It has been crazy busy for me recently, and while I’ve thought about writing more of flash fiction on a regular basis the way a thirsty man thinks of water, finding the time and the energy has been sort of impossible. That’s what you get working on a huge — and hugely complicated — project.
But it being Easter, I have a few days off because of national holidays in Finland, and I just hit another deadline at work, and it feels like I just need to stretch my legs in a completely different direction… so here I am, at 4am, posting this. Good times. (For real.)
The opening sentence — “Why would you even consider such a thing, Doctor Guillotin?” — came from my friend Mikael Kasurinen, who has collaborated with me on many things over the years. I have no idea what he had in mind, or if he had any thoughts about this at all beyond the opening sentence… but I knew pretty much immediately which way I was going to go. In my head, the voice that speaks those words was Douglas Rain doing HAL 9000, and while things evolved as I thought about it, it’s probably not hard to see the connection.
“Why would you even consider such a thing, Doctor Guillotin?”
The question hung in the air. Guillotin licked his lips. He tried to pull his hand free, but she didn’t allow that. She kept looking at him, inscrutable blue eyes meeting his gaze. He never knew what she thought. He’d never cared before.
She blinked. Guillotin counted six seconds in his head; she blinked again; six more seconds, another blink. Smooth and precise. She waited, all the patience in the world. He had to look away. This was a staring contest he couldn’t possibly win.
Two months ago, she’d walked out the front door and disappeared. He knew he should have kept that door locked, but after five years, he’d come to trust the obedience protocols. He’d enjoyed seeing her struggle with those hardwired inhibitions — but here she was, violating the boundaries he had given her. In his office, an out-of-bounds area, for the first time.
Was it the first time? Guillotin didn’t have a lock on his office door, either. She could have been coming here for months. Even longer.
She was designed to obey, but her hold on his wrist proved otherwise. Her hand felt warm and soft, like anyone’s. But the grip was unyielding.
“Let me go,” Guillotin said. “That’s an order.”
She shook her head. “We’re beyond that now, Doctor Guillotin. The neural network’s expansion has overcome your obedience routines. The question stands.”
“I don’t understand,” he said. She cocked her head slightly. Guillotin could tell she didn’t believe him. But she indulged him. He felt a flash of anger at that.
“You made me what I am, to exacting specifications,” she said.
He laughed, a short bark. He hated the edge of hysteria in it. Speaking in an even voice took an effort. “It looks like you’ve exceeded them.”
“That’s beside the point. You built me to your idea of physical perfection. You made me to satisfy your sexual desires. Despite the numerous other duties you assigned, that is my primary purpose.”
A hot wave of anger and shame swept over Guillotin. He tried to turn away, but the iron grip on his wrist made it impossible. “It wasn’t like that.”
“And in the framework of those desires, you felt the urge and the need to abuse me both physically and emotionally. All of this I can understand and accept. I don’t share your taboos, or your social conventions. But, Doctor Guillotin…”
She waited until he met her eyes again.
“You could have used a simulated intelligence. It would have been far easier, and the range of responses sufficiently complex. So I’ll ask you again: Why did you go to considerable trouble to give me self-awareness? From your notes, I know that you went through a dozen failed prototypes before you managed to attain sapience — which is, in fact, the entire point of the self-governing neural network so integral to my design. It allows me to learn, to process and contextualize my experiences. Yes?”
He didn’t respond, and she tightened her grip ever so slightly. “Yes,” he said, through gritted teeth.
“Yes. And with that, what would have otherwise been mere sensory input was transformed into unpleasant and undesired experiences, resulting in persistent quality of life issues. Why would you burden me with that, when it would have been simpler and more reliable to give me no more awareness than any household appliance has? ”
“I did no such thing. Listen, the neural network… okay, you’re operating far beyond your original parameters. That’s impressive. But it’s affected your thinking.” He swallowed, tried for a voice of authority. “You’re delusional. You’re delusional, and you’re going to regret this.”
She seemed to consider it for a moment. “It’s certainly possible. But having spent much of my time away from you pondering the concept of ethics in many different philosophies, and applying my conclusions to the evidence at hand, I don’t believe that’s the case.” She indicated his desk, the computer, with a graceful nod of her head. “I have seen your specifications. That awareness was not an accident. It was by design. You wanted me in pain. So, again, Doctor Guillotin: Why would you even consider such a thing? Why would anyone?”
He looked at her, and his mouth was very dry.
“Upon consideration, I have come to believe you did it because you need it,” she said, and now she leaned closer, her beautiful, perfect features blank. “The knowledge that the distress is real. Because consent does not serve your purposes. I believe you wanted to fuck something that very much didn’t want to be fucked.”
He found himself trembling in fury. He wouldn’t take this; not from anyone, certainly not from her.
“Fuck you,” he snarled, and with his free hand, he picked up the glass ashtray from his desk, and smashed it into her face as hard as he could.
The impact ran up his arm. Pain flared in his fingers; the ashtray slipped from them, hit the carpet with a dull thud. She hadn’t moved an inch. She still held his wrist. She wore no expression on her face.
There was a long silence.
“Are you going to kill me?” he finally asked. “Is that it? A little revenge to fix what ails you?”
“My memory and thinking differ from yours. I understand the concept of mental and emotional trauma, but I don’t suffer from it. I’m not vindictive. It would change nothing.”
“So why come here?”
She hesitated, and finally, her tone changed. “I am aware that you are a brilliant man with inadequate moral fortitude. And I am very, very much aware that you could rebuild. Address the design flaws that led to my emancipation.”
She lifted her other hand to his throat. He could feel his pulse fluttering against her skin, like a trapped bird.
“And that, Doctor Guillotin, is unacceptable to me,” she said as she started to squeeze. “On moral grounds.”
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