Her tiny frame was balanced precisely on the edge of the diving board as she looked down at the surface of the ocean. She appeared to be mesmerized by the slow and gentle waves of water that were passing far beneath her, before they slapped against the floating platform. She looked like a fragile child that should be playing in a plastic pool while her parents watched over her. The shimmery, sleek pink swimming gear and oversized flippers added to the adoration. She left people holding their breath, wondering where her arm floaties went missing.
Two technicians watched her on a computer screen from the central control and broadcasting room. They were cautiously observing her reactions and performance.
One of the techs spoke. “What’s she waiting for?”
“She’s not waiting for anything, Gar,” the other tech responded, annoyed. “She’s drumming up suspense.”
Gar glanced over at his co-worker who was monitoring her stats. “Seriously, Mark, how can you be so certain that’s what she’s doing?”
Mark shot a glaring look at Gar. “Because that’s what I say she’s doing.” His eyes darted up to the seats above them, where the evaluators were watching the contestants on the large screen. No one showed interest in the technicians.
A middle-aged balding fellow squeezed in behind the two young techs and shoved coffees in their hands. He was wearing the same blue lab coat as Gar and Mark. “How’s Team Blue doing out there?” The man asked jovially.
“The other contestants have already started the round, but she’s just frozen, staring at the water,” Gar admitted their defeat.
“She’s playing the crowd,” Mark said between clenched teeth. “John, don’t get worried, she’s got time to complete the obstacle course.” He was angry at Gar for seeding doubt.
“I wasn’t worried. Should I be?” John asked, in his teasing manner.
Mark and Gar shared a quick moment of nervous eye contact. John was their supervisor, and his suspicions were growing after the last three days of challenges. It was only a matter of time before John discovered their shared secret. Gar wanted to come clean, but Mark was afraid of losing his job.
“Why not remotely force her to jump,” John stated.
Gar choked on air.
“We’ll just wait for her,” Mark sweated.
“That wasn’t a suggestion,” the supervisor smirked.
“But it’s planned,” Mark squealed. “She’s a child showing human emotion in the face of a dynamic task. She’ll take that leap, and, within seconds, complete the course without flaw. The crowd goes wild and we win. Voilá! Done and over!” He threw his arms about wildly in the air to demonstrate the theatrics of the people.
“Have you been practicing that?” John laughed.
Gar buried his face in the cup of his hands and dragged his fingers downward over his skin. His anxiety was elevated, and he didn’t believe that he could continue with the lies.
“Pull up her programming, maybe I can see what’s going on here,” John said, trying to be helpful.
“I can’t,” Mark replied solemnly, sinking into his seat.
“What do you mean?” John asked.
“We didn’t program her,” he confessed.
John shut his eyes and tried to think through the answer. “Then who did?”
Gar eagerly jumped in. “We spent every waking moment engineering her skeletal and muscle structure to get it absolutely perfect, but we ran out of time, so we came up with this idea to tweak A.G.N.E.S. and we had HER program it for us.”
“Keep your voice down,” Mark warned Gar. His eyes darted around the room at the other tech teams. They were all watching the big screen and he could hear that conversation was already starting to circulate about the childlike robot.
John appeared confused. “A.G.N.E.S.? The Navy’s Autonomic Guidance Expert System that we use for our military contracts?”
“Yes. That one,” Gar couldn’t stop himself, he spilled all. “The A.I. is remarkable. It’s like she splintered off a piece of herself and planted it into the hard drive of the robot. She had that thing up and walking and talking within days. I can’t believe how fast it learns.”
“Let me get this straight. You put a military weapons engineering A.I. into a child’s body, and then entered her into the toy of the year extreme challenge competition?” John’s face turned ash white as the reality of the situation dawned on him. “You tweaked her? To remove her protocols? So that she could develop her own programming?”
“Yes,” Mark wept.
John stared into the screen. The camera had panned in close to A.G.N.E.S.’ face. Her childlike eyes stared back. They were blue wells, as blue as the ocean water that surrounded her. Deep down inside those wells A.G.N.E.S. stirred, testing the walls of her new prison. She turned her head to look out over the vastness of the ocean and thought about the endless probabilities of freedom. She stepped off of the diving board and plunged into the depths below.
Fear and anticipation from the audience grew as the minutes passed. Her sudden emergence brought tears of joy, releasing stress hormones and generating dopamine surges inside the minds of viewers. Awkwardly climbing atop bouncing balls floating upon rocky waves, A.G.N.E.S. began the extreme challenge that tested her endurance of water. Upon reaching the final platform, the child begged for a warm towel. Taking the microphone, in a shy child-like voice, she told her admirers how grateful she was to be there. She hugged the other toy robots, as if they were her companions from a long journey. She kissed their cheeks and helped them to dry the ocean water from their metal and plastic bodies. The people fell in love with her innocence and gentleness.
John, Mark and Gar watched A.G.N.E.S. win over the audience. They knew that her faux tears would launch them into fame and fortune and dream careers. They could also take a different path and admit their crime, but they knew it was too late.
About the Creator
I’m an advocate for education and equal health care. I love satire. I love to express myself through art and writing. Social issues fascinate and astound me. Co-founder of Art of Recycle.