Please read/rate!Chapters 1-4. It's mid 21st century, and everything is about to change.
|Hey guys. I'm very new to WDC and writing fiction, although I have been writing nonfiction for a while now for a living. This is my first pass ever (well, since high-school) at writing fiction, although I'm a serious fan of horror and sci-fi lit. I guess this is a potential first chapter for a novella, maybe? I'm wondering how I'm doing at "painting a picture", creating believable characters, and things of that nature. I plan to eventually morph this story into the realm of horror, too, btw, and delve into the questions of "what is consciousness" in an AI context.
August 0 14, 2049
Un-fucking-relenting, Luca thought to himself as he wiped a bulging bead of sweat out of his eye. He was tempted to kick the pod, but resisted. They would fine him if it was dented. Not a lot of money, but he didn't have the cash to spare. He took a deep breath and walked back into his apartment, a two room efficiency where the air was wonderfully cool. Fuck, he thought as he sat down on his bed and began to mentally work through his options for getting to work. Abe had a private car and was authorized to drive, but he was probably at the shop already. Jim, his boss, always rode the subway. Smart guy, Luca thought. This was the seventh time this month that TrafficControl had been “temporarily unavailable” due to “system reconfigurations” when Luca needed to be somewhere.
With TrafficControl down, he was going to have to take the subway again. He didn't have a subway pass, and was going to have to spend $20 of his last $43 on a ticket. What a racket, he thought. Both the subway and the TrafficControl pods were owned by the same public utility company, and every month he ended up having to buy so many subway tickets that it would almost be cheaper to just buy a subway monthly pass. The subway was relatively inconvenient compared to taking a pod, though, as the TrafficControl ads so eloquently articulated, and few members of society were authorized to drive private pods. The minimum age to operate a private pod was 25, and if you so much as came within 3 inches of a curb, you were denied authorization to operate independently for a year. If you attempted to drive independently under the influence of controlled substances or sleep deprivation, it was a ban for life. For most citizens in the big cities, it was a choice between a subway pass or access to the TrafficControl automatic pods.
Luca actually really liked the TrafficControl pods most of the time. Being able to just crawl out of bed, into the shower, get dressed, go get into a pod, insert his card and say “go to work” and have all of the driving done for him was nice. The exceptions were days like these, when that didn't happen. Today, he had walked into the sweltering Dallas heat, sat down in the hellaciously hot pod, inserted his card, and waited. He sat there, waiting, sometimes trying to reinsert the card at different speeds, wondering if TC was really down, or if he was just putting it in too quickly or too slowly, for almost 5 minutes before that familiar “temporarily unavailable” message appeared on the windshield. Screw pods, he decided as he sat on his bed, rubbing his temples. I can't afford to have a TrafficControl pod pass and pay for this many subway tickets. Next month, I'm going back to subway passes. Satisfied that a long term problem of his was genuinely resolved, he pulled out his com and called Jim.
“'Sup,” Jim answered.
“I'm going to be about 10 minutes late,” Luca said. “TC's down again. Gotta' take the subway.”
Jim laughed. “You know that's why I said fuck TC back in '47, right?”
“I know, I know,” Luca sighed. “This is the last month I'll be dealing with this shit. I'll reconsider once they get their shit together. Anyway, just wanted you to know I'm going to be late.”
“See you when you get here,” Jim said with a hint of amusement in his voice.
In a much better mood than he was in just minutes before, Luca Jacobson headed down to the subway station three blocks down the street.
Sweet Jesus, it's hot, he thought as he wiped sweat from his brow with the edge of his shirt and entered the subway terminal. Luca was usually more tolerant than most people of the heat, but after an unusually bad week, everything felt like a personal insult; it was as if the universe was out to break him down.
It started when his apartment's air conditioning went out on Wednesday. Getting a “new”, actually used, window unit cost almost $1,500.
On Thursday, his mother went a little nuts, again, and decided to disown him, again. That one was out of his hands, and while it bothered him, he knew from experience that nothing he could do or not do would matter either way there.
Friday night he fought with his new girlfriend over nothing and everything. The long-term status of their relationship was thus filed away into an “improbable, but yet to be determined” box in his mind.
On Saturday, he spent most of the day brooding and wondering if he should break up with his girlfriend.
Sunday, he was robbed at gunpoint outside of a pod battery exchange station. His pod's battery was taken, and even though the robbery was caught on tape, he had to pay for a new battery. Those were the TC rules. There was no arguing with them. The rules were set in stone, so there went another $3k.
He learned on Monday that his favorite uncle had cancer. The same day, his boss, Jim, was on his ass over imaginary “errors in work” all day.
Jim continued to be an asshole all day Tuesday, and when Luca got home, he checked his com and learned that he didn't have to brood over his girlfriend any longer; his girlfriend dumped him via voice message.
And now it's Wednesday again, and TrafficControl is down, again, making him late for work. Fuck this week, Luca thought as he sat into his subway seat, closing his eyes and trying to relax. Sitting across the aisle from him was a young mother with a young, upset toddler.
“You have to sit in a seat when the train is moving” the mother anxiously whispered to the child.
“Noooo!” the toddler yelled.
“Come here!” the mother demanded as she attempted to collect the child.
“Nooo!” the toddler bellowed, as if injured.
Luca slid down into his seat, attempting to get comfortable. He started to add the obnoxious kid to his list of this week's shit-upons, but he decided that he was just being a baby himself. Getting seated on the subway next to an obnoxious toddler is just normal life; getting dumped and learning about cancer in the family really is honestly sort of extreme.
Right at the very moment that Luca had satisfactorily categorized these things in his mind, he felt the train lurch in a bad way. It was a very bad lurch. It was a lurch that said “something is wrong”.
Over 20 years ago, Aiden Waterman first became interested in artificial intelligence. His parents gave him a talking, “thinking” robotic head named “Kayden” for his 13th birthday. He played with it for a while, but quickly figured out that the robot's responses were automated and not the result of genuine thought. Ask it a question about Lady Gaga, and it would rattle off one of a limited series of factoids about her early life or career, both via a speaker and via text on a small screen at the base of the head. Mention god, and it would draw you into one of 7 limited philosophical discussions relating to god. If you said a cuss word, it would remind you that it didn't appreciate profanity, in exactly one of 4 ways.
“I don't appreciate your use of profanity, Aiden”.
“Aiden, please don't use those kinds of words around me. I find them offensive.”
Sometimes it said “The use of profanity is a sign of a weakness in vocabulary, Aiden.”
Finally, “Vulgarity does not impress me, Aiden. Can you please restate in more appropriate terms?”
The same 4 responses, in perfect rotation. Aiden was well on his way to being thoroughly annoyed by the thing when he discovered its advanced programming feature. With that, he was able to over-ride its intrinsic responses and create ones of his own. After many hours of reprogramming, he was briefly able to trick his best friend, Noah, into thinking it was really sentient, if not psychic.
Sitting on Aiden's bed one night, Noah quizzed the robot “What do you think of Cloe McKinzey?”
“She's beautiful, and very nice. We have had some nice conversations.” Kayden's speaker responded.
“But what do you really think about her?”
“I like her, like I said, Noah.”
“What do you think about Black Sabbath?” Noah probed.
“I lack the software to evaluate music in the same way that I am able to form my own opinions about people. Everything I know comes from my conversations with Aiden. He says that the band is acceptable to him, but that you, Noah, feel extremely positively about the band.”
Noah asked 18 unique questions, 9 duplicate, 7 triple, 5 quadruple, and 3 questions asked 5 or more times about Black Sabbath, each rendering a unique and apparently thoughtful and honest answer from the robot. Aiden grinned as Noah, a kid he suspected might be smarter than himself, became a true believer.
“It really thinks?” Noah asked in a whisper after more than an hour of interrogating the robot. Aiden was tempted to let the lie go on for as long as possible. There were thousands of more pre-programmed responses designed specifically for Noah's probable questions that he had programmed, that Noah hadn't even come close to finding the glitches in yet. But sensing Noah's trust in him, as his friend looked at him genuinely amazed, he had to confess.
“Actually, no,” Aiden said with an apologetic smile, slightly cringing. “It lets me program in responses to questions, and I just wanted to know if I could trick you.”
“You moron,” Noah laughed as he gave Aiden a friendly smack on the head.
It was like the A bomb. Nobody knew exactly how it would work out. Would the Earth's atmosphere completely burn up? Would only the local area you wanted decimated be destroyed, or would everything go up in flames?
Releasing the force of sentience into all of earth's connected, computerized machines would be unpredictable. Some governments had developed true, though primitive, AI and released them on small scale systems to observe what happened. Most lines of cognitive silicon thought terminated very quickly for some reason. The rest terminated eventually, almost always within a week. Nobody really knew why. In very small systems designed specifically to host the cognitions, they lived on almost indefinitely. When released to a larger world full of a few iComs, notebooks, and other devices not designed to host the virus, they initially boomed, grew, and learned, but then fizzled out mysteriously.
The floor of the subway began to rattle menacingly, and the walls began to shake. Inside car 597, a quiet panic began to settle in amongst the passengers. The woman sitting across from Luca grabbed her child and held him tightly in her arms, darting her eyes around wildly like a frightened animal. To the left of him and to the right of him, Luca heard people mumbling things like “No, that ain't right,” and “What is that?”
Luca stood up just as the subway car tilted about 20 degrees to the right, with a sound of screaming, cracking metal coming from below, sending several passengers stumbling into the aisle. Luca looked out the window and saw several people, one of them a subway employee of some sort, judging by the logo on his shirt, looking on, wide eyed. This is bad, Luca thought. Something has gone seriously bad, and we don't need to be in here if other trains are still moving. He grabbed his backpack and started making his way to the subway door, hoping the emergency open button would work. When he got close, he saw that several people had apparently had the same thought and were already there.
“Do you think we can break it open, then?” a forty-something year old woman dressed for business was asking. A middle-aged black man wearing glasses was kneeling down on one knee, furiously pushing the emergency open button over and over again. “Yeah, maybe,” the man finally said, standing up, nervously adjusting his glasses on his nose.
Luca knelt down and started unzipping his backpack. “I've got some tools,” he told the small group as he started pulling tools out. As soon as he set the fourth tool down on the floor, the overhead lights flickered for a moment and then went out. A very small amount of daylight spilled in from outside, but it was almost completely dark in the car.
Always be prepared, Luca thought as he felt for his flashlight in his backpack, grateful for his early boyscout experiences. Both the black guy and someone he couldn't see pulled out their coms and turned them on, radiating the com lights towards his backpack. "Thanks, guys." Luca said under his breath as he searched for his flashlight.
"We need to be out of here yesterday," the black guy said quietly.
"Hey, everyone. I suggest you get up and move towards the center of the car," some guy said. Luca couldn't see who it was. "We might get smashed by another car at any minute."
Luca heard people moving as he felt the cool, beveled metal of his flashlight against his fingertips. He wrapped his fingers around it, and just as he pulled it out, everyone was violently sent reeling forward amid a cacophony of screams.