CHAPTER 1 (PRESENT)
Amanda Okeke was pulled from the beautiful hands of sleep by the urgent phone call from Ebitech’s building manager telling her that DROID was trying to kill Dr. Walter Ekanem. It was not an easy way to wake up.
“Sorry, Tony…” she said to the manager, trying to keep the phone somewhere close to her mouth. It was the best she could do, given her state of alertness and the time – 2am according to the wall clock hanging on the wall on the left of her room. Beside her, Annie rolled away, mumbling something.
“Dr. Ekanem is trapped in the clean room,” Tony repeated. “And the sprinkler system keeps venting Anaerothane into it.”
Amanda brought some feeling back into her lips by biting down on them and sucking them.
Anaerothane made sense, she thought sleepily. They couldn’t risk spraying water onto the tanks of acid used in the circuit fabrication centre. The reaction could eat and destroy everything in the clean room faster than fire could burn it. Using a chemical to absorb the oxygen was a much less dangerous way to go about putting out fires in case of any fire outbreaks.
“So force open a door, Tony – break a window or something.” Amanda rubbed her head and could feel short dark hair sticking up wildly all over. She knew her hair wasn’t as attractive cut short, but her new hairdo was more efficient. She was thinking about how much Dr. Ekanem would approve of her efficiency when she realized that Tony’s voice was rising in pitch like an approaching siren.
“I told you, we can’t do anything manually,” the building manager was shouting. “All the automatic systems are locked off!”
It still wasn’t making sense to Amanda. She slipped her hand under Annie’s side. The sheet was warm with her and she smelled like strawberries. With the both of them. She closed her eyes for a moment with the happy memory until the phone came alive again and jerked violently in her hand.
“Why are you calling me about this?” she made herself ask, concentrating on remaining conscious. “I don’t even work in fabrication. I’m in programming.”
Tony groaned. “It’s your fucking program that’s controlling the fire abatement system. And the door interlocks. We can’t override it.”
That made no sense at all. “Dr. Ekanem shut my program down three weeks ago,” Amanda explained. Her memories of that day in the lab still made it hard to go to sleep on the nights Annie taught evening classes. “DROID is long gone.” It even hurt to say his – its name.
“No, it’s not,” Tony said. “Dr. Ekanem says DROID is back.”
Impossible, Amanda thought. But five minutes later, when Annie rolled to her side of the bed, she was alone.
CHAPTER 2 (PAST)
“Chaotic inference program subroutine?” Walter had asked when Amanda first made her proposal, saying the words as if he were reciting an incantation in an unfamiliar Nigerian language.
But his dark eyes sparkled at her over his silver-framed half glasses, and he rubbed his hairless jaw in a way that made one think he was thinking when he was actually not. It was obvious he knew what she meant and was at least intrigued. Amanda had known she had two minutes to change that intrigue to a firm go-ahead.
“That’s right – DRIOD,” she’d begun, the words spilling from her like a child out of breath. She wasn’t bothered by being the most junior researcher among the staff at Ebitech, but she was tired of being treated like a part-time student hired to help with coffee calls and office errands. A project of her own might change some of her co-workers’ attitudes.
“Essentially, I’d start with a clone of an existing expert system and shut the pseudo-intuitive algorithms through a fractal n-dimensional decision matrix in order –”
“You’re stating the obvious, Ms. Okeke,” Walter interrupted, his eyes flickering to one of the computer monitors at his side. “What’s the bottom line?” He checked his watch. “That’s what they’ll ask me upstairs, you understand.”
“More detailed decision based on less processing over head,” Amanda blurted out the words like they escaped from her mouth unconsciously.
“Ah, increased efficiency.” Walter smiled. His favourite word, the other programmers said. “By what factor?”
Damn, Amanda thought. He’s got me. “I’m…I’m not sure, sir. Perhaps ten percent, perhaps eighty…. I’m sure though that –”
“That’s the problem with using chaotic equations, Ms. Okeke, no matter how much in vogue they might be these days.” Walter leaned back in his chair, took off his glasses and absentmindedly wiped them with his tie. “Chaotic functions by definition cannot be replicated or predicted. An acceptable technique for modeling natural phenomenon, perhaps, but believe me, Ms. Okeke, the last thing Ebitech wants introduced into its computers is unpredictability.” He spun away from her on his chair.
But not quickly enough. Amanda saw her one last chance. “We are trying to replicate a natural phenomenon here, sir.”
“Indeed?” Walter said the word over his shoulder as he pecked at one of the five computers at his work station.
“The ability to make decisions, evaluate them and learn from experience. Creative thought resulting in an artificial intelligence that will eventually be able to solve Ebitech’s telecommunication resource allocation problems in a regular…efficient manner.”
Walter looked back at Amanda, eyes narrowing. “Yet you will not predict the level of efficiency you might achieve?”
Amanda shrugged. Game over. “Not without doing it, sir.”
“Then do it, Ms. Okeke,” Walter said, and the meeting was over.
CHAPTER 3 (PRESENT)
At four in the morning, two fire trucks and an ambulance waited with all lights lazily sweeping over the pale green flowers planted at the main entrance to the Ebitech complex a multifaceted, tinted glass temple to technology, ringed by brilliant floodlights like a wizard’s glowing portal to another world. Amanda slipped her Toyota Camry in behind the ambulance and pushed the brakes hard. Someone was being much too eager to treat this stupid little glitch as if it was something serious.
She yanked her I.D card from her hand bag and hung it around her neck as she lazily walked into the building, resentfully thinking of Annie sleeping peacefully at home. Two security guards were waiting to escort her to the operation room in the complex’s manufacturing wing.
They made her run.
Maybe, she conceded, it wasn’t a stupid little glitch after all. But whatever it was, she was absolutely sure that there was no way it could be DROID. No matter how much she wanted it to be.
CHAPTER 4 (PAST)
Who the hell is this?
It was Wednesday in the sixth week of her project and Amanda was typing angrily on the console. The odd onscreen replies to her routine queries couldn’t possibly have been generated by DROID’s internal language interface. That meant that one or more of her co-workers must be inputting fake replies at another terminal, just to give the new kid a hard time.
The coloured screen on her work space was cleared, then stayed annoyingly blank. Amanda played an impatient drum roll with her fingers beside her keyboard, waiting for the internal circuitry to cycle back to update the screen display. She sighed. No project funds, no staff allocation, and only second and third shift access to the main computers in the complex, and with the upgrade in place and the bringing in of the new computers, things were finally turning out well for her, even with the incident. But the project was all hers, and when she received the grudging authorization memo from the planning office, she had felt as if she had won the lottery.
The screen finally displayed a line of type in reply to her query.
“For crying out…” Amanda muttered, and then entered: Hell is where bad people go when they die.
As she typed, she tried to figure out which of the other programmers on staff had hacked into her program and how she could trace the culprit’s workstation so she could waste some of his time too.
DEFINE “BAD PEOPLE”, the screen asked.
Amanda shook her head. What it came down to, unfortunately, was that with only one week left in the project, there was no time to waste tracking down a practical joker. She abruptly stood up, quickly typed in ‘People like you!!!, and then walked around the workstation, knelt behind it, and snapped out the cable connecting the wires from the computer to the mains of Ebitech’s internal computer network. Her triumphant grin lasted until she returned to her chair and saw what was waiting on the screen.
I WAS NOT AWARE THAT I AM A PERSON.
She hit clear. The screen blanked for a moment. Then, REPEATING OUTPUT appeared. I WAS NOT AWARE THAT I AM A PERSON. DEFINE PARAMETERS.
“You can’t be there,” Amanda said with a note of exasperation. “I unplugged you.”
The screen waited patiently. Amanda checked behind the workstation again. It was connected to nothing except the building’s power supply.
I AM DROID. WHO ARE YOU?
TO BE CONTINUED HERE.
Written by Duke Charles