Excerpt from ‘The Worm in the Machine’

I followed him to an oak-trimmed door that had suddenly appeared. He opened it and gestured me to walk through. I stepped across the threshold and into a study room. Stained oak decorated the interior just like the door. On one wall there were shelves full of books with titles of classics: books by Thoreau, Freud, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Asimov, and Butler. A large print of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam covered the wall opposite the bookcase. The remaining wall was a picture window with the view of a lush garden full of flowering plants and fruit-bearing trees. Two heavily upholstered chairs sat in the middle of the room with an end table close to one of them. Sitting on the table was a snow globe with the image of three individuals, miniatures of Taylor, Doctor Musaki, and myself sitting on park benches. It was the scene we just exited. Musaki sat down in the chair close to the table, and he motioned me to take the other.

“Now we can talk in private. But we can’t take too long,” the doctor said to me as I sat down.
“What’s going on, doctor?” I asked.

“Ah, Rachel, what have you gotten yourself into?” he said as he looked at me with tired eyes.

“Detective Taylor and I are in the middle of an investigation concerning a drug called White Noise and murders that seem to be related to them.”
“I know, I know. Have you forgotten how SAE works?” Musaki admonished me. “The detective’s mind.” He tapped his temple.

I had forgotten about the empathic qualities of the Sadayatana Engine and how new Taylor was to it. I had warned him to be careful of the dangers in transferring information across individuals within the SAE cyber-construct.

“What I mean,” Musaki started to say, “is why are you looking for trouble where it is best not to?” He was blocking me from access to his thoughts again. Why?

“Doctor Musaki, yesterday Taylor and I were attacked by drones with AI intelligence. They fired on us first. That isn’t supposed to happen. Can you explain to me why it happened?” There! Read that!

Musaki solemnly looked at the globe on the table before he answered. “There are people who believe our robots have the potential to be something better. But just because it’s better doesn’t mean it’s not incorruptible.” Again he was blocking me. “We are so close to giving our robots a soul.” He looked at the print on the wall. “I’m afraid, though, of the serpent in the garden.”

I was confused both by how he was being so cryptic and evasive. “What do you mean?”

“The worm in the machine!” His statement startled me! He had caught me completely by surprise. How could he know about that? How could he know that’s how I see myself? A person trapped inside a cybernetic machine! I never shared that with anyone, not Chan or Commission-General Deng, least of all Taylor. I internally examined my privacy protocols and saw they were intact. He hadn’t hacked me, so the troubling question remained.

He suddenly pulled up a holo display and started to examine it. It was backside to me and heavily encrypted so I couldn’t read it. He paid close attention to certain places within the indecipherable script as he continued to speak.

“You see, Rachel, people, humans, crave for a Utopic state but we allow our weaknesses to get in the way. We inherited Adam’s sin. We pervert everything we create. A bow and arrow for hunting is a weapon for murder. A hammer for building becomes a tool to bash skulls in. Even in the early days of the cyber networks, humans used it not only for what it intended for, to share information, but to dehumanize, cheat, lie, and wage war. Everything we touch we pervert. Now, we are on the brink of something new, the creation of life, and even that we have corrupted.” He stopped for a moment, closed the holo display with a wave of his hand, and moved closer to me. “Listen, we are running out of time. This investigation of yours, keep looking, dig deeper for the answers. There’s going to be a point where they’ll try to stop you. Don’t let them. There are those, like me, who oppose what they want. We’ve taken measures to slow them down but there are so few of us now. White Noise is part of it and so are the robots. That’s all I can say for now without exposing myself to danger. You’ll know when you come close to the truth. I may be able to help you then, or not. It will all depend on you.” What have I gotten myself into? “Trust no one! But do trust your Detective Taylor.” He looked at the scene in the globe once more and smiled. “I like him, Rachel. He has good intentions.”

Before I could say a word he rose, led me to the door, and we exited the room.

“So, you see, it’s possible that someone may have tampered with our initial programming. We’re not liable for that.”

Again I was sitting on the bench with Taylor as Doctor Musaki finished his long explanation of the AI Convention and Robotic Laws. In my mind, I was trying to figure out what Musaki, the other Doctor Musaki, had just told me. He wants us to dig deeper. Then, deeper we’ll go.

Doctor Musaki indicated that our session was over. We said our goodbyes and exited the Sadayatana Engine.

-A. M. Holmes (January 17th, 2022)                  

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