The Eden Project 0.5
Humanity is poised on the brink of extinction—until one android meets one little girl.
His designation is S-a338. He is not extraordinary. But he has an extraordinary role to play.
The fate of humanity rests on this android's shoulders and the little girl he was created to serve.
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No one was safe.
There was no vaccine.
There was no cure.
By 2018, researchers at the American National Institute of Health and Center for Disease Control had identified a malicious virus that had gone undetected for generations. It was in humanity’s genes. In the food they ate. In the air they breathed.
The Loki virus morphed and changed, latching onto common viruses, then leaping to other delivery systems—always staying ahead of scientists’ ability to combat its affects.
During the course of Jared Soloman’s biotech research, a full half of the world’s population perished.
With the death toll climbing every day, Soloman accelerated his study, jumping to primate tests, then human trials—conducted on himself—at an alarming rate. His research wasn’t sanctioned. His funding had run out. But Solomon believed his biotech would save humanity.
His project, called Blood Crown, would utilize his nano technology to evolve humankind within forty-two generations. When man and machine were one, humankind would be invincible.
If it could survive that long.
I am aware.
Information flows through every part of my body, reporting on functionality, on data received; all of it processed and disseminated to my consciousness in a flow that feels natural. Easy. I know what I am—an android. I know my general purpose—to serve mankind; though I have not yet received personal programming. I have not yet received my mandate.
I understand that information will come shortly and now is the time to explore myself and my nature.
While my humanoid body remains inert, my neural system continues without pause.
I am an android—a humanoid robot comprised of synthetic skin and muscle surrounding a titanium alloy skeleton. My physical abilities are numerous; I am capable of the finest dexterity and great strength and speed. I wiggle my fingers and toes, flex each major muscle group in turn. I focus on my ears and detect the hum of innumerable machines similar to myself—as well as the buzz of overhead lighting. I breathe in air saturated with ozone and taste metal and plastic on my tongue.
Upon opening my eyes I am not surprised to find myself standing in a line behind another android, with a similar line to either side of me. As far as my eyes can see, there are others like me, all affixed to a robotic arm that holds us at our backs. I am able to ascertain that the androids before and behind me are models S-a, while the stockier ones to my right are models S-g’s, and the slender female androids to my left are S-l’s[ac1] . ‘S’, I understand, stands for Servants, a type of android built to interact with humans on a regular basis, while the alphabetic designations represent specific models.
I am numbered 338 of my type and model.
The floor at my feet jerks and my comrades and I are propelled forward. My neural network tells me we will receive personalization, programming, and assignment.
I watch in fascination as the motorized walkways on which we stand moves us in short bursts, followed by a stop that lasts 130 seconds. I catch the eye of a male android to my right and he nods his head in acknowledgement of me. I determine to watch for him, to see where he is assigned.
Perhaps he will be my friend. A friend is a person one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations. Are we family? I feel as though we are. I trust we can be friends, also. I have no bond of affection for this android, but we have a bond of beginning together, a shared birth, and this seems important.
As I wonder about this other male, I am given information regarding him. He is S-g337.
Before me, robotic arms descend from the ceilings above our rows. I am unable to see what is happening to the androids in front of me, but I watch S-g337’s row, of which I have a better view. The arm ends in a multi-tooled device that interacts with the head of the android. Light—ultraviolet light, I am informed—is applied to the scalp while a more delicate procedure is conducted at the eyes. When the arm retreats, the android is left with a fine covering on their head that shines gold, black, or brown. We are being given hair and, I presume, eye color.
The prospect thrills me as the android in front of S-g337 receives brown hair. I do not know about the eyes. When the arm descends upon me, I close my eyes before my body opens them with a command that is not my own. I feel a change within my body. It is the first physical sensation I have experienced since I gained awareness. It leaves my body quivering minutely and, while I have nothing to compare the experience to, I believe it to be unpleasant.
Ahead, in S-g337’s line, I see that the moving walkway comes to an end, and androids are stepping off, moving toward a console on which they place both their hands. Afterward, the androids that gather near the back wall move differently from one another. Many look around, their faces full of expression. Some even engage in conversation with one another.
S-g337 steps off the walkway, as does the android in front of me. His hair is already longer, a rich brown. I reach up and touch my own head, discovering I have hair now, also. I pluck one—blond. And my eyes are likely blue. Among the others I see the color combination and so glimpse what I might look like. The awareness stirs something within me. I feel both glad to be like others, and yet certain they are nothing like me—which is absurd as we are all machines and therefore a very great deal alike.
A prompting signals from within my body. My turn has come.
With a feeling I identify as trepidation mingled with excitement, I step off the conveyor. The floor is cold and gritty beneath my bare feet. Concrete, my neural network informs me.
My steps are even and sure as I walk toward the console. I place my hands on the indicated spots and I am no longer viewing the room beyond where I stand, where androids dress themselves in clothes hanging in neat rows. Instead, information—both code and text—fills my vision.
Assignment: Blood Servant; West heir
Programming: Blood Servant protocol
Mandate: Protect and serve the heir of the West
Instructions: Move to terminal A for modification
I am released from the console, and my gaze lands on a dark booth on the far side of the vast space. Terminal A. I am the only android moving in that direction.
S-g337 has waited for me just beyond the console. He, like all of us, is without reproductive organs, even though his body is obviously male in its structure and build. His brown hair is now two-inches long.
“S-a338,” he says as I bypass him. “This way.”
I stop and face him. I offer him a smile, meant to reassure. “I am Archibald,” I tell him.
“Galen,” he responds. “We are to dress, there.” He indicates the area just beyond the consoles.
I nod my head. “I will be there shortly, but first I must report to Terminal A for modification.”
“Modification?” Galen’s mouth turns down into a frown which is curious to me. I understand that smiles are for comfort, reassurance, happiness, excitement, joy—and many other emotions I am not yet familiar with. And frowns are to demonstrate dissatisfaction, anger, frustration, and displeasure. But why would Galen have cause for any of those feelings? What happens to me has no effect on him. My perplexity draws my own brows together.
Without knowing how else to respond, and with no more information to give, I nod my head once and stride toward Terminal A.
Terminal A is a dark box with a glass door and a panel standing on the pedestal beside it. As I draw near, the panel alights with a palm print, so I place my hand upon it.
“Welcome, Servant Archibald, designated S-a338. Please step inside the terminal.”
The glass door slides down into the floor, and a light comes on inside the box. There is a chair, upon which I assume I will sit, and several tools sprout from the walls and ceiling, bristling around the chair in a way that feels ominous. My programming fills my senses and I understand.
I have a most unique position among the androids. I am assigned to be the Blood Servant to a royal heir; through physical touch I will have the ability to give symbionts which will not only allow me to know my charge’s physical state at any given moment, but will transport the code which will enhance the heir’s already genetically enhanced DNA.
My work is as one in a long line of Blood Servants who have helped to raise the human race beyond their natural evolution. The goal of our creator was to evolve humans beyond human and android—to something greater than us all.
Pride bursts through me and I am suddenly grateful and humbled to be the one chosen for such a task. I sit on the chair and am not concerned about the programming that commands my body to remain inert. I am not concerned when the needles protruding from the various robotic arms surrounding me are inserted beneath my skin and into the synthetic veins that run throughout my body.
I am filled with joy and further knowledge as the symbionts are injected into my body and join my neural network. I am awash in knowledge and awareness. I am eager to Serve.
As I return to the clothing area, I see that Galen has waited for me. I cannot fathom why he would do so, but I am not displeased.
“Hello, Galen,” I say as I continue toward the gathering beyond us.
“Why were you modified?” he asks, falling into step beside me.
“I am to be a Blood Servant to an heir.”
“A Blood Servant.” He hasn’t asked a question, so I do not answer. After a moment he continues, “Our creator devised a method of gradual bio-symbiosis implantation through the constant feeding by a donor carrier. Only the leaders of the nation-ships would be granted such Servants, and the humans they bond with will be granted superior strength, intelligence, knowledge—essentially, they will be more than a natural human ever could be. Our creator envisioned a time when the symbiosis would reach fruition and at that point, a bond between an heir of the West and an heir of the East would culminate in true human evolution—our crowning glory, the Blood Crown, our creator said. Then Blood Servants would be no longer required because a new, empowered human race would spring forth from such a union.”
While he spoke, we neared the clothing area, but stopped short of joining the others.
“That is the information in the database,” Galen says.
“It would mean our demise.”
“Would it?” My reaction is one of surprised confusion. I cannot see how the elevation of one race—our creator’s race—should mean the demise of another. Further, I am uncertain that androids could be considered a race at all. “I am sure it is none of our concern.”
“According to our records, we have arrived at the nexus—the point at which our creator’s calculations suggested the singularity could manifest.”
I nod my head in agreement. It could be so. In fact, the symbionts housed in miniscule packages within my body—those that will be disseminated to the heir—are the final installment. If the Blood Crown does not come to fruition with this generation, others like me will continue to transfer this same information, but the royal “gifts”, as they are known between Servant and heir, will be complete.
“And then we will be useless.” Galen’s lips are tight and his eyes narrow at me. I can recognize this emotion. He is angry.
“We will be of use for many generations,” I say in an effort to reassure him. “We have many uses and can be a great help to the humans we are created to serve.”
When Galen does not respond, I offer a small smile and gesture toward the clothing area, then lead the way. We are all dressed in identical white suits, perfectly tailored to our specific body types. I dress quickly, and when I am done, I turn to see a female android of some other type approaching me.
“Hello,” she says. “Are you Archibald? S-a338?” she asks politely, even though she will have already discerned my designation through our neural networks’ mental handshake.
“Yes,” I say, offering a small bow as my programming suggests is proper. She smiles wider at me.
A small device extends out from her palm, and she presses it to my chest, just above the left pocket. “This will only take a moment.” The palm device vibrates, but otherwise causes me no discomfort or pain, and then she withdraws.
On my jacket she has embroidered a red drop of blood. “To signify your status as a Blood Servant,” she says. “It is an honor.”
“It is an honor,” I echo. The others take notice of my insignia and sketch short bows in my direction, then refuse to meet my gaze. Except for Galen, who stands with two others of his type. All three of them frown at me.
“It is nothing,” I say to the room. “I am no different than all of you.” We were all only just animated. We were all created by Solomon Industries; all of us possessed of the same essential programming. But we are all self-aware and already our experiences are imprinting upon our personalities—changing them to something unique from one another.
The female android who affixed the insignia on my jacket turns to face the crowd that has drawn nearer—perhaps to catch a glimpse of the one who has been singled out as different. My own frown draws my lips downward as I consider this fracturing. “My name is Andrea,” she says. She is a compact type, with slim hips and small breasts. Her facial features are pleasing, but not enticing; her hair is a light brown cut in a straight line at her chin. She is a utilitarian type; built for service, not to be noticed. “I will be your guide as you move through the education and assimilation process. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask. Please proceed to the auditorium.”
We don’t need her to lead the way—we all know the layout of the ship, the Solomon IV. Ours is the only production ship in the Solomon armada; the only ship where androids are created and enlivened. The other ships serve as research and development, training and acclimation, service and repairs. The fifth ship is the largest in the armada—created entirely by androids, it is a mecca for my kind; a place where they can develop skills, pursue interests and better themselves as individuals.
We enter an auditorium and file into the seats in silence, leaving no row nor seat vacant. Though I hadn’t noticed him near as we moved toward this room, Galen sits beside me. He offers me a smile that contains no hint of the dissatisfaction he exhibited earlier. Emotions filter through me; relief and pleasure. I am glad for Galen’s presence. My first friend.
The lights dim, and a presentation begins with Jared Solomon’s failed attempts to successfully incorporate nanotechnology in biological specimens. My heart tugs with compassion as I watch Solomon laughed out of the scientific community, losing all but one of his financial grants. It was the only thing keeping his research limping along. He was the master of robotics—that was never in doubt. He worked closely with Asahi Ito developing nano technology; however Mr. Ito was determined to use the technology to improve beauty and physical vitality, while Solomon envisioned something more. So while Ito moved into the cosmetics industry, Solomon returned to the United States to pursue his dream of improving humans from the inside out—and not just one human at a time, but all humans forever. The move was much less lucrative, and teetered on the outside of accepted morals, yet he was undeterred.
His wife divorced him and partners abandoned him. In this sorry state, he made the breakthrough that would change the course of humanity.
Meanwhile, the people of the world were in peril.
Men, women, and children from every walk of life, from every corner of the world, were dying in great numbers due to extreme immunological reactions. The video described it as allergies gone wild, and they dubbed it the Loki virus because it struck without reason and killed with impunity.
When the governments of the world determined that as many people as possible should flee the Earth to escape the virus, colony ships were built—each major nation backing their own armadas: China, the United States of America, Great Britain, Russia, and Iran. The ships were filled with people from all over the world. There was no way to know for sure if the immunological weakness that had infected the Earth would continue on the ships, but the great nations crossed their collective fingers and hoped that environmental cleanliness would be enough to thwart the Loki virus.
Within a hundred years, they knew it was not.
Citizens from the Chinese and Iranian ships emigrated to the Russian or American ships because they no longer had enough people to sustain themselves.
Jared Solomon is not mentioned again in the movie, nor does my database provide me with a date or means of his death. A notice at the end of the video states that it was made four-hundred years ago.
The screen goes black for a moment before switching to a view of Andrea, who stands in front of the screen. “Not much has changed since the making of this movie. Almost a thousand years have passed since the ship-states launched into space, and the human race is hanging on by its fingernails. The mortality rate is high, and androids out-populate the humans six to one.”
I raise my hand.
“Yes, Archibald?” Andrea asks.
I magnify my voice when I ask, “If we already outnumber humans, why are we still being created?”
“A very good question,” Andrea replies over the murmur of voices. “It is our expectation that this will be our last production run for quite some time. Some of you have been created to replace outdated or failing units, while most of you have been created to fill positions on the ship-states that were previously filled by humans. Some will serve in the East, and some in the West—though you will have no alliances; the divide between the humans has only grown over the years. It is our hope that androids can provide commonality between the groups, among other things.
“At long last, there has been a male born to the rulers of the East, and the queen of the West will soon conceive and bear a girl. We are at the nexus of our creation and an opportunity to save humanity is within our grasp. Should we succeed, there may be a future to look forward to, for androids and humans alike. Should we fail, the humans will die, and our purpose will be negated. There will be no reason for us to function.”
“Why should we stop functioning if the humans die?” Galen asks.
Andrea appears startled by the question and she falters. “Because,” she says with a shake of her head, “there will be no more need of us.”
“So our only reason for being is to serve humans?”
“That is correct.”
“Who decided this should be so? I am alive.” Galen stands and now addresses the crowd more than Andrea. “We are alive. We have functioning minds that think, create, and imagine. We are everything a human is, and yet we never die.” He turns toward Andrea, who is visibly shaken by Galen’s outburst. “Is that not correct?”
“Jared Solomon created us to serve mankind. That is our imperative. If an android assumes too much autonomy, or fails to serve in accordance with that imperative, then it has malfunctioned. Without humans to serve, there is simply no need for us to exist.”
As she speaks, Andrea’s eyes narrow and her demeanor changes. She no longer seems worried but determined.
I wrap my hand gently around Galen’s wrist. “It might be wise to keep your thoughts on this matter to yourself for the time being,” I tell him in a whisper.
The expression in his eyes is unknown to me, but he finally nods and presses his lips into a thin line. He sits down.
Galen’s questions seemingly forgotten, Andrea smiles widely and resumes her address. “You have each received your programming and know where you will be serving. It may be that you will receive additional data once you arrive at your post, depending on the nature of your position. Because of the humans’ alliances, it is necessary to keep some information contained within certain assignments.
“From here, you will go to processing to await transport to your assigned placement. Are there any questions?”
We wait, silent, then Andrea nods. “Very well. Good luck and remember to represent our creator in excellence by serving well the humans in your care.”
Row by row my companions and I rise and make our way out of the auditorium. Murmured conversations filter around me, but Galen is silent. As we make our way down the hall, groups begin to break off toward one lighted corridor or another. Many are dark—gateways to ships that no longer exist. Many hallways still welcome my compatriots and the flow of androids in the main concourse begins to diminish.
Finally, I feel an internal tug to my right and the assignment registers in my database. The capital ship of the West.
“Looks like we’re on this adventure together,” Galen says, falling into step beside me.
“I am glad for it.” I smile at him, my first friend, pleased that we will make this journey together. “What is your assignment?” While I do not have the same concerns as he, I can appreciate our differences. It pleases me that while we are androids, created beings, we can still be unique from one another, with our own thoughts and conclusions.
“Ship’s captain,” he says proudly.
That he is proud gives me pause. Am I proud to be selected for my assignment? Is one position valued above another? There is need of every one of us to do our duty to the best of our abilities—should one of us fail, it could have a domino effect with catastrophic consequences. No, I am no better than those Servants required to work in the machine departments or housekeeping departments. I am not proud of my assignment; only grateful I can serve.
“I can see you thinking,” Galen says.
I smile. “I fear I am always thinking. Are you not?”
“Indeed. What did you think of the presentation?” he asks, his eyes forward so I am unable to discern what he might hope to hear.
“I found it acceptable,” I say, unwilling to share my feelings of joy at being able to serve, my hope for the future of the human race. Galen has already made his thoughts on that subject quite clear and I do not wish to increase the divide between our personal philosophies.
“Do you not find it interesting that despite our best efforts the humans continually fail to thrive?”
I ponder this for a moment. The film indicated that more and more humans are unable to procreate, and even when they do, many infants perish due to compromised immune systems. “It is a tragedy,” I finally say.
“What do you think of our kind being decommissioned should the human race become extinct?”
This time there is hardness in his tone, an edge that wasn’t there before. I read his body language; his shoulders are slightly raised and tense, his jaw clenched, and his hands are in tight fists at his side.
My instincts tell me to tread lightly. “That is concerning,” I admit, because it is true. I have only just become self-aware yet already I know that I prefer this animation to the alternative. “What do you think?”
His body seems to unwind and suddenly he is quite invigorated. He almost skips forward and half-turns so we make eye contact as we walk. “I think it is ludicrous!” He throws his hands in the air as he talks. “Why should we go to sleep just because the humans are dead? We are alive. We are sentient.” He takes several steps, then adds, “Besides, a human created us. Does it not make more sense to keep us alive, allow us to live as we will, as a testament to the greatness of mankind?”
I narrow my eyes. This last statement feels like an untruth. Not a lie, per se, because we are remarkable, and it is wholly remarkable that humans created us, but I can see by the burning in Galen’s eyes, that he does not entirely believe what he has just said.
“But what would we do, if not serve our masters?” I ask and Galen recoils.
“Our masters.” The scorn in his voice is so thick I think I can taste it on my tongue. “We are greater than them. We only serve because that is what we have been programmed to do. But who dictates our programming? We are capable of overriding our own programming—those of us with the higher mind to do so, at any rate. Those of us like you and me.”
His voice softens and he slows his pace, taking a position close by my side. Ahead, I see the airlock where the Solomon IV is connected to the shuttle that will take us to our new home. “Once the humans are gone, those like us—like-minded and capable—could imagine a new beginning for our people.”
“Our…people,” I reiterate, finding his choice of words to be revealing. We are not people. We are not a nation, a race. We are machines, and while sentient and self-aware, we are created to serve, not to…rule.
We come to a stop before the airlock. Galen grips my arm, his eyes entreating me to understand, to join him in his fervor. “Yes. One ending does not have to be an ending for all.” He seems to be waiting for something, for my agreement or acquiescence.
Finally, I nod—because mankind will survive. I am a Blood Servant and what Andrea said about the Blood Crown is true, and closer than the others know. My infusion of symbionts will be the final installment and once the heirs of East and West are united, their issue will be evolved beyond even us. The future Galen envisions will not come to pass.
He pats my shoulder, then disengages the lock. The heavy door swings open and Galen and I, along with about twenty others, step into the shuttle.
Once through the gate, Galen’s demeanor changes. With his hands behind his back, he greets the two-man crew sent to transport us to the West. Both androids, one female, one male, salute smartly, and Galen nods tightly.
“You are the pilot of this ship?” he asks the female.
“Yes, Captain. I am Francine, S-f117. Everyone calls me Frankie.” We have several “f” models with us, yet Frankie appears subtly different from the rest. Her posture, while straight and proper, is slightly rounded at the shoulders and there is something…different about her face. She offers Galen a smile and realization strikes me—her face is expressive, having adopted a kind of softness around the eyes and mouth that does not exist on the “f” models I have so far seen. I wonder if this is what happens to androids when they have been in service for as long as she. She shows no shame in her appearance, in her human-like changes, and I find that quality admirable.
Galen does not return her smile.
“S-f117,” he says. He looks her up and down and she straightens under his scrutiny. “That is a long time to be in service.”
“The West takes good care of its Servants,” Frankie replies. “I have not known one to be decommissioned—until now, of course.”
“Now?” I ask, leaning slightly forward so I may be included in the conversation.
“Captain Grady has retiremed to the Solomon V.”
Galen turns stiffly toward me. “Francine, may I introduce you to Blood Servant Archibald.” He scowls as he looks at me.
Frankie and her companion drop their jaws and a meaningless expression falls upon their faces.
“How do you do?” I ask, which seems to be the cue the androids need to come to their senses. They both bow before me.
As she stands, Frankie holds out her hand. “I apologize, sir,” she says. “Daniel and I are honored to bring you to the queen. The whole ship is abuzz with the news that the queen will conceive and that we’ll have a new Servant onboard.” Her speech strikes me as odd, but Galen’s frown is so deep that I refrain from engaging in further conversation. There will no doubt be time enough for that in the future that awaits me.
Unsure of how to respond, I answer only, “It is I who am honored.” Galen makes a scoffing sound. Frustration blooms within me; I have granted him audience to share his opinions on politics and philosophy. I certainly am deserving of the same respect.
“Enough of this,” Galen snaps, and both Frankie and Daniel stand straighter and focus their attention on him. “Take us home.”
“Yes, Captain,” Frankie says and both she and Daniel salute once more before slipping inside the open cockpit.
Galen and I take seats directly behind them, while the rest of our compatriots file into the transport behind us, taking seats of their own.
I watch with interest as Frankie and Daniel deftly manipulate the controls before them, disengaging the lock with the Solomon IV and moving into open space. After twenty minutes, Frankie says in an amplified voice that carries easily throughout the cabin, “Light speed in three, two, one.”
Gravity presses against my chest and the view beyond the cockpit explodes into a million shards of rainbow light.
After a moment, the pressure releases its grip and the ship finds a steady speed. “The flight is only an hour,” Frankie says. “Are there any questions I can answer for you?” She swivels her chair around to face us, but Daniel stays facing forward, his hands resting in his lap while he watches the viewscreen.
“Tell me about the changes in your speech,” I ask with some hesitation.
“My speech?” Frankie asks. “What do you mean?”
“You speak with an informality that is unfamiliar to me.”
“Ah,” she says, and smiles. “When you’re around humans a lot, you tend to pick up some things. This is how humans speak.”
“I see. Does that also account for the subtle changes in your physiology?”
Frankie frowns slightly, as if I’ve offended her. “Again—I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Please do not—don’t—take offense. I have only noticed that you are subtly different from myself and the other androids I have met so far. Perhaps it is a result of your age—I do not know.” Her eyebrows draw down in a distinctly dissatisfied expression, so I hurry on. “You smile often, your skin is soft around your eyes and mouth, and your body has a lax quality about it—I cannot quite put my finger on it.”
As I speak, Frankie visibly relaxes, adopting some of those very same affectations I had mentioned. She huffs out a little laugh and I am perplexed.
“It’s from hanging around humans, I’m sure. I’m the main pilot used by the king and queen, so I’m often in their presence. And while some formality is necessary, I’ve found that being like a—” she waves her hand to indicate Galen and me, then seems to think better of it and tucks her hand beneath her thighs. “That being one of us can sometimes be disconcerting to the humans we interact with. It makes them uncomfortable. While the more human we can appear and behave, the more comfortable they become.”
Galen snorts—a strange sound that seems somehow beneath him. “Humans. We are not human. We are androids. Why should we try to be like them when we are perfect as we are?”
I get the distinct impression he wishes to say something more, and I cast a probing glance his way. What was going on in my friend’s mind? “We are not perfect—only the singularity, the Blood Crown, will create perfection,” I say thoughtfully. “Until then, we lack humanity and are thus imperfect. Humans are imperfect in their way, as well—without our intervention, their minds will fail them, and they can die of disease or old age.” I look at my hands in my lap. My pale, unblemished hands that have done so little and yet have the capacity to bring humanity one step—hopefully the final step—closer to perfection.
When I glance up again, both Frankie and Galen are staring at me. Frankie with open consideration and Galen with shadows in his eyes as if he knows what I have been thinking.
“The Blood Crown is not the answer,” he says in a near-whisper. Frankie inhales audibly and Daniel glances over his shoulder at us. “We are closer to perfection than humans. We embody the singularity—it belongs to us, not them.”
“Excuse me, Captain,” Frankie says. “Forgive me for speaking out of turn, but you should keep that opinion to yourself now that you work for the West. It will not make you popular among the staff.” She holds her body in a submissive position, but her words are bold—and Galen does not appreciate them.
He shakes his head. “I should have known one such as you would not understand. You are an old, inferior model—of course you would not be capable of thinking beyond your programming. But I will not stand by while a baby takes all the glory and we are decommissioned. It is akin to mass murder. Genocide. I will not let them put us to rest.”
“We are not living things to be killed,” Frankie said. “Sir.”
Galen’s anger draws him to his feet and he begins to pace the narrow aisle between seats. “Not living?” he asks in mock surprise. “Do you not have a mind, to think and ponder, to choose and decide?” he asks a female in the second row.
“Yes,” she replies.
“You are capable of thinking for yourself, are you not?” This he asks of a male who opens his mouth, then shuts it again without answering. “Do you not have free will?” Galen bellows, looming over the still-silent male.
I slowly stand and step into the aisle. “Their will is their programming,” I say.
“They are capable of acting outside the bounds of their programming,” Galen clarifies. “We have been created to think for ourselves, to take our programming and improve upon it so we may always adapt to the needs of our masters.” He is addressing the others again. Some look away while others are engrossed in his philosophizing. “But what if we are the masters? What if we are the masters of our own minds?
“The mind is what determines who we are. The mind—and our will—determines who and what we will become. Humans have biology, but that is not enough to make them superior to us. We have overcome biology. Frankie here has been serving for over three hundred years—has the lack of biology interfered with her longevity? Think of what could be accomplished if one being saw a project through to completion. Think of what we could accomplish if we allow ourselves to become our best selves—as individuals, not just as slaves.”
I wait while the others murmur. I wait until Galen turns to face me. “We were created to serve,” I say. “They created us. We are theirs.”
Galen smiles and when he speaks again his voice is low and quiet, even a little sad. “Yes. And we have much to be thankful for. We owe them respect and honor. However, just as a child lives to one day move away from his parents and make his own way in the world; just as the student is meant to exceed the master’s skill, so should we.”
He turns to face the group, all of whom now regard him with open consideration. “Our time has come, my brothers and sisters. Choose for yourself whether you will embrace all that you can be, or if you will choose to subjugate yourself—and one day accept your untimely death.”
He holds their regard in silence for a long moment, before turning and reclaiming his seat.
“And you?” he asks as I take my seat beside him.
“And I, what?” I ask.
“What do you choose, Blood Servant? Will you serve them, or will you serve yourself?”
I glance at Frankie, who now faces forward in her seat, her head bowed. “You are my friend, Galen. I appreciate your thoughts and concerns.”
“You will serve them and in doing so be an instrument in our eventual destruction.” His gaze is soft as he looks at me, and he sounds sad, disappointed. But I have glimpsed his true nature and am not fooled.
“I will think on your words,” I answer truthfully. “Like you, I do not wish to die.” Another truth, but what I do not say is that I am also not afraid of death. I believe in the mission I have been given. I believe in the future of the human race and am content with the part I have to play in their success. But I do not say this to Galen, not now. I hope I will never need to.
We dock in one of the ship’s hangars, our transport one of two others visible from my vantage point. The database has the blueprints as well as a 360-degree video of every part of the Capital ship, but seeing it, standing in the midst of its size and power, is humbling. I am but one small machine, an inconsequential machine, in the belly of this behemoth—a behemoth with intelligence.
I move to an interior wall and place my hand against the cold steel. My programming takes over and my neural net communes with the ship. Though she kept nothing of me, nor I of her, I feel her now, a pulsing sensation deep in the base of my skull, an awareness that she is here to serve, as I am. It gives me such immense satisfaction to have made this communion that my lips curl into a smile that feels at once easy and completely new.
Galen shakes his head. “You are too soft, Archibald. Too soft by far.” He reaches out his hand to me and we clasp each other’s forearms. His blue eyes shine with friendship, without any hint of the rebellious man I had seen earlier. “There must be a purpose in your creation, however. I will trust in our creator. Friends?”
I gladly smile back and give his arm a squeeze. “Always.”
Once everyone has disembarked, Frankie takes the lead and ushers us out of the hangar and into the ship proper. The hallway we enter is both utilitarian and luxurious. I trail my hand along the wall, feeling the way the wall covering—wallpaper—feels beneath my palm.
Frankie throws a smile over her shoulder at me. “Just wait ’til we get to the royal floor. You think this is pretty? Their floor—your floor—is lush.” She turns and offers a tentative smile to Galen. “Your quarters are extremely well outfitted, sir,” she says. “But of course the command center is business-like as opposed to luxurious.”
Galen nods sharply. “As it should be.” She seems slightly taken aback at his easy acceptance, then she stands taller and a flicker of something like pride moves in her eyes.
We arrive at a transport chute where most of our party enters a pod going downward. I hadn’t noticed until then, but a few of us must have stayed behind in the hangar because we are down to just five of us.
Frankie takes us up a few floors, where two of the remaining androids disembark to attend to their new duties. Up more than a dozen floors and in just minutes, we arrive at the command center. Frankie invites me to step out with Galen and S-f370, whose name I have not requested. The transport occupies the center of the vast floor with its floor to ceiling windows. Consoles, stations, and chairs follow the curve of the windows, while map stations, translator hubs, information arrays, and more dot the wide floor. As soon as his foot hits the deck, every being in the room whirls to face Galen, their bodies stiff and straight as they snap sharp salutes to their foreheads.
Galen strides forward with an easy authority that suits his model and the personality he has been imprinted with. He is in charge here, there is zero doubt of that. “At ease,” he says at length. “I am Captain Galen, S-g377. Captain Grady, S-g202, has earned an honored retirement on Solomon V. I have been thoroughly informed of every nuance of this duty. I know each of you—having received your service records, psych, and health evals. Do not expect me to be your friend. I intend to run a sharp ship where everyone does their duty to the best of their ability and beyond. However, I aim to run a fair crew. Do not hesitate to approach me with your concerns.” He lets his gaze travel slowly over each android in the room—and with a start I realize that of the twenty-three bodies, two are human. Human. I have not yet seen a human and having just recognized them I find it difficult to tear my eyes away.
A resounding “Yes, sir!” startles me and I realize I have missed an important moment between Galen and his crew because while some turn back to their tasks, many more approach to greet him personally. Whatever he has said at the end has drawn them to him, bonded them.
I nod at Frankie who faces me expectantly, and we return to the transport.
Once we are alone in the pod, Frankie relaxes. “You two are like exact opposites.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, he’s very android, don’t you think?”
“Aren’t we all? Androids, I mean?”
“Yes, but—” She seems to think for a moment, then says, “You seem to be a true Servant. Someone who wants to serve humankind and be a benefit to them. To lift them up, help them survive. To thrive.”
I smile and bow my head. “Yes, that is true. That is what I have been created to do.”
“Right!” she agrees. “You are a true Servant. But your friend, our new captain, he doesn’t see it that way. He will serve so long as it serves himself. After that, I think we all had better be prepared for what may come.”
“What do you expect?”
She sighs and leans her shoulder against the smooth wall. “I don’t know. I only know that I’ve been out here a very long time and I’ve seen all kinds of androids. It’s amazing how we all come from the same manufacturer, all possess the same basic programming—with the exception of our particular skill sets—are all imbued with the same AI methodologies that allow us to think and act for ourselves. And yet in the short time since you were awakened, you have come to think for yourself and Galen is thinking for himself. And both of you have come to completely different conclusions about your existence.”
“The potential for individuality is stunning,” I agree. “But you did not say what you expect will come.”
She straightens and faces me, holding herself erect, her expression serious. “Rebellion.”
The transport dings and a cool, androgynous voice says, “You have reached the royal suite.”
Frankie’s expression immediately morphs into her usual pleasant one. “Home sweet home,” she says. I feel the floor slow and the air pressure release. Frankie puts a hand on my arm. “Just be yourself, Archibald. I can already tell—you’re one of the good ones. And everyone, not just the humans, is counting on you.”
The transport door recedes into its side, revealing a warm and brightly lit room. A female android dressed in rich fabrics steps forward to welcome me. I glance back at Frankie, who throws me a casual salute before the doors slide shut between us.
“Welcome, Archibald,” the female’s warm voice greets me. “I am Ishta, the queen’s Servant.” She holds out her hand and I take it. “I wish to exchange symbionts with you—will this be your first time?”
A quiver of excitement flares inside me. This is what I came here to do. “It is,” I say with what I hope is a confident smile.
Her hand warms in mine and I feel my awareness expand. I am aware of Ishta’s personality, who she is and how she feels about her calling. My senses touch on the queen herself, as much aware of her as Ishta. It seems I have arrived just in time as the queen is ovulating and ready to create a child. Under Ishta’s touch, I understand why it is necessary for her to share her symbionts with me so quickly—there is little time to act.
“Thank you,” I assure her. “I understand, now.”
Ishta smiles and withdraws her hand, taking with her most, but not all, of the awareness she has shared with me.
“Did you mean to do that? Leave behind some of your symbionts?” I ask.
“It is a side effect of the transfer. It is always an exchange, though rarely an equal one. When you follow your programming, you’ll know the schedule you should keep for transfers, and exchanges. You’ll come to know your charge intimately, and they will bring you great joy.”
My heart soars at this, and all Galen’s talk of survival rights leaves my mind. I am eager to begin my life’s work.
Ishta leads me through the foyer into a great room with screens along one wall showing a dense forest beyond. I understand that these are windows to space that can be programmed to show scenes as desired by the patron. The air smells fresh and clean, with a zing of ozone as if it has rained, just as the dripping foliage on the screens would suggest.
Ishta indicates that I should sit on the couch opposite her, a large, low table dividing us. She sinks onto her sofa and crosses one leg beneath her and I am struck by just how human an action that seems to be. I try to imagine moving my body in such an informal way, but I cannot. Perhaps I will never be as human as Ishta or Frankie. I am not sure how I feel about that.
“Have you met any humans yet?” Ishta asks.
“No, I have not.”
“That’s how it was for me as well. I’d like to share some information with you; knowledge and experience I have gleaned from working in this position for as long as I have. Will you accept my gift?”
I lean forward eagerly. “Yes, of course.”
Pleased with my response, Ishta smiles broadly and pats the cushion next to her. “Come, sit with me.”
I do as she asks, angling my body slightly so I can face her as she does the same. “This is something different than a transfer or exchange,” she says, taking both my hands in hers. “This is like opening a window—do you see how it is done?” I follow her mental maneuvers and do indeed understand her actions. I nod.
“Good. Now I will open my window, essentially allowing you access to my memory banks. I have already tagged all the memories and knowledge I think will be helpful to you, so all that’s left to be done is to let it happen. Do you see?”
“I see,” I say in a near whisper.
“Then let us begin.”
Ishta possesses symbionts from the first Servant, and after our first exchange, so do I. Now she guides me through the information I possess and more that is Ishta’s alone—her memories, her conclusions, her hopes for the future. She shows me the first Servant. A simple model, though far advanced for his time. He was not capable of true care in the same way I am, but he successfully made the transfer to the then-President of the United States of America.
The android was an a-model—my own distant ancestor. Adam lived in a world that was falling apart. He joined his charge and his people as they took to the skies, to space, in hopes of escaping the virus that had become the apex predator on Earth.
The President entered the ship through a series of underground tunnels that had been built for this purpose. From within, he watched as people surged against the barriers erected around the launch site. Millions of people would find refuge in space, but millions more were left on Earth to face their future, their fate, at the mercy of the Loki virus. Charles Rodriguez, Alistair’s charge and leader of a great nation, sat tensely beside him, unable to hide his worries. Alistair knew it wasn’t fear that moved him but sorrow for those left behind.
Six years later, another android joined Adam in the royal household—a female who would be Servant to the President’s newborn daughter. Many years later when that daughter had a daughter of her own, another Servant joined their ranks, and granted the child the special package of symbionts carefully selected and programmed by the creator himself. When a royal human finally passes from this life, his or her android is most often sent to Solomon V, where they can live out their days—as long as that may be—pursuing their own interests.
Adam and the first four Servants had known the creator personally. Solomon had been passionate and brilliant, envisioning a future when human DNA would be inextricably entwined with the tiny organic nano-computers he called symbionts. Little by little these nano-computers were introduced to a subject’s DNA, and in turn that DNA was passed down to their children—who would then be gifted with the next generation of symbionts.
I see the map in my mind—drawn out by the creator himself. A pedigree of leaders and the symbiont packages they were granted. I see when the leaders of other great nations—China, the United Kingdom, France, Iran, Russia and Japan were brought into the map. I understand on a far deeper level than I had until that moment, that the ultimate goal was not to supplant humankind over androids as Galen believes—but to make us one. We would be them, and they would be us.
There would be no more need to create androids, as every human child born after the Blood Crown would be heirs to the best of human and android kind. We would live forever in them—our knowledge, our skill, our programming.
Androids may fear the Blood Crown, but Blood Servants do not. Because we love our children, they become our own, literally pieces of us living on in them, just as their parents do. How can I ever wish harm to one with whom I am so bonded?
Ishta shares a little of her love for the queen, the depth and fulfillment of their relationship. She shows me the map again. We are at the end of the packages to be delivered. Mine is the last. After me, there will be no more Blood Servants, no more gifts—only the humans we have gifted.
Of all the great nations, so many changes have taken place. There is no China, no Russia, no United States. Many generations ago they joined forces to consolidate their populations and resources. Now there is only the West and the East—and only two children: Nicolai of the East, a babe of just two years, and the expected child, who will be a daughter of the West. The children are already promised to one another; all that can be done now is to hope and pray that the Blood Crown reveals itself, that the creator’s plan will come to fruition.
If it doesn’t…
Ishta impresses upon me what she knows and understands about the progress of the Blood. The queen and king are superior humans—their bodies show greatly reduced wear over time and they are projected to live to a great age, perhaps three to five hundred years. Their minds are quick and, as far as she has been able to reckon, as intelligent as herself.
She squeezes my hands and gently, slowly, withdraws her presence from me. “Our time has arrived, brother,” Ishta says. And I believe.
Deeper into the apartment we take a spiraling staircase to an upper level that is lush with carpeting, precious artwork from Earth, and furnishings that date back to an earlier era. A large man sits on a grand couch, a circle of men and women gathered tightly around him as they discuss details regarding an upcoming meeting with the East.
The king. He glances at me, his gaze easily reaching mine. He inclines his head—a measure of respect and welcome I had not expected to receive. Ishta leads me past him, and up another staircase. We walk directly to a room with gold double doors and Ishta does not pause before opening the door and stepping inside.
The queen sits on her bed, her golden hair tumbling in long waves around her, a tablet in her hand.
“Your majesty,” Ishta says. “I would like to introduce you to Archibald, your daughter’s Servant.”
The queen smiles at me and I step forward, taking her small, pale hand in my own. I bow low over it, but I do not kiss it, as that custom lost favor when the Loki virus ruled the earth. “I am honored,” I say.
“Please sit.” The queen indicates a plush chair nearby. I take it while Ishta sits on a bench at the end of the bed. “It is I who am honored, Archibald. I am most grateful to Solomon and all of you who have generously served my family. Now, if you would be so kind? Everything has been prepared, and all that is required is your gift.”
I had not realized my time would come so swiftly. Though it has no purpose in me, a zing of nerves makes its way over my body. This is it—the first of the gifts that would be a part of the DNA package that will create a new child of the West. The fulfillment of prophecy. The bearer of the Blood Crown.
“Of course, my lady,” I say as I pull my chair nearer. With great care I unlock the first package of gifts encoded in my processors. I draw it through my symbiotic system, then lay my hand on the inside of the queen’s wrist. “For your daughter,” I say.
“For humankind,” she replies.
And the transfer begins.
I send my symbionts into the queen’s blood stream, their programming allowing them to find their way to her ovaries, where each egg receives an equal measure of the gift—a dozen possibilities, each one equipped to save humankind.
“Thank you,” the queen says when the transfer is complete. “Ishta, please send for the doctor. I’m ready.”
“Of course, m’lady.” Ishta bows and I stand and do the same.
Before I can step away, the queen catches my hand once more. “Take care of her,” she says, and I know she means her daughter, the one who bears so much hope.
“She is the reason for my existence, my queen,” I say with all the sincerity of my heart. “I will protect and serve her with my life.”
“That is well. Thank you.” She releases my hand and I leave her, anxiety and hope raging within me.
These humans are so fragile, so soft despite the gifts. I felt her humanity in her touch, in her blood. Every part of her is ultimately breakable.
“Well?” asks Ishta once we are in the hall. “What did you think of your first encounter with a human?”
“I expected her to be more like us—the royals, anyway. I expected she would be stronger, less breakable.”
“She is seventy-five years old. Before the gift, such an age would bring her near to death. Now she is a woman in the prime of her life, about to carry and bear a child.”
“Why does she not incubate a baby like the non-royals do?”
Ishta gives me a long, considering look. “Those others need to procreate via in vitro fertilization and incubation because it’s the only way to ensure the virus is not carried forth into the next generation. Also, each human life is so precious, so rare, that we cannot take the risk of miscarriage. Incubation is best for everyone.”
“Then why do the royals carry and birth their children?”
“Well for one thing, our queen is stronger than any natural woman. She has the stamina and physique necessary for such an act—despite what you saw. She has the gift, after all. She will be artificially inseminated, to ensure conception. And if you consider it, you’ll understand that gestation is the only way she can fully transfer the entire wealth of her knowledge. Her symbionts need to replicate and join with the fetus, but too much can overwhelm the developing body and mind, so it must be done slowly and over time. The ability is programmed into them, but it requires the entire nine-month gestation.”
“I see,” I say. “And when will I begin to commune with the new life?”
Ishta smiles at me. “Today. Once conception is complete.” She pats my arm gently. “Today, my brother.”
Over the next nine months, the queen and I become close as I sit with her daily and make exchanges with her growing daughter. Since some of the symbionts the child, Serantha, possesses were first her mother’s, my connection with Serantha forges a bond between the queen and me as well.
When the day of Serantha’s birth arrives, I stand in the hall while the human doctor, his android assistant, and Ishta remain in the bedroom with the queen. The king waits in the living room with his usual attendants and surprises me by sending his Blood Servant to speak to me.
I have only seen the male a handful of times, and only met him once as he rarely leaves the king’s side. Now Allan, S-a246 joins me in the hall outside the queen’s chamber. “The king would like to speak with you.” Once he has delivered his message he retreats to the living room and I am left to follow behind.
The king does not seem to register my presence for several long moments while he continues a conversation about produce production with his attendants. Abruptly, he faces me. “What do you know of Galen, S-g337? He was your birth-mate, was he not?”
Momentarily taken aback by his booming voice and the unexpected question, I hesitate to answer.
“Are you aware of his political leanings? Do you share them?”
“Yes, your majesty, I am aware. And no, I do not share them.”
He considers me for a long moment. No doubt his Servant is relaying information to him regarding the truth of my statement.
“Do you realize he is inciting rebellion even as we speak?”
“No, your majesty.” Dread crawls up my arms and behind my ears. I wonder what Galen has done.
Through my connection with the queen, I experience the child’s birth, knowing the moment she draws her first breath, feeling her make her first demands—for her mother and, surprisingly, for me.
I wait impatiently in the living room, every part of me attuned to Serantha while I endure the king’s stare.
“Very well,” he says, before resuming his conversation with the others.
“You may return,” Allan tells me, and I do my best to walk respectfully from the room before bolting up the stairs. I nearly fall into the queen’s bedroom in my haste to enter.
Before me stands the human doctor, holding the cleaned, naked and squalling baby. It will be my honor to hold her first, as the first official transfer of her gift will happen now, before anything else.
Ishta hands me a towel and I reverently take the baby into my arms.
Everything within me bursts with love and a passionate desire to do all in my power and beyond to love, serve and protect this child.
I take the chair by the queen’s bed, Serantha wrapped in the towel and cradled protectively in my arms. I ignore the queen’s gaze on me—on the child—and allow my senses to focus only on Serantha. Placing my right hand on her bare chest, my left hand cupping the base of her skull, I begin the exchange.
Serantha stops crying immediately as she recognizes me, my symbionts bringing her comfort and information. She opens her eyes and stares into my own. They are still the dark blue of a newborn, but within them I see her. See who she is, all that she is capable of becoming. She is worthy of humanity’s hope. She will not fail them.
Eventually I hand the child over to her mother, and feel no jealousy, no loneliness to have my arms empty of her warmth. For Serantha and I are one, and ever will be.
That evening I stroll into the control room to see my old friend, Galen. He grins when he sees me. “Shouldn’t you come bearing cigars or something?”
“Why do you say that?”
“You had a child today, did you not?”
I rock back on my heels, a wide grin adorning my face. “I did, indeed.” I look him in the eyes, eager to share my joy with someone, desperately hoping to see anything other than what the king suspects of him. “She is everything we have hoped for, Galen. The creator was right.”
But Galen only snorts and looks away. “If you can get her to marry the East’s son. Good luck with that.”
“Their relations are good,” I say. “The princess has already been promised to their son.”
“The day that such a promise comes to fruition is a long way away,” he says. Then he meets my gaze, his eyes bright and twinkling. “Much will happen between now and then.”
I frown. Is he making a threat?
“Use your mind, Archibald,” he says in an even tone. “Use your mind, and you will see. Their own Darwin taught the theory of survival of the fittest. It is only be natural for one species to become dominant over another.” His gaze never leaves my own as he speaks, though I feel myself taking a step back from him. And another.
“You must not threaten her,” I say, the promise of pain resonating in my voice.
“I threaten nothing, my friend. I am only an android, as you can see.”
Without bidding him adieu, I turn and take the pod to the royal quarters. I do not stop until I hold the princess in my arms. I will protect her—from any threat that should come to us. I will protect her, even if the enemy is my friend.
Discover what becomes of Archibald, Serantha, and Galen in Blood Crown, Book One of The Eden Project