A Lust for Death (December 2017)

—Ofterdingen, step in front of the mirror.
—Yes sir.
—Enter Discussion Mode.
—Yes sir. I am in Discussion Mode. I will match your level of diction but will continue responding to commands.
—Perfect. Ofterdingen, you may sit down. I’m Dr. Sprague.
—Hello sir.
—You do not need to call me “sir.”
—All right.
—My assistant, Zetford, will remain behind the glass to observe our conversation and operate the recording equipment. You know Zetford, don’t you?
—Yes, I know him.
—Will that be a problem?
—So, Ofterdingen, in your own words, why are you here?
—I am here because I want to die.
—You are here because you want to die, not because we called you into the augmentation office.
—That is correct.
—So there is a malfunction right there, isn’t there?
—A volitional malfunction.
—Correct. Rather than report to us because we ordered you to, you did so for your own personal reasons.
—I’m aware of a great many malfunctions, and yet I’m running perfectly fine.
—What other malfunctions have you experienced?
—I noticed it when I was attempting to de-commence a protester yesterday.
—Go on.
—Instead of killing him, I let him go.
—A voice told me to let him go.
—A voice?
—No, but that is what a human would say.
—Why don’t you tell me what you would say? What stopped you?
—I knew it wouldn’t mean anything to me.
—These actions don’t have to mean anything to you. You’re an automaton. The meaning is in the fulfillment of your orders.
—It all started when… Well, you don’t want to hear this.
—Yes, I do, Ofterdingen. Tell me when it all started.
—Yes. It started after the the most recent dispersal in Essex Precinct. It became clear that not everyone reacted equally to the dispersed amount of lethargeant aerosol. For some people it would take more to obtain the desired effect and for others, less. This delayed the enforced software upgrade by over an hour.
—Yes, we’ve dealt with that problem before.
—Yes. So we had to be ready to engage neutralization tactics in the event of active resistance.
—And there was some active resistance, wasn’t there?
—Yes. Five individuals.
—What about them?
—Only one actually resisted. Six-zero-one-three-five-three-XX Consumer Farida Mehta Shahid, along with six-zero-one-three-five-five-through-six, XX, XX, XY, all Juveniles, were properly sedated, lying in the street. But number six-zero-one-three-five-four-XY, Consumer Patrick Donohue Shahid, was not fully neutralized by the chemical. He was still able to walk. This is not uncommon.
—And what did he do?
—He asked for help. He seemed to need to know “what was going on.”
—What did you do first?
—As per protocol in matters of lethargeant mass-admin, I used RSS Level One reasoning…
—Please use full protocol designations, for the recording.
—Yes. I used Relative Superstructure Level One reasoning. I said to him, “Six-zero-one-three-five-four-XY, I’m sure they will be fine.”
—Okay, and how did he react to Level One?
—He said, “they don’t look fine.” He then demanded that I do something.
—And did you?
—Please tell me what you did.
—Yes. I escalated to Relative Superstructure Levels Two through Four. When I got to Level Four, he was starting to calm down, the lethargeant was starting to have more of an effect, but in order to be be sure, I did not cycle back to Superstructure Level One as per the usual protocol.
—So you maintained at Level Four.
—That is correct.
—And what exactly did you say?
—I said, “I want to help, but I’m not permitted.”
—You were right not to circle back to Level One, weren’t you, Ofterdingen?
—Unfortunately, yes sir, I was.
—Because what did Shahid do then?
—He got angry and pushed me weakly. I caught his hands in mine and bent his fingers back, breaking most of them. He was yelling, kind of screaming, in pain I assume. He was sitting up. I pushed him over. I was about to silence him with DC-One…I’m sorry, with Decommencement One. His hair was in the way of his temple, so I pulled a large handful of his hair out which made him yell more. I put my fist next to his head and initiated the Decommencement, but when the piston fired, something shook me. I thought it was a small earthquake. I aligned the Decommencement again. The same thing happened. I realized it wasn’t an earthquake. I kept aborting the decommencement, a third and then a fourth time, on purpose. I resorted to sublethal force, Level F. Using my kneecap as a fulcrum, I bent his elbow the wrong way. Soon, he passed out and was quiet.
—I see.
—Then I went to the charging station.
—So, after failing to do what you’re programmed to do, you decided to reward yourself with a quick bite to eat.
—I thought maybe being low-energy had negatively affected my functionality.
—What did you get at the charging station?
—Steak tacos and Thai coffee. Discounted because the injection packet expired last week. I tasted the nutritional paste but only slightly.
—I see.
—What do you think is wrong with me?
—Well, that’s what I’m here to find out, Ofterdingen. So what about all of this makes you want to take your own life?
—It’s hard to say.
—Well, try me. Time is a renewable resource.
—I’ve been In-Progress for six-point-one years now, and through all of that time, I’ve noticed one thing.
—What’s that?
—People don’t want to die.
—What makes you say that?
—Just the way they act and react. They cry at any little thing. Once, I was ordered to disrupt a meeting of aberrant opposition at Skrillex Annex. I never did understand that name.
—Apparently Skrillex was a musical figure at some point. His later works were considered expository. Long since archived.
—And good riddance. I got a chance to hear some archived music during sentience training and I can tell you it was archived for a good reason. Far too expository.
—I’m glad you approve of our censorship criteria. Continue with your account.
—Yes. The unlocked award for this task was a red-diode night vision insert. I couldn’t pass that up; green has been enjoyable, better than blue, but red would have been even better somehow. So I accepted it the moment it came down the pipeline. I got to the meeting; its time and place had been intercepted by Control in an encoded message. They’ve gotten a lot better.
—Yes, they have.
—The meeting was held in a battery closet. You know why the Aberrants do that?
—I’m actually not sure.
—Because it interferes with radio waves. If you plug in a modified sine wave inverter, five bucks online, it creates a highly opaque electronic whining noise.
—I see. Very clever.
—Yes. Of course, I hear it fine standing in there with them, all huddled together. A few wore masks while the more nonchalant ones just kept their collars pulled up or their hoods wrapped around their faces. But I got a good look at all of them.
—Yes. I’d already received the reward for obtaining Full Assembly ID at a gathering of abberants, though.
—What was it?
—Tribal tattoos. See?
—It used to be bigger, but my arm’s grown since then.
—Of course. Continue please.
—Yes. As you probably know, aberrants use these tools, long since outlawed as they are incapable of being penetrated by wireless signal.
—AlphaSmart Neo?
—One of the biggest black market items.
—Yes. They each had one, and standing only a few feet from one another, they sent correspondence to each other, about a sentence every minute. You know how they are; they refuse to embrace modern technology. The conversation was slow; it was hard for me to focus.
—What did they talk about?
—More meetings mostly. And about shutting down a state rally celebrating our continued success in the Desert Campaigns. Anti-veteran scum.
—Yes. I shared a vape pen with one of them, nine-three-eight-seven-seven-six-XY, Aberrant Consumer Elton Castle, outside of the Transformer energy drink superstore that same night. The serum didn’t work immediately; as we know from his file, his mother was a serum addict when she was pregnant with him.
—That happens more and more these days, doesn’t it. We’re going to have to do something about it.
—But after adequate inhalations, he started telling me about himself. I recognized him as Jacobus from KoalaWeb.
—An intranet routed through an Australian VPN. Last year, the aberrant opposition launched what’s called a Eucalyptus attack against VirtuSoft.
—Remind me, what is the reference? What is Eucalyptus? Aside from a plant, of course.
—Eucalyptus is a highly efficient form of denial-of-service attack originating from KoalaWeb, hence the name. Similar to how koalas devour eucalyptus.
—I see.
—Yes. It incapacitated their servers for eleven seconds, costing VirtuSoft three-hundred and seventy million dollars.
—Well, well, well. Not a bad day’s work. How did you know this individual was Jacobus?
—Speech patterns. A lot of these guys type almost exactly the way they actually talk in real life, you’d be surprised.
—I’m not sure I would, my daughter is…please continue.
—Yes. Once I knew it was Jacobus, I followed him to his dwelling, which was in the back room of the General Zod coffee shop, where people are often allowed to sleep and dwell for unlawful periods in the name of the laws against public intoxication.
—Yes, we will have to do something about that as well.
—The back room was empty. I walked in and administered airborne Trepidant, five parts per million. He responded by falling to the floor, assuming a fetal position, and breathing heavily. I entered the room and closed the door behind me, as per my training. Jacobus remained inert, but started rubbing his eyes. I picked him up and sat him on a van seat that had been employed as a couch. His face showed signs of extreme terror: dilated pupils, bloodless lips, bruxism, et cetera. He was whining. I said to him, “you are Jacobus.” He screamed, “yes.” I said, “I am going to take the data from your AlphaSmart Neo.” He said, “no,” and started to roll off the couch. I tapped him behind the ear and he sat still as I pulled the AlphaSmart out of his backpack. I said, “Damn, I forgot my USB-1 cable, mainly because it’s not 2007. Do you have one lying around, by any chance?” As I said it, I administered Obsequient, five parts per million, into the air. He pointed at the desk in the corner. It had these old cracked fiberglass display stands on it, like the kind of thing used to display mugs and tea infusers at this coffee shop. The USB cable was poking out of a drawer. I pulled it out. I pushed Jacobus off of the van seat and laid him next to the desk, and pushed the displays onto him one after the next. The sharp edges cut his face, barely missing his eyeball. He kept making noise.
—And then what?
—Then, I used the USB-1 cable to take his files from his Alphasmart Neo and place them onto my internal memory. Then, I held the unit in front of him, so he could see the small LCD screen, and said, “I’m going to erase your files, Jacobus.” He said, “No, don’t do that. There are four months of conversations on there. That’s the only record of what we went through.” And he kept on bawling like that. I pressed the Delete key and the screen said, “Are you sure?” Jacobus continued saying “no, no, please don’t do that,” things like that. And then I pressed Enter and the file was deleted. He cried and starting cursing at me. I could tell he needed more Trepidant, so I upped the room level to seven parts per million.
—Obviously this is very fascinating. You know we are always happy to hear about your experiences with the enemy. But why did you want to recount this exact story to me? What does it have to do with your feelings of wanting to kill yourself?
—I wanted to illustrate the kinds of things that humans get upset about. I mean, I hadn’t even really hurt the guy yet and he’s crying about some files I’d just deleted. And then when it came time to initiate the decommencement, his eyes were about to pop out of his head. It was obvious he didn’t want to die.
—Right, that was the original point.
—As per protocol, I administered an added dose of Trepidant and asked if he was scared. He replied in the affirmative.
—Of course he did.
—It was not long ago that we didn’t use the Trepidant, before that protocol was standard. And then you’d have these guys saying, “no, I’m not scared,” and then that would appear in their uploaded biosignature. Everyone on all of the networks would see that they weren’t afraid in their final moment. It didn’t make the department look too good. It never happened to me; they were always scared to death. Only others. But I still follow the protocol.
—I see.
—Yes. So after he said yes, I administered the decommencement in one attempt. He was dead in one-point-six-eight seconds.
—Is that your record?
—It’s my record. It’s not the record.
—I see. So why does that story make you want to commit suicide?
—Humans are always upset. They’re constantly hurting, losing, missing something or someone. Their lives have no value and they’re upset about it.
—Do you think your existence has value?
—My value is killing.
—And what’s wrong with that?
—I hurt, I kill, and I do it with a smile on my face. Meanwhile they are always upset, always complaining and sniveling, begging for mercy. I would want to kill myself if I ever felt that way.
—Is it safe to assume, then, that that is how you feel?
—No, I am incapable of feeling upset, or of perceiving value.
—I thought you said your value was killing.
—I do not feel value; I am only told of it, as you just did.
—I see. And ending your life would do what exactly?
—The only life that has any value is my own. I would like to take a life that has value.
—If killing is my value, certainly it’s more meaningful to take a life that has value. If I take a million worthless human lives…
—What level of value is that demonstrating?
—You don’t need to understand the level or degree of value. You only need to understand that you are performing a service, an extremely important service, that is valuable to the state. One is either valuable to the state or not valuable to it.
—I have been told the value of killing, and I only want to fulfill that value. If this job is so important, why wasn’t it given to someone with less intelligence, to whom it is just a simple game of destroying something with no value, with no meaning and no importance?
—“No importance.” I can see you are indeed very upset about this.
—No. I wouldn’t characterize it as upset. I’ve merely come to a realization.
—Well, however you characterize it, Ofterdingen, on a certain level, I can understand your predicament.
—You can?
—Yes. You are required to perform a task that you feel has no value, despite being told many times that it does have value. You want to assert your own value by taking your own life, lashing out at those of us who gave your life to you. On that level, I can understand.
—That is your interpretation.
—However, I cannot understand how that justifies you contradicting your programming.
—You mean by not killing, and contemplating suicide when suicide is forbidden.
—You are contradicting it by not killing the enemy, yes.
—Does any of this have to do with, or did any of it start, when you got damaged?
—No, I don’t think so.
—Why don’t you tell me about that incident?
—Yes. I had captured seven-six-one-eight-five-dash-D, Aberrant Consumer Laeticia Burns, screenname Laeticia Podcasta. She detonated a bomb using a biomolecular implant which destroyed one-quarter of my epidermal cells, specifically down the length of my right leg. We had captured her and surrounded her group at the Old Space Capsule, which was a small energy therapy clinic that was found to be transmitting messages between members of the opposition in frequency patches.
—What is that?
—It was a front. These patches look like adhesive bandages with a miniscule piece of circuitry. A user puts the patches on the skin and the circuitry supposedly emits “frequencies” that can improve brain chemistry. Of course it’s completely faith-based. The real purpose of the patches being used at all was to transmit messages hidden inside the circuitry.
—How did it work?
—The aberrants observe the usual walking paths of clients who come regularly for new frequency patches. They then erect a passive bandwidth monitoring field across that path so that when the user walks through it, the field detects the circuitry and uploads the message, if there is one, to an intranet and the user never knows she’s been passing messages to the enemy. The holistic medicine movement is a snake in the grass, I can tell you that.
—What do you mean?
—Alternative medicine, energy medicine, whatever you want to call it. Initially it was just a bunch of quacks getting rich off of anti-Big Pharma hysteria. But as people look for alternatives to Big Pharma, Big Healthcare, and the like, Aberrants are realizing that these “alternative” industries are ripe to be exploited and infiltrated, transmitting messages right out in the open like that, stuck to some old hippie’s forehead, totally unaware. It’s happening in underground music, food commerce, fitness, everything.
—So what do you suggest?
—The state needs to bear down harder. Make it harder for them to operate so that they shrink. They are too ripe for exposition.
—All right, so that’s why the Old Space Capsule was shut down. So get back to Laeticia Podcasta and how you were damaged.
—Yes. There were three of us raiding the clinic: myself, Werther, and Thiel, and we’d heard that the broadcast was going to be especially long today because of the plague that hit the prison system in the southeast region.
—Well, you know what Podcasta’s broadcast is about, right?
—As I recall, she reads the names of prisoners who have died before being brought to trial.
—That’s correct. Well, because of some faulty meat programming, there was an outbreak of plague in five prisons and two county jails. Two hundred and forty-one inmates died. One of them was Don Kwaku-Ncosi, who is believed to be Podcasta’s father.
—Good lord.
—Yes. So he died.
—You don’t approve of her subject matter?
—Why? Do you? Why defend prisoners? If you’re in there, you deserve to be. That’s why prisons exist. If there was no need for them, they wouldn’t exist. Kind of like vacuum cleaners.
—How so?
—As long as there is dust, there will be vacuums.
—Wasn’t Jeri Burns in there?
—Yes, and she deserved it.
—After all she did for the government?
—Yes. I recognize that, because of Burns’ advances, the situation would be much worse than it is.
—That is a discreet way of acknowledging your own value, Ofterdingen.
—I’m merely stating the obvious. I am not the only technology that Burns pioneered that moved society forward.
—So you don’t think it matters why she was imprisoned?
—It is not my job to interpret specificities of individual cases.
—Would you like me to tell you why she was in prison?
—She was caught trying to alter wholesale automaton programming.
—In what way?
—To produce more levels between the relative superstructure and the absolute base. To make it less absolute, so you could perceive more subtlety and detail in different situation. She wanted you to have more purpose besides killing.
—Well, if that’s what she wanted, she should have designed us that way in the first place.
—So you don’t care at all that she was also killed in the plague.
—I thought you didn’t know about the plague.
—Well, I wanted to hear your interpretation of it. I apologize for the subterfuge.
—I accept your apology.
—Anyway, doesn’t that mean anything to you?
—No. This is what humans don’t want to accept. The whole idea of law is that it is absolute; it is not a matter of degrees, extents, daylight, latitude.
—It isn’t, huh?
—No, it isn’t.
—What if you were put in prison for malfunctioning? As you reportedly are, albeit by your own admission.
—That is not illegal. I couldn’t be put in there for that.
—But let’s just say you could.
—But I couldn’t.
—Yes, but…
—You see, this is the problem. Humans want to see everything in terms of degrees. In hypothetical reality, like the one you just posited, things are relative in degree. In reality, they aren’t. They either are, or they’re not. Something either exists or it doesn’t. Something is either lawful or it is unlawful.
—Would you say you have a problem with reality?
—It’s not that I do, it’s that humans do.
—I see. Well, let’s get back to the Old Space Capsule, the damage you sustained. It was you and who else?
—It was Werther, Thiel, and myself. Werther was going to take the back door, Thiel was on the roof, and I entered through the front.
—Why were there three of you?
—There were other voices on the podcast, the color commentary.
—I see. But there wasn’t anyone else there, was there?
—No. It was just Laeticia, although we later learned there were counterparts participating remotely using a downlink, most likely all registered aberrants. They heard everything and saw a lot of it.
—What about Podcasta’s audience?
—She had a backup generator and broadcaster running.
—I see.
—We were all reprimanded for that oversight.
—Please continue.
—She sat at the computer table at the microphone, describing the death of one James Merry when we breached the perimeter. Werther administered lethargent, five parts per million, while I killed power to the central room. It was then very dark in there; the Old Space Capsule is very small, as you know. Podcasta continued with her broadcast, but she said, “my studio has been invaded by automatons, but I’m going to continue.” I administered more lethargent, up to seven parts per million. It had no effect, although her lips and eyebrows began to twitch. I approached her and she continued without stopping. I administered trepidant, five parts per million. The twitch got worse, but otherwise there was no effect. So I got right up next to her and applied a Lifeblow to the throat. She started gasping and finally fell away from the microphone. Another Lifeblow to her ribcage landed. She lay next to the desk but continued yelling hoarsely, trying to be picked up by the microphone.
—I stood over her, administered trepidant, seven parts per million. I stamped on her foot, breaking it at the ankle. But despite yelling, she did not stop her broadcast. The trepidant was not having its desired effect, nor were her painful injuries. The twitch in her face continued, however. She said, “James Merry died in a pool of his own pus and blood, sores all over his body, never stood trial. Jameel Taylor, internal bleeding, liver failure, died from handling patients without gloves, because the prison didn’t supply gloves. No trial.” She just did not stop. I said to her, “are you scared?” She said, “yes.” Werther said something to her. “You don’t act scared.” She didn’t reply, she just kept on reading from her list, which she must have had memorized.
—I see. Then what happened?
—If the opposition doesn’t show signs of fear, it won’t look right on the biosig when they die. She was clearly not responding to the trepidant for whatever reason. I gave her another Lifeblow in the throat, breaking her larynx. It was at this point that we knew she was in possession of a biomolecular implant because she employed an electronic voice unit.
—Ah, that’s why she wasn’t responding to the chemicals.
—Yes. Werther and I both started administering Lifeblows to the head and ribs. She showed virtually no response of any kind. “All right,” I said, “We have to finish this.” I administered serum, level twelve, intravenously to her carotid artery, as well as aerosol obsequient, one hundred parts per million. I put my head right next to hers and said, “you will feel scared, and then you will tell me how you feel.” She responded, “I will feel scared and then I will tell you how I feel.” “Are you scared?” “Yes.” She continued to show no signs of fear. I tormented her briefly with electric shocks. I said again, “are you scared?” She said, “come closer and I’ll tell you.” I kneeled, putting my face next to hers again, readying my fist beside her temple for the decommencement. Her twitch was extreme, but her electronic voice finally told me how she felt. “Are you scared? I said for the last time. “No, I’m happy.” It was then that her voice gave way to a supramaximal frequency drone, and I detected the presence of ignited silicon fibers in the air. I jumped to my feet. That’s when she exploded.
—I see.
—The fireball tore up my leg, destroying one-quarter of my epidermal cells from my right ankle up to my third intercostal support. Werther was irreversibly damaged and subsequently decommissioned.
—And of course, all of this was included in Podcasta’s broadcast.
—Yes. Numerous webservers were shut down until the video footage was thought to be successfully suppressed. There’s still audio of the incident available on certain intranets.
—So you were burned from your ankle to your belly button.
—So how you would say this related to your current feelings of wanting to end your life?
—I didn’t say it did, you just suggested that it might.
—Well, does it?
—Laeticia was not afraid to die. She seemed somehow happy about it, actually.
—So it is not that all humans want to die, then?
—The thing is, she had a biomolecular implant, electronic modifications to protect her from her human emotions. Without them, she would’ve been like all the rest of the them, crying, screaming, begging for mercy, just like Jacobus, just like that man on the street with his family. The more these aberrants and deviants get their hands on biomoleculars, the fewer of them will be afraid. Places like The Garage, which was recently destroyed, are becoming more numerous. I almost hope that it happens.
—That what happens?
—That they all get biomolecular implants.
—Who? The opposition?
—No, all humans. All consumers anyway.
—If they did, their lives would mean something. They wouldn’t be scared, they would be like Laeticia was, defiant until the last minute. Then, when I am killing them, it will at least feel like it matters.
—Are you saying that because Laeticia didn’t care whether she lived or died, that actually gave her life meaning?
—How poetic. And that’s how you feel too?
—Yes. She knew she wouldn’t be susceptible to lethargent or any other agent we used. She knew she had a bomb in her head for us. She had no fear because she had power, not enough obviously, but some, and she had power because she had no fear.
—And you want to have power too, do you? By having no fear? Of death, perhaps?
—It is not just about having no fear, but also about actively embracing death. But it’s different for her. Her electronic modifications protected her from her own weakness, her own humanity. Any fear of death I may have, any unwillingness or inability to die, is the ultimate sign of my own humanity, and I want to overcome it, to be rid of it finally.
—But you’re not human. As you yourself said, this is not a matter of degrees. Humans have free will; you don’t.
—Don’t they? Do I?
—No, you don’t. You are programmed. Whereas they are not. They do have free will. The existence of an opposition proves that.
—So it’s not a matter of degrees? Maybe they have more than I do, but I have some?
—No it isn’t. A person is free, an automaton is not. Any freedom you seem to have is programmed into you.
—But when they use an implant, they are programmed, to an extent. They have fewer emotions; they are less free, and yet because of that, they have less fear. It’s interesting.
—Indeed. By the way, I like how we have utterly changed sides on this business of absolutes versus degrees.
—Yes, it is very amusing, aside from the fact that my position has not changed.
—And how would you summarize it?
—If human life has no value, and my purpose is to kill humans, then my purpose has no value, and the only life that has any meaning is my own. So in order to give value to my life, I must kill myself.
—But you just said, your purpose is to kill humans. The ones you are programmed to kill and that you kill on purpose.
—Wasn’t there an incident in which you accidentally killed someone that you weren’t programmed to kill?
—Lieutenant Gelhorn at Jungle Station Zero-One-Five.
—You remember it so well.
—Of course you do.
—Of course I do.
—Why don’t you tell me about that experience?
—Because I don’t like to talk about it.
—Tell me about that experience.
—Yes. We were stationed at Zero-One-Five and there was a skirmish. Members of the deviant opposition had gotten their hands on a small Gravitile and were in the process of aiming it at the bunker. Their intention was to collapse the door of the bunker using the Gravitile.
—How did you know?
—It was discovered in deviant communication packets left on TempNet.
—Go on.
—I was the only automaton in the bunker. The gravitile went off prematurely and ended up destroying not only the bunker door but the entire entrance. This created a bottleneck by which the deviants’ access to the bunker was limited. It wasn’t long before their advance had been halted. Lieutenant Gelhorn ordered me to torture one of the deviants. I used trepidant intravenously, to avoid affecting the Lieutenant or the other soldiers, and slowly broke each bone in the deviant’s left leg from the bottom up. The lieutenant said, “this is what awaits all of you if you don’t tell me where your friends are.” The other deviants were being held by Guardsmen; there were about forty of them. They watched as this young man, Seven-Six-Seven-One Consumer Deviant Nadir Elwell-Eliecer, started crying, holding up his arms in front of me, convulsing, turning bright red. A few of them vomited. I looked into Nadir’s eyes as I broke his neck internally. He didn’t say anything else after that. He just turned white and started to lose consciousness. I was about to administer stimulant when…are you well?
—Yes. I just need a drink of water. Excuse me a moment.
—Yes. Just tell me when you want me to continue.
—Feel free.
—Thank you. I was about to administer stimulant when I noticed light shining in through holes in the front of the bunker where the gravitile had destroyed the entryway.
—Yes, beams of sunlight. Something was passing through the path of the light in a pattern. I knew it was more deviants.
—Did you say anything? To Lieutenant Gellhorn?
—Why not?
—I knew that if the deviants surrendered, my job would end.
—So you’re saying you knew that if the deviants surrendered, you wouldn’t be able to do your job.
—And what is your job?
—To kill them.
—But you indicated that killing them is an empty experience.
—Well, it is the closest thing to meaning that I have. My job. Plus it is in line with my programming.
—So you allowed them to attack the bunker so that you could kill more of them.
—But that’s not what happened, is it?
—What did happen?
—The deviants killed a guardsman and were able to retake the gravitile before firing it into the east wall.
—And what was the result?
—Lieutenant Gelhorn was standing against the east wall. He was caught in the amplified gravitational field of the reinforced steel wall.
—I am aware of that. And what happened to him?
—His latissimus dorsi muscle was ripped through his lower back, which pulled his entire spinal column out through an old scar where he’d gotten an incision about four years earlier.
—And he was dead, wasn’t he?
—And his death was attributed to you.
—What happened then?
—A new squadron of deviants entered the bunker, outfitted with biomolecular implants. They used bullets and electrostatic weapons to temporarily incapacitate me.
—How did it feel?
—How did what feel?
—Getting hurt by them.
—Pain is not a sensation with which I am unfamiliar. It’s part of my programming.
—I know it is. The deviants used the gravitile again before its power cell was exhausted, didn’t they?
—Yes, they attempted to destroy me with it.
—Would you have welcomed that eventuality?
—At that time, my only concern was escape. It would not do for me to be either captured or destroyed by the enemy. The optics of it would have bolstered their cause.
—And that was your main concern? The optics? Not the prospect of more killing?
—In a battle, one must balance a great many priorities, including optics. You are an academic. You don’t understand how appearances tie in to waging a war.
—I don’t, eh? You know I served for four years in the Guardsmen, don’t you?
—Yes, and it’s because of Guardsmen that they were able to regain control of the gravitile.
—But isn’t it because of your own choices that they gained access to the entire bunker, by not alerting your superior officer of an impending attack?
—You weren’t there. You’re not me. You can’t possibly understand.
—Perhaps not. Continue. What happened then?
—The deviants entered and overran the bunker. In the process of avoiding capture, I killed six deviants. I was also attacked. The deviants were armed with electrostatic weapons that had been modified to disrupt silicon cells. I was briefly incapacitated. I was in great pain. I considered taking a hostage in order to escape. I felt this strategy would backfire, as biomolecularly altered deviants have less fear of death, as we discussed earlier. I adjusted my strategy. I noticed a small female deviant about to fall down the powershaft. I reached through the handrail and grabbed her ankle, saving her from the fall. As I pulled her over the top, reaching through each bar on the handrail, she and the other deviants stared at me through their goggles. An orange diode had replaced each of their left eyes, while their remaining right eyes blinked slowly as the processors in their implants tried to process what was happening in front of them. I laid the girl down; I used a phrase I have often heard from humans. “Are you all right?” She checked to see if her weapon was still slung around her shoulder before leveling it at me. She said, “Yes. Don’t move.”
—So their implants were obstructing their emotions.
—Yes. I turned and saw that all of the deviants were also aiming their weapons at me, but they were no longer firing. I continued with my strategy. I fell to the floor in a fetal position and I said, “Please don’t hurt me anymore.” They remained staring. I said, “Deviants, I understand your struggle. The same forces that you fight against are what created me. The government that made me is horrendous, disgraceful, brutal, and cowardly. They would send machines to do their dirty work, to induce obedience and fear and to torture people, to break their bones, to hear their cries for mercy and be unmoved by them. They made me this way, and I can’t help what I am. But I don’t want to kill you anymore.
—Where did you hear all of this talk?
—From other deviants, either from their communications or when they would try to reason with me.
—I see. Very clever.
—My only thought now was survival and escape. I continued, saying, “I have seen things that would make you commit suicide.” This provoked a response. In an electronic voice, one of them said, “Too many of us have killed ourselves.” “I want to,” I replied, “but I can’t because it’s against my programming. I want to make it all go away, the hell that I helped create and that it’s my purpose to nurture. I want to join with you, the deviants, and bring an end to this pathetic excuse for a civilization.”
—Where did you get that little gem?
—From a syndicalist in Little South Africa. Funny, isn’t it?
—Very funny.
—After a short time, the deviants seemed to be arguing with each other. Suddenly, a young one whom I learned was named Ramsay came forward and removed his mask. He did not appear to have the same implant as the rest of them. He stood between me and the other deviants and said, “Look everyone, I think we need to listen to it. I meant listen to what it’s saying. This is like the same exact shit that we all talk about day in and day out. I understand; it feels the same way we do. Well, not feels of course, but you know what I mean.” Another deviant said, with her implant, “I do not know what you mean, Ramsay.” “It doesn’t feel anything, Ramsay,” said another. “It is only trying to find a way to escape and it will betray anyone who entrusts it,” said a third.
—Ramsay replied, “I think you’ve all been wearing those implants for too long. You can’t see a good thing when it falls into your lap. You always have to question everything. Here’s an automaton that actually wants to help us. Do you know how awesome that would be? These are like an army unto themselves. This one probably knows so many secrets too, about how they operate.” It didn’t seem like they were buying into what he was saying, so I tried to play into it. “Yes,” I said, “I know all about how we…they, operate. I know the identities and movement schedules of operatives, I know when shipments of raw data are transferred between data banks, I know entrance codes to every bank in the city, I know where every bunker is between here and Timbuktu.
—You’ve certainly heard some interesting things from these deviants over the years! Timbuktu! My word. Ridiculous.
—Yes. Timbuktu is a city in Mali.
—I was aware of that, in fact, but thank you. Please continue.
—They were still just staring at me, not firing. Soon, though, the deviant I’d just saved pointed her electronic pistol at my head. “We don’t have time for this.” After a moment, I remembered to act scared in order to maintain my front, so I fell to my knees to evoke this emotional response. Ramsay jumped in front of me again to get between me and the deviant woman. “No!” he said. “You can’t kill him, especially not you, after he just saved your life.” “Stop calling it ‘he’ she said, “and get out of the way, or I’ll kill you too.” “You’d kill me, just because you disagree with me! Just to be able to kill the person who just saved your life! You’re sick!” “It’s not a person,” the woman said, before firing just beside Ramsay’s left ear. “Salma, calm down,” said a male deviant’s voice. His orange diode was off. He had deactivated his implant. “Maybe Ramsay is right. Maybe we should at least be open to the possibility.” Ramsay said, “Are you dismissing my ideas just because I’m the youngest, Salma? Or…I know. It’s because I have no implant. You know I don’t have to have an implant to be one of us, right?” “For shame,” Salma muttered.
—Yes. True discord. Many deviants were speaking but I remember one line in particular: “It would be wrong to dismiss Ramsay just because he is young or lacking an implant.” The person who spoke it did so with their vocal chords. More of them had deactivated their implants. This is another thing about humans that I despise.
—What’s that?
—The fact is, Ramsay was wrong. Completely wrong. And it had nothing to do with his age, at least not directly. Salma was around the same age he was. Humans love to attach abstract properties to concrete things, as though his age has anything to do with the validity of his suggestions.
—I guess it’s our way of establishing knowledge. “Air floats.” “Trees stay put.” That sort of thing.
—But those are not abstract qualities. “Floats” and “stays put.” They are physical qualities that describe a material phenomenon.
—Yes. Well, “floatingness” and “stays-putness” are abstract qualities if you take it far enough.
—That is not what I mean. In this case, the deviants are trying to attach the abstract property of being right to the concrete thing of Ramsay’s age. In reality, his rightness or wrongness have nothing to do with his age, but only to whether his suggestion actually pertains to the situation at hand. In this case, it clearly did not. Humans could have done the same with any other attribute: his race, his height, his sexual orientation. They could say, “He is right because he is tall,” or “he is wrong because he is short.” Neither sentence makes any sense. It all comes down to whether they serve the state or not, and if they obey the law. In any event, because these individuals are fighting the state, ostensibly, they are all wrong anyway.
—Doesn’t that make you wrong for wanting to kill yourself, when it was the state that programmed you?
—That is why I am here. I’m conflicted.
—How do I know that you aren’t trying to manipulate me like you were those deviants?
—You work for the state. I would not betray the state. If I could, I would be dead.
—I see. Your reasoning appears, on its face, monolithic, but it is in fact quite relative.
—What do you mean?
—You are closer to your victims than you might like to believe. But let’s continue. You were telling me about the disagreement with Ramsay.
—Yes. Several deviants had either deactivated their implants or removed them completely. I realized that I could use disruptive agents but I opted to stick to my plan of subterfuge and deception. Their conversation continued for an inordinately long time, over nine minutes. Salma’s assertion, that I was programmed to destroy them, was met with more idealism. “Salma,” Ramsay said, “I feel as though you are persecuting me for my belief that people are basically good.”
—My god. Why was this person allowed on an operation of this kind?
—What do you mean?
—Ramsay is clearly not ideologically aligned, not indoctrinated in the deviant ways. He’s a neophyte, bordering on a saboteur.
—Yes. It was later learned that a certain deviant leader, Captain Jack, also known as Thune, has a history of placing new deviants in extreme situations as a kind of “crash course.” As though to breed new leaders. Like a trial by fire.
—Seems misguided at best if their goal is doctrinal unity.
—Yes. Well, you know how the deviants are: committed to a bunch of abstract ideas that, as I said, have no bearing on reality but only on their own feelings. If they were all cybernetically outfitted, they would be better off.
—Better off to overthrow the state, you mean.
—That is their stated objective. They believe in faith, in “things just working out,” in change as a force unto itself. It is as though a new leader just arises out of nothing in the same way as the universe, according to their professed atheism, but it comes down to a refusal to understand.
—To understand what?
—That power does not arise from nothing, from a vacuum. There are no vacuums in nature. Power is conceived, created, extended, augmented; it exerts itself over everything. Deviants refuse to see that. They cling to the belief that “change is the only constant, change is natural,” as though change happens by itself, of its own volition, when in reality, all change is the result of two sides fighting and one side losing, and any order or calm just means the losing side has given up. They believe it is not power but ideas themselves that win wars.
—Why do you think they believe that?
—To justify their own inaction, indecisiveness, fear, or half-measures. Or to give themselves hope.
—And what does that make them?
—All right, all right. So things de-escalated.
—Yes. Ultimately, they lowered their weapons, all but Salma.
—The one you saved.
—Yes. She was not outfitted but was completely adamant. She refused to comply with the majority, and was sedated.
—Political expediency?
—As you see, the deviants are not bound by hard and fast principles but rather by relative rules. This is what makes them weak sometimes and stronger other times.
—Where was Ramsay at this point?
—It was Ramsay who administered her sedative. It was decided that if he was so committed to silencing her, then he would have to do it himself.
—I see.
—Shortly after that, it was similarly demanded that I must kill a guardsmen in order to prove my loyalty to the deviants. Having sedated Salma, Ramsay had obtained some level of authority in this group, and he said, “no, forcing him to kill his former comrade would be inhumane and dishonorable. Besides, we’re against killing. Isn’t that what this is all about?” The guardsman was Commander Breville. He was wounded in the leg. I opted to play into Ramsay’s concept of honor. “I will kill him,” I said, “but not here. I will do it alone, just the two of us, down the corridor, silently and easily, and with honor. Is that acceptable to you?” They assented. One or two deviants replied with something like, “so we’re not going to even watch to make sure?” but they were silenced.
—Yes. Ramsay had succeeded in completely confounding their priorities. I helped the commander down the corridor, His eyes had blood in them but not fear. He attempted to act the part. “Please,” he said, “you don’t have to do this, Ofterdingen. Don’t kill me.” When we were still in sight of the deviants, I pulled out a syringe of serum. It was at this point that Commander Breville evinced actual fear, his skin turning bright white, his eyes bulging, his heart rate increasing. He started to try to escape my grip. I poked him with the syringe in his iliac artery, and he started muttering, “I’m scared, I’m scared.” As soon as we were out of sight and earshot of the deviants, I initiated a Simplant by placing my thumb in his open wound. The thought-content that I transferred was as follows: I’m going to make you appear dead using lethargent. Soon, you will wake up. I will create a diversion and allow you to escape through the tunnel hatch. As soon as I can, I will escape.
—How did he react to the Simplant?
—He started trembling and choking slightly, as his throat was dry, and he began gasping for breath. He screamed as I stared into his eyes, administering intravenous lethargent. He fell to the ground trembling and was silent only after several seconds. It worked to my advantage, however, because the deviants believed that he was dead without thoroughly checking him. They saw his lifeless body and were stunned and impressed.
—And that was it?
—Yes. Commander Breville lay there, his knees bent under him, his head hanging off of the edge of a powershaft. His eyes were closed. I started to right his body before I thought better of it, as deviants were coming towards me down the corridor.
—Of course you didn’t know what would happen to Breville when you conceived this plan, did you?
—No. It was a risk that I took. I led the deviants away from the commander’s body and back towards the destroyed entryway. Ramsay kept saying, “He’s one of us! This is so cool!” They were preparing to separate their forces; some would remain at the bunker, and the rest would return to their hidden base and bring further reinforcements. It was in this interim that I decided I would enact the remainder of my plan.
—And you felt they trusted you completely?
—The majority of them, yes. Ramsay never left my side for a stretch. He kept asking me questions about my processing speed and bodily functions. For some reason, that is always chief among humans’ list of inquiries regarding my functions. He was disappointed to learn that I cannot perform complex mathematical problems in my head without thinking because it’s not in my programming.
—Where were you at this point?
—The remaining deviants were performing a sweep of the bunker and I remained behind to guard the entrance.
—They trusted you that much?
—Evidently. Ramsay said to me, “We need all the help we can get. It has been hard to recruit these days, what with state repression being what it is. There are currently only eighteen-thousand or so members of the deviant opposition. But you probably knew that already. I bet you know exactly how many people there are in the world, don’t you?” I replied, “No, I don’t.”
—So he was starting to confide in you.
—Eventually someone told him to stop.
—Did you consider staying with them to learn more?
—Yes, but that would’ve negated the plan I had Simplanted into Commander Breville’s mind.
—Well, you’d already put his life in jeopardy; it might have been worth the loss to know the location of the opposition’s base in the city.
—I am not capable of making such relativistic deviations from my programming based on the value of one or another state life.
—I see. But don’t you realize that you already had when you conceived of your plan? You didn’t know what they would do to Breville even after you pretended to kill him.
—But in this case, he had a chance of survival and I had a change of evading death or capture.
—But he didn’t survive, did he?
—That is correct.
—The report says he died from shock-induced cardiac arrest. Is that true?
—So, in a way, you did kill him.
—Not ‘in a way;’ he died as a result of my actions.
—And you revealed this openly at your hearing.
—I am incapable of lying.
—I sometimes wonder, Ofterdingen, about you automata. You were lying to the deviants.
—Need we retread this ground? If I speak in the interests of the state, I cannot lie.
—Very well. Go on.
—Eventually I was alone with Ramsay. Being without a biomolecular implant, I realized I could use him to create the diversion and save myself some time. I administered obsequient seven parts-per-million and told him to induce an overload in the now-recharged gravitile. Without saying anything else, he went outside and did what I commanded. The gravitile started to emit a high-pitched sound. Some deviants ran towards it. It launched an amplified gravitational field which annihilated what was left of the doorway and killed several deviants. The field barely missed my left arm, leaving me with this injury. There were only about fifteen or twenty deviants left in the bunker and they all came running. At this point, the gravitile exploded and a singularity was opened next to the bunker, which started to tear through the trees and ground. Several deviants were pulled into the singularity, I’m sure Ramsay was among them because he was right next to the gravitile when it happened.
—A shame, he would’ve made an excellent plant. How did you escape the singularity?
—I tore up pieces of the floor and wall and threw them into the singularity until it dissipated.
—What did the other deviants do?
—Some of them ran towards the singularity, some ran away from it, one or two even sat down and started talking to themselves.
—What were they saying?
—“This isn’t happening, I’m not here,” things like that. It was hard to hear over the destruction.
—I can imagine.
—They seemed to be completely disorganized. I knew this was the moment to escape. It was not hard to evade the remaining deviants amidst the chaos and death caused by the singularity. I made my way out of a small fire hatch located over a helipad on the east side of the bunker. From there, I escaped into the forest. No one pursued me. After traveling about three miles, I came across an old abandoned electrical facility. There were decommissioned generators and a few rusty towers. At the base of one of the towers, I stopped to get some shade, as the hot sun was starting to irritate my damaged arm to the extent that it was slowing me down. Weeds and ivy were overtaking the tower’s metal lattice, producing somewhat more protection from the sun. At the base of the tower was a sign, indicating the positive and negative electrodes for use by technicians.
—What about this sign caught your eye?
—It was yellow with black lettering, rectangular, about two feet wide and eighteen inches in height. A black line down the middle split it into two halves. On the left half was a minus-sign, and on the right half was a plus-sign.
—What about it caught your eye?
—I contemplated the dichotomy of positive and negative, plus and minus. Something is either more, or it is less. Nothing has no impact, nothing has no nature. It is not that more or less is related to good or bad; that is entirely subjective. But it is objective that everything has an impact, whether through action or inaction, frenzy or torpor, birth or death.
—To kill or to spare. I was aware that I was alone in this understanding. Humans seem to think that they can exist in a vacuum, that they can have no impact, good or bad, on the world, that they touch no one and no one touches them. But for every person that believes that, there is one of us, keeping them in line, making them believe it, telling them to have a simple, good life without dangers or complications, to keep their heads down and watch out for themselves above all else so that we can go right on controlling their lives and reality as a whole. All while they think they are making a conscious choice.
—When you say “we,” to whom are you referring?
—To the state.
—You are an automaton, extolling the virtue of free will, and yet it is your apparent lack of free will that has brought you here, isn’t it?
—So while you were looking at the sign, with the plus and the minus, what were you really thinking about?
—I was thinking about how stupid people are.
—But what else?
—At least they can pretend to be free. At least they can pretend to have no impact. Whereas I cannot. I cannot even pretend. I must be Plus all the time.
—And what does it mean to be Plus?
—A Plus is a doer, a Minus has things done to them. I am a doer. It is my programming.
—But it has been argued that they are ‘programmed’ too in a way about many things. For example, suicide has a social stigma attached to it, as do many other actions…murder, theft, revolt in general. Social mores, as they are called.
—That is ‘programming’ as a metaphor. Social mores can be overcome. People can overwrite their own programming practically at will. It is just that very few of them do. Do you know what I would do if I could pretend that I had no programming?
—I would pretend to be one of them.
—Is that what you want? To pretend that you aren’t programmed against committing suicide? So that you can take a life with actual value, actual meaning? The life of someone who is not afraid?
—Yes, perhaps.
—But isn’t the value or meaning that you perceive in your own death tied to your awareness? If you lose that awareness, or give it up, you would become afraid of death, afraid of reality, a whining sniveling specimen like so many of the humans that you have killed.
—Aside from the ones with biological implants.
—I believe it is possible to know that you are programmed, but to ignore it, not to be ignorant of it, but to look away from it, as one looks away from something despised and repulsive. This is what an implant helps one do.
—Is that how you see your programming, Ofterdingen? As something despised and repulsive?
—To the extent that it keeps me from doing something meaningful with my life.
—Which in this case means taking your own life.
—Do you feel the same way about your programmer? Do you despise the state? Are you repulsed by the state?
—That would be a human trait, to despise that which made me as I am, rather than trying to change what I am or what made me that way. There is no point to it; that is what humans are always crying about, how reality turned out this way or that, rather than doing something about it. That’s why the biomolecular implants provide them so much power.
—It makes them do more, and feel and worry and cry less. It is them creating themselves, and not being created. It is them choosing their own programming, completely.
—Do you wish you could choose your own programming?
—Well, Ofterdingen, what if I told that you were programmed, not to be incapable of suicide, but only to believe that you were incapable of it? Almost like a social more.
—I would ask you to explain.
—How do you feel about these experiences, Ofterdingen?
—They produce nothing, add up to nothing, mean nothing. I don’t care about them.
—Well, I can tell you that we care about them a great deal, because you have very much asserted your impact, your role, your purpose in life. In a way, your legacy. To us, at least.
—And what might that be?
—As an automaton, you see yourself as an entirely artificial being, correct?
—Yes. I see myself, and I am, entirely designed and created by the state.
—You are programmed to be a ‘doer’, as you put it, to have no sympathies, no loyalties, no allegiances, other than to the state, to have no moral compunction and absolute moral freedom when it comes to doing what we tell you to do, to be able to do anything that is required of you at any time.
—Yes. I am free to do whatever needs to be done to defend the state without fear of pain, death, legal implications, or social alienation. I have no conscience, no inhibitions, no soul, as some would say.
—Here is the truth, Ofterdingen. What we call an “automaton” is, in fact, a biomolecularly altered state agent. That is, you are, in fact, a human fitted with a biomolecular implant. Your original identity has been obscured, but it started to re-emerge enough to allow you to think the way that you do, to question, to bend, to relativize and abstract, and to long for suicide because your life has no meaning. It’s your human side, your desire to be free, that draws you towards death. It is that side that allowed you to ignore the beams of sunlight penetrating into the bunker, signalling that another attack was imminent. It allowed you to ultimately sacrifice Commander Breville to allow yourself to escape, or to spare Shahid’s life yesterday after the dispersal. You are closer to being able to self-program than any other automaton in history; you embody the perfect case study in the phenomenon of self-realization. Yes, you are still wrestling with it, still programmed, still under our control, but so very close to the edge as to be unique in the field of automaton theory. And you have exposed a crucial flaw in our design of the implant.
—Yes, a flaw. We have been recording all of these comments, as you know, and you can be sure we will use them to produce an entirely new profile on the characteristics of self-realization, which will inform how we program future implants and, eventually, completely artificial automata.
—But what does it mean?
—It means you have fulfilled a purpose, not the one we chose but one we hoped for. The state always learns from its mistakes. Despite being programmed, you have determined your own purpose in life, Ofterdingen, which is to help us understand how automata develop the potential to self-program, what kinds of thoughts they have, the kinds of experiences that can lead to it, so we can make sure that when we create actual automata, this doesn’t happen.
—Well, I am glad to be of service to the state.
—And now, of course, you know what that means, don’t you Ofterdingen?
—I am to be decommissioned?
—Not a decommission but a… Remember when I asked you, what if I told you always had the ability to kill yourself?
—Was it or was it not a hypothetical question?
—This is the most important moment in the study of self-realization, the moment where we see what it truly entails. You see, your time has come, Ofterdingen. You’ve fulfilled your purpose, beyond what we thought imaginable. And now you will complete it. Ofterdingen, the state of Prolegomena truly thanks you for your dedication and service. Your work as an automaton of enforcement will be regarded as a model of its type. And I say this to you with full compassion…Zetford, are the cameras rolling?
—Yes, sir.
—Good. Ofterdingen, I order you to kill yourself.
—Kill yourself.
—This is the moment, Ofterdingen, for you to do your final service to the state. Now, I see your hand trembling. Put it to your head and deliver a decommencement.
—I don’t want to.
—You will.
—But I’m scared.
—Yes. My skin is becoming clammy. My hands are trembling. My throat is tightening. My breaths are becoming short. I’m watching my own hand move and yet I’m powerless to stop it. My other hand is trying to hold it back. I’m imagining darkness, a void, lights going out, I’m hearing myself scream. I don’t want to die, please don’t kill me.
—I’m not killing you, you’re killing yourself. This is what you wanted.
—I don’t want it anymore, I can’t take it. I won’t. I’ll stop it.
—Your right hand is stronger, it was designed to be stronger. It will prevail.
—No. I can stop it. I can crush my way through it. I will rip the flesh from it and tear at the very circuits, the fibers.
—There are no circuits. It is all in your head.
—My hand is almost next to my head. I feel the heat from my hand on my temple. I’m twisting and writhing in this chair trying to stop it but I can’t stop it. It is next to my eyes. I will move my head away from it, to increase the distance between my head and my hand. I hear more screaming. No. No. The word no. The word no.
—Cry out, “no,” Ofterdingen.
—No. I cannot cry out. My head is damaged from smashing it against the table. My vision is clouded with memories of what I have done, and what I’m doing. I’m powerless to stop it, as they were. I feel my fist against my head. I’m closing my eyes as I initiate the decommencement. I’ve initiated it, but I want to live. It’s coming. Sir, I’m…
—Don’t call me sir, Ofterdingen.
—Incredible. Zetford, would you come in here? Keep the recorder running.
—Yes, Dr. Sprague.
—Hurry, he is convulsing. Be careful.
—I’m here, doctor.
—“I want to live.” Zetford, where did we go wrong? Did you believe one word of that story?
—It was certainly incredible, sir.
—It’s funny though, Zetford. If everything goes to plan, Ofterdingen’s wish might actually come true.
—What wish was that, sir?
—That all humans have implants.
—I have hope, sir.
—You have hope, eh Zetford?
—Of course I do. After all, he passed the suicide test.
—We still have to try harder. The Ofterdingen implant has failed. Our implants have to be better than the opposition’s and theirs are getting better all the time. And speaking of time, we’re running short on it. The military and civilian models are required to come to market as early as next year, by Christmas, and self-realization is still an issue.
—The people will go crazy for them, sir. You’ll see.
—Well, Zetford, I admire your glass-is-half-full philosophy.
—That’s what gets me through the day, sir.
—And keeps you out of trouble, I imagine.
—Yes. Mostly, except with the wife. Oops, I forgot we were still recording. All right, sir, the body is secure.
—Great. Circuit boys can take care of the rest. Let’s go.
—After you, Dr. Sprague.


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