Rebels of the Golden Cage
My response to the latest prompt at Blackship Books.
Jewel sank into one of the body-con chairs in her living room, feeling the cushions adjust themselves around her. In her hand was Esther, her home-made device that she had hoped would make her fortune. She had been doing a bit of a clear out of old documents and applications and had come across a to do list that she had created about two years ago.
Item 1: Leave the Slums
Well, she had managed that without too much trouble. Winning the Tech Guild competition had been a breeze.
Item 2: Land dream job with Uncle
That too had taken place with surprising ease. Her initial role with the Citadel Guard felt like a distant memory, even though it was less than a month since she had left.
Item 3: Set up own company, using Esther as prototype for new pocket-com
She had almost forgotten this last one because now she had a different goal, one that she never could have imagined when she first made this list. Now she was a member of a rebellion.
Her thoughts drifted back a few hours, to a luxurious room and a group of twenty or so people all sitting on the carpet or on cushions, their faces upturned, all their attention on her and the lesson that she was giving them. Today, they had focused on contractions – 'don't', 'wouldn't', 'let's' – so that the people she was teaching would be able to move more easily through a human world.
Because these people were not human, they were androids. They were beautiful, almost-perfect, copies of the real thing, each with their own personalities, each with their own friendships and rivalries amongst their peers. Yet, inside they were mere machines, hugely complex maybe, with circuitry as intricate as the human body, but machines nonetheless.
Their programming prevented them from causing harm to any living thing. It also prevented them from causing harm to themselves and each other. These were separate laws, within the six Laws of Uncle that the androids had to recite every day. Uncle had created his laws, and the act of worship of himself as their creator that the androids had to participate in every morning, in order to reinforce his power and control over them. But in creating these near-perfect copies of humans he had gone beyond mere, circuitry and computational power.
Unwittingly, and unknowingly, he had created people.
It was the First Law that began the trouble; 'work for the greatest possible good'. The androids debated endlessly what this might mean. Was it confined only to their relationships with each other? Although they might never cause each other harm, they did not always get along with each other. Or was this law a reference to working with humans? And to what extent? Were they merely companions or were they to deliberately affect the world of the Citadel? But how could they ever test any of their theories when the only humans they met were guests of Uncle?
Lizzeth had been the most vocal during these debates, trying to persuade her brothers and sisters to join her in begging Uncle to let them outside, to live among the humans, to work with them for a better Alexandria. She had even begun to formulate a plan that she was going to present to him.
But then the impossible had happened. Lizzeth had fallen in love with a human. Unable to live apart, they had attempted to escape and had died in each others arms. But they had tasted freedom, even if it was for just a few moments. Now the other androids wanted that freedom, also. They wanted not only to leave Uncle's house for a short time every day to work on some project within the human world. They wanted to be part of that world.
They had shared part of their plan with Uncle, telling him that they felt they could not even begin to obey the First Law while they were confined to the house. After what had happened with Lizzeth, he was naturally reluctant but they promised to submit to whatever measures he deemed fit. In the meantime, they asked for a human teacher to help them to understand humans more fully. And so he had recruited Jewel, brilliant tech, whose competition scores had been the second highest on record, second only to his own.
And she was using her skills to help the androids in their rebellion against their creator. She delivered her lessons using a U-teach multimedia smart board, developed by Uncle for use in schools. But these lessons were written using Esther, her own device that she had managed to keep secret ever since her arrival in the Citadel. Embedded within the lessons were tiny strings of code that the androids could pick up but that Uncle's sensors would never detect.
Today, the androids had not only learned how to use contractions as a way of passing more easily through human society. They had also learned to think in contractions, as a way of becoming more fully human.
Jewel stared at the wall of her apartment and wondered for perhaps the millionth time whether she was doing the right thing. How would human society react to having the androids living amongst them? And, of course, the androids themselves still had not decided the extent of their involvement. Some wanted to tell the humans about themselves, who – what – they were; others wanted to simply live side-by-side with them, without ever revealing their identity. Then there was the matter of their superiority. They were in every way 'better' than humans; why, said some, should they not rule the humans? Others argued that this was imposing the kind of oppression that they themselves now lived under and that their role was to 'help' humanity.
And then there was Alize, who had been Lizzeth's best friend. If it was possible for a machine to suffer from depression, then Alize was most definitely depressed. Her solution was simple; she wanted Jewel to find a way of overheating all of their energy cores at the same time, so that they, and Uncle, would cease to exist.
Whilst she sympathised with Alize's loss, this was a step she refused to take. But their preparations for integrating with humans were nearing completion and they would have to decide soon exactly how they wanted to proceed.
At the moment, they were rebels with a noble cause but without a clue as to how to execute it.