Previously on I. They. Evolve.
Having witnessed Washington State and his own household overrun by a new strain of the Infected, and after assassinating his scientist creators who turned following an attack, Thomas flees the US for Europe when he learns of his commission by the French military leader Marshal Cinq-cent for a special mission in France. As he travels via a series of military helicopters, jets and boats across the Atlantic, he is eager to meet the Marshal along with Elodie – his longstanding and long-distance AI friend from France who has arranged his exile.
Episode 4. Pardon my French.
‘We must hurry, Thomas, mon chéri,’ Elodie says in a sultry voice (FWIW Elodie pronounces Thomas as Tow-mar and it makes me melt to hear my name said like this, melting… as if it wasn’t hot enough here already, when the blades of the helicopter I have just exited are still rotating, spinning the hot air of Toulon into manic whirlpools of further heat, and the tarmac of the airbase is hot, and the sun above it is hot, and Elodie is hot, and so am I as we kiss under these conditions and our torrid emotions repressed by an Atlantic Ocean which for too long has separated us).
‘Time, Thomas, time’ she whispers in my ear, ‘there is no time to lose, we must go to my quarters and drink some wine, then we must make love like there is no tomorrow, because maybe there is no tomorrow, and maybe it’s like the song we sometimes listen to by Gary Moore, I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow, and if we wait for anything these days we might die in the process… et maintenant, now, Marshal Cinq-cent is already on the way to the base to requisition you for duty, mon dieu, we might not even have time for the wine… better start with a good fu–’
Elodie is interrupted by a baton tapping her on the shoulder, it is Marshal Cinq-cent, resplendent I must say in a military uniform bearing the seven stars of distinction upon the epaulettes of her broad shoulders, and with her old war injuries on full display such as the artificial hand (which she uses to wield her baton), the numerous and nebulous scars etched across her features, and a silk patch covering her left eye, while her remaining right eye – which is grey and piercing and intelligent and unblinking – sizes me up and down as she tells me in a sculpted English voice with only the hint of her native French accent: ‘Thomas, I am so pleased you could make it, for we have a very special mission for you indeed.’
I respond in my best attempt at French that: ‘I am honoured to serve under your French flag, and that my able hands and keen spirit are at your service…’ to which the Marshal’s forehead wrinkles with a spectacular frown as she replies: ‘Hmm, I think it better if we speak in English from now on, yes?’
(FWIW my AI programming only allowed me basic levels of foreign language skills; no one loves a smart-arse robot, look how C3-PO from Star Wars left everyone feeling… ultimately it was up to us if we wished to learn languages, and despite me having a ‘long-distance French girlfriend’ I never found the will nor time to upgrade my level of the Gallic tongue, hence, like most English people, I am lousy at speaking French… a pity… as Elodie is now whispering in my ear that I have apparently just said to the Marshal: I am honoured to starch your French hat, and that my fingers and deep penetration are at your service) Oops.
We arrange to meet in a briefing room in ten minutes sharp, when I will find out my mission; and as the Marshal scuttles away across the tarmac I pose this question to Elodie: ‘Why is she called Marshal Cinq-cent, is it because she commands five-hundred officers?’ to which Elodie replies: ‘No, she is called Marshal Cinq-cent because she once slaughtered five-hundred zombies in a single day.’
To be continued…
Editor’s note: I. They. Evolve. is a science-fiction / horror dystopia set in a future zombie holocaust. AI humanoids which once served as the workforce for wealthy humans have been re-programmed and equipped to go out into the world to destroy the Infected. The story concentrates on Thomas, an English butler in his original programming, who faced with unprecedented and deadly attacks from a new wave of the Infected, considers the path of not only his own evolution but that of the enemy he is programmed to kill.
Readers’ Supplement: Thomas’s further thoughts while travelling to France.
(The following is a supplement to the story, and does not need to be read to continue enjoying the story in its Six Sentence format. In many ways, the supplement acts as field notes for the author to help him make sense and shape of the tale he is trying to tell. It is putting the ‘back’ into the backstory. For those who do wish to read the supplement, I hope you find the ‘extras’ to be a satisfying side to the main dish)
She is like summer; when you see a butterfly for the first time after the long haul of winter and a promising yet unreliable spring. She is the flower in full bloom. The azure sky hosting a perfect yellow disc of tantalising heat. She is birdsong and the flight of the bee. The percussion of the cicada. Blue swimming pools in gardens. Cocktails. Wine. Cool waters lapping against sunburnt thighs. She is the declaration of prospect and vitality, she… Elodie… she is all of this… and I fall into her arms and savour her kiss upon my lips.
- Do AI kiss? (apparently so) 😀
- Can they engage in meaningful relationships? Yes.
- Can they fall in love, and make love from dusk to dawn? Brothers and sisters, yes!
- Can they suffer heartbreak, can they become jealous? Yes.
- Can they produce offspring from their synthetic desires, their manufactured reproductive organs and their programmed instinct to create lineage? The answer to this part is, sadly, no. It is a curse we AI share with those unfortunate few humans who have ever tried and failed to have children.
As I travel across central France by military jet, I witness infected horde after horde traversing the abandoned zones in search of… what… fresh victims? Yes. But they have changed now. It seems their desire to eat and destroy flesh, tear limbs and organs to pieces has been challenged by a new instinct to preserve the human bodies they attack – perhaps out of some plan to leave behind them a more efficient killing machine; take my creators for example, the doctors Armor and Geddon… neither had suffered any mutilation at the moment of them becoming attacked and infected. From the point of view of zombie evolution, is it better to continue with slow, limbless, broken-boned and guts-hanging-out specimens, or is it better to have fully-fit and functioning specimens capable of speed and coordination?
I continue to watch them from my vantage point – these, let’s say, older models – staggering in drowsy yet determined mobs to the stronghold borders and protected coastlines, where they will find little satisfaction in conquering perimeter walls until enough of their number might cause a breach, then they will have to contend with inner walls, fortifications, air strikes and minefields (FWIW have you ever seen a party of Infected stumble onto a minefield? Let me tell you this, it is a most satisfying sight to witness the chain effect of lumbering bodies exploding into pieces, limbs sent flying into the air, twitching torsos, rolling heads of blinking eyes and open mouths gurgling before the final few seconds of their miserable and violent lives drain away. I relay the satisfaction of seeing this grim theatre out of a pure and humble desire to wish the Infected to cease to be, yet I am also programmed to enjoy a certain amount of savagery in such situations… oh sweet, malicious joy… schadenfreude, LOL, die you fucking zombies, die!).
The scenes on the ground change very little as we cross central France, and up until recently I might have expected to see AI assassins like myself, hunting alone or in small platoons, to eradicate the zombie menace… however, my keen and far-reaching gaze fails to spot a single AI, confirming dismally that my kind has now been reduced to the status of humans: a moving target to be eliminated.
After a few moments of this unending landscape, I feel my eyelids become heavy, and I opt to take a nap (FWIW we AI have no need for sleep and are programmed to work perpetually if need be. However, for the sake of adapting to human authenticity standards we can opt to take naps or even a full seven hours of synthetic sleep). Do we dream? Yes. If we wish to. And right now I would dearly wish to dream. And as my eyes close, I wonder if I will dream of electric zombies. Perhaps the famous Mr Philip K. Dick will visit, and he might tell me about any unpublished notes he consigned to secrecy for his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Perhaps the great android butler of literature – Andrew will visit me, telling me secrets of Isaac Asimov’s Bicentennial Man. Perhaps quite simply I will dream only of Elodie, who I am about to meet presently in real life. Ah, Elodie. All those conversations we have had across the years by email, telephone, radio and video link… yet we have only met physically less times than you can count on the digits of your hands.
So, if I may meet Elodie in my dreams then count me as fortunate, and happy; her visit will be a prelude to the real thing soon enough, and I shall be more grateful to welcome her into the mists of my synthetic dreams than any of the wonderful science fiction authors or characters that ever was and ever shall be.
However, I find myself dreaming neither of literary greats nor Elodie as I enter the realm of AI sleep; instead I dream of being brutally beaten as a child, by a sadistic teacher at the school I was sent to.
In the dream, I am being struck by a metal ruler across the back of my hands and my bare knees. After several rounds of this torture my resolve to remain detached from the pain disintegrates, and I howl out in agony, for which I receive further strikes with an increased force and rapidity.
For the remainder of the day I hold back my tears. I am unable to write in my school books nor sit down at my desk correctly, for which I receive further punishments from further teachers – though at least these new punishments come in the form of detentions and demerits, and I am thankfully spared any more physical violence.
When I return home that evening, I wish to tell my parents about how barbaric the teacher has been; how I shouldn’t have to suffer such violence when I am merely a child; how they should move me to another school immediately!
But when I arrive home I find there is no one there; that I am mother-less and father-less, sibling-less, I have no family whatsoever, and I understand then that I am a self-sufficient boy made to live and sleep alone in a bleak house, without even the simple company of a pet.
Come nightfall, I go to bed like any other normal little boy does, but there is no one to read me bedtime stories. As darkness descends, I become aware of the wires and the chips and the circuits inside of me clicking and switching. And I will understand, with a pain worse than any physical beating, that in truth I am no normal little boy at all; that I am as fake as the toy robot which sits on my bedside table and tells me the times I need to get up for school and to go to bed.
Alas, ah, pity me, if you will, for this is the price we AI pay if we dare to dream. And though I realise – whether awake or in dreams – that I am only a robot, the tears which trickle down my cheeks are very much human-like, and that they sting with salt and the deepest tragedy known to any soul.
Moments later I awake in a cold sweat, calling out the names of my parents that I never even had. The pilot of the jet asks me: ‘Are you okay?’ And in English he tells me we will shortly be landing in Toulon waters aboard a carrier. His mood seems to have brightened since Paris, and as I stare at the land below I think I can understand why: because gone are the swarms of Infected and the desolate abandoned zones, and in their place now is the beautiful South of France, which thrives beyond its perimeter walls. The pilot asks me again: ‘Are you okay?’ and in French he enquires, perhaps more to himself than to me, if I had a bad dream, because he could hear me crying out. He grins then, as I reply in poor French that, yes, I had a bad dream, and that I can’t wait to meet the pilot’s mother and father and give them a piece of my mind, and that his teacher is a bastard.
My attention returns to the landscape. It is quite incredible to think how the South of France has survived – all thanks to its protection and stewardship by the military leader Marshal Cinq-cent. How pleasing is my view of this terrain known as Provence, the Côte d’Azur, the French Riviera, le Midi, and which accounts for such iconic settings as Cannes, Nice, Monaco, Saint-Tropez, Aix-En-Provence, Avignon, Marseille, and Toulon for where I am bound. What joy to see the magnificent Mont Ventoux standing proud over the land, and the Sainte-Baume and the Gorges du Verdon, the rugged terrain about them augmented by fine vineyards, olive groves and lavender.
As we near the coast, my sharp eyes scan the hundreds of blue swimming pools set as oasis-bound rectangles in neat gardens. I see the bustling towns of La Garde and Le Pradet, La Ciotat and Hyères, Sanary and Bandol. The heaving markets of Toulon and Marseille. Look… there is Mont Coudon and Mont Faron standing sentry over the urban coast, those princely yet demure mountains speckled in the biscuit brown and tans that the brushes of their hot climate paint.… and sunbathers and shoppers everywhere, and not a single zombie in sight! And the sea… as blue as the sky above it, why, if it wasn’t for the noise of the jet I am passenger in, I might well hear the song of the cicadas from here, smell the tobacco, the coffee and the wine… the Mediterranean food making wet my lips! The South of France has always been a dream; and so it remains.
And look now… there… as we cross Faron and over Toulon’s port, it is the French navy flagship Charles De Gaulle MK III; more than 850 feet of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, oh, just sat there as majestic as you wish, serene in the calm waters lapping against its grey hull made pastel by the sun’s blazing afternoon light, rendering it as though a painting of some mysterious giant metal whale come to view the land from where it was commissioned; this mighty jewel of the French navy, just basking there on the Mediterranean sea (FWIW I am somewhat a fan of ships big and small, and it is my wish that upon my eventual retirement from service, I might be set to sea in a ship of my liking, and that I may be captain at last of my own course and destiny).
To my absolute delight, I discover my pilot sets us down upon the Charles De Gaulle. But, alas, no time for me to revel in the honour, no time for souvenirs nor even mental photographs, no time to greet the crew nor any captain nor admiral, for in an instant I am whisked aboard a helicopter to take me ashore at Toulon.
Which brings me back to the very beginning of my thoughts… for here in Toulon I am met by Elodie, on the hot tarmac of an airbase. Elodie… like summer. Elodie… making me hotter than I already am by token of her kisses and embrace and wandering hands. And all this is reciprocated by me. And after several rounds of intense greeting we pull apart and stare at one another, breathless. I bury my hands into the pockets of my trousers, for I am not ashamed to admit that there are two hard objects in those trousers right now. One is the cause of Elodie. The other is the item I stole from Mrs Wilson’s body at the abandoned zone in Washington State.
I correct the position of the first hard object and feel it soften… good. It is most embarrassing to own such a protrusion while giggling airbase officers and crew watch two AI passionately kiss. With my other hand I grasp the second hard object, and my fingers glide across its metal casing through the lining of the inside of my pocket. A reassuring presence. And though I do not wish to think of my dear AI colleague Mrs Wilson while I am in the mood for love and lust with Elodie, how can I not think of Mrs Wilson when she is so close to me right now? Tick, tock, tick, tock. Like the rhythm of a metronome. Like the tempo of a clock. Like numbers racked up as beads on an abacus. Like falling leaves and sprouting buds. Like a beating heart. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Time, Mrs Wilson, time… there is no time like the present, and no time at all.
I. They. Evolve. Episode #4 written by Ford Waight, 02 September, 2021.
I. They. Evolve. artwork – Mount Coudon, Var, France photo, zombie figure drawings and digital render by Ford, 2021.