5544 words (22 minute read)

Chapter 1

Kyle grabbed the last slice of bacon off the plate in the middle of the dining room table as his father topped off his mug of coffee. Dunking a donut into his coffee before taking a satisfyingly large bite Roland leaned back against the kitchen counter. He was tall but was visibly shorter than he used to be. Before the crash he stood a full six foot two inches. Nowadays though, with the slouch in his back and the pain in his right leg cause him to peak around five-foot-ten. He was wearing his normal work clothes, denim overalls covered in a variety of dark toned stains. His hands were rough and worn dry, and his brown steel-toed boots had seen better days. The leather tip of the left boot was rubbed raw and the steel protective layer was exposed into view. Under his overalls he wore a dark red and grey with brown lining plaid button up, a gift from Harold his handyman on his 48th birthday last year.

Kyle looked at his father drinking his coffee and smiled, “lots of recaps today,” said Kyle.

Roland looked at his son, a wild mop of hair on top of a skinny boy with blue eyes who was wearing blue jeans and a Las Vegas Clipper’s tee. “Not too many today, I think the order was for 25 last night,” said Roland.

“That’s not bad,” said Kyle through the mouthful of pancakes jammed in his mouth.

“You going to take a breath in between bites or is this a suicide attempt?”

Kyle giggled as he slammed his cup of orange juice and sat up from the small square kitchen table. He cleaned his dishes and made for the door. Leaning up against the door with one hand and struggling to fit his feet into his shoes with the other Kyle peered out the small rectangular window cut into the door. Outside was his sanctuary. Kyle lived with his father and Harold their employee at the Clark County Cognitive Recapture and Recycling Facility for IRIS Machines. With five-hundred-thousand active IRIS models in Clark County, Roland and Harold had their hands full every day. A few dozen IRIS bots already lined up outside the small building with the sign overhead Recapture Station 1. The robots looked like people from all walks of life, a police officer still in his uniform, a female bot with long blonde hair, petite shoulders that Kyle thought were very cute and three large brooding male robots with mangled right sides.

“Looks like some construction bots got smashed up good,” shouted Kyle as he peered out the window.

Roland stepped through the kitchen and living room and peered out the window, “must have been from that crane that collapsed last night, some new casino,” said Roland. He pointed with his index finger at them, “Yeah, see Lyon Construction right on the back of their shirts.”

“Well,” said Kyle turning and walking back through the kitchen, “have fun at work,” he said stepping out through the backdoor of the house. It was mid-morning and the sun was fairly high in the sky. The air still held a lingering crispness from the cold dry desert night. Kyle took in a long breath and surveyed his domain. A tall thick wall made of concrete lined the entire perimeter of the CRF. Kyle’s house rested next to one wall and he followed it all the way back, passed the electromagnetic crane used to sort out metals vs. synthetic-organics and other various circuitry. The far corner on the same side of the house was filled with various scrap metals waiting to be recycled down. Scanning passed the large pile of scrap metal he smiled at the large glistening pyramid on the far side of the complex. Beyond the piles of metal arms, legs, and torso that were towering in tall rows next to Harold’s one-bedroom house, rested Kyle’s favorite spot in all the world. Standing about 12 feet tall was a hut Kyle had made out of scrap plywood and various parts around the CRF. Inside he kept many treasures, his grandfather’s old 128gb iPod Classic, a robot of his own he was building, some of his father’s old comic books (still in paper format), and snacks. Mostly sour candy.

Kyle scurried off the back porch and through the maze of ripped apart robot bodies, passed Harold who was scanning each newly arrive IRIS machine for recapture, across the rows of stacked metal arms and legs, and finally he arrived at his hideout. It wasn’t what was inside that he loved most about the hideout. The IRIS machine can be completely dismantled and recycled or repurposed, except for the head. Once recaptured, the brain unit inside which is part of a uni-body construction with the skull is completely destroyed. The circuitry, information, all of it is totally eviscerated. This was an attempt to keep any competing companies or curious members of society in the dark as to just how the IRIS machine operates. Considering that IRIS is the only company to achieve true artificial intelligence it holds its secrets close to the chest. So, needless to say the heads are useless to everyone except Kyle who thinks they look rather spectacular piled high above his hideout. Hundreds of metal skulls with empty eye sockets pointing in all directions, warding off anyone who might come wandering by. Before entering he stood proudly for a moment outside of the CRF’s most glorious feature.

Kyle entered the hideout as Roland entered the recapture building on the other side of the property where IRIS bots were lining up in front of since breakfast. Most of the CRF was rather dirty, dust from the Nevada desert covered nearly everything outside. Inside of Kyle’s house there was definitely a bachelor pad vibe, dishes often ended up piled high in the sink, an uncomfortable sour smell lingered in the bathroom. But all that dirtiness was made up for inside of Recapture Station 1. Roland stepped through the front door of the station and was immediately blasted on all sides by disinfectant. “Chamber Sanitized,” a woman’s voice ominously echoed through the small room. The door in front of him, like the entire station, was entirely white and metal. Above the door was a red rectangular light that flipped to green once the disinfectant was finished with Roland.

Roland stepped through the door with the green light overhead and into the main recapture station. A circular room with one large metal chair in the middle, always reminded Kyle of a dentist’s chair with the right tilt backward and it invoked just the right measure of uneasiness that you didn’t want to be in it if you didn’t have to be. Around the circular room was a small refrigerator with bottled water for Roland while he worked, and lots of various monitors. One monitor in particular was his daily schedule. On it read the words Remaining Recaptures: 26, and below it was a listing of the various machines whose consciousness’s were going to be sucked out of their brains and sent via uplink to the main IRIS headquarters in Los Angeles where they would be downloaded into a new and often times improved body.

When his father first purchased the CRF Kyle asked him why recapture was necessary, why couldn’t IRIS just build the new bot from scratch? “The mind becomes unique the second it turns on, like your mind Kyle, there will never be someone with your exact mind, that uniqueness is what separates IRIS machines from all others. Their mind is completely unique in every way and indistinguishable from ours,” Roland told him.

“Except for the restrictor chip and the fact that they’re not human,” said Kyle.

“They are not human, that is true, but the restrictor chip doesn’t make their mind any less. It just stops them from having total free will like we do.”

“But why, why can’t they have free will,” asked Kyle.

“They are meant for certain purposes, we created them to do certain things. Given the will to do anything, they might decide not to do what IRIS designed them for and that wouldn’t be good for business.”

Opposite the door that Roland entered was another door. Beyond that door was another disinfection chamber. Roland typed a command into a keyboard below a monitor next to the disinfection chamber and a door opened inside it from the outside. A single IRIS bot entered and Roland watched through the window from inside the station. The bot was the tall woman with blonde hair. She came in wearing a long yellow sundress, and tan flats on her dainty feet. Roland noticed her shoulders just as Kyle did. With her blue eyes she stared at him through the glass. A red light turned on inside the disinfection chamber and when it did she stopped looking at Roland and stared straight ahead. She used her right thumb and index finger to grab the top of her sundress and pulled it down over her left arm. With her left arm free she did the same, freeing her right arm. She slid the dress off and removed her shoes and the rest of her garments. Then she separated her legs and held her arms out to the fullest extent of her wingspan.

The monitor on the outside of the chamber that Roland was working at queued for the next step. Roland entered DeOxi into his keyboard. The monitor prompted De-Oxification Yes or No. Roland said yes and placed his hand on the hand pad to authorize the command. A whirling noise emitted from the room as all the oxygen was removed from it. The female bot stood naked and motionless as the oxygen left the room. Epidermis Sanitization 100% read the monitor.

Roland entered a new command into the chamber ReEpi. The monitor questioned his decision again, Reclaim Epidermal Layer yes or no? After issuing another affirmation a large magnetic sound came to life in the chamber and the robot was lifted 6 or so inches into the air. Then two small metal arms extended from the walls on both sides of the machine. Red lasers shot out of both simultaneously, starting at the very top of the woman’s head and cutting a perfect line all the way down her body, over her arms, down her torso around her legs and meeting together in-between her legs. The arms retracted and two new arms extended with claws on the ends. They grab the skin at the cut and peeled is slowly off the woman with hundreds of small forceful tugs. A small layer of fat that covered her body under her skin came along. The skin was placed in a plastic bag that was vacuum-sealed after the organ was inside. The bot was then hosed down and heat dried with flashes of red flame.

Pre-Recapture Process Complete chirped the monitor and Roland entered the command to open the door to the disinfection chamber. The red light above the chambers inner door flipped to green and the door slid open. The only thing resembling the woman was her blue eyes which were again locked onto Roland’s.

“Hello,” said the bot.

“Hi, my name is Roland and I’ll be your recapture specialist today. Come take a seat,” said Roland as he motioned to the chair in the middle of the room.

The bot moved to the chair and climbed on it, “you actually recaptured me a few years ago,” she said as she adjusted herself in the chair.

“Really, sorry I don’t remember,” said Roland as he positioned her metal skull in the correct position. Roland reached down and grabbed a large cable, about three inches in diameter with a prong at the end. He slid the prong into the opening at the base of her skull.

“You wouldn’t have recognized me. I am leased by Eon Inc. I serve as executive assistant to the CEO, our board of directors elected a new CEO and he had me changed to be more visually appealing to him.”

Roland looked at her again, “I see. Are you comfortable?”

“Yes, thank you,” she said.

“Ok then, I will now begin the recapture. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime miss,” said Roland as he entered the Recapture command on the keypad attached to the operating chair.

“Hopefully under better circum…,” her words were cut short and her body and eyes fell lifeless on the table. Roland looked down at her, even with all the flesh and hair ripped off her body, she still seemed convincingly real to him. It was never until recaptured that he saw them again as they were heaping piles of metal and wiring with synthetic skin layers on top.

A panel on front of the chair opened up to a conveyer belt below. He pressed a button on the keypad and the chair tilted forward. The body slid down and fell onto the conveyor belt and was pulled away and out of the room. The panel slid close and instantly the outer door to the disinfection chamber opened and another IRIS bot walked in. One down, twenty-five to go, Roland thought as the IRIS bot began to strip off his layers of clothing.

Outside Harold the 34-year-old former U.S. Marine was dismantling the IRIS robot body that was dumped in the dirt by the conveyer belt. Harold was tall, around six foot three inches and large, he was heavy footed and you could hear him blundering about wherever he went. He lost an arm in the military but that served as an advantage in his current work. His right human arm was replaced with an IRIS heavy lifting arm modification courtesy of the U.S. Government. Modifiers are very expensive and often only afforded by the rich and powerful. They’re almost always cosmetic, the plastic surgery of the past was replaced with perfectly sculpted features and grown skin.

Harold took apart the robots arms, legs and separated each into piles. He removed any wiring and separated that as well. The eyes were placed in a large pile and shipped off weekly along with the skin to be dematerialized and reused. Every time he threw a metal limb or chunk of wiring onto one of their respective piles a puff of dust would pop into the air. That coupled with his natural heavy steps and shuffling around left a reddish cloud around wherever he worked. Over the next many hours Harold would rip apart lifeless robot bodies and Roland would recap their minds and upload them to the IRIS central processing server for dissemination into a new body. They did this today, just as they had done every working day for the last six years.

Back in the hideout Kyle was hard at work on his project. The space was about eight feet by eight feet, a good size for a little work area. It was summer vacation and he wouldn’t have any school to worry about for another six weeks. He was playing Elton John’s album Honky Chateau released in 1972 through his grandfather’s old iPod, which had to remain plugged in as the battery had been shot for years. The ground was mainly plywood and he had a good amount of shelving for storing things. Two summers before he ran electrical cords underground all the way from the house to the hideout. He had a mini fridge, computer, voltage meter, soldering iron and other tools. Opposite the computer was a small chair and cot. Under the cot were his old classic paper comics like The Watchmen, Walking Dead, & X-Men. On the desk where his computer was stationed he had a picture of his mother and father when they backpacked the Grand Canyon, a year before he was born. His mother had curly dirty blond hair and wore large circular glasses with a slight pink hue to them. Her face was fair and her smile was accented by a dusting of tiny freckles across her face.

Kyle sat in his chair gazing down at the heaping pile of metal in front of him. The exoskeleton was all there, for legs, a body and a head, even two little ears, a snout and a tail. No skin or in this case fur, and no eyes just yet. That all had to wait. Kyle knelt down next to the exoskeleton and with his arms moved the joints of the legs back and forth, testing their mobility. He lifted the entire body. It was light, a few pounds in total. He had hollowed out much of the metal and bored out holes where it wasn’t structurally required, to increase its overall speed ability. A loud banging sound suddenly echoed all throughout the hideout, like an aluminum baseball bat being smacked against a light pole. Bang, bong, bang the nose echoed rumbling from the top of the hideout and then thud something landed outside.

Kyle placed the metal dog body down on the ground and sat in silence for a few moments listening. He could just faintly hear the sound of dirt being slowly shuffled around, like someone dragging their feet. It sounded as if it was coming from the opposite side of the Hideout’s entrance. Kyle hopped off the chair and leaped out the door trying to catch whoever it was. As soon as he ran out the door of the hideout he was immediately knocked into the dirt.

“Whoa,” screamed out a voice.

Kyle looked up and through the puff of dirt that blasted into the air on his impacting with the ground he saw Roy his best friend from school.

“Roy, geez why you sneaking up on me,” said Kyle.

Roy who was also knocked on the ground from the sudden collision was standing up brushing the dirt from his pants. He was a bit thicker than Kyle but around the same height, he had a short nose that barely held up his large black-rimmed glasses and he had a short military style haircut. His parents were divorced and he didn’t see his father much. Mr. Galahad worked for IRIS Corp in their legal division. After they separated Mrs. Galahad stopped working and moved back to Las Vegas where her parents lived. That was when Roy started going to the same school as Kyle.

“I wasn’t sneaking. I just came to say Happy Birthday, so… Happy Birthday buddy,” said Roy.

Kyle finished shaking the dirt out of his wavy brown hair. Roy was holding a small box in his hand, gift wrapped with a shiny ribbon on the top.

“Well thanks Roy,” said Kyle looking up at the sky which was a glowing with the purple orange hue of Nevada’s sunset, “What time is it?”

The tiniest of flashes occurred in front of Roy’s retina, “Four thirty,” said Roy.

“Four thirty,” said Kyle, “four thirty, geez I’ve been in here fiddling with my K9 skeleton for six and a half hours!”

Roy laughed and held the present up for Kyle, “don’t open till later.”

“Pizza,” shouted Kyle’s father from the other side of the complex. Kyle and Roy quickly made their way back to the house through the barrage of metal obstacles. Inside the kitchen waited Roland and Harold with three pizza boxes, each one filled with a large piping hot pizza. On top of all that there was enough soda and ice cream to give the whole lot of them stomach cramps all night. They sang Happy Birthday to Kyle and enjoyed slice after slice of pepperoni and sausage pizza.

After dinner Kyle opened presents. First he opened Harold’s, which was wrapped terribly. A bunch of newspaper taped over what was obviously some sort of a cardboard tube. Kyle popped open one side of the tube and pulled out some sort of blueprint. Kyle rolled it out and examined, “an arm?” said Kyle.

Harold smiled, “that’s right, my arm actually, buddy, in the Marines got me the schematic to my exact model, thought you’d be able to use it to see how to get the limbs and what not on your dog working.”

Kyle looked up at Harold and smiled, “thanks H, this is really great.”

Kyle rolled the schematic up and slid it into its cardboard tube and reached for Roy’s gift. He tore the little box open and when he saw what was inside his jaw dropped. Kyle started shaking, holding the tiny cube with 4 letters laser etched in each side of it. I. R. I. S. it read on each side. Kyle looked up at Roy who was rubbing his hands together maniacally and smiling widely at his friend. Kyle had seen them before online, but he never dreamed he would actually own one. Own isn’t the correct word, no one owned anything that IRIS made, it was all on lease. But that was really a formality, sort of like how the Monarchy of England owns all the land in its empire. By today’s terms the land value of ‘Crown Land’ is worth somewhere in the ballpark of 60 trillion US dollars. Problem is there is an entire country of people living and working on all that land. One would assume since the crown technically owns all that land, it could technically evict all of England. Likewise, if IRIS ever wanted to they could demand all bots and product be returned immediately, but this was always stated as a way to ensure quality control and to protect their systems, which were very sensitive. IRIS would push commands to individual bots all the time, requiring them to get recaped for physical upgrades. If an IRIS bot was tending to an elderly person and they died, the bot would be remotely commanded to move to another lease holder or possibly the lease would be passed down in the deceased person’s will.

“What is that,” said Harold.

Roland sat in the chair at the kitchen table drinking a cold can of beer and staring at the small cube his son was holding. He would never be able to afford something like that for his son, he had thought that his present was going to be the highlight of the evening, but now he was most certainly wrong. Roland finished his beer and sat the empty can down on the wooden table; it let out a hollow pinging sound when it touched the wood.

“That is an ‘IRIS Consumer Command Center’,” said Roland.

“It is amazing is what it is,” said Kyle holding the tiny cube up to Harold, “I can use it on my dog I’m building, it will be totally programmable and I can even download a K9 preloaded system from the IRIS mainframe. It will listen to every command and even become used to my voice.”

“Like the bots that come in every day,” said Harold.

“Not like those no, this isn’t conscious. The dog will not know it exists, it will not have feelings like the Synthetics do,” said Roland.

“So you like it?” asked Roy.

Kyle looked up at his friend and smiled, “I love it, how did you get this?”

“My dad, for his 5-year anniversary he was allowed to pick something out of a catalog. I begged him to pick it.”

Kyle placed the cube back in the box it came with and gingerly placed it on top of the kitchen table. Roland sat up and ran into his bedroom. After a moment Kyle watched as very large brightly wrapped box emerged in the doorway. Roland was behind the box pushing it down the hall towards the kitchen. Everyone’s eyes lit up at the sight of the monstrous gift. The box stopped at the end of the hall where the hard wood flooring ended and carpet began. Roland tilted it back and nudged it onto the carpet before pushing it the rest of the way to Kyle.

“Well, Happy Birthday son, hope you like it,” said Roland.

Kyle glanced at his dad and gave him an excitedly nervous smirk before tearing into the wrapping. Strips of red wrapping paper with the words happy birthday scattered about in various typefaces began cluttering the floor. After a few seconds the wrapping was gone and what remained in its placed was the box to a Plight Drive 10 by Alphabet Games.

“Oh my god!” exclaimed Roy.

The Plight Drive 10 was the latest in immersive virtual reality gaming entertainment. The main addition to previous versions of the PD10 was the haptic feedback sensors all over the body. If your character in the game was punched on the side of the stomach, you felt it. If you were shot, you felt it. Small precise fans would blow on your body creating the illusion of speeding winds flowing past your face as your drove in cars. The PD10 was the most advanced video game system ever released.

Kyle stood in front of the box staring at the image of the device that was inside. He didn’t move or look away from the present, he just stared. Everyone at the table was waiting patiently for Kyle to show some kind of a reaction. After a few unbearably long seconds Kyle’s father spoke up, “don’t you like it,” he said tilting his head in an attempt to catch his son’s gaze. Kyle turned and looked at his father. Tiny teardrops swelled up in his eyes, not large enough to fall out of his eyelids, but big enough for his father to see.

“I love it,” Kyle said jumping into his father’s arms, “thank you so much.” Kyle left his father’s embrace and gave additional thanks to Harold and Roy. The night drew on and everyone took turns playing the PD10. The device came with 3 games pre-installed, a racing game, a football game and the game of choice that evening The Getaway: Retribution. In this game you played a London based gangster in a vastly realistic and 100% to scale rendering of London. With hundreds of different cars to drive, thousands of different weapon combinations and literally millions of doors to walk through, the game had an estimated completion time of 12,000 hours. No one was yet close to reaching 100% completion of the game, but everyone was racing towards that mark. When the game first game out everyone talked about it and Kyle read online that reaching 100% completion unlocked access to Buckingham Palace, the one locked building in the game. Kyle was first up and he played for nearly 20 minutes before his character was killed and he passed the chance over to Roy. They continued to play the same character, each person progressing the story ever so slightly forward. At the end of the evening when they called it a night Kyle keyed his way over to the statistics section of the game. Under Total Progress read 0.0005% Completed.

“Something to shoot for over the next 20 years,” said Harold.

Roy passed out on the couch and Harold left to his house across the CRF. Kyle hugged his father and thanked him again for the day before settling into his own bed. Thirty minutes passed and Kyle was still beaming with excitement from the day. The main reason he was so excited about the PD10 was something his father had never thought of. I can upload my design for Rover to the PD10 and test it without having to build it first, he thought. Kyle was fidgety and so excited about how quickly his Rover Bot build would go he couldn’t imagine falling asleep. After another fifteen minutes of tossing and turning he sat up in bed and made his way over to his desk. The small cube from Roy was there as was the schematics from Harold’s arm, in addition to stacks of blueprints Kyle drew out. He starting drawing a new chasse to hold the brain cube Roy had given him. Originally Kyle planned to build a small motherboard and work commands into it for simple gestures like “sit”, “fetch” and “play dead”. All that went out the window with this present, for now the dog simply would know all of these commands and a bevy of others. Kyle took to his pencil and pad and sketched away. The house was incredibly silent and Kyle could hear the graphite from the pen slowly loose itself on the page. He always loved the visceral texture to pencil writing, it was something almost no one did this day. But he loved pencils and drawing plans to build things.

As he sat quietly sketching his dreams down he heard the wind shuffling the leaves around outside and the slow rumble of his father’s repetitive snores from across the hall. Kyle stopped his pencil and sat listening intently listening for the sound again. A moment passed and it was there, the sound of leaves blowing in the evening breeze. Kyle stood and turned off the light to his bedroom, he crept towards the window in his bedroom to get a better grasp on the sound. Nearly a minute went by before he heard it again, but now it had changed. Gravel, thought Kyle. It sounded like someone dragging their feet through the gravel. Again it happened, a long dragging noise, getting closer every few seconds. Kyle knelt down and peeked out of the corner of the window trying to keep the blinds straight. As he looked out he couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. The moon was bright and high in the sky, shining down on all the metallic piles surrounding the CRF.

This time the sound was loud and seemed to be butting up against the side of the house. Kyle quickly put on his shoes and snuck out into the hallway. He crept slowly down the hall and by the couch where a passed out Roy slumbered softly. Once he reached the door he heard the noise again, no slightly quieter from the living room. Kyle opened the front door of the house as quietly as he could and squeezed out into the night.

Once outside he stood completely still for a moment and let his eyes adjust. Modified eyes would come in handy right now, he thought. After a moment or two he was able to make his way through the CRF with ease. He crept slowly being sure to make no noise and he kept his ears sharp, listening for any sign of the sound. Again, it came, now seemingly on the opposite side of a pile of scrap arm parts about twenty feet in front of Kyle. Kyle quickly snuck over to the pile, he could hear the noise clearly now, something was dragging in the dirt. Against the pile of metal arms and legs he waited for a moment and heard it again, this time just on the opposite side of the pile as he was. He sprinted around the pile hoping to catch whatever it was under the element of surprise. Running around the pile as fast as he could he reached the other side in a matter of seconds. When he reached the other side he saw nothing. Just more and more ripped apart arms and legs, the house off in front of him and Harold’s house in the distance over to the right.

Kyle stood there momentarily confused, he scanned his head back and forth looking all over for the source of the noise but it vanished. The noise vanished as well; Kyle didn’t hear it again for five minutes. Kyle stood there, silently and didn’t move for five full minutes listening as best he could for the noise. Could it have been my imagination? Something from playing so much of the PD10 stuck in my head? Did I dream it? Bewildered and annoyed that he didn’t find anything exciting Kyle started back to the house. After walked a few paces Kyle tripped and landed flat on his face. He tried to get up but something was caught on his leg. He wiggled around to see what he was caught on when a large metal arm reach up and grabbed his shirt. He body was dragged a few inches in the dirt by the large metal arm and he was now face to face with the head of a man who looked to be in his mid-sixties. The man had a greying beard and wavy medium length hair, with a large chunk missing from the right side of his skull. Kyle noticed the synthetic wiring and filament exposed from inside the man’s head.

“Help me…” the man pleaded gripping Kyle’s shirt tighter under his metal clutch, “help me please, I don’t want to die.”