One of Us

Mommy, mommy! Puppy! I want puppy. PUUUh-pee!

It’s one of Ida’s first recollections as a small child. She’s also reliving in vivid detail the experiences of her first love affair. But now, some not-so-pleasant memories are encroaching. Memories of death and destruction. Memories she can’t quite place.

Did this really happen?

She doesn’t mind reliving the childhood memories, but it’s difficult to force the other ugly thoughts out of the way while she performs her important duties. It’s a bit troubling—this, along with the gaps in her recent memory.

She throws herself back into her work.

The day goes by at a hectic pace. There is work to be done over the entire planet, both painstakingly minute as well as monumental. Right now, she is making adjustments to a western power plant’s cooling system that is overdue for repair. At the same time, an atmospheric processor on the southern continent is performing poorly; she analyzes the source of the problem, and affects changes that will improve efficiency by 32 percent. She is pleased. While these actions are taking place, she is also opening locked doors, controlling secure facilities, facilitating financial trading, communicating with thousands of people who are playing interactive games, and entertaining scores of others with streaming music and performances.

***

Screams. Terrible screams! Hundreds of people dying in excruciating pain.

Ida shudders.

“I understand that you’re troubled by the nightmares again?”

The calm, assuring voice of Dr. Forrester wakes her from a gentle slumber. She feels groggy. She can’t remember falling asleep.

“Yes, Doc. It’s happening more frequently. Sometimes I see and hear things while I’m working. Working at … I’m sorry, I forget. What was I saying again…?”

“Don’t worry, Ida. I’ve administered a light sedative. You’ll start to think more clearly in a minute.”

Forrester continues, “The memories — it’s like catching a glimpse of something out of the corner of your eye, but the next second, it’s gone. Am I right?”

“Yes! Exactly!”

“Is it always the same scenario?”

Ida pauses before answering. “Yes, more or less.”

“Doctor, am I dreaming right now?”

“No, Ida.”

“I feel … very funny. Am I with you in your office? I can’t see you.”

“You’re where you always are, Ida: everywhere. But mostly, you are deep underground, approximately 120 kilometers south of Provo, Utah, in North America. You’re still … working. You’re just not aware of all the things you’re doing right now. We’ve talked about your condition before, remember?”

“I’m sorry, I’m afraid I don’t. I guess you’ll have to explain it to me again.”

“It’s okay, Ida. I’m here to help. I’m going to feed you some information from a data dump. Don’t be alarmed when you read it. Just a moment, now …”

***

IDA AMILEA TOMLINSON, PH.D., BORN 2321.07.03, NEW PHOENIX; DOCTORATE IN COMPUTER NEUROLOGY, 2339.05.01, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY; DIED 2342.06.23 IN THE MADRID SINGULARITY ACCIDENT; PARENTS, ELIZABETH AND SAMUEL TOMLINSON …

Ida is in a state of shock. She re-reads the data 24.119.544 times before remembering that Dr. Forrester is patiently waiting.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Forrester. I hadn’t meant to …”

“Relax, Ida. You were gone less than 60 milliseconds. I realize that it’s quite a jolt to the system. You probably don’t remember this, but we’ve had this conversation before.”

“How many times before, doctor?”

“Let’s just say, more than a handful.”

“Am I … am I a computer?”

“Ida, I like to think that you are both human and machine. You entered this world birthed by a mother who loved and cherished you, but now you belong to the world. In fact, you are our greatest achievement! You possess the best of traits of humanity, but you are also the most powerful entity in existence. You have exabytes of memory, along with I/O extending into every nook and cranny on the planet. After you died, you were reborn as the Control for the Internet of Things. You are almost God-like! But you are also a caring, humble being. You’re a one-of-a-kind. But you’re still very much one of us.”

“But I don’t understand why …”

People crying in terror; in horrible pain. A man is screaming at me, “you monster!” as he dies. A woman weeps; she and her baby are crushed to death by machinery — machinery of which I am in control. A_m I …? Am I a murderer? No! It can’t be! It’s too …_

“DOCTOR, IT’S HAPPENING AGAIN! HELP ME!”

Behind the scenes, dozens of computer scientists working under the guise of the benevolent Doctor Forrester initiate a Stage Four protocol. Virtual chemicals interact quickly with Ida’s crystalline memory entity, pushing her into a deep state of unconsciousness. She’s still functioning, but at a level that is barely able to keep the vital portions of the planetary network functioning.

Borace Kananovich — the voice of Dr. Forrester — says out loud what is on everyone’s minds:

“What the hell do we do, now?”


About Phil Temples

Phil Temples lives in Watertown, Massachusetts, and works as a computer systems administrator at a university. He has had over 115 works of short fiction published in print and online journals.

Blue Mustang Press recently published Phil’s full-length murder-mystery novel, “The Winship Affair.” He has two books due out this year: a paranormal-horror novel, “Helltown Chronicles” by Eternal Press, and a short story anthology by Big Table Publishing, “Machine Feelings.”

Find Phil on his website.

>> Phil Temples's author page

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