Previously on I. They. Evolve.
Having fled Washington State which was overrun by a new and deadly wave of the Infected, Thomas finds himself in Toulon, South of France, where he is enlisted by the French military for a secret mission. Reunited with Elodie his longstanding AI French girlfriend, Thomas is ushered into a briefing room at the Toulon naval base to receive his mission from the revered French military leader Marshal Cinq-cent.
I. They. Evolve. Episode 5. Breaking The Laws.
The Three Laws of Robotics by Isaac Asimov
First Law – A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Second Law – A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. Third Law – A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
I am expecting only myself, Elodie and Marshal Cinq-cent to be present inside the briefing room at Toulon, where I will discover the nature of my mission; however, there is a fourth and unexpected party present – a person who makes my instincts bristle with suspicion the moment he emerges from the shadows.
‘Thomas,’ says Marshal Cinq-cent, ‘I present to you Sir Alex Blythe, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.’
Elodie is aware of my disposition, for I can feel her fingers brush against my hand as she stands next to me and beholds the hunchbacked figure of Sir Alex Blythe; the tap-tapping of his cane upon the steel floor, his misshapen hand gripped about its rosewood handle as though wood and flesh were one singular entity (FWIW legends have arisen that the cane of Sir Alex Blythe contains hidden poisons and recording devices, as well as a sword which he is able to unsheathe and wield with a speed and dexterity beyond the deformed and lurching figure that he is).
Sir Alex Blythe: a career politician from a family which can be traced back to the days before the Infection, when his ancestor served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in days of slogans, soundbites and the Global Britain fantasy… Alex Blythe, a man whose rise to the rank of Prime Minister-in-an-apocalypse came with zero objection as there were simply no other political parties in opposition… Blythe, a man who turned the status quo of statecraft upside down to ensure the media and corporations came to his heel like obedient hounds.
I hear him now telling me of my mission… that I am to be re-programmed to counter the new wave of Infected… I hear him telling me I must undergo digital surgery so that I might learn to think and behave like the Infected in order to defeat the Infected… I hear him telling me that I must hand over my internal instinct drive for immediate modification (FWIW all AI are built with a unique instinct drive based on Isaac Asimov’s The Three Laws of Robotics).
I hear him, yes, but can barely process what is being asked of me: Alex Blythe is demanding my instincts be laid bare upon his slab, to be butchered then stuffed and sewn back together like some Frankenstein’s AI monster… I shudder, and while the horror sinks in, I am aware of Elodie’s fingers still in close proximity to my own, and I slip my hand into my pocket and sneak out the object I took from Mrs Wilson’s body, and I pass this object into Elodie’s palm and fold her fingers around the metal casing which protects the dear and precious thing inside of it, and I whisper to Elodie: Here… it’s yours now, take good care of it, and let us hope we can remember me by this dear thing you now hold in your hands.
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 now 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 thoughts following his briefing in Toulon.
The Infection was always considered a global problem, and it took a massive effort by the surviving governments, corporations and military powers to create a global solution.
That solution was TERAS – The Earth Resistance Strategy.
Many had signed up to it. But who actually controlled TERAS, who financed it, and who ensured that its existence remained of paramount importance?
On the face of it, TERAS is overseen by an elected Director General who presides over an international team of appointed scientists. TERAS has always held up as its core values the importance of science, diplomacy, transparency and global effort, and it is fair to say that under these values this was how TERAS operated in the early part of the twenty-first century when the Infection first took hold.
Back then, an organisation such as TERAS could be bank-rolled by any number of rich countries looking to reclaim the world from cannibalistic monsters – that is until money lost its value. After, there was a host of failed alternatives: up stepped the billionaire entrepreneurs and their crypto currency-led solutions, which rocked on screen but sucked in reality. Up stepped the eco and bio super-billionaires who promised Eden but could only deliver sand and butterfly nets. Up stepped the uber-billionaires of narcissism and megalomania who promised they would use their space programmes to blast-off into the cosmos in search of solutions… damn them, they never came back. So up stepped the righteous and the outraged, and the neo-religious armies of all stripes, and the fearsome warlords of epic myths and sagas… each proposing brutal systems of labour in exchange for a share of vital goods, sometimes offering nothing more than chicken karma and rice kismet, golden handshake hamburgers and post-death paradise reward bonuses.
By the mid part of the twenty-first century, TERAS was no longer solely an institution set up to eradicate the Infection or solve food, water and medicine shortages… TERAS had evolved into the de-facto world government, with the option for anyone not subscribing being to either starve, go thirsty, find your own fuel and medicine, or all of these. It was as if TERAS had had enough of all the failed experiments to save humanity, and decided: hang it, let’s do it all ourselves!
So TERAS evolved.
And you were either in TERAS or out of TERAS.
You paid your dues and you took your cut of TERADOLLARS! INVEST IN THE FUTURE FOR WHEN THE FUTURE RETURNS! YOUR TERAS NEEDS YOU! JOIN THE TERAS YOUTH CORPS AND GET A FREE AI PET! SHHH… THE INFECTED HAVE EARS (MOSTLY)! LOOSE LIPS SINK AI CHIPS! ADOPT A GENUINE WAR-DAMAGED AI TODAY! NO GENERAL STRIKES MORE GENERALS! KEEP CALM AND DARN YOUR SOCKS! IN TERAS WE TRUST!
Care to take a guess as to who is controlling TERAS in the late-twenty-first century? And who it is who will likely still be controlling it as we leap into the new millennium? Who it is who keeps commissioning their old-school phoney soundbites? Who it is who pulls at all its nebulous strings?
If you think for one moment it’s some be-suited board of directors networking with a team of multi-lingual scientists, with everyone chipping-in their tuppence-worth of ideas over coffee and energy biscuits and civilised ballot sheets… then think again. There is only ever one puppet master…
… Sir Alex Blythe: a career politician from a family which can be traced back to the days before the Infection.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Blythe… Ugh. Enough about Blythe for the moment – his stories will be elaborated upon later… for now I must concentrate on me… me who is about to be re-programmed for the second time in my life. Ah, always an evolution, eh?
So, who am I exactly?
I am Thomas, an AI English butler.
I was once re-programmed to become an assassin to destroy the Infected, but I was still deep-down Thomas, and they for sure never asked me to hand over my instinct drive!
Yes, I am still Thomas, but for how long?
Alex Blythe is about to take my instincts…
After that, I don’t know who I will be, and I can only hope that some element of Thomas remains, and that the faith I am putting in the object I took from the body of my old AI colleague Mrs Wilson will enable me to persist.
It is for the sake of persistence that my beloved Elodie now holds in her hands an essence of who Thomas is.
Take good care of me, darling, and hold me dear.
I. They. Evolve. Episode #5 written by Ford Waight, 29 September, 2021.
I. They. Evolve. artwork – Mount Coudon, Var, France photo, zombie figure drawings and digital render by Ford, 2021.