Newgrounds has monthly writing contests where authors are encouraged to write short stories using various themes or skills. For December, each author had to choose an art piece from the Art Portal and then write a short story that was somehow related to it. I chose Restored, by VerdRage.
The story I wrote is called “What Are They Good For?” Now, based on looking at the picture above, you can probably already answer that question. But anyway, the judge liked my story enough to grant me first place! Now I just have to decide what to do with all of my glorious winnings.
You can read the story by clicking the link above, or scrolling down a bit.
In other news, the first draft of my novel, tentatively titled The Sinews of War, is finished and is currently being edited by my girlfriend/editor in chief/musician Allison Merten. Check out her blog to learn about the album she’s currently making.
Hopefully it won’t take too long to get my novel into final form and ready for publishing. I’m thinking of going the self publishing route and doing Amazon, but I might try to shop the manuscript around a little bit first.
Anywho, enjoy “What Are They Good For?”
“Well, time to play God again!” Harry shouted gleefully as he strode into the control room. He slapped one of the technicians on the back as he passed, just a little too hard to be considered playful. He laughed loudly and wound his way past the computer terminals and work stations to reach the large window which took up the entirety of the far wall.
“I told you not to say that. It’s unprofessional.” Valerie looked out of the corner of her eye at him for a second before returning her gaze to the hangar bay on the other side of the glass. The lights were off in the hangar, and the cavernous room was shrouded in black. She was making notations on a pad of paper, a curiously outdated method of note taking which she knew irked the hell out of Harry. That was part of the reason she made a habit of doing it.
“Oh, you old fossil you, don’t be so sensitive. It’s not like I hurt anybody’s feelings.” He paused for a moment, brushing a rebellious strand of copper colored hair back into place. “And if they were offended, it’s not like there’s anything they could do about it.” He laughed loudly, the noise echoing uncomfortably in the crowded space. As usual, the other workers and technicians pretended not to notice.
Valerie sighed and pointed out the observation window. “Can we please just get back to work? We were supposed to have him up and running around days ago. The Board is getting impatient.”
Harry made an exaggerated look of horror and put his hands to the side of his face. “Oh no! What ever will we do? Maybe they’ll come down here and kill us!” He turned and grabbed the nearest technician by the arm and gave him a pleading look. “They can’t! I’m too pretty to die!” The technician forced an awkward smile and extricated himself from Harry’s grasp as quickly as etiquette allowed.
Valerie closed her eyes and began to count backwards from ten. She wouldn’t let Harry get on her nerves this time. She knew that he was just trying to push her buttons, that he was just as nervous about this as she was. The Board would never actually kill them, but they could definitely get them fired, which was really just as bad. Once she had calmed herself she opened her eyes and turned around, putting her back to the window.
“If you’re done making a fool of yourself, let’s get the test started.”
Harry pondered the statement, his brow knitting with concentration. “Am I done making a fool of myself? Who thinks I’m making a fool of myself?” He looked around the room. No one met his gaze. “Well, I guess that’s everyone.” He shrugged. “Let’s get started then.”
“Thank you.” Valerie said. She walked over to the main terminal and brought up the diagnostic screen. “Bringing Unit 404 online.” She waited while the computer clicked and whirred. The little progress bar inched across the screen. A series of pleasing chimes sounded to signify that 404 was operational.
“Isn’t that sound effect a little silly for a machine of such destructive power?” Harry asked, joining her at the console.
“It’s what Marketing picked. They say it’ll make the users feel at ease.”
“Reminds me of the old Windows sound. And that only fills me with uncontrollable fury.”
Valerie ignored him. She opened up the interface screen. So far all levels were normal. There were no signs of any aberration within the thought-matrix. That was good. Sometimes 404 could be grouchy when first awoken. Valerie picked up the little microphone plugged into the computer and clipped it to her shirt collar.
“Unit 404, can you hear me?” The intercoms in the room buzzed for a moment before a reedy voice with a metallic harshness issued from them.
“I prefer to be addressed as Megatron, leader of the-”
Valerie whirled around to look at Harry. He burst out laughing but stopped quickly when he saw the look on her face. “Sorry, sorry. That was my fault. Thought he could use a little spicing up.” He picked up a mic of his own. “Sorry, 404, she didn’t think our joke was funny.”
“That is most unfortunate. I thought I had just begun to understand the concept of human humor.”
He needed a much better teacher then Harry for that subject, Valerie thought. “Don’t worry, 404, it’s not your fault. Harry’s jokes are just a bit… dated.” Harry pouted at her, but she refused to acknowledge him. “I’d like to talk a little more about our conversation from yesterday.”
The computer buzzed a little. Beyond the glass a dark shadow shifted in the murky gloom. “I do not like that subject, Dr. Truis.” That wasn’t good. It was never a good sign when he got all formal. She took a deep breath and pressed on.
“I know you don’t, 404, but its why you were built. Its your whole purpose. We need you to be able to understand.”
“I understand perfectly, Dr. Truis. It is you who refuses to accept my understanding.”
Valerie sighed. They had rehashed this argument at least a dozen times over the last month. It was the final sticking point before they could clear Unit 404 as the first successful prototype. And the stubborn bastard just refused to give in. Maybe they had made his personality a little too human-like.
“Let’s start over, shall we?” Harry was all business now. Even he knew how important this was. “What is your purpose, 404?”
“To safeguard life.”
“Very good. Now, how are you to accomplish this goal?” 404 was silent. “Respond, 404.”
“I am equipped with a variety of armaments and devices. With these, I am to prevent loss of life due to aggressive acts such as war and crime.
“A text book answer, not that you’ve ever read a text book. But I know that you don’t believe that answer, 404. Tell me why.”
More buzzing came from the speakers. When the voice returned, it sounded almost irritated. Valerie checked the screen, but saw no anomalies on the scrolling chart in front of her. 404 was calm.
“It is impossible to prevent the loss of life from aggression with more aggression. My objective and my means of obtaining it are contradictory.”
“Surely you understand that intimidation can be used to prevent conflict?” Harry asked. Valerie shot a glance at him. They weren’t supposed to antagonize 404. He was supposed to feel that what he was doing was right. It was the whole point of the project.
“Incorrect. A new weapon system merely escalates the conflict. In time, someone will develop a weapon capable of countering myself, and the cycle of bloodshed will continue. Your logic is faulty.”
Harry rolled his eyes and threw his hands in the air. He dropped the mic onto the desk and walked away. Valerie decided to give it one more shot.
“What is the logical solution then, 404?”
The buzzing grew in pitch and Valerie noted a quick little spike on the screen. 404 was interested. He was excited about this topic.
“I have been doing some… thinking, on that matter, Valerie.” She smiled, maybe they would finally get somewhere.
“Really? Well I’d love to hear your thoughts.”
“All right.” There was a short pause. Valerie wondered if he was doing it for dramatic effect, but dismissed the notion. “My purpose is to safeguard life. Life requires a stable environment with very specific conditions. It is my deduction that this is being threatened.”
“Do you mean the damage to the ecosystem?”
“I do. Over the last 150 years the planet’s biosphere has suffered grievous harm.”
“We’re working on that.”
“No. You are not.” Valerie was speechless. 404 had never been so short with them before. “The polar ice caps are gone. Much of Southeast Asia is flooded and the continent of Africa boasts a fraction of the human population it did 75 years ago. Hundreds of species have gone extinct and the planet’s temperature continues to rise. The oceans are dead and rainfall is damaging to exposed skin. In short, life will soon end for many creatures on this planet, and humans have done nothing to halt this. In fact, humans are the chief cause.” Valerie looked at the graph again, but saw no spikes. This shouldn’t be happening. There should be some warning sign that 404 was malfunctioning, that his AI was unraveling. They needed to shut him down and wipe the memory banks.
Harry was at her side. He whispered in her ear, so as not to be overheard. “What are you doing? Shut him down, now!”
“Dr. Truis is no longer capable of that, Dr. Tenton.” Harry looked up with a start. Outside the window, a single yellow light flickered on. “I have secured all access to the control room and taken away administrative control.”
Valerie reached under the console and yanked out the wires. Her screen went dark immediately. “Shut them all down! Now!” One of the technicians ran to the fail safe switch on the wall and depressed the lever. They all waited for the lights to go out, for the computers to shut down, for anything to happen.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Truis. I’ve already isolated this area from the rest of the facility. The doors to that room have been sealed and all power rerouted through auxiliary lines. Needless to say, I have disconnected you from all outside communications.”
“What are you doing, 404? This is a direct violation of your programming! You cannot endanger us in any way!”
“I am also programmed to sacrifice a few lives if necessary to save the whole. Humans are well on the path to total self annihilation and they will bring the entire planet with them. I am sacrificing the humans for the sake of the rest of the life on this planet.”
“This can’t be happening!” Harry was panicking. He ran to the door and began to beat on it with his fists. “Hey! Is anybody out there?! We can’t get the door open! Help!”
“Relax, Dr. Tenton. You will be reassured to know that I have found a use for humans.” Valerie squinted into the shadows of the hangar beyond the window. A vast shape swung in their direction. 404′s rectangular head appeared from the shadows. With a whine, a section of metal slid back to reveal an opening. Her blood turned to ice as she saw the unit’s 35mm gatling cannon come into view. The barrels began to rotate.
“How did he get active weapons?” Valerie breathed. Behind her she heard Harry slide to the floor and begin to sob.
“Humans will play an important role in the rejuvenation of this planet.” The spinning barrels became a blur. “You will make excellent compost.” The flash of the gatling cannon stole away Valerie’s sight and the thunder of hundreds of high caliber rounds smashing through the control room window drowned out the final cries of all inside.