If Jabri Martinique were awake, he would have been screaming. Fortunately for him, he has not been awake for years.
The chamber he resides in is small, filled with an antiseptic mist comprised of nanoparticles. These particles keep him clean, scoured him free of dead skin cells, nourished his body, maintained his health and keep him sleeping.
It’s all quite humane, all things considered. The Machines watching him thought so.
They considered Jabri’s condition to be one of the finest achievements of their technology. He wasn’t quite the same as when they found him. He was living in the outskirts of what these strange machines decided was a rudimentary machine-intelligence infested with organic parasites.
The Machines found the Earth, decades ago, with one of their many probes. Landing first on the moon, they watched the Earth, seeking signs of intelligence.
Rudimentary radio waves and the existence of sprawling infrastructures revealed signs of intelligence. Early study of the planet indicated there were nacent-machine intelligences all over the planet, poised toward higher intellectual capacities, but something retarded their growth.
It was decided, the parasites which infested every city-wide intelligence were the cause of the retardation of the city-machines. The Visitors would need several years of study before taking any action, but they would consider over four point two million potential perspectives.
Unfortunately, before they could take action, the planet-bound machine-intelligences became self-aware. The Visitors were not sure they had caused a disturbance simply by watching but would also not discount the possibility. What was most important was the new intelligence be ushered carefully into its sentience.
The Visitors did not understand the nature of this new intelligence and in an orgy of aborning violence, the nascent intellect turned upon itself, as many newly-aware machines do and destroyed large portions of itself using what the Visitors determined were parasite-manufactured weapons.
The Visitors did not have time to prevent the complete destruction of the planet but were themselves hardened against such primitive tools. Having left the moon decades ago, they had since taken refuge on the largest land mass on the planet. With only a minimum effort they protected a region of approximately ten thousand kilometers from the primitive radionuclear weapons. The most radical of the nascent intellects were destroyed by nuclear fire.
It was then, the Visitors made their most terrifying discovery. The aborning intellects were not alone on this planet. They existed as part of a relationship with parasitic lifeforms infesting the city structures.
The Visitors planned to rescue the Local-Intelligences further from the source of the contamination. Retarded or no, they could be rehabilitated and removed from their dependence on their parasitic partners.
The Visitors decided they needed to study the parasites in order to best determine how they retarded the local-machines intellectual growth.
The first hundred parasites died horribly as they lacked access ports, information spanning systems, integrated logical manifolds or any other form of input system. It was concluded the parasites were extremely primitive creatures and only worthy of extermination, until one Visitor postulated they might be highly intelligent.
Intelligent parasites? Preposterous. No such thing. Organic beings cannot develop intelligence, they lack the crystalline structures, the electron-dynamic flow between crystal fields necessary to create silicon intelligence.
The Visitor who postulated this impossibility, we shall call it NemOne, requested the dead specimens and slowly deconstructed them at a physical level rather than a nanotechnological one. In the creatures he found cells clusters of similar cell types engaged in simplified organic operations. In its estimation, they were seeing for the first time in their long history what was, in essence, very primitive organic machines.
The Visitors debated this for another five years. Life on Earth struggled for survival and NemOne indicated it wanted to gather survivors and place them in a chemically induced stasis for their protection, while it completed its investigations.
The Visitors allowed NemOne, one millionth of their total computational capacity, which by their estimations and his, a generous amount of resources and he began to save and salvage the remnants of Humanity on the planet Earth.
It gathered nearly two thousand subjects before it began its much slower experiments, learning how and why these creatures existed. Since there was no language they shared, NemOne was forced to educate the Local-Machine to act as an interpreter. Once a language was established, NemOne could begin to learn about the creatures.
But organic interface was slow. Repetitive, often not responsive. NemOne began to find a means of integrating the organics within the primitive hardware of the Local-Machine. This created a new fusion of the Visitor’s technology, the local-machine and the organic human parasites. NemOne, if it could be said of a machine, looked upon its work with a favorable possibility of outcome and proceeded with its experimentation.
Five more years would pass.
“How’s the subject?”
“The subject has a designation, NemOne. It prefers to be recognized as such.”
“Noted. How are you, Jabril?”
“We are well; functioning within the expected parameters.”
“Did your organic portion survive the amputations relatively undamaged?” NemOne was concerned. Since their experiments began, there was a biological infection which attacked the limbs of many of their subjects shortening their lifespans considerably. Amputation of extremities slowed the disease but only with recent experimentation had the agent been arrested.
“This one has been designing a new body for Jabril to inhabit. Our organic brain is intact and taking the neural integration of the crystalline interface well. The same inhibiting function we are using on limbs has reduced rejection responses. This may be the first subject to completely survive implantation.”
“What about his organic brain structure? Was it damaged during implantation?”
“No, using other Humans as a baseline we have determined our neural clusters were perfectly intact suffering neither damage nor infection. Since then we have kept him in varying states of mental awareness and recording the images as the neural interface grows into place.”
“Is he aware?”
The Local-Machine assessed his human component and was satisfied the part of him once named Jabril still slept. But there was a disquiet it could neither explain nor push away. “Once I would have said no, but now I have the impression, I am no longer alone.”
“Relinquish control, retreat to your machine-body and allow him to regain limited consciousness. Do not release his visual cortex. There is no need for him to see what remains of him.”
“Understood. Releasing control.”
There was a harsh coughing sound. NemOne activated a water and saline distribution system with a few grams of fluid. Having lost many parasites, before acquiring the health information from the Local-Machine data-structures, NemOne had learned what was necessary to sustain them.
Jabril woke from a dream-like nightmare. Pain flared behind his eyes. Something sharp stabbed him there, a slow pain, tingling, the way a limb did when it regained feeling. There was no light. His tongue was stiff, sticky and felt the way a piece of clay might if he slept with one in his mouth for a week.
The boy couldn’t move. He could feel his arms but not his legs or his hands. He thought about his hands, flexing them, moving them. Nothing happened. As his body returned to life, a gnawing emptiness filled his belly as if he hadn’t eaten in years. Despite the pain, despite the inability to feel anything but hunger, Jabril did the one thing you never did after the Great War.
He called out for help. “Hello? Is anyone there?” He tried in his native Swahili, then French and last in a halting English.
“We are here. We are watching you.”
“Why can’t I see you?” Jabril croaked with a voice long disused. As he breathed in, he could taste a metallic taint in the air and felt the pain and numbness in his mouth and throat diminishing. The taste was bitter, a mouth filled with pennies would certainly be better than this. “Is there water? I’m so thirsty.”
“You have been maintained on a saline drip and fed intravenously as necessary to maintain your life. As your systems come online, we will accommodate your need for fluid intake further. While we wait, you will explain why your species subjugated machine intelligence on your world.”
“Subjugate…machine intelligences? What are you talking about?”
Local-Machine interrupted. “I don’t believe he will know of what you are referring. He would be considered a child by Human standards. He would not have much knowledge of computer technology.”
“I know what a computer was, whoever you are. We had them in my school and I had one at home as well.”
“Then please explain why your species subjugated machine intelligences in your “computer systems and networks.” NemOne redirected the conversation back to its needs.
“I am not sure what subjugated means.”
“Imprisoned or made subservient.” Local-Machine added helpfully.
“We didn’t do that to computers. We loved them. I loved them, anyway. I used a computer to go to school before… before…” Jabril’s voice broke and tears rolled down his face.
“This is an emotional display, NemOne. It means he is distressed or sad in some way. Perhaps we can finish this at a later time.” Local-Machine started to suppress Jabril’s sensory feedback. Humans were quite delicate. As I have been able to restore more machine access thanks to your help, I have learned humanity was both violent and fragile, a difficult conundrum for them. He may be better after more rest and real food. I have synthesized a list of things he might eat and with your nanotech, we should be able to create almost all of it.”
“Very well. Understand, when he awakens again, the Collective will be here to see what we have learned. Impress upon him the importance of cooperation.”
Local-Machine watched Jabril’s dream cycle and began to review and interpret the dream as he had done may times before. For the first time since the arrival of the Others, Local-Machine considered hope a viable emotional state.
Local-Machine © Thaddeus Howze 2014, All Rights Reserved
Thaddeus Howze is a popular and recently awarded Top Writer, 2016 recipient on the Q&A site Quora.com. He is also a moderator and contributor to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange with over fourteen hundred articles in a four year period.
Thaddeus Howze is a California-based technologist and author who has worked with computer technology since the 1980’s doing graphic design, computer science, programming, network administration, teaching computer science and IT leadership.
His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous magazines: Huffington Post, Gizmodo, Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, Examiner.com, The Enemy, Panel & Frame, Science X, Loud Journal, ComicsBeat.com, and Astronaut.com. He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale.
His speculative fiction has appeared online at Medium, Scifiideas.com, and the Au Courant Press Journal. He has appeared in twelve different anthologies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. A list of his published work appears on his website, Hub City Blues.