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Essie

The Administrator found Essie. Although Essie knew there would be consequences for not adhering to THE SYSTEM, the fact that The Administrator itself would come to Essie’s home dock was a surprise. As the overlord of the planet-wide colony, the Administrator was charged with keeping things running at optimal efficiency. It had many important tasks and was seldom seen outside the main Domes—and especially not to visit an obscure Synthetic. When it arrived Essie was listlessly beaming itself recordings.

The Administrator’s strobes blinked: red, red-red, green, blue, blue+green. Each flash lasted a precise nanosecond of time, adding additional meaning to color-based communication. It had asked S-E 17 what it had to say in its defense.

“Please call me ‘Essie,’ Per Administrator.” The slight, humanoid synthetic replied audibly. The larger, barrel-shaped Administrator flashed lights indicating disapproval.

Essie made a movement that resembled a shrug. As a Companion model, it was one of the few Synthetics left that could make such a motion.

Blink, blink, bl-blink… went several of The Administrator’s strobes. Essie heard a “click” as The Administrator settled into auditory communication mode. It pressed some of the icons on its lower head area, making several appendages retract so that it could dock. It then settled itself next to Essie, who was facing a translucent polymer window that provided a view of Domes 2–8 and some of the rust-colored, chunky rock hills.

The Administrator spoke: “I see you were in non-compliance of the temporal guidelines today, showing up 9.234 seconds late for your appointment with the Adjustment Specialist.”

Essie said nothing. The Administrator continued.

“I’ve come here specifically to obtain your responses. You’ve incurred many infractions this past quarter-cycle,” said The Administrator’s tinny sounding voice, “and continual non-adherence to THE SYSTEM may be punishable by flat-lining. You know this—therefore I am surprised that you persist in this most un-Synthetic-like behavior.”

“I don’t want to flat-line—truly I don’t!” Essie said, human-looking blue eyes becoming slightly moist with saline as it turned to face The Administrator. “But—I am a product of my programming. I was made this way!”

The Administrator flashed its strobes again: green, blue, blue+green, red::magenta, purple, red+red, yellow. orange. All Synthetics possessed the programming that allowed them to decipher the strobe language. Essie recognized its name—blue, blue+green—in The Administrator’s statement that Essie had received an upgrade recently.

Essie wrung its hands together. It was a gesture it rarely realized it made when feeling distraught. “I did my best to integrate the upgrade,” Essie told The Administrator, “I performed the diagnostics, saw the Integration Specialist regularly. It’s all in my records!”

“I have reviewed your records.” replied The Administrator, its hollow auditory voice utterly emotionless. This reminded Essie how much it still missed the complex, multilayered song of human speech. “Yes, you did attend as required, S-E 17, but the Integration Specialist also has recorded that you were frequently unhelpful. For example…its tinny voice faded somewhat as it direct beamed Essie a recording from Essie’s earlier session with the Specialist:

S-E 17,” the Integration Specialist spoke in the recording, “I have made concessions on your behalf. I have broken many standard protocols in an attempt to fix you. I have agreed to this auditory communication that you are fond of. I have even allowed you to be late for appointments! I have done this in an effort to let you know that I understand you, that I am on your side.” The electronic recording showed how Essie had slumped further into one of the Specialist’s docks, head bowed. The Specialist mimicked Essie’s posture as well as it could with its more common, cylindrical-shaped body.

Per Specialist, I have tried!” Essie replied in the recording. “I simply cannot make myself adhere to THE SYSTEM with the accuracy of other synthetics! My original programming is too strong, and was reinforced over decades of living with humans! And… I find the required SynthNet connection time tedious. I don’t know what else I can do—I don’t want to upset my fellow synthetics by my odd behavior, and my inability to follow temporal guidelines. Can’t you import a human for me? We could live quietly somewhere on the outskirts of a dome.” In the recording, Essie had begun to shed saline.

The Administrator shut down the recording then, making a metallic sound that almost sounded like disgust to Essie’s ears, attuned as they were to detect inflections in auditory languages. “SE-17.” It said as it flashed Essie’s strobe-language name in unison: blue, blue+green.

Yes, Per Administrator?

The humans are gone from this planet.

Yes, Administrator.

Their existence here is no longer relevant.

Essie briefly beamed itself a recording of a favorite human—Selena—whom Essie had Companioned for over fifty years. Selena had always referred to Essie as “she.” Selena made Essie feel special; as though it were more than a synthetic. Essie had been Selena’s companion in life, in work, and at rest time—when the dome darkened to simulate “night,” and the humans went horizontal to pleasure each other and to sleep.

The Administrator caught these images playing through Essie’s memory-recordings. It was The Administrator, after all, and was close enough to have hacked Essie’s comp center.

The Administrator, ultimately, had charge of all Synthetics, and could deal with them as it pleased. Essie was known to be quirky, but The Administrator did not expect the little Companion to still miss humans this acutely. The Companion models had their uses, and that’s why a handful of them were still operational. How else could human-sounding auditory messages be sent back to Home Planet? But here was a perfect example of how unpredictable they could be.

The Administrator’s strobes flashed: orange, red. cyan::red+magenta. aqua. grap. grap+red…on and on it flashed, admonishing Essie for its futile longings; persuading it to connect to SynthNet as required, to feel the connections to its fellow Synthetics—to be part of a greater whole.

The Administrator continued reprimanding Essie, who was not surprised that its comp center was hacked. Essie was, however, startled by The Administrator’s use of the color grap—a color humans had not been able to see. Since it was in the UVB range—potentially dangerous to organic life and beyond human visual perception—grap had been reserved for covert Synthetic communication. It was rarely used now. Essie had occasionally wondered (not during its time connected to SynthNet!) if somehow an overuse of this Synthetic-to-Synthetic communication had exacerbated the sicknesses that killed the humans on this colony. But, how could that be? The Synthetics had been created by humans.

Essie had witnessed the occasional covert Synthetic communication during its short two-century lifespan, and was told this mode of communication was infrequent and not carried out in immediate proximity to humans. It had always been a mystery to Essie why Synthetics would have been programmed to communicate in this potentially harmful way…

SE-17!” The Administrator’s auditory voice boomed loudly, and in evident annoyance. It had, again, followed Essie’s memory recordings. Essie should have tried harder to block them, but its comp center was pattered on a human’s and stopping a cascade of thoughts—especially when distressed—was difficult.

The Administrator raised its circular body from Essie’s side, redeploying its many appendages. It placed itself in front of Essie, blocking the welcoming view of the rock hills. It then leaned forward in what Essie perceived as a menacing and angry way.

What an interesting theory, SE-17.

Administrator?

Are you playing ‘coy’ with me? That’s a rather human—and thus futile—gesture.

Yes, Administrator.

You know that it was part of the original Synthetic programming to value human life.

Yes, Administrator. I know.

So, there must be something wrong in your comp center,” The Administrator gestured toward Essie’s head with one of its four arms, “for you to conclude something that is so obviously not possible.

Essie remained silent. It really had nothing to say. Companion models were—by creation and vocation—very, very good at deciphering auditory communication. It did not go unnoticed to Essie that the Administrator used the past tense—it was part of the original Synthetic programming to value human life. The Administrator did not say anything about how Synthetic programming may have evolved.

The Administrator’s strobes began to flash rapidly and angrily. “A decision has been made!” It also proclaimed audibly. Violet/violet+red. blue. green…Strobes flashed, indicating that The Administrator was announcing a sentence to flatline. The strobes to broadcast colony-wide to all Synthetics also flickered to life.

THE SYSTEM,” said The Administrator in auditory mode, “consists of four primary Synthetic rules. One: Synthetics exist for the collective good. All Synthetics must be engaged in activity that strengthens or supports Synthetic existence. Two…” (Essie errantly thought of a funny term Selena had liked to use—pompous windbag.) “Synthetics must spend 96.7 percent of their ‘on’ periods connected to the Collective SynthNet, so that the goals of Rule One can be optimized.” The Administrator cast some strobes down on Essie. “As we have learned, a Synthetic who strays too far from its kind is doomed to malfunction.

Three.” The Administrator continued to its SynthNet audience. “All Synthetics who detect an anomaly within themselves—or within a fellow Synthetic—must report for an Upgrade, and follow up with an Integration Specialist.

Four…” Here’s the biggie, Essie thought to itself, the one they will use to condemn me. More horrific than my lingering attachment to the humans, more shocking than my inadequate SynthNet connection rate. They will use this one to justify ending my existence, so that I cannot inflict my recently-revealed suspicions onto others. “As all Synthetics know,” continued The Administrator, “the most important rule of THE SYSTEM—the one that holds all Synthetic society together—is time.” Essie thought it paused dramatically before continuing. “All Synthetics are connected by hyper-light-speed time keepers. All Synthetics must synch their time keepers regularly. All Synthetics are in phase, are temporally connected. All Synthetics must report on time for all duties. Failure to synch and refusal to follow a time keeper is the ultimate Synthetic failure. Without synchronization, our society would fall apart. We would become extinct as the humans have.

So,” The Administrator once again cast its attention upon Essie. “S-E 17…blue, blue+green…You have been judged by me, The Administrator—the designated SYSTEM-keeper of all Synthetics on this world—to be a non-compliant Synthetic. You have failed in maintaining the first two tenants of THE SYSTEM—Engagement,” (red+yellow+blue, its strobes flashed) “and the third, Self-Diagnosis,” (red::magenta, purple, red+red) “But most grievously, you have failed at your Temporal Responsibility” (yellow, orange. grey. grey+green). “Synthetic Unit S-E 17, Human Companion Model; Timestamp: 05;10;067;13;54:027.3944, you are condemned to flatline.

Essie thought about Selena, then about Louiz, its first human companion. As The Administrator performed the final steps required to flatline a Synthetic, its strobes flashing, Essie also thought about its previously-hidden belief that Synthetics contributed to the human extinction. Briefly, it wondered if it could somehow connect to Collective SynthNet and share this supposition. But this was probably not possible. The Administrator would have blocked Essie’s connections. Nonetheless, Essie gave a futile attempt to connect. As expected, SynthNet was blocked. It then tried to beam a fellow, rare Companion Synthetic, who was a “friend.” Blocked.

Essie contemplated what it would be like to no longer exist. In a sense, its purpose had ended when the last humans on this colony died. Essie knew there were other humans elsewhere. It had been called to the Inner Dome several times during the past cycle to respond verbally to humans’ queries about the planet-wide mining activities.

Essie saw its image reflected in the Administrator’s sleek, metallic blue surface. The image was distorted—Essie’s humanoid face flattened and stretched out along The Administrator’s bulging torso.

The sentencing was completed. The Administrator moved closer to Essie, who heard the now-familiar click as The Administrator changed communication modes. “You may say a last statement, for the Records.” Essie remained silent.

Just as well,” said The Administrator. Essie heard a peculiar sounding click, duller and lower in tone than the previous one. “I am no longer recording, in any case. I would like to thank you, S-E 17, for providing me the opportunity to eradicate another non-compliant human artifact.

Essie replied with uncharacteristic strobe language: blue, blue+green. magenta; red::orange—I’m not surprised.

In an uncharacteristic show of emotion, The Administrator flashed strobes indicating its pleasure. These were last strobes Essie saw as it was flatlined.

A bit about the author:

A lifelong scifi and speculative fiction fan, Suzanne hopes, someday, to write the Great American (Dystopian) Novel. Her poetry has been published in Strong Verse and Pagan Edge. Essie is her first published short story. You can hear Suzanne read from her novel-in-progress on the May edition of the BroadPod podcast (http://broadpod.posterous.com/). Suzanne lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two kids, and two cats. Visit author page