A Ghost of Love in the Machine
by Joshua Falken

Thanks to Matrix Refugee and Ista Dreamer for beta-read this chapter :-)


Chapter 1 - The Ghost in the Machine

I walked through the empty streets of the Dark City. I looked upward, the lights of the windows were lit, but they were empty. I sighed and the sound echoed through the street.

There was only me.

I was alone because I had decided to be alone like this.

If I wished I could walk among thousands of people... but they would not to be real... the way I was not real anymore.

When I arrived at the end of the street, I looked at a clock on the roof of a bookstore. 10:27 A.M.

I could see her walking nervously through the corridors of Cybertronics in the direction of Room 101 on the thirteenth floor. She was always nervous when she came to talk with me -- to see if I was still behaving well...

She is nervous because she is not sure of what I am.

And, to be honest... neither am I.

======

Cybertronics's computational psychologist, Jeanine Salla, went to Room 101 for her monthly session with... with who? Salla knew that she was not a common articlet, an A.I., like the ones that the dark-haired woman had helped to create... And she was definitely not an Orga...

What was she?

The psychologist sighed as she passed her entrance card in the reader of the door. "I think I will probably never discover what she is..." Salla thought. The dark-haired woman placed her right eye in the field of vision of the retina reader and she said for the security device:

"Salla, Jeanine M., Computational Psychologist, Department of Research and Development -- Level 5."

The door opened and revealed a room with black walls and soft illumination furnished with an armchair, a terminal and a holographic projector. Jeanine Salla sat down in the surprisingly comfortable armchair and looked at the terminal screen -- it just showed a clock marking 10:28 A.M. over the logotype of Cybertronics.

"If Professor Hobby knew about this, he would never had allowed it!" she thought, remembering the late chief roboticist of the company, victim of a heart attack two months ago, soon after the disappearance of the David model prototype. She sighed - she didn't know if she agreed with the comments that Hobby had been destroyed by his own creation, but she agreed that the loss of the original David model, created in the image of David Hobby, Allan's dead son, had broken something in the soul of the roboticist... in his dreams...

Salla looked at the clock: 10:29 AM. She breathed deeply and waited to speak with Cybertronics Corporation's biggest secret... With something that if people knew about, they would try to destroy... With a Spectrom.

======

The clock marked 10:30. I looked at the shop window of the bookstore, I arranged my hair and my beret, straightened my dress and disappeared from the streets of the Dark City... of my home... of my prison...

Through the security camera in Room 101, I saw that a dark-haired woman with mature eyes seated in the only armchair of the room. It was Dr. Jeanine Salla. I saw that she moved again in the armchair when a woman's hologram appeared in the center of the room. She was tall and thin, with long rose hair and pretty blue eyes, but her very proportionate face was a mask of neutrality and calm. Her radical appearance contrasted with the elegant yet conservative dress that she wore.

The holographic woman was me.

Dr. Salla smiled and greeted me:

"Good morning, Jem!"

"Good morning, Dr. Salla," I answered politely. Jem was my current name, the name for which Dr. Salla, my "analyst" (for lack of a better term), and Dr. Josianne Beller, the company's CEO and my owner, called me... I knew that before, when I was still an Orga, a human, I had another name... I was called Jerrica... Jerrica Benton, I think... For some reason, my memories are becoming more and more distant ... less important...

"How are you doing?"

"I'm doing well, doctor. The works which I was suitable for were not difficult." Besides the security of the Cybertronics computer system, my nominal task, I also referred to the orders of Dr. Beller to investigate the files of Prof. Allan Hobby, previous CEO and chief roboticist.

"I understand... you were checking the firewalls of the net servers for a longer time than the usual... some specific reason for that?"

"No." Well, that was not entirely true: For some reason, I thought more and more about passing through the firewalls in direction of Global Grid -- even that I knew that I didn't have permission to do so. I only had permission to exist in the Corporation's Internal Network and in the Dark City, the VR world where I lived, created so that I forgot that I was only a record of a neural pattern in a quantum computer, that I was only a copy of the mind of an already dead woman...

That I was a Spectrom.

That I was a ghost in the machine.

======

One hour later, the conversation had ended and Dr. Salla went back to her office. She locked the door and placed her face in the hands.

"My God, what is she?" she thought, trying to find an answer. "What turns everything for the worst is that I met her before she become a Spectrom!" Jeanine had just been a trainee in Cybertronics when she met Dr. Jerrica Phillips-Benton, one of the founders of the company. About three months after beginning the brilliant engineer, Salla heard about the scientist's car accident and her death in the hospital some days later... Then, after all those years, the new CEO after Prof. Hobby's death, Dr. Josianne Beller, called her and ordered her to take care that that a certain A.I. of the company, Jem, would kept on the line... and Jeanine recognized the dead engineer in Jem.

'And she is starting to forget who she was when she was alive... She is becoming indifferent...' Jeanine didn't know if this had to do with the process that copied the mind of the roboticist in the network of the company or if it was simply a result of the manipulations that Beller had done to guarantess that "Jem didn't have too much initiative..." - since actually it had been Jem who had created a good part of the patents that kept Cybertronics as the leading company in the development of Artificial Intelligence...

"God help us!" Salla thought, aghast.

======

Meanwhile, Jem reported to a woman about 60 years old, despite her facade of pretending to be 40 years old, blond with cold blue eyes, and an authoritarian way about her. She was the master and, in certain way, the creator of Jem: Dr. Josianne Beller.

"Then, were you able to break the code that protected Hobby's files?"

"Yes, Dr. Beller. I have already transferred the data to you."

"Any problem in deceiving Centurion Mark IV?" The CEO asked, referring to the Cybertronics security system, created by Hobby.

"No, it was just a matter of distracting it with an ostensibl, even so inoffensive invasion."

"Very well, Jem. And the Project Miragebots?"

The holographic woman projected a picture of a humanoid, mechanic-like robot of great proportion and started to recite: "The modules of the android-automobile conversion are functional, but there are great problems in the development of the control system, since Mechas don't usually perform military work, due to First Law." Jem stopped for one moment, with a sensation similar to the inconvenience: the idea of a robotic system deliberately projected for the purpose to kill humans seriously disturbed her, even if she didn't get to point the reason of it.

"Alright, Jem. You can return to your functions."

The pink-haired woman disappeared, going back to the Dark City.

Josie Beller reclined in the chair of her office, happy with herself. She was not just finally CEO of Cybertronics, as of now she dictated the direction of the company's researches: finally Cybertronics could take advantage of the immense military market for robots, which Hobby had ignored for sentimental reasons before. And better still, her old rival, Jerrica, was developing the exact robots that Hobby and Jerrica Phillips-Benton once had said the company would never create!

Due, of course, to the Three Laws of the Robotics, there was no way of creating a military robot - the First Law would end up destroying the Mecha's brain before it could ever finish its mission! But the weak-hearted side of Hobby had discovered how to do that...

Beller activated the terminal on her desk.

"Hoskins, the model David model was already recovered?"

In the screen, a man with sinister features smiled and his face temporarily vanished to reveal a boy with clear hair, who looked fixedly for the screen, an expression of despair and sadness on his innocent face.

"There were problems with the recovery?"

"No, Miss Beller. It was easy to control it, even when it tried to flee from us to go back for its "Blue Fairy"." The man laughed with gibe.

Beller cut the communication.

Hobby had tried to create the perfect child. Beller would turn it into something more useful and lucrative.

The perfect killer.

She smiled.


To be continued...

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