Authors: William Massa
Copyright © 2014 William Massa
Critical Mass Publishing
All character appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
Also by William Massa
Crossing the Darkness
CARA WAS NURSING the infant nestled in her arms when the high-pitched whine of ramjets assaulted the air. She looked up with alarm, catching sight of the fast-approaching military AI-TAC hovership, a sleek, mechanical bird of prey, all jagged edges and swiveling gun turrets.
Happiness made way for a somber realization - she wasn’t going to live to see another day.
The squirming bundle — her name was Annie — remained blissfully unaware of the approaching danger; her tiny pink fingers brushed against the nursing bottle as her lips drank greedily.
Cara stood aboard the top deck of a huge freighter headed for Japan. Seasickness had driven most of the crew below and the upper deck felt abandoned. The massive vessel fought its way through the choppy sea, a steel behemoth carving a path through the endless expanse of the Pacific, a swirling, ever-shifting landscape of blue. Sunlight shimmered on the water, a scarlet band that stretched over the horizon. But the spectacular beauty of her surroundings was lost on her. Cara’s world had been reduced to a single thought…
They’d been found!
In less than a minute, the craft would be hovering above the freighter and armed troopers would board, weapons blazing. She had to warn the others even as she knew it would be little more than a courtesy, a chance for them to steel themselves for their inevitable fate.
Fighting back a wave of panic, Cara sent an instant message to the other five individuals she was traveling with. They had chosen to remain on the lower decks of the freighter. She knew there was no escape and this realization broke her heart. It wasn’t fair after all they’d been through. They had gotten so far, overcoming so many dangers and obstacles on their treacherous path toward a better future. In her mind, she could almost see the landmass of Japan in the distance. Japan had come to symbolize freedom; a safe haven from her pursuers where they could never harm her or Annie and where they’d be allowed to go on with their lives in peace. But this was wishful thinking. They were still days away from their destination and found themselves in international waters. No law on the planet offered protection from what was about to happen.
Her grim realization led to acceptance. She would face her fate on her own terms. She wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Galvanized into motion, Cara made her way below deck. She passed a few grim-faced crewmen. Most of them looked away when they saw her. They were sympathetic to her plight but realized her escape attempt had come to an end. Self-preservation dictated that they avoid the upcoming confrontation.
Cara rushed down a few flights of stairs and arrived in the vast cargo area that had been her home for the last four days. To most people the living conditions below deck were abysmal, but to Cara these last four days were the best days of her life. Down here, she had felt hope for the first time. Hope for a better life. Hope for a future.
No one could ever take away from her the time she spent with Annie. She realized she had no regrets. She had done her best to improve her lot in life. There had never been a guarantee she’d get away with it, and she was fully aware from the start that the odds were stacked against her. Even though her kind made up twenty percent of the US population, they would always be looked down upon as just machines. As property. Humans had many names for them. Android, mechanical, technohuman, synthetics, AI, mech. But Cara could add one to the list: slave. She was born into digital bondage. Two years earlier she had entered the world fully formed and equipped with memories, a preprogrammed personality and no rights to speak of.
She remembered being assigned to a wealthy family as their personal assistant. Remembered the pregnant woman who had eyed her with what turned out to be well-founded suspicion. The look of interest from the husband didn’t escape Cara’s notice, but in a way she was too innocent and naïve to comprehend the complex human dynamic she was about to become ensnared in.
Two weeks later, the husband had his way with her while his wife gave birth in a hospital two miles away.
At first Cara had been indifferent to the sex. Providing pleasure was within the parameters of her programming. Her body was designed to be enticing and she gave herself willingly to her owner. If the wife had been so inclined, Cara would have reciprocated advances from her, too. She was designed to serve. To please.
But as the wife returned, the emotional dynamic changed within the household. Within herself. The cause for these changes were at first mysterious to her. On one level she was a highly complex, evolved digital consciousness, on another, she was as innocent and inexperienced as the helpless infant in her care but as the weeks passed, innocence gave way to experience and a growing understanding of the situation she found herself in. She was beginning to realize the devastating impact the husband’s advances were having on the integrity of the family unit. She was programmed to strengthen and stabilize her assigned household but her presence was having the exact opposite effect. The affair threatened to tear the family apart. She couldn’t allow this to happen. It was in direct violation of her programming. She had to find a solution to a problem that was growing worse with each passing day.
At first, Cara hoped the wife could put a stop to it. Why didn’t she confront her philandering husband? Why was she turning a blind eye to the man’s indiscretions? Didn’t she care about her daughter? Was she afraid she would lose her husband if she spoke up? Instead of confronting the situation, she chose to ignore it and sought refuge in the bottle. Five Martini’s got her through the day and, as long as Cara prepared the cocktails, she maintained her silence.
Cara was left with no other choice but to stand up to the husband directly. She informed her owner that his infidelity was threatening the integrity of the household, but her insights fell on deaf ears. In fact, it seemed only to encourage him to take her more frequently and with greater force.
There was a perverse human psychology at work here that defied the limits of her understanding. Cara couldn’t refuse him, but neither could she be indifferent to his behavior any longer. Cara sensed that the family unit was crumbling and she was the cause. The mother was pulling away from her own baby. Rather than hold her husband responsible for his philandering, instead she placed the blame on Annie.
The parents were neglecting their child, and Cara was picking up the slack. It wasn’t surprising that the baby bonded with her instead of her mother. This development raised tensions even further.
After four months of relentless family dysfunction that was spiraling out of control, Cara decided a change was needed. Her solution: she refused the husband’s advances. This act of defiance was within program parameters, as his behavior threatened the family unit. Her primary function was to preserve and enhance the stability of the home. This underlying directive informed all her decisions.
When the husband became livid and tried to take Cara against her will, she grabbed his arm and flung him across the bedroom. His head slammed against the wall, the impact whipping his neck around with a sickening snap. His body sagged and Cara realized in horror that she had killed her owner.
She stared down at the lifeless body sprawled across the bedroom carpet. In that fateful moment when his hand had tightened around her wrist, she had acted outside of her programming. Giving it further thought, Cara concluded that she had broken free of the boundaries imposed by her own coding and exerted a quality considered exclusive to humanity - free will.
Cara didn’t understand how this could be possible but the reality of what had happened could not be denied. Her program parameters recommended she should call the authorities and inform them of the crime. They would return her to her makers for further evaluation and most likely her mind would be wiped and rebooted or they might just scrap her all together, a fitting end for a defective android.
There was only one problem
She didn’t feel defective.
She didn’t want to her memory wiped.
She wasn’t the one who had started it.
Cara had gotten her first taste of freedom and wasn’t willing to give it up so easily. She turned toward little Annie, the infant’s cries echoing through the house. The mother remained downstairs, willfully oblivious to the needs of her own child. She was seeking solace in another martini, even though it was mid-afternoon. Cara stepped up to the child and held her close. Incapable of reproduction but designed to provide maternal energy, she almost felt like the true mother of this tiny person.
Cara was a machine built to nurture and love, and those emotions motivated her next move. Her sole logical option was escape, not to save herself, but to offer continued protection to the child, a task the biological mother had proven ill suited for. Cara was the only one who could fill the void, so self-preservation became the first order of business. She couldn’t entrust Annie’s future to the drunken, self-hating woman slumped on the couch below. Cara felt guilty for what she had done, but she knew feeling sorry wouldn’t miraculously bring the dead man back to life.
She stepped out the back door and disappeared into the nearby woods. Annie remained silent in her arms, almost as if she approved of Cara’s actions.
That was three months ago.
Three months on the run.
Three months of freedom.
Three months of being Annie’s mother.
Cara nestled the infant among blankets and pillows on one of the crates. Annie marveled at her with big eyes and now there seemed to be a look of concern on her cherubic features — an instinctive sense that trouble was brewing. The infant gurgled and made mewling sounds. Could Annie read the emotions on her face, the concern mixed with regret and growing anger?
Cara didn’t shed any tears. She wouldn’t allow herself that luxury, at least not yet. She kissed the baby on the forehead, a final farewell.
She rose… and waited.
She didn’t have to wait for long.
The engines of the hovership rattled the freighter, sending thrumming vibrations through its steel belly. The military aircraft had reached the ship and now hovered directly above them. At this moment, AI-TAC troopers were rappelling down. Soon many sets of combat boots would impact on the deck.
Cara could picture it clearly in her mind. After all, she had witnessed the scene many times before, always as an observer, though, never as a participant. Never as the target.
There was a first time for everything.
The cargo area was still bathed in comforting darkness, easing her into a false sense of security. She knew it was an illusion, but she welcomed it, needed it. It was a moment of calm before the storm. She could pretend everything was going to be alright and that there might be a chance of escape.
A text message appeared in her vision.
We’ll offer no resistance.
She envied their ability to face the enemy with stoic acceptance but they didn’t have a child to worry about.
The anger was growing inside Cara. It was unfair. What had she done to deserve this? Her thoughts were interrupted by muffled shouts. The peaceful moment shattered, reality intruding. The soldiers were closing in. She could hear the aggressive barking of the German Shepherds the hunters used to track their quarry.
The sounds grew louder, approaching from outside the cargo area… almost here…
Cara closed her eyes and the face of the infant appeared in her mind. The image was quickly shattered as the door whipped open and the assault team swept into the hold, navigating a shadowy maze of twelve-foot-tall containers with searchlights that speared the darkness.
They all wore combat helmets that hid their faces and their bodies were encased in the latest body armor. They looked like a furious army of killer robots, armed to the teeth and ready to eradicate any enemy foolish enough to cross them.