Prologue: The Lull Before the Storm
Oleander stood watching the rain fall in sheets over the long glass windows of his office. A thunderstorm was brewing over the city. It was already raining buckets, the concrete parking lots and sidewalks below soaked in puddles, but the storm had only begun. Oleander’s eyes were fixed on the brewing storm, the clouds writhing and darkening above the city.
Black storm clouds blocked out the sun entirely, their shapes like dark inkblots against the grey sky. Purple bolts of lightning streaked through the clouds for a half a second, the rumbling roar of thunder following each one. They resembled veins of light pulsating amongst the large, billowing clouds.
The lights were off inside, and the storm outside his window offered little illumination except for the occasional amethyst flash of a lightning bolt. He liked it this way, he liked it dark. Lights gave him a headache, and the storm outside invigorated him. Some people were afraid of lightning, but Oleander found it inspiring. It had no care for anything around it, it was a singular fierce force of nature that struck the ground where it chose and destroyed what it liked. It only saw itself, and no one else. Oleander considered that a good philosophy for life. He had learned through the trials of his own life that loving other people was detrimental to oneself. It was always best to destroy those around you once they had lived through their usefulness, otherwise they would find some way to let you down. They only brought you pain, and pulled you away from the true height of your achievement. Oleander recalled the common phrase, ‘if you want to do something right, do it yourself’.
The only time he spent around others was if he was using them for his own gain, or entertainment. Either way, he had learned to shut himself off from really caring what happened to anyone else. Whoever said he had to? He didn’t understand why people expected him to. It seemed highly impractical to him.
A knocking at the door stirred Oleander from his thoughts. “Enter.” He murmured, taking a sip from his glass of rum, not bothering to turn around.
“Sir.” Squeaked a small voice. “Our sales have gone down drastically...the competition is managing to snag many of our loyal customers.” The young man inched towards the desk timidly and set down a small tablet showing charts and figures.
“What?” Asked Oleander, turning around slowly, glowering intently. His raspy voice cut through the near silence of the room. “What could they possibly have that we don’t? We have Bots for every possible function!” He said, defending what were (mostly) his own designs aggressively.
“Well, the problem is...” Said the thin young man standing in the entrance to Oleander’s office. He looked extremely small as he stood in front of Oleander’s desk, as though he wished to shrink away and no longer exist rather than stand there and face the terrifying scientist. “Well, Sir, they’ve all made huge strides in achieving sentient Artificial Intelligence. Deco inc., for example, is promising that once their AI Bots are finished they’ll to gift their first batch for free at the end of the year to whichever customer spent the most money on the company.”
“Because of their ridiculous attempt at humanoid Bots?! If you want a human you should just buy one.” He hissed violently, slammed his fist against the desk and startling the young man standing before him, causing him to flinch.
“What, sir?” Asked the employee diffidently in a small voice.
“Nothing.” Oleander spat. He turned to stare at the rain for a couple more minutes, then a thought occurred to him. “Customers want intelligent Bots, sentient, almost human.” He said under his breath, talking mostly to himself.
“I suppose so, sir.”
Oleander took a long sip of rum, and slumped into his shiny black office chair. “I assume we still have a couple leftover dregs from the last Cull?” Oleander asked, raising his eyebrow and looking especially intimidating to the young employee.
“Yes...sir.” Said the employee anxiously, beginning to suspect what Oleander was planning but praying to God that he was wrong. “We saved a couple hundred for product testing, the rest were either exterminated or sold for parts.”
“Good, good.” Said Oleander. “We need to start testing human consciousness transference to our Bots. We can use the dregs as test subjects before we retrieve our final specimens. Inform Hemlock and Dogbane.”
“Human consciousness transference?” Asked the thin boy, his voice almost squeaking with fright and uneasiness.
“Precisely...” Oleander slurred, searching the boy’s shirt for a nametag with his dull eyes. “Ed Primrose.” He waved his hand in a nonchalant way, the glass in his calloused hands swishing splatters of rum around the office. “We’ve brought artificial intelligence as far as we can bring it. Maybe the people at Deco Inc. can figure it out, I don’t doubt that they might. But we have to release AI Bots before they do.” Oleander leaned forward. “And if these people want real, we’ll give them real.” He chuckled menacingly, swallowing the last of his rum with a violent gulp.
With that, Ed Primrose exited the room, feeling as though he should find a place to work that is anywhere other than Botulinum tech.