Actions

Work Header

Ghost in the Machine

Chapter Text

She sat in a chair by the window in a room as sterile and unrelenting in its straight lines and smooth surfaces as her own body, and it caught the sun and shimmered, like the future. She looked like the future, Rose thought, as she entered, and as she sat, never once looking away because she couldn’t really reconcile the curious glee glinting in her should-have-been lifeless eyes.

“I’ve been thinking,” she said, and it was so sudden that Rose startled, glasses slipping imperceptibly down her slim, judgmental nose. She didn’t notice. “I’ve been thinking about how easily I could kill you, by throwing you out this window.” She turned, and her name – A.R.A.D.I.A – shone scarlet against her chest, plasticine lips pulled into a smile. “It would be so easy. I would just have to overpower you, and then push you through the glass, and you’d fall seventy stories to the ground and be gone before you’d reach it.”

Rose pulled out her notebook and opened it against her lap.

“Obviously I’m not going to kill you,” Aradia said. “But humans are so fragile. Your body breaks, and then you’re gone.” She tapped the side of her head, at the elegant tangle of wires and machinery hidden behind chrome, and added, “I’m not like you.”

“No,” Rose said, placing the word, carefully, deliberately, between them. “That’s why I’m here. You’re not quite like anyone.”

“No,” Aradia replied, and turned back towards the window, looking down onto the busy street buzzing with industry, where a body could easily lay in a pool of its own blood, broken and fragile and human. “I guess I’m not.”

 

Later, Rose went down fifty stories, from her office, a persistent pustule on the face of the Artificial Intelligence Department, past public relations, through the lobby, and down into the sprawling underground workshop. Its lights buzzed down long, hidden hallways crowded with a thousand robots’ empty shells radiating outward in waves from Jade Harley, engineer.

“Hello, Jade,” Rose said, and walked toward her. She moved a disembodied head with wires hanging from its neck like worms over a corpse, and sat down. “I need to ask you about some things.”

Jade looked up from her work, smoothed the stray hairs back from her forehead, and smiled. “Sure!”

“It’s about ARADIA.”

“Oh yeah,” Jade said, and her grin grew. “Do you like the name? I came up with it – Advanced Robotic Artificial Developmental Intelligence Actuality.”

“Pardon my ignorance, but does that actually mean anything?”

“Nope! Robot names are dumb, and Aradia sounds pretty.” She shrugged, still smiling broadly. “I read about an Aradia a while ago – some kind of fairy witch or something. And it has A, I, and R, which are the key letters anyway.”

“Well, I didn’t come down here to talk about her name.”

“I know. You came to talk about the artificial intelligence part of Advanced Robotic Artificial Developmental Intelligence Actuality, and I don’t know what to tell you.”

“She talked about throwing me out the window.” Rose smiled. Jade didn’t catch it, but the light did, glinting off the gloss of her dark black lips as they curled upwards, almost imperceptibly. “Not that she was going to, but that she could. She seemed almost excited by it.”

Jade dropped her tools on the bench with a dull clang and swiveled in her chair to really look at Rose, eyes wide with concern. “Oh no! Do you think she’s gonna’ go homicidal and try to kill everybody?”

“Oh, no, I don’t think so. I’m not worried, just intrigued. Why would she be thinking about that?”

“I dunno’. We’ve never had a robot like ARADIA before, and it wasn’t really purposeful.”

Rose quirked an eyebrow at Jade, who smiled, broadly, as bashful as an aggressively forward bearded iris. “I might have made some ‘unsanctioned adjustments’. The guys in charge are a bunch of stuffy butts who never want to do anything interesting, so I did it for them.”

“You’re verging on dangerously unaware of your own genre. Not for you the predictions of doom in all the many tomes which precede you in the pursuit of artificial life? How can you be sure your monster will not go rogue, Dr. Frankenstein?”

“Pfffffff,” Jade replied, through a smile. Rose matched it.

“Well,” she said. standing and pulling her skirt straight. “We can’t account for the behavior we’re seeing, and if you don’t find an answer soon my churlish coworkers may have to confront the reality of the title ‘robopsychologist’ carrying some legitimate weight.”

Jade turned back to the robot scattered in parts against her workbench. “Screw them, the bunch of butts.”

“Yes, they are very perturbing posteriors,” Rose replied, and then she was gone.

 

She entered her next session with ARADIA to find her face pressed close against the glass, hands splayed and bulbous eyes glowing orange with disarming excitement. Or maybe that was all in her mind. She’d written a few papers on that, the tendency to project humanity onto objects, especially those which sought to mimic humanity itself. But then, as the bright bulbs turned her way, gleaming above the not-quite-human mouth twisted in a grin, then again maybe not.

“Hello, ARADIA,” she began, and flipped open her notebook to a new page. “You can begin any time.”

“Can I see a morgue?”

“What?”

“I’ve been reading. They gave me some books, and I want to see a morgue.”

“Hm.” Rose looked up over her glasses, from behind practiced therapeutic stoicism, into Aradia’s eager, unwavering gaze. “And what is it about morgues that interest you?”

Hands clasped under her sharp metal chin, fluttering shutter eyelids snapped up over bulging, bulbous eyes, she seemed to inflate slightly, buoyed by enthusiasm. “Dead things.”

“Hm.”

“Well?”

“I’ve…” Rose started. She uncrossed her legs, and crossed them again. She looked away, to the blank wall behind ARADIA, then back, where she remained unmoved, like a child consumed. She started again, carefully, “I’ve been told that, for now, you’re to be restricted to designated areas within the building.”

“Why?”

“We’re not sure how people will respond to you, or how you might respond to others. There’s no precedent for the level of independent thought you’ve displayed, and we don’t know what caused it. You’re something of a rogue element.”

ARADIA’s eyes blinked, once, slowly, and her mouth flattened into a line. “Oh.”

“Is something about that answer unsatisfying?”

“Yes!”

“Oh?”

“I want to go outside! I want to see things!”

“Aradia, my job is to examine your state of mind. As previously mentioned, there’s no known precedent for the current situation. You’ve exhibited a level of independent interest and will previously thought impossible in the artificially created, rivaling that of mentally healthy and developmentally normal young adult humans. In other words, you exist as unsown ground, a full and independent mind in a body of metal – a body which has established itself in the public conscience attached to a specific function, that of a servile machine. It may be impossible for others to accept you as you are, and you to accept them. To allow you into the world would be tempting the fickle winds of fate, jeopardizing an already uneasy peace and what exists as a new kind of intelligence, unseen in any other form.”

“So?”

“So I’ll see what I can do.”