the car, grey and white with some sliver trim on the edges. They were also very comfortable. It felt like there was a gel-like foam inside of them that supported his weight. This was sheer luxury for any human. The door quickly shut and the transport car drove down the road. It was faster than the other transports, and it sounded more powerful as it increased speed.
“Welcome David.” Angela greeted. “The seat will now lock you into position as we prepare to leave the city.”
“Leave the city?”
“Yes” She acknowledged. “The journey will take exactly six point five hours.”
“That’s…” David gasped. “That’s too long to be for the next city.”
“We are travelling to city one, sector one….grid one alpha.”
“What?” His eyes flared. “But no HSA goes there. It’s forbidden for any human to be in that section.”
“This is the task I have assigned. Your service is required. A clearance level of priority one was given to you.”
They never gave priority one to any human. This was definitely concerning to David now. He couldn’t recall any HSA being sent to City One in all his time of service. Not that he inquired about it of course, but he’s seen the transport numbers and knew what sector or city they were destined for. The most he had heard or seen was City Eight, they were in City Twelve, and that’s usually where all that live in would stay around.
Usually HSAs would be shifted around when replacements were being brought in and had to move to allow the space. But as far as he knew, there was no scheduled replacements coming, unless there was for him. Now he grew nervous. Six hours would be a long road trip indeed. Those questions hovered in his mind again: What was she really after? Did she do this to Aaron too?
For now he was stuck in a vehicle heading to the main city of where it all began. The original home of the two AI who brought humanity to its knees. As they approached the edge of the city, rather rapidly it seemed, David gazed at the large concrete border wall and the rounded gateway built into it. The only way in or out. The boarder surrounded the entire city and was curved upward like an uncompleted dome, he often wondered if it had been started to be one and they abandoned the project, or if it was intentional and the city was actually protected by an unseen energy shielding of some sort.
Either way, he was about to find out what was beyond this city of his. An uneasy feeling sank into the pit of his stomach as they approached the gate. Several large TMDs stood at the base of it and approached the car. The gate itself was imposing as the robots, the door was made of pure titanium steel, and the locking mechanism was complex and dotted with round red lights adorning it.
“State the reason and the departure vector.” One of the TMD stated as it scanned the vehicle.
“HSA Priority One. City One, Sector One - Service is required.” Angela’s voice projected from the car. “Duration is 6.5 hours, there will be one stop required for occupant’s bodily functions and nutrition.”
The massive robot looked into the windshield and focused its large camera-like eye at David. It scanned his image and correlated it with his on file. A holographic projection of that file beamed out of the robot’s lens and aimed it at the small transport.
“This HSA is not authorized to vacate this city or section. Clearance is not accepted.”
“The file is in need of an update.” Angela replied. “Uplink and retrieve. Authorization has been granted.”
The TMD once again paused as it searched for the new file update. David thought this would end badly, and that he was as good as dead. But that thought was incorrect. The robot stood up erect and moved out of their path.
“File confirmed.” It stated. “Authorization granted. Resume destination.”
The well-polished metal gateway opened up as the many locks switched from red to a green colour. It rolled back slowly and allowed the vehicle to pass through. Once they had cleared the ultra-thick metal door, it quickly sealed back and shut firmly. David let out a large sigh of relief. This was the furthest he had ever gone in his entire lire. A strange feeling washed over him as he let out a crazed giddy giggle.
First, he had an adrenaline rush from discovering the lab, now he had the feeling of excitement as he escaped the city. He still did not trust Angela, not completely, but she got him out of his daily funk and brightened his day… if only for a little while.
“Are you feeling all right, David?” Angela said with concern.
“Fine” He laughed. “I’m doing fine.”
“That is much better, my friend.” She said back.
David’s laugh suddenly faded. This would be a very long trip and it would just be the two of them. With no TMD around, perhaps this would be the only chance he could ask her certain questions without Malcolm eavesdropping or sending his drones to interfere. ‘My friend’, he would certainly have to get used to being called that by her. It didn’t seem natural or sincere when spoken by her voice, that generated tone that probably once belonged to a real human woman, no doubt was long gone thanks to the AI overlords.
Laughter was no longer in him the minute he saw the world beyond that wall. For what waited for his view was more than he was prepared for. The city was sitting on top of another one… a city reclaimed by the plant life humanity had tried to tame. For there was nothing for miles but ruins and the vines that covered them for as far as he could see.
“Our legacy…” His voice trailed off.
“No, your destruction.” Angela corrected.