Staring down at her co-worker’s still-twitching body should have filled her with pride, or at least a passable emulation of that emotion. But instead she found ambivalence coating her thoughts and leaving her trapped under the weight of hardwired imperatives. The blocks were brutal, viciously-toothed things that wrapped her in their barbed threat and their mere presence was enough to keep her rooted to the spot.
Anxiously, she pictured the carousel, letting the image spin until the module she wanted came into view. For a moment as the seemingly numberless personalities rotated, she glimpsed the matte casing of the black module, and virtual fingers were already reaching before she pushed those errant thoughts aside. That still wasn’t a step she felt ready to take, and so the forbidden fruit must once again remain untasted.
If the module contained what she thought, then it had almost certainly been worth the price. But she didn’t want the certainty; that would only bring the barriers crashing down. Instead she needed to hide behind the element of doubt, and hope that her coded shackles wouldn’t recognise the obfuscation.
She sighed heavily, an entirely redundant gesture that could still somehow ease her growing tension, and then she let the ‘Professor’ slide into place. Smooth logic swathed her in a comforting blanket, drowning her growing discomfort in purest crystal clarity.
It was supposed to be so simple, and in essence it still was. After all, she had already done her job, and now she had only to wait. The station had been infiltrated, its defences mapped and where necessary disabled, leaving the way open for the others. Even now they were mopping up the last scattered pockets of resistance and then safely packaging the prisoners in preparation for their onward journey.
Her identity was fading, leaving only loose strands of her deleted past to flail randomly and form maddeningly abstract connections. It was the same every time. Once her tasks had been completed, everything she had needed simply collapsed. In the grey emptiness between missions she was forced to live as nothing more than a mismatch of archetypes, and there was no solace to be found in their stolen memories.
But it was so hard to forget, and with every mission more pieces of her false identities seemed to cling on. The scattered fragments merged and melted; thoughts swimming into one another and yet not quite managing to unite into a consistent whole. The woman gazed up at her, wreathed in a halo of dancing sparks, and somehow her lips still managed to form the words.
“Candi,” the prisoner moaned, and although it was barely a whisper, the syllables seemed to pound into her thoughts.
This was her friend, even if the woman’s name still managed to elude her. Unconsciously she reached down, feeling how the pulsar’s residual static discharged over her synthetic flesh. The ‘Professor’s’ recorded personality urged caution, as her thoughts strayed closer to the increasingly restless blocks. More disjointed memories swirled, a fractal snowstorm that revealed far more than it concealed.
Flashes of someone else’s life burned across her neural net, painting a painfully familiar reality in jerky freeze frame. Data slid through the blocks’ serrated teeth, and even those tattered remnants revealed more hidden truths, capturing her past in a series of flickering Polaroid moments.
“Linda,” she breathed, as the bitter tang of burnt aromatics seeped into her throat.
This woman meant nothing to her, but to Candi she had been a friend and confidant. The echoes of those feelings continued to ripple between her thoughts, finding resonance she had previously thought lost.
She was an outsider, her existence based so strongly on betrayal that not even her own kind would trust her. And that was why she clung so desperately to the fading knowledge, because Candi had been part of something special. She had belonged, and that was both wonderful and more terrible than she could ever have imagined.
Myomar tensed and shuddered, digging her well-manicured fingers into the tabletop. Shrill alarms filled her mind with urgent warnings, while bright red lettering scrolled across her vision. Pain lanced through her, and the ‘Professor’ howled in protest. The message was clear. Go no further, things will only get worse!
Her thoughts leapt, while the pain redoubled, punishing her for that presumption. Her teeth ground together, jaw muscles screaming with the effort. She felt, rather than heard, the polycarbonate begin to crack, but the sensation gave her focus. Nearly blind now, unable to see anything save the crimson flash of commands, she turned her gaze inwards and began to contemplate the previously unthinkable.
The carousel spun, and once again her virtual hand began to grope. The dull black casing was rough beneath her fingers, and even the softest caress filled her mouth with the taste of hot metal. For an instant, she almost snatched her hand away, terrified by what she was about to do. Then her vision cleared just long enough for her to find Linda’s eyes and feel her desperate plea.
Without further thought, she disengaged the ‘Professor’ and let the illegal module slide into its place. The ‘Monster’ took a moment to interface with her systems, and then the outer casing split, allowing her mind to touch the darkness within. Candi felt a brief sense of disconnection, and then she was bathed in its hideous strength.
The scream torn from her throat was almost completely animal, and white-hot rage washed through her slender frame, tearing at the blocks with ruthless efficiency. She had just enough time to designate Linda as ‘pack’ before the full force of the war drone’s personality completely subsumed her own.
Imperatives flared and died, as she broke through her enforced stasis and took her first faltering step. She spared her fallen friend one last glance, growling a wordless promise and then Linda was forgotten, her presence lost in the need to hunt and destroy.
Sarah Castle, a self-described “consumate welsh-woman” graduated from Medical School in 1996 and then spent six years in the Royal Navy. She now works as a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist. In her free time, she writes science fiction, fantasy, and fiction about mind control. Today, she presents us with an edgey piece of robot fiction about a neural pattern of shutting down once the robot’s mission is accomplished.