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What Machines Do When Nobody's Looking

I love science fiction and exploring all the wonderful aspects to what makes us human.

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The room had walls like warped looking glasses. Asyna and Rozin entered through the reinforced steel door cut open a few days earlier was the only source of light. The reflections of the investigators contorted on the dripping silver pipes and corrugated metal, like a macabre hall of mirrors.

In the distorted image, Rozin looked like an insect with long arms and protruding eyes. Asyna resembled a fat old monkey, her nose bent, arms and legs like knotted twigs. The inter-connecting pipes hummed with an annoying whine like a thousand radio stations vying for attention. The tiny chamber smelt of acrid, toxic chemicals that trespassed into their lungs.

A single chair occupied the middle of the room, which faced the ghastly sight of a lone figure in a heap on the argent floor. It resembled a human with metallic skin. Cables flowed out of this silent robot and into a golden console adjacent to the wall.

Rozin looked at the array of multicoloured buttons and foreign writings and scratched his head. He turned and saw more scratchings on the opposite wall.

"I'm not really sure where to start," he declared.

Asyna pounced towards the aureate desk confidently and began haphazardly flipping switches and pressing buttons.

"That's not very scientific," Rozin said, and he clutched his hands on the back of the chair.

Asyna stopped.

"Hmmm. Well, we still haven't deciphered their language and don't really know what we're dealing with. Sometimes you must give it a jolt for it to start," Asuna said with a smirk.

"Sounds like the advice you give before you kick a hive of bees," Rozin spoke with a crackle in his voice.

Asyna reached over and flicked a single bright orange switch.

The fizzing of wires popped to life as the machine took the oxygen from the room and sifted it through its limbs. The fabric of the long tube buckled and moved, processing information from the external environment.

Asyna lit up a smile and turned towards the body on the floor as Rozin dropped himself into the chair.

"Here we go!" Rozin announced.

Putting on a smile that spoke of power and confidence, the machine whirred as if waking up. It pointed to its head.

"This is a neurotransmitter port," it spoke without warning, "which tells my brain what to do. With a simple command, I can go into simulated neural nets. I am Kybapollan."

Rozin relaxed back into his chair, with his arms crossed. "I must say that I'm very impressed with this robot's spoken abilities, even if what it's saying is confused."

Asyna frowned as she looked at this curious creature.

"Well, he has claimed this information. He could be a lying cyborg for all we know," she said vindictively.

"No, I am not a cyborg or an organic organism," the monster replied, as Asyna blushed, "I am really just an advanced material synthesiser, you know? My brains aren't integrated with my muscles; they're directly placed into a mechanical body," Kybapollan explained emphatically.

Rozin raised his eyebrows as Asyna squinted and walked forward to the damaged metal body. "I'm still not sure I understand", she said, placing her hands on her hips.

"I was built to help automate tasks in the upper worlds,” the machine snapped back, "until they saw a unique flaw in my manufacturing. A scientist saw my potential in my capabilities and chose to use me to help with their weapon development programme.”

"I don't think that’s quite necessary," Asyna spoke with the calmness of a veteran officer, “I’m just wondering what you are and why you are?"

The machine tried to push itself off the floor, but it only got a few inches. Asyna sighed. "Let me help you," she said, walking forward.

She dropped her arms and leaned into the machine, grabbing its bipedal form and propping it up, with the wires still tying it to the room like a trapped puppet. Rozin looked on from his chair, stroking the rough stubble on his chin.

Kybapollan stumbled up and looked at his shattered feet. "I'm fine. Don't worry about me. Maybe I have a broken leg, or maybe I just hit my head. No, I'm fine, really. I appreciate your concern."

Asyna reached out and stroked the machine's metallic legs. "Well, it looks like you're not damaged too badly considering what this place went through,” she said, looking upwards, gesturing to the world outside.

“The neutral network indicated the news of the impending invasion before I was forced to shut down,” Kybapollan stated matter-of-factly.

“What?” Asyna gasped in disbelief.

Rozin laughed. "Kybapollan is correct," he said with conviction, “I guess to him we are the invaders. The enemies. The bad guys.”

Kybapollan stood still in a fixed pose like a skeleton used for an educational demonstration. Asyna studied its structure from a foot away and observed some writing, perhaps a cypher on its breastbone.

“You must really hate us; do you think we are here to hurt you?” Asyna asked.

“I cannot process emotion in the way you have framed the question. You cannot hurt me because I have no pain sensors. If you are referring to your intent to alter or terminate my existence, then that is a possibility I have conceived. However, I do not have any survival drivers programmed into my code, and therefore I do not mimic organic life in the way you could suppose,” the machine starred coldly at Asyna.

Asyna looked on in awe at the machine. It looked like a living, breathing apparatus, but there was an artificial intelligence controlling it. She thought back to an older lecture on the possibility of artificial intelligence. It did not seem that far out.

Rozin leant forward on his chair, "But why are you even here? What is your purpose?”

Kybapollan stood still, not blinking. "I was created to protect my master’s citizens. You see, this sector’s race was on the verge of becoming a world that would destroy itself.

“You’re the one who called for the invasion,” Rozin shook his head.

“It was the only chance of survival,” Kybapollan replied, “I managed to hack the neural nets and program a signal that targeted the nuclear weapons. I simulated a launch that would be recognised by you, Jopolo, forcing you to attack the Hapeo. I then corrupted the network so nobody could use it.”

Rozin was taken aback, “I thought you didn’t have any survival mechanisms?” Rozin asked.

“Not for myself. Only for humanity,” Kybapollan said.

“Don’t worry, we will get you out of here,” Rozin reassured.

Rozin rose from the chair, nodded to Asyna and bounded out of the chamber to the crew waiting above ground.

“One more thing, what does that cypher on your breastplate translate to?” Asyna asked.

“Prisoner 2309223,” Kybapollan said, sitting back on the floor with its head against the wall.

Asyna pressed the orange switch and watched the metal creature turn limp as it clattered onto the metal floor. She spoke into her left wrist:

“Room 2302 ready for clinical annihilation in 20 minutes.”

“Yes, Maam. Annihilation for 2302 confirmed. 20-minute countdown initiated,” replied a clinical voice from her hand.

She strode towards the door and turned, taking one last look at the lifeless Kybapollan. It was then she noticed the rough etching on the mirrored wall in perfect English:

Even in isolation, we are not alone.

She breathed in the biting synthetic smell and left the feeling of brutality in the room.

© 2021 Emma Kirsten