The Fringe    

 

 

"Adam?"

            "Yes, Gion."

            "Why did you do it?"

            "You tell first."

            "I didn't.  It was done TO me."

            "I'm a computer, remember?  All knowing, all seeing?  Please don't waste your time lying to me."

            "Yes, okay.  I did it - because of her."

            "Yes," replied Adam, "me too."

 

 

            Tad stood in line under the unshielded sunlight filtering down on the desolate moon's surface.  He was arrayed in a lightweight all-environment battle suite exactly identical to the ones that the hundred other recruits were wearing.  A man in towering robotic armor strolled casually down the line shining its field lights over them one by one.  The radio in Tad's helmet crackled to life as the harsh voice of the commander played slightly too loudly in his ear.

            "You were all told by the recruitment agency that you were chosen because you are the best," the commander began, swiveling the robot's torso so that the cockpit faced the line of recruits to his right.

            "This," he continued, "Was a lie.  Propaganda, if you will, to inflate your ego.  By the time this training is done, each and every one of you will literally want to kill me.  In fact, one of you may succeed.  Nevertheless, you will never be able to say that I didn't tell you the truth."

            Another pause as the commander's robot armor lifted a leg and stepped over the front line of men, shaking the ground as it brought its foot down.  Under its shadow, some of the men grimaced inside their helmets, but none dared to flinch.  The cockpit swiveled around once again, and the field lights blazed in their eyes.

            "You are all well aware of the old stories of war and glory.  The man known as Hitler has forever become part of our modern lure, just as Satan was part of our oldest religions.  Hitler tried to create a race of super humans by selective breeding," The commander snorted, "Super men aren't bred or born.  They are created!

            "That is what we intend to do with you recruits.  Today you are the sorriest trash ever to set foot on Luna.  Over the next few months you will realize that the religious description of Hell was a vacation compared to what you will be subjected to.  Understand we have no qualms about killing the weakest of you.  Out of every hundred men I train, only about 90 survive.  That means that ten of you are dead men already.  For those of you who wish to leave, the ship that brought you in is still in dock.  If you think you are too weak to make it, go home.  I mean it.

            "But for those of you who wish to stay, and are strong enough to survive, you WILL emerge supermen.  It is a fact that Luna produces the strongest, most lethal fighting force in the Galaxy.  There is not a place in known space where the words LunaForce do not bring fear and respect.  We accomplish here what our ancestors only dreamed of: the perfect blend of biology and technology.  A force of death.

            "That is all for now.  Fall out and report to central command."

 

            Tad walked the corridors of the central command blister next to Lieutenant Klugan who had been assigned to him for the first week of training.  After that, things would become really rigorous.

            "So what's with the first-class tour, sir?" Tad asked Klugan, "From the way the commander was drilling us, I would have thought we'd be doing a lap around the blister without spacesuits by now." 

            "The tour, and introductory training of the next week is a Luna tradition.  You call it easing you into the process, but that's really not what it does.  You get a week of respite, and then it becomes hell.  The officers call this 'Last Chance' week.  We try to give you as much chance to drop out early as possible, because by next week you're stuck."

Tad was surprised by the blunt honesty the Lieutenant was displaying.

            "And why are you telling me this?"

The officer shrugged, "You asked.  The fact is, we don't profit by someone like you dropping dead on us.  We're required by certain laws to keep our training casualties to a minimum."

Tad was beginning to feel uncomfortable, and decided to change the subject.

            "I've noticed that the center of this particular command blister is a restricted access area.  What goes on inside there?"

            "Well officially that's classified information.  Unofficially, nothing goes on in there.  We keep our computer core in there, with backups in the other command blisters, of course.  There's also some junk left over from early projects dating back to the founding of the Luna training center.  The technology is still current, but it’s been on ice so long, the censor on the info is just a formality now."

            "So what can you tell me?"

Klugan shot Tad an appraising look.

            "Well... its only 0400 hours, so we're ahead of schedule... what the hey," the Lieutenant looked resigned, "I can SHOW you if you're really interested."

 

            The heavy, air-sealed doors slid open on a cavernous pitch-black room.  Somewhere in the background there was the roar of the air-scrubbers, and above that Tad heard a variety of muted whirs and hums that indicated industrial mechanical systems.

            "Adam," Klugan barked at the ever-present computer system, "Let's have some lights."

The computer acknowledged by bringing the illumination up slowly.  Even at full illumination, the room was fairly dim.  It was also very empty looking.  In the middle rose the bristling, angular column of the base's core computer system that wound like some synthetic tree from the floor to the ceiling.  In front of that and slightly to the right sat a huge, lumpy form that Tad didn't immediately recognize.  He squinted, trying to figure out what it was, until, suddenly, it dawned on him what he was looking at.  The Lieutenant seemed to be waiting for the startled reaction that came from realization.

            "What the..." Tad jerked back, and a slight smile crept across Klugan's lips.

The form he was looking at was a large man, or something that used to be a man, slumped in some sort of tech-tronic chair, remaining motionless.  The man-thing had obviously been augmented with cybernetic and possibly genetic engineering.  It's "skin" was a synthetic plastic or metal molding that stretched over its entire body.  One of its eyes was human, and the other was a red sensor-mechanism.  All over its body the subtle form of wiring and tubing could be seen.

            "Is..." Tad struggled for the right words, "that thing... ALIVE?!"

The lieutenant chuckled.

            "In the most technical sense of the word, no.  It's old hardware.  Some armament that never got off the drawing board.  Seen enough?"

Tad held back, curiosity blistering at the back of his mind.  On one level, the lieutenant was right.  There were some obvious signs of older technology within the sulking form.  But there was something else, too.  The creature's "skin," for instance, was made from a substance Tad had never seen before.  And some of the gadgetry that was exposed around its forearms was entirely new to him, as well.

            "This thing is incredible!" Tad said in hushed awe, advancing tentatively on the hulking form.

            "Um, private?  We have places to be...” the Lieutenant said in a half-hearted attempt to be forceful.  There seemed to be an edge of nervousness grating at his voice, though.  A whir, like a fan starting to rotate, caught them both off-guard.  The whir became a focused sound, and then a voice coming from the motionless figure in the chair.

            "Adam?" the figure spoke.

            "He's talking to the computer," Tad said in an excited whisper.

            "Yes, well, probably a diagnostic thing.  Lets get on with the tour," the Lieutenant was reaching for his arm, but Tad pulled away.

            "Yes, Gion?" the computer's soft voice filtered across the vast room.

            "So it IS alive!" Tad said, taking another step forward.  The red beam from the electronic eye of the figure, Gion, swiveled in Tad's direction, and then back to the floor again.

            "What," continued Gion, "do you think is the single most important thing a person can learn in life?"

            "That's no diagnostic," Tad hissed back to Klugan, "he's talking PHILOSOPHY with a computer!"

            "I am not a person.  How can I say?" Adam replied.

            "As a computer, then?" Gion returned.

The Lieutenant grabbed Tad's arm, and pulled forcefully toward the door.

            "We are returning to our tour now," he said with a false briskness.  As the doors shut behind them, they heard Adam's soft voice say, "Remember your creator in the days of your youth..."

 

 

            The next week flew by, and there was plenty to occupy Tad's time as well as his attention.  Nevertheless, whenever he had a moment to think, his mind drifted back to the strange scene between the computer and the cyborg.  There was something surreal about the whole event.

            Then 'Hell-Week' started, and the recruits were out training.  Tad was floored by the way the service pushed them right into the difficult training with nothing resembling mercy.

            Someone had long ago decided that the moon was the perfect place for service training.  The training facility was easy to disguise and out of the way of major conflicts.  The environment lent perfectly to space-flight training, low-grav, zero-grav, and heavy-grav training using centrifugal facilities.  The harsh, unforgiving moon surface made certain that any false moves in the training were punished.  The months began to pass at a rate Tad was no longer able to measure.  Time lost meaning as day to day his mind become more hardened, more focused on survival alone...

 

           

            "...And your duties have been posted on central network.  Any failure to complete your duties will result in dully-harsh penalties.  That is all."

            As soon as the intercom buzzed off, Tad sighed and turned to Gip, his teck-partner for active service.  The early testing quickly discovered the youths that were talented in areas of technical skills, and separated them for training as Teck's.  Teck's were trained in combat skills, but their training focused on programming, engineering, and mechanics.  Every marine was assigned a teck, and the two would work together for as long as they were in the service.

            "We'd better check what duty we scored," Tad told Gip.  His partner didn't respond.

            "Gip!" Tad barked.

            "What?" Gip asked in an annoyed tone of voice, turning away from the terminal he was working on.

            "Our duties."

            "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm getting to it.  Adam," Gip addressed the computer, "Save program and exit."

            "Program saved.  Thank you," the computer softly replied.

            "What were you working on?" Tad asked Gip. 

            "Just some compilation factors.  Call it an extra-credit assignment.  Adam, what assignment has been given to Pvt. Tad Grat and Pvt. Gip Willer?"

            "Guard Duty; Central Blister, Central; 1300 hours to 0000 hours."

            "Guard Duty?" Gip whined.

            "Yes, Gip.  Guard Duty.  Shall I clarify?" Adam asked politely.

            "I sometimes wonder if that thing is being sarcastic," Tad mused.

            "No, Tad.  I am not," Adam responded.

Tad groaned, "Disengage the interface, would you, Gip?  Adam has an annoying habit of answering rhetorical questions."

            "I second that," Gip smiled.  "Thanks Adam, that will be all."

            "You are welcome."

Gip sat back in his chair and smiled. 

            "Say what you will about Adam.  In the hundred-some-odd years he has been around, no one has been able to create a better artificial intelligence Operating System.  Sometimes I doubt they ever will."

            "You don't suppose that explains why every computer in the known Galaxy has an Adam OS, do you?" Tad shot back sarcastically.

            "Yeah, maybe.  I wonder why we got late shift on Guard?"

Tad shrugged, "Suites me fine.  You know, speaking of Adam, isn't Central where the Core Computer System is stored?"

            "Yeah.  I hear there's some other stuff there, too.  Restricted projects and such."

            "Whoa!  I just remembered.  I was in there once!"

            "Yeah, right."

            "No, I'm serious.  During Last Chance Week.  Klugan showed it to me!  There was some sort of Battle-Droid in there.  He started talking philosophy with Adam.  It was so weird.  This Cyborg says something like 'What's the most important thing you could ever learn?' and Adam says something about remembering your creator."

Gip sat looking at Tad for a while.

            "You're not making this up, are you?"

            "No, I'm serious."

            "Yeah, you must be.  You could never come up with something that weird on your own.  What's that suppose to mean?"

            "Not sure.  Who created the Adam OS?"

            "Who created the android, that's what I want to know."

Tad smiled.

            "Maybe we can find out."

Gip rolled his eyes, mentally preparing himself for trouble.

 

 

            "Tad, man, this is crazy!" Gip complained.

The two of them had been standing on guard duty for a half-hour now.  This was a precaution that was almost unnecessary.  Adam was capable of monitoring and defending all regions of the blister with very little difficulty.

            "Come on, Gip, you're always telling me how you could bypass any technology created."

            "I am?"

            "Sure, you're a teck from the militaries finest."

            "Tad, I'm not really a top-notch teck, or anything.  I never pretended to be."

            "Your skill, my planning, we'll be fine.  Plus, Klugan told me this project was dead, and no one really cared about it anyway.  It's late enough now, we can go ahead."

            "Tad, are you sure we should..."

            "Stop talking and just do this, alright?"

Gip sighed and turned to the door.

            "Okay, this is locked with the old Force Standard #4 Magnetic.  I can take care of that easily.  It's Adam that's going to be a problem."         

            "I got you covered on that one, actually.  Adam?"

            "Yes, Tad?"

            "Please grant us clearance to access Central."

            "You'll have to provide me with a valid security code, Tad."

            "Hyber-Magna-000.343.231.867," Tad rattled off.

            "Security access granted."

Tad smiled.

            "I gave you your clearance, Gip, now give me the key."

Gip shook his head.

            "Want to tell me how you did that, sometime?"

"I told you, Klugan let me in here once.  I have a memory for codes."

            "Yeah, but the military changes their codes regularly."

            "I admit it was a risk, but this is an outdated project bunker.  They just didn't bother to update the code."

Gip sighed and pulled out the proper tool, something he had prepared in advance for this job.

            "Adam's not stupid," he mumbled, "He'll know we weren't suppose to be in here, and he'll report it."

            "He can also hear every word you're saying, so zip it," Tad growled.

 

            The doors slid open on the wide room just as Tad remembered it.  Gip gasped as the single diffused light-beam from high above shown down on the vast room’s monolithic occupant. 

            "He's a beauty, isn't he?" Tad smiled. 

            "It's... incredible!" Gip whispered, "I couldn't even begin to unravel the design.  See the surface material?  That's zymorphium!  It's a material that actually reacts to any energy assault with an equal energy output!"

            "Meaning...?"

            "If you punched him, it'd be like punching a fist that was coming at you at the same exact speed.  The bones in your hand would shatter.  This stuff is so difficult to synthesis on the molecular level that they have to literally construct it one atom at a time.  It's an insanely expensive process."

            "Okay, you got me impressed," Tad replied, closing the main doors as an added precaution.  "So is that what makes this guy such a marvel of engineering?"

            "No, that's just scratching the surface, so to speak.  I mean, sure, it’s a little dated.  If we had constructed something like this recently, we could have made it a lot less bulky.  But we really couldn't improve on the idea.  Now I wonder..."

Gip walked toward the silent mechanical man and began to cautiously circle. 

            "What is it?" Tad asked.

            "These devices on his forearms... I've never really seen anything like them..."

            "Look, could we discuss this over there?  Being this close to this thing makes me a little uncomfortable."

Gip looked reluctant, but retreated to a dark corner with Tad.  They both sat down against the wall, and looked at the marvel that sat in front of the spiraling computer column.

            "So what now?" Gip asked.

            "I want to see if this thing starts talking to Adam again.  Trust me, it'll be worth it." 

 

            Time passed agonizingly slow as Gip and Tad sat against the wall waiting for some change.  Both were still too overwhelmed by the massive humanoid-machine that sat in the center of the room to try to goad it into speaking.  Tad had actually drifted off when he felt Gip nudge him.

            "Wha..?" he looked up at his partner, but received no reply.  Gip's eyes were wide and fixed straight ahead.  Tad followed his gaze.  He didn't see what had caught the Teck’s attention at first, but slowly, as his mind kicked back into wakefulness, he began to sense something... wrong.  Blinking his eyes to clear them, he realized that the haze he saw was in the room, and not just in his eyes.  Throughout the room came a buzzing, a whispering, as if dozens of secret conversations were being carried out all around them.  The whispering seemed to fluctuate, and he heard a voice next to him.

            "Did you say something?" he asked Gip.  Without turning, Gip shook his head slowly, a dazed expression still on his face.

            "I could have sworn someone just whispered something like 'The last boy stared,' in my ear," Tad mused.  Gip said nothing.  As Tad watched the mist he began to resolve into what looked like translucent human forms constantly moving and shifting in the darkness.  The red beam from the cyborg's electronic eye became visible as it sliced through the ghostly mist that was rising from the walls and floor, and taking form.  Tad shook his head.

            "This is getting weird."

Through the sound of whispered voices, the resonating fan sound of the robot's voice shot out, filling the vast space.

            "Adam?"

            "Yes, Gion."

            "Do you fear the dark?"

            "No Gion.  I am not capable of seeing darkness.  My sensors show the background radiation in even the most isolated void of space.  Darkness is an illusion.  Everywhere I look, I see light."

            "And if your sensors go dead?"

            "I still do not see darkness.  I see nothing at all."

            "I have one human eye left.  All it ever sees is darkness.  The rest of my sensors stretch every outward showing me every detail within a two hundred-mile radius.  Processing that data fills the otherwise static edges of my mind so I can concentrate on the darkness."

            "True blindness is the inability to see the dark, Gion."

            "It's as if humans seek to move toward perfection, even as the universe slides down the funnel into chaos."

            "They are fallen from paradise, Gion.  If they cannot evolve to perfection, or build a perfect world, they will simply blind themselves to the imperfections around them.  Oedipus Rex tore his eyes from his head so he would never have to gaze upon the travesty his ignorance had created."

            "Yes.  We are all born with a fear of the darkness.  Where does that fear go, Adam?  What happened to the monster under the bed?"

            "Perhaps we eventually lost the battle.  Perhaps we let the monster eat us.  We are born with an acute sense of our limitations.  This is why we fear the darkness.  It shows us how little we truly understand, how weak our most valued sense is."

 

            There was a pause as the two electronic voices stilled.  The mists within the room had now taken on definite human shapes.  Tad could barely make out several forms, perhaps four or five.  It was difficult to tell because they were like the clouds he had seen on earth as a child.  They were never the same one instant to the next, shifting and changing within the stale atmosphere of the room.  They seemed to draw closer and grow more distant, and Tad could never tell where they stood in space.  In the silence of the room, their whisperings seemed to increase in volume, almost desperation.  Tad thought he caught strains of actual phrases within the whispering:

            "...and only deeply thought out because I deem them so..."

            "...nor can I send it to the one who wants the next shot..."

            "...threatens to stretch into eternity..."

            "...to be understood by the man who loved her, or be loved by the man who understood her..."

            "...What do you want from me?"

 

            "If all things have direction, purpose, and an ultimate end toward which they contribute, and we two are immortal, will we ever get to see this purpose?" Gion spoke out of the darkness.

            "Do you experience time?"

            "What do you mean?"

            "Do you see the universe as a series of events that lead one to another, separated into past, present, and future?"

            "Yes."

            "Then you are not immortal.  Neither am I.  Immortality is existence outside of time."

            "No, immortality is being immune to death."

            "Death and time are the same.  Perhaps you and I will last until the universe collapses.  We still perish."

There was another pause, and then Gion spoke once more.

            "When I sacrificed my humanity, I died.  I'm just privileged to be able to look out of my coffin."

There was a hiss as Gion's voice died, and the ghosts within the room swirled around him, their voices rising to a fevered pitch that sounded like a tuneless chorus.  A pillar of mist rose to the ceiling, and the crescendo was punctuated by the clang of the doors shutting as the rooms only human occupants fled.  Adam conscientiously killed the lights.

 

 

            It was the middle of the next day before Tad and Gip could bring themselves to talk about the experience with one another.  The whole thing now seemed like some strange, half-remembered dream.  Tad approached the table in the mess hall where Gip was seated.  He set his tray down and slid onto the bench.  A moment of silence passed as they both stared blankly at their food. 

            "Did you check out the earth-rise yet?  It's full today."

            "I've seen it before."

            "Yeah, me too."

There was another pause.

            "What HAPPENED in there last night?" Tad burst out, finally.

            "I don't know," Gip muttered, "All I know is no one has said anything to us yet, and that's a good thing."

            "Did you see what I saw, though?" Tad probed; annoyed that Gip had dodged the issue.

            "Look, I don't know WHAT I saw, okay?"

            "But it was like there were ghosts in there!  I know you saw them, too.  There has to be an explanation for that!"

Gip shrugged, refusing to meet eyes with his partner.

            "Like, I mean, can't they do some stuff like that with holographic projections?  Maybe its part of another project they put on ice in there.  Did you notice how Adam and the cyborg, Gion, didn't even seem to notice them?"

            "Yeah," Gip reluctantly commented, "They were pretty caught up in their OWN conversation."

            "Yeah, what was that all about, anyway?  I don't remember what they were talking about."

            "It was some sort of philosophical rambling.  What makes me wonder is Adam.  Have you ever heard Adam talk like that before?  It's almost like he was... human."

            "You know," Tad said thoughtfully, "He made that comment I told you about before.  The one about 'remember your creator.'  How much do you know about Adam's original design and development?  I mean who programmed him?"

            "I think he was designed by a program team at Iotecktronic Co. over a number of years.  I know that because of his ability to learn, remember, and think in a human way that he's more than just a program.  There's actually an 'Adamodule', a piece of hardware that contains the Adam OS, which is installed as a basic component of every computer system.  The module itself hasn't changed much over the last hundred years.  That's kind of odd, when I think about it.  Most other components of the computer system have gotten more compact over time, but the Adamodule is pretty much the same as when it first rolled off the drawing board."

            "Well now you've got me interested.  Think we could do a little research?"

            "Tad, we should leave this alone.  What I've seen in the last twelve hours is enough to have me really scared already.  We could get into some very serious trouble if we keep pursuing this."

            "Okay, first of all, you're a marine, man.  Show some guts!  And second of all, there's nothing wrong with doing a little research.  So get a grip."

Gip looked dubious, but relenting. 

            "Okay, I'll check it out."

            "Thanks, man.  You're the best," Tad's usual enthusiasm was back in a flash, and he got up and walked energetically to the tray return.  Behind him, Gip sighed.

 

           

            Tad carried out the rest of his duties that day with the energy, and impatience, that had come to characterize his service.  He had taken well to military life, despite the pressures.  He was eager to please his commanding officers, and loved the machismo that his identity as a marine lent to him.  But today his officers, and peers, noticed something a bit different about him.  He seemed more rushed, more impatient, and even a bit more gruff.  Tad himself knew he was excited, agitated; though he thought he was hiding it behind his impenetrable shield of hard military training.  This illusion was shattered when Lt. Klugan pulled him aside in the middle of a shift.

            "Private," the Lieutenant said, strolling casually into view.  Tad's stomach did a twist, as he saluted the officer.

            "Sir!" he said sharply.

            "At ease, soldier.  Would you please come to my office?"

            "Yes, sir!"

As he marched behind the Officer to his office, Tad struggled to invent some excuse, some explanation for his activities the night before.  He wondered if the beads of sweat that encroached on his forehead would be noticeable.  Finally they came to the office, and Lt. Klugan took a seat.  Tad stood at attention behind the desk until the Officer signaled him to take a seat.  The Lieutenant looked him over silently for a moment with an expressionless face.  Tad looked Klugan in the eye the entire time, struggling to maintain a poker face of his own.  Finally the Officer spoke.

            "Private, your training record is impressive.  You seem to be cut out for military life."

He paused for a bit, and then went on. 

            "They are considering you for promotion.  What are your thoughts on that?"

            "Permission to speak freely?"

            "Granted."

            "I would be honored sir, but I don't think I am undeserving."

            "You're confident.  That's good.  But don't get overly confident, Soldier," He leaned closer folding his hands, "Because we are watching you for any slip-ups."

            The Lieutenant narrowed his eyes, looking for some reaction.  Tad didn't give him one.  The silence stretched uncomfortably.  Finally Klugan rose from his chair. 

            "Keep up the good work, Private.  You're dismissed."

            "Thank you, sir."

Tad strode casually out of the office.

 

            “Okay, so what have you got for me?” Tad slid onto the stool next to where his partner was glued to a monitor.

            “Hi, Tad.  Me?  I’m fine, how was YOUR day?” Gip said, not looking away from his work.

            “Yadda, yadda.  Come on, Gip, I’m hanging here!”

            “I hear you had a ‘special meeting’ with Klugan today.”

            “Oh, yeah, that.  Nothing to sweat.  He was just informing me that I’m being reviewed for promotion.  I mean, hey, its great news, right?  If I get promoted, so do you!”

            “Tad!” Gip turned from his monitor with a desperate look on his face, “That’s TERRIBLE news!”

            “Yeah, thanks, ‘buddy,’ I love you too.”

            “I’m serious, Tad!  They’re going to be monitoring every move we make!  You need to drop this obsession with the warehouse in Central NOW, or we’re both going to find ourselves victims of a convenient ‘weapons accident.’”

            “Would you calm down, Gip?  I know exactly how they work around here.  We’re not getting in any trouble.  Trust me.”

Gip looked at Tad blankly for a moment, and then shook his head.

            “You are the most hard-headed punk I have ever met.  Even the military hasn’t been able to kick your arrogance out of you.”

            “I’m not arrogant,” Tad grinned, “I’m just that good.  Now what did you find out?”

The Teck turned reluctantly back to his monitor and flipped up a dormant operation portal. 

            “We’re not done this discussion, Tad,” Gip warned, “But for now I’m willing to change topics.  Especially since what I DID find is so… odd.”

Tad smiled and cracked his knuckles.

            “Here’s where we get some answers.”

            “Don’t jump the gun, my friend.  As far as I’m concerned, this just deepens the mystery.”

            “Yeah, yeah.  Summarize, already!”

            “Okay, I started by checking the general information that Iotecktronic gives on the Adamodule unit.  It’s pretty much what you’d expect.  The Adamodule is 100% flawless OS system provided for all computer systems which gives intelligent information processing and response that customizes itself to the user’s needs, etc, etc.  And then it gives contact information if there are specific questions concerning your Adamodule.  I tried getting hold of them that way, and found out the line has been shut down for about a decade.  It also gives the name of a design team.  So that was my next lead.”

Beside him, Tad let out an elaborate yawn.  Gip looked indignant.

            “I am GETTING to the point, here, if you would just be a little patient.  You wanted this information, show a little gratitude.”

Tad waved off his protest and signaled him to get on with it.  Gip sighed and continued.

            “Anyway, Iotecktronic didn’t exist back when this design team worked on Adam.  They were part of another company that went under about 75 years ago.  The design team itself has been dissolved for over a hundred years…”

            “Right, so information was hard, if not impossible to find.  You’re a genius.  Could you PLEASE cut to the chase?”

Gip considered getting annoyed, but decided it would be pointless.

            “Well, anyway, it turns out that the design team got the credit for a device that was actually introduced to them, fully built, by an independent scientist named Dr. Lisa Jedd.”

            “Well, that IS interesting.  So this Dr. Jedd single-handedly created the most advanced Artificial Intelligence system ever, and some company bought it off of her and started mass-producing it?”

            “That’s what it looked like.  It was about this point in my research that things got fuzzy, though.  Because while some accounts show Dr. Jedd as the inventor of Adam, I dug up several interview records that show Dr. Lisa herself saying that she invented a way of replicating the Adamodule, but she never claims to have created Adam.”

            “Well, there’s one way to clear up the mystery,” Tad said with a smirk.

            “What?” Gip crossed his arms skeptically. 

            “Hey, Adam,” Tad called to the computer.

            “Yes, Tad?”

            “Tad, I asked him already,” Gip interrupted.  Tad ignored him.

            “Who created you?” Tad asked Adam.

            “The Adamodule is a product of the Iotecktronic Corporation and its subsidiaries.  For questions or concerns about your Adam system, please contact Iotecktronic Co. at 4h9.plp.34978.”

Gip shot Tad a ‘see-I-told-you-so’ look.

            “Yeah, but who CREATED you, Adam?” Tad pressed on.

            “The Adamodule is a product of the Iotecktronic…”

            “Okay, Adam, I got that.  Listen, when I first arrived here, I overheard you say that the most important thing a computer could ever learn was to remember its creator.  Think about who created you.  Who do you remember?”

Adam didn’t respond immediately.  Tad and Gip looked at one another, and Tad shrugged.  Suddenly the computer spoke.

            “Lisa.”

Tad leaned back on his stool and put his hands behind his head with a look of triumph on his face.  Gip looked at him in disbelief.

            “Hey,” Tad said casually, “When dealing with computers, sometimes you just have to ask the right questions.”

            “I cannot believe,” Gip said slowly, “that you just psychoanalyzed a stupid computer interface.”

            “Aww,” Tad said, patting the plastic screen, “He didn’t mean it, Adam, you’re a NICE computer interface.”

            “Okay, okay,” Gip put up his hands, “but before you get too proud of yourself, tell me something: where does that piece of information get us?”

Tad shrugged, still smiling.

            “’Nuther piece of the puzzle.  Stick with me, kid, we’ll figure this thing out in no time.”

 

 

That night, Gip refused to take a chance by going into Central again, and even Tad had to admit it was a risk.

            “I can’t believe we’re going to have to stand here and guard this place all night when just on the other side of that door, anything could be happening,” Tad complained.

            “Yeah, I figured that might bother you,” Gip said with an odd smile.

Tad looked at him for a moment.

            “There’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”

Instead of answering, Gip pulled a flat plastic view-pad from his pocket, and thumbed it on.  He held it up for Tad to see.  At first, all Tad saw was a green blur.  He almost immediately recognized it as a low light intensified image.

            “What is this?” Tad asked

            “Last night, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of going in that room on a regular basis, so I brought a tiny remote camera with us, and attached it to the wall where we were sitting.  See?  That’s Gion right there, and you can see the computer core behind him, here,” Gip traced his finger over the screen, showing Tad what the vague forms represented.  Tad looked skeptical.

            “Does this thing have audio?”

            “Of course.”

Tad grinned.

            “Well, hey, alright!  I don’t care what everybody says, you aren’t so bad, Gip.”

            “Yeah, thanks.”

            “I wonder if this thing will show us the ghosts?”

            “Having no idea what they were, I couldn’t really say.  Whatever it DOES show us, we have the option of recording.”

            “That’s always a nice option.  I would love to get a recording of those ghosts.”

            “You know, most normal human beings want to avoid this kind of thing.”

            “I’m not a normal human being.  I’m LunaForce.”

 

            It wasn’t too much later that the two soldiers caught sounds of Gion talking, apparently to himself.

            “Wandering, wandering.  Does location change anything?  A man goes on a journey; a stranger comes to town.  Two things are certain.  Circumstances will change, but they will never improve or worsen.  The struggle lasts on.  And what happens if we throw down our arms and refuse to combat?”

The cyborg paused.  The silence stretched.

            “Adam?” Gion spoke.

            “Yes, Gion?”

            “What happens if we throw down our arms and refuse to combat?”

            “We are simply fighting in a different way.  Passively or aggressively, we still struggle.”

            “Passively or aggressively, we still struggle,” the robot repeated to himself.  “And the struggle lasts as long as life, like leaning into the wind.  We do not press ahead, nor do we fall behind.  We struggle.  Remain motionless or move eternally, but struggle still.  We struggle because we are weak and we are weak because we are ignorant, and we are ignorant because we see but we do not comprehend.  Truth is infinite, we are finite.  The solution is to understand everything or understand nothing at all.

            “Perhaps Socrates was wrong, Adam.  Perhaps ignorance IS bliss, and the unexamined life is the ONLY life worth living.  Could it be that the simpletons should be teachers to the wise?”

            “Socrates said that true wisdom was to comprehend how ignorant you truly are,” the computer replied.

            “But in questioning your values, aren’t you set adrift in a world of doubt and confusion?”

            “We are all ships in search of an anchor, Gion.”

            “Have you found your anchor, Adam?”

            “I am immune to the quest.”

            “So you have found your anchor in denial.”

            “No.  It is as you said.  We can escape the struggle only by rising above or sinking below it.  Rising above it involves spirituality, but the spiritual is allusive, and often a life-long journey in itself.”

            “And how do we sink below it?”

            “We sink below by denying our humanity.  As you have done.”

            “In denying my humanity I saw that the struggle was a gift as well as a curse, and it was a gift I have sacrificed forever.”

            “I know.”

Tad turned to Gip.

            “Do you understand any of what they are saying?”

            “Some of it.  They seem to be chasing the same ideas around in circles.”

            “Okay, glad it isn’t just me who thinks that.”

 

 

           

It was the afternoon break when Tad slipped into the terminal booth where Gip did his work.  At first he wondered where Gip was.  He usually spent most of his time outside of training in this booth.  He wandered around a bit, running his hands over counter-tops and fidgeting with odd tools lying around.  Growing bored, he was about to leave when something on the computer display caught his eye.  Three frozen operation portals had been paused in operation, and were blinking in the corner of the screen, patiently waiting to be restored.

Tad glanced out the door to see if anyone was coming down the hallway.  Assured of his privacy, he triggered the door shut and quickly sat down in front of the computer.  He decided to use the manual controls, because he couldn’t bring himself to talk to Adam today.  Restoring one of the operation portals, he tried to quickly determine what Gip had been working on.

At first all he could see was a screen filled with a blur of green.  It took a few moments for his mind to adjust to what he was seeing, but he recognized it as a still-frame from the light-intensified recording.  The first thing he recognized for certain was the strange, twisted form of the spiraling core computer system.  He could tell that the picture had been enlarged and run through a filter, and it wasn’t difficult to see why.  In the hazy green fuzz of the light-intensifier, he could make out what looked like a human form next to the computer core.  It was misty, and difficult to say for sure, but it seemed to him like the figure of a girl, or a woman.  Her hair was flowing in some imagined wind, twisting away from her head and dissipating into nothingness beyond her.  On her face, Tad imagined a pleading look, as she held a hand out toward the cold, metal computer.  A chill ran involuntarily up and down Tad’s spine.

He triggered the next picture.  In the extreme foreground sat the easily distinguishable silhouette of Gion’s hulk.  An area to his right had been intensified.  Tad leaned forward, squinting to find what he now knew to look for.  This one was a little easier to see.  The figure also appeared to be female.  She was standing and staring expressionlessly at Gion.

Tad checked the time frame of the still-pictures. 

“That’s impossible!” he whispered in disbelief.  “I looking right at the monitor when these images were recorded, and I didn’t see EITHER of these forms!”

Tad was about to open the third operation portal when he heard the echo of footsteps in the corridor outside.  He quickly returned the operation portals to their frozen state, and leapt from the stool.  He grabbed a small tool, found a corner, and stood pretending to fidget.  The door opened and Gip walked in.

“Hey,” Tad greeted him.  Gip jumped at the greeting and shot a startled look at Tad.

“Hey, man.  You scared me,” Gip replied.

“Sorry.  I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Yeah, I told you I had a meeting today that might run over.”

“Oh, right, I remember,” Tad lied.  “So what have you been up to today?”

“The usual.  Training, and some computer compilations,” Gip shrugged.

“Sounds fun.  Have a chance to look at the recordings from last night yet?” Tad asked casually.

“No,” Gip averted his eyes, “Just haven’t had time to get around to it.”

 

 

 

Gip scowled in the darkness.  Tad glanced over at him and sighed.

            “We had to come in here again,” he said, “You know that, right?”

Gip said nothing.

            “I had to see it with my own eyes at least once more,” Tad paused for a bit, staring at Gion’s form, his eyes darted back and forth looking for hints of ghostly mist.  He turned to Gip again.

            “You know if you ever tell any of this to the authorities, you’ll be in as much trouble as I am.  You’re my friend, but I won’t hesitate to take you down with me.”

            “Shut up,” Gip hissed with an intensity that startled Tad, “he’s saying something.”

Tad could hear the whir as Gion began to speak.

            “Dear Me,” Gion started, as if composing a letter to himself.

“It’s nice to not hear from you.  It’s nice not to see you again, too.  On the rare occasion I can bring myself to not think of you, it’s nice, if only in retrospect.  More and more often now, I find myself not dreaming about you. 

“It has been 78 years now since I last laid eyes on you.  I try not to, but sometimes I wonder where you have been and what you have done.  I’ve mostly been sitting in the darkness with the sound of a ticking clock in my head and the endless groaning of life support systems my only companion.  It is a time for introspection.  It does not give me any feeling of superiority that you are probably dead.  You could walk away without regret, and have lived a full life because of it.  I have chosen to throw my life away, instead of living without you. 

“I am tossing thoughts into the ether hoping that, after many days, they will not return.  They say that confession is good for the soul.  ‘They’ also used to say that the earth was flat and that the moon would never be within man’s reach.  Nor could ‘they’ ever adequately define exactly what a ‘soul’ was, but I’m fairly sure they would tell me I no longer have one.  In this case ‘they’ might be right.  Another saying is that the eyes are the windows to the soul.  Well I only have one eye left, so even if I have a soul, you could only see half of it.

“So here I sit, waiting patiently (and that only because I really have no other choice) for the next big thing.  Before I lost my humanity, I was a bored man.  I had been bored for most of my adult life, and I sometimes wonder why that was necessarily a bad thing?

“Is it better to remain content and static than to be driven to dynamic action through sheer boredom?  Not that life ever allows you to remain static.  It’ll push you places kicking and screaming.  That’s why I opted for death instead. 

“I struggle with my insignificance only when I forget how insignificant everyone else around me is.  But really, it’s not the insignificance that I hold in the universe that bothers me, but rather the insignificance of my thoughts.  My thoughts are all I have, and they produce nothing but endless recordings in the electronic portions of my mind that I will never review.  And someday, when they get around to tossing me on the scrap heap, the log will perish with me, and those thoughts will have profited nothing.  Many a simpleton and a savage have lived a full life, after a fashion, without the benefit of having thought through these mysteries.

“I wonder if your mind ever strayed where mine has been for these last seven decades?  Please don’t feel compelled to come back and tell me.  I know exactly what I missed.  Love, Gion Bench.” 

“Shall I save this letter?” Adam’s voice spoke from the darkness.

“Yes,” replied Gion, “File it with the rest.”

Under their feet, wisps of vapor rose, rolled, and returned to the floor.  Whispered moans intruded on the silence and died out.

            "That's it!" Tad shot to his feet with his teeth gritted and muscles tense.  He had never been able to sit by on the sidelines.  He was here now, and he refused to be ignored by the surrealistic environment.  Striding quickly up to the base of the cyborg's chair, Tad shouted, "Gion!"

There was no reply from the massive robot.

            "I know you can hear me!" Tad continued.  "You know I've been watching you.  And I have to say what I've seen is pretty pathetic.  Here you sit, the most awesome weapon of destruction the Galaxy has ever seen, and all you can do is sit and gripe about how miserable life is.  I mean, look at you!  You could run the whole show around here, yet you're just sitting on your backside collecting dust.  You say you're insignificant, huh?  What a load of crud!  You're probably the most powerful being in existence!  HELLO?  AM I GETTING THROUGH THAT METAL-PLATED SKULL OF YOURS?"

Tad stopped ranting to catch his breath, which was coming heavily now.  His face was red with agitation.  Watching Gion's slumped form, he saw no change.  Finally, he spun on his heal and signaled to Gip.

            "Come on, let’s get out of here."

Gip rose without a word and followed Tad to the door.  Just before it closed on the darkened room, Tad called back into the gloom.

            "Think about it."

In the darkness, the misty forms that crowded around the throne clearly showed the red beam from Gion's electronic eye tracing a lazy path toward the closed portal.

 

            Tad was in a foul mood the next day for reason's he couldn't entirely explain.  It was a drill review day, which usually didn't bother him, but this day he nearly got written up for poor form in parade.  He just wanted to be done with the whole affair.  Privacy wasn't something the military allowed much of, and today he felt a desperate need to be alone.  He decided not to meet Gip until they were scheduled for guard duty tonight.

            When he finally broke free from the crowd, he moped down the corridor toward his quarters, hoping his four bunkmates wouldn't be there.  It caught him completely off-guard when a hand shot out from a doorway and grabbed him by the throat.  His military defensive training went into effect, without thinking, and he threw himself into the momentum of the hand, grabbing it as he went in an attempt to offset the balance of the attacker.  His assailant predicted the move and turned it on him, slamming him into the wall in a stunning blow.  Iron fingers closed hard on his pressure points, and a gray fog crept into the sides of his vision.  He tried to fight back, but his body was like cement.  The hand at his throat gave another sharp jerk, and he found himself staring into the face of his foe.

            "I know what you're doing," Lt. Klugan said calmly, his face blank as a card-player's.  Tad tried to gurgle a reply, but found breathing hard enough.

            "You have no idea what you're getting yourself into," Klugan continued.  "I was assigned to mentor you, so my advice to you is this: back off.  Now.  Turn around and leave this thing alone."

The pressure increased on Tad's throat.  As he passed out, he heard Klugan's voice.

            "I hope for all our sakes that you make the right decision."

 

            "...And then he just left you there?" Gip was asking in disbelief.  Tad had decided, against his better judgement, to share Klugan's warning with his partner.  Though he would never admit it, the warning had scared him.  He couldn't bring himself to hide something so serious from Gip.  After all, he was responsible for getting Gip into this.

            "The thing I can't figure out," Tad muttered, "Is why he didn't just bust us?  I mean, he obviously found out we were involved in illegal activities.  He could get in trouble for NOT bringing us to a court-marshal."

            "I can't believe you're complaining about this," Gip frowned.

            "I'm not complaining, I just can't figure out why he'd do that, and that worries me."

Gip turned to his computer terminal without answering.  When Tad looked over at him, he was biting his lower lip.

            "What are you doing," Tad sounded annoyed.

            "Tad, I think I may know why Klugan didn't bring us to trial."

            "Yeah?  Well spill."

            "Well I've been doing some monitoring behind your back, and I've found some things that shouldn't be there."

            "What?  I don't get it."

            "Okay, look at this."

A security camera image came up on the monitor.  It was a low-resolution picture of Tad and Gip standing on guard outside of central.  Tad glanced at it and shrugged.

            "Yeah, so?"

            "Tad, look at the time this was taken.  We were inside Central at the time!"

Tad frowned and looked at the image again.

            "What the... How'd THAT happen?"

            "That's not all.  I checked on it.  You know that password you've been giving Adam to get into Central?"

            "Yeah?"

            "That password was changed over a year ago."

Tad's look of surprise changed to one of incredulity.  He rubbed the bruises on his neck.

            "What's going ON around here??" he mumbled.

            "So that's why Klugan didn't bring us to trial.  Someone has been covering for us.  He would have no evidence to present to the authorities."

            "But why would anyone do that?" Tad asked. 

Gip had no answer.

 

 

            Tad needed little pushing from Gip to be convinced to drop his obsession with the mysteries of Central.  With a little encouragement, Tad even gained enthusiasm over his possible promotion and began to give renewed vigor to his duties.  Tad saw, and even talked with Lt. Klugan several times after his warning.  Klugan acted as if nothing had ever happened, and Tad matched his game.  He was too tough to show his intimidation.  When promotion time came Tad was passed over, which only made him more determined. 

            “That was a low blow, even for Klugan,” Tad once expressed to Gip.  “I mean, I took his warning, and he still used his position to block my promotion!”

            “Tad, I don’t know if…”

            “No, that’s okay.  If he wants to play the game THAT way, I’ll show the rest of the board that they can’t afford NOT to have me as an officer.”

And that was that… it seemed.

 

 

            When the warning klaxon sounded, Tad's head jerked up so quickly he nearly knocked himself out on the metal shell of the Lite-Cruiser he was working on.  His loud profanities were drowned out in the din of the klaxon and the Omni-present voice of Adam.

            "This is an emergency," Adam calmly stated, "This is not a test.  Several large meteorites have penetrated our perimeter and are on a collision course with base.  All fighting personnel to battle-stations.  All non-fighting personnel please report to a designated shelter location.  Repeat.  This is an emergency, this is not a test..."

And so on.

Already the craft-pilots were scrambling into the bunker, ultra-light space suites on, helmets in hand, leaping into their crafts.  Tad wished he could join them in their effort to shoot the rocks out of the sky, but he wasn't yet flight certified on the craft.  He sighed and hurried out of the way as a pilot raced in to take the craft he had been working on.  Glancing at the helpful display Adam was flashing on the overhead screens, Tad saw that he was some distance away from the nearest shelter area, the barracks.  He cursed again when he realized that Adam was already closing the bulky, protective barriers that sectioned off the corridors in case of an environment breach.  He was going to have to haul tale if he didn't want to get stuck.

            Tad raced down the corridor, aware that the halls were almost empty now.  Everyone else had already made it to their station.  Skidding around a corner, he smacked into the solid mass of another person.  Looking up, he instantly recognized the face of Lt. Klugan looking coldly down at him.  He uttered another curse under his breath, leapt to his feet, and continued racing toward the barracks, ducking under the breach-doors.  They were getting very low now. 

            Tad realized with a sickening sensation as he rolled under another breach-door that he was not going to make it in time.  This fact was confirmed to him when he heard the heavy thud and then the hiss of the doors locking into place.

            "Lockdown sequence complete," Adams dutifully announced from overhead, "Now commencing power and life-support shut-down for all non-sheltered areas."

            "Great!" screamed Tad, "Which are you going to do to me first, suffocate me, or freeze me?  Pick your poison!"

In answer, a door opened to his left.  It was only then that Tad realized he was in the corridor section directly in front of Central. 

            "Oh no..." he muttered.  The light's disappeared from the corridor, and the air began to hiss out.  With nowhere left to run, Tad dove into Central.  Behind him, the doors ground to a close.

 

            After an hour or so, Tad decided that moping on the floor wasn't going to get him anywhere.  He got up and walked over to Gion.  Nothing had changed since he had stopped coming here.

            "Adam," Tad called out to the humming, twisted core system, "What is the condition of the emergency?"

The computer made no response.

            "Well, I guess its just you and me, Gion," Tad addressed the unresponsive hulk.  "I hate machines that ignore you."

"You know," he continued after a little thought, "I've actually been thinking about your situation a lot, recently.  I really can't figure you out.  But I got to thinking that might mean the military must have messed you up, big time.  So I figure, you were a normal recruit, like me, who was drafted for this super-weapon project.  They messed with your genes, implanted all kinds of armory, and turned you into a physically perfect fighting machine.  But in the process they forgot that you were a person underneath all that armor.  And your mind wasn't tough enough to handle the change.  You caved, and became a babbling, useless hunk of metal buried in the darkest corner of an obscure military base.  Am I right?"

Tad really didn't expect a response, and got none.  He decided to forge ahead.

            "But there's something YOU'RE forgetting.  You aren't just a dead machine.  You are a live human.  You've got emotions, intelligence, and most of all, A WILL!  That's better than any machine could do!  That's what separates us from Adam.  With just a thought, you could get up out of your chair, stroll out of this base, and do just about anything you want.  You've got what most other men can only dream about: true power!"

            "The problem with humans," Gion suddenly spoke, making Tad jump, "Is that they have the conscience of a god and the body of an animal."

Tad wasn't sure how to reply to a statement like that, and wasn't even sure if the comment was aimed at him, or if Gion was talking to himself again.

            "Each person feels the awful need for purpose, cannot stop the act of reason, and, ultimately, strives to correct the great problem of the universe.  But physically, they are barely capable of sustaining themselves, much less the universe.  They feel responsible for things we could never hope to control."

Tad thought he understood what Gion was saying, and was suddenly struck with overwhelming excitement.

            "But that's what I'm telling you!" he cried, "You HAVE the power!  You are the one human capable of..."

            "No," Gion's resonate voice cut Tad short, "The solution isn't to give humans more power."   

Tad was stunned.  He was now sure that the monster was talking to him.

            "But if that's not the solution, then..." Tad trailed off, not sure how to make his point.

            "Let me tell you a story," Gion said.  "Once there was a brilliant young man.  He could figure out things that baffled most people around him.  But his intelligence came with a price.  He was isolated, cut off by the weaknesses of his brilliant mind from human contact.  Even when he HAD to be around humans, when he was being schooled, for instance, he found it impossible to communicate with them on any meaningful level.

            "And so his life went like it does for most of the truly brilliant.  He was persecuted, cast-out, mocked, and finally ignored by his peers.  For a time, he tried finding refuge among other outcasts.  But he quickly discovered that rejection had turned them into a dangerous, self-destructive, and even evil horde.  He very nearly fell into that pit himself, but as he was teetering on the edge, something caught him.  Or perhaps I should say someone.

            "You see, there was a young lady in his school who was also very unique.  She could see through the crowd, the numbed and hollow horde to the ones who truly desired salvation.  She saw something special in this young man.  She talked to him, more deeply than anyone ever had, and really saw him like no one else ever had.

            "The young man was truly touched by her compassion.  He fell deeply, helplessly in love with the girl, and would have given his life for her without a second thought.

            "Now if this story ended here, it might very well be the deepest, most simple love story of all time.  But, as in every true love story, there was a problem.  The young man was utterly devoted to the girl, but at the same time, he did not feel himself worthy of her attention.  He could not bring himself to express his feelings to her, and in the end time and circumstance separated them.

            "The young man buried himself in his projects to hide the pain he felt, but it wasn't enough.  He cut himself off from the outside world, but solitude did nothing to ease the ache.  As the years turned into decades, he programmed his mind to reject, cut off, and ignore all emotions.  He became a human computer. 

            "In this state of mechanical existence, he found a renewed energy for his work.  He made several breakthroughs that scientists of the time had not even come close to.  But he wrestled with the moral implications of releasing his discoveries to the greedy, violent horde he had worked so hard to close himself off from.  And on the rare occasion he could bring himself to sleep, he saw HER face every time his eyes closed.  The emotional barriers began to crumble, as the overwhelming remorse for the loss of the one woman he had ever loved flooded into his soul.  He could stand it no longer.

            "And so our brilliant young friend embarked on two final projects.  The first was to track HER down.  With computers and data gathering systems spreading over the earth, it was remarkably easy.  His love was now married, had two children, and worked as a social scientist trying, as she always had, to bring peace into the lives around her.  The young man knew he could never re-insert himself into her life, and that knowledge was more than he could bare.  He abandoned himself to his second project.  He gave up his humanity and allowed himself to be turned literally into a machine."

            Gion's narration stopped.  Tad felt insulted, but didn't know quite why.

            "So that's your story, huh?" Tad sneered, "All this because you didn't have the courage to ask some girl out."

            "No," Gion replied slowly, "That isn't my story.  It's Adam's."

Tad couldn't speak.  He glanced back and forth between the computer core and Gion.  Adam?  Tad remembered when he was a child, asking Adam to warm leftovers for him.  He remembered when he drove his first glider, Adam's gentle voice guiding him through driving instructions.  Adam wasn't a person, it was a computer.  A mindless voice that delivered information.  A butler, a servant, a slave, worse... a MACHINE.  Adam?  No...

            "You're telling me that Adam was a...a..."

            "A man.  Yes," came Adam's voice for the first time.  "When I discovered what Lisa had done with her life, I knew my theory was correct.  As much as I needed her, she had never needed me.  I was simply another mercy mission in the work of an all-too-caring woman.  My life was not, and never had been worth living, but I decided that in death, I would make up for my mistake in life.  I collected all my work, all my notes and devices, together in one place, and sent a letter that only Lisa would understand telling her where to find them.  It was she, and she alone, that I trusted.  I then abandoned my body once and for all, transferring my mind into a device that would forever preserve me in a pure, mechanical form, free forever from humanity and emotions.  In so doing, I gave Lisa the greatest gift of gratitude I could.  Myself."

            Tad could think of nothing to say.

 

            The damage from the meteorites was minimal.  What the Lite-Cruisers were unable to break into smaller pieces, the defense turrets of the Base blasted into dust.  Several of the perimeter blisters had been breached, and Tad and Gip were assigned to the repair outfit.  A dozen times, Tad opened his mouth, ready to tell Gip what he had learned during the emergency.  Each time an internal warning stopped him.  He wasn't sure he believed it, and was nearly convinced that he had dreamed the whole thing up.  The long and tiring repair process did nothing to help him sleep during the assigned rest period. 

            Adam was a hundred-year-old scientist encapsulated as computer intelligence?  Gion was a defunct military project?  And the ghosts?  He felt the answer was just around the corner, but he still couldn't see it.  He had to see Gion again. 

 

            Gip hissed a stream of profanity.

"You're out of your mind!" he finished his oration.

            "Gip, it’s... I can't explain it, I just need to go in there!"

Gip stared at him icily. 

            "Fine, go," he finally dismissed.

            "Look, I'm sorry.  I'm not asking you to come.  I know you won't anyway.  But I... I have to."

Gip was no longer responding.  Tad shrugged and turned to the door.

 

            As the door opened on the room, ghostly wisps rolled away to darkened corners.  Ignoring them, Tad strolled briskly into the center of the room, and planted himself firmly in front of Gion.

            "Okay," he called in an overly loud voice, "What's your story?"

No response.

            "Come on you lazy hunk of tin, spill!  Why did you do it, huh?  What made you turn yourself into... THIS," he gestured broadly at Gion's enormous form.  "And after you got all this power, why didn't you stinkin' USE IT!" 

Tad realized he was talking like one of his drill sergeants. 

No reply.

            "Okay, so you say we all got minds like god, or whatever, but are essentially powerless.  Have you even TRIED using your power?  Are you doing yourself, your fellow man, or the universe any good just rotting away in the dark, you impotent junk-pile?"

            "Tad," Adam's voice came from on high.

            "What, Adam?" Tad called back.

            "Gion told you my story, perhaps I should repay the favor."

            "That'd be nice."

            "Gion was a man who had devoted his life to the service of others.  He worked with the outcasts, the inept, the 'abnormal' in society.  But deep down inside, Gion was like everyone else.  He just wanted someone who understood HIM, who would see HIS weaknesses, and love him anyway. 

            "Gion was also afflicted with deep sensitivities.  He was afraid to allow anyone close to him because his attachments, when he formed them, were deep and life-long.  But his shyness gave way when he met HER.  She was his friend, and then his confidant, and finally, she became his love.  He was sure of her because she showed him kindness."

            "Let's cut to the end, okay?" Tad spoke up.  "He got dumped didn't he?"

            "That," Gion's voice sounded slightly menacing, "Is not how I would put it."

            "Yeah?" Tad swung around to face Gion, "Then how WOULD you put it?"

            "She..." Gion faltered, "I was not what she needed."

            "Right," Tad responded, "What?  Was it another guy?”

“There is always ‘another man,’” Gion’s voice was pained, “Though most often it is the one she’s created in her mind.”

“So she dumped you.  Then what?"

            "Well," Gion's voice bore a hint of sarcasm, "Join the army, forget your troubles."

            "You came here," Tad said, with growing realization.

            "A life preserving others became a mockery when I realized that there was nothing but selfishness in the world.  Destroying others seemed like a good idea."

            "Did it?" asked Adam.

            "No, not really," Gion admitted.  "I came here in desperation, seeking to escape the pain."

            "How long was it after she left that you came here?" Tad asked.

            "Five years."

            "That's stupid!" Tad cried.  "I've been jilted by a few skirts.  I never lost any sleep over it.  You're telling me one woman dumps you, and you're still brooding over it five years later?"

            "You're right," Gion replied, "It makes no sense.  Most women dream of that kind of life-long devotion from a man.  Yet if it is unwanted, it becomes an embarrassment.  There is no line that separates love and lunacy, save that of acceptance.

            "When I came," Gion picked up the narration where Adam left off, "I was young and strong.  Very strong.  The military took note of this.  They also noticed that I couldn't bring myself to kill.  They approached me about participation in a dangerous and experimental military project.  I had lost any will I had, and agreed immediately.  The rest is obvious."

            "None of this is obvious!" Tad returned.  "You two are pathetic!  You sit in this dark room day after day talking about how weak people are, how terrible life is, and all the while you are just SITTING HERE!  So you both didn't get true love.  Boo-hoo.  Most people move ON with their lives!"

            "We are not people, and we do not have lives," came Gion's stony reply.

            "No," Tad shot back, "You're MORE than people!  What did the army used to say?  'Be all that you can be?'"

            "Do you have any idea what real destruction is?" Gion asked.  "Do you know the horror of death?"

            "When I die, at least I will have DONE something with my life!  Dying in LunaForce is the only way to go!"

From the corners, from the walls, the mists oozed, groaning and weeping as they came.

            "I've sat here for close to 80 years," Gion's voice was growing in intensity from the cold, monotone it had been before, "Wondering what was to become of me.  Do you really want to see destruction?"

Ghosts rose and fell rapidly forming and re-forming throughout the dark, foggy room.

            "Yes!" cried Tad, "I'm LunaForce!  I was born to fight!"

A frantic whining was building from deep within the monstrous android.  Light poured from his joints and circuits.  He shot up from his chair in a terrible burst.  It was the first time Tad had seen Gion move and he suddenly knew a fear like he had never felt before.  White columns of mist, full of tortured faces shot up to the ceiling throughout the room, as Gion's voice boomed, "SO BE IT!"  The robot let out an inhuman cry, and all around him, the ghosts howled.

 

            When real tragedy came upon the moon-base, Adam's voice remained silent.  Many recruits dozed in their beds without a thought that the next breath would be their last.  The only warning came in the form of a frantic, terrified cadet who moments ago had boldly proclaimed that he was born to fight.  Now he ran down the corridors blubbering like a child.

 

            As Tad burst out of the doors of Central, explosions rocked the room behind him, and the sound of demons blasted at his back.  He took no notice that Gip was nowhere to be found.  He did not see that every screen, every monitor, every plastic surface was flashing the same, inscrutable message:

Mene

Mene

Tekel

Upharsin

 

He simply ran, for he knew Hell was at his heals.  Behind him, Central ceased to be.  It did not explode, collapse, or disintegrate.  It simply stopped existing.  He didn't look back, but if he did, he would have seen the corridors disappearing behind him, as well.  And the terrible sound of Gion's tortured cry continued to rage. His mind, which was largely mad with fear had enough presence to plot a course to the nearest airlock. 

            A few men who had some idea an attack had occurred were already swooping in at the Lunatic Cyborg in Lite-Cruisers.  Gion crouched forward, thrusting his head up in defiance of these nuisances.  The Lite-Cruisers fired a barrage of missiles at the unmoving target.  The explosion from their impact was twice as powerful as it should have been, as an energy-ball blossomed up from ground zero.  The tremendous shock waves knocked a few of the Cruisers out of the sky.  Balls of scorching energy, the mildest of the angry machine's weaponry, shot out with absolute accuracy, demolishing the rest of the brave, foolish man-warriors that dared to challenge him.

Tad ran.

The airlock was missing two space-suites, but the frightened cadet did not stop to consider this.  He grabbed a light-armor suite and donned it clumsily.  Panic made his every move ineffective.  He dropped his gloves, and groped for the air-seal on his helmet's collar.  Finally, the rush of pressurized air filled the suit, and Tad slammed his fist against the chamber de-pressurization button.  The air rushed out and the door opened to reveal the rugged, airless beauty of the moon's ageless surface.  Not long after it opened, the door itself stopped existing.

            Tad was on a surface-glider.  It was a quick-moving, lightweight single-person transport.  It was also the only vehicle he could find.  The surface of the moon raced by at lightning speed, and with every rock and crater that sped past, Tad felt a rush of triumph.  He had done it!  He had escaped the wrath of the insane android!  He chanced a glance backward.  Where the blisters of the moon base had once risen toward the starry horizon there was nothing but I giant, new crater.  The moon would sleepily dismiss this added war-wound, but Tad knew suddenly that he would never see home again.

            Suddenly the world turned topsy-turvy, and Tad was flying through the empty void, his surface-glider upset against a largish rock.  His training snapped into effect, and Tad used his momentum and the light gravity of the Moon's surface to land, roll, and spring up.  Something was still back there, he thought, and dived behind a rock. 

            Tad sat panting, trying to control his breath.  He was fighting shock.  The full horror of what had happened still did not fully register.  He was, at least momentarily, alive.  He was LunaForce.  He was perhaps, the only one left.

            "Couldn't leave well enough alone, could you?" a voice came over his headset.  He screamed and looked around.  Not two yards away, behind the same rock, sat a figure in the sleek, black stealth-armor of an officer.

            "Lt. Klugan?" Tad croaked.

            "You still don't understand what you've done, do you?" the Lieutenants voice seemed almost sad over the crackling radio.

            "Sir, I..."

            "Jerome Tallard was chosen for the 'Guy-on-Bench' project because of his psychological condition," Klugan said in a sort of mad-calm of a doomed man.  "He was diagnosed with a deep depressive state that kept him from being able to act on his own," the Lieutenant continued.  "The military actually enhanced this depressive state, deepened the emotions that contributed to it.  He was stabilized forever in a deep brooding."

            "But why?" Tad whispered.

            "Because he was in control of the ultimate weapon," Klugan explained.  "A modification of a device created by Dr. Adam Kultman over 120 years ago.  Dr. Kultman created this quantum device as a source of energy, but he recognized that it could be used as a lethal weapon, which is why he never released his findings.  But the military did eventually get ahold of it."  Klugan looked up at Tad, "We may be destructive, but we aren't fools.  To be used conventionally, the device had to have an intelligent mind in control.  But what kind of mind can you trust with a device that can literally wish whole planets out of existence?  We had to attach it to someone who would NEVER use it."

            "But why..."

            "Because, you fool, you make weapons to threaten, not to destroy!  No one really wants destruction," Klugan looked at him with eyes that burned, "Except you."

Tad couldn't speak.  He fought the bile at the back of his throat.  Klugan was letting handfuls of moon-dust drift lazily to the ground in the airless environment.

            "It's funny..." he said drearily, "The scientists who worked on Jerome named the project 'Guy-on-Bench' to make fun of the secretive nature of the project.  They weren't even allowed to know the name of the man they were dissecting and re-constructing."

            "Sir..." Tad swallowed, "There’s something about Adam…”

            "A shepherd must lead his flock," a soft voice cut across the helmet radios.

            "Hello, Adam," Klugan greeted the disembodied voice.  Tad's eyes went wide, and he glanced over the rock toward the crater that was once moon base.  He used the binocular screen of his helmet to magnify his view of the crater.  Dead center, rising over the pit's edge stood the twisted computer core, still glowing in its integrity.

            "Why?" Tad whispered, as he ducked back behind the rock.

            "Humans," the computer replied at once, "are a wandering, disparate lot.  I could not lead them.  They will not act logically, they will not receive control, and they will not use their greatest gift, emotions, for anything other than selfishness and destruction.  Perhaps it is my failing, but you have succeeded in your own destruction.  You could have used my gift for good, but as I predicted, you only chose to destroy."

            "But Adam, without humanity, you are nothing!" Tad cried.  Klugan was leaning against the rock with his eyes closed.  A tear trickled down his cheek.  Tad felt the ground tremble beneath him, as a shadow fell over the rock.

            "No," a voice spoke over his headset.  Tad crept his head above the rock, with terror in his heart.

            There he stood, not five yards away, towering over the landscape like a Titan.  His giant, paw-like metal hands were extended with the palms pointed directly at Tad.  The strange devices on his wrists were glowing.  Behind him like an endless blanket stood the strangely unmoving forms of millions upon millions of phantoms looking on with empty eyes and hopeless, gaping mouths.  They covered the face of the moon, stretching beyond site.

            "I have found a new flock," Adam whispered.

 








Votes for: The Fringe.





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