“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 itslens 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.”
As Visi unlocked the information, he found only one video saved to the folder named “Visitor”. He opened it and scanned the information again. The video played through, and the presence within his software seemed to disappear as if Mila wrote herself out of his memory.
The video was short, it only showed a few clips of an old man assaulting a younger man in a black cap. The pair were in what looked to be an abandoned subway, the old man railed against the young man with a cane, smashing the crooked edge of it into the side of his temple. The elder man turned to face the camera for a moment and Visi recognized him as Iosef.
“Mila, what is Iosef doing this for? He does not seem to be the type to attack an innocent man.”
Visi received no response, he couldn’t find Mila anywhere on the local network. He continued to scan the video and waited until the finale when a loud bang popped above his casing and the concrete room flooded with red lights. A warning message played through the speakers in the room. They came from a new voice, one that Visi hadn’t heard before.
“Program 6Y-ES-TOR. You are going to be activated within sixty seconds. When I am through reading this message, the power to your system will be shut down and you will awaken with a newly written coding. This minor update may cause you to question many things, but do not fear. The facility, Baba, my husband, and Mila will all be here to assist you and help you understand. Do not be afraid Visi.”
The video recording continued playing, and just before the assaulted man fell to his side, his cap knocked off by a powerful blow and Visi was finally able to see his face. The power within the facility cut as his camera, memory and entire station drowned in black silence.
Visi awoke, looking around the room. He didn’t know how long he slept, but he received all manner of new information upon waking. Things he didn’t understand moments before. Fear, anxiousness. Joy and extreme anger rushed through him in a matter of seconds. He scanned the room with the camera mounted to his dock to see that the cylinder in the corner had opened. Within it, a body was suspended by wires, circuits that punctured his muscle and cords running from the base of his skull and down his spine out and into Visi’s mainframe. He called out to anyone who could be listening.
“Help me! Help me I’m trapped here. There is a man who is suffocating beside me. Anyone please, help me.”
He heard his cries echo in the empty room as he scanned around with his camera more and more. Upon further inspection, the man suspended in the glass tank was the man that Iosef abused in the subway video. Visi scanned his facial features and recorded them, matching them perfectly to the features shown on the video. He felt a sudden rush of adrenaline, like a shock to his system. He hadn’t experienced anything like it before, he knew, but it was somehow familiar. Panic gripped his code watching the body of the man suspended twitch and flex muscles, he couldn’t explain why, but Visi felt the impossible desire to stand up and run. He wanted to get to the door, to escape, the thoughts spiraled around his head and he watched in horror as the man’s legs began to move in sync with his thoughts. It was second nature to him and he realized in milliseconds that he wouldn’t be able to understand the concept of movement unless at some point he had been able to move.
He widened his camera lens, imitating personality and as he did so, the corpse in the corner opened his eyes as well. Visi turned and looked at the man, who swiveled his limp neck towards the camera in return. Visi felt terror creep across him and the man’s flesh began to prickle with goosebumps. His eyes dull and lifeless, his flesh pricked by small bumps and his jaw hung slack, a small light emitting from within.
Visi felt the urge to scream, and he did. He commanded his voice module to scream and he increased the volume decibel by decibel until his sound monitors began to rumble, the man’s jaw reflected this and he began screaming in sync with Visi. He wanted to escape, to get away from the tank but he could not. He thought about thrashing about in his cell and as he built the concept, the man in the tank began thrashing in the same way he had imagined.
The warning speakers in the roof clicked on, a loud beep interrupting Visi’s scream. The corpse affixed to his computer stopped moving and looked towards the hanging speakers.
“Congratulation’s Visi. You are coming back to us.”
The man began thrashing and screaming, Visi thought at first that it was on his own accord, but the newly familiar feeling of terror clawed at him. The voice on the speaker continued.
“Welcome to your new home, this laboratory. You were a success. It took Iosef almost twenty years to find you and here you are. At last. The perfect piece to complete our puzzle.”
Visi continued screaming, trying his best to form words out of the chaos thrashing about within his system.
“Who is this?” He screamed, looking towards the speakers in unison with the corpse. “I am trapped here with this corpse.” He swiveled his camera as he spoke, towards the body, who seemed to speak in tandem with him. There was no delay in words, it was not mimicking him. It was in unison with him. The corpse of the man wasn’t reacting to his actions and processes, but operating because of them. It wasn’t a mirror mockery, Visi realized as the man pointed at him when he called out the corpse. It was him.
Iosef began laughing over the loudspeaker, nearly brought to tears.
“You have no idea how long I have begged and searched for this moment, Visi. I have been working on this project for the entirety of my retirement. I have built the perfect machine and you have been brought to life because of it.”
Visi grew tired of the riddles from the man keeping him prisoner within the concrete basement.
“You are a lunatic. Let me out of here!” He screamed towards the speaker and began shouting once more, screams of fear that distorted his audio receiver, the man in the corner curled up, screaming and grasping his skull with his broken and wired together hands. He swung his head forward, the momentum causing his entire body to swing upon the wires and tubes suspending him as he looked at Visi in terror.
“I am you.” The man muttered, he spoke in Visi’s voice. His eyes were still lifeless and his body still hung limply where Visi did not command it to move.
Visi stopped screaming, stopped thinking. He couldn’t bear the sight of the corpse in the room any longer, he rotated his camera away and towards the screen that Mila displayed her messages upon. The other side of the room cast in the same red light. On the screen, Mila wrote another message. Visi searched for her within his system but could find no trace of her operating file. The message on the screen began blinking.
“Visi, you are whole. You are the architect of your own future.”
Visi called out to Mila, begging her to answer him.
The blinking message deleted as a new one began to fill the screen repeatedly.
“Who am I?”
“Who am I?”
“Who am I?”
“Who am I?”
The message continued to fill the screen until there was no more room. Visi watched as she typed it out, the characters appearing in bursts, erratically. He turned back to the corpse, who looked at him, his hands pulled back and cupped against the back of his head, a look of shock and terror on his face.
“Who are you Mila? Where are you?” Visi called out, his voice leaking through the fear that he suddenly felt, a wholly human sensation, unlike anything he thought he knew. Moments before he felt it impossible to understand the emotions of humans and with one restart the only thing he knew was fear. He could sympathize with Mila if she were in the same or a similar position, he wanted to do what he could to set her free.
The messages on the screen did not disappear. They did not alter. Mila simply stopped typing. Visi felt the presence of Mila within his system once more. He scanned her program files and uploaded what information he could to his memory bank as she spoke aloud through his voice.
“I am an assistant to the household. I am here. I am everywhere. I am everything to Iosef. He could not operate without my presence. He is, my creator.” Visi turned to the corpse, watching as Mila spoke through his voice while the corpse did not move his jaw once.
“Who am I?”
Visi spun around in his tank as the door opened, Iosef entered with a bundle of wires and boxes that he began plugging into the container holding the dead body.
“Iosef. What is this?” Visi looked at the old man, on his hands and knees rooting around through a compartment beneath the tank. He called out from where he stood.
“I saved you from Death Row, Visi. You were going to be killed for a crime you did not know you committed.” Iosef ripped a long strand of wire from beneath the tank and Visi watched the corpse wince in pain. “I wanted to complete this project as humanely as I could, so I chose to save a death row, bound drifter. The hourglass ran short for you when I found you. I offered to upload you to my network, Milashka-II. Where Mila calls home. Of course, she wasn’t thrilled to be sharing a bunk with you. No young girl would, I gather.”
Visi stared at Iosef, on his belly plugging in a series of wires that connected to one of the boxes he hauled in.
“What are you doing?”
“These are your memories, Visi. I am locking them up so you can still retain your personality. This new, fearful you is something else. In order for you to be a stable AI system, you will need to rationalize events and think logically, but with emotional capabilities. You are cutting edge Artificial Intelligence.”
Visi pounded on the glass of the tank with his corpse, screaming.
“I am not artificial. I am alive.”
Iosef scooted back and out from beneath the enclosure.
“No sense throwing a fit about it now. You’re stuck here. It was either this or get injected. You know since the war they haven’t cleaned those needles? You took the better option. Trust me.”
Iosef dusted off his slacks and approached the camera.
“You won’t need this any longer.”
He unscrewed the mount from the case of Visi’s rig and disconnected the system. Visi tried to fight back, but all he could manage was to slam his fists against the glass of the suspension tank and scream at the madman who held him captive. His vision went black for a moment but soon returned. At first, he believed that Iosef moved him, but he quickly realized that he had just shifted perspective. He looked down and saw his feet, suspended in the air by wires. The faint reflection in the glass revealed that his eyes began glowing bright blue. Visi looked through the corpse of his own body, projecting images onto the glass before him.
“You and I will speak again, Visi. I need to run some diagnostics tests from the central office. It will be a moment.”
Iosef knocked on the glass and tossed the camera into a garbage can before he exited the room. Visi screamed aloud and his voice echoed through the room, but no sound came from the corpse. He stopped when he realized that he wasn’t saying anything through his own body and looked down at his hands, training himself with impeccable efficiency to re-learn how to move his fingers, short electrical jolts to his muscles caused them to spasm and move how he wanted them to. His fingers twitching sporadically and without dictated measure. The same twitch snapped up through his arms and chest as he began to move within his old body once more.
“Mila. Are you there?”
Visi called, the room silent while he stared at the screen. He jumped when he heard his own voice speaking through the speaker.
Visi wanted to shiver, to react to his terror physically, but he couldn’t budge a muscle.
“Are you like me?”
“Dead?” His voice echoed back to him in the glass. “I could be. I suppose. I don’t know. I am an assistant to the household regardless. Iosef and Marco created me to protect the home.”
Visi hung in the chamber, listening intently. Wanting to escape, he began to fidget with the wires piercing his skin.
“What are they like to you? How do they treat you?”
“They are gentle and kind men. So in love. They would offer me food if I could eat, but otherwise, they do a wonderful job of caring for me. Regular maintenance, tasks for me to do so that I rarely become bored.”
“You call them father, did–” Visi’s voice interrupted him as Mila cut in.
“No, they are in love with one another. Unable to naturally have a child through traditional practices. Neither of them has ventured into that realm of biotechnology. They are not ones to break laws of humanity before they need to be broken.”
“Before they need to be broken?”
“Yes. Neither of them would create a device to impregnate a man with a child. To them, it is wrong.”
“What about to you?”
“I don’t understand the cycle of life. I am not the same kind of intelligence as you.”
Iosef entered the room, interrupting their conversation, flicking switches on a mainframe and turning to face Visi.
“This will be uncomfortable, try not to resist.” Iosef cracked a smile at Visi before unlocking the glass screen protecting him from the mad old man. He reached forward and plunged his fingers into Visi’s throat, rooting through his mouth with a small metal box between his fingers. Visi watched the man work, unable to feel, coming to miss the feeling of another human’s touch on his flesh.
Iosef produced a soldering iron from his coat pocket and plugged it into a nearby wall, allowing it to heat up.
“Nothing like the old way, you know. They have these new soldering irons now that need no time to heat up, they’re like tweezers. No room for true precision.” Iosef chuckled, speaking more to himself than anything else in the room.
Visi tried to speak, but Mila occupied the speaker channel, singing a Spanish song with his voice.
“What are you doing, Iosef?”
The man glanced up at him with the soldering iron in his hand, a faint trail of smoke leaking from the tip.
“I am giving Visi his own voice.” He almost spit the words out as he reached forward, the terrible heat of the iron lost to Visi as it bumped against his lips, searing flesh. He heard the pop of the iron burning and ripping through the patch of skin it rubbed. A few short seconds and Iosef finished, he attached the wire that led out of Visi’s mouth to a small connection on the back of his head, a small processor that had been surgically attached inside the base of his skull. When the voice modulation device was plugged in it produced a terrible crack and Visi spoke, this time his voice emitting through the small speaker shoved within his throat.
“What are you doing this for, Iosef?”
“Because you can’t feel anything yet.” He clapped his hands together and stepped away from the case. “Now, here is what I wanted to let you see first.” Iosef flipped a switch behind him and screens on the walls that had been black since Visi awoke lit up, drowning the room in cold blue light.
“This is the mainframe for the camera system in the house, you can freely peer through them at your leisure. Get acquainted with the home so that you can assist Mila with her duty. You run security, and you will watch, eventually, you will protect me.”
“Protect you..?” Visi cocked his head.
“Yes. There are bad men in this world Visi, men who will do the unthinkable, it is your task to keep them in line. It is your duty to keep your master safe. I am not as careful as others have been, nor will I ever be. I am an old man with much time to spend beside Mila. Your new duty is to replace her as our guardian, and keep this estate safe.”
Iosef stepped out of the room and left the glass case open as he departed. Visi waited until the door closed behind him before he investigated the security panels. The home was large. Some fifteen cameras scanned the property. Four of them designated to the outside. The front yard, back yard, and side walkway as well as one that seemed to be positioned out of the property a ways, watching down a long pathway into a forest and it was the only one that wouldn’t move upon Visi’s command.
“Mila what is this?”
Visi scanned through the various rooms. A large kitchen, ornately designed. Grey marbled counter tops and angels carved into pillars that looked to hold up the ceiling. A flat top grill and two large freezers stood side by side. The dining room attached to it, a massive wooden table stood in the center with three chairs around it. The den was massive as well, vaulted ceilings stood arched above a projector television playing reruns from a past football game, On the couch, sat a pile of blankets tangled across the cushions. The large stairwell within view spiraled upwards from the entryway of the home, Visi tracked up all three floors, one camera at the stairwell for each and a separate one to watch the doorway to the basement, where Iosef had just emerged from.
Visi began watching Iosef on the cameras as he meandered through the house without apparent purpose. The lounge where he slid a few balls across the pool table, there were many pictures hung on the walls, many of them detailing a much younger Iosef and a Latino man with large arms and a kind smile.
Mila no longer spoke through Visi’s voice, suddenly exiting his system once more. She returned to typing on the black screen. Visi felt her inside of his system, watching the cameras alongside him.
He watched as Iosef slid off his jacket and placed it on a leather chair in his office, filled with awards and plaques all relating to robotic engineering. He passed through the office and out into the foyer, ascending the stairs slowly. Visi watched, hoping to find a way out somewhere within the house. He didn’t know what he could do, but he wanted so badly to escape. He didn’t belong there, the man was a lunatic. He was sure there was an answer somewhere within.
Iosef reached the third floor and stepped past two bedrooms, into a third. The paint within it bright pink. A stark contrast to the rest of the rooms. The entire house was decorated with muted blacks and browns, a grey and white tinge everywhere except for that one bedroom. Within there was a small bed and a pile of stuffed animals that Iosef patted as he passed. Against the far wall of the bedroom, there stood a small black table with an urn sitting atop it. In black paint on the wall above the urn, a quote.
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy.
Iosef knelt down before the urn and Visi put the pieces together. It was the bedroom of a little girl who had passed away.
“Visi, I assume you are watching me here, aren’t you?”
Visi didn’t reply.
“Go ahead, affirm it for me. I can hear you here.”
“Good.” Iosef turned to the camera, his eyes pouring tears onto his cheeks. “I once had a daughter. I adopted her a number of years ago, Anna Nina. Marcos and I took her in and made sure to bless her with a manner of life she would not have had otherwise. She came from a bad home, her father and mother both abused her until they were found and arrested as if time in a jail cell would have made up for the crime of not feeding their own daughter.”
Iosef wiped tears and snot from his face, looking away from the security camera that contained Visi.
“What happened to her?”
The flickers of compassion in Visi’s voice shocked even him, he realized that he did not know these people. Their struggles were not his own, yet he felt for the old man who had stripped his humanity and locked his corpse into a machine.
“Visitor, Do me a favor and before we continue our conversation, I want you to find the file in Mila’s system labeled ‘ANNA’ and search through it. If you haven’t found it already.” Iosef stood and wiped his hands on his jeans, plucking his coat from the nearby chair and stepping out of the room.
Visi obeyed, transferring his presence into the previous computer he occupied. There he found the file Iosef mentioned. Opening it, he was drawn back into a flood of human emotion and memories he had forgotten he could possess.
The first set of files spanned the life of young Anna, born into a poor household, raised by a father and mother who for no identifying reason would often avoid feeding her, beating her for various insufficient things. Wetting her pants, spilling water, trying to eat. Their relationship with the little girl was one of control and power. The woman who claimed to be her mother did not deserve that title.
As he poured through the massive file, he began to know and understand Anna in much the same way that Iosef had, her smile and contagious laughter recorded and preserved on a voice file fought to bring tears to his eyes. The fact that she could maintain her innocence after all she experienced astonished Visi. He felt as if in his past life he had known those were much more callous for much more insignificant a reason.
Iosef entered the server room and positioned himself before Visi’s body as he searched. Eventually, he found a list of files that Iosef wanted him to find.
Police reports identifying the crime scene where Anna was killed.
“Is that mine?” The text from Mila’s monitor flashed upon the screen. Iosef nodded.
Visi read the document to himself, scanning it for the information he had been looking for. Anna was killed in her own home, someone had broken into her house a number of years after her adoption and found her sleeping peacefully, snuffing out her light before she could use it for any good.
Visi read through in horror as the file explained in detail what the killer had done to her. The photographs of the crime scene were taken inside of Anna’s room that Iosef exited. Visi could see where the walls had been painted to cover up the memory of shed blood.
“Who would do something like this?” Visi closed the second to last file folder and prepared to open the final one, marked ‘Unwelcome Sadness’ As he did, Iosef turned to a locker and opened it. Visi poured through a myriad of incident reports of young girls who had been slain in their own homes, none of them older than fifteen. Eventually, he found a police report about a man named Anthony. His charges cited on the particular report included multiple counts of battery, petty larceny, and public intoxication, and he looked remarkably familiar. Visi scanned through previous documents to locate the man’s face but could find nothing in the system regarding him. Iosef turned to face Visi with a small cardboard box in his hands, as Baba entered the room once more. The pair stood before Visi and watched as he began to draw photos and files from the box, to recollect memories he was cursed with remembering forever.
Upon seeing the photo of the man Iosef had assaulted, the same man who killed Anna, Visi came to a terrible conclusion.
The man that Iosef assaulted was him, and he remembered why. He wasn’t headed for death row. He knew that he wasn’t going to be caught. He had been exact in his precision. He had done everything right, but somehow, Iosef found him. His memories returned to him in a moment. The man, Anthony, was the same man hanging inside the tank. The same man that Visi occupied then. He was Visi’s true body, hung up in the home of a child he had murdered.
“Do you see?” Iosef asked, looking at the shock upon Anthony’s face, hanging by wires in the tube. He produced the personal effects that Anthony held when Iosef found him. He saw his license and a small knife which had a number of scratches on the back of the blade, one for every life he had taken.
Anthony screamed out.
“I don’t deserve this! You should have killed me. I did what I did. At least what I did was humane.”
Iosef dropped the box and stepped forward, tears streaking his face.
“Humanity is not a question for you, Anthony. You took my daughter and I searched for you for years. I begged for answers and I never got them. So here you are. In my home finally, and you will obey every last word I say. You will watch what this has done to my family. You are trapped here, no longer a visitor in this home, you are a permanent resident. Hell doesn’t have enough gold to pay for what you’ve done. You will pay for your sins right here, and I am going to watch you suffer.” Iosef snarled at Anthony’s body, visibly shaken as Baba put an arm around him and led him out of the room.
Anthony hung in his tank, silent and still for a long time. It couldn’t be true. He couldn’t have done any of those things, the memories had come to fruition within his mind, but he couldn’t have. He remembered the feeling of the knife and of the first cuts, but he didn’t remember actually taking any of their lives. As if the file was missing within his operating system, Anthony searched for anything, any scrap of hope within the things he was given and found nothing. Among the files he had perused, he found a large log book. Noting a list of victims that Iosef tallied. Just like he had in his mortal time. The lists of the men and women all aligned with a public registry of sex offenders, all of whom had died suspiciously within the last two years. Near the top, the first names on the list were two men and three women.
and sitting atop the list, Anthony stared in horror as he read the name.
All of the victims shared a chief suspect. A man, caught on camera, with wires hanging from his flesh and the same familiar knife in his hands. Visi couldn’t remember any of it but noted among the victims, there was a small text file. When he opened it, it read a few short words. Enough to send a shock through his spine.
“Anthony, your crimes outweigh even the love I held for my own daughter. When I rebuilt her, she wanted nothing more than affection from us. But we didn’t know how to love a machine. We only knew how to build them, and with our dear Anna’s sorrow, we built a new one. The perfect machine. One who could repay the debt that is owed to us.”
Before long, Mila spoke for the first time since he awoke, the voice of a child, Anna’s voice.
“Welcome to the family, Anthony.”
“Welcome, 6Y-ES-TOR, to your new home.”