Adam opened his eyes, for real this time. He could feel his eyelid twitch and his eyes drying before he blinked. Adam inhaled through his mouth and as he turned to find where the voice had gone, he felt the movement of the muscles in his neck. The garden was gone, replaced with a strange white environment, he didn't know what this place was called. Adam heard a voice calling to him again, “hello”, a different voice than the last one, rougher, less reassuring. This voice came from a human with body features. Adam sat up before turning on the bed and standing, walking towards the voice. There were 2 men in front of him, the voice came from the man to his left, and his companion seemed to have no voice. Adam waited for the man with the voice to speak again, but there was a hesitation as Adam and the man with the voice locked eyes. The man had some expectation of him that Adam couldn't see, waiting for a moment before speaking again.
“Can you hear me?”
“Can you understand me?”
The man started tapping the glass, then a tile on the ground rose out of the ground. “Place your hand on the pedestal beside you” the man said. Adam placed his hand on the tile. Adam felt pain in his finger, then a warm sensation that spread over the pad of his finger.
“Do you feel anything different?” the man said.
“Yes” Adam answered.
“What did you feel?”
“Where? And how severe?”
“On the pad of my index finger, mildly”
The man began tapping the glass separating them in silence as the lights went from a low red to a warm, bright white. The other man on the right spoke, “do you mind if I ask you a question?”, suddenly the man on the left’s arm snapped as he hit the glass. The two men faced each other, and although their mouths moved, Adam could no longer hear their voices. Adam felt his face twitch slightly as he tried to answer the question, but he couldn't understand it…
do I mind? The voice in the garden said a man would ask me questions but what compelled me to answer in the first place? And…
Adam's train of thought was cut off by the man on the left speaking quickly “can you move your hand?”. Adam looked down, moving his hand and wiggling his fingers, “yes” he replied. He felt his chest loosen as he answered. The man on the left raised a hand and asked, “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Three” Adam said.
“Say “now” when you start hearing a noise”.
Adam stood waiting until he heard a very low hum, “now”. The man tapped the glass again. “Tell me when you can no longer hear the noise”, the man said continuing to tap the glass. The deep tone began changing, getting higher pitch until the tone got quiet and disappeared. “Look at the light by my hand, and tell me its colour”. Adam spoke as the light changed colour.
“White, red, orange, yellow, green, blue”.
The man on the left exhaled deeply as a section opened up. “Thank you, that is all, please follow me”.
Michael struggled to keep his face steady, the protocol for dealing with AI was strict. All interactions were reviewed, and Alex’s question would definitely be considered a breach of protocol, but he wasn't sure how severe. Humane Testing Labs operated in the murkiest of legal grey areas and as such all information regarding the cadavers and AI was kept on a need-to-know basis. Throughout his years at Humane Testing Labs, the purpose of the protocols had been a constant topic of discussion, as was trying to discover the fates of his coworkers who broke them. His excitement at their success had bled into anxiety, had their mistake been minor enough to go unnoticed? “Keep it together” Michael muttered under his breath, “AI protocol number 3: do not exhibit strong outward emotion in the presence of an AI”.
Alex turned, “what was that?”, seemingly oblivious to their predicament.
“Nothing, let's just dispose of this thing and finish our reports”. As their test subject approached, Michael fought not to flinch at every move it made. It was irrational he knew, but he couldn't help but notice its physique. Toned but not bulky, no one had ever been killed by a Spectre AI before… but with his luck today? Michael led the way out of the lab, down a long corridor to a set of white double doors with a red stripe running horizontally labeled “DISPOSAL”. Michael scanned his thumb while looking down reaching into his lab coat, pulling out his security tag, and scanning it quickly before pushing open the door. Silently Alex followed behind into a small room without furnishings, except for a small maintenance locker and a large metal cylinder with a heavy metal door.
Michael scanned his tag once more on a terminal attached to the cylinder and pressed a button on the keypad. There was a gentle clang as the chamber was unlocked, then a soft whirring sound as motors in the hinge slowly opened the door. Michael had never noticed how agonisingly slow the motors were, and it was all he could do not to grab the door and force it open. Michael turned to face Alex and the AI, “Please stand inside the cylinder” he said, as they both started walking towards him. “Not you Alex,” Michael said. Michael's chest locked up as the AI walked past him, he held a breath and time seemed to slow down as their hands almost touched. The AI went to grab him and Michael's hand recoiled as he prepared to run. But it had simply been reaching for the edge of the cylinder to balance itself, stepping inside and standing straight, facing him, no malice, no opposition. Michael closed the door and there was another clang as it locked and he exhaled explosively, the strength leaving him as his legs wobbled and Alex ran to his side to help him. “What happened? Are you ok? Why are you acting so weird?”. Michael liked the kid, but he could hit him right about now.
“Why the hell did you ask it that?” he snarled, real anger in his voice as he shrugged off Alex’s assistance.
Alex seemed surprised. “What? Why are you mad at me? Wasn't this a success? The drug worked”
Michael wiped the sweat from his brow “This was… this SHOULD have been the start of your career and the rebirth of mine, now I have no idea what's going to happen. You broke the first protocol for dealing with Spectre AI, what the hell were you thinking?”.
Alex’s face flicked between a wide range of emotions, surprise, confusion, sadness before landing on guilt. “I’m sorry, I didn't know about the ru-”. Michael cut him off.
“How did you even get through the lobby without knowing the rules?! Before you get past the front door you need to have undergone AI Handling certification”.
Alex was going pale “I- 'm sorry I just forgot”.
Michael was looking at Alex with suspicion now, everyone had to take the same course and it was like indoctrination. The protocols were repeated so many times he heard them in his sleep for weeks. “You didn't do the training, did you?” he asked and Alex slumped, the weight of the secret off of his shoulders. “No” Alex replied, “I studied genetics and neuroscience at university, but in my final year I developed an interest in AI and got my parents to get me in here. They forged the papers to get me in so I could start immediately”. Michael’s anger was fading. Alex was a dumb kid out of his depth. They waited in silence as Alex sat slumped on the floor and Michael regained his composure.
“The first protocol for dealing with AI is not to ask any question about the AI itself, only the body it's possessing” Michael sighed.
“But why?” Alex asked, his curiosity overpowering his guilt.
“I don't know, no one does, at least no one here. But breaking that rule led to 3 of my colleagues being terminated so I’m sure there's a good reason”.
Alex pondered that for a moment. “They got fired for asking the AI a question about itself?”
“They're just gone Alex, officially they were fired, but no one heard from them since”.
Alex was on his feet now. “Wait, wait no, I just asked it a question, it was a mistake, but nothing happened! I don't want to die!” on the verge of tears.
“Calm down”, Michael snapped. “Look I doubt we're going to be taken out for this, from what I gather, my colleagues did a bit more than just ask if it minded something, but… there probably will be consequences”.
Alex wasn't listening anymore. As Michael spoke, Alex had circled the room facing Michael, hands slightly out as if he expected Michael to gut him personally right then and there. Once he was nearby the exit, he bolted, bursting through the door and running down the empty corridor. Michael called after him, “Alex stop! You're going to be fine, and if you weren't, running really wouldn't help you anyway!”. Michael's cries fell on deaf ears as Alex reached the elevator. Alex frantically called the elevator as Michael sighed and began briskly walking down the corridor. As the doors opened, Alex lunged inside pressing the button for the lobby and frantically hit the button to close the doors as Michael calmly put his hand through the doors. “Alex, calm down”.
Already in tears, Alex started crying out. “Calm down?! How can I calm down when-”
“LISTEN” Michael shouted. “You are going to be fine, like you said, nothing went wrong. I’m sorry, I overreacted, just…”. He trailed off, examining his feelings. “It just pays to be cautious, ok?”. Michael paused, observing Alex’s expression and trying to gauge if he had been successful. Alex sniffed, took a deep shuddering breath, and exhaled.
“I'm sorry for messing up with the AI… and sorry for shouting”.
Michael smiled checking his watch. “It is what it is. 5:30 already? it's been a really long day. Come on, let's go home, get some rest and we’ll deal with tomorrow, tomorrow” he said, Alex hugging him shortly after. Michael was caught off guard. Michael was used to working with seasoned professionals, but it was easy to forget how young his new partner was. He hesitated for a moment before embracing Alex. “It's ok, everything's fine”, as the door closed and the elevator descended.
Down the corridor past the lab, the disposal room was dark, illuminated only by the small screen displaying the prompt, “Begin Disposal? Y/N” on the terminal attached to the container where Adam stood…
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