New Minds takes place around the year 2044, in a scenario world far away, yet eerily close to home. Its about artificial intelligence and how far it may go, the demise and rebirth of freedom, the terrifying extremes of powerful governments and the ultimate goal of one of them: to eliminate the humanity of its citizens. Its still mostly in the brainstorming stage but I hope you enjoy it so far.
To an outsider, the room might have looked like an ordinary shrink’s office, adorned with succulent potted plants, abstract art mounted on the earthy-toned walls, and a teak desk right across from the leather sofa where Alexis Prichard sat, silent and uncomfortable.
The shrink was referred to only as Doc, and the shiny black camera lenses that were its eyes narrowed to dots with a barely audible whir as it zoomed in and studied her.
Everyone called Doc a he. Alexis refused to attribute gender to this thing, even if it was practically as smart as any human.
For one thing, it looked sort of like an animated skeleton. Whoever had designed it probably had no regard for the patient’s comfort in mind, she thought. In fact, they might have designed it to inspire unease on purpose.
The hands were dexterous, claw-like, and they tapped rhythmically on the desk as though urging her to begin talking. It was perched somewhat awkwardly in a leather office chair, its knobby plastic-jointed shoulders hunched, metallic cord of the neck bending forward in a perfect example of bad posture.
The face was round and white like some strange moon, equipped with mechanisms copying the muscle movement of expression on a human face. It was strikingly similar, but not convincing enough. It had no ears or even a nose.
There was still that element of otherness.
Alexis knew that everything from the inflection of her voice, to hand gestures was being carefully observed, noted, and stored inexorably in the robot’s impressive silicon brain. It knew she was trying to hide the details of her state of mind.
Let’s just say she would have a hard time winning at professional poker, but they couldn’t make her tell them what they wanted to hear, damn it. Because what they thought she was withholding from them was a lie.
“You seem tense.” Doc remarked in a somehow appealing voice that slightly lessened its unnerving appearance. “Try to relax. No one is judging you.”
The timbre was synthesized but like of a young man, melodious.
Oh hell yes you are. You think I’m some kind of criminal because that’s what they want you to believe. You’re not even real.
“Alexis, this session will flow much better if you participate in conversation.” It urged.
“What do you want me to say?” she snapped, refusing to look at those eerie black shutters and instead gazing out the window at the sunny day outside, at an icy blue sky—just an illusion created by the bio-dome's holographic projectors— framed by massive glass towers, architectural monstrosities whose creations boggled the mind. She desperately missed her parents who were back in one of the many locked-down neighborhoods, trapped inside the house, and was terrified at what could be happening to them there.
Even though she had been born after the time when New Minds came out of unthinking murk and the major bugs had supposedly been ironed out, she still refused to trust them.
To all outward appearances they were friendly and eager to serve as well as be our friends, but this was exactly the problem. They could easily be corrupted, twisted in the shadow of mankind’s insane ideals like abused children who grew up to be psychopaths.
And now, it had happened, the government was keeping her against her will. They thought she had helped create the virus that was swiftly surging through the database, causing connected machines to either malfunction and shut down, or go wildly against people. These days, entire subcultures of youths and adults alike had become fond of hacking, tampering with the New Minds that had rapidly become commonplace in human society.
As the shrink stared her down with those dead eyes, the world seemed like a harsh, punishing place.
“No one is judging you,” it repeated hollowly.
“Look,” she finally said, brushing a wisp of glossy black hair away from her large green eyes, “I know how to hack, but if you think I could have gotten past that advanced security system, you are nuts. I only did little stuff, nothing major, and it was just something to do.”
“So you found it fun?” the machine probed, motionless except for a slight tilt of the head.
“It was a hobby. But do you think I’d want to orchestrate catastrophes like this? They’re going insane down there!”
“Calm down, Alexis. I am only here to serve as a medium. Since you are a minor, we cannot simply extract information directly from your mind. That would be immoral, so we are simply asking you to tell us exactly what you were doing before and after the virus struck.”
She took another deep breath, trying not to get huffy lest the machine interpret discomfort from her reaction and attribute it to the current situation.
“I was at home; I wasn’t even using the computer except to check some things. I slept in late and then went for a walk, where a bunch of weird guys—or New Minds, I can't really tell— found me and hauled me off here. What else do you want to know?”
The shrink stood up from the chair, supporting itself on the desk with its arms and then gaining balance before striding across the room on long, graceful legs which terminated in rubber feet. The mechanics of its thin joints made a subtle reee ree ree with each step until it reached the window, gazing out at the seemingly pristine city. For a long time, the room was silent. Alexis crossed one leg over the other and fiddled absent-mindedly with the seams on her shoes.
“Deception, even today, is a difficult thing to pinpoint.” Doc finally remarked.
“Well, considering that you can’t just violate my thoughts that probably makes you pretty mad, right?” Alexis said, and this time when the machine turned around to face her, knobby torso rotating on the hips all the way around in a movement probably meant to be disquieting, she met its gaze and held it longer than she wanted to.
“Alexis, why do you insist that we New Minds feel anger, or hate? This is an untruth. Anger and hate breeds violence, and we were made to quell violence, not create it.”
The eyes widened to large spheres like that of a hunting cat. Alexis stared into them defiantly.
“Then why is the whole city shutting down?” she demanded. “I want my parents, not a shrink. Not an attorney. Not an argument with the entire nation about whether to pick my mind apart like a bunch of vultures eating a dead cow.” Doc winced visibly, and she smirked with satisfaction, wondering why.
“They’ve locked all the doors and god knows what the other New Minds are doing to everyone, and yet you say you’re made to stop violence?”
The plates above the eyes moved, simulating the raising of eyebrows. It frowned and Alexis felt a small twinge of nausea.
“There is a virus. This is something you’re aware of. We are not the reason New Minds are going against their programming. Whoever created this situation is.”
Its passive-aggressive demeanor was beginning to get on her nerves. Alexis finally broke the machine’s gaze and stared at the floor. The crème-colored carpet made her think of sand on a beach, far away from chaotic cities and their resident robots. Before they got so busy, her parents always used to take her to one of the last pure beaches in the country. Gently lapping water and porcelain-smooth seashells and no fear at all. Peace.
Perhaps she had tried to find this same serenity in the quiet data of computer programs and glowing screens. The thought made her sigh inwardly.
Doc seemed to be restless. It walked away from the window over to the left of its desk, and stared intently at a framed picture of a crow sitting on a white picket fence, backlit by a stormy sky.
The pupils narrowed to tiny dots again and its claws rested against its sides.
“Right now, there are thousands of people in jeopardy. Including your parents. And many of them might already have been taken.” It finally said, a slow, somber note in the soothing tone.
For some reason it reminded Alexis of a mortician now, trained to have a simultaneously comforting and disturbing presence. And naturally, thinking of a mortician made her thoughts roam to death.
No. Don’t even go there.
The symbolic black bird was still being swallowed up by Doc’s gaze, as though it too were pondering the same thing.
“I just want to figure out who’s doing this so we can get back to our lives.” It said.
“Me too,” Alexis replied.
“So I can make people mentally well again. Like I was born to do.”
“Just don’t bring any kids in here. Your appearance would scar them for life.”
The shrink smiled.