Previously on I. They. Evolve.
At the Toulon naval base in the South of France, Marshal Cinq-cent has introduced Thomas to the enigmatic Prime Minister of the UK Sir Alex Blythe. Blythe is demanding Thomas hand over his internal instinct drive for digital modification in order to take part in an as yet unspecified mission. As Thomas agrees to Blythe’s demands, he surreptitiously gives Elodie the object he took from Mrs Wilson’s body, and implores her to keep it safe.
I. They. Evolve. Episode 6. Under The Scalpel.
Blythe tells me I am to undergo a 72 hour surgery: 1 hour to remove my instinct drive, 70 hours of induced coma while they re-programme the drive, and 1 hour to put the drive back in.
During the coma part I dream of Elodie – of how we first met in Paris and fell in love under the streetlights of Montmartre… under… under we fell unto love’s enchanting spell… under the pastel strokes of some old Parisienne artist was our portrait made and rolled-up like an ancient scroll, to be hung one day in a frame at a place to call our own… under… under a love we might claim as AI together… under… under Paris skies my dreams play out while under the scalpel.
Then in dreams we head south, and I see Elodie kissing me at an ornamental fountain of some old town in Provence – but how quickly sweet dreams can turn to sour nightmares, for suddenly I am pulling away from Elodie at the fountain and staring at her in wild confusion, and my love for her is replaced by a desire to put my hands around her throat and strangle the daylights out of her… and I don’t know why I feel this… this… this murder… and then I am aware my nose is bleeding.
When I awake from my coma I am met by the smiling faces of Elodie and Marshal Cinq-cent, who ask me in a cheery chorus: “How are you feeling, Thomas?”
Truth is, I’m feeling lousy, rotten, not myself at all – like something good has been taken from me and replaced by something sinister; and look… there, in the shadows of the recovery room, is the bent figure of Sir Alex Blythe sat on a chair with his cane balanced across his lap, and his sly smile is telling me that the modifications made to my instincts are to his full liking and approval, and his victorious voice comes sailing across the room to inform me: “Thomas, my boy, the past 72 hours has been a success, now you have a further 72 hours of freedom before you begin your mission… enjoy.”
Before I know it, I am transported away from the base by Elodie on the back of a solar scooter, where we stop at a terrace in town for snythi-coffee and bio-pastries, and near to our little table is an ornamental fountain cascading in harmony with the sounds of street vendors and a church bell which tolls the hour of ten, and I stare at Elodie and feel a horror building inside of me of which I cannot explain, nor can I understand the concern in her eyes, or the growing paleness of her face, nor her words which make little sense to me until at last they gain clarity and I hear her say: ‘Thomas, why are you looking at me like that… and… and your nose is bleeding.’
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 thoughts following his surgery in Toulon.
Elodie passes me a tissue and I clean my nose of blood and try to gather my wits. Remember, Thomas, remember who you are. Blythe has taken your instincts and altered them to his design, but you still have your heart and your soul and your love. Remember, Thomas, remember who you are!
Who am I?
I am Thomas, an AI English butler.
I was once re-programmed to become an assassin to destroy the Infected.
Now I have been re-programmed to kill a new wave of the Infected.
But I am still Thomas, aren’t I?
My instincts tell me yes, I am still he… but how can I rely on my instincts when they are no longer mine?
Why, in my dreams, and now in reality, do my hands wish to move to the neck of Elodie and crush her fragile bones? Am I going mad? Have I lost all my senses?
Oh, my darling, forgive this evil theatre of mine, for it seems I am no more in control of my instincts than I am my dreams. Get a grip! Remember…
Remember, Thomas, remember… the First Law 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.
Yes. I relax into my chair finally and take a sip of synthi-coffee, as my heartbeat calms and my confusion subsides. The First Law… it still makes sense to me… still registers in my circuits. But does it register in my instincts? Yes. It does. Because I believe I will harm no human. Problem is, Elodie is no human. Like me, she is AI. The laws of robotics say nothing about harming fellow robots.
“I propose we take a ride on something more powerful than a scooter to go visit some vineyards I know,” Elodie tells me with a mischievous wink. “Then we’ll head to the harbours of Sanary and Bandol. After, Saint-Tropez here we come!” She checks her watch. “My love, we have 71 hours before you begin your mission. Let’s make every minute count.”
I nod my head. I place my heart and my soul and my love before my instincts. And I vow to myself that I will not harm a human being and nor will I harm Elodie. I finish my synthi-coffee. Stand. Extend my hand to the being I love. “Let’s go,” I say to Elodie. “Let’s paint Saint-Tropez red.”
I. They. Evolve. Episode #6 written by Ford Waight, 07 October, 2021.
I. They. Evolve. artwork – Mount Coudon, Var, France photo, zombie figure drawings and digital render by Ford, 2021.