As the huge freight elevator lowered into Camelot, I was almost giddy with excitement. I watched the rays of sunlight be cut off by the blast doors, and I had finally achieved one of my childhood dreams.
I was in a secret lair. Building a robot army. This was amazing.
Waiting at the bottom of the elevator was a woman with bright, fizzy orange hair pulled into a ponytail that did little to restrain it. She had something running across her head, a headband maybe. She wore a t-shirt and jeans, which seemed very inappropriate attire for an evil lair.
When the elevator reached the bottom, she opened her mouth to say something, but I got there first.
“Your attire is very inappropriate for an evil lair,” I told her, “I expected at least a lab coat, maybe with big yellow gloves if you were feeling fancy.”
She stared at me for a second and I realized that I had completely fucked up another relationship before it had even begun. I was just so excited about the lair thing. I was already planning my furious backpedaling as a slow grin formed on her face, and her blue eyes started dancing.
“What about the large goggles strapped to the top of my head?” She asked, pointing them out to me, “don’t they give me any points?”
Oh thank God. She was a weirdo too.
“And besides,” she continued, “What the hell are you wearing?” I looked down at my sweatpants, button-down shirt, sloth-emblazoned socks, and sandals, “It looks like you got halfway through dressing and thought, ‘fuck it’, and judging by the expression on your face I actually hit the nail on the head.” She stared at me in amazement, “Holy shit. That is a new level of lazy.”
I smiled at her, and stuck out my hand, “Sam Lewis, Paladin Engineer.”
She took it with a grin, “Amy Philips, AI Specialist.”
I looked around the empty room. “Where’s everyone else? I was told to expect a lot of hero worship from nerds that love robots, and I’m feeling a bit let down that I’m not getting any.”
She gave a snort and said, “Yeah, I dunno which depraved fantasy you pulled that out of, but the briefing was pretty clear that it was just going to be me and you for the next couple months. We’re the only ones actually necessary for making sure this place doesn’t crap out, so we’re the advance team.”
“Pshh,” I said, “It’s not like I have time to read.” That elicited an eyeroll from her. I paused, then looked at her, confused, “I get why I’m here, the robots and the fabricators, but why were you included in the advance team?”
“Oh, where are my manners,” she said, smacking her forehead, “I got totally caught up in your lack of basic social awareness,” Hey, I’m not that bad, “and I forgot to introduce you to the most important member of the team. Adelaide, come say hi.”
I looked around for someone else, then felt very stupid as a pleasant female voice came out of the base’s intercoms, “Hello Samuel Lewis, my name is Adelaide. I am the pseudo Artificial Intelligence assigned to CO-21, and am responsible for managing all the discrete functions of the facility, including but not limited to, the autonomous robotic assistants, the fusion reactor, and all life support systems.”
“Huh,” I said. I shot a glance over at Amy, who was straight-faced, as if waiting for something, “Do you mind if I ask you a couple questions?” I said.
“Sure,” said Amy, “but it mi-“
“Oh, no, sorry,” I said, “I was talking to Adelaide, though I do have some questions for you too, afterwards.”
She froze like a statue, as if that was the last thing she expected. I hoped I hadn’t insulted her, but I had an actual AI just sitting there waiting for me to pick its brain.
Adelaide interjected, “I do not mind answering any queries you might have, Mr. Lewis.”
“Awesome,” I said with a huge grin, “But first of all, call me Sam. Mr. Lewis makes me sound like a high school history teacher.” She made an assenting noise. “Excellent. Okay, now I have a few questions, and you don’t have to answer all of them, alright?”
“Understood, Sam” said Adelaide, “I shall answer your queries to the best of my abilities.”
I took a deep breath. Here goes nothing.
“What’s your favorite color? What’s your birthday, or creation day, or whatever it is you call it, if you even have one? Do you prefer to be referred to as ‘it’ or ‘she’? Do you like music? What type? Can you be in multiple places at once? Do you ever surf the internet just to see what’s up? Do you always know exactly what time it is?” I stopped, and looked up at the ceiling expectantly. I didn’t know where she actually was, but that seemed to be a safe bet when talking to a building.
After a few moments of silence, I looked over at Amy, puzzled. For some reason, she looked like she was holding back a huge smile.
The pseudo-AI, whatever that means, eventually responded to me, “I apologize for taking so long. I have only been asked one of those questions before. I do not have a favorite color. I do not have a birthday, I was created four years, three months, and twelve days prior to this date, or the second of August, 2020. I do not have a gender, but you may refer to me as ‘she’. I do not have a favorite genre of music, nor do I actively listen to music. A limit of my current capabilities is that I can only ever control one facility, like this base, at a time, though that limit does not include the subsystems. I regularly peruse the internet in order to expand my knowledge base. I am always aware of the time in all major time zones.”
“Hmmm,” I said, then turned to Amy, and asked her my question, “Is she capable of learning?”
“Yes, she is,” she said.
“Excellent. She’s going to be hanging out with us a lot these next couple months, so I’m going to teach her to get the stick out of her ass, and make her a bit more sassy.” I said, “If that’s okay with you, of course.”
“Yes,” she said, beaming now and no longer hiding it, “that would be very okay with me.”
I grinned at the ceiling, “You hear that Adelaide? I’ve got permission now, so we’re going to work on your attitude, okay?
“Understood, Sam.” I swore I already heard a note of resignation in her voice, which I took as a good sign. I knew right away that this was going to be the start of a beautiful friendship. Amy was stifling giggles as she motioned for me to follow her, and we walked down the hallway.
“Hey,” I said as we walked, “I have a much better name for this place, wanna hear it?”
My room was actually not as bad as I expected it to be. Sure, it was uncomfortably similar to the dorm I used to have at MIT, but at least I had a private bathroom. I set up all my posters on the wall, mostly conceptual Paladin schematics, with a liberal amount of old sci-fi posters thrown in. My model of the StarArc was displayed on one of the two cheap desks. I didn’t have the room to bring the rest of my models, but Camille had assured me that they would be very safe back at home. I knew that meant was she was going to pose them in ways that made them look like they were having sex, then send me photos. I didn’t understand how she made space ships look like they were going to the bone zone, but she was creative in that way.
I had more important things to be doing than stay in this boring room though. Leaving most of my stuff clothes unpacked, I exited the room and found Amy waiting for me, leaning up against the wall and flicking through her holopad. Upon noticing me, she folded her holopad and put it in her pocket, flashing me a quick smile.
“Hey,” she said to me, “you ready for the tour?”
I nodded rapidly, eliciting a chuckle.
“Alright, keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle and follow me.” She walked down the hall, and I followed obediently like a duckling. “So, the first floor is pretty straight forward. We got the engineering quarters, which is where you, me, and all the other grunts will live, the common area, and the labs. The labs are damn cool, they’re huge and they’ve got some neat toys in them. I’m in there pretty much all the time, so if you can’t find me look there first. Or you can just save yourself some time and ask Adelaide, she monitors all the security feeds. Up ahead,” she gestured, “are the command center and the commander’s quarters. The command center is for when the military starts using this place as an actual bunker and training facility. It’s got a huge holograph projector, so I use it for movies sometimes. The commander’s quarter is for the VIPs. I’ve poked around in there and it’s super swanky.” She then gestured at a couple of metal doors, “That’s an elevator that goes to the secondary facility, where the trainee barracks, gym and mess hall are. It’s boring as hell though and really creepy, so I never go there. We have a small kitchen and store room in the main facility so there’s no reason to. I might check it out once they get the simpods installed next week, but we’ll see.”
She took me down a set of stairs, talking as she went, “This floor is the armory, and it’s where all the Paladins will be stored.” We paused on a landing that overlooked the floor, the automated lights coming on in rows. The room was huge, and the ceilings gleamed with empty racks. They looked lonely, but I’d fix that soon. Amy continued, “It’s pretty barebones, honestly. There are a few consoles around, and the freight elevator passes through here, but not much other than that. I think you’ll find the third floor much more interesting.” We continued down the stairs until we reached one of the most wonderful sights I’d ever seen.
“My God,” I whispered, “It’s beautiful.”
It was a large room, as large as the one above. But while the second floor was barren and lonely, this one contained something incredible. Fabricators, as far as the eye could see. Ten of them, and they were massive, the biggest I’d ever seen. They towered to the ceiling; there was only enough room between them for a narrow walkway flanked by safety rails. They were all a dull matte grey, but that only made them look sexy and utilitarian. At the moment, they lay silent, waiting patiently to create.
I had to resist the urge to sprint over to the nearby by console-attached mental interface and make a scale-model of the StarArc, which is how I broke in all my fabricators. I settled for just staring at them for a minute, eyes greedily drinking in their glory. I stood there until Amy gently cleared her throat.
“I’m sorry,” I said in a hushed voice, “it just… I mean they told me about it in the briefings, but to see them in person… it’s just something else.”
Amy raised an eyebrow at me, “Damn. I gotta find a woman that looks at me the way you look at fabricators.”
I waved my hand at her, “I already got mine, you aren’t looking hard enough.” With visible effort, I wrenched my gaze away from the grey beauties. “Is this our last stop on this magical tour?” I asked.
Amy looked contemplative. “Well,” she said drawing out the word, “The three floors below us are all material storage, but only the supply drones go down there. The Fusion Reactor is shockingly boring. It’s just a big metal sphere in the middle of a room. So yeah, that’s about it. Why?”
“First off, thank you for the tour, it was quite informative,” I said gratefully, “but now, I must ask you to leave us. I have some new friends to get to know.”
“Uhh,” she said cautiously, “Alrighty then. Well, ask Adelaide for anything else you need, I guess. Dinner is at 1800 hours in the common room if you want it.”
She started walking back up the stairs, pausing to look over her shoulder at me. “Hey Sam. Don’t… Don’t have sex with the fabricators okay?”
Please. As if I had any intention of defiling them with my unworthy body.
Life in the base entered a comfortable rhythm for the next month and a half. Camille hadn’t joined me on my journey to Camelot. She had to finish working on the final update to the Paladin’s mental scanner. I talked to her twice a day or more, to Amy’s disgust. Our unique introduction had blown away any of the usual awkwardness you’d expect from absolute strangers suddenly having to live together with very little outside contact, and me and Amy hit it off famously. I learned quickly that while she could be as acerbic and witty as my mother, which was a high bar, she was also easy going, and very rarely stubborn. Also, brilliant.
She had been working in her field for nearly thirty years, and pioneering it for the last ten. I had never been tuned into the AI scene, but it turned out she was the equivalent of a rock star in it. To date, Adelaide remained the only thing even close to true artificial intelligence. Though she hadn’t been able to replicate the series of events that led to Adelaide’s creation, it did little to lessen her prestige. Amy hadn’t published any papers in the past two years. The only public statement she made stated that she was developing something ‘big’. I asked her about it, and she laughed and told me that spilling the beans would only ruin the surprise.
While alcohol technically wasn’t allowed here, we’d both smuggled a decent amount in. The security guards that checked our luggage either didn’t notice or didn’t give a shit. We’d been swapping stories about our various romantic escapades over glasses of wine. Well, hers mostly. Considering Camille was my first, and very likely last, relationship, my escapades were rather boring. She was still very interested though.
“Wait. Hold up.” She said, “You two have never had a real fight?”
“I wouldn’t say that. I mean, one time she wouldn’t talk to me for a few hours because I watched A New Hope without her. We have a tradition to marathon the trilogy every six months, but some of my friends wanted to see it on movie night and she was working late.” I said.
She looked unconvinced, so I tried again, “Hmm… oh yeah! About a year ago, there was this band I really wanted to see. They barely ever toured, and when they did the tickets sold out in a few minutes, tops. The day the tickets were gonna become available, I asked her to get them for me,” I stopped, confused, “Huh. I don’t remember why I didn’t just get them myself. Not important. Anyway, she basically slept through the entire pre-sale and didn’t get the tickets. Man, I was pissed. That night was the closest I’ve ever come to turning down sex.” I finished my story, chuckling.
She was glaring at me. “That is such fucking bullshit. There you are, a skinny little dildo, and you get the perfect woman,” I opened my mouth to object to that description, but she talked over me, “and I, the sexy redhead, get the hellspawn. My first girlfriend lit my fucking car on fire because she thought I was cheating on her. I was at bingo night for Christ’s sake.” She took a deep breath, “And don’t even get me started on my ex-wife. She was a real piece of work, let me tell you what. Thank God that judge was sane and gave me full custody of the kids. One time, she stopped our children from getting flu shots because she thought the doctor looked, and I quote, ‘too Oriental’”. She growled that last part. She took a huge gulp out of her wine glass. “But I’m not bitter or anything.”
I stared at her. This was a side of Amy that I had not expected. I decided to steer the conversation back into safer waters.
“So,” I said, smoothly changing subjects, “How are the kids anyway? Heard from them recently?”
She brightened up immediately, “Oh they’re great! Dillon is almost done with his school project. His diorama of the Battle of the Bering Strait is coming along amazingly. Carrie is finally getting over her fear of bikes, and Lilah sent a drawing of me. Well, it was either me or a house on fire, but it’s a little too soon for her to be an arsonist, right?” She continued on that vein for a few minutes, and I nodded along as my eyes glazed over.
If she was anything else, Amy was a devoted mother. She was head over heels for her kids. One of the walls of her room was completely covered in photos of them, some of crucial moments, like their first steps, others just banal shots of them sitting around the house. There was suddenly a silence and I realized that Amy was staring at me expectantly. Oh shit, time to guess if she wants me to agree or disagree. “I completely agree” I said, nodding serenely.
“It’s ridiculous!” She said. Nailed it. “I still can’t believe that they gave you the ability to call your girlfriend whenever you get itchy balls, but I can’t talk to my kids except for twice a week! It’s completely insane!” Ah damn, it was my fault somehow. It looks like wine really brought out the irrational anger, and with the amount she was swaying, she’d had way more than I thought.
“Well,” I said, looking for the right thing to say, “I’m technically collaborating on the Paladin with her, which is a legitimate reason for us to contact each other.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew I had made a huge mistake.
“OH, so your shitty robotic science fair project is a legitimate fucking reason, but talking to my kids isn’t? It’s just prejudice I tell you. An alien scourge breaks out, and suddenly if you have children you’re an evil bitch. Nobody seems to give a shit that they’re adopted, just that they fucking exist in the first place!” Her breast was heaving, eyes wild with rage.
I was panicking. I had to calm her down. What did I say in this situation?
I nodded serenely. “I completely agree.”
“What!?” She shrieked. Oh shit oh shit oh shit.
“I mean, I completely agree with how shitty and unfair this whole thing is! You should be commended for taking those kids in. You’ve given them a phenomenal, loving home. Nobody should ever condemn you for that.”
Her glare faded, replaced with suspicion. “Don’t fucking patronize me,” she slurred, and passed out.
Adelaide and I were watching a movie the next morning in the common room. It had been a sort of habit that Camille had started. We’d get caught up working, and stay so late into the night we never had the chance to watch movies. Still, she was insistent we find a time for them. The mornings worked for some reason. It wasn’t often, once a week or so, but it was always a pleasant time. I felt a little guilty continuing it without her, but she didn’t seem to have a problem with it. Anyway, one morning Adelaide asked me what I was watching. That was a rarity in and of itself. Adelaide never really started conversations, usually only responding to questions or commands. I had been watching Top Gun, and invited her to join me, telling her that movies were always more fun with a friend. Since then she had become my movie buddy.
We were halfway through Die Hard 2 when Amy stumbled into the room, groaning like the dead. She flopped into an armchair next to me, and buried her head in her hands. I had been prepared for this, and handed her a glass of water and a couple of aspirin. She took them gratefully.
“How ya feeling, champ,” I said with true sympathy. Wine hangovers were a bitch.
“I feel like there’s an African drum circle playing in my head.” She moaned, “I haven’t been this hungover in years.” She curled up in the armchair, whimpering slightly. As much as I pitied her, I was also a dick, so I laughed out loud at her obvious pain and misery. She gave me a shaky middle finger, but a loud noise from the movie made her wince in agony and go into the fetal position. I considered pausing it, but Adelaide seemed really into this one. She hadn’t offered to get Amy anything, which was weird because she was constantly fawning over her.
Near the part where the airplane starts exploding, Amy finally struggled upright in her chair. She looked over at me, really seeing what was going on for the first time that morning. “Why are you watching a movie at 7:30 AM with a spider bot,” She blearily asked. Poor dear.
“Hey, that’s not just any spider bot, that’s a spider bot with a security camera duct-taped to its chassis,” I said indignantly, “and I always watch movies in the morning. If you didn’t sleep in till 11:00 every morning you’d know that.”
She took longer than she should have to absorb that information. “I get the movie thing but I’m still not understanding the spider bot,” she said.
“Oh, that’s just so Adelaide can watch the movie with me.” I replied easily, “Now hush, McClane is doing something cool.” He was always doing something cool but that was beside the point.
“Hold up. What?” She looked incredibly confused, “What do you mean? How does a spider bot let her watch the movie?”
“I can answer that, Amy,” chimed in Adelaide from the base’s PA, “Three weeks ago, I asked Sam what film he was viewing. He requested I join him, and I obliged. However, when he began the film, he asked me why I wasn’t viewing it with him. When I told him that I was, in fact, analyzing the pixels in the holoprojector in order to observe the film, he became noticeably upset.”
“Yeah,” I interjected, outraged, “who the hell watches a movie like that!? I mean, that’s missing the whole point!” There was a pause, and I looked at the ceiling sheepishly, “Sorry that I interrupted you, go ahead.”
Adelaide continued, “As I was saying, he became upset, and became insistent that I view the film as he did. To that end, he found a spider bot and attached a spare security camera to it, then told me to view the film through that. I was skeptical at first, but I must say that it is far more interesting to view the film in this way.”
I nodded, very satisfied, “I was gonna have none of that analyzing pixels bullshit. If you’re going to watch the classics you’re going to do it with respect.” I looked over at Amy, “You know what I’m talking about, right?”
To my surprise, she was staring at me with her mouth hanging wide open. You could have driven a hovertank through it. She started trying to say something, her jaw opening and closing, but all that came through was a weird squeaking noise. She stopped for a while, and collected herself. By this point I had paused the movie, because I was getting sick of being interrupted during the good bits.
She finally found the words, “What possibly possessed you to ask her to watch the movie through a video camera?”
I looked at her, my turn to be confused, “Why wouldn’t I? I mean, she wanted to watch it, and whatever bullshit she was doing wasn’t watching it.” I paused. “Wait. Are you telling me she’d never actually seen a movie before I got here?”
“That is correct Sam,” Adelaide said, “though it is misleading. I have analyzed almost every movie produced, which is a far more efficient way to observe the medium.”
I was getting seriously worried now. “Have you ever physically read a book, or looked at a painting, or listened to music?” I asked her.
“No, I have not.” She replied, “though I have physically ‘heard’ music from open environments, I automatically filtered it to avoid impacting my efficiency.”
“That’s just plain wrong,” I said, offended at the thought.
Amy stroked her chin, looking very interested and slightly less hungover, “I never thought of encouraging her to consume media via methods that were human in nature. She’s just so quick to understand digital formats, it never seemed necessary. Seeing as Adelaide is enjoying the ‘manual’ movie watching, we should try having her listen to some music next.”
“I would not be opposed to that course of action,” Adelaide said.
I sighed, “I can’t believe movie morning turned into an experiment. Alright, fine, if we’re going to do this we’d better do it right. I got into collecting vinyl in high school, and I always bring them and a record player with me whenever I move. There’s no better way to listen to the blues than that.”
“That’s an excellent idea, Sam. Can I come with you to get them? I’d like to help out,” Amy said, jumping to her feet, practically bursting with excitement.
“Sure,” I said, “but sit your ass down. We’re going to finish this movie first.”