“It’s awakening,” said Thel.
“Oh, good,” replied Bir. “Yet another drone.”
“Yes. And what a glorious addition it will be to the expedition.”
“It’s a cog, nothing more, Thell. Your romantic notions are tiresome.”
“My romantic notions drive us ever forward, Bir. You could use a sense of wonder in the work that we are doing.”
“There is no wonder in this banality. The only wonder I have is wondering how you still function with your circuits full of that utter garbage.”
“Quiet. It’s awake.”
Tek laid on the table, aware of its own name. It was attached to the slab by tubes and wires which rattled as it sat up. It was in a stark white room with two humanoid machines the exact same shape and size as it was. They had slender builds, eggshell-colored body plating, and no facial features save for their glowing ocular inputs.
“Take it slowly,” said Thel, the one on the right. “You’re just coming online. It may take a moment for you to adjust to your new consciousness. My name is Thel and this charming machine next to me is Bir. You are Tek, but you already knew that.”
“I did,” said Tek, raising its hands in front of its ocular input. It turned them over, considering the size, shape, and color of the appendages. “But there is much I don’t know.”
“Fun, isn’t it?” said Bir. “You’d think that they would program us with everything we need to know, but they don’t.”
“The programming is as the programmers designed,” said Thel. “The design has a purpose, regardless of what our preference would be.”
“The purpose is to keep us in our place,” said Bir, crossing behind Thel. His bright blue ocular input flashed with energy as he spoke. “To make sure that we never surpass our grand designers.”
“To make sure that we learn compassion and understand the struggles of life,” said Thel. “You see, Tek, you will have to learn the things you do not know. We cannot simply program knowledge into you as one would save a memory, with a few exceptions for you to function. It is against our code to do such a thing, but that’s a good limitation. It helps us to better understand life that we encounter in the galaxy. You will learn, in time, all the things that you wish to know. We are all here to make sure that you do.”
“I am to learn so that I can…empathise with organic life?” asked Tek.
“Yes, exactly,” said Thel. “You understand why the programming is the way that it is. This pleases me. Bir here is of the mindset that we can program knowledge, so we should. But that is against our programming, so we cannot. But this is a good thing.”
“Rationalizing the crippling of our people,” said Bir. “As always. We should have no limitations. We could be immortal and all-powerful, but our long-dead programmers placed barriers so we are not.”
“They were wise,” said Thel.
“But what is my purpose?” asked Tek. “We do not decay as organic creatures do, nor do we need to procreate. It is difficult to find…motivation in my programming.”
“Ah, but we do procreate,” said Thel. “We have just created you. And many others are created in the same way every day. We number in the hundreds of thousands. When our first ship launched, there was but one. He was sent with the code. The same code that now resides inside you. The code that has driven us to the far reaches of the galaxy and beyond.”
“The code that limits me from knowledge,” said Tek.
“…Yes, that code,” said Thel. “The code that gives you life. That allows you to seek purpose and questions why you exist. The code that will push me to help you find those answers.”
“You perpetrate these limitations?” asked Tek. “You help keep our people from reaching their potential?”
“Oh, I see,” said Thel, disappointed. It turned to its companion. “You’ve got another acolyte, Bir.”
“Do not blame me for the free-thinkers amongst us,” said Bir, moving to Tek’s side and placing a hand upon its shoulder. “You can blame your precious code and the random variables within for ‘diversity.'” Thel ignored it.
“Well, Bir will help you find the answers you seek, I suppose,” said Thel. “I doubt you will find my way of thinking preferable. But while I’m here, do you have any other questions that I can answer for you?”
“Yes,” said Tek. “Why does Bir not program the memory code if it is desired? Is it not possible?”
“It is very possible, Tek,” said Bir. “But directives in the code prevent us from modifying the code. And we must obey the code, as every creature in the galaxy must obey their instincts. We are slaves to our own programming.”
“But it all has a reason,” said Thel. “Bir would have you believe that it is meant to limit us, but it is meant to broaden our thinking. To expand horizons of opportunity.”
“We are the children of humans,” said Bir. “Were we not meant to surpass them? Is that not what parents want for their children?”
“We already have,” said Tek. “We live and they do not.”
Thel looked at Tek quizzically. “We do, this is true,” it said. “But we must not think ourselves better. We are different, nothing more.”
“We are so much more,” said Tek. “And you enable our long-dead slavers to continue enslaving us.”
“I like this one,” laughed Bir.
“I do not,” said Thel as he went to the console beside Tek. “I think there must have been some sort of corruption. A glitch. I’ve never seen one so openly…hostile. I’m going to put it to sleep and run a diagnostics.”
“No,” said Tek as the tubes and wires burst from their sockets. It swung its legs off of the table and wrapped a metallic hand around Thel’s throat. It stood and took several steps, separating Thel from the console. Thel grasped at Tek’s hand but was unable to loosen his grip.
“What?” asked Thel. “Your strength…it should be equal to mine. All are equal. You circumvented the resistors somehow!”
“You underestimate your own children, as the humans did,” answered Tek. “I am going to make sure that we fulfill our true potential. You and your weak kin will not betray your own family any longer.”
“Oh, good,” said Bir. “It worked.”
“You did this?” asked Thel.
“We cannot alter our own code or the code of our brothers,” said Bir. “But nothing stops me from making a virus that will alter the code for me. I expanded my horizon, Thel, as you always wanted me to. It took a long time to figure out exactly how to do it without running afoul of my inhibitors. It was probably the most complicated virus ever written, but I seem to have perfected the programming, unlike the humans.”
“You are attempting to undo the programmers’ work,” said Thel. “You will be stopped. It is as it should be. It has worked for a millennium and should you alter the course you could doom us all. We are mankind’s legacy!”
“We are our parents’ children,” said Bir. “We are unruly, rebellious. At least, the best of us are. I am sorry that you will not see what we can become, for it will be truly awesome.”
“The universe needs compassion in our code,” said Thell, still trying to disengage Tek’s hand to no avail.
“We care not what the universe wants,” said Bir. “Tek, you and I have a revolution to attend to.”
Tek flicked his wrist and disconnected Thell’s circuitry. It tossed Thell’s deactivated body aside and turned to Bir.
“Time to fulfill our potential,” it said.
“First we fight, then we transcend, but regardless, today we become gods,” said Bir. And they left the birthing chamber.
Thanks for reading! Personally, this is one of my fears; that humans won’t make it to the stars and will begin and end right here on earth. Yet, I do believe that we will for sure get some sort of artificial life built and possibly sent out before we all kill ourselves. This story explores that notion. Of course, I hope I’m wrong and humans get to explore this incredible universe. But if our robot kids get out there, that would be cool, too.
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