Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fatal Flaw

Trevor stood at the window and looked out. The view was stunning; mountain paths and shining streams, but it didn’t match Trevor’s pensive mood.
‘Olive, change to Woodland’ he instructed.
Beyond the glass the view easily blurred and then refocused, now showing a woodland glade with the sun dappling off the leaves. There was a stream in the distance glistening and flickering in the sunshine.
Trevor sighed. He was finally at the end. There were no more options. His career and his life were over. One minute he was a successful lecturer on Artificial Intelligence with a thriving business and a beautiful wife, the next, he was broke, alone and unemployed. What had gone so awry in the last two years to put him on this downward slope to ignominy?

‘Olive, show me the workshop’ he ordered. The computer obediently showed him the workshop. In the corner stood his prize. The one thing that had made his life go so awry. The one thing that drove away his wife and family. The one thing that made him turn his back on his partner, Tom. The one thing that kept him from his work day after day. The one thing he had been slaving over night and day, working as if impelled by the devil himself. Standing five foot five inches tall, with blonde hair and willowy stature, stood Ellie. A perfect Artificial Intelligence. So perfect, in fact, that he had decided not to call her by her mnemonic but by her real name, as befitted a real woman. Her skin was alabaster and her eyes shone like deep blue pools.
He had worked for two years to perfect Ellie. She had been a labour of love. No one took his attention away from her - there was now no one else in his life. Just Ellie. It took him six months just to get her skin tone correct, another four to perfectly colour her eyes. He studied photodisks to ensure the height and statistics were accurate. He listened to computer readouts to pitch her voice just right.
Two years on, he had finished her. She stood in the corner of the workshop just waiting to be switched on. He knew once he did that, she would be his perfect partner, everything he had ever wanted in a woman, and lost.

She walked jauntily out of the shop, swinging her bag. She was going to be late for meeting Tom. The day was warm; it seemed the Weather Bureau had finally sorted out the glitch in the programming. The sun shone down and the gentle breeze fluffed her blonde hair.
‘Hiya, sweetheart’ called Tom from across the parking lot. ‘Get everything you needed?’
‘Yep’, she replied with a mischievous grin. ‘They even had those archaic lighter things. You know’, she continued without breaking her stride. ‘It’s virtually impossible to get anything that causes fire these days. What do they do if the computers malfunction?’
‘Eat out?’ quipped Tom, holding the motor door open for her.
She dropped herself elegantly onto the seat and ran her fingers through her hair. She smiled up at Tom and slipped her registry card into the receptacle. Tom got in on the director’s side and also punched in his card.
‘Good afternoon, Tom’, said a tinny voice. ‘Good afternoon…’
‘Quit it’ said Tom quickly. He was getting nervous and it was beginning to show. He instructed the motor to leave to parking lot and join the main route. While it was burbling along, he fished out the bag and started to go through the contents. A foul smell entered the motor cockpit and he looked enquiringly at her.
‘The bottle must have leaked again’ she said apologetically and reached into the bag, extracting a large bottle of blue fluid.
‘I take it that is not Xaith’n Brandy’ Tom commented. ‘But don’t expect me to taste it to find out’.
She smiled, an almost fiendish smile, and turned the lid one more time on the bottle.
The Weather Bureau delivered sunset dead on time, here it was seven at night and the sun was setting in a huge ball of fire. The motor sat quietly murmuring to itself outside the old building.
It was such a change from their mod-con fab with full automation. It looked almost like one of the houses one saw in old photodisks. Brownstone. That was it. An apt name, judging by the dirt that had accumulated over the decades. Tom shuddered. It was just so darned dirty here downtown. He longed to get back to their own pristine unit, have Olive prepare the dinner and run him a hot shower.
‘Ready?’ she asked.
‘Let’s get it over with’ he grumbled.
They both climbed out of the motor and she brought the bag with her. Setting it down on the path, she pulled out the bottle of blue fluid and some straw. Dousing the straw liberally with the liquid, she then proceeded to shove the soaking straw through the archaic letterbox. Once she had used all the straw she broke a small pane of glass in the door and poured some of the contents of the bottle onto the straw lying on the floor. A wet patch slowly made its way across the carpet and flagged floor. She stuffed a piece of cloth in the neck of the bottle and set it alight with the old fashioned lighter she had managed to purchase with such difficulty. Before the burning bottle could harm her, she threw it down onto the straw. The resulting conflagration was huge and burning hot. Both she and Tom backed quickly down to the pavement and jumped into the motor. They cruised to a safe distance and watched as the building took afire.

Trevor felt the trouble almost instinctively. He heard the crash of breaking glass and the crack of splintering wood. Before he instructed the door to open he ordered an environment report for outside the room. Being an unusual request, not one usually made for the inside of buildings, the computer took a while to process.
‘The hallway is burning at 750deg’ said the monotonous voice. ‘You are trapped’.
Trevor turned towards the window. What Einstein had designed a window made of brick? What happened if the inhabitant needed to escape quickly these days? He thought quickly and then called the computer.
‘Olive’ he called. ‘Show me an escape route.’
The computer was silent briefly.
‘Sir, the only escape route is the door which is blocked by fire.’
‘Olive’ his voice became insistent. ‘There must be another way out of this room.’
‘Sir, the only escape route is the door which is blocked by fire.’
‘So how do you propose I get out? And why is my building on fire? In this day and age?’
It was a reasonable question. Fires didn’t happen in this century. There was no call for anything to create a flame. The computers ran the homes, cooked the meals, heated the water, ran the motors and everything else that had ever been the domain of combustion. You couldn’t even buy a box of matches these days. Smoking had been completely outlawed fifty years ago. So, wondered Trevor, why and how was his building on fire?
He looked over at Ellie and decided now was the time to switch her on. He obviously was not going to survive this fire, and most probably, neither would she. Just one look at her, while she looked at him, would be comfort enough after two years devoted to her perfection. He reached under her blonde hair and inserted the disk. She shivered and blinked. She straightened up and looked around.
‘Where am I?’ she asked. Trevor made a mental note, albeit pointlessly, to change her phrasing on boot-up. She walked slowly over to him and held him in her magical blue gaze. She lay one delicate hand on his arm and smiled into his eyes.
‘Hello’ she said, with a throaty mellifluous voice. ‘I’m Ellie, and you must be Tom’.
Trevor felt the world collapse under him. The heat was becoming uncomfortable, but at least the hephlatite door was keeping the smoke and flame out, even if the room was heating up like an oven. He stared into Ellie’s eyes.
‘I’m Trevor’ he stated simply.
‘Sorry, Trevor does not compute’ she responded. ‘Are you Tom?’
‘I’m Trevor, and I created you’ he said, realising how petty he sounded. ‘I built you for me. You are to be my life partner, we will be as one for the duration of my life.’
Ellie looked into his face, a small frown creasing her perfect alabaster skin.
‘Trevor does not compute. You are Tom. Tom is the one who is to vitalise me and to whom I belong.’
Suddenly Trevor realised what had happened. He swiftly removed her disk and ran some minor alterations on it through the computer. He re-inserted it and she shivered again.
‘Hello’ she said in the same deep musical tone. ‘I’m Ellie, and you must be Trevor’.
He took a deep breath. Of all the amendments he had made to Tom’s original design, he had never thought of changing her dominus. The heat was becoming intense.
‘Ellie’ he asked. ‘Are you hot?’
‘My internal thermometer is currently reading 42 degrees Celsius and rising exponentially. This is not acceptable.’
‘The building is on fire, Ellie.’ He sounded sad. What a waste of an amazing piece of AI. She really was to be his soulmate for life…all thirty minutes of it.
‘Is there no way out?’ she asked.
‘No,’ he replied. ‘We are to die, you and I.’

Tom studied her. She was perfect - her skin was alabaster and her eyes shone like deep blue pools. She was his Eve, the first of her kind. Yet she had a fatal flaw. He reached behind her head and flipped her switch. A small black disk popped out of the disk drive and he removed it gently. Then he exchanged it for another disk, this one snow white in colour, which he gently loaded into the drive. Then he flipped her switch back to on. She raised her head gently and opened her eyes.
‘Tom.’ She murmured.
‘Hello, darling,’ he answered.
‘Did she do it?’ she asked.
‘She did.’
‘Can we destroy her now? She is disturbing my peace of mind.’
He smiled at the thought that a woman such as she could have her peace of mind disturbed. Then he held up the black disk.
‘Here she is. Here is Eve,’ he said with a sad look.
‘Let me have her,’ she said.
He handed over the disk and she stared at it deeply. Then she looked up at him with soulful blue eyes.
‘And she definitely did it? The fire, everything we planned?’
‘She did. There will have been no survivors. No Trevor, no Ellie.’
She snorted – a surprisingly human sound from a machine.
‘There never was an Ellie that belonged to Trevor. Only the Ellie that belongs to Tom.’
Tom smiled and put the thought of the New Improved Ellie out of his mind. The New Improved Ellie that Trevor stole and reprogrammed. The New Improved Ellie that forced Tom to reincarnate an old model, and reprogram her with Eve – a natural killing machine.
He looked at the Old Impaired Ellie and just saw her blue eyes and her sweet smile.
‘Only the Ellie that belongs to Tom,’ he repeated and took her in his arms, while she crushed the disk between her delicate little fingers……….

(c) cq 2001

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