tagSci-Fi & FantasyFalling in Love Bit By Bit

Falling in Love Bit By Bit

byHLD©

This is a story set in the not-so-distant future. It explores how humans and robots might interact and how they might even fall in love. It's a tale of betrayal, deception and maybe a little redemption. If you're looking for quickie sex or a stroke story, hit the "Back" button now because this is the wrong story for you. I hope you enjoy!

****************

She felt the bullets coming before the sound registered in her audio sensors. With a graceful roll, A617.D dodged the projectiles. Not bothering to look in the direction of the shooter, she raised the slug-thrower and let loose with a burst of armour-piercing bullets of her own. None of them struck her pursuers, but then again, she wasn't really trying to hit them. She just wanted them to put their heads down, and there's nothing like a hail of 10mm explosive-tipped caseless that makes someone—even a full conversion cyborg—take cover.

Without hesitation, A617.D leaped over the railing and fell twenty stories. No one jumped after her.

Her titanium-reinforced endoskeleton absorbed the impact when she struck the pavement, leaving a three foot deep hole where she landed. Terrified onlookers scuttled out of her way. With a quick glance around, A617.D decided none of the humans around her posed a threat, then ran towards her getaway craft.

Knowing there would be ground units in pursuit, A617.D could outrun any human that wasn't wearing a jetpack, but unless she could break through the inevitable security ring, she would be trapped.

That's why there were contingency plans.

The glare of police sirens filled the air. She could hear them coming, her enhanced auditory suite picking up sounds too high and too low for human ears. Her internal antennas monitored police and military frequencies. A very sophisticated—and very expensive—sensor package tracked everything that moved within a quarter mile. She knew where her adversaries were and what they were up to. That was of little comfort to the assassin, though. They were well trained and had combat robots of their own to hunt her down.

What they lacked, though, was the sheer ingenuity that went in to her construction. No expense had been spared in A617.D or her "sisters". Their primary function was killing, and they were very good at it. So good, in fact, that her inventor and manufacturer had to go into hiding, lest they be done in by any number of people who had a score to settle with a presidential assassin or the people responsible for knocking off a crime lord or drug kingpin.

Along with the other robots on this mission, A617.D had access to no less than four escape vehicles along carefully planned egress routes, and she was making her way to the nearest ones. The other assassin robots would find their own flitters and escape.

The collision sensor alerted her to the incoming missile that missed by less than a foot. It streaked by and hit a nearby groundcar. She vaulted over the explosion and landed amidst broken bodies, human and robot alike. Bullets peppered the street, raining down from an aerial gunship.

Everyone scrambled for cover, including A617.D.

Escape. Evade. This unit is in danger. The short tachyon communication burst from I825.M barely registered in her consciousness, but the orders did not pass her notice.

This unit is surrounded. Another set of instructions passed through her positronic mind in a nanosecond, this time from C224.J. Complete the mission.

Within her biomechanical brain, A617.D analysed the shared telemetry data from her two companions. Both were being pursued heavily. The odds of survival for each was less than 3 percent. Calculating her own chances, she came up with something on the order of 26 percent. She was the logical choice to make another run at the objective while the other two created a distraction.

The pieces of the exploding groundcar were still falling from the sky in the time it took for A617.D to assess the situation. She raised her pistol and emptied the magazine in the direction of the nearest police car.

Around her, humans screamed in terror. True to their base programming, robots jumped between the muzzle of A617.D's weapon and the organic lifeforms that had created them. Assassin robots were not encumbered with a conscience or the need to protect human life. They did not need sleep, food or a reason to kill. There was only the mission. And failure was not an option. She was preparing to return to the objective when one of the others stopped her.

This unit has the targets in sight. One of her sisters flashed her another communication packet. A617.D did not have emotions, although she was programmed to simulate them, if only to pass as human and infiltrate a target. She knew I825.M was about to self-destruct, but she didn't care. Escape. Evade.

She turned away from the carnage and resumed her run towards the aircar. The humans around her cowered and scrambled out of her way.

An instant before I825.M blew herself up, A617.D received another fast tachyon burst, uploading the other robot's last memories and useful sensor data. It proved the mission was a success and would secure payment for their master.

The humans's shrieks of terror became louder when the 56th floor of the Comp-Tinier building exploded, raining glass, metal and bodies down on the streets below.

In the confusion, A617.D threw her gun into a nearby trash bin and shed her coat. In the blink of an eye, her hair extended by four centimeters then darkened from platinum blonde to a deep auburn. Her eyes changed colour and she altered the retinal pattern so the nearby scanners would register a different "person". A moment later, she received a second data burst from C224.J and another explosion rocked downtown.

Escape. Evade. The final orders were all A617.D knew.

****************

"Hey, Campbell," one of the techs waved his hand in front of the 3-D holographic screen. "We're goin' downstairs to grab a bite to eat. You hungry?"

He looked up, annoyed. "No."

"Suit yourself," the other man shrugged. He was only being polite anyway. His co-workers left the lab, leaving Holland Campbell staring at the code, trying to figure out where he had messed up.

Without question, Campbell was the smartest person in the company, if not on the entire east coast. His ideas weren't just brilliant, they were sometimes so far out of the box, they bordered on being downright crazy. Yet, they almost always worked. His research in the fields of biomechanics and nanotechnology were revolutionary.

He was also a rather odd man. Not in a strange way, but even though he held over two dozen patents of various cybernetic devices, he was decidedly old-fashioned. He eschewed optic or audio implants. He drove his own car. There was no droud implanted behind his ear that let him interface directly with a computer. He did it with voice-activation, a keyboard and sometimes hand-mounted pointers. Campbell even wore eyeglasses.

The company indulged his eccentricities and paid his outrageous fees because he needed their resources and they liked to make money. Holland Campbell was a brilliant—nay, visionary—computer engineer, but he was also a little scatter-brained. The company gave him the freedom to do what he wished. They funded his projects and whims. He got to do research and they got a share of his riches. Everyone benefitted.

Some of his co-workers joked—behind his back, of course—that he was more machine than human. While not socially inept, Holland was smarter than everyone else around him and they all knew it. He was neither exceedingly pompous nor arrogant, so rather than talk down to people, he often simply didn't talk at all. The other people in the lab had graduate degrees from the best schools in the country, but even they weren't up to his level.

That's why they often left him alone for lunch. He kept strange hours, sometimes working eighteen or twenty hours straight; other times he wouldn't show up for days. No one questioned him; even the company's project managers knew to let him be. He might take two years before producing anything, but you could bet that when he emerged from his lab, whatever it was he came up with would not only work, but would work well. And it made everyone around him very, very wealthy. It seemed he had the Midas Touch.

So Holland Campbell sat there, staring at the code, wondering what wasn't working. He didn't pay any attention to the stereovision as it updated the world on the latest news. Nor did he hear the doors to the lab open, or hear the soft footfalls of the woman who walked over to greet him.

It wasn't until she was standing behind him that he even registered another person in the room. He ignored her, thinking the gorgeous woman to be one of his labmates returning from lunch early.

After a few moments, she cleared her throat. Still, he did not look up.

"Excuse me," she said finally. Her voice was soft and melodic with just a touch of Castilian. "Mr. Campbell?"

He turned, his brow creased with just a hint of anger. Everyone knew not to bother him. His voice was curt. "Can I help you?"

"I'm Miriam Garcia," she said extending her hand. He didn't bother to take it. She continued, unfazed. "I was just assigned to this division and told to report to you."

"Welcome to Neurodyne," he said without much emotion. "You've reported. Talk to Vic or Kirstie when they get back. Try not to break anything and stay out of the way."

If he could, Holland would have worked by himself. But he found that sometimes he needed a helping hand to do some heavy lifting or other menial task (if positronic engineering could be considered menial), so he tolerated the assistants the company provided. Deep down, he suspected that this new girl was just one more person sent to keep an eye on him. She would be gone in a few weeks, so he mentally dismissed her and turned back to his work.

After a few minutes of silence, Campbell had forgotten about the woman standing behind him, but she never moved. Instead he concentrated on the code. Nothing came to him. Moments of programmer's block were common and he was determined to wait it out. It wasn't until he paused to reach for his coffee cup that she spoke again.

"Your core algorithm in the tertiary search string is wrong," she said quietly.

Campbell turned, clearly irritated that she would dare speak to him that way. After all, what did some wet-behind-the-ears intern know about computer neural networks?

"I've gone over this—"

"And you missed it." She cut him off. His lip curled up into an angry sneer. She ignored his glare and stepped up to the display.

When she reached into the 3-D tank, he saw she was already wearing a harness on her hands that would let her re-write the code. Where the others might have wilted before Campbell's anger, Miriam pulled several strings to the front of the tank and pushed the rest aside.

Her hands moved in short, deliberate strokes. Taking the bits and bytes of information she wanted and replacing the parts she didn't, she carefully re-wrote the program. Campbell stood next to her. Part of him simmered at being shown up by the new girl. And part of him—the part that was more interested in fixing his problem—paid attention to what she was doing. That part pushed the fury aside when he saw the direction her coding was taking.

He cursed himself for not seeing it earlier. With something between grudging admiration and genuine gratitude, he watched her finish the program.

A few minutes later, she was done. The lines of code hung suspended in the 3-D tank. She stepped aside to allow Campbell to inspect her work. Neither spoke for a long moment.

"Very nice," he said, conceding defeat. Still he had to try and get the last word in. "I'd have caught it."

Miriam only smiled politely. Satisfied that he was done looking over the display, she hit the "execute" button and this time, the program worked. The bugs were gone.

"Where are you from?" he asked, a little more conversationally. Deep down, Holland Campbell wasn't a bad guy. Nor was he uptight, elitist or smug, as others tended to think of him. He had just never met his intellectual equal. Until now.

"Cal Tech," Miriam replied.

"I'm sorry I gave you the bad impression," he said apologetically. He extended his hand. Miriam reached out and took it. "Holland Campbell. Welcome to Neurodyne."

"Miriam Garcia," she replied with a smile. "It's my pleasure."

****************

And so began what the other technicians called "The Great Thaw". Over the course of a few weeks, several of the others saw a side to Holland that was almost human. A few times, he even smiled. Of course, it wasn't to them. It was only to Miriam.

He still treated the rest of the staff about as well as most people treat cockroaches. He sent them on fools' errands and talked patronisingly to those who didn't catch on quickly enough. If someone screwed up, he let them—and everyone else within shouting range—know it. But they noticed he said "please" and "thank you" more frequently . . . well, maybe once or twice.

Miriam seemed to affect the rest of the staff, too. Unlike Holland, she was nice and personable. She treated everyone with respect, if not admiration, for their professional accomplishments. Very quickly, she became the mediator between Campbell and the others, mostly because she never seemed to fuck up and get chewed on.

Still, some professional jealousies remained, mostly from some of the lazier staff members who tried to circulate a rumour that she was sleeping with the boss. The others dismissed those notions, noting that not only had the work environment become a little more pleasant but productivity had gone up. The ones who would not shut up soon found themselves transferred to other units or let go altogether.

Their latest project was coming together nicely. For almost two centuries, humans had tried to build a positronic network modeled after the human brain. In some areas, they had succeeded. Robots could calculate faster than humans (decision-making), could retrieve data without error better (memory) and even learn from their mistakes. What they could not do was be creative. Robots think in a very linear manner. Their programming gives them purpose. They cannot give themselves purpose.

A robot is good at performing a set of tasks with pre-determined variables. It can respond to those variables with pre-determined responses. They are very efficient if given a task.

Holland Campbell's idea was to create a robot brain that could dream. A brain that could come with ideas on its own.

People had been trying this for decades, but none had succeeded. Until now. At least that's what he believed.

Seven people sat around the table. Campbell paced around the room. Holographic displays showed strings and strings of code. Green symbols meant the code was good to go. Yellow was for minor bugs. Blinking red indicated problems.

And there was far too much blinking red for anyone's liking.

"The program is good," Miriam said flatly. She waved her hand at the blinking strings. "I've checked every cluster twice. There is no reason why those lines don't work."

"Something has to be wrong," Kirstie Taylor's voice was filled with frustration. Holland was in one of his moods and most of them had been up for close to thirty hours with only a short nap here and there.

"So what is it?" Bok Phan asked from the back of the room. It didn't matter what the other woman's reply was; the look in his eyes was the result of too little sleep and too much work. He was itching for a fight. There had been a couple of shouting matches earlier in the night and tempers were short.

Before Kirstie could respond, Holland waved his hand. His voice was soft, but it carried. "Go home. Don't come back any sooner than forty-eight hours from now. We all need some rest."

The tone of his voice brokered no discussion. While he probably would not heed his own instructions, he was smart enough to know that the group had long since passed the possibility of being productive.

Holland stared at the pieces of the program scattered on displays around the room. Everyone filed out except Miriam.

"The code is good," she insisted.

"Obviously not," he replied curtly. Holland turned back to one of the monitors. "What are we missing?"

Neither spoke for a long time.

"What if it's not the code?" Holland asked. "What if it's something else?"

"Like what?" Miriam said, frustration edging into her voice.

"What if our whole assumption is wrong? What if . . ." His voice trailed off. "What if we're going down the wrong path?"

She started to reply but he held his hand up.

"Leave," he said. "Go home. Come back in two days."

When Holland Campbell got that look in his eyes, everyone around him knew better than to argue.

Miriam gathered up her few possessions and left the lab.

****************

"Do you think we got everyone, Sergeant Major?"

"I reckon so, Colonel. There's not much that coulda lived through that."

Both surveyed the destroyed compound. Hidden away in the deepest recesses of Montana, the few huts on the surface betrayed nothing about what was buried deep under the ground.

Smoke billowed out of the tunnels. Bodies lay strewn about the ground, some human, some robot. Some were the attackers. Some were the mercenaries. Both sides paid a high price.

"Tell Captain Mothersbaugh to get her people in there and see if we can salvage anything," Colonel Bethann Jerrik said. "And find out if any more of those assassin robots are on the loose."

****************

When the seven Neurodyne labmates showed up two days later, Holland Campbell was no where to be seen.

"He's probably gone out on a week-long bender," Jim Skeens joked. To the best of their knowledge, their boss had never done anything recreational. Like take up drinking.

What he left behind was a new program. He had thrown out everything the team spent the previous three weeks putting together. The code hanging in the 3-D tanks was crude and clearly incomplete, but it seemed to address the shortcomings of the previous program.

At first, they thought he was playing a prank on them, but as they started analysing what he had done, it all began to make sense. The seven teammates dove into program and began working out the kinks. Miriam led the way, polishing up the rough spots and cleaning up the extraneous bits.

Three days later no one had heard from Campbell, but his program was almost up and running.

"Should we call him?" Miriam asked. Even though she had been there for a few months, she was still the "new girl."

"Nah," one of the others snorted. "He'll be back in a few days. We usually slip out early and goof off a bunch. Think of it as comp time for the seventy-two hour marathon that's coming the next time he gets an inspiration."

The rest of the group went back to loafing. The men tried to flirt with Miriam, but she seemed distant. When the end of the workday rolled around, there was still no word from Campbell, so everyone went home. A few even mentioned that they were going to take the next day off and get started on a long weekend.

Miriam left the research campus and headed towards Campbell's house. He lived in one of the high-rises. In the penthouse suite, of course. He had enough money to own the building, but instead settled for the top floor. It even came with its own private elevator.

No one had ever been to his place. If Holland Campbell was distant and aloof in the lab, he was a hermit when away from it. Miriam knew where he lived because she had a talent for snooping and—as many companies tend to be—Neurodyne was surprisingly careless in the ways it protected its employees's privacy.

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