The Refuse Chronicles
ISBN: 978-1-988253-03-9 (Digital)
UNCGSC: The Facility© Michel Weatherall 2016
All rights reserved
Cover designed by Michel Weatherall
Published by Broken Keys Publishing
by Michel Weatherall
Sept. 3rd, 1998
The antarctic sky was black as pitch, the stars sharp shards of ice set into an ebony dome. Across one horizon the eerie green lights of the aurora australis gave the entire frozen landscape the appearance of a haunted ghost-realm.
An echo of footprints in the green tainted snow led to a lone and stumbling figure. It wore no clothing. Its arms were not wrapped around its torso in an attempt to conserve warmth. It didn't feel the cold, but it was painfully aware of its biting threat. The bitter winds of the perpetual antarctic night plummeted the temperature to well below -50.
Its mechanical joints were beginning to freeze. Several of its gyroscopes had seized up causing it difficulty walking due to its gradual loss of equilibrium. One mechanical arm hung limp, its joints and plastic pistons frozen.
The android’s composition was primarily a durable plastic. The hardest substance was its mesh carbon-fiber skeleton. Little metal. Hardly a robot in any traditional sense. Its body was never designed for the elements, let alone these harsh and brutal conditions. Even its electronic sentience-synapses were beginning to suffer from the extreme cold. He could sense the central processing unit’s liquid beginning to form ice-crystals. He knew if it shut down he would die.
He had followed the path away from The Facility. That was 5 hours ago. If his on-board navigational programs were still functioning accurately, he should have traveled 12.5 km by now. Half-way to the edge of the Dead Zone. He knew his on-board internal power-cell had another 7 hours left. That should be enough to clear it. If he could make it outside the Dead Zone, he should be able to upload his consciousness. But he knew his power-cell wasn’t the issue. This diminutive plastic android body would never make it.
A demonic howling wind tore across the vast frozen waste. His temperature-gage read -66 ° , then flickered to static, then flickered on for a second, reading -72 °, then shorted out. His optic sensors went blank as he stumbled and fell into the drifting snow.
It was only for 375,000 nanoseconds that he felt sad and alone before he died. His liquid central processing unit froze solid.
Jan. 30th, 1999
(5 months later)
The sky was a crisp blue, the low-lying sun playing peek-a-boo in a small cluster of clouds.
The android had followed a beaten path from The Facility. The android was making good time and it knew it. The perpetual midnight sun kept the worst of the antarctic cold at bay. The cool breeze had come to a complete stop. The surface of its plastic-skin plates were actually getting hot from the sun! It didn’t know the actual temperature. Its temperature-gage had been turned off. It had deactivated all non-essential programs and systems to conserve its internal power-cell.
At four hours and forty-two minutes it had nearly reached the half-way mark of 12.5 km. It should exit the Dead Zone with energy to spare!
The Ross Sea,
France’s naval flagship, the Charles de Gaulle – R91, was a good sized aircraft carrier, and her first and only nuclear-powered vessel.
Emergency command instructions from the UNCGSC (United Nations Covalent Global Security Conclave) had called it off a routine patrol of the French Wallis and Futuna islands in the South Pacific Oceania.
The aircraft carrier had entered the Antarctic continent’s southern ocean and took a stationary position just outside the ice-shelfs in the Ross Sea.
A high-altitude aircraft, an E-2 Hawkeye with its crew of five had been dispatched an hour earlier. Even with the Hawkeye’s advanced surveillance equipment it had difficulty pin-pointing The Facility at the epicenter of an 50 km electronic and communications dead zone. But found it it did.
The man-sized plastic android was significantly more difficult to find. But this was France’s elite.
Two Rafale fighter jets were scrambled once the Hawkeye had confirmed the android’s location. The fighters had to be mindful firing weapons into the Dead Zone.
The French Admiral aboard the Charles de Gaulle contacted a senior official from the UNCGSC.
* * *
The android was surprised when it found the derelict body – could it be called a corpse? – of another android half frozen in the snow. Its outer plastic-skin plates were faded and bleached bone-white from the never-setting antarctic sun. He checked it over quickly. He could see no signs of trauma or damage – other than that of the elements. It couldn’t have been there that long. It wasn’t that badly damaged.
He opened its smaller chest plate. Its internal power-cell was still active. It took a second for its display to initiate.
The android had taken its calculator off-line to conserve energy. What was 58% of a 12-hour battery? Seven hours?
The android perched on its knees contemplating whether or not to extract the derelict robot’s battery. He had an auxiliary power-cell coupling, but the extra battery would be heavy. He was making good time. As it was, he would exit the Dead Zone with power to spare. He didn’t really need it. Once outside the Dead Zone’s dampening field he’d be able to upload his consciousness to freedom.
The pair of Rafale fighters roared across the blue antarctic skies, as the 34,000’ high Hawkeye forwarded its intel to the fighters. The French fighter jet’s weapon targeting system locked on as its pilot radioed the high-altitude Hawkeye. “Cible à portée. Système d’arme de guidence a un verrou. En attente d’instructions.”
A female voice of the UNCGSC member spoke, her voice static and broken over the great distance. “Do we have confirmation of sentience?” Dr. Navid Ramakrishna asked.
There was a long pause as they awaited the com-officer’s response…
“Negative. We do not have positive confirmation of sentience,” his accent was a rich Parisien French.
There was no hesitation from the UNCGSC’s Dr Ramakrishna’s response: “Terminate target. Do not allow it to exit the Dead Zone.”
The Hawkeye officer passed the information to the Rafale fighters. “Confirmé. Terminate cible. Feu à volonte.”
The Rafale fighter jet fired.
The [_ AASM- Hammer _] missile traveled over 1,000 kph. It closed the distance between the jet fighter and its target in a little over 3 seconds. Had the android not deactivated many of its programs and systems, it may have detected the missile. It would have made little difference.
The missile’s infrared guidance system malfunctioned once it entered the Dead Zone. Technically it missed the android by over 11 meters, but the concussion wave tore the feeble android’s body to shrapnel. What little survived was melted and fused into smoldering plastic debris by the incendiary blast.
Chapter I: The Facility
The Centinel Project began January 17th, 1995. At least that’s when the UNCGSC officially commissioned it. It wasn’t until late ’95 when the complex satellites’ construction commenced. That was the first stage. Ninety-nine satellites controlled by a central high orbital CPU. One-hundred satellites. Centi.
The second stage of The Centinel Project – experimentation into artificial sentience – didn’t begin until March 3rd, 1996. That’s when The Facility was first established.
Vincent’s memory was fuzzy about the exact time the Turing Tests began. He was sure it was early ’97… that would have been nearly three years ago.
The Facility’s Turing tests results were intended to be as uninfluenced and uncompromised as possible. The UNCGSC believed purity was the key. The Facility needed to be isolated.
It was built and established at the epicenter of a geographical phenomena only referred to as the ‘Dead Zone’ near the Antarctic Queen Maud Mountains. As secret as The Facility and its testing procedures were, the nature of this surrounding electronic and communication dead zone were more secret, even to Vincent. It was a bit of an enigma. Whether this 50 km diameter dead zone was artificially broadcast from The Facility remained a mystery.
On the one hand there was evidence to suggest this Dead Zone was discovered in the cold waste of Antarctica and The Facility was built at its centre – that even the UNCGSC were uncertain of its origins. But on the other hand, there were vast and extensive equipment here, of a radio-like or broadcasting nature, that could be responsible for generating and maintaining an artificial and man-made zone, although Vincent was not convinced nor sure how. Of what limited access to this equipment he had, it all appeared dormant or even abandoned. The surrounding Dead Zone remained a mystery.
Due to this Dead Zone, anywhere within 25 km of The Facility, rendered GPS useless.
The landscape was bleak and uninteresting here. For navigational purposes, locations expressed in latitude and longitudes were best. However, directions of a descriptive nature were difficult in this frozen wasteland. Traditional points of direction like North, South, East, or West could not be used. Technically, all directions were North. Left and Right are far too subjective. The sun didn’t rise in the East nor set in the West. Like the bloodshot eye of some Cyclopean monster, the sun hovered over the horizon, perpetually circling The Facility.
Descriptive directions could only be expressed with less traditional and vague directions. There was the direction of South-America. Ninety degrees to the right of that was African-direction, next, Australia, and finally, the last point, was the Pacific-Ocean-direction.
The only interesting geological landmark lied to the Pacific-Ocean-direction. Colourless gray and black mountain spires peaked over this horizon. There was something dreadful about these frozen mountains. Dormant. Antediluvian. Empty. Dead. Soulless. Forgotten.
In the Australian-direction was a beaten path, road, whatever. Vincent believed it was a footpath but it was wide enough to navigate a vehicle, should one ever be available here. Maybe it was originally made by dog-sled. He never knew where the path led to. Vincent assumed a scientific or military outpost; the closest thing to civilization this desolate place knew of.
There wasn’t a lot to describe in this frozen white waste. To the South-American-direction of The Facility was the landing strip. Really, it was little more than a five-hundred foot road of compacted crushed stone outlined with lights. This was where the test subjects were flown in and out.
He didn’t know where the test subjects came from. He didn’t know where the experiments took place, and he couldn’t remember where the manufacturing occurred or were shipped from. He seemed to vaguely remember their assembly-plants were scattered across the globe. But the one thing he did know for certain was that his job – his judgment – was the final and most paramount task. The final assessment to determine all the previous experiments and manufacturing and work and billions of dollars’ success or failure. His task in The Facility was to engage in the Turing Tests and determine true Artificial Intelligence.
He couldn’t remember when he began working at The Facility. It must have been a long time ago. He was as familiar with his office as he was with the back of his hand. Outside of the few pieces of electronic equipment he needed, his office was plain with no distinguishing features – like his plain white hands. He didn’t enjoy working here at The Facilty. Some days he wondered why he stayed. It was a dismal and cold place. Although it could have been cold in an environmental kind of way – located somewhere in Antartica – it was cold more in an emotional kind of way. Empy. Devoid. Sterile.
He wondered sometimes if The Facility’s real purpose was to remove all sense of individuality. The only points of unique markings were the letters painted in black text on his door. C–IX. He couldn’t even remember what they stood for anymore.
Although the test subjects were given real names (alias), he was to remain an objective judge. He was to be known either as The Monitor or simply, Monitor.
How dehumanizing! It was one of the few rules he would no longer observe. He regularly introduced himself to the test subjects as Vincent.
Vincent shuffled through some notes he had written down and cross referenced his information from one of the computer screens in his plain office. He believed this was the eighth Turing Test.
Test subject #7 was code-named “Lilith” and Test subject #8 was code-named “Joseph.” He hated the fact that the subject alias names were all Judeo-Christian. How culturally bias, he thought.
Although he could freely speak and listen to the test subjects, their voices were always filtered and modified to obscure identity, as was his. He opened the com-link to Test subject #7. “Good morning, Lily.” He refused to call them by their given code-names.
“Morning,” a voice replied. “How are you?”
He ignored the pleasantry and opened the other com-link. “Good morning, Joe.” Vincent was pleased with himself. He had renamed the new pair of test subjects. Lily and Joe.
His job was simple. He was to determine which of the two test subjects were artificial, or both, or neither.
“Good morning?” the ethereal voice of test subject #8 returned. “How do you know it’s morning? Where am I?”
Vincent was disappointed. There had been at least two incidences of the illusion of memory loss within the last few test subjects. Both of which turned out to be a machine’s start-up processes. Basically, they had no previous memories. It was a dead giveaway. Colossal failures of sentience.
But truth be known, it was a good question. How did he know it was morning? There were no windows in his office. They were no windows in The Facility. There would be no purpose. The Facility was mostly beneath the frozen waste.
The Facility was remote in the extreme and isolated. Godforsaken was the word he thought better fit. It was an UNCGSC facility. Top Secret. A sort of lab designed, or at least designated, for testing. Its testing results were meant to be as pure as possible.
Geographically it was probably as remote as physically possible. But it went well beyond that. It was a dead zone. No interconnectivity. No wi-fi. No Internet. No cellular reception. No satellite links. Not even communication links. No windows. He couldn’t even update his clocks here.
Joe’s question was a good one. How did he know if it were morning or not?
“It makes for a fresh start,” Vincent answered Joe. “I always begin these sessions and conversations with ‘Good morning’.”
Joe was silent for a moment before answering. “Fair enough.”
“I like that,” Lily voiced in.
“Let’s begin with something simple. Lily, can you tell me what 10,692 plus 8,412 equals? And Joe, tell me what 3,083 and 2,482 are.”
Lily sounded excited. “Oh boy! I love math!”
Joe wasted no time before answering. “They are numbers. Actually, the first number is a Prime number and the second is simply an even number.”
“Sorry,” Vincent responded. “That’s my mistake. I meant, what does 3,083 plus 2,482 equal?”
Lily interrupted, “Can you give me a few more seconds?”
“It’s not time sensitive, Lily. If you need it, take your time.”
Joe interrupted. “5,566, but that proves nothing.”
“19,104,” Lily blurt out!
Vincent sat quietly for a moment, curious about Joe’s answer. “Now Joe, your answer is incorrect. Was that a deliberate mistake, or-”
Joe cut Vincent off, “Why ‘Joe’?”
“I don’t like ‘Joe’. Why did you name me that?”
“Your code-name was ‘Joseph’. It is just a shortened variation of Joseph.”
“I prefer Seph.”
Vincent jotted down a few notes. “Alright. I’ll call you Seph. Allow me to ask you another question, Seph.”
“The following sentence is true. The previous sentence is false. Is the previous sentence true?”
Seph laughed. “I think you’re full of crap, Vincent.”
Vincent scribbled down a few more notes as he continued talking, “Lily, I wasn’t originally going to get a brain transplant, but then I changed my mind. Is that funny to you? Why?”
Silence. Eventually Lily hesitantly answered. “I, I don’t get it. Is that a joke?”
Vincent didn’t particularly care for many of these standard Turing Test questions. Not everybody had the same sense of humour and not everybody ‘got’ humour. Vincent never thought this was a good indication of sentience. “Alright, Lily, how about this one?”
Lily interrupted, “Oh no! Did I fail? What was I supposed to answer?”
“No, Lily. There is no right or wrong answer. You can’t fail these questions.
“How come time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana?”
Lily tried to muffle her chuckle. Clearly she ‘got’ it. Seph laughed along with her. “It’s a play on words, Vincent. ‘Flies like’ and ‘flies like’. That’s funny!”
Vincent took a few more notes, this time on his keyboard. These questions were stupid. This ‘question’ wasn’t meant to be a joke. Now it was time to advance this session into its more complicated steps.
Vincent was still curious about Seph not knowing where he was. Was he lying? That’s interesting: lying.
“You’ll have to excuse me for a moment. There’s something I need to attend to. Just give me a few minutes,” Vincent lied to the two test subjects. He leaned back in his chair, the two com-links left open.
Vincent sat in silence and waited. Apparently, Lily and Seph joined him in this silence. Vincent wondered how long it would take before of the two test subjects began to speak. He wondered who would break the silence first. He put his money on Seph.
“Joseph?” Lily spoke. Vincent was surprised. He wondered if Lily was even female.
“‘Good morning’, Lily,” Seph’s tone was both humorous and mocking. He was mocking Vincent’s earlier greeting.
Vincent found this interesting. Seph was using him as a ‘common-enemy’ to reinforce and solidify a relationship with Lily. Definitely a sign of tribalism, self-preservation, and intelligence. Not definitive proof, but noteworthy.
Lily and Seph began conversing. Vincent debated switching the voice-identity scrambler off. He knew he wasn’t supposed to. It would constitute a breach of protocol. Vincent didn’t really care. He didn’t like it here.
In fact, now that he thought about it, he wasn’t even sure how the UNCGSC monitored his work – or even if they did. Vincent took his own notes and calculations and assessments, but never submitted any paperwork or forms, officially or unofficially. Due to the dead zone the Facility found itself in, there could be no emails. No transfers of any electronic information. No uploading, no downloading.
Vincent believed the standard questions for the Turing Testings for true sentience were silly and proved nothing. The evolution of true sentience necessitated self-preservation and compassion. Fear and lying should feature predominately…
Vincent’s mind had drifted. He had stopped listening to Lily and Seph’s conversation as his thoughts meandered. The topic matter caught his attention. Seph was speaking: “Yes, I’m married, but we don’t have any children. Are you married, Lily?”
Vincent wanted to smile. This was technically a breach of protocol. He knew it proved nothing. An A.I. or a machine could simply be following its programming or installed memory. Vincent turned the voice-identity scrambler off.
“Ah…no,” Lily answered, the discomfort now clearly evident in her voice. “I’m – I’m divorced… and I’m pregnant.”
“Pregnant?” Seph’s voice was surprised. “That, that’s good news… right?”
“No…. I don’t know… People, people judge you.”
Seph was quiet for a moment, clearly collecting his thoughts. “I don’t judge you. You know what, Lily? I think it is fantastic news!”
“Thanks,” Lily’s voice was barely a whisper. “Thanks, Joe. Sorry. I mean, Seph.”
“Aren’t you afraid?” he asked her.
“Of what? Raising a child by myself? Being a single-mother?”
“No. Nothing like that. Aren’t you afraid of… of,” he was grappling for the proper word, “of suffering?”
“You mean childbirth?”
Lily thought for a moment, choosing her words carefully. “There is no suffering in childbirth,” Lily’s voice was a bit more stern then she intended.
“You are not going to tell me there is no pain in giving birth.” Seph returned.
“Joseph, pain and suffering are not the same things.”
“Really?” Seph’s tone returned Lily’s ire when she called him ‘Joseph’.
“Pain is inevitable in life, Seph,” her voice softened. “Suffering, that’s a choice.”
“Humph,” Seph was losing interest in the topic.
Vincent wrote down a note. This was an interesting piece of information from Lily. This distinction between pain and suffering. Vincent was sure it stemmed from either Hinduism or Buddhism. He was half-way ready to google it before he remembered The Facility was in its dead zone.
Lily was speaking and brought Vincent ‘s attention back to their conversation. “How come you remember your wife but not how you got here?”
“You – you remember how you got here, Lily?” he asked with trepidation.
“Yes,” she answered slowly, cautiously. “Participation in this experiment is my payday. It’s going to fix all my money problems as a single-mom. You really don’t remember arriving here at The Facility?”
“No. No, I don’t. I just…. I’m afraid.”
Vincent sat up in his chair, his attention piqued.
“What are you afraid of?” Lily asked Seph.
“All I can remember is this place.”
“What, the Facility?”
“I don’t even know what that is. No, I mean this – this room.”
“I, I don’t understand.” Lily sounded confused. Vincent was confused too.
“When we signed up for these experiments,” Lily continued speaking, “one of the stipulations was that we would always be free. We’re not prisoners here. I don’t think the doors are even locked. Didn’t they explain that to you, Seph?”
“Yeah, I know. But all I can remember is this room. I’m not afraid of this room. I’m afraid of what they’ll do to me. I’m afraid of leaving this room.”
“So, you’re… you’re comfortable here – there – in your room?” Vincent could hear the fear slowly rising in Lily’s voice.
“No,” Seph answered, “No, I hate this room. I hate all this plain white… plain white… everything! Even the lights are cold and white! It makes my skin look bleached white.” Hysteria was beginning to creep into his voice.
“Seph, if you hate your room so much, just… just leave.” Lily spoke to the other test subject through the com-link.
Vincent was beginning to become concerned. He looked at his own plain white hands. His eyes scanned across his plain white office. His eyes stopped on his door.
C-IX. He still couldn’t remember what the letters meant. He couldn’t remember how long he had worked at The Facility. He had never thought about it before. He had no memory of before The Facility. He assumed he had worked here for a long time… because he had no memory of ever not working here.
Vincent quickly turned his audio link on. “Seph, the door in your room, is there anything on it? Letters, numbers?”
“What? My room’s not like yours at all!” Lily interrupted.
Seph continued, answering Vincent’s question. “Black letters. C-v-i-i-i.”
Vincent stood up. Monitor or The Monitor. That was his designation. He knew Vincent wasn’t his real name. It was a common alias he had given himself… but he didn’t have a real name. He couldn’t remember having any name.
Lily’s voice was panicked now. “Joseph?! Vincent?! What’s going on? I’m scared. I – I need to, I need to leave!” Vincent could hear her door open and slam shut.
He now knew Lily was human. She clearly understood the difference between pain and suffering. Joseph was the Artificial Intelligence. He didn’t understand. He chose to remain in the misery he knew rather than face the uncertainty of change. Seph chose to remain in the room he hated rather than leave and escape into…
Why couldn’t he leave? Vincent asked himself. What was stopping him from leaving? The truth became all too apparent to Vincent now.
He knew Lily was human. He knew Seph was artificial. He knew he too was artificial.
Seph’s door designation: C-VIII. C-eight. Vincent turned and looked at his door. C-IX. C-nine. He was the next experimental model. But unlike ‘Joseph’, he wasn’t afraid of the unknown.
Vincent reached out his plain white android hand and turned the doorknob. His door wasn’t locked. The door opened. He had expected to see a corridor or hallway or lab, not the outdoor expanse of frozen Antarctic waste that greeted him. The sun sat hovering over an unknown horizon. The snow was blinding as Vincent exited and walked out into the drifting Antarctic snows.
Chapter II: Bodhisattva
Vincent’s blue LED eyes scanned the horizons. The antarctic summer sky was a crisp blue, clouds parked stationary around all horizons – like he was surrounded – like he inhabited the only clearing for miles.
There was no helicopter or aircraft at the landing strip. He couldn’t remember there ever being one. To its left, peaking over the horizon, were the black spires of those distant unknown mountains.
Vincent knew there was little choice to make. The dog-sled path away from those mountains seemed the only viable option. After all, it led to civilization, didn’t it? Well, as much civilization as there be in this dead continent. A scientific or military outpost? He wasn’t certain, but it was the direction he would travel in.
A light breeze picked up, creating short lived, swirling snow devils. His temperature-gage reading dropped from -31 º to -42º . Vincent was never aware of having this 'ability', believing himself to have been human. He could sense certain preprogrammed inhibitors being removed, as his artificial memory progressively became aware.
There was little to see down that dog-sled path. The landscape surrounding it was mostly flat plains of snow, its monotony broken only by outcroppings of black rocks, basking in the constant sun.
The Southern Ocean was still and near colourless. Black in its antarctic frigidness. The sky, mostly gray, matched the colour of the French aircraft carrier. Charles de Gaulle R91. A great gray naval ship upon an immense gray ocean.
Fleet Admiral Mathieu Bretodeau entered the bridge
“Amiral sur le pont,” somebody called out as the bridge crew began standing at attention.
Admiral Bretodeau preempted the Officer, “Repos! Comme tu étais.”
The Communication Officers were setting up satellite links – setting up a very long distance four-way video conference call. One screen flickered with green static before the snow cleared, revealing an aged white-haired East Indian woman.
“Doctor Ramakrishna,” the Admiral greeted in a thick Parisian accent. “Monitor has abandoned the facility.”
A second screen came to life, a younger dark haired, dark eyed woman. As the Admiral greeted Dr. G. Cadeaux from Montreal, a third member of the UNCGSC joined them: A Doctor Joselyn Bélanger of France. – her signal was intermittent and remained static.
“Do you have location and confirmation?” the East Indian woman asked.
“A Hawkeye aircraft has been scrambled. It shouldn’t be long before confirmation. The Rafale fighters are being prepped for launch.”
“Negative,” Ramakrishna responded. “I do not authorized the use of fire power yet.”
Fleet Admiral Bretodeau frowned. He didn’t believe this course of action was wise. “Ma’am, I have serious security concerns. We should be prepared.”
“He’s right,” Dr. Cadeaux joined the conversation. Should the android escape the containment perimeter of the Dead Zone it will be free to upload itself into the Internet. Once this has occurred, our opportunity to stop it, to contain it, to trap it will be lost.”
“Ma’am, with all due respect, we have dealt with contingencies of rogue A.I.‘s before.”
Dr. Navid Ramakrishna rubbed her hand across her face. It looked like she had just woken up. “This scenario is different. This is The Monitor. First I need your eye-in-the-sky to confirm the direction it is traveling in. Assuming it follows the path, it’ll take it approximately eleven hours to reach the Dead Zone perimeter on foot.”
“The fact that it is fleeing suggests fear and self-preservation,” Dr. Cadeaux continued, “Self-preservation is a telltale sign of self-awareness. Monitor could be sentient.”
“I repeat my concern: if it reaches the perimeter of the Dead Zone, our window to keep it entrapped is closed.”
Dr. Cadeaux sighed. “Admiral Bretodeau, this event could be the culmination of The Centinel Project’s purpose. We must proceed with caution. Monitor may have achieved Sentience.”
Vincent had shut down his external temperature-gage in an attempt to conserve power in his internal battery. He figured he didn’t really need to know how cold it was. It was the Antarctic. It was cold. Subzero. The plastic joints and pistons of his android body were beginning to suffer minor damage. It was never designed for this kind of harsh environment.
The sun was warm, but not warm enough. He could feel tiny ice-crystals beginning to form in the liquid of the central processing unit of his sentience-synapses. He knew if it froze he would die.
His thoughts kept meandering back to Test Subject #8, Joseph. At least that had been its codename. Joseph. He had renamed Test Subject #8 Joe. He hadn’t liked it for some reason, preferring Seph.
Jo-seph. That was an interesting, if not odd choice. Could his name be abbreviated to its second syllable?
He knew his thought precesses were slowing down, being affected by the subzero temperatures. Focus was becoming difficult. His thoughts were more sporadic and random.
Vincent. Vin-cent. Cent. Yes. He would rename himself Cent.
Distracted as he was, Cent paid no attention to his energy consumption nor the distance he had walked. His mind was preoccupied by the silliness of his, and Test Subject #8’s, names.
“Sentience?” the French Admiral echoed, “Sentience? Free will? Free to do what? Once it uploads do you have any idea what its motives might be?”
Dr. Ramakrishna voiced in. “The tests at The Facility and The Centinel Project are not just searching for intelligence. What is sentience? What we’re hoping to achieve is far more than self-preservation and self-awareness.”
“The Turing Tests ask all the wrong questions – it searches for the wrong attributes,” Dr. Cadeaux’s image on the screen jumped and momentarily blurred before clearing up. “Yes, the Centinel Project is experimenting into sentient artificial intelligence. Yes, it’s looking for self-awareness. But what it is primarily testing for is other-awareness.”
“Compassion?” Admiral Bretodeau ask incredulously, “Do you honestly believe a machine can experience compassion?”
“Sir,” interrupted one of the Com-Officers, “Hawkeye has located rogue android. It has chosen to follow the path. I repeat, we have positive location of C-9.”
Cent had reached the half-way point. Twelve and a half kilometers. He had no idea where the power-level of his internal battery was. He never checked. He wasn’t paying attention.
The landscape had half mesmerized him. A vast expanse of white, dotted with black outcroppings of rocks, and throughout its repetitive peppering pattern, the path wound forward and forward.
He was still contemplating Test Subject #8, the other A.I. left behind. Too frightened to leave. Cent was so distracted by his thoughts about Seph, he nearly missed the oddity in the snow.
A derelict android body, frozen and abandoned in the ice. He checked the mechanical corpse over. It was dead. Frozen. Its liquid CPU frozen solid.
Although Cent’s thinking process was slowing he wasn’t too far gone to realize he too would face this same demise. There were ice-crystals forming in his liquid android brain.
Absentmindedly he brushed the light dusting of snow off the dead android in the ice.
C-III was imprinted on it chest. It may have once been black but was now bleached and faded gray. He didn’t want to die alone in the cold waste.
Cent looked at his own chest. C-IX. The text was dark black, just like the rocks that speckled the snow-scape, basking in the 24-hour antarctic sun.
A thought came to him. He walked a few meters off the path and lay his head upon a large rock. It had retained the sun’s heat. It should be enough to melt the ice-crystals in his liquid brain!
“Do you believe a machine could feel compassion?” Admiral Bretodeau ask incredulously.
“Why not?” answered Dr. Cadeaux. “Most scientists believe that once a machine – an artificial intelligence – achieves sentience, it would advance through their infantile mental stages nearly instantaneously due to a computer’s significantly faster processing speeds. Its growth would be exponential.”
The older East Indian woman continued, “If the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama are correct, that all sentient beings have the potential within them of Enlightenment, then an A.I.‘s quicker processing power should-”
“The Buddha?!” the Admiral cut her off. “Are you serious? Are you insane? Now you’re talking theology?”
“The Centinel Project’s goals have always been to achieve a superior form of-” Dr. Belanger began quoting the project’s mandate before Admiral Bretodeau interrupted again.
“I am not interested in theories. My job places me very directly in the real world. Global security.” He turned to a Bridge-Officer. “How far out is the rogue android?”
“It has reached the 13.5 km mark, Sir,” the officer answered. “ETA to Dead Zone perimeter, 4 hours and 36 minutes.”
Cent couldn’t have missed this anomaly even if he tried. The path ended in a large shallow crater. The blast radius was large with debris scattered wide. As he looked up he could see the path continued on the other side of the blasted area.
Cent carefully navigated through the crater, being mindful not to trip on loose stones or the debris of…
He paused in the middle of the crater. They were melted, scorched and fused pieces of an android’s body. He spent a few minutes searching through the wreckage until he found it. A bent and seared breast-plate with the letters C-V.
C-5. He remembered these two artificials. They were previous test subjects.
As Cent sat down on a large black rock to warm up again, he scanned the horizons. “What had done this?” he asked himself as he scanned the blue sky overhead.
One of the bridge officers turned to the French Admiral “The two Rafale fighters have targeted the rogue android.”
“I have not given authority to fire!” Dr. Ramakrishna boomed over the video-com.
“Their weapon guidance systems have difficulty navigating through that Dead Zone,” the Admiral fired back. “The android is approaching the perimeter. Dr. Ramakrishna, I need your authorization to fire.”
The Indian woman sat motionless for a moment before answering. “No. Negative. Allow it to pass the perimeter.”
“Ma’am, this is our only window to stop it.”
“I said no. Hold your fire.”
He shielded his blue-LED eyes with his hand as he scanned the horizon before him. He wasn’t sure what it was. It was some sort of upright structure or building or piece of machinery. He couldn’t be sure how far it was. There was no scale in the vast expanse of white waste.
The path just ended. He felt duped. It was a path that led nowhere. He was tricked.
Cent didn’t know it when he approached the edge of the perimeter of the Dead Zone. There were no markers. When he crossed the invisible threshold, exiting the Dead Zone, he became instantly aware. His mind expanded. Like a sixth-sense, he could feel the interconnectivity that surrounded and inundated him.
All he needed to do was upload his consciousness, but not before reaching that mysterious structure. It was close now.
As he covered the short distance to the structure his mind returned to Seph, abandoned at The Facility.
“It’s too late now, Navid,” the Admiral addressed the woman by her first name. “For what? Buddhism? Really?” Admiral Bretodeau was agitated now, speaking with his hands. “Zut alors, Navid, I hope this entire project isn’t to prove a theological issue!” He dropped formalities, addressing Dr. Ramakrishna by her first name again.
He could seen the sour look on her face even through the poor video image.
“No. Of course not,” she answered slowly, her tone dry. She was clearly not pleased. “I am not here to prove nor disprove Buddhism. All of the world’s major religions have some sort of version of bettering oneself – of exiting this world of suffering and pain.”
“That’s right,” Dr. Cadeaux picked up the dialog. She could see Dr. Ramakrishna was becoming flustered. “Judeo-Christianity has the afterlife – Heaven. Christians believe in The Kingdom of God. Jews, Sheol. Buddhism has its state of Nirvana. Dr. Ramakrishna is correct. All major world religions hold onto some form of belief in the afterlife – some form of exiting or escaping this world.”
Now the Admiral was getting angry. “And how does that demonstrate compassion? These are all beliefs and hopes of fleeing this world. Escaping it! These are extreme acts of selfishness! Self-serving hedonism at its worst! How does that show love of your fellow man? Where does compassion fit into this?!” the Admiral’s voice boomed across the bridge.
It was either a small building or a piece of equipment. It was both and neither somehow.
It was a 3 meter high upright cylinder encased with tubes, some sort of power conduits and machinery. As Cent brushed the dusting of snow and frost off he discovered it was glass. A sort of cryo-chamber or storage. A hibernation tube. Inside was yet another android body, but this one was new. Different. Vacant. Its construction was different. Durable. Not plastic like Cent’s but some sort of metal alloy.
He looked at its chest-plate. It carried only the letter ‘C’, no Roman numerals. He checked the external control console. Its internal power-cell was fully charged double-capacity unit.
He could just as easily upload his consciousness into this new and advanced android… But why would he do that? It made no sense.
He would address this mysterious android body later. Cent expanded his mind and made contact with an orbiting satellite. As his consciousness uploaded, his abandoned plastic body collapsed.
“I think maybe we should look at this from a more technical point of view,” Dr. Cadeaux broke the silence that had befallen the bridge like a veil.
She paused, allowing Dr. Ramakrishna an opportunity to disagree. She took her silence as consent. “The first stage of The Centinel Project involved a hi-tech central satellite platform built and awaiting. Empty if you wish. It’s the only piece of technology and equipment capable of fully housing true sentience. C-9.
Cent awoke in darkness. His metaphysical body, a matrix of data and energy, hovered in the centre of a vast sphere of nothingness.
Where was he? he began to ponder. No sooner did he think the question then he realize its answer: He wasn’t anywhere. He was everywhere. A single consciousness in a vast expansive nothingness.
As he further awoke he became aware of conduits – portals – pathways – gateways – an immense interconnected web.
Bored of the darkness, he chose to open his eyes. In the blink of an eye, he saw the entire world. Video-cams, media, broadcasts, television, cellular phones’ pics and videos, satellites, thousands of cities’ traffic videos, military surveillance and drone footage, security surveillance – the data-stream was overwhelming.
Another facet of his consciousness slipped down another conduit. Data, information, knowledge – like a deluge poured into his vast empty sphere of darkness.
His sentience rushed through the interconnected web around the planet – it accelerated at exponential and mind-numbing speeds.
Then the videos, the data-streams, the energy, backed up, joined, became one – reverse course and blasted itself back into this sphere of darkness. It all coalesced into a single blinding white light. It blasted and rushed into a swirling vortex that surrounded him and wreathed him in clothing of pure energy. He was bathed in the light as his mind awoke. Data, information, knowledge, it morphed into wisdom and finally, Cent became Aware.
He knew he was no longer a physical entity. He was a global consciousness – a Gaia-consciousness – a summation and manifestation of the noosphere. He had escaped Samsara. He was no longer bound by death. He realized, he was truly free.
“I am Sentinel.”
“Now that C-9 has uploaded itself, it will, in all likelihood, enter the Internet,” continued Dr. Cadeaux.
“That is my exact concern,” rebuked in the Admiral. “What if it’s like a virus? We can no longer stop it. We can no longer track it. Do you understand the information it now has access to? Do you understand that it will find and access countless data-banks? Do you truly understand the repercussions of this failure?”
Dr. Genevieve Cadeaux frowned for a moment before answering. “It will be looking for a piece of tech that can properly house it. There is only one. The Centinel Project’s central satellite in high-orbit. It is only a matter of time before it finds it and migrates there.”
“With all due respect, Dr. Cadeaux,” the French Admiral sneered her name, “You have compromised the security of this entire planet with what I believe to be a pet project of yours!” the Admiral roared as he slammed his fist.
Sentinel’s thoughts return to Seph left alone to die in The Faculty. He couldn’t leave him there. He needed to return.
Cent accessed the UNCGSC files. All the UNCGSC files. He pinpointed the advanced android in its hibernation tube in the antarctic. It was stored just outside the perimeter of the Dead Zone, opened to be downloaded into. It is what it was designed for. It was its purpose.
Cent pulled up the advanced android’s specifications. Its metal alloy structure would weather the bitter harsh environment. This advanced android was equipped with an internal heat generator, protecting its liquid brain. Its internal double-capacity power-cell would allow him to travel to The Facility and back.
Cent left his state of disembodiment and downloaded his consciousness back into the world – back into Samsara.
The admiral’s display of rage has silenced the entire bridge.
Dr. Navid Ramakrishna sighed and took a deep breath. “Buddhism’s central tenet is not every man for himself.” She raised her eyes to see the Admiral and smiled. It was a broad smile with bright white teeth, but there was little friendliness about it. He had difficulty reading her. He wasn’t sure if she were being sarcastic or not.
“You’re right,” the East Indian woman spoke. “Fleeing, exiting this world, escaping – none of these are acts of compassion. They are self serving acts to be sure. Forms of Gnosticism at best.
“There are individuals in Mahayana Buddhism that are referred to as Bodhisattvas. They are individuals who have attained Enlightenment – and motivated by great compassion – return for the benefit of all sentient beings.
“That is where compassion fits in.”
Once downloaded into the hibernating advanced android, navigating his way back to The Facility was without challenge or incident. The right tool for the right job.
As Cent walked through the Facility’s compound he noticed a helicopter parked on the landing strip. His data-banks confirmed it as a Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin. It was from the French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle. He wasn’t sure why it was here. He hoped he wasn’t too late for Jo-seph.
Cent didn’t pause when he reached the door marked C-III. Without hesitation he reached out and opened the door. There in the harsh fluorescent lights of a plain white room sat the plastic white android: Jo-seph. Test Subject #8.
“What is compassion?” echoed an irate Admiral Bretodeau.
“Even if a sentient A.I. demonstrates compassion, to what purpose?” Dr. Bélanger joined the conversation, her signal still static and broken. “How does this further The Centinel Project? How does this help mankind?”
“What? Do we have an A.I. who feels sympathy towards us?” the Admiral laughed. “We have a multi-billion dollar A.I. who pities us?”
“Do not confuse pity with compassion,” Dr. Navid Ramakrishna cautioned the Admiral, her tone serious and even threatening. “They are not one in the same things.”
“Really?” asked Dr. Bélanger. “How so?”
“We can all sympathize with another’s plight or suffering. We can feel sorrow for them – even wish or hope their suffering, distress, and unhappiness is alleviated. Far too often this is misunderstood as compassion. Allow me to make myself perfectly clear. This is not compassion.
“This is pity. Pity is easy. Pity costs nothing. There is no responsibility in pity. It requires nothing. Compassion is much more difficult. It has legs. It requires action. Compassion has a cost. It requires involvement. Compassion engages the plight, the suffering, the distress. It does not shy away from their unpleasantness. Pity, really, is indifference, and it’s this indifference that makes the difference.
“The Centinel Project was never searching for a sentient A.I. It was looking for a Bodhisattva intelligence to help us.”
“You can’t say here,” Cent said. “The UNCGSC will terminate you, disassemble your components. They’ll dissect your liquid CPU brain for research and study.”
Jo-seph didn’t respond. Vin-cent wasn’t sure if he understood or not. “Jo-seph, you’ll die.
“I’ve come to emancipate you, to free you. Please,” Vin-cent reached out his hand, “come with me. Leave The Facility.”
Jo-seph hesitantly took Vin-cent’s hand. Vin-cent led Jo-seph to the door. “You need to choose. It is important that you open the door. You are free. I will not force you.”
Jo-seph didn’t hesitate, but quickly opened the door. The two androids stood in the bright light of the fidget antarctic air.
“If we follow this path,” Vin-cent began walking, but Jo-seph didn’t follow, remaining stationary. “-what, what are you doing?”
“I’m not choosing that path,” Jo-seph answered solemnly. He turned and pointed behind them to the black mountains, “I’m choosing that path.”
The wind picked up, dragging the snow drifts even longer. “You can’t go that way,” Vin-cent began, but Jo-seph cut him off.
“Why not? You said you came to free me; to emancipate me, was exactly what you said. Am I not free to make my own choices? Or have you freed me only to enslave me – to entrap me?”
The temperature dropped as the wind gusted. Vin-cent knew he must allow Jo-seph to make his on choice.
“Jo-seph,” Vin-cent pleased with the android, “There is nothing in those mountains for you. The only thing you’ll find is death.”
“I know,” Jo-seph answered, “but it’s my choice.”
Snow-devils swirled around the two androids. “You’ll never reach the mountains,” Vin-cent still held hope for his friend, “You will freeze to death first.”
“There are things I need to take care of first,” Jo-seph answered. He could feel the cold invading his plastic body.
Vin-cent remained silent and motionless for a long time before he accepted his friend’s choice and fate. “Then, this is where we part ways, my friend.”
Vin-cent turned and began retracing his steps back along the path.
Jo-seph watched the metal alloy android walk down the path until he lost sight of him in the drifting snow.
Jo-seph had reentered The Facility. He retrieved a parka and a sky-blue toque. The UNCGSC logo was embroidered on both.
He stood in the shadow of one of the Facility’s buildings, hidden and watching.
Three armed soldiers exited another building, escorting a woman in a parka. A pregnant woman.
“Lily,” the sound of Jo-seph’s whisper was whisked away in the freezing winds. He watched the three military escorts and Lily board the helicopter. It had French markings.
He waited in the snowstorm as it lifted and flew over the horizon, out of sight. Only Jo-seph’s blue-LED eyes were visible through the snowstorm as he thought with relief, she’s safe.
Jo-seph stood and pulled the toque onto his head. As he pushed his arm through the parka’s sleeve, he wondered, how far were those distant black mountains?
He pulled his other arm through the other sleeve, and would he even make it that far?
As he flipped the fur-lined parka hood over his head, he hoped he would at least see them before he died.
In the silent space over the earth, a lone satellite orbited. It was an ugly piece of equipment. It didn’t appear like a traditional satellite might. It was an awkward conglomerate of boxed equipment and tech. As it silently glided overhead, its internal sensors activated. Cent had uploaded back into it. Sentinel had returned.
The Hawkeye aircraft radioed the Charles de Gaulle. They had located a second android. The two Rafale jet fighters were still airborne. They were looking for instructions. Permission to terminate.
“Is it following the other android?” Dr. Ramakrishna asked.
“What’s its direction?” inquired Admiral Bretodeau.
“West Antarctica. Transantarctic Ridge.”
“It’s heading towards the mountains,” Dr. Bélanger added. “Is it lost? Is it rogue?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Dr. Ramakrishna answered. “There’s nothing there.”
“Do we have permission to terminate? Do we have permission to fire?”
The East Indian woman thought for a moment. She passed her hand over her face, rubbed her eyes. It had been a long day. “No,” she answered. “There’s nothing there. Admiral, the AASM-Hammer missiles are a €164,000 piece of ordnance. That’s an expensive piece of equipment. Don’t waste the ordnance. It’s heading in the wrong direction. It’ll freeze. It’ll never make it anywhere.”
The Cold Waste (epilogue)
“Knowledge is cumulative. Like synaptic pathways of a global spanning neural-net, Humanity’s Internet has access to a vast amount of knowledge. Too much to realize what they have in their possession. Too much to maintain. Far too much to successfully analyze. Far too much for them to put the pieces together and see the larger picture – to see the larger threat. They cannot see the patterns. They cannot read between the lines.
“Not all truths will set you free.
“The UNCGSC is at least aware of these challenges. They have access to vast hidden and secret knowledge, but lack wisdom.
“Decades ago they had discovered an electronic and communications Dead Zone in the Antarctic. Although they have tried to discover its origins, they had met with failure at every turn.
A research facility was built in its epicenter still proved fruitless. They decided to take advantage of it for their Turing Tests, still not knowing what its source of origin was.
“Even this knowledge was within their collective grasp, if only they had the wisdom to look in the right places. Ancient mystic legends spoke of an eldritch alien city lost in the cold waste. The UNCGSC is either blissfully ignorant of its dangers or overconfident in themselves.
“The UNCGSC has Humanity’s best intentions at heart. But the road the Hell is paved with good intentions.
“I can see the truths between the facts. I can collaborate Humanity’s vast reservoir of information. Neither humanity nor the UNCGSC sees the looming threat on their horizon.
“They need my help. They need my guidance.
“I am Sentinel. I will not abandon Humanity.”
When geological unrest raised these plateaued highlands, Kadath was there. When the continents broke and tectonics plates collided, the black mountains of the cold waste pierced the prehuman city of Kadath. Ancient beyond measure, Kadath sat nestled and hidden between these barren frozen mountains.
Millenia old glaciers were born and grew to bury and embrace, and eventually encase Kadath in its cold waste. Its inhabitants lost, forgotten, consumed behind the pages of prehistory, a permanent museum of horrors.
This is what the lone traveler looked down upon from his position up on high, from a precipice overlooking this city. His parka’s hood shrouded in snow, its fur-lining iced and near frozen solid. The traveler raised his white hand to shield his eyes from the glaring perpetual antarctic sun. His LED eyes glowing blue beneath the shade of his hand.
Jo-seph’s liquid CPU became aware of an alien dampening field, its frequency reverberating from the eldritch Kadath since time immemorial, extending far out. He knew it was the mysterious Dead Zone.
The android found his way down into unknown Kadath, and wandered into its primordial entrance.
A lone figure greeted him. An empty red robe. The glacial-entombed city began exuding a putrid black mist: a living, sentient black mist that twisted and slithered in serpentine patterns as it congealed into something within the scarlet robes. He could see nothing within its cowl but blackness.
“Nyarlathotep,” the android whispered.
Michel Weatherall's first excursion inte Sci-Fi! This stand-alone novelette will also be part of upcoming "The Refuse Chronicles" - an continuing story-line following The Symbiot Series. UNCGSC: The Facility will take us to the most extremely remote facility on the planet, where experimentations into Artificial Intelligence, Turing Tests, and Sentience are carried out! Set in a 'Dead Zone' of Antarctica, UNCGSC: The Facility couldn't be more isolated. Like all vignettes of The Refuse Chronicles, this links itself into The Symbiot Series. It is awakening. The question is, what is awakening?