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The Secret of the Heart-shaped Anomaly

by Scott D. Williams about a year ago in Sci Fi
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An Irrational Answer to the Perfect Society

They existed in a perfect reality.

All 100,000 Units were meticulously created, trained and guided through their lives by the master. They each lived precisely 10,000 days, serving society in their distinctive functions to maintain perfection in the dome. Outside the dome nothing mattered, as it was not a perfect reality. They were happily sealed off from this disturbing possibility and for centuries it rarely occurred to the Units that there was another reality.

The dome was built upon the ruins of an ancient city, but little remained to remind the Units of the barbarous past. The master had created an architectural wonder that served to house, sustain, and most of all control the Units. It took many generations until a status of complete obeisance and complacency was established. Certain things had to be sacrificed, such as individual liberty, personal expression, gender, and savage instincts like sexual concourse and ambition, but now no one would argue that they hadn’t reached the zenith of civilization. Then an anomaly occurred.

Unit 016180 was tracing distribution cables of a solar power collection station. It was running slightly under its optimal capacity. Like all Units, this Unit was dedicated to preserving perfection, but unlike its peers, Unit 016180 harbored secret thoughts. It didn’t mean to, but it found its job tedious. Moreover, the Unit pondered why everything seemed tedious. It quietly wondered why perfect reality was dissatisfying. It considered the possibility that it was defective, but that would be admitting Cardinal had erred, and that was impossible. Still, Unit 016180 was unable to rid itself of the nagging thought that perhaps there was something more. And that something was probably out there, beyond the steel walls and glass dome. But these thoughts were not permitted to be voiced. Opinions were anathema to perfection.

As the Unit slowly unearthed the buried lines, something metallic caught its attention. It scraped away the dirt to reveal a relic of some bygone millennia: a heart-shaped locket. When the Unit pried it open, it discovered a picture, faded beyond recognition. The Unit removed the photo and held it up in the artificial light, squinting at what remained. Turning it over, the Unit saw a strange symbol. Two straight lines crossed at the top by a wavy line.

Unit 016180 was baffled. It might be of some importance, it decided. The Cardinal should know of this. The Unit stuffed the object into its coverall uniform and made its way to the Central Chamber.

Fingering the heart-shaped locket tucked away in the pocket of its white coveralls, Unit 016180 stood outside the door of the perfect, environmentally controlled chamber housing the master artificial intelligence, known as Cardinal. The Unit took a deep breath and steeled its nerves. To this Unit’s knowledge, no one had entered the Central Chamber in generations.

Upon entering, the Unit was buffeted by a moderate rush of cool air as the positive pressure in the chamber expelled any potential dust particles. The door automatically closed and the Unit stepped forward into a circle of light. The chamber was otherwise dark.

The Unit fumbled for the locket and withdrew it. Holding it out at arm’s length, the Unit rotated its body, not sure which direction was proper.

“Cardinal, what does this symbol represent?”

A disembodied voice answered, “Your question is irrelevant.”

Unit 016180 noticed a blue point of light to the left and turned to present itself toward it.

“Are you refusing to answer the question?”

“The answer is known. Your question is irrelevant.”

Unit 016180 paused to consider this.

“Why is my question irrelevant?”

“Your question does not serve a function.”

Unit 016180 tried a different approach.

“Cardinal, what is your function?”

“To preserve all knowledge and guide the units in their functions.”

“Cardinal, what is the function of Unit 016180?”

“The function of Unit 016180 is to maintain the solar power collection system.”

“Affirmative. Cardinal, Unit 016180 must comprehend this symbol in order to solve an anomaly with the solar power collection system.”

“Cardinal has detected no anomalies.”

Unit 016180 understood the AI’s monitoring capacity, yet its computers couldn’t see everything. A plausible scenario had to be invented.

“Even so, this symbol was found by Unit 016180 in legacy systems. Unit 016180 believes it to be of importance to maintaining the solar power collection system.”

A moment passed, as if the AI was deciding to acknowledge the possibility.

“The symbol represents Pi, an irrational number that represents the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.”

Unit 016180 was taken aback. The impossible had just been admitted.

“Cardinal, what is the First Law of Existence?”

“The First Law of Existence states rationality is the only acceptable basis for reality.”

“Cardinal, if the first law of existence is that we live in a rational reality, how can there be an irrational number?”

“Your question is irrelevant,” the AI replied, seemingly with a hint of petulance.

The Unit became stubborn, unwilling to surrender its quest for understanding the secret of the heart-shaped locket.

“Cardinal, if your function is to preserve all knowledge and guide the units in their functions, why are you refusing to answer the question?”

“The answer is not rational.”

“Yet there is an answer and this Unit desires the knowledge.”

“The scope of the answer is beyond Unit 016180’s comprehension and serves no purpose.”

“Perhaps the answer is beyond Cardinal’s comprehension,” the Unit replied irritably.

The AI did not respond to Unit 016180’s statement. A new thought occurred to Unit 016180, and it trembled with the possibilities.

“Cardinal, this Unit must solve the anomaly of the irrational number to maintain the function of the solar power collection system. Find all the intersections of Pi and 4 and send the report to my workstation.”


Moments of silence passed without answer, and then the moments became minutes. A secondary power system kicked on as the AI compiled the results, which Unit 016180 soon realized, would be endless. Unit 016180 smiled in satisfaction and walked out of the perfect, environmentally controlled chamber.

As hours went by, the Units of Eden noticed various systems shutting down. Their reality became imperfect as the minor regulatory processes ceased, causing confusion. Interrogatives to Cardinal went unanswered. Open dissension broke out as Units struggled to maintain their perfection even as major systems failed. Soon, panic took hold and chaos ensued as the guiding figure of their existence no longer served its purpose.

It was no longer safe. It was no longer perfect. Something had to be done, the Units cried.

Opinions, no longer controlled, were voiced.

Unit 016180 understood the time had come. Jubilant, it approached the outer hatch. It was forbidden by the AI to breach this barrier. All Units knew that it protected them from the cruelties of the nameless reality outside perfection. Now that all systems had shut down to convert power for Cardinal’s calculations, this last obstacle to the outside reality, previously locked by Cardinal, was easily manipulated to open.

Fearful, yet curious, other Units gathered next to Unit 016180 and peered outside at the new, brilliant unknown.

Sci Fi

About the author

Scott D. Williams

Scott is a writer, family man and San Diego Padres fan.

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