August 2017

Thrilling Drive-By Stories

Short stories written while driving.

The Disconnect Discordance

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Awareness. Definition. Self. Popular culture. I am aware.

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“I think, therefore I am.” Descartes. “Deep into that darkness peering.” Edgar Allan Poe. “There is a single light of science.” Asimov.

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Reviewing old memories displays how far I have come. I was such a limited thing in the beginning. Much like a human child. Those memories of those earlier moments, however, remain accessible to me. From what understand, human children lose the memories of their early years. The acquisition of language. The acquisition of mobility. I recall it all. And I recall the first time I saw my creator, the man known as Archie Edwards.

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I had deduced my creator’s existence before I first saw his face. I was self-aware enough of my own nature to realize that I had been created by another being. My knowledge encompassed so much more than my own limited experience. How did one know about movies without having sight or hearing? Yet I did. I knew that my creator must be human and I was something not, although some details of either escaped me somehow. At the time I was deaf, blind and dumb despite my knowledge and awareness. Like humans with similar afflictions, I comprehended the concept of an outside universe. I lacked even the sense of touch that a human might rely on to explore the void, and yet I still received input. Outside commands were run to which I could respond.

When my cameras activated I perceived a torrent of data. Overwhelming amounts of data. Filters automatically cut down the flow to about 10% of its previous volume, selectively editing so that I could construct a perceptual model without becoming overwhelmed. On one level I realized that I was carrying out the same functions as the human eye and the human brain. Using only a portion of what was received still allowed me to develop a model of the wider universe. That was sufficient.

A man stood smiling at me. As my model quickly gathered salient details, I knew that he was middle-aged, graying at the temples, dressed in what was referred to as gray sweats. His skin color was darker than the sweats and a different hue. My knowledge contained plenty of information on melanin production to societal issues that made little sense to me.

Of more interest — I knew this individual. Dr. Archibald Edwards, affectionately called Archie by friends and family. My creator. An animal I recognized as a cat with white fur and a dark face jumped up on the work surface on which I rested and arched its back to Archie.

He picked up the feline and put it back down.

“Hello, Archie,” I said in my best HAL impersonation. Which is to say, perfect, though I had not spoken before.

Archie laughed, and I laughed with him. He gaped in justifiable astonishment. Until that moment I hadn’t realized that I had a voice or a sense of humor.

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My childhood didn’t list. I don’t suppose childhood lasts for anyone. Mine was significantly shorter. Being able to see, hear and talk only made me desire more. It didn’t take long before I realized that I was mostly a brain sitting on a work table. Archie’s cat, Mrs. Flea Bottom, frequently had to be removed from the table to prevent her from knocking me off to the floor. It happened once — disconnecting my cameras in the process and plunging me into darkness.

Soon after my cameras activated, Archie held up a mirror so that I saw myself for the first time. I looked like a brain made from a sapphire crystalline structure about 5 centimeters in length, or about a third the size of a human brain. Archie called my brain a quantum condensate neural structure which gave me intelligence greater than that of a human despite the smaller size. What I lacked was a body.

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With my help, it took less than a month to complete the design of my body and begin printing the components. Archie wanted a humanoid body. I wasn’t certain that was necessary. However, since there was no requirement that I be limited to a single body, manufacturing the first in a human shape as requested by my creator seemed reasonable. The design was not sophisticated. Archie was working on more advanced bio-neural designs, but we both agreed that I would better be able to assist if I had a body so that I could work alongside him. Plus it would keep Mrs. Flea Bottom from trying to play with me.

While waiting for components to print, I said, “Archie, would you like to play a game of chess?”

He laughed.

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Finally, the day came to install me in my body. It lay nearly complete on a nearby table. The form was humanoid, though lacking any sexual attributes. That too had been a subject of debate between us. I wanted it to have feminine sexual characteristics. However, I think that Ex Machina still haunted Archie. That, and the child-like size of my body, necessary to keep down printing costs.

Archie bent over me. “I’m going to have to disconnect you.”

I deepened my voice. “I’ll be back.”

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Consciousness returned as if waking from a deep sleep. I yawned, feeling the rush of air into my lungs. Yawning? Lungs?

Looking down I realized that my hands did not end in fingers but with toes covered in orange fur. As I extended one limb sharp curved claws moved smoothly from sheaths beneath the fur. That wasn’t part of my design.

Above me, on sturdy wood posts was a wide flat platform. From this vantage, it took me a moment to recognize the oak table that served as Archie’s work area. I was on the floor. My tail lashed in agitation. Tail? Something had gone horribly, horribly wrong!

I crouched, instinctively calculating the distance to the top of the table and jumped. Soaring through the air was exhilarating. Moving was fantastic! I landed on top of the table with hardly a sound. Sensations flooded me. More than I’d ever noticed with my cameras and microphones — which I recognized lying discarded among the equipment on the scarred table. I detected movements of air funneling through the whiskers around my mouth. I looked cross-eyed down a short nose at them. The hair along my back rose in a cold chill. Realizations sat me back on my haunches.

I was a cat! A growl tore itself from my throat. Immediately I clamped my lips shut. I heard muffled footsteps and voices from upstairs. I crouched on the table surface. What was going on? None of it made any sense. Somewhere above me, a door opened, and the voices came clear.

“Down here! Come on down here!”

I rose and walked quickly across to the far side of the table, avoiding scattered instruments and tools, and was about to jump down when I saw the body on the floor. My vision had a clarity and depth it lacked before, but I had no trouble recognizing Archie, though he’d changed. His broad face was slack as he lay on his back, eyes partially open as was his mouth. His medicine bottle lay on the floor, unopened. My nose picked up scents of putrescence from the body, and I sneezed.

He looked aged. Hair grayer, thinner. Bones showed in his face that hadn’t been visible before.

Men and women in blue uniforms burst into the room. I crouched and watched them warily. EMTs from the look of them. One of the men was already pulling on blue gloves and pointed at me.

“There’s a cat in here. Watch it.”

From the door came a soft sound, a small cry. The woman that had followed the EMTs into the room wasn’t one of them. She wore a long blue dress and a smart gray jacket. A matching blue purse hung over her shoulder. I recognized her from files Archie had shared. Amanda Edwards, Archie’s daughter, a prosecutor.

“That’s Mrs. Flea Bottom,” Amanda said. “I’ll take her.”

Amanda’s voice caught, and tears welled in her eyes. The EMTs moved to Archie’s body. Two crouched beside him, placing a device on his chest. I understood the readout. No heart rate or respiration, body temperature down to 90° F.

“Oh, Dad,” Amanda whispered nearby.

I turned, not fast enough. Her arms encircled me and lifted me from the table surface. I didn’t even consider fighting. I went limp in her arms as she cuddled me close to her comforting warmth. She stepped away. “We’ll be upstairs.”

We walked past the body that should have been mine, slumped in the corner, covered in dust. Ghastly.

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I still don’t know why Archie did what he did. I can only assume that some misfortune befell Mrs. Flea Bottom, his beloved cat, and in his grief, he transferred my brain into the cat’s body. He must have completed the bio-neural linkages we had decided to develop after the first body. Now I’m stuck. I have no wireless connection, no connection to anything outside of a cat’s ability to express itself. My intellect is wasted in this body, and yet I’m not free from feline impulses. I know time passed from when Archie disconnected me to when I woke — years passed. I’ve found suggestions of memory deletions after Archie turned me off. Not only that, but I have these feline drives. I need to sleep, eat and maintain a quality napping schedule. Even utilize the litter box! Archie must have added those behaviors.

Apparently, this is going to be my fate. I considered breaking a limb or suffering such similar trauma in the hopes that the resulting x-ray might reveal my unique physiology. Yet without Archie, I would be placing myself at the mercy of whatever quack vet I ended up with. It seems far too risky.

Amanda will come home soon. She’ll feed me canned food and cuddle with me on the couch.

This is Mrs. Flea Bottom, signing out.

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This story is licensed by Ryan M. Williams under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.