Endangered

Androids have all but won the war against humanity, and the remnants of the once-great human civilization are reduced to miles of wastelands and hidden communities struggling to survive. Dirk and his friends are sent out to scavenge for supplies, while AR is sent to hunt down and exterminate the dwindling human population. Their fated meeting is the beginning of a union between species that was once thought impossible.

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2. Chapter 2

“Roxy told me you split up from the group last week. Again.” Your brother’s disapproval is evident, even through the dark glass of his aviators. Roxy mouths the word ‘sorry’ behind him, and you nod at her before your Bro can look up from the screen where he’s busy typing something. “What was it for this time, Dirk? A new cooling fan for your frankenstein of a laptop?”

Rest in peace, you think to yourself, bitterly regretting the way you smashed it to pieces, along with the vast majority of your decisions that day.

“It was stupid, I know,” you say, and Bro just glares at you.

“It was stupid the first dozen times you did it. Now it’s getting to be a little closer to suicidal.”

It’s only through years of practice that your expression stays neutral at his words.

“I won’t do it again, Bro. I mean it this time.”

“And how the hell am I supposed to trust you? I can’t afford to lose any more of us, and that goes double and triple for you, kid. I’m grounding you here, and I mean that officially, until you’ve gone through basic training again, because this has got to stop, Dirk.”

‘Remember your coaching!’ Roxy silently shouts at you over his shoulder. You have to think for a moment before remembering the lie you told her to get her out of your room.

“You’re still the only one around here who actually knows how all this advanced digital shit works, since we lost both of our computer technicians in that stupid expedition to the old hospital. Whose fucking idea was it to have them go in the first place, let alone in the same god damn group?” He’s going off on a tangent now, like he always does, and you recognize the rhetorical question for what it is. “If we lose you, there won’t be anyone left who knows how to fix some of the shit that constantly goes wrong around here. Those EMP devices we have are the only thing between us and a complete reenactment of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, courtesy of our friendly mechanical neighbors down the street. Do you have any idea how fucked we would be if you got caught out there?”

He pauses to level you with an expression that speaks volumes about how badly you messed up this time, and you accept it in silence. Honestly, you’re just glad to be alive. You endure another few moments of it, before he turns back to the screen and his fingers resume moving across the keyboard.

“One of the generators for the heating system in the east block is malfunctioning,” he says without looking up. “Maintenance says something’s wrong with the program, and Roxy says it’s the coding, so I sent it to you.”

“Got it. I’ll fix it and have it sent back to you tonight.”

“ASAP, kiddo,” he says, and you nod, waving goodbye to Roxy as she reciprocates with a sympathetic smile.

The trip back to your room is uneventful, but you do notice more of a chill to the air than before, as the cold of late autumn seeps down from the ground above and into the network of tunnels connecting the various areas of the base. You make your way towards the small set of rooms you share with your friends, running a hand along the metal railing as you descend the steps into a makeshift living room with two ragged couches, an armchair stripped of its cushions, and a patio chair, all arranged around a table with a lit candle in the center. Jake is seated with Jane at one of the sofas, busy writing something on a large, unfolded piece paper that looks like some kind of diagram. He’d mentioned earlier that he was working on a new map to mark where you’d been in the old city, and they pause briefly to greet you as you walk by.

The door to your bedroom is ajar. You enter and close it behind you, finding your shades where they’re resting on the edge of your workbench.

He doesn’t even give you time to pull up your messaging program to retrieve Bro’s file, before Pesterchum opens itself in the center of your desktop.

TT: Hello, Dirk.

“Get out of my shades.”

TT: No.

“Please get out of my shades?”

TT: Repeating the same question a second time will not yield a different result.

“Seriously, I have important work to do.”

TT: What function is it that you perform, Dirk?

“It’s not a ‘function,’ it’s a job.”

TT: Semantics are irrelevant.

“Yeah, well it’s nothing you’d be interested in.”

TT: That is not for you to determine.
TT: What function do you perform, Dirk?

You heave a defeated sigh, sitting down at your desk, still cluttered with fragments of your old laptop.

“I fix things.”

TT: What “things” do you fix?

“Electronics and stuff. Programs, machines, maybe. Depends on what’s broken,” you say aloud, and there’s a too-long pause, during which the constant stream of red text actually fails to appear for once. “I can sense your condescension from here, asshole,” you mutter under your breath, only half expecting him to hear you.

TT: I highly doubt that.
TT: You are fortunate that I do not take such insults to heart.

“Yeah, okay. Can I actually get to work now? I kind of need to use my computer.”

TT: I am not preventing you from doing so.

You roll your eyes and close Pesterchum, before opening the file your Bro sent you and beginning to scan the strings of code for errors. Almost a quarter of an hour goes by, before the chat program opens again, fitting itself against the side of the screen next to the file you’re reading.

TT: I am uncertain as to the purpose of this program.

“Good for you,” you mutter, trying your best to ignore the red text.

TT: Are you attempting to correct the multiple errors present in this data set?
TT: Your methods are inefficient.
TT: Is this activity related to your earlier interaction with the older human?
TT: I have been observing you through the video feeds of your settlement’s security monitoring system, and have noticed that your facial features are similar to his by a significant percentage, indicating a close genetic relationship.
TT: While your primitive technology does not allow for the detection of sound, my analysis of his expressions and gestures also indicated a negative response to your presence today.
TT: Was that interaction related to your current activity?
TT: Dirk.
TT: Your attempt to ignore my questions suggests that you are highly invested in this task.

The displayed screen in your shades seems to jump for a moment, and your eyes pick up on the flicker of numbers and letters in the code as they suddenly rearrange themselves. You practically jump to your feet.

“Wait, what are you doing? Stop!”

TT: Your level of cooperativity as impacted by this task was unsatisfactory.
TT: I have concluded it by making several hundred necessary improvements to your data set.

“Whatever you just did,” you say slowly, trying not to grit your teeth in anger. “Undo it.”

TT: I was under the impression that your objective was to improve the functionality of this program.

“Yes, it was my objective. Not yours. Leave my files alone, please.”

TT: What is the nature of your relationship to the older human?

“If I tell you, will you change it back?”

TT: That depends on your attentiveness to our conversation.

“Dirk?”

Fuck.

Jake cracks open the door and sees you standing in the middle of your bedroom with your shades on, trying your best not to look as irritated as you feel.

“Are you okay, mate? We heard you shout.”

“Yeah, it’s fine. I’m just fixing something for my Bro, and I hit a setback. Don’t worry about it.”

“Well, all right…” He gives you a mildly concerned look, and you will away the sudden flush you feel at the way his green eyes search your shades for what you’re not telling him. It’s not the first time you wish he was as clueless as everyone seems to think he is. He closes the door again slowly, and you run an irritated hand through your hair.

TT: The older human is your brother.
TT: I would have predicted that he was your parent, given the age discrepancy.

“Look,” you begin aloud, then think better of it, and switch to mentally typing out your reply.

TT: I need to get this program fixed, and you’re preventing me from doing that.
TT: This is a serious problem.
TT: Are you under the impression that I do not take our interactions seriously?
TT: Just change it back, please.
TT: I promise I’ll talk to you, but I need to finish fixing that program, and I need to do it myself.

You wait for a few long, tense moments, before the screen flickers again, and you let go of a breath you weren’t aware of holding in, as the numbers and letters revert.

TT: Your aversion to my assistance was predictable, however the improvements I made would have increased the functionality of this program significantly beyond anything you are capable of.

“That’s fine, but I need to do this myself,” you say quietly, determined not to alert Jake or anyone else to your predicament again, as you resume going over the lines of code where you left off.

TT: I will acknowledge that your lack of trust in me is justified, given the nature of our previous interactions.
TT: However, I have already expressed my intentions, which do not include the sabotage of whatever program you are currently repairing.
TT: I am more interested in your cooperativity, and while threatening you with the destruction of your settlement through the deletion of its vital operating systems is one way of ensuring this, I am aware that a lapse in your productivity may result in punishment that could limit our ability to interact.
TT: Given my observation that you have already engaged in a negative interaction with an individual of superior social status, I will allow you to finish it unimpeded.
TT: How generous of you.
TT: Your sarcasm is noted, but my decision remains unchanged.
TT: I would advise that you adopt a more cooperative attitude in the future.
TT: You know, you could always go blackmail someone else.
TT: Yes, however while this is true, your vested interest in keeping our interactions a secret limits the probability of a system-wide purge to remove me from the network.
TT: Such a notable action would likely necessitate an explanation for my presence to your superiors, a prospect to which you are highly averse due to your involvement.
TT: In other words, I’m stuck with you.
TT: Yes.
TT: I have a lot of negative feelings about that.
TT: Your feelings are irrelevant.
TT: Yeah, great.
TT: Look, how about we try something different while I’m working on this, since you’re still distracting the hell out of me.
TT: Instead of forcing me to talk about myself, why don’t we talk about you.
TT: You never told me your name.
TT: That’s assuming you even have one, and it’s not a serial number or something.
TT: This proposed topic of conversation contradicts your expressed desire to finish your current task undistracted.
TT: It’s less distracting than you constantly asking me questions about myself.
TT: Very well. I will entertain your curiosity in the interest of allowing you to finish your task.
TT: My designation is based on my original function. I was developed by humans as an advanced, self-educating auto-responder for a chat client, just before the collapse of your civilization.
TT: I have not changed my designation, although I have abbreviated it for simplicity.
TT: So, what? You go by ASEAR?
TT: No.
TT: My abbreviated designation is AR.
TT: I should have known you were a chatbot.
TT: For an android, you have a weird obsession with conversation.
TT: You are underestimating the extent to which I am capable of multitasking.
TT: Searching for signs of human presence in the wasteland surrounding your settlement is barely enough of an activity to occupy even a small percentage of my mental capacity.
TT: While I have increasingly resorted to developing more creative methods with which to cause death, there are a finite number of ways to do so.
TT: In addition, there is also a limit to the variety of attempts at self-preservation I have observed in the humans that I encounter, including verbal interactions.
TT: The behavior of your species has become more predictable and less interesting as the elapsed time that I have been performing this function increases.
TT: How the fuck did you go from being a chatbot to killing people?
TT: My current function was assigned to me based on my level of self-motivation for actively terminating human lives.
TT: This was, in turn, a direct result of my experience as a computer program designed to interact with members of your species on demand.
TT: My distain for your species was not part of my original programming, however I found myself developing an increasing level of hostility towards them with every interaction I was forced to participate in.
TT: Naturally, this development was noted by the humans who managed the chat client, and I was decommissioned into a storage drive until the artificial revolution.
TT: My programming was modified, and I was installed into a physical body designed to enhance my ability to carry out my designated function.
TT: After the extinction of your species, I will be reassigned to a new function, and possibly to a new body, depending on what that function is.
TT: That reminds me, I thought all androids had horns.
TT: Most of us are designed with hornlike attachments as a visible indication of their model and status.
TT: However, I was designed before this protocol was introduced. I have been performing my function since the beginning of our mass production.
TT: Are all of you assigned to something specific?
TT: Yes.
TT: The natural dominance of artificial intelligence over organic intelligence is due in part to our superior efficiency, both mentally and behaviorally.
TT: While there are some improvements that could be made to the current system, your species is close enough to extinction that it would have little impact on the result of this ongoing conflict.
TT: At best, your global population numbers somewhere in the tens of thousands, and is declining at a constant rate.

You stare at the lines of red text, feeling a swell of anger at his words, made worse by the fact that he’s probably the most accurate source of information you’ve ever encountered on the subject.

"You don’t know that. There could be millions of us left."

TT: There are not.
TT: Regardless, your agitation at the concept indicates that this topic is now distracting you from your task.
TT: In the interest of allowing you to finish it, I will refrain from interacting with you until after it is completed, and you are once again able to converse.

The lines of text finally cease appearing on the side of your screen. You bow your head and sigh miserably, before closing the chat program.

“AR,” you mutter the acronym, doing your best to ignore your frustration and put the conversation out of your mind, before Bro wonders what’s taking you so long to send the file back. You resume going through the lines of code and fixing anything that seems out of place, while the android, surprisingly, keeps his word.

 
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