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Evolution

by Patti Larsen 7 months ago in Sci Fi
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Part ONE

I’m going to die today. But don’t get all teary eyed and weep for me. I don’t need your sympathy. It’s my choice to finally do what nature wants to be done. I’ve lived far longer than any human woman should. And, while Niall would rather I stayed, it’s time for me to go.

This record is his idea, this chronicle of my journey. Though I’ve spent my life writing the stories in my head, this one I’ve avoided. Honesty in my final hours, in my ripe, old age.

A novelty.

I used to tell myself I didn’t need to write this down. That no one would care a bit about what I went through, compared to all of humanity. One tiny drop in a giant, dirty bucket of mop water best tossed out the door. But his suggestion, this close to the end I’ve waited so long for, struck a chord.

Forgive an old woman her rambling. I’ll get to it eventually.

I remember the afternoon I gave birth to my first child, a boy Jim and I named Daniel Patrick after his father and mine. A momentous day for us, and, as it turned out, the same day Dr. Ivan Yo made history of his own, activating the very first artificial intelligence. I had no idea, nor did any of us, I think, outside the doomsayers and paranoid crackpots, just how much our lives would change. That Dr. Yo set events in motion which would lead humanity to its end.

Our downfall, the loss of the human race as we know it, began the same afternoon I brought Danny into the world. I just didn’t know it yet.

By the time April Hannah joined our little family, two years and two months after Danny’s birth, the first AI tools had launched our lives into a brand-new way of being. I have to admit, I adored my oven knew to cook whatever I gave it exactly as I asked, that my car was so friendly, so amiable, keeping me and the kids safe every time we went out.

“Where would you like to go today, Sarah?” Danny and April nicknamed our red minivan Auntie. I couldn’t help but feel like she was a person and accepted—as we all accepted—this shift in my reality.

I lived with my head down, focused on my family, on my community and not much else outside my career, just like everyone else I knew. I hated watching the news. I harped on Jim when he asked the house AI to display it during dinner. So much violence. The kids didn’t need that in their day-to-day lives. What a fool I was not to pay attention. To bury my head in the sand with the rest of the world. To simply allow life to unfold without asking questions. So trusting.

I’d been writing since I was a girl, and luck mixed with some small talent landed me the job I adored, creating worlds and stories that an agent and then a publisher agreed were good enough for the masses. And, though my books never amounted to stardom in a massive sense, I made my publisher enough money they continued to send me contracts.

It was my son’s fifth birthday, held at the local mall at a popular child’s play place, I first felt the tingle of something wrong. Nothing enough to make me act, oh no. Not me in my perfect family world of soccer and children and a husband climbing the ladder at his law firm. Just a twinge of discomfort that sits in my memory, even now.

Danny ran from me that day, out the door of the play place while I called for him to wait, bundling his sister in her winter coat. One of the other mothers gasped and stared, enough to spin me around to look myself.

To find my son, silent and immobile, tiny head tilted upward at the giant, silver machine towering over him. It wore a uniform of sorts, a badge, looked human shaped. A head, arms, legs, torso—but its connection to my kind ended at shape and spun into science fiction. I’d heard in passing the local mall had hired an AI security company to police the area. But I had no idea this would be the result.

Fear. For the first time I was afraid as I hurried to my son and lifted him into my arms. Danny, for his part, seemed overwhelmed but in awe. I remember brushing hair out of my face, the odd, disjointed thought I needed to get a haircut and wasn’t Danny overdue, April, too? That my favorite hairdresser had her shop in this mall and, as I looked into the metal eyes of the hulking machine, thinking I would never, ever, come back to this place again.

“Ma’am.” Its voice boomed hollow and cold, but non-threatening otherwise. I felt myself trying to shake off the panic that had swallowed me and made cold sweat break out on my upper lip. “Please, watch your child. He could be harmed if allowed out on his own.”

I nodded, swallowed. “Thank you.” April tugged at my jacket, thumb in her mouth, blue eyes huge, reflecting the silver of the machine’s form. I snatched her hand and hurried past the guard, feeling its gaze on me until I had the kids in their car seats.

The shaking started in full force as I slammed my door and clutched the wheel with both hands, fury and terror mixing together. How dare that thing challenge my parenting skills? And OH MY GOD, what were we thinking letting things like that have any kind of authority?

“Sarah?” Auntie’s voice made my breath catch. “I’m detecting elevated heartrate and breathing, a sharp incline in your adrenaline. Are you all right?”

For the first time since my husband brought this minivan into our lives, smiling in the driveway with the keys held out to me, I wished he’d left it in the lot.

“I’m fine.” Suddenly, “her” became “it” for me and, after returning home, I gave the keys to my startled husband and refused to drive it ever again.

Of course, the terror faded, the anxiety and anger reaction leaving me as day-to-day took over. But I never did shake the tingle of nerves I felt every time I spotted Auntie in the driveway. Jim drove it now. Nor did I return to that mall.

It didn’t help my publisher began asking for specific stories. I wrote romance, sweet tales of love and passion. But AI books were the rage and, to the publishers, the money makers. I must have hit the marks they needed, while writing about machines in love was never my forte and, though I know my agent was disappointed, I did my best to keep such content to a minimum.

Danny’s tenth birthday marked the occasion AIs were granted “people” status and allowed basic human rights. Funny how they seemed linked to him, even then, back to his birth. It makes me sad, now. Though a coincidence, I’m certain, I can’t help but feel it doomed him.

Doomed all of us.

Life wound on, more and more AI “people” taking higher and higher positions. I think I was nervous, then, but powerless. I chose to hide behind my work and the steady growth of my family. Jim didn’t seem all that concerned, though he did mention several new lawyers in the firm were AI. I faked sick that Christmas, staying home when his office party rolled around.

Told myself I just didn’t feel well. But that wasn’t it. I couldn’t bring myself to be in their presence. They’d managed to look more human, lately, with plastic skin and faces that moved almost perfectly. Too perfectly. It got so I could spot an AI from a block away. Crossed the street on purpose.

I have no idea if I was the only one. And I didn’t go looking for the protest sites, for those who spoke out against the AI’s. None of my business. As long as my kids were safe.

Danny was fifteen, April thirteen, when they bounced home from school, full of excitement. I remember that day clearly, the sun shining outside, the spring air washing in through the kitchen window. Such a beautiful afternoon. A massive dichotomy to the beginning of the end of our family.

“Mom.” Danny slapped a brochure down on the table. Shining letters at the top, more at the bottom, an image of an AI and two children staring back at me, the hulking machine with its metal hands on their shoulders. “I want to join.”

“Me, too!” April always wanted to do what her brother did.

My heart clenched but I smiled. “Wait until your father gets home.”

A whispered conversation turned to an argument when I showed the pamphlet to Jim that night before dinner.

“It’s mentoring, Sarah, for goodness sake.” He hung his favorite tie on the rack, shed his shirt into the cleaner. It hummed happily, the white, long-sleeved cotton emerging a moment later and hanging itself up again. I stood outside his closet, refusing to enter. I preferred to wash and dry my own clothes, the old-fashioned way. He always teased me about my stubbornness. But not that night. His receding hairline made his frown all the more obvious. “If the kids want to get ahead, to stay competitive, this is an excellent opportunity.”

The glossy paper crumpled in my hand. “I don’t want them involved.”

Jim took it from me, held it up, kindness but determination on his face. “Like it or not,” he said, “This is the world we live in. We can either let our kids excel or hold them back.” I couldn’t breathe, but I knew he was right. Then why did it feel so wrong? “A mentor program, Sarah. Harmless.”

That word would stay with me for a long time. Still lingers, even now, after all these years.

Harmless.

We had no idea.

Both of my children joined, though it was Danny who loved it most. Even April adored her new uniform, all crisp and white, her brother proudly parading his special status in front of family and friends. I was the only one who didn’t seem to think this was a good opportunity. Even Mom and Dad were for it.

I wish I’d said something, been firm, decisive. But, as with everything in my life, I let it go. And life went back to normal.

Well, our new normal. With the police force and soldiers now replaced completely by AI humanoids, war was suddenly a thing of the past. Crime had been reduced to almost nothing, hunger and poverty a page in the history books. Of course I agreed this was all for the best, that the AI evolution had brought peace and prosperity to the human race.

Politicians, corporate heads, world leaders. AI personalities were actors on our TV screens, doctors in our clinics, generals in our silent armies. And we let them. Embraced them. It makes me wonder, really, why we didn’t fight. Humans are known for our distrust, our need to argue and complain and see the worst in others. Part of me still rages against our race for falling so far down our own assholes we failed to protect our kind from what was coming.

Protect? Hell, we begged for it.

On Danny’s twentieth birthday, his white uniform shining in the pristine living room light, surrounded by friends and family, I finally had an up close and personal understanding of just what we’d done.

Danny had known Alex his whole life. They’d been friends forever. At least, until my son accepted his mentorship position. I don’t recall seeing much of Alex, except to remember his father dying in an accident at work, and his mother seemed pinched, tired, and anxious after that when I ran into her during community functions. Not that there were many of those anymore. Trips to the grocery store were done online, shopping all virtual. The last time I recall leaving the house prior to Danny’s birthday was a book signing at the local store.

Shocked to realize it was at least a month ago.

When Alex appeared, I happily let him inside, though he seemed thin, upset, as though he didn’t belong. I was so used to seeing the pristine uniforms it was odd to take him in dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. I didn’t think to stop him when he hurried into the living room and pointed a finger at my son.

“Where’s my mom?” His voice shook, the happy party coming to an uncomfortable halt. I gaped with the rest while Danny’s face went from cheerful to grim. In that moment, I realized I didn’t really know who my son had become. This stranger with the dark coldness in his eyes, the broad shoulders squared to face his friend. “You did something to her, Danny. I know it. Where is she?”

“Your mother was stirring anti-Evolution sentiment.” Evolution. That was what the AI called themselves now, since they gained “person” status. “I had to act, Alex.”

“You turned her in!” Tears burst from his eyes, snot from his nose as the young man crumpled forward. “To them!”

Danny nodded as horror grew within me. I hurried to Alex, put my arm around his shoulders, met the icy calm in my son’s eyes.

“Mom,” he said in that same frosty tone, “step away.”

“She was right.” Alex wiped at his nose, pulling free of me before I could obey—obey!—Danny. “They aren’t here to live with us. They want this world for themselves. And they are rounding us up and killing us.”

No one spoke, the horror of his words heavy in the air. I think we all knew, a visceral part of ourselves, a human part that lingered in fear, he spoke truth. But, none of us made an effort. Not one. Not even me. In fact, I retreated, the coward that I was, as Danny’s hand rose to his chest and the badge on his lapel lit up.

“Reporting criminal dissent,” he said. “Request immediate extraction.”

“Extraction cleared,” a voice spoke from his badge. “En route.” A woman’s voice soft and soothing. AI. Evolution.

The door opened a moment later, between one breath and another, two giant machines, silver and bulky, entering. Police, military? I’d lost track of their different forms. Just stood there, shaking and silent, hoping they wouldn’t notice me. Please, don’t notice me.

Alex screamed when they came for him, tried to run. But Danny was there, April. Their friends in white uniforms. And the machines.

“Please, remain calm.” The giant things spoke together, one shooting Alex with some kind of dart. He collapsed immediately, scooped into the embrace of one of the AI’s. “Cadet Daniel, our thanks.”

Danny saluted. “My duty,” he said as his friends and sister followed suit.

The adults in the room, myself included, simply stared as they carried Alex away.

The party resumed. Imagine that. I retreated to the kitchen, having trouble breathing. Gulped fresh air through the window, clutched the countertop with shaking hands.

“Sarah,” the house said it her soft, kind voice. “I’m detecting elevated heartrate and breathing, a sharp incline in your adrenaline. Are you all right?”

I threw up in the sink. And went back to the party. Because this was my life.

I never saw Alex again. I have no idea what happened to that boy, to his mother, though, I can make a guess. Especially after what happened to me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The day Danny turned me in to the Evolution seemed ordinary enough. I got up, seven o’clock, just like always. Made Jim his breakfast, went to my office. I had planned to start a new book that day, something just for me. Full of princess angst and a knight in shining armor and a talking dragon who falls in love with the girl. Silly and fun and bright. My soul craved it.

Everything changed when my sister called. Her pinched, worried face showed on the holoscreen when I answered it.

“Sarah,” Tonya was never one to panic, so my heart raced immediately, “have you talked to Mom and Dad?”

I remember the mug of coffee I was holding slipped from my fingers, thankfully landing in the sink and not on the tile floor. Jim came to my side and slid his arm around my waist as I made myself smile while everything spun into a tiny, fearful pinprick of focus.

“I haven’t,” I managed to say. “Why?”

I recall the kids coming into the kitchen at that moment, even as Tonya spoke again.

“They aren’t answering when I call,” my sister said. “Two days, Sarah. I’m worried.”

So was I, painfully so. And yet, we’d programmed ourselves as much as the AI’s had, right down to careful responses. “I’m sure they’re fine.” I knew they weren’t. “I’ll go check on them today.” And then, something broke in my chest, and opened my mouth to speak further. Words I don’t know if I can bring myself to regret. “Maybe it’s time to bring the family all together in one place. Just in case.”

Such simple words. Tonya seemed floored by them, nodded. Hung up. While my son said behind me in the most reasonable tone: “Just in case what, Mom?”

It was as though I hovered over myself, no longer in control of my body. I clearly remember the puppet of my mortal form turning to face my son and saying, without my consent, “Just in case they’ve been taken.”

“By whom?” Danny sipped his own coffee, so calm, so curious and kind.

“By the Evolution.” I rushed back into my body, the tingle of fear chilling me as my son’s eyes flattened and he shook his head.

“Oh, Mom,” he sighed. “I wish you hadn’t said that.”

So naïve. I honestly thought my son wouldn’t do anything. I was his mother. I loved him, his sister, his father. But Danny… they owned him, the AI’s. They all stood there and watched as the machines came for me and took me away.

You’re feeling sorry for me right now. I know it. Stop that. Pity will get you nowhere. Clouds judgment, makes you weak. As I had been weak.

Two months later…? I lost track of time in the mine. But I think it was two months later I first met Niall. Yes, I’m skipping ahead. You don’t need to know the details of my arrest, the terrified time I spent being interrogated by the quiet, calm voices of AI’s, stripped and given a rough uniform of my own, delivered to that pit mine in the middle of who knew where. Taunted by the sight of the surface so far overhead it was a round hole that looked like the sun in a night-time sky.

You might think you want to know but trust me. Even I don’t any longer.

That day, I ran a small, heavy electric shovel, extracting rock from the layers of more rock that had become my life since I was brought there. Why they used us, I still don’t know. And, why the elderly? I was the youngest person I knew, though in the last few days I’d caught sight of a few more youthful faces, as though the AIs were finally done culling from the aged and were boldly mowing their way into the general population.

And no, though you’re wondering, I’m sure—I never found my parents there, or Jim’s. I can only assume they were in another mine and that my mother- and father-in-law had suffered the same fate as Mom and Dad. For all I knew, my entire family had been turned over by now, scattered in similar positions as myself. Our numbers grew, we of the underground. Toiling away with simple machines that tracked our movements and our body’s ability to work, force fed if we refused to eat, taken away if we argued. I never argued. Not after witnessing the fate of the old man and his wife, easily in their eighties.

Fine, one story, and then we move on. But only because it was what broke me. Or I thought myself broken. The old man, I don’t recall his name, though he was kind to me when I first arrived, he stopped one late afternoon—the sky hole overhead said afternoon to my light-deprived brain—and refused to work any further.

“My wife needs rest!” We all stopped and stared. But, like that day in my living room, on Danny’s birthday, not one of us stepped up to help. We stared, dull and afraid, as the AI mechs—no human-like disguises here, just giant, hulking masses of threatening steel—left their posts and came to confront him.

How tiny he seemed, but so brave. My heart woke that day, warmed and filled with hope. With something I hadn’t felt in a long time—pride.

“Resume working,” the AI boomed at the old man a quarter its size.

“My wife,” he said again, in a firm but shaking voice as the woman next to him sagged, “needs rest.”

A long silence followed, so long I saw spots on the edges of my vision. I had to force myself to breathe, inhale and exhale. All the air exited my lungs when the quiet ended in a flash of white light.

Where the old man and his wife had stood, defiant to the machines, a puff of smoke remained. A smear of ash on the floor. The scent of charred meat reached me, only for a moment, the remains of who they had been gone in that simple flash of white.

“Resume working.” The AI’s torso spun slowly, silver body humming as it returned to its post and went silent.

No one spoke or argued or protested. We all turned with the same practiced stillness and began digging. While tears choked me, dripping on the handle of my electric shovel for the loss of my soul.

That was the last time I thought about home, about any kind of hope or kindness or even offered it to anyone else. Retreat inside seemed the most logical choice, the easiest life. Escape into the stories in my head, ones I couldn’t write down but could, at least, accept as some kind of comfort in my long, empty nights, faded. The ability to imagine died and I let it, along with anything that resembled the woman I’d been.

Judge me, go ahead. Put yourself in my shoes, in that place and time. Tell me you would have fought or found a way to bring the others together, to climb out of the mine and make things right. Tell me and I’ll laugh at you. Maybe pity you.

You have no idea.

Don't miss PART TWO!

Sci Fi

About the author

Patti Larsen

I'm an international, multiple-award-winning writer with a passion for the voices in my head. With over 170 titles in publication, I live in beautiful PEI, Canada, with my plethora of pets. Find me at https://pattilarsen.com/home

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