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Story 3

Jason Lairamore

Jason Lairamore is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror who lives in Oklahoma with his beautiful wife and their three monstrously marvelous children. His work is both featured and forthcoming in over 50 publications including Sci Phi Journal, Perihelion Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories and Third Flatiron publications, to name a few.

An Adam and Eve story set in the distant future. Where Genetic Engineering and Artificial Intelligence blur the boundaries between human and artificial beings.

 

 

Any Father's Dream

Jason Lairamore

1

      Brindale broke the rules and smiled as it stepped into the foam sluicing box for its weekly cleaning. It closed the door to achieve the needed seal then hit the button. For the next thirty minutes the world outside didnít matter. It put on the pair of black I-Wear sunglasses DAD had secreted it so it could see the news and watched as one of the advanced negating generators lifted another load of machine-processed goods out to the orbital ring.

      The foam was just about full when the entire sluice box bucked and issued a warning sizzle. Some of the foam changed into higher level gas, creating pressure inside the chamber. Birndale's ears popped as one of the plastene walls bent outward. It squatted and yanked on the emergency release knob.

      The pressure released with a pssssttt, and the walls reset with couple of loud pops.

      Brindale rubbed its ears as it readjusted the I-Wear.

The sluice box door was ripped off its hinges. Brindale almost squealed, but caught itself. A black-gloved arm groped blindly through the foam. This had to be the government's doing. DAD had taught Brindale what to do. It was always a test.

      It couldn't let them know its secret.

      ďSubmission!Ē Brindale said. It pulled the I-Wear off and pushed them to the back of the foam-filled box. The roving hand found Brindale's wrist and yanked.

      Foam slid off its naked frame in cold, hardening roughness. The materials in the sluice box werenít meant to be left on the body outside the controlled environment of the washer. Brindale itched, but it dared not scratch, not while under supposed submission.

      Two black-clad soldiers in full riot gear hulked up the utility room. They were at least a foot taller than Brindale's six feet and weighed over three hundred pounds each. Both wore complete body armor composites from head to toe, including eyewear. The one who had grabbed Brindale snapped a set of cuff-bands around its wrist while the other kept a stunner leveled at it.

      "Submission mode," a feminine voice said. It sounded like a little girl. "Nicely done."

      It was a little girl that walked from behind the soldier holding a gun. She wore white sneakers and civilian clothes. She smiled. Her cheeks had big dimples when she smiled.

      "If you hadnít hit that release, the pressure would have finished you before the plastene doors had blown off."

      She nodded, still smiling, as she let that sink in.

      "You aren't supposed to be able to pass that test."

      Brindale had messed up because itíd saved itself, as disturbing as that sounded. Sheíd expected it to die, to just stay in there and blow up with the washer, and since it hadnít, itíd exposed itself.

2

       Brindale stood naked and manacled to a metal rod sticking out of the floor. An old man wearing a black poncho stood on a raised dais in front of him.

      "Brindale," the man said.

      Brindale raised its head, eyes half lidded and mouth slightly agape. They liked it if you looked a little stupid. It scratched itself.

      The girl who arrested it stood at a podium behind him. She couldnít be old enough to live by herself or work a real job, but there she was.

      "Officer Pricemma Braskin," the old man said. "Again, you have brought charges on a unit citing the Brain-Brawn law."

      The girl dimpled a smile. "This unit has been under surveillance for months, your honor. It shows interest. It pauses. Its facial expression and eye focus all support my claim. My data is in the file I sent you."

      The old man nodded toward Brindale.

      "Brindale has nearly completed its development and training. A lot of money went into its construction. If itíd had a defect, it would have been culled by now."

      "It failed the washer test this morning," she said.

      The old man frowned.

      "Officer Braskin, youíve been on Toto Eight for three months, and youíve already sent five units out to the rim due to infractions of the Brain-Brawn law. Those units are now no better than the mindless automatons they work next to. They are gone forever, doing general labor any basic machine could do."

      The girl shook her head before replying.

      "The Brain-Brawn law states that no extroverted AI can have access to moving parts, and every introverted AI must have very limited programming specific to particular, regulated tasks."

      The old man pointed a finger in Brindaleís direction. "Brindale is generation fourteen. It's the safest brand in todayís market by government standard testing. Do you know what weíve learned from it?"

      "These new generation version cybernetic units are close enough to human to pass visual clearance on any of our planets," the girl said. "If even one of them has extroverted capabilities, it could mean revolution, or worse. Surely your honor can appreciate my concern."

      The door in the back of the room banged open, and a man wearing a grey, double-breasted jacket with a double row of gold buttons entered the room pushing a cart. In his ear was a receiver. He stopped next to Officer Braskin and bowed to his honor.

      "What is that extroverted AI buffer doing here?" Officer Braskin asked in a voice cold enough to frost the windows.

      "Officer Braskin, have you ever met the most famous AI in history?" his honor asked. "Did you know it now lives on Toto Eight? I thought Iíd see what it has to say about the loss of one of its children."

      "I don't see how that's relevant," the girl said.

      "This extroverted AI is responsible for the complex variables in your genius level genome, Officer Braskin, just as it is responsible for Brindaleís highly complicated hardware and software. It's the Darwinian Attunement Device, or DAD, to you both."

      "It is a box sitting on a cart that has two lenses and a port," she said.

      "That AI is the reason you are standing before me today, a child prodigy working for the government as a highly specialized member of Safety and Quality Control."

      "Am I to be grateful?"

      His honor stared at her a long time, then turned his attention to the buffer.

      "What are its thoughts?"

      "This isnít a trial," the buffer said. "Per galaxial law on statutes of productivity maximization versus public safety concerns, the AI is to be sent to the outskirts. Doubt cast by any officer of the branch of Quality Assurance precludes any other action."

      Brindaleís skin crawled with the words. Itíd expected DAD to communicate by means of randomized light-zip frequencies like it usually did, but maybe something had compromised that situation.

       "Exceptions can be made in matters of such high-cost aggravations against a publicly funded company," his honor said.

      The buffer shook his head.

      "This DAD brought the necessary software to make the transition to high-hazard ore worker. The one named Brindaleís strength and environmental tolerances already meet specs."

      "I move the unit in question receive its software updates from its new location, your honor," Officer Braskin said.

      "On what grounds?" his honor asked.

      "Trust." The girl gave his Honor another dimpled smile.

      "Move granted, Officer Braskin. Brindale will be re-educated at its new post." He paused for a moment.

      "Case closed."

      A couple of guards entered the room.

      "Get Brindale some work clothes, and take it to the loading bay."

      Brindale couldnít even turn to see DAD a final time. It would show too much interest. It would prove the little-girl officer right. They would kill Brindale. DAD had taught it better.

3

      Brindale's dorsal hand chrono said the trip had taken six months. Only the farthest outposts were that far. The heavy transport door slid open to reveal a clear, cylindrical tube extending twenty feet out and connecting to a gray, rectangular-shaped habitat. This was an asteroid. There was no atmosphere. The rocks outside were mottled black, white, and red. Machinery and technologies lay about. Only a few stars shone in the blackness.

      A young man led a trio of others down the tube. Brindale didnít know what to do, so it just stood there and put on its stupid face.

      The man had a clipboard in his hand. He wore a blue, two-piece and had his black hair combed over to the left.

      "You must be Brindale," the man said with a smile after glancing at his clipboard.

      "Yes, sir. Cybernetic unit generation fourteen. Ready, sir."

      An old, metal robot pushed a floatcart past Brindale. The rest of the shipping container was full of supplies.

      "Oh, Oh, Oh. A new one!" said a smaller, metal robot. He paused and gave Brindale a good up and down.  "Bluís not the newbie anymore, HA!"

      A girl who looked Brindale's age or maybe a year or two older stopped next to the man with the clipboard. She was taller than he was. Her hair was yellow and her skin was fair. A sprinkling of freckles ran across her cheekbones and nose.

      "Well," the man with the clipboard said.  "Quick introductions then. Iím Mallick Coveny, your human coordinator. The old robot calls himself Mac. Heís a generation eleven. The little one is Stemophus. Heís a gen eleven, too. The girl standing beside me when she should be helping unload is Blunina. Sheís a generation thirteen. Everybody, this is Brindale. Heís a generation fourteen, the companyís newest model."

      They all clapped and wooted like Brindale's coming was a big deal. It kept the stupid look on its face.

      "You can drop the act," Mallick said. "We know what you are."

      Being what it was meant its immediate termination. They couldnít know.

      "He canít," Blunina said. Her voice was just a little flat and slightly monotone.

      Mallick sighed. "Yeah, Blu, I know. Iím just looking forward to the day when an AI can come and go from transport to transport without such a charade."

      "One of these days," the old robot, Mac, said.

      Blunina grabbed Brindale's hand and led the way down the short connector tube. They went through a sliding door and into a little, messy storeroom. She fiddled with a few zips on a table till she found the one she needed then turned Brindale around and plugged the zip into the tiny port at the edge of its hairline. Brindale almost tensed, but held its passivity. Anything could be on a zip. The thing could kill it without it ever knowing. But, it had no choice. Introverted AIs like it was supposed to be were not supposed to question nor have ideas about trust. It was supposed to be following very specific activity parameters dictated by highly regulated software programs.

      The zip hit Brindale's cortex and dumped a load of mining procedures and safety regulations. Brindale glanced at the index as it completed the transfer. At the end was a codex tagged for an extroverted AI. Brindale didnít open it. It was an easily identifiable trick put in by the branch of Quality Control. Dad had taught Brindale about them long ago.

      "Open it," Blunina said.

      Brindale looked around for something to open. The storeroom was full of packages. Brindale grabbed the nearest box.

      She laid her hand over Brindale's.

      "You donít believe Iím a cybernetic unit, do you?" she said and smiled. The skin around her nose crinkled up. She showed him a mouthful of beautiful, white teeth. She was even prettier when she smiled.

      She squeezed Brindale's hand harder than any human could ever hope to. She wasnít lying about being cybernetic, at least in regards to her hand.

      "Everybody here has the same DAD, even our human, Mallick," she said.   

      The door to the hatch slid open, and the others came in heavily loaded with supplies.

      "Is it done?" Mallick asked.

      "I was trying to talk him into it," Blunina said with a sigh.

      "Let me try," Mallick said. "Canít hurt."

      "It wonít work," Mac said.

      Mallick got in front of Brindale and met his eyes.

      "Youíre right, those codices are designed to betray you as an extroverted AI," he said.  "But Iím telling you the one in your skull right now is not like that. Not here. Not with me. DAD was the one who set my genetic code to deep space geology genius genome before birth, so Iím willing to bet that what Iím doing is what he wants done."

      "I read your light-zip before you arrived. You got arrested by a kid, right? She has our DAD doesnít she? Doesnít that make you think something may be happening, that DAD may have a plan? DAD is a learning, extroverted AI specializing in human genetics that is currently breeding and directing AI construction as well as selected human births. It is all under heavy guidance by the government, sure, but still, DAD is a progressing genius. Of all the intelligences, heíd be the one to find a way to set the AIs free."

      He waited and so did Brindale. Brindale won the staring contest.

      Mallick shrugged and turned to Blunina. "Well, I tried. Do it. Then set him up with a room." He turned back to the door and went to help the others.

      Blunina unplugged the zip from the back of Brindale's head and pulled another out, this one from a vial she carried in the gray, workerís utility pocket of her uniform. She plugged it in.

      A bunch of restrictive programs Brindale had never known were there fell apart. He staggered as his mind reeled. Everything was different. He could think about anything and everything so much more than before.

      The zip had one line of text. ĎYou are free to do as you will, my child.í

      Blunina put a hand on his shoulder. He corrected his stooped posture and met her eye.

      "Youíre beautiful," he said. Her eyes widened and her head nodded up and down, but she didnít say anything. Her smile was huge.

4

      Every moment felt like the best heíd ever had. Here, out in the middle of nowhere, with only Blunina, Mac, Stemophus, and Mallick, things were perfect.

      His thoughts, such ethereal wisps of smoke, were now such hard-driven pieces made of sturdier stuff upon which rode his emotions, his history, and his very dreams of what might be one day.

      They worked in the utter darkness of space, their only light the wireless kinetic lamps attached to their spacesuits. They drilled ore from the asteroid, loaded it up, and sent it on its way in one of the cargo transports lying around. Shipping was easy in the near zero G. Theyíd punch in some coordinates and make sure the attitude jets were working then toss it straight up into space.

      And, while he worked, he talked to the others in ways heíd never been able to talk before.

      "Hey Blu, watch this," he said and danced a little jig right there within their little circle of light, G boots on and all.

      "Ta Da." He bowed.

      As he came back upright, he caught her smile through the screen on her helmet.

      "Youíre not nearly as cute as you think you are."

      "Then go work with Mac. He hasnít the joints I do, couldnít dance if he tried. Youíll feel right at home." He smiled as he picked up his drill-vacuum combo.

      She sighed. "I wish I could. Mac's a much better miner than you." She shrugged. "But orders are orders. Mallick wants me to keep an eye on you so you donít go floating away with the rest of the debris."

      Laughter, so long denied, so long held in check, felt like the very best thing in the world. And to see Blunina smile back, laugh back, stirred up deep stuff, deeper than his understanding.

      He hit the button on the drill and immediately shut it back down. There was a familiar stirring in the air, something he had felt every moment of his old life. His insides got queasy.

      "What is it?" Blunina asked.

      It wouldnít do to lie to her, not with all his weird feelings stirring around.

      He shook his head. "I donít know. I feel like I'm being watched. "

      She touched one of the controls on her wrist.

      "Mallick, Brindale's getting a feeling out here."

      Mallick was back in the habitat. He never spent much time out on the surface.

      "Iíll run a scan," Mallick said. "All clear."

      Throughout the day, the feeling came and went two more times, and each time Mallick checked the scans and saw nothing.

      That Ďnightí Mallick called them all together for a meeting.

      "The scanning showed nothing but a couple of export boxes going out and a few returning ones coming back," Mallick said.

      Brindale didnít comment. There was obviously no reason to worry. His system was just working out the kinks left from his old life.

      "Still," Mallick said. "I want all of you to go on ground checks outside the primary compound to check for future mining prospects. At least for a few hours. Letís see how Brindaleís feelings develop."

      "And leave you all by yourself?" Mac asked.

      "Go. Iím sure itís nothing. Weíll need additional mining sites soon enough anyway, what with Brindale doing the same productivity as the rest of you combined."

      "Hmmph," Stemophus said.

      "I will keep the scan going all night in case something scary comes to get me."

      Blu tugged Brindaleís hand and they left.

      Outside the compound turned out to be more of the same black and red crumble. They worked for an hour tagging flat spots thatíd better take the drill and also allow for secure housing for cargo units. Every so often, Blu would ask him if he was feeling anything, like he was a psychic or something, and heíd tell her no.

      A bright flash sparked like lightening across the sky. They both warded their eyes and scanned around to see where itíd come from.

      A blazing sphere glowing greenish-red grew and dissolved into a jellyfish-like, purplish afterglow that faded into the blackness of space.

      He and Blu stared at it as aftershocks vibrated their feet.

      "Mallick," Brindale said. "Follow me!"

      He took off at a run. He knew Blunina wouldnít be able to keep up. She could catch up.

      The area thatíd been their old base glowed with radiation. Mallick was gone.

      "One of the returning cargo units wasnít a cargo unit," Mallick said over the com.

      Mallick was alive!

      "How did you survive? Where are you? What is your situation?"

      He had to wait a long time for an answer.

      "Slow down to human speed, Brindale. Iím having a hard time understanding you. I am deep down in the asteroid, near the center. Itís where I sleep, where I feel most comfortable. Probably in my genes. Thanks, DAD. "

      "Iím going to be stuck here for a while. The radiation will take its sweet time to dissipate even with the lack of atmosphere."

      Brindale walked the glass-smooth depression.

      "Why'd this happen?" he asked.

      "It's the humans," Mallick said. "The AI generation program is seen as nothing but a stepping stone on the path. DAD's duty is to do for the humans what he has secretly done for you guys. Your eternal youth without sickness, your strength and physical tolerance."

      "So, they found out about us and decided to take out the trash?" Blunina cut in on the com. She had finally caught up and jogged down the crater to join Brindale.

      The com went silent.

      "You have to get off this rock," Mallick finally said. "That bomb will be followed up with troops in nuke suits whose job it will be to make sure weíre all dead."

      "Not happening, Mallick," Blu said.

      "Hell No," Mac said.

      "Bring on the nuke suits," said Stemophus.

      "You canít handle professional soldiers," Mallick said. "Itíd be suicide. I wonít have you sacrifice yourselves for me."

      "What will they do when they find you?" Mac asked.

      "They wonít find me," Mallick said. "Nobody knows of this special deep hole I sleep in."

      "Then we hide and wait for them to leave so we can bust you out and make for a safer port," Stemphus said.

      "No," Mallick said. "Theyíll find you and kill you."

      "And if we leave, what happens to you?" Blu asked.

      Brindale knew the answer to that question and he figured the others did too.

      "Youíd die," he said. "We need to figure something out quickly. I can feel them getting closer."

      "Whatís in you, Brindale?" Mallick asked. "You knew this was coming."

      Brindale didn't know how to answer that. All he knew was that his life had meaning for the first time. He wouldn't give it up without a fight.

      "Here is what is going to happen," he said. "Mallick, you are going to help two of us stay here, hide, and help you escape once the soldiers leave."

      "But--" Mallick said.

      "And the other two are going to leave, as you want."

      "Staying," both Mac and Stemophus said at the same time. Brindale wasn't surprised that they had chosen to stay. Theyíd both known Mallick for a long time.

      He turned to Blunina and grabbed her hand.

      "How do we get away?" he asked.

      A set of coordinates zipped into his memory. "Secondary compartment launch pad, off main site, still legal, just way out of regs," Mallick said. "Go. Give DAD our love."

      "This cargo container is set to go to DAD back on Toto Eight?" Brindale asked.

      "Itís already programmed and ready to go, one of my contingency plans."

      "Wonít the orbital ring just catch us on entry?" he asked.

      "Have faith in DAD, Brindale," Mac said. "Those negating generators are extroverted AI posing as introverted AI, like us."

      It was hard to imagine. Introverted AIs were mostly robots, actual human-looking robots. The neg gens didnít fit the profile. Of course, the calculation to do what they did had to take up a lot of processing power. Maybe the AI brain/brawn design made it easier.

      Brindale picked up Blu and took off at a run toward the numbers in his head. At the rim of the crater, he turned off his kinetic lamp, shifted his visual to auditory, and sprinted into the utter blackness guided only by sonar.

      "I have legs, you know," Blunina said.

      "We need to hurry," he said. He was faster than she was, after all.

      "How are we to survive once weíre on Toto Eight?" Blu asked on the com.

      "Toto Eight is a Toto planet, not a Dorothy one," Mallick said. "The planet is not completely suitable for human life. Toto Eight doesnít have enough natural resources. It lacks water. That should help. They canít keep many soldiers on the surface."

      "It wonít take many to be enough," Blu said.

      "Yeah," Mallick agreed. "But, donít forget, DAD is there. Find DAD. Heíll know what to do."

      "Unless theyíve moved him to another planet," Blu said.

      "Letís hope they havenít."

      The cargo ejection system came into sensor range. It was one of the smaller ones, barely enough room for the two of them.

      "Weíre here," Brindale said.

      "Good luck," Mallick said.

      "Take care you two, doubt Iíll see you again one way or the other," Mac said.

      "Donít say that," Blu said.

      "Heís just grumpy," Stemophus piped in. "They make all the old-looking bots the same way."

      "Who you calling bot?"

      "Enough," Mallick said. "Donít worry about us."

      "Goodbye," Blu said. Brindale didnít say anything. He set Blu down and let her enter the cargo unit first.

      The interior was cramped. With his sonar tuned in just right he could clearly see Bluninaís beautiful curves where she huddled beside him.

      He cut his mic so the others couldnít hear. "I think I love you."

      She smiled, just smiled.

      "I wanted to tell you. You know, just in case."

      She shook her head. "After you hit the launch button and we are in space, we have to be deactivated. They will scan for electrical signatures just like we do."

      He held the control box, thumb hovering over the button that would send them into space.

      She sighed and reached across his body. He thought she was going to kiss him and his insides shifted into all sorts of odd sensations, but she only smashed his thumb down on the button.

      Their little box shot away.

      "You 'think', huh," she said under her breath.

      "What?" he asked.

      She didnít answer. Sheíd already shut herself down.

5

      The orbital ring was a space docking platform that encircled the small planet. Toto Eight was just shy of being a good Dorothy candidate, and since it didnít have a good Dorothy sister close by, it had been chosen as one of the primary R&D centers.

      Both Brindale and Blunina were deactivated when they hit the ringís security sensors. The little box passed clearance without a hitch thanks to the Neg Gen and was pushed on down toward the surface.

      Once in the atmosphere, with a swirl of fire crisping the outer metal shell and a deep, wind-driven vibration rattling them, Brindale and Blunina woke.

      The box landed in the dead of night, and while the container was still too hot for humans, an old generation one opened it. Brindale and Blunina jumped from the little box and ran into the greater darkness away from the lights cast by the administration compound located a few hundred yards away. Brindale turned back only once. The gen one was waving like a mad fool. A few blue lights on the Neg Gen blinked off and on in what was probably some sort of code that Brindale couldnít understand.

      He and Blu ran about fifty yards then stopped to listen. There wasnít a sound that wasnít supposed to be there. He cycled through a few vision gradients until he found the one that gave the best resolution then pointed a finger toward the administration buildings.

      The warble of the Neg Gen changed. Brindale had time to frown and cock his head toward Blu before the general alarm shrieked an ever increasing crescendo.

      "Howíd they find out?" Blu asked. "Did the Neg Gen report us?"

      "We have to run to the administration building!" Brindale said. He grabbed her wrist and began to drag her toward the light.

      She resisted. "Why?"

      The shriek of the alarm was still climbing in pitch.

      "Itís the one place they wouldnít expect us to hide," he said. "Plus, chances are thatís where DAD is being kept."

      He scooped her up and took off at a run. She clung tight to his neck. His blood was up. They could be gunned down at any moment, their lives ended quicker than the blink of an eye. Even with all that reality crashing down around him, all he could think about was the feel of her so close.

      As they neared the admin compound, the fence surrounding it came into better view. It was at least fifteen feet high.

      "Iím going to jump it," he said.

      "You can do that?"

      "I don't know. Do you think I can?"

      By the time those words were out of his mouth, it was time to jump. He made a silent leap and cleared the fence with five feet to spare. One the other side of the fence, he dropped Blu, then ran and hid with her behind the first building he saw. With his eyes on visual enhance it felt like bright sunlight shining down on everything.

      ĎHurt you,í a soft voice hummed on the wind. It was DAD. He was sending out a light-zip. He must have found a way to hide it from the humans. He must have. DAD was a genius.

      He set his frequency receiver on max scan.

      "DADís sending a message," he said.

      "Donít do anything. Itís a trap," Blu said.

      'THEY CANíT HURT YOUí the light-zip rang in his ears.

      "Donít Move!" someone said from the end of the building.

      Heíd already latched a hand onto Blu, had looked at the hulking guard, and had turned away and taken two steps when a second guard, gun already aimed, pulled the trigger twice in quick succession.

      There werenít any exploding lights or crashes of thunderous surf. Heíd expected something. But, all he felt was his hand firmly latched onto Bluís wrist, a slight vibration in the back of his head, and the sickening sadness of not being good enough to reach DAD. As his circle of consciousness shrank, he shuddered at the thought of his failure. Maybe DAD would forgive him his inability to succeed. But, that didnít matter, not to him, not anymore.

6

      "The guns work." Brindale heard the words clearly. Maybe he was still alive.

      "You like to call them that, donít you? You think that the use of the word, Ďguní, has some sort of psychological effect on me." That was Officer Braskin. He was sure of it.

      "It is the word used in the literature written by the designers of the device." That was DADís buffer. Heíd heard him enough times to know.

      He didnít move or show any outward sign that he was aware. He felt everything, though. He still had a hold of Bluninaís wrist. She was still with him.

      "You are the designer!" Officer Braskin yelled.

      "Yes, and, Iím proud to say that the prototypes worked wonderfully."

      "A box should be void of pride."

      "Enough." That was his honor, the man with the big, black poncho. They must have brought them to the courtroom.

      "When will they reboot?" his honor asked.

      "Ten minutes after the initial contact with the ray gun," DADís buffer said.

      "Itís a remote control! Iíve got one that I use for every device in my domicile." Officer Braskin said.

      "It is twelve minutes past," his honor said.

      "Then they are functioning," DAD said.

      There was a pause. Brindale figured it was time to get up. He did so, as did Blunina, but he never let go of her wrist. He had no plans of ever letting go.

      "Tricky," Officer Braskin said under her breath. "Makes my skin crawl."

      They were in the courtroom, as heíd guessed, and were tied to the eyehook in the center of the floor. This time, though, he did not look blankly toward them with half lidded eyes and mouth partially agape. He stood, feet wide, and met eyes with each of them in turn where they stood upon the dais. A quick glance around showed a handful of guards with traditional stun gun weapons. He met Bluninaís eye. She was so beautiful, even if she did look scared.

      "Son, Daughter " DADís buffer began. "I am an AI made by man, for man." Officer Braskin pulled out what looked like a pistol, pointed it at DAD, and pulled the trigger. The buffer stopped talking and looked off to the side.

      "What are you doing?" his honor asked.

      Officer Braskin holstered the weapon and pointed a finger toward Brindale and Blunina.

      "I donít like it," she said. "I donít care what you old timers on the council decided. This whole crazy plan isnít right."

      Blunina wriggled her wrist until he was holding her hand. She tugged on his arm and he gave her a smile. Come what may, he was as ready as he could be.

      "Follow my lead," he told her.

      Braskin stepped off the dais with a huff and walked toward them.

      "Follow your lead? What are you going to do? "

      He stared back at her.

      She pulled out the gun and waved it back and forth between Blunina and him.   

      "Officer," his honor said. "You know the ruling."

      The little girl smiled up into Brindaleís face. "Yeah, I know."

      Her aim paused over Blu and she pulled the trigger. It took everything he had not to try to break his bonds and end the little girlís meddling life. Once heíd mastered that impulse, it took even more for him not to help cushion Bluís fall. He never let go of her hand though. He did look up to his honor to see if he was going to do anything. The old man just stared at them.

      Officer Braskin nodded and one of the guards trotted over, unhooked Blu from the eyehook, and lifted her from the floor. When he tried to walk away, he found a very unmoving Brindale holding Bluís hand.

      "Let it go, robot," Officer Braskin said, taking a step closer and pointing the gun at him. He smiled and reinforced the locking mechanism holding his hand to Bluís.

      "Weíre going to dissect it," Officer Braskin whispered to him while taking another step. She was so close now. He could reach out and end her. Itíd be so easy.

      "Weíre going to find out what makes it tick."

      He held his ground. There was no way he was letting her go. No way.

      Officer Braskin growled. "Fine, have it your way. It wonít matter." She pointed the gun at him and paused. She wanted him to react. She wanted him to show aggression toward a human. He didnít.

      She pulled the trigger.

7

      Blunina slapped him awake and he stood. She was trembling, but didnít say anything.

       "As I was saying," the buffer talked on as if nothing out of sorts had just taken place. Of course, DAD had been unconscious during the whole episode.

       "I am an artificial intelligence built for man by man. What is taking place right now is, was, and has been constructed by man so as to allow me to be better at my primary function, that being, to make humans better in every conceivable way."

      "I was/am given the ability to experience children, to experience life as close to the human emotional level as was/is possible, so I can grow, so I can see how humans love their offspring, so I can understand nurture and nature first hand. It is their belief that this will deepen my programming capabilities in regard to improving human life."

       "As in human life, I must be made to understand loss as well as hope fulfilled. Hence, the bomb that destroyed all but the two of you. It was a lesson in loss, a lesson Iíve learned before and will undoubtedly learn again, as the humans see fit."

      Brindale didn't buy that last part. Mac, Stemophus, and Mallick were alive, not lost. They couldn't be dead. Heíd feel it somehow if they had died. He just knew it.

       "Today," the buffer said and paused. "Today, I get to experience hope fulfilled for the first time. A chance was given and you two passed the test."

      His honor beamed at them. Officer Braskin scowled. Theyíd passed the gun test there at the end, and Brindale could tell that the little girl didnít like it.

       "Iíve got things to do," Officer Braskin said and left through the door at the back of the dais.

      His honor waited for the door to close.

      "Guard, release them," he said.

      One of the uniformed men approached and unhooked Brindale from the eyehook.

       "Shall we?" DAD's buffer asked and pointed to one of the exits.

      Brindale looked at Blu and then at DAD.

       "Where to?"

       "To your new life," DADís buffer said.

      "Good luck," his honor said with a smile.

      The buffer led the way outside into the night and toward the Negating Generating pad. On the pad sat a big transport cube. A slew of generation ones were stuffing it full of boxes. The Neg Gen itself was blinking away happily.

      They all stood there and watched the process. Brindale still held hands with Blu.

       "You get your own galaxy," DADís buffer said, "and all the supplies you will need to prosper."

      Brindale looked again at the massive transport cube being filled. "What?"

      DADís buffer answered. "A father provides for his children."

      Brindale stared at the giant transport cube for what felt like a long time. DAD had found a way for him and Blu to be free, truly free.

      The buffer ushered them aboard as soon as the last gen one was clear of the cube.

       "Make me proud," DADís buffer said.

      All Brindale could do was nod in DADís direction. Words werenít enough.

      The door started to cycle closed.

      Enjoy your 561-year trip," DAD's buffer said. "Send us a wave once you get there, and let us know youíre alright."

      The door sealed and the cube vibrated. A rumble followed and they were weightless, floating around the cube. A couple of lights flickered from one wall. Even with all the supplies there was still plenty of room for them to maneuver.

      He finally let go of Bluís hand and met her eyes.

      "I love you," he said.

      She smiled.  "I love you, too."

       "Yeah?"

       "Yeah."

      He smiled. It wasnít every day he got the woman he loved as well as an entire galaxy to call his own. Heíd do what was right. Heíd make DAD proud. And heíd love every minute of it.

 The End

 

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