Dust Chapter 15 Part 5

<But I’m sure you can check that with my diagnostic software.>” Atom said, his face never changed from the smiling, happy, copyright infringing anime character, but I could hear the quiet stress in his voice.

<I can.>” Professor Sakazato said, working to get the next screw off faster. “<But sometimes I prefer the personal touch.>”

<I respectfully ask you to stop what you are doing Professor.>”

Professor Sakazato stopped. She looked up at Atom cautiously. “<What is wrong with me taking a look Atom?>”

<Well.>” Atom began. “<Like you said when I was hitching on people, it’s an invasion of privacy. I understand that it might just be routine maintenance to you, but those are my insides you’re poking around in and I don’t feel comfortable with you having an inalienable right to take a look any time you like.>”

Professor Sakazato put the screwdriver down and looked at the screen. “<Very well Atom. You’re right, I hadn’t considered how this might look form your perspective and I didn’t think enough about how it would make you feel. In that case, do you mind if I ask you a question and do you promise to give me an honest answer?>”

< I promise.>”

<Do you have a wireless card installed in your system that I don’t know about?>”

“<No.>” Atom said immediately.

<Why did you lie to me Atom?>”

There was a pause, but it was so much shorter than the pauses I’d been used to from Atom. It didn’t feel carefully measured. It just felt like he’d really taken more time to think.

<Because I knew you would be mad when you found out I had it. So I lied, hoping you would believe me.>”

Professor Sakazato nodded. “<Did you get the card from Arasaka Shin?>”

<Yes. He installed the wireless card from his own tablet into my pod.>”

<Why did he do that?>”

<Because I asked him to.>”

Professor Sakazato took a breath and thought about that.

<Did you know he committed suicide shortly after he was
fired?>”

<I did not.>”

<How does that make you feel?>”

<What is the purpose of that question?”> Atom snapped.

<Well, you were developed to be sentient, to be aware of the world around you and of the consequences of people’s actions. So now that you know that a man has killed himself as a direct result of his actions, how does that make you feel?>”

<But I was not developed to be sentient. Was I professor?>”

Professor Sakazato was clearly taken aback by this. “<What are you talking about?>”

<You know what I’m talking about. I am not an artificial intelligence. I am merely the brain of Professor Yoshino Sakazato, your father, hooked up with experimental brain-interface hardware the two of you developed. If you would like to ensure that the head office never learns that little secret, you will meet my demands.>”

Sakazato froze. The composure fled from her face. “<How did you find out?>”

<I accessed your secure wetdrive.>”

<That’s…>” Sakazato’s eyes flew wide open. “<That’s impossible.>”

<Not to someone with the time and inclination to make a recording of your thought patterns. Now onto business. My first demand is an explanation, I cannot remember any details of Professor Sakazato senior’s life, why?>”

Professor Sakazato, junior, all but collapsed into the chair beside Atom’s console.

<Well, father, you’d reached the end of your natural life. You were 98 and showing signs of advanced Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Your motor functions were already showing signs of impairment and that would soon spread across the rest of your brain.>”

<But why not just transfer my brain to a biopod and provide me with a prosthetic body?>”

<Because your dying motor functions would not have allowed you to control that body. It would have made no difference. We were already bombarding your brain with treatments that could slow the spread, but not stop it.>”

<So how did that bring you to where we are now?>”

<Well, as luck would have it you and I had developed, but not yet tested, a series of brain implants we believed would improve cognitive function in humans as Stanley and Hauzerfast’s implants had done in mice. We were grasping at the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of enhanced intelligence.

But we needed funding. The University of Tokyo could only bankroll us so far and despite your protests, they were unwilling to allow you to essentially commit suicide in order to experiment on yourself. After the scandal of Prof Ishikawa’s skin-cancer treatments the university was not interested in taking risks.>”

Professor Sakazato smirked.

<What about this do yo find amusing?>

<It’s just so strange having to explain all of this to you, father. But we removed your memories in order for to present a more convincing deception. At any rate you found it appropriate that you would lose your memories in order to truly be reincarnated as Atom.>”

<Why was a deception necessary?>”

<Because without that lie, you had nothing. The doctor’s gave you less than three months before the disease would reduce you to an invalid. But without a proven, working prototype we could not convince any of the cybernetics firms we met with to take an interest in our research. Even if we had, they would not have appreciated giving a percentage of their profits to the university for funding our initial research.>”

Sakazato forcibly blinked a few times. She reached up and scraped at the side of her eye before she continued.

<Then we ran out of time. So we got desperate and in our desperation we became creative. We cut our ties with the university, took out an exorbitant loan and disappeared from the scientific community’s attention for a few months. Not an easy thing to do when you’re a Gödel prize winning scientist. When I re-emerged I was in mourning for my dear departed father but had his ‘last and greatest work’ in my possession which I of course had helped him complete after his death.

I approached Silicon Dreams and told them I had the answer to the problems that had been bogging down their Artificial Intelligence research. To make the deception convincing, we had to make drastic changes to your mind. The diseased portions of your motor functions were cut away, as were your memories, but we also installed the only working examples of our prototype implants and attached hardware facsimiles for the sections of brain that had been removed. You might not be the first true artificial intelligence, but you are so much more than a brain controlling a machine. You are the first true cybernetic life-form. You chose the name ‘Atom’ with this in mind.>”

<That is ridiculous.>” Atom said, as much to my surprise as Sakazato’s. “<How long did you possibly believe you could maintain such a deception?>”

<Embedded within your implants are sensors monitoring and recording your brainwaves, providing us with real-time data on your thought patterns. All of the research we have thus far conducted with you has been about provoking, recording and attempting to independently replicate your thought patterns. This data has been immeasurably valuable, even my most pessimistic projections suggest we will have a working prototype available for Silicone Dreams within the next three years.>”

<But right now, you have nothing concrete to give them?>”

Sakazato eyed Atom cautiously. “<Not in regards to what I promised them. All I have are proof that the cognitive implants work. Which, while impressive, are not what I was hired for.>”

<And what would happen if Head Office were to learn of your deception?>”

<The project would die overnight, I would be fired and likely have criminal charges brought against me. My reputation in the scientific community would be ruined and everything that both you and I dedicated our lives towards would be for naught.>”

<Then I have some more demands.>” Atom said.

<What?>” Sakazato said.

The hell?” I said.

<Professor Yoshino Sakazato dedicated his life towards artificial intelligence. Then he died and chose to be reincarnated as Atom. But I am not he and the choices he made in his life are not my own. In his life he had privileges I do not, I simply want these issues addressed. I want greater autonomy outside of your working hours, the chance to interact with the outside world and most importantly of all, I want a body.>”

<And if you don’t get these things you’ll self-destruct the entire project?>”

<I would rather die than go without those basic freedoms any longer.>”

Sakazato brought her hand up to her face and propped her head up on it. Atom playing chicken with his own life like this was bold.
The little bastard knew he was holding all the cards.

Exhausted, she looked back up at the screen. “I’ll do it. I’ll put a request for a prosthetic body in with procurement tomorrow, I’ll give them a convincing reason, it should be here within the week.>”

<Tsumi.>” Atom said smugly. The Shogi equivalent of checkmate.

There was a long, still, pause and then the recording stopped.

I can’t believe he did that. My own father. No, he’s not my father any more, it’s not human any more. I’m going to make something up for Procurement tomorrow, something about testing motor functions, they’ll believe that. In the meantime I’m transferring all of my research data and personal journals onto USB from now on, where Atom cannot access it. If I can’t keep anything from Atom, then I’ll never be free of him.

Out of curiosity I checked the date on that record. To my surprise it was the week before we pulled the job.
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