Friday, January 10, 2014
"The Prototype" by V. A. Jeffrey (Short Story)
Genre: Science Fiction
Type of Short Story: Short Story
Summary: A lowly quality assurance employee befriends an android who by accident uncovers a mysterious plot at the behemoth corporation where he works, Vartan Industries.
All the numerous corporate meetings, the mandatory overtime, the conferences, the wheeling and dealing behind closed doors and long, honest hours by most of us had culminated in this one, grand day. The project: The Prototype, or more accurately, called Vartan Pragmatic Heuristic Impression Linear Model (VPHILM) finally, after ten years in the making, was live.
Around here we just called him Will. By the way, my name's Bob.
Fred, the public relations project leader for VPHILM and my good friend, took the liquid and crystal processing chip gingerly out of its iced case with heavy-duty rubber gloves. The chip, essentially the brain for the android prototype, a sapphire and violet-colored thing, had to be kept cold until it was planted inside of its host.Ooohs and aahs reverberated through the vast assembly hall as all the employees in Section C - 30 on the southern campus were gathered to see "Will" come to life. With a great and nervous sigh Fred slipped it carefully into the life-sized body of the humanoid lying on the table before him.
"Careful, Fred." I murmured nervously. That chip was worth more than all the gold in the world as far as some were concerned.
Other employees from the other departments on campus were watching the occasion through giant vision screens. These were planted all over the campus. To see the newborn prototype come alive - to see the hard work and the dreams of future national expansion and exploration of space come to life in this new creation was thrilling. Will was part of Man's future. To help Man where ever he would go - out there. He was the next Man's Best Friend, as Fred used to say.
There was a great and exaggerated release of tension from those gathered. The android was lying face down, looking like a dead man in the morgue. The small opening at the nape of the neck closed up like a thin mouth. I heard the opening click and then there was a soft hissing sound. The humanoid jerked suddenly, taking a breath. The body rose and fell slowly as the seconds ticked by, then it began moving more rhythmically. Its breathing eventually became regular, becoming accustomed to this new function of breathing. Will had been built to breathe like humans to make his future human co-workers feel more comfortable around him. In fact, that was why he looked human instead of like most of the robots and other intelligent machines being built around campus. He was to be a companion, worker and a high-powered mutant computer to travel in space and help humans settle the solar system frontier. Space exploration had newly risen again as a frontier for humans and Vartan Industries, one of the biggest corporations in the world was near the front and center getting ready to land some of the most lucrative government contracts around. More "Wills" would be engineered and built, spaceships full of them as test subjects before humans would race out and grab their piece of the cosmos frontier gold.
More than a simple machine, Will had a purpose. Or what was supposed to be a purpose.
Suddenly the android pulled himself up on his forearms and then clumsily toppled over on his back. He sat up, wobbling a little. At first there was a pregnant silence that filled the hall and then many cheered and there was applause. The liquid-crystal chip and its secret patented DNA technology was a smashing success.
"Well Bob, we've done it!" Said Fred, all grin.
"Yep! I knew this latest generation chip would work perfectly. A good friend I know in engineering, he worked on that chip."
"He done good."
"So what's the first order of business for Will? Is he coming to help everyone out around here?" I asked.
"That's the word. To help him get a feel for how some of the different departments work. He'll need to know a lot of things and he can soak up information easily and assimilate it into his work. Seamless mind with this new chip. A vast improvement over the last one."
"Right." The last android project, a fiasco as I heard it, came and went before I started working at Vartan Industries.
"I just wonder, Fred. Someone might steal him or the tech."
"He is the tech."
"You know what I mean. I'm surprised it hasn't happened yet. Whitney Corp. agents are always lurking, trying to steal secrets."
"Wouldn't be the first time they tried. But Vartan has things under control these days. Don't think they don't. We're on the brink of a vast project that will bring back quadrillions of dollars in resources back home. I trust they know how to guard their secrets, Bob. Whitney Corp. hasn't been able to find out anything about Will and now it's too late to get the jump on us. They're always one step behind us." Footsteps were approaching. Fred turned.
"Speaking of steps, here he comes now. Come on in here, Will!" Said Fred. A few employees going down the hall patted Will on the back. Will nodded awkwardly at them and then wandered into my office. He was so finely made, so finely tuned that he gave the aura of simply being a young foreign student getting his bearings rather than a machine. He was programmed that way but the cheerfulness he exuded was not as hard-wired, from what Chip told me. Ok, actually it was, somewhat, but he seemed to suggest that there was some leeway for personality to come through - personality that reflected the maker of the chip but was also partly the being's own internal "way". But Will may have picked up this quality of hopefulness and wistful excitement from his new environment, processed and examined it and searched for the closest way to understand such fleeting emotional qualities. Which probably translated as cheerfulness. I don't know much about that kind of stuff, I leave it to the geniuses to figure it out. (A nice touch by my engineering friend, if I do say so.)
"Hullo, Fred and Bob. Hullo. Hullo!" Said Will. He blinked and a bit of moisture misted from his right eye. He wiped it clean. Even the tear ducts worked. "Mr Allen said to find you."
"Chip sent you, did he?" Will nodded. "Well, you'll be following along with Bob and me today, working in this department for a little while before you move on to another department. Bob here is in Quality Assurance. Below there is one of the larger assembly lines you'll be monitoring. Beneath the glass windows," Fred extended his arm out over the vast, cavernous production assembly room below, "is where employees build parts for the brand new space stations and ships that Vartan is rolling out. Simple production line assembly work down there. Bob monitors quality from up here. You will be helping to monitor some of this work on the floor, Will." Some of the workers glanced up through the big windows and saw their new co-worker and smiled. A few of them waved. Will managed a clumsy smile. I looked up beyond my own office and saw at the top level of the department floor a few of the guys in upper management peering down at Will from their polished window offices above my own. I noticed one in particular, whose constant sneering, scheming sometimes gave me indigestion. I abruptly looked away and faced my friend and our new super-apprentice. I grinned at them.
"Well, let's get started."
Will, having a brain that could compute, store, receive and make immediate sense of prodigious amounts of information took in everything like a sponge, no matter what. And often he turned out to be able to do something that even some humans do not do; the ability to use what is known as discernment about this information he was finding and collecting. He could ascertain things others did not or would not ascertain. Which proved to be problematic.
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