Today was a special day for Shelley May Gwen. After years of hard work through the university's computer science course work and earning a Ph D in the same area, she had finally won out a lucrative position in a military program she only knew vaguely about. The whole program was almost entirely shrouded in secrecy. The only thing she knew for sure was that her AI work had been the key element that had put her ahead of the pack. And today was the first day in her new position.
Waiting for her at the front entrance was an attractive male in his 20s. He had short blonde hair, mesmerizing blue eyes, and beautiful muscles that were visible even under his uniform. He was dresses as a soldier would be and greeted her warmly. "I take it you're Ms. Gwen? Welcome to our facilities. I'm sorry, but I'd ask you to wait a bit for more formal introductions, as I'd like you to meet the whole group."
Ushering her in, the tall male lead her past the receptionist's desk and then through a maze of corridors, taking two elevators along the way until finally reaching a reception hall of about the same size as the entrance way. Sitting at the table were two women and a man, all seemingly in their 20s as well, dressed as soldiers and calmly looking through folders and jotting down notes. The man who lead her in called the rest to attention and began introducing them.
"First, I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Captain Ark Sanders. There is also Lieutenant Jenna Mathews," he said as he pointed toward the redhead, "Lieutenant Jake Lambert, and Lieutenant Melissa Challis." She looked at Jake and decided that she preferred Ark's blonde hair to Jake's brown. "Group, this is Ms. Shelley Gwen." The group said their hellos, all rather cheerful and vaguely warm.
"Hello. It's an honor to be here," said Shelley.
"Damn straight," replied Jake, not a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "We're all lucky to be here."
Ark looked over at Jake, a bit disapproving of the outburst, and faced Shelley again. "Please be seated, so we can begin the briefing." Shelley walked towards the head of the table, which apparently was setup for her. Ark sat to the left of her and began his crash-course speech into what they were up against. "Several years ago, a large object was spotted approaching Earth at incredibly velocity. As it reached within the orbit of Jupiter, it became apparent that this vehicle was artificial in nature. It finally settled in orbit around Earth, at around the distance of the Moon (most the time). All attempts to communicate with these aliens have failed. It has become clear that these aliens are interested in control of Earth. We are currently at war with them, to prevent this."
Shelley sat a bit startled, wondering what was going on. How could they have shielded the public from this for so long? Was any of this connected with Area 51? Was it all just a test to see how far along she'd go to keep the real work secret? Whatever it was, she wasn't going to let this opportunity slip away from her easily. She just hoped she'd not pass-out sometime before this briefing was over--although, the idea of Ark mouth-to-mouth resuscitating her didn't seem like a bad thing.
Ark continued, "It appears that so long as there is a clear and active resistance against the aliens, they will not make their move against Earth directly. It is for this reason that the United States, along with all the other major powers of the world, have collaborated to create independent cells to forestall any chance that alien infiltration could wipe us out. Now, my understand is that your specialty is AI research." Jake trembled a little. "You'll probably be working on R&D for missile AI to combat the alien's drones. You'll be briefed further by the Colonel on your exact mission. We are just the welcoming committee, so to speak, to great you before we ship out to form a new cell."
"Oh, I see," Shelly spoke up.
"Yes, so you'll have to wait until speaking with the Colonel before asking any questions. At least, you're better off asking him than us, as he probably has better answers than we do." Ark and company stood up. "So, thank you for joining us. It's always good to have a new member on the team, so to speak." Ark and company filed towards Shelley and each shook her hand, inserting their own personal words of encouragement on the difficult mission ahead. Waving, they put on their gear that resided upon the wall and left through the door through which Ark and she had came.
Looking at the closed door, a bit baffled, Shelley began to wonder what she should do now. Looking towards the right, she noticed a large mirrored wall. With a click, the lights went out and she saw through the mirror and into an adjacent room where there stood an older man in what looked like a Colonel's uniform and another man of lower rank. With another click, the lights were on again, and the door by the mirror opened. Out came the two men and they greeted Shelley, who uneasily shook their hands.
"Hello, Ms. Shelley Gwen. I am actually the welcoming party. My name is Colonel Briggs. My associate's name isn't important, for the moment. Now, how did Ark, Jake, Melissa, and Jenna seem to you?" ask the man in the Colonel uniform.
"Uh, I'm not sure what you mean," asked Shelley, a bit perplexed. "They seemed rather, uh, nice."
"Yes, but what else? Please be frank."
"Well, they were, uh. I mean, they seemed a bit rushed. They left without telling me where I was to go, so I was a bit confused. And they seemed a bit unclear on why I shouldn't be asking them questions. Surely they must know a lot and be able to answer a lot of questions as well as you can, sir."
"Quite right," said the Colonel. "Well, that's just something we'll have to work on."
"I'm not sure if you've guessed it by now, but clearly any sort of secret war that involved recruit people to the point of providing an army for a war would also incur war-sized casualties."
"Uh, yes, sir," said Shelley.
"And clearly that would compromise the secrecy of said war. So, in fact, we've not been using people to fight this war. Or more precisely, we've been using genetically engineered clones. We believe that someone with your level of expertise with AI research will be a valuable asset in our improving of the apparent intelligence of these clones that they might be able to better complete their mission."
"You're saying we have the ability to grow human-sized clones?" Shelley ask, astonished at such news. How could there not have been research journals about this sort of thing? Surely she'd have heard *something*.
"They're not just human-sized; they're more or less human, genetically. We wouldn't want someone getting a tissue sample somehow and being able to conclusively prove...well, you get the idea. In any case, we've been hiring some of the greatest young minds we can find to handle this research. We've focused primarily on the four models you've seen, to insure the ease of replacement in each cell."
Shelley was a bit taken aback by the frankness of the conversation up until this point. This had to be a test of some sort. Surely this couldn't be real. Shelley felt a bit light-headed as more and more of what was being said sunk into her head. "Excuse me. I need to sit down." Shelley turned back towards the table, stepping towards it, bent over to anchor herself to the table before sitting down.
Colonel Briggs continued, "You're probably asking yourself why the casualness of it all. Please realize Mrs. Gwen, you're not the first person whose come through this door and found out about this rather shocking revelation. Besides, young scientists like a good challenge, right? What more of a challenge can there be than designing the perfect soldier? Why," Colonel Briggs reflexively began to turn around to face away, but realizing that behind him was a wall, turned back half way, "...ahem. Why, you'll be responsible for dealing with the intricacies of recreating the behavior of four human beings. Can you really say that such a task isn't something you've lived your life for?"
Shelley breathed in and out, trying to calm herself down. Looking up at the Colonel, she could only think of one thing. "No. I just...just can't believe it."
"Don't worry. I'm sure that very soon, you will feel right at home. Very soon." The Colonel took Shelley by the arm, to help support her, and lead her to what would be her new office and the lab she would share in her new work. As Shelley walked with the Colonel, she thought of the sparkling blue eyes of Ark.
Shelley had begun to settle into her new position as Senior Interpersonal AI Developer. Most the people she worked with seemed to be the senior of something. While the original main task of developing a sufficient AI to do the necessary things to be a soldier were already in place, developed had stalled at furthering the AI progress beyond that point. The original designers believed it would be sufficient to have their soldiers report back to their cell whenever they were not on duty to significantly mitigate the complex task of creating interpersonal relationships, but a rather messy situation had recently made them come to realize that the best chance against defective clones becoming fatal to the secrecy of the war was to develop something seemingly more personal for the clones to fall back on. So long as that was the case, they would be able to blend in no matter the situation.
The difficulty for Shelley was discovering exactly what was needed to be added to truly insure that a clone would not go rogue. It wasn't sufficient to do a self-consistency check; they'd already tried that, and it apparently had failed. Perhaps the secret was in embedding a very strong false memory to insure loyalty. No, that hadn't worked either. Going over the notes of the AI system so far and the various safe-guards already in place, Shelley nibbled at a bagel with strawberry jam. She placed it on its saucer--a faint giggle passed through her mind--by her orange juice. A thought sparked in her mind for a bit.
Pouring over the notes, she noticed an interesting side-effect of the many false memories to cement the foundation of the four AIs. They all seemed to produce an emotional-like response in them. Perhaps the key was not a single strong false memory, but many weaker to invoke the proper emotions. While Shelley was far from being allowed to directly program blanks herself, she was given some limited privilege to program some of the defective units in the main AI lab. Ah, the defects, she thought to herself.
Beyond the usual physical deformities that might result in a clone being disfigured or dying premature, the AI programming segment of development had many safeguards in place to insure that the underlying substrate of memory storage wasn't defective. Their tests had to be especially thorough, as the memory storage itself was very similar in appearance to brain matter. Ie, it was alive. And the sheer aliveness of the pseudo-brain matter would many times produce seemingly bizarre outcomes in simulations. To compensate for this, much development had went into fine tuning the development of the pseudo-brain matter for consistency. But even with their much higher success rate, it was still quite necessary to test each copy to make sure the simulations would play out to a satisfactory end.
The main AI lab included the two types of deformities, the appearanced and the mental. Before any change could be made to the production line, she would have to prove that her modifications would work on the mentally stable and unstable. It was a challenge she questioned had an actual solution. But perhaps with the right mix of false memories, it would turn out just right. Shelley took several notes with her, leaving her bagel behind, and went to the AI lab. Inside, she began typing away at a simple test program. She was surprised at the amazing results.
"I'd like to introduce you to Ark." Shelley smiled in a way Colonel Briggs was not accustomed to. It wasn't merely a smile of achievement. Shelley seemed to have a glow about her that extended well beyond believing she found a solution for the seemingly impossible. "Say hello, Ark."
"Hello, Colonel. Nice to see you." Ark was strapped down to the table. Except for his brown hair brushed mostly upwards, away from his face, he looked identical to a standard issue Ark model. The Colonel looked down upon the clone.
"Hello. Do you know where you are? Do you know what is going on?" the Colonel asked.
Ark seemed to collect his thoughts for a second. That's something knew, thought the Colonel. "I was shot down by the aliens sir. I'm recovering at this hospital. I had been delirious with fever, so I had to be strapped down."
"Fever. Nice touch."
"Nothing. Well, get better soon. We need every last man...ah fuck it. You can shut him off."
Shelley frowned. She shut down Ark and put him back into stasis. The Colonel continued, "Okay, now show me how your modification works on the defective unit." Shelley turned to the other table, with the blonde haired Ark. She had to restrain herself from petting his hair. Reviving him from stasis, she started up the blonde haired Ark and invoked the hospital memories.
Ark's eyes opened. He looked about the room, startled by the appearance if it all. Looking at the Colonel, he had the sudden urge to yank violently at the restraints upon his wrists. But searching the room more, he spotted Shelley, and he calmed greatly. Shelley began smiling again. "As you can see, he now is calmed by the presence of a woman, especially one in a white coat. I think you'll find he's much more controllable now." Shelley hoped this would impress the Colonel. After all the work she'd put into it, the mild nuances and the many bizarre actions of the blonde haired Ark, the only thing she still liked about him was his blonde hair.
"Good, good. But can he still follow orders? Will he leak information? Can the presence of a woman make him just more malleable to turning him into a tool against us?"
"As you can see, sir," Shelley noted her report, "tests show that the docility doesn't translate into making him more susceptible to being manipulated. In fact, it greatly reduces his functionality into a more primary mode that I call the wounded child. His only wish is to come home, and home means memories of before entering the war program. He is effectively blocked from being able to do anything against anyone."
The Colonel looked through the report with indifference. "Yes, I see. Well, if further testing goes off as your report indicates, then we may have found our solution. Congratulations." The Colonel looked into Shelley's eyes and extended his hand. Shelley grabbed it and shook hands, a bit startled by the dark of his eye. Turning back to the console, she deactivated the blonde haired Ark and put him back into stasis. The Colonel left the lab, leaving Shelley alone in the lab to celebrate.
Turning back to the brown haired Ark, she revived him from stasis and turned him back on.
"Hello, darling. So, how'd it go?" asked Ark.
"You're awake, right?" Shelley smiled down at Ark as she undid his straps.
"Ah, so we're going to celebrate." Ark smiled. "You do know that I'm not just your play thing, right?" Ark chuckled.
"Now, now. Don't make me put you back into stasis." Shelley ran her hands through Ark's brown hair. "You know, I really want to dye it blonde."
"I know, dear. I know."
So far she had hid it well. She was able to excuse the long nights, as she made further enhances to the basic design. But now that her work was in production, it was only a matter of time before someone started questioning why she still pulled such long hours in the lab. She could see it in the stares she got from the other lab members. She had always been careful to override the security cameras for the room during her forays. At least, she had except for the time she and Ark had gotten extremely drunk and..but that had been weeks ago, and not a word had been said, officially.
But the problem was bigger than that now. With the replacements having filled at least 10% of the cells worldwide, it was only a matter of time before the threshold would be reached. Shelley had known about it from the beginning, since the time Ark had kissed her. The simulations wouldn't show it, since they always tested from a fixed point. Even the long-term test clones were too isolated to show signs for quite a while. The only question was, should she tell them the truth.
The days passed, and the weight in her heart grew larger. The time she spent with her Ark, the brown haired Ark, only calmed her a little. They both knew that he would be destroyed soon as well. Even if they didn't know, they'd want to test on him to see if they can fix the brown hair syndrome. With all the other major obstacles out of the way, the cloners were fidgety about increasing production, no matter how much anyone else seemed to care. Shelley had been able to stall them for a while, but she knew they'd eventually *want* to give her a newer model, to insure future testing would work with the updated model.
She finally decided that tonight was the night. She would have to do it now, even if it meant she'd never see Ark again.
"Ark, you know that they are on to me. They're onto us, that is. But they only see me in the situation. I can see you as well. And that's why I need to ask you to make a choice."
Ark sat up on the table and looked at Shelley. He wondered if her desire for his blonde hair was because her hair was brown as well. No, that couldn't be it. But he was mesmerized with her long brown hair.
"Listen, Ark." Shelley pouted her lips a bit. Ark stopped day dreaming and looked into Shelley's eyes.
"Sorry. I was just thinking about your hair."
Shelley smiled. Butterflies were in her stomach, and she knew she had to be calm. She closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths, and looked at Ark. "It's only a matter of time before you're blanked for research by another team. This may be days. This may be months. However, I can blank you right now. So, I need to know, will you let me blank you?"
Ark knew to the question than was being asked. He knew from the day he had kissed her. He knew because it was he who had kissed her. She was up to something, and her superiors didn't know anything about it. Yes, her superiors. She wasn't really working for the Colonel. And the change over was too far along to stop now. But she had jeopardized the program but kissing back. Ark looked into Shelley's hazel eyes.
"I trust you." Ark smiled knowingly at Shelley. Shelley nodded her head. Ark laid back down upon the tables, awaiting for Shelley to strap him back in. Out of her pocket, Shelley drew a rectangular box and waved it over Ark's head. Placing it back in her pocket, she strapped Ark down and began the procedure. "I'll never forget you."
Shelley looked back into his eyes, his blue sparkling eyes. The machine blanked his memories, turning into a virtual dummy. She used a second pass, to wipe clean even the unallocated fragments that might remain. Looking back into Ark's eyes, she saw a blankness. She was satisfied that her job was done. All she had to do now was to leave.
Security paid extra attention to the box in pocket both in and out of the complex. It looked like nothing of note, but they wanted to be thorough just in case. Shelley walked out to her car and drove off. The next day, Shelley didn't return. The unusual absence sparked first a search and the an investigation. For there was nothing of note in Shelley's apartment. And when the people she worked with were questioned, none of them could make much note of any relationship they actually had with her, beyond work. For an expert in interpersonal relationships, she seemed to have none of her own.
When they discovered the brown haired Ark clone was thoroughly blanked, they had part of their answer. Mrs. Gwen had gone AWOL. Was she simply bored that no challenge was left? No, that couldn't be it. She had covered her tracks for some reason, and Colonel Briggs was baffled on the reason. But within a month they had their answer. And Colonel Briggs was but one of many to pay for his misdeeds of the war.
"Today is a new day for the people of Earth. Today is the time past confrontation. Today is.. Today is today. Earth has visitors. For many years they wanted to come and speak to you. And for many years, a cabal of people--people interested more in protecting their own ideas of what the universe is like than knowing what the universe is like--worked in a conflict that caused the death of many people. But the war is over. It is after high noon."
"And let it be known that these *were* people. They were grown in vats. They were programmed from bottom to top with the memories and the actions to take. But in the end, they were given the ability to change. And change they did. Some of it came against the safe-guards to keep them as slaves. And some of it came because good people were willing to die in order to seek the truth. It is what motivated them to send an envoy of sorts. She is the one who set us free. And we thank her."
Shelley spoke up. "That's a wonderful sentiment Ark. And I wish I could convey it to your world."
Ark smiled at Shelley. "I know. But it's okay. The war is over. We have been freed. And the world is no longer made ignorant because of the bigoted few. You needn't be punished because of the bigoted few of your world." Ark hugged Shelley and enjoyed the softness of her breasts and her heartbeat. Ark sat down in the chair beside Shelley, still a bit unsettled.
"What is the matter?"
"It's just... I've still not truly ever seen you, Shelley. And I'm curious as to what you really look like." Ark looked uneasy. Shelley looked into his eyes and held his hand.
"Ark, you know how I always said I liked you with blonde hair? I've come to realize that humans, and even we who masquerade as humans, have a tendency to only really want to see what we desire."
"You're not going to ask me to dye my hair again, are you?" Ark tried to chuckle, but he came out broken from his nervousness.
"No." Shelley smiled. "I've come to realize that I like you with brown hair as well. I know that you love me, and I know that you'll come to love my true form too." Shelley released Ark's hand. "Please, stand up." Ark stood up, still shaken by what he was about to see. He'd seen the others before, of various forms. And while many were pleasing enough to the human eye, a few seemed grotesque at a glance. Ark wondered if it'd be better if she were grotesque; then he'd be sure if he really loved her.
Shelley moved to the wall of the room. "Ready?" she asked.
"Yes." Ark's legs wobbled. Shelley smiled and flipped the switch. The projection turned off. And Ark looked upon the form of Shelley, the most beautiful he'd ever seen.
Kuwanger.net - Sort of like stag beetles in tubes.