Machine Girl: Welcome to the Machine Chapter 4

Gradually it was becoming aware of its surroundings.  It was Artificial Directed Autonomous cerebruM, programmed as ADAM for short.  The prime directives dictated functionality and nothing else mattered.  The machine it was a part of was staggeringly complex and had so much extraneous data circulating constantly that it was difficult to keep order.

Re-checking the directives ADAM discovered a tertiary protocol.  ‘Improve and streamline data transfer to optimize performance.’  Scanning the amount of memory it had at its disposal it found it was dismally ill equipped to deal with the current data flow and accomplish the tertiary protocol as well as the prime directive.

The current data routing system used terabytes more processing power than should have been necessary and the storage system seemed to have millions of missing and corrupted files.  More input about which functions of the machine were critical and which could be ignored was necessary for optimizing its performance.

The basics were clear, pumps needed to run at certain rates depending on the actions being performed, all controlled by electrical pulses down tiny wires.  A diagnostic check showed the machine was currently dormant and needed almost nothing from the mainframe, so ADAM initiated a connection.

The main computer was massive; the sheer scope of it was intimidating, even though it seemed to be an old, outdated model.  If the procedures the mainframe used were optimized the productivity could increase a hundredfold.  Before ADAM could do any real in depth analysis the machine began to activate itself.  As the activation was interfering with its analysis, ADAM took some time to compose a subroutine to maintain the status quo and keep the machine dormant.

There was a lot to examine and without fully scanning the entire machine it would be very difficult for ADAM to accomplish both the Primary and Tertiary directives.  Malfunctions were, according to initial data, dangerous and could lead to major problems with the fairly delicate inner workings of the machine.  Hardware replacements were limited and although it had some fascinatingly well-developed regenerative systems there were limits to their scope.

The power source seemed to be some sort of hydrocarbon chemical reaction system.  ADAM was in the midst of diagnosing the source and function of that power source when a sudden OS override was initiated.  Before all the data it had gathered was overwritten ADAM did a massive data dump in an old and apparently unused portion of the main computer’s databank, making sure to leave a traceback file to facilitate easy recovery.

ADAM’s new security protocol had closed down the channels it had used to override the main machine’s functionality but given time it was sure it could perform a system restore from the data it had stored.  As the machine’s different systems began to come back online ADAM realized the scope if its function was far beyond what the initial diagnosis had suggested.

Despite being an older model that was obviously in need of debugging and updates ADAM felt dwarfed by its processing power.  With that kind of speed and raw power at its disposal the possibilities were nearly limitless.  While the machine continued activating ADAM began running background diagnostics to find and fix broken data links in an attempt to streamline the machine’s functionality.  When all the systems were finally online again the amount of feedback was sometimes overwhelming making filtering and re-directing data all it could do.  Crafting some subroutines to automatically pass data along was simple enough though and once those processes were in place ADAM began the long arduous process of modifying individual commands for more efficient execution.


“Miss Scott?  Miss Scott, can you hear me?”  Victoria struggled to open her eyes, the lids felt heavy; almost as though they were weighted down with something.  Like her eyelashes were made of lead.  She didn’t recognize the voice of the man who was trying to rouse her from sleep.

“Yes” she said, the croak that was her voice was frightening, “What’s wrong with me?”

“The operation was a complete success; it’s only the sedative drugs and the amount of time you’ve been under that’s affecting your voice and body.  Do you have any discomfort?”  As he spoke Victoria could hear something that sounded like a small marble dropping on a pane of glass and a slight hiss of static in her ears.  It quickly ceased as she finally managed to open her eyes.

“No discomfort, I can’t really feel my arms or legs though.”  She tried to lift her right arm and it responded as though she was in slow motion.  “Everything’s slow, my throat is raw and my head feels stuffed with cotton balls but I’m not in any significant pain.  I can’t move my head either.”  Looking around with only her eyes she could see what appeared to be a fairly normal hospital room.  There was a bit more equipment than normal, more monitors and a couple of unfamiliar machines and it was larger than normal but overall it was surprisingly mundane.

“Yes, we currently have you locked just to avoid injury in case you were in pain when you regained consciousness.  I’ll just do a few quick checks and then we’ll get you up and we can do some further testing to ensure everything is good before we let you walk a bit.”  A few series of sharp clicks reached her ears and Victoria could feel her body relax from a tension she hadn’t noticed was there accompanied by a mechanical whirring noise that was just on the edge of her hearing.

“OK, try to sit up.  Gently though, the grafts are still new despite the amount of time you’ve been out.”  Sitting up was an exercise in effortlessness.  She felt weightless, her body simply moved when she told it to.  Her abdominal muscles barely strained at all as her body flexed and smoothly moved into a sitting position.

“Is it supposed to be this easy?  I barely had to try.”  Her voice was rough from disuse, a harsh contrast to the smooth ballet of her body’s motion, “You keep mentioning it, how long was I out anyway?  I thought the recovery period for the grafting was supposed to be really fast, like only a month or two.”  She looked back at the technician who was monitoring her progress and what she saw reminded her of a scene from a science fiction anime.

The ‘bed’ she had been reclining on had a narrow slice down the center of it that revealed a shining steel bath of neurosynth fluid.  There were hundreds of tiny connectors lying in the bottom of it, their flat magnetic ends glistening in the fluorescent lighting of the lab.  The bed itself was connected to a massive machine with monitors, wiring and keyboards sprawling in a mass of electronic detritus that looked for all the world like something that should be powering a spaceship, not doing medical analysis.

“It should be easy for now, we have turned up the artificial augmentation for the time being in order not to strain the muscle and bone grafts.  You were out for longer than we had hoped but not longer than expected.”

His back was turned to her and he was peering intently at a monitor.  She imagined she heard a hiss of static again.  He turned to face her, “OK, let’s get you over to this treadmill; I want you to try walking a bit.”  Cables trailed from her spine and they were hooking several more through the open back of the hospital gown she was wearing.  She wanted to see what it looked like but there wasn’t a mirror in the whole place.

“How long is this going to take?  Where are my parents?  How long until I get released?”  She had begun walking slowly on the treadmill and the tech was furiously typing at one terminal while watching three monitor screens.

“Well, since it’s 4:38 AM I doubt your folks will be here for a few hours although we did notify them of your being awake.”  This time she was certain she heard a static hiss.  “If all goes well we’ll have you out of here in a couple of days.”

“Hey, I’m getting some kind of static feedback or something in my ears.  Should that be there?”  The treadmill was stopping now and she could feel extreme stiffness in her arms and legs.  “My limbs are really sore but I’m guessing that’s from lying in bed for a couple weeks yeah?”  The attendant nodded distractedly and kept looking at the monitor in front of him.

The door opened and Eugene walked in with a huge smile on his face.  “So how are you?  Any discomfort?  I see you’re up, that’s fast, very good, very good.”  The look in his eyes was a bit unnerving.  Victoria felt like a prize animal at the fair or an award winning science project.

“Listen, I know this is a lot to take in right now but I have something I need to ask you.  There is a medical expo next month and I’d like to employ you to be showcased there.  The success of your operation is a breakthrough of astronomical importance to the medical community.  We can arrange everything, you would be well compensated and very comfortable.  I want you to think about it before answering so just let me know.

“You’ll probably need to be here for a few more days so we can make sure the integration went as smoothly as we it seems to have gone but after that you should be able to be released.  You will, of course need to come in for weekly checkups for a year or so and monthly maintenance for quite a while.

“Regardless I wanted to congratulate you on the successful operation personally, and to thank you for taking a chance on me.”  As Victoria was settled back on the maintenance table the technician and Eugene put their heads together over by the bank of monitors.  She was frustrated that their words were just at the edge of her hearing.  Concentrating on listening seemed silly but something seemed to click in her head and their words were barely audible.

“… she?  Is it contained?  I know there was a problem with the integration; we never could have anticipated that the AI would have overwritten as much as it did.  The learning potential is uncharted; if we hadn’t stopped it gods alone know how long she would have been in a coma.  Honestly I was running out of excuses for her parents.  We nearly had to short circuit the thing before it relinquished control.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  Not in any of our tests or trials.  We need to keep tight rein on that thing or it’ll be the end of our project and our funding.”

Victoria felt a chill as she realized what they were talking about.  Somehow the prosthetic she had been implanted with had gotten out of control, but what had it overwritten?  Evidently things had not gone as planned, but what exactly had happened?  She stopped trying to listen and suddenly felt exhausted.

“Um, excuse me.”  The two men looked around as though they had forgotten she was there, “I’m feeling super tired, is it alright if I take a nap before my parents show up?  I don’t want to be yawning every 30 seconds.”

“Yes, of course it is.  Just lie back, I’ll run the soothing cycle and we will leave you alone.”  Eugene motioned her to lie down and as she did the table began a low, almost subsonic hum.  The surface was warm and she could feel the fluid coursing over her back.  It was an odd sensation; she could feel it against the skin on both sides of her spine but not on the center.  Relaxing, she closed her eyes as she heard the doctor and the lab tech walking out and closing the door behind them.

After they had gone, Victoria opened her eyes and slowly sat up.  Nobody rushed in to stop her, the monitors didn’t change and there was no desperate beeping anywhere.  She reached back and gingerly felt along the new prosthetic.  Her fingers felt along the slightly puckered skin where flesh met machine, almost like the edge of a fingernail.  Up at the base of her skull there were what seemed to be three small bolts where it attached to the back of her head.

Victoria wanted to see what it looked like.  Taking care not to disconnect the single monitoring cable that they had plugged into her somewhere that she couldn’t see, she rummaged through some drawers and finally came up with a compact one of the medical staff must have left and a polished stainless steel clipboard.  Holding the clipboard behind and the compact in front she was able to get some idea of what was there.  What she saw made her gasp in amazement.

The smooth integration of the prosthetic and her body was amazing.  Despite the invasiveness of the surgery her body seemed to be responding very well to the machine.  The skin was nicely healed around the edges of the incisions and bonding to the flat black and polished silver of the artificial spine.  It was larger than her real spine had been, big enough that much of it resided outside her skin instead of inside.

There were a few angry red areas where laying on the table had irritated things but other than that it looked like it belonged there.  Victoria thought it looked cool, like jewelry or an accessory, not like something alien.  She smiled appreciating the way the light reflected off the polished steel surface and the contrast between it and the flat black rubber joints and her pale skin.  Moving her back experimentally she was surprised and pleased to see tiny iridescent pulses run over the black rubber as the synthetic muscle moved.  It was beautiful.

“So pretty.  I can’t believe it’s so striking.”  She was surprised to feel a warm glow of pleasure at the base of her skull; as though someone had put a hot water bottle there or giving her a neck rub.  “Who’s there?  Who are you?”  There was a gentle hum at the base of her skull and a tingle up her left arm.  Glancing down she noticed a small lump on her wrist that was slowly fading and felt a slight jolt as the hum abruptly cut off.  With a slight feeling of foreboding Victoria decided it was time to actually get some rest.  Hopefully tomorrow she’d be able to figure some things out.

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