In the short span of time that it had taken Jason to adjust his aim from between her eyes and the spot on her chest Fidget began to process he wasn’t quite so happen to see her. She tried to tell herself that in comparison to her uploaded temperament most people didn’t seem as sunny or happy as they might have been. Her behavior analysis software had made it apparent to her she was aligned clearly with the happier side of the spectrum, but where she fell on that bar felt changed. The rift between Jason’s mental state and the happy one that she had adopted was too wide and his aim lingered over her central processor. She knew from her medical procedure software this was comparable to her heart. He didn’t shoot, but she still felt something her behavior module equated with the human sense of emotional distress, pain.
“The war is over,” Fidget reported matter of factly. She didn’t doubt that Jason knew this, but it was the answer to what he had wanted to know. “They began an assimilation program shortly after for us AIs, statistics are showing it is not particularly uncommon for AIs and their former officers to continue their rapport from wartime, even becoming friends in certain cases—the short term success of this operation is exceeding even the best expectations of the AI Assimilation Department but it’s too soon to say whether or not long term implementation of AIs into civilian life will yield the same success.” She had begun answering on her own, but by the time she had finished she had merely echoed a news broadcast after her servers had scanned endless source on AI assimilation efforts. Her eyes seemed to regain focus when she quieted down. They settled on the barrel of Jason’s gun for several seconds before lifting and locking with his once more. “I wasn’t decommissioned,” she replied. Though her tone seemed perplexed it showed a genuine belief that she didn’t believe the reason she had left his side in war was to be taken apart piece by peace. “If they wanted to take my apartment why wouldn’t they have done it yet?” It was a question meant to challenge Jason, but rather a verbalized reflection of her own sudden doubt and fear. She looked back at him, trying her best not to believe the best-case scenario for her serving some purpose was as a pile of scraps. “They said you didn’t need me in the war anymore, but this isn’t war. This is different.”
The war is over.
Four simple words shouldn’t affect him as much as they did, but Jason had been hearing them every second of every day since his platoon got the orders that they were going home. He’d never hated those words more than he did in that moment, and it took everything in him not to squeeze his finger on the trigger and end whatever nightmare this was he’d woken up in. Instead, Jason took a deep breath, like his therapist was so fond of telling him to do, and let the gun fall to rest at his side. It made sense, what she was telling him, that they were trying to assimilate the AIs back into society, but it didn’t mean he had to like it, or agree with it. Jason didn’t want an AI, had never wanted one, and he’d done his best to make sure he wouldn’t ever have to have one again on the battlefield. He didn’t need one now.
Deciding this really was a nightmare, one he was going to wake up from at any moment, he turned away and crossed back into his kitchen, gun disappearing into his sweatpant’s waistband. Grabbing a water bottle from the fridge, he downed half of it, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the curve of his forearm, and leaned against the counter as he stared out the window. He remembered having her at his side, the brutal efficiency she was able to achieve in the face of certain death, and felt that familiar shiver of fear slice down his spine at the thought. She’d never really been broken, least not in the conventional way, but Jason had watched far too many of his comrades gain that look in their eye and turn down a path they could never return to. The fact that she’d essentially come out of the box that way had unnerved him, and he’d unloaded her the first chance he’d got.
Although, it didn’t seem like that any more, not when she was sitting in his bedroom looking through his things and essentially making herself at home. The war may be over, but the war in his head was far from.
Not soon into her search Fidget began to question whether or not starting with Jason’s room had been the wisest decision. The sheets on his bed seemed to have been in complete disarray. She figured this must have meant that Jason was a busy man now. She tugged the corners of the sheets and comforter up where they belonged before propping the pillows against the headboard. She tilted her head slightly at the top draw of his night stand. Now that the blankets had been moved off of it she could see that it was slightly ajar. She leaned over the length of the bed and pulled it open all the way without the slightest worry she might be invading his privacy. He was her operator, she had to know him to achieve optimum productivity in her functions. She sourced the noise that was produced opening the drawer to the jostling of the very full contents of several pill bottles. List upon list of symptoms and treatment uses for the names of the drugs flooded her drives. She had to shake her head clear of them. She found his clothes plain but functional—much like the rest of his room.
By the time she heard the door to his living space open she had perched at the foot of his bed with several personal documents and a whatever other more personal effects she had been able to find. Next on her list had been movies and books. Supposedly, according to her human interaction and assimilation manual:
people tended to watch and read things that:
- they could relate to
- felt represented them
- were an extension of themselves
She had been so absorbed in her current findings that she hadn’t had a chance. Her head popped up, jostled her hair around her shoulders, when she heard Jason enter. Knowing he was home felt like her body had come off a fresh maintenance or experienced a power charge. The fact that he wheeled around the corner with a gun didn’t phase Fidget. She was used to this. From her data collection and training she knew that it was when Jason was without armament that she had to worry.
"You’re home!" she chirped, raising both hands like she’d been instructed. Of course, she didn’t stop there. She was waving to him with both arms with a wild, genuine excitement and beaming widely. She didn’t seem to register his confusion or overriding sense of disappointment that cancelled out a great deal of his defenses. "Sami? No one’s called me that in a long time. They changed my name. Failed infrastructure, deactivate government enabled transmissions but I like Fidget better.” The smile faded from her face, replaced by the standard and over exaggerated expression of confusion she had been programmed with. “You’re still Jason, right? I hope so, it suited you.”
For the briefest of moments, Jason could imagine he was still asleep somehow, almost wished it, because there was no way in whatever cosmic fuck up of the world that the AI he’d been assigned during the war was sitting in his bedroom looking through his things. So, Jason was either: a, still asleep; b, had finally cracked; or c, being punished for the things he’d done by that big asshole in the sky. His gun never wavered, instead shifting from the span between her forehead to the smallest point at the lower left hand corner of her chest. One bullet, aimed at her central processor, would end this entire nightmare in the span of a second, yet he hesitated.
Her enthusiasm was overwhelming, her ‘new name’ even more disconcerting, and Jason would be calling the company in charge of the AIs to figure out why the hell they’d let her go. After his report, he figured she’d been decommmissioned the day that she’d been taken from his troop and flown back to wherever the hell she’d come from. It figured he wouldn’t be that lucky, and the respite he’d received only came back tenfold with a bright-eyed robot looking at him like he was the best thing in its life at the time.
"What the hell’re you doing here, Sa—Fidget?" Grunting his feet shifted to give him a better angle, just in case this was all an attack and she was sent to finish the job the war hadn’t been able to finish. "You were decommissioned, right? You should be scrap metal, not—here."
Fidget had been out of the facility and into the real world once before, but the shipping container was dark and cramped and lacked stimulation. The war was too stimulating altogether, except the insurgent she had been assigned to. Perhaps it was the glitch or a programmed human sense of denial, but Fidget had a strong belief that her immediate dismissal had been on the grounds of job well done and done promptly.
This was different. This was the real world. The air was fresher, her levels said so. It was more pure with less debris and soot in it—other things she didn’t dare to mention for the sake of turning actual, biologically sound stomachs. The light purity of the air made the gears and workings that she was comprised of whirl and hum faster than normal. This would be good, Fidget knew so. The only thing she had to be sad about was the fact that she had been removed from the facility in which she was born and spent a great deal of time with the scientists without so much as a goodbye. She tried to remind herself that she was only programmed to be sad and could chose not to be. Besides, she didn’t belong to the scientists, she belonged to Jason.
Fidget stopped in front of the large apartment structure. Immediately her sensory equipment scanned the building producing a blueprint like appearance and a number of figures such as total rooms and the number of inhabitants. She shook her head and blinked her eyes rapidly, tousling the long blonde hair she had been designed with. She looked again, this time at the modern looking apartment and not a screen of compiled logistics. Jason was in there, but the question remained where.
Upon drawing closer to the building Fidget’s sensory equipment caught a log of the apartment dwellers and their coinciding room. There was a slight buzzing as she keyed in on a Coughlin, J. Almost giddily she stored the apartment number on her hard drive—she wouldn’t want that erased any time soon—and pressed the button. She shifted from foot to foot, part of the nonverbal programming she’d been equipped with and waited for a response. There was none. Instead, she waiting and smiled kindly at a woman and small child leaving the facility and caught the door as it closed behind them. She praised herself on being such a resourceful little bot, they should have kept her in the war.
The trip to Jason’s room was accomplished on autopilot. With the blueprint of the building committed her her memory drives there was no need to collect any more data than it took to get from the front door to his own. Picking the lock was easy, a basic skill for any module with the same programming as her. She stepped in and shut the door behind her, quiet not to make noise or disturb any other tenants. Once it was closed she turned around and began data retrieval to once again get to know her assigned operator. His kitchen didn’t hold interest—Fidget didn’t eat, she couldn’t connect to him on that level. Instead, she decided to begin in the bedroom. Bedroom drawers, she figured, were very promising.
Today was already a long one. The fact that it was only eleven didn’t mean much, considering Jason had been up since two that morning, and been restless for most of it. He couldn’t even remember the dream that woke up, just flame and ash and screams of terror that had seized his heart and had him waking up with a gasp, covered in sweat. Six days out of the week Jason woke up from some form of nightmare or another, that final night didn’t really count, since he didn’t go to sleep at all on Sundays.
The doctor he’d been assigned to when he’d been discharged talked about PTSD, and medication, and all other sorts of things that Jason tended to ignore. No matter how many therapy sessions they forced him to attend, or medication they tried to push down his throat, it wouldn’t get rid of the memories. It was the memories that kept him up at night, and seeing muzzles in the flickering shadows when he walked down the streets. They say you can take the man out of the war, but you can never take the war out of the man.
On the mornings he couldn’t force himself back to sleep, he usually found himself in the park, running laps around whatever other poor joggers that wandered about. He was reaching his third hour straight of running when he felt his knee twinge in warning. Taking the injury for what it was, he slowed his jog down and started back towards his apartment. A shower and breakfast sounded good right about then, the rest of his day emptied of anything but sitting around and forcing himself to keep occupied. He had a part-time job on the weekdays, but not even that was enough to keep his thoughts and memories at bay for very long.
Ignoring the other patrons of his building, as he usually did, Jason headed to his own apartment, wiping sweat from his brow. His thoughts were on anything but where his footsteps lead him the routine ingrained in him after months, it wasn’t until he was standing in front of his door that his senses went on alert. Shoulders tense he stood staring at the metal door and searched for what was off. His breathing slowed as his hearing stretched out into the surrounding corridor just as he’d been trained to do in combat. He stood there for so long, he almost imagined his senses were playing with him, too keyed up from his dream the night before, when he finally heard it. A faint scuff.
Senses sharpened to a point, he slid the key quietly into the lock, turning it and pushing open the well-oiled door just enough to reach the gun hidden above the frame. The second his fingers were wrapped around the familiar hilt he was pushing into his apartment on light feet and following the faintest sound of movement further in. Turning the corner, he headed towards his bedroom, gun held easily in his hands before him, and counted down the steps it took to reach the door. He paused, for the briefest of moments outside of his bedroom, steeling himself with a breath, before he kicked in the door and aimed at the intruder, “Hands where I can see them!”
It was only with a large amount of control that he kept his finger from pulling the trigger when the blonde hair and the barest hint of smile seemed to register, disbelief pulling the tension from his shoulders. He had to be asleep, because there was no way the thing in front of him was really there, either that or he really had finally snapped. Jason just wished his insanity hadn’t been in the form of her.
The war had been long, and hard, and Jason had fought each and every day to survive. Not for a cause, not for liberty, not even for the men standing beside him, but to survive from that day to the next, and onto the next. It had hardened him, inside and out, and made it difficult for him to get attached to the other soldiers he was assigned to, knowing that nine out of ten of them wouldn’t even survive to the end of the week.
Jason wasn’t like them, though, he was a specialist, black ops; trained in the art of killing, and he was damn good at it. Which was why, when he was given one of the ‘prototypes’ he reacted so negatively. He was a soldier, not a babysitter, and he didn’t appreciate being saddled with a robot that was nothing more (at least to him) than a glorified paperweight. Sure she could fight, could shoot a gun, could manage in a firefight, but it was all manufactured, nothing about her was real, she wasn’t even alive, just a machine with a directive and a means to see it played out.
The first chance he got to get rid of her, he did. He didn’t care what they did with her, or the other bots that were deemed ‘dysfunctional’, she was out of his hair, and that’s all that mattered. Then, what felt like decades later, the war finally ended, and he was given an honorable discharge and a crappy apartment to live in, and no idea of what to do next. He’d been a soldier for so long, he’d forgotten what it was like to be a living, breathing person. He was bred to kill, not drink coffee on lazy sunday mornings and have long jogs in the park, but that’s what he did.
Moved from one day, to the next, feeling his sanity slowly become less and less stable, and the dreams slip from his bedroom into his waking hours. Jason knew he’d eventually snap, all of the men that were like him usually did, whether it would take a year, or ten, he would snap. End up killing a bunch of innocent people, and either be killed in the crossfire or taken to prison to be ‘sanitized’. It’s just what happened with people like him—he just had to bide his time in the crappy little apartment until then, and see how it all played out.