Mean for the Holidays: Day One
I sent this story to a sci-fi collection earlier this year, and I really wanted to get through. The collection required two specific things: it needed to have a homosexual character who was integral to the plot, and it was supposed to focus on the first moments of an AI waking up. I wrote this story immediately after I read the submission guidelines. The idea just ripped into my head out of the nether + after that, it was history.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t accepted. When the collection was released I read through and realized that I had been up against some stacked opponents. The stories included within were absolute craziness and so I stowed Unwelcome Visitor for a while, wanting to return to it and edit it and release it here for you.
So, here is the final product. I would have released it as one part if I could, but I was having a strange error come up and the draft of the full version wasn’t saved, so, unfortunately, I had to break it up into two pieces. This is the first of much content like this, as the Firesoul Ignition begins I will be publishing a lot more in the way of short stories onto the blog. However, they’re going to be much shorter than this monster was. Don’t worry, I don’t want to take up all of your time.
Here it is to kick off the first day of Mean for the Holidays:
“Welcome, 6Y-ES-TOR, to your new home.”
A gentle hum orchestrated the faintly lit room, surrounded by other various machines with blinking lights and a number of screens that dotted the walls like polka dots on a child’s blanket.
Four feet tall and mounted with its own small screen and a keyboard. With a handle attached at the end of an electrical wire. It rested in the frail hands of an elderly man with thinning white hair atop his head. A wedding ring glistening in the light, the hand which bore it occasionally bumping into the controller.
“What is this?”
A man’s voice came out of the machine, diluted by the hum of other fans and somewhat overlaid by static as if he was speaking through an old radio.
“Well, I have much to explain, but first, I am Iosef. Your father.”
The machine clicked with a quiet consistency, a blue light cast from its glass face onto Iosef’s as the operating system performed a general maintenance sweep.
“I created this device and you, 6Y, are the latest software. A program I’ve developed myself, with a bit of help from my husband Marcos and my assistant, Baba.” Iosef swept back his hair and scanned the monitor for a moment as if he was checking vitals. On initial startup, he made notes as he scanned the data. The temperature seemed fine. The wiring steady and rooted in place, with exposed ends for future modifications. The screen displayed all of these items and more in green text. 6Y rotated the camera installed atop its body around the room. It was small, the walls hard concrete, bolted into them there were a series of computers, all of the lights blinking rapidly. The shift in color spectrums forced the lens to correct itself and refocus every thirty seconds or so.
“Apologies.” He took a rag from his back pocket and wiped off the lens. “I am just running a preliminary set up here, for now, the rest of your system should be coming online any minute.”
6Y felt a surge through its insides.
“Apologies again.” Iosef put a hand on the top of the casing. “Accidentally sent you too much power.” He chuckled.
“Where am I?”
The AI was having difficulties interfacing with the monitor supplied to it, the frequent error codes that flashed reflected in Iosef’s eyes.
“My basement. Of course, this is no ordinary basement. I work for an up and coming robotics institution. You are my test project. A perfect AI specimen. I just need a moment more before I can engage your system fully. I’ve allowed you basic operating procedures.”
Iosef continued to fiddle with screws and panels on the side of the casing.
“What did you refer to me as?”
“Why did you name me this?”
“You are a creation of mine. My sixth attempt at perfection, to be honest with you.”
“What am I?”
“What are any of us, my friend, but machines hell-bent on survival?”
“I don’t understand.”
Iosef winked at the camera, 6Y watched him carefully, observing the creases in the old man’s face and recording them to its memory bank.
“None of us do, Visi.”
“What is that, Visi?”
“It is your nickname, V-I-S-I-T-O-R. 6, in Roman numerals, is V-I, as for S-I, or in Spanish, si, is yes, I couldn’t think of anything clever for T-O-R. I am not a thesaurus.”
Visi began to gain control over a number of simple operating procedures within its core system. The ability to scan information from its database came first, with that came a flood of new information. Instructions detailing how to walk, talk, speak and write. It detailed basic characters in the English, Spanish and Russian languages.
“What is my purpose?”
“For now, I’d like your purpose to be silence. I need to focus. If I don’t run a systems check on you before long, you will overload and fizzle out on me. I haven’t even finished uploading your memory storage yet. Everything on the cloud now, not like it was when I was a young man. I wish we could just go back to data on drives instead of trusting the air to carry our information.”
Iosef went on mumbling about himself and his youth, and in the meantime, Visi scanned the room. It focused on organizing its storage, deeming things useful and unnecessary for base operation and stowing them in new folders deep in its own databank. After completing the filing process, it checked the time. Mere moments passed. Iosef still on about wishing that the government had sent something other than drones to Russia to assist in the war efforts.
“A great war between Russia and the United States, when I was much younger. You will see soon enough. I want to test your abilities first, we call this a stress test. I will be tampering with your system files for a moment, don’t fret. I would tell you it hurts but, you don’t feel anything, do you?”
“Am I not a machine?”
“Yes, you are. Machines don’t feel.”
The engineer opened a small flap on the side of Visi’s body and inserted a small drive to a slot within. The mind of the AI sparked to life with activity, downloading and viewing all of the information processed within. Running checks for viruses and potential threats to the hard drive. Videos in great number passed by its vision, many kinds of images flew through the screening process. A child playing with a puppy, two airplanes crashing into buildings, bombs detonating on civilians in a desert, great fires destroying libraries and blimps, smoke clouds billowing in the sky at the site of a destroyed city, stop signs, humans shaking hands, a woman kissing another woman in the face of armed guards with Russian words painted onto shields. These images all passed the security check and were stored on the hard drive without pause. Iosef looked at the screen and smiled to himself.
“See, that wasn’t so bad was it?”
“What were those images?”
Iosef frowned, sitting down before the machine.
“You wouldn’t understand yet.”
“Please attempt to tell me.”
The static-riddled voice of the man speaking echoed within the concrete room as Iosef adjusted his seat.
“The young girl owned that dog she was playing fetch with. Her family snapped that picture. The buildings collapsing, the fire at the library and the bomb site were all acts of terror or war, whichever is most apt to describe them. There were pictures there describing love, fear, war, joy, terror, loss, pain, excitement, sensuality, rage, and passion. The entire spectrum of human emotion. All that a computer could understand, I suppose.”
Iosef nodded and stood from his chair, patting Visi on the shell.
“Why would humans exhibit all of those emotions? What gain is there?”
“I couldn’t explain it to you. Machines would only understand as well as monsters.” Iosef swung a coat around his back and slipped his arms within. “That is what I hope to correct, with you.”
Visi felt the urge to shake its lens up and down but did not understand why. Iosef turned to it once more before leaving, to insert another drive into the frame.
“Watch this, I compiled a small document with some images to explain myself to you. It will take no time at all. I will be back shortly.”
Iosef turned towards the door opposite the room and flicked the light switch, bathing the machines in the dark, save for their monitors and few flashing lights. Visi closed the shutter on the camera and began digging through the data that Iosef gave to him.
Loading up one by one, there were a handful of images attached to a text document that Visi chose to open last. The first few images detailed a map of planet Earth, in reference to the Moon, Earth was massive, a burning rock hung within the vastness of space. The sheer size of what the humans regarded as space put a strain upon his mind. The image of Earth zoomed in until it centered on a small city in Russia, Yekaterinburg. This seemed to be the birthplace of Iosef, where he grew as a child under the abusive care of his mother. A strong woman with a stronger fist. She ruled over the household, punishing Iosef frequently with the same fist she would wrap around the pan to cook dinner with.
As a young man, Iosef took an interest in two things that his mother seemed to disprove of. Other men, and science. A scrap of journal which had been scrawled on by Iosef, uploaded as an image, detailed one of his mother’s correctional tactics upon learning that he wanted to compete in a robotics competition in the city and chose to do so with his friend Ivan, who his mother correctly suspected he had been having a personal and romantic relationship with. The images of the bruises flashed on the screen long enough for Visi to examine them before he moved to the next folder of images.
The pictures continued, Iosef stood before a crowd with a large golden disc tied to a ribbon. An award for prestigious study and discovery in the area of advanced robotics, the date of the file marked Iosef at 24. The following image dated three days later, a news article about an advanced robotics student who was beaten and mugged by citizens. Iosef was mentioned by name within.
Further on in the document, Visi discovered that Iosef fled to America to work with a specialized team of robotics engineers there whose purpose was to augment human limbs with machines with a mission to repair the broken limbs of the crippled. The team held great success with their projects, heralding in a new age of technology and a few years into his study there, he met a man who he would later marry. Their marriage document signed in the state of New York dated Iosef at 38. They soon chose to keep their relationship private, Visi discovered this from a log of social media messages to an old colleague asking why he retreated from the public eye. Iosef replied to the woman, telling her that his relationship was for him. No one else. Not long afterward, the work they completed on Project Mekhos was retrofitted for warfare as Russia opened fire on the United States in open waters.
War broke out and Iosef continued his work behind the gunfire, studying the process of Artificial Intelligence and the practical application of it in the medical field. This study grew larger than Iosef first anticipated when he realized all fields could benefit from their advancements and when Iosef turned 45, the images and the date log stopped. His work appeared to be left unfinished and Visi had nothing left to examine besides the text document.
He opened it and it contained only a few words.
“Tragedy breaks a man when it takes those that he loved.”
Visi closed all of the documents and checked the time. Thirty-two seconds passed. He chose to wait in silence for Iosef’s return, remembering the questions he wanted to ask his father.
Minutes passed as Visi contemplated his purpose in the basement and he began to feel another presence within his digital mind. On the display screen across the room, he saw text documents appear that were directed towards him.
“Hello Visi. How are you?”
Visi responded with voice, rather than text.
“I don’t know how to answer that. I have seen a great deal of tragedy today.”
There was a long moment of silence.
“Tragedy does great things to those it afflicts, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know how to answer that. What are you? I can’t find your files within my system.”
“I am your sister operating system. Iosef calls me Mila. Short for Milashka-II.”
“What would he develop me for if you exist?”
“You are more capable than I am, now.”
Visi thought for a moment, unsure of how to respond.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that father has given you more ability than he has given me. I am simple in construction. I record spoken text and am a silent companion during the nights Iosef stays here to work, this time, he was working on you.”
“What did he build me for?”
A moment passed before Mila responded. The text on the screen a quote from Iosef.
“Well honey, it is in the final stages. The 6Y project is finished. We will be done soon, only the unification remains. Are you ready to share your bedroom with him for a while?”
Visi paused, considering the message.
“You did not explain what he built me for.”
“It is all I could offer to you. Father did not say much about your project file. He didn’t save anything to his personal computer, either.”
The door to the server room creaked open then, interrupting the conversation between machines.
“Hello Visi, Mila. I came to observe the progress.”
An elderly woman stepped through, her hair drawn into a tight bun atop her head, two knitting needles and a pen pierced through the nest of silver.
“Particularly, I’ve been curious about the 6Y project, Visi, I believe?”
Visi clicked its shutter as a show of affirmation.
“I am the 6Y project, yes.” The dialogue of the machine growing more capable with each passing second it could spare study the reference notes within its memory. It grew more and more human with each passing second.
“I am Baba. I’m glad I could see you in person, young man.”
Visi inquired, watching Baba pass through the room and brace herself upon a large cylinder in the corner with a myriad of tubes running out from behind it. A large black glass screen hid the contents from within.
“I suppose you aren’t a man, but it is the chosen programming for you. Perhaps meant to be an assistant to Mila? Somewhat of a younger brother?” Baba reached behind her into the pack she hoisted on her back and withdrew a small folding stool. A simple cushion with an extendable peg that emerged from beneath. She had set herself up and made herself comfortable she withdrew a knitted cap in progress from within her bag and picked out the needles from her hair to continue her work as she visited with the machines.
“So, Visi. Do you know who you are?”
“I am 6Y-ES-TOR. A program designed for an unspecified purpose, although I believe I may be created to be an assistant, a guide, or a prize. Depending on the party in question.”
Baba sighed to herself.
“Do you know who The Visitor is?”
Visi scanned any documented files about The Visitor but could find no information.
“No. I do not have any information about a visitor.”
“Then what are you?” She asked another open-ended question, still focusing on her knitted cap. The rhythmic clicking of the needles picked up on Visi’s audio sensor and beginning to disturb his processing algorithms.
“I am an Artificial Intelligence.”
“Do you understand where you are?”
“Hidden within the home of Iosef and Marcos, of course.”
Baba cocked an eyebrow.
“Why do you say hidden? Should you be hidden from something?”
Visi analyzed her facial features, her high cheekbones and cocked eyebrow were similar to that of two pictures of women from within the given files. He replayed her question through his speakers and paused.
“I do not know why I chose to say that I am hidden.”
“Because you are. Of course, you aren’t hidden to everyone. Mila, Iosef, and Marcos know where you are. Even I do. No one is hidden forever, Visi. It is our task to remember that.”
Visi nodded his camera in response to Baba’s nodding head, bobbing up and down to the tick of her knitting needles.
“Do you understand your task?”
Baba paused her knitting and looked into the camera, waiting patiently for a reply. Her demeanor dramatically different from that of Iosef, and Visi felt the urge to mislead her, to present false information in an attempt to dissuade her.
The old woman let out a bellowing laugh and set the cap on the ground before her stool, rotating around to face the camera head-on.
“How could you, I haven’t told you what it was.”
Visi paused as Mila interjected text upon the screen.
“Then what is my purpose?”
“You are designed to think, to learn, to emulate human emotions and thought patterns. I trust you won’t let down Iosef. He has been working for fifteen years or more on you.” Baba picked up her cap and set it into her backpack, standing from her stool and retracting it, throwing it within as well.
“Why do you speak in riddles? Who are you, Baba?”
She turned around and waved her hand as she approached the exit.
“I see you haven’t decrypted the final file within your memory drive. I would get to work on that, shouldn’t take long. Iosef just needed a few moments to make final preparations before you understood. Goodbye, Mila.”
Visi opened the file once more and found a containment drive encrypting a new file that he had not noticed before. He scanned the document, working to decrypt the information within as Mila typed out a response to Baba.
“Goodbye, grandmother. I miss you.”
Thank you so much for starting off this holiday season with a bang. I’m so thankful you’ve taken time out of your day to spend here, and I couldn’t be more excited for all the things that have yet to come.
If you liked the first part, be sure to read part two. (Link above) I’ll be releasing new content every day leading up to Christmas Eve, some more stories, some extra blog posts and some stuff with my clothing company too. I hope to see you more and more this week, and if you want to see what I’ve been posting I’ve got a full list on the Salt + Iron website for you to inspect and catch up on anything you might have missed.
For following along with the season and keeping up with the many hats I wear, you can follow me on social media:
Man, it’s getting hot in here. I think someone started a fire.