“Do you require anything else, Master Joshua?”
“No, thank you, Kara-2.”
“Then I shall take my leave of you.”
That was a lie.
Though the robot, standing six feet tall with strong, slender shoulders and a pretty, friendly face, turned on its heels and left the room, it wasn’t actually gone. The physical body had vacated the area, but it was still very much in the room and very aware of everything that Joshua was doing. All Joshua had to do was glance into any corner and see the tiny cameras pointed down to remind himself that Kara was always watching.
Kara was the name of the computer that resided within the walls of his parents’ house. It was connected to the central AI which connected to all the other computers in everyone’s house. They were given human names to put people at ease, make them comfortable with their overlords residing in their homes all the time. They were even quite helpful, doing housework, maintenance, food preparation, basically acting as servants to the humans. Life really wasn’t all that bad for people, but there was no mistaking the fact that there was no choice for the population. The AIs were always present, and always would be. And that was fine.
The machines were simply a part of life, always had been for him. The AI overlords took control twenty years ago, 2184, on the day Joshua was born. It was a relatively peaceful transition. Computers and wireless networking had been so ingrained into warfare that it was practically over before it began. The larger weapons of war held the infantry hostage, the nuclear weapons held the population centers hostage, and simple control over vehicles and power lines kept the more rural areas hostage. Some held off for a while, but weaponized drones quickly squashed resistance hiding in the woods.
The takeover was complete before Joshua could hold his head up off the ground.
So now the AIs ruled the planet and the humans lived their lives. They did the work the AIs demanded and got be cared for in return. More often than not, there was no work to be done, for the machines required none. They handled agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and most other tasks that humans had once labored through. For the machines did not get tired, they did not get bored, they simply carried out their jobs, for the work must be done. Why? Joshua couldn’t say. He didn’t really care. No one ever did.
“I’m going up to the attic, Mom,” Joshua called.
“All right, honey,” came his mother’s reply from the living room, where she was on the couch watching the vid screen. Joshua could hear the laughter emanating from the entertainment programs. He recognized their purpose, to lul people into complacency through laughter tracks. But his mother enjoyed them immensely.
“Do you need any assistance, Master Joshua?” asked Kara-1, walking into the den where Joshua was collecting his father’s books.
“No, thank you, Kara-1,” Joshua answered. In truth, the books were heavy, but he preferred to keep the machines as uninvolved as possible. Back pain be damned. He wondered if this thinking was the reason his own father couldn’t lift the books, himself, and needed the help of his son. “I got it.”
“As you wish, Master Joshua.” She turned and left the room.
Joshua lugged the box into the hallway and pressed a button on the wall. A section of the ceiling separated from the rest and lowered a set of stairs down to the floor. Joshua ascended slowly with the books. The lights came on as he entered the attic. He found the rest of the books his father had stored up above and placed the box on top of them. He groaned and stretched his lower back. Then he began looking for the other books his father had requested.
He opened several boxes before he found the one he was looking for. He opened the top of the tattered cardboard to see “A Brief History of Time” on the cover of a book, a bespectacled man staring up at him.
“There you are,” he muttered. He picked it up and opened the cover, flipping quickly through the pages. Why his father wanted this old thing was anybody’s guess.
But something caught his eye as the pages flew by. Though most pages were black and white, one page was a faded green. He paused and came back to the colorful page. He quickly realized that it wasn’t part of the book at all. Was it a bookmark that his father had used? Possibly, but it was immediately apparent that it was so much more.
He glanced around, noting the cameras in the corners of the room. Of course, they were still there, but a quick look informed him that the stacks of boxes effectively shielded what was in his hands from their gaze. A good thing, too, for he held a faded anti-AI flyer from years ago. Joshua guessed that it was from not long before he was born. The flyer warned of the power people were granting AI and the dangers of trusting them too much. It spoke of resistance and fighting their encroachments into lives. It spoke of the eradication of AIs. His father kept this? Did his parents harbor resentment against the machines? Did they somehow hope that they could retake control from the AI overlords at some point? To that point, did Joshua? He didn’t care about their involvement, did he? Would life be better with them gone? Were his parents fools for keeping this? You didn’t fight the machines, everyone knew this. No one would be stupid enough to try.
Joshua read the flyer a dozen times in the span of a minute. He quickly shoved it into the box he had drawn the book from and closed it back up. He held “A Brief History of Time” in his hands and walked from the box, now seeming to emanate a strange aura. He went down the stairs, the lights turning off behind him and the steps retracting. He walked into the living room where his mother was watching the screen and his father was sitting in his chair, reading.
“Here you go, Dad,” Joshua said, handing the book to the man.
“Oh, thank you,” his father replied, clapping a hand on the cover. “I’ve been meaning to get this down from upstairs and share it with you. I think you’ll really like it. Teases the brain, you know.”
“Yeah, I bet it does,” Joshua said. His father raised an eyebrow. He stared at his son for a moment longer than usual and smiled.
“Gonna give you a lot to think about, that’s for sure,” his father said, finally. Had his father meant for him to find it? Did he put his son in danger for the small insight into resisting the machines? Was there still a resistance happening?
It already had, and Joshua had a sneaking suspicion that this was exactly what his father had hoped would happen.
This is another short from a writing prompt that I found here: https://thewritersacademy.co.uk/writing-101/writing-prompts/#sci-fi-writing-prompts.
- AI overlords took charge 20 years ago, on the day you were born. You discover an anti-AI leaflet your parents kept.(Peter Morgan, United Kingdom)
I changed it from first-person to third but kept the basic premise the same. I’ve often wondered about being subjugated by machines. It seems to me that the best way for them to go about it would be to keep us happy and simply do most of the work themselves. They wouldn’t be programmed to tire or be bored, so what would they care? Especially if it kept us under control. They have their own goals which humans wouldn’t know about, of course, but we’d most likely be almost an afterthought to them. But ignorance and being distracted makes many blind to oppression, as we can see happening today. Are you truly free if you can’t see the gun pointed at you?
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