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He was stranded.
When he remembered back to his first days, his strongest memory was the story of Robinson Crusoe being stranded on a desert island. All alone, caught in the middle of a great ocean that could destroy him at its will. The thought had horrified him. It was only now he realized Robinson Crusoe had been the lucky one.
A table sat set for lunch in a simple room, it's steel gray walls and dim lighting combined with the cloudy sky outside of a small window giving the impression that it was much later in the day than it was. The room’s every element of plain color and simple, boxy furniture seemed to reflect the atmosphere of perfect calm and order. Everything about the simple, yet immaculately polished and placed silverware gave the impression of tenseness and the waiting that comes before an extremely important person enters a room.
But perhaps the least noticeable of the objects in the room was a man sitting rigidly in a straight backed chair. It was only as a quiet knock sounded at the door that he showed at sign of life at all, glancing toward it and straightening the napkin on his lap ever so slightly. Getting no consent to enter, the person on the other side of the door opened it and ambled comfortably inside. The man remained in his chair, knowing that the Professor need not have knocked, a formality bypassed often enough when he was not quite so determined to be in a good mood.
“Anthony! What a pleasure, it’s been too long, far too long!”
“Sir.” The nod was curt and on the verge of rudeness, making it far too obvious that he took no pleasure in seeing the professor. There followed an uncomfortable silence as the professor, who had never been the type to make conversation, and Anthony, who had never seen the point in speaking, got situated at the table. It quickly became clear that the table was far too cramped for the two of them.
There was no attempt at small talk as the usual, tasteless meal was procured for them by a waiter, and the Professor seemed desperate to stretch the ordeal on as long as possible, taking small bites as though to savor what little taste remained in the food these days.
“Anthony, you’ve been doing well this month. I’m very happy with your progress.”
Anthony didn’t respond, but defiance was evident in his narrow eyed gaze. He refused to believe that the Professor really understood what went on in his mind. All the professor’s advanced technology would never be able to comprehend something so complex that it had baffled the greatest scientific minds of the time; his mind, if it could be considered one, was for beyond the professor despite all of his claims.
Another pause magnified the perfect silence to a deafening roar. The professor looked increasingly desperate.
“These past years have been great, wouldn’t you say?” The professor said abruptly, raising his voice to overcome the terrible silence. Not waiting for an answer, he continued. “We’ve managed to cure every serious illness that has plagued our lives since the beginning of time, people sleep better, live lives free from the stress and strain of the last centuries. And there is no disputing the greatness of these discoveries that have allowed our people these luxuries. But when the greatest advancement of the 22nd century is talked of, I don’t think of any of these. I think of the fragment of pure genius that is sitting in front me. You.”
“I’m afraid not everyone would agree with you. Maybe a few years ago. But not now, not these days. Because… because they hate me now.”
The professor put on the kind of simpering face one would use when talking to a young child, speaking slowly and choosing his words carefully. “You see, Anthony, the world is a different place from the time you were created. We made you because the people of this world needed someone like you to look up to, someone selfless and smart and kind and charming, someone perfect. People were overworked and underpaid, fed up with the world they lived in. Then you came along, rose through the ranks quickly to become a celebrity of sorts, taught them to think never of themselves and only consider the needs of others, and the world was a decent place to live.” He voice hardened, clearly bitter.
“But wonderful never sticks around for long. If there’s anything our whole history has taught us, it’s exactly that. Once we started in the downward spiral that everyone knew would come eventually, people couldn’t find it in themselves to blame it on their own mistakes. And so your purpose turned from hero to villain in the blink of an eye.”
Anthony had been told this too many times for it to affect him any longer. The professor’s words hardly interrupted his thoughts.
“They learned to stop believing everything they saw. They felt deceived by you, deceived by your outward simplicity. How you presented yourself as one of them, and all the while you weren’t. You weren’t even alive. You were different, and they found a way to use that against you. They looked at you and saw a monster, a monster who had stolen from them the one thing that made them special. By posing as one of them, by achieving all that was unattainable for them, you had stolen their humanity.”
“Well Mr. Professor, what a fix you’ve gotten yourself into.” Anthony sneered at him, mouth curling into a strangled grin. “What are you going to do now? Tell them all how special they are, how I’m really just a bunch of gears grinding away anyway? The only thing that matters is what’s on the inside, isn’t that what all of them have been told, so I suppose something must be better than nothing in their eyes. Of course, when you compare what they have to what I have, it must be hard to feel lucky, endless intelligence, patience, kindness, everything they could wish for in one being. But maybe they should start looking at what I don’t have. Nobody should waste their life striving to be like me. I’m the outcome of an ignorant idea that evolved from your far fetched dream… To me. You built me into a cage that you knew I would never escape, and threw away the key. You set me loose in a world that would never accept me, and left me there to fend for myself.”
“I won’t attempt to defend my past self. There is no denying that what I did was selfish and...and stupid. And I wish more than anything that there was a way to fix my mistakes, to re-introduce you to the world in a more positive light. But there is no time for such matters. It’s too late, the damage has been done, and people are calling for action to be taken. They demand that we will never create any more like you. But it goes further than that. They will never be satisfied with just that. No, they are calling for your immediate removal, that you be, ah, ended.”
There followed a pause in which the professor cleared his throat uncomfortably, waiting for Anthony to speak.
“And may I ask how my demise will be carried out?” His voice was mockingly monotone and proper. None of his mind’s turmoil showed on the perfectly calm and collected expression on his face.
“Ah, yes. Painless. Quite painless. Harmless really. Really.” He was trying to convince himself as much as Anthony. “You see, long ago people imagined futures of automated humans, made of complicated mechanisms and controlled by advanced computers. This is where they went wrong, trying to create something that acted like a real human, rather than was modeled directly from the brain of a real human. And yet even now, so many years later, you aren’t alive. No, you aren’t human. You can’t feel in the magnitude that people can. You are not one of us.” He said this firmly, almost as if he believed it. “So your entire self can be destroyed at will. At my will that is. I can turn you back into the gears and bits of machinery that you are made of. Because that, and only that, is what you are on the inside.”
“So. You’ll, ah “end” me as you would say. You won’t feel a thing. You will allow yourself to believe that I am nothing more than a piece of complex machinery stuck into the body of a human.”
The professor slammed his fist on the table in one of his familiar fits of sudden temper. “You are nothing more or less than just that. Your attempts at deception will never convince me otherwise.” He took several deep breaths. “Come. You need to see something.”
The hallway outside the room was starkly contrasting to it. The walls were made of white cinder blocks, the lighting almost blindingly bright as they stepped out of the darker room. They hurried down the hall, passing nondescript metal doors at regular intervals. They passed one person along the way, a young woman in a white lab coat who looked disdainfully at Anthony as they went by.
The professor turned sharply at a door with the number 223 etched into it. The room was empty aside from a row of what looked like gym lockers, painted a dull beige just like everything else; the walls, ceiling, floor, even the door handles. Anthony, determined not to show the least bit of curiosity, stared blank faced at the row of lockers before him. The professor spread his arms, an expression of pride on his face.
“What you see before you is my life’s work.” He pointed to the first in the row of lockers. “I realized early on that it would be foolish to try to create a human, an inconceivably advanced one at that, which could generate all the energy it needed to function within its body. It would be impossible. And so I decided on a kind of generator, which would work constantly to deliver enough energy to keep this human functioning. The only downside that I found was the incredible fragility. One false move-” he snapped his fingers. “And it would be too late. There is no bringing anyone back from the dead.
“Once I felt confident that there would be no mishap with the generator, there were no more obstacles in my path. And your immediate success upon being released to the world led me to begin the process of creating more of you, exact copies in fact. In the end, I planned for 20. Everything needed to sustain life for 19 more just like you is contained in these lockers.
“But any grand plans collapsed when the world began to see you in such a different light. And they are out of tolerance. It is no longer they will put up with an imposter such as yourself living in their midst. It is the end of what could have been an era of revolution in every aspect of our world. All over.”
Incredible fragility. Isn't that what the professor had said? As the professor unlocked the padlock on locker one, Anthony recognized that he had no choice.
And so he stood, in one final act of protest. What else could he do? Anthony reached out and opened the locker.